If you are a parent, coach, league administrator or fan of youth sports you’ll want to check out this month’s issues of OnDeck for both soccer and baseball. Happy reading!
By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck
Over the past ten years I’ve written many articles on youth sports. One of my original and most often repeated comments is that your first goal as a coach should be that every player wants to come back and play again next season. Regardless of wins, losses, or anything else, if you accomplish this, you’ve succeeded. But how do you do this?
The first thing to realize is that you are the conduit between the player and the sport you are coaching. You represent the sport to the player. It will be difficult for a young player to like the sport, but not like the coach. One of the main reasons youngsters quit sports at an early age is not that they didn’t enjoy the game itself – but rather, they did not like the person managing the team.
So make them like you. The easiest and most obvious way to do that is to smile. Doesn’t mean you can’t ever be stern or serious, but when the players are showing up at the field, make each one feel like you’re glad to see them. Set the tone by joking around a little with them during warm-ups. I used to try to make a nickname for every player at the beginning of the season. Some didn’t stick, but a few did and the kids loved it. You can be serious once practice starts, and it’s OK to bring some intensity based on the age level you’re coaching. But be sure that every criticism is balanced by something else the player did well, (e.g. “You’ve got to watch that ball all the way in. But I like the way you used two hands.”)
Part of making them like you is running fun practices. A serious practice that teaches fundamentals and pushes players to perform can still be fun. I’ve recently seen several drill videos put out by national organizations designed to help their volunteer coaches. In them a professional coach demonstrates how to perform a particular skill, then proceeds to have 2-3 players mimic his actions. Not only is the drill boring, but when have you ever run a practice for just two or three players? Apparently the other ten kids are standing off-camera just watching. Each drill should be made into a game involving every player. All of the drills in our deck of cards have a “Make it a Game” feature that turns an ordinary drill into a competition the entire team will love.
What about being competitive and trying to win? Much of what is written about the “ills” of youth sports blames coaches who only care about stroking their own egos with victories, even if it is at the expense of some of the kids. And much of that is legitimate. Clearly, it is important to judge your audience. I’ve written many articles about when it is OK to get more serious about winning and how far it should be taken – I don’t intend to get into that here.
But when I coached in the Majors Division of Little League, (ages 10-12) we wanted to win. And just about every other coach in the league did too. The kids wanted to win also. Skeptics will say we were over-the-top, that it shouldn’t be about winning at that age. It wasn’t only about winning, but we did try our best to win. One might say that philosophy is bad for the players who aren’t stars on the team, but I disagree. Because we made it a point after every game to go player-by-player and highlight something each individual did to help the team. In fact, we worked even harder to give recognition to the players who didn’t usually contribute as much. If we weren’t all trying to win, that praise wouldn’t have been as significant. And when a youngster with just average ability rose up and did something great and made a huge, positive difference in a game, the thrill he got, the adulation from his teammates, that one moment might be enough to make him want to come back again next season. And when it’s all said and done, that’s exactly what we’re trying to accomplish.
Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@
By Tom Turner
Given the paucity of goals in soccer, restart situations often present some of the best scoring opportunities in close games. Accordingly, it is almost standard for the top teams to utilize live and still image technology in their scouting to prepare for upcoming opponents. Nothing is left to chance, particularly at the club level, where time will be appropriated to restarts prior to each game.
There are five formal restart situations and three special situations that must take into account. The five formal restarts are goal kicks; corner kicks; indirect free kicks in the defensive, middle and attacking thirds; direct free kicks in the defensive, middle and attacking thirds; and throw-ins. The three special situations are drop balls; “ceremonial” restarts, following an injury or other non-foul stoppage; and the goalkeeper’s punt or kick from open play when a quick release is not desired or possible. Obviously, each situation requires more or less training time, with restarts inside and around the penalty requiring considerably more preparation than, for example, drop balls, which may never feature in a formal training session.
The purpose of this article was to explain soccer in terms of its tactical phases, or parts. It is hoped that the descriptions can impact both spectators and coaches.
For the casual parent-spectator, the intent is to help cultivate a more mature youth soccer crowd that can better-appreciate the developmental value of “good” soccer. In striving to replace “kickball mania” with an appreciation for Pele’s “Beautiful Game,” the “better” teams may still lose a few contests to tactically limited opposition, but the overall quality of the soccer spectacle, and the passion of the participants will surely be elevated above today’s average fare.
