Who Wants It the Most?

By Tony Earp

There is no way to predict which players will be the ones who will end up playing at the highest level or achieving the most over their soccer careers. As coaches, we like to think we are good at identifying the soccer stars of tomorrow, but we are often wrong. There is just no way to know how a player will develop and change over time. Too many unknown variables lay ahead of each player that will directly or indirectly affect his or her path and where that path eventually will lead. With that said, with any team or group of players I have coached over my years in this profession, I can easily identify the players who WANT TO BE THE BEST by their focus and effort during training. It is easy to see who wants it the most!

You might be thinking that I am talking about the player who does exactly what is asked and is never a “behavior issue” in training, but I am not. Although that may fit the description of this type of player at times, it is not a defining characteristic. I have coached many players who other coaches would describe as being inattentive, disruptive, and stubborn, but I saw something different. I saw a player who was inattentive because they wanted to play, disruptive because they came up with their own rules, and stubborn to be the type of player they wanted to be. No matter how a coach might label this player, there is no denying that this type of player would put his heart into everything he did. Passion and desire is often not obedient and structured. Some of my most passionate players and those who wanted to be the best, were also the most difficult to manage in training and in games. This is the type of player who does not stick to the path, but creates their own.

On the flip side of the coin is the player who never takes his eyes off the coach and is zeroed in on absorbing as much information as possible during each training session. This player is a coach’s dream in training and in games. He will do whatever is asked and more, while taking advantage of every opportunity to get better. It is obvious this type of player is determined to be the best and his actions show he wants it more than others. Like the player who is driven by passion and desire, this player is driven by other forces. This type of player is fueled by purpose and the quality of each and every action. He wants to be the best and will jump through any hoop, leap any wall, and overcome any challenge to move closer to the goal. This is a player who sticks to the path, and runs through anything standing in the way.

A player who “wants it” is a player who does the little things right all the time. The player who does not take a second off during a training activity or game. A player that is driven to improve and is actively working towards that goal. Most importantly, these players do the most of their “work” when no one is around. They do not just work hard when people are watching, or do what is asked for the proverbial “good job” from a coach or parent. They don’t care about that. They just care about their ability to play the game. Since that is their goal, they take every opportunity possible to work on their craft. They do not just do it when asked to do it by someone else.

When kids are young, the better players can sometimes be the players who have just developed physically or cognitively faster up to that point. There can be as much as a two year difference in physical and cognitive ability of players of the same age group. We point to the players who are more mature in those age groups as being the stronger players. We assume those are the players who be the best in the future, and some may be. But, we must also give our attention to those players who seem to want it the most, who love to play the most, and who have the most passion, drive, and purpose when they play. These players may need time to physically and cognitively catch up to their peers, so they cannot be overlooked. When these players develop, hopefully they received the same coaching and attention needed along the way to help them reach their potential.

Let me give you two examples of what I am talking about….

My first example is a player who I have coached over five years starting at age 8. He was always a “wild one” on the field and showed a tremendous amount of passion and joy to play the game. He was never happy unless he was competing, playing, and winning. He has never had much patience for standing around and listening for instructions, but I could always tell he was listening. When working on one skill, he was always the first player to try the skill his own way. It was common to hear, “What about this coach?” while he tries a heel pass versus the inside of the foot passing the rest of the team was working on. When I called the group in to talk, he used that time to work on his favorite skill move or start an impromptu 1v1 challenge with a teammate by megging him. Although the behavior could be seen as distracting at times, I understood where it was rooted. The kid just loved to play.

As he aged, his passion and creativity matured with him. In his age group, he may be one of the most exciting players to watch on the ball and is completely unpredictable (in a great way) on the field. He never ceases to amaze in what he has the guts to try when he plays that no other player would even dare think about trying during a game. The way he moves on the ball and what he is capable of doing was not a product of my coaching. It was a product of him wanting to be the best. What many people do not know about this player is the amount of time he spent at home on his own just trying things with the soccer ball. Lifting, chipping, bending the ball all around the house and backyard, along with many other challenging skills, provides this player with a distinct advantage when he plays. He is capable of manipulating the ball in a way that other players cannot creating a number of options only available to him when he has the ball.

Second example, I currently work with a player who always arrives early for training. When waiting for training to start, while other players are talking and hanging out, this player finds space to work with the ball. Either dribbling and changing direction, juggling, or anything else the player feels the need to work on, gets its needed attention before the organized training session even begins.

During training, he never trains below a maximum effort and he can be someone tough on himself when mistakes are made. Although undeterred, he will quickly use disappointment as fuel to try again and work even harder. When the session stops, and I am talking to the players, he never cuts away from me with his eyes and often asks questions about the training. More often than not, I can count on him stopping me after training and asking specific questions about his performance and ideas on how he can work on skills on his own.