For coaches, the natural extension of this article relates to team preparation and the degree to which their players are capable of understanding and executing a sophisticated tactical approach to soccer. By helping each player understand their positional role and responsibilities within a system during each phase of play, the obligation to think and act under pressure can be transferred from the coach to the players… Ultimately, if coaches work towards developing independent thinkers who understand the game, we will all enjoy some relieve from the prescription coaching that is a demotivating plague on our youth.
One final thought. As Rinus Michels pointed out in Teambuilding, the process of molding a competent team starts with the preparation of young players many years earlier. Good technical players who can solve small-group tactical problems will always be capable of playing different styles of soccer, as we can observe from the global nature of the top professional leagues. It remains a truism that the goal of youth soccer is to produce generations of passionate, insightful players with a comfort level for the ball in the hope that a few special players with exceptional individual qualities will emerge. As Jay Hoffman would take pains to remind us, talking tactics is important, but the three most important cornerstones of any tactical discussion will always be technique, technique, and technique!
Tom Turner is a U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach, Region II Boys ODP Coach, Ohio North State Director of Coaching. He can be reached at email@example.com.
By Craig Sigl
In this third part of the series, you are going to discover that, quite possibly, the best thing we can do to foster confidence in kids is to eliminate what I call “Confidence Killers.”
I have a firm belief from my experience in working inside the minds of hundreds and hundreds of kids personally that confidence building happens naturally when there are no blocks stopping it.
So, I’m going to switch it up on you by starting out telling you about the things you’ve got to STOP doing that kill confidence-building in kids.
Strategy # 7. Stop giving your kid encouragement, praise and cheers ONLY when they do well in their performing.
Most of us adults have forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. If I didn’t see them for years now, I would have too. Here’s what you need to understand:
When the young performer does well, and you cheer and praise you are giving your approval of what they have just done.
When the kid does not do well, and looks over at the bench or sideline at you, and sees your disappointed face and body posture, the child gets the message of Disapproval.
As sports fans and audiences, we are conditioned to cheer when things go right and go “Awww” when they go wrong for our team. Now, this is totally fine when you’re watching your favorite pro sports team. Those players are not your children and they can take it. But not your kids. They subconsciously take it, literally, as a form of rejection, and there’s nothing worse for a kid than getting that from their parent.
What you need to do is be passionately positive even when nothing exciting is happening…but especially when the child has a poor performance of any kind. You do not want your child coming away from a game, meet or match with the idea that your approval is dependent on their performance.
You may just be showing your disappointment in empathy for them but that’s not how they are taking it. This is a huge confidence killer. Here’s the best encouragement you can give to a kid so that natural confidence and resilience can be built: “I love watching you play.” Default to that and you can’t go wrong.
Strategy #8. Stop telling your kid how they could have done better on the car ride home.
Or otherwise giving unsolicited advice or questioning at any time right after a game/event of poor performance or a loss. Most often, the best thing you can do as a sports parent, is nothing or at most, “I loved watching you play.”
Kids can be very resilient and grow that muscle…if we let them. For example, If you ever watch little kids play in the sandbox together and one of them upsets the other, there’s crying and finger pointing for a few minutes and then after a short time, the kids are right back in the sandbox playing again like nothing happened.
Kids have a much greater natural ability to let go of difficult events faster than us adults. We learn how to hold on to things as we get older because we have all this complex thinking that requires full mental resolution on things.
Kids don’t have that yet and can develop resiliency through difficult events, if allowed to. That’s what we should want for them for their participation in sports – life skills such as resilience, right?
To do that, Kids often need the space and freedom to express, if they want to, and then process the difficulty in their own way. Let them. If a kid is holding on to the loss or poor performance and it’s effects for more than a day, then you can jump in and ask if he or she would like to talk or would like some help with their game to improve on the problem.
But, stop jumping in and saving your kid or teaching them how to do it right next time at the worst time, right after the event. That’s what we have coaches for. Resilience is the foundation for confidence.
Craig has personally worked with thousands of professional and amateur athletes on the mental side of their game. He is an author and creator of 7 mental toughness programs sold in 28 countries and writes to over 30,000 athletes in his emails. Discover Craig’s programs for mental toughness and confidence building at: www.mentaltoughnesstrainer.com
By Dave Holt
Every hitter needs hitting slump tips from time to time. Too much batting advice during in-game play can be more harm than good and likely will prolong a hitting slump.
Often, the adult baseball coaches try to help with constant advice at too fast a pace. Especially during the actual baseball game. And then, the bleacher creatures start adding in their two cents. Before you know it we have everybody in town trying to tell the hitters how to get out of a batting slump.
Remove In-Game Instruction
Hitting is a very fast reacting activity. It takes many, many at-bats to develop hitting skills and pitch judgments. Professional baseball coaches know this. They work on hitting skills and drills during practice and let the players do their thing when they get up to bat. Encouraging words only. Pumping players up…not ripping on them for every little twitch or glitch. Top baseball hitting slump tips begin with teaching baseball at practice and letting the players play during the games.
Everybody is Batting Coach
Name one other sport where you hear or see this kind of pitch-by-pitch, step-by-step adult advisers critiquing each portion of the baseball swing and hitting slump tips. In tennis everyone is quiet before the serve. In golf everyone is quiet prior to the swing or putt. You do not hear anyone coaching a basketball shooter before they shoot or a hockey player shooting a puck. Could you imagine a pro golfer on the tee or putting green and everyone was ‘helping’ them out. The caddy, their swing coach, the gallery, and the TV analysts all piping in with advice.
“Now keep your elbow up and bend your knees. Make sure your shoulders are level. Now keep your head down and don’t forget to watch the ball hit the club.” Then when the golfer hits the ‘slice,’ shanks the pitching wedge or misses the putt the scolding starts in. “I told you to keep your shoulders level now stop dipping. Watch the ball hit the club. Hips and hands and get that back elbow up. Hey, look at me. Make sure your knees are bent and quit wiggling your hands.”
Rule #1 NO Coaching From the Bleachers
Over-coaching hitters causes major batting slumps. We have mentioned several times in our guide on baseball coaching and baseball articles how detrimental and harmful over-coaching can be to young ballplayers. Giving hitters, pitchers, catchers, infielders, outfielders and baserunners too much advice at one time creates mind-clutter. Baseball players just cannot perform freely with too many things to think about at once and try to play baseball.
You see too much coaching especially when batters are at-bat, pitchers are pitching and catchers are behind the plate. We know that youth baseball coaches are notorious for over coaching and/or nagging on the negative stuff. Now, you add the parents and spectators from the bleachers adding their two cents and we really get information overload.
“You can’t think and hit at the same time.” Yogi Berra.
Recently, I witnesses this multiple on field onslaught of over advice combined with all the bleacher ‘helper coaches.’ I was umpiring a 7 year old pitching machine league game. Naturally the first base coach and the third base coach gave each hitter their hitting clinic advice tips before and after each pitch. Then the other two coaches in the dugout would add some more hitting tips between every pitch. Not encouraging words like, “give it a ride” or “take a swing at it. Now that’s the way to swing it.
”No, No. Expert hitting coaches would tell the hitters, “not to swing at the first one’, or “move up in the box,” “Now bend your knees and get that elbow up, squish the bug” and “Hey, you got watch the ball hit the bat.” Too much helping with hitting slump tips. Furthermore, to pile on the hitter even more, the adult baseball pitching coach feeding the different pitches into the pitching machine had to perform a hitting clinic himself giving batting tips between every pitch.
It is just relentless the onslaught of well meaning but extreme over-advising on our batters. Then immediately after the pitch the post swing Oohs and Aahhs start in. “What are you doing swinging at the high one. I just told you not to swing at the high one. Now watch the ball hit the bat. If you would listen to me and watch the ball you would be able to hit it.”
After taking the punishing tongue lashing from the on field staff and not to be outdone, here comes the verbal lashing from the bleacher creatures.
Now the mom and dad, grandpa, grandma, and Uncle Bill start in on the batter. “Get that back elbow up now and swing level. Keep your shoulders level…and stop wiggling that bat.” “Be patient now don’t help them out.”
Gag Order: Stop the In-Game Hitting Coaching
You want to put a duct tape gag on every adult in the ballpark. The damage the adults are causing is enormous on our kids. Well-meaning but ignorant of the fact that they are bombarding our young baseball players with coaching overload. You simply cannot hit freely and relaxed in game speed competition and be mentally thinking of this many things. Best hitting slump tips…Stop coaching during the games and let the players play.
After finishing his professional playing career Dave spent eleven seasons managing in the Red Sox minor league system helping to develop several major league ballplayers. After leaving the Red Sox Dave managed and recruited in the Independent Professional Baseball leagues. He has also coached collegiate wood bat and high school teams. His site, coachandplaybaseball.com is a wealth of information for baseball players and coaches of all levels.
We stumbled upon a great article, from a terrific blog that should probably be bookmarked by every youth softball coach, called Life in the Fastpitch Lane, run by Ken Krause. Lots of good tips and articles are contained within and most would also be relevant to baseball coaches.