On a final note about both of these types of players, and the players in my example. The players who want it the most, seem to appreciate their coaches and parents who provide guidance an opportunity the most. These players have never left a training session with me, or any other coach, without saying thank you. Of the two players I talked about above, the first always walks by me on the way out of training with a quick “finger point” and says, “thanks coach.” The second player always shakes my hand, says, “thank you” and then usually asks me a question that is based on helping him improve.

Both of these players are very different in almost every way, but both are very similar in where it matters the most, they both want it the most!

Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at tearp@superkickcolumbus.com

Daddy Ball

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

We hear the phrase often: “Daddy Ball.” It is a derogatory term describing a situation where a parent becomes a youth coach for the sole reason of promoting his own child. The accusation is that the child gets benefits in terms of playing time and position that he or she wouldn’t have received had someone else been coaching the team. But what if it’s not true? And what if it is?

Those of you who have read my articles through the years know I have done a lot of volunteer coaching. I coached three boys and a daughter primarily in baseball and softball, but also basketball, soccer, flag football, roller hockey, nearly everything they played growing up. So I’m quite sure there were times people looked at decisions I made regarding my kids and chalked them up to preferential treatment or, “Daddy Ball.”

So my first question is, where were those parents when the league asked for coaches? I didn’t do anything sneaky to become the coach. I volunteered. Same as they could have. I find it tough to think of someone who is not volunteering to accuse an individual who is of having anything less than admirable motives.

Are there parents who manipulate and “game” the system to ensure their children have advantages? I’m sure there are, though I can’t really remember a case of ever seeing it blatantly. Maybe I was blind to it because it was something I was doing myself.

I think there is also possibly an aspect of jealousy. Of course, anyone who is watching their child play behind the coaches’ kids is going to automatically believe that the decision is not based on merit or fairness, but is “Daddy Ball.” And, if one of those parents were to take the helm of the team and put their child where they believe he deserves to be, that’s what everyone would be saying about them.

Mike Matheny, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, was asked to coach his young son’s baseball team a few years back and he wrote a preseason letter to the parents that has become rather famous. The part that stood out to me was when he asked that all parents get involved and work with their children away from practice. He said that in his experience, the common denominator of every player he’d ever seen make it in the pros was that they had someone to work with them as youngsters. It seems to me that wanting to be the coach for your kids is an extension of this. Sure, I wanted to give them advantages. Not unfair ones. None that were unearned. I wanted to give them the advantage of my attention, my time, my knowledge of the game and my coaching. I didn’t feel anyone else could do a better job and so I sacrificed a lot of hours and career opportunities to do it. If that’s “Daddy Ball,” so be it.

When my children were just beginning to play recreational sports I remember speaking with a friend of mine whose sons were all older and in college. He had coached them in baseball all the way through high school and said that one of the main reasons he believed he had such a close relationship with his boys was all that time they spent together in the dugout. I made up my mind then and there that I’d coach my kids as long as I could.

And speaking of a letter to parents, as I write this I think of a bit I might put into a letter of my own, should I ever become a volunteer coach again. It might go something like this:

In an effort to avoid the perception that I am giving preferential treatment to anyone I will be asking for a democratic vote before each game to determine the batting order and playing positions. All parents who have attended every game and observed every minute of each practice will be eligible to vote.

I wonder how many votes I’d get.

I guess the answer could be to not allow parents to coach their own children. But then we’d have no more rec soccer, basketball, softball, football or baseball. So maybe another solution is to tone down the insults and use the phrase “Daddy Ball” less and the words, “Thanks, Coach.” more.

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 which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

Open Letter to My Dad, Who Makes Me Want to Quit Sports

By John O’Sullivan

Dear Dad,

I was afraid to say this to your face after the game today, but I was thinking that maybe you could stop coming to my games for a while. It doesn’t seem that fun for you anyway, and I know it’s not fun for me when you are there. I used to love when you watched my play when I was younger, but now, I wish you weren’t there. I think I am starting to hate playing soccer. I might quit. I bet you are wondering why.

I heard you in the stands today during my soccer game. I was going to say I heard you cheering, but that wasn’t really what you were doing. You were coaching. You were yelling about the other team, the other coaches, and at the officials. I also heard you yelling at me every time I got the ball.

I believe you think you are helping, but you are not. You are confusing me.

It’s confusing when you coach me from the sideline. When I play soccer, I feel like I have to make so many decisions at a time. Should I dribble or pass? Should I cross or shoot? Should I step up or stay back? Where are my teammates? Where are the defenders? I am trying to figure all these things out while out of breath, and fighting off defenders. With all this going on, you want me to listen to you, too? It seems no matter what I do, whether good or bad, you continue to yell at me. It is impossible to listen to you and play the game at the same time.

It is confusing when you and the coach shout instructions at the same time. I can’t listen to both of you. Many times the things you say contradict what the coach teaches me at practice. My coach is trying to get me to pass it out of the back, but you keep yelling at me to kick it long. My coach encourages me to dribble past players, but you tell me to get rid of it when I try to dribble. My coach tells me to pass the ball to feet, but you tell me to kick it over the top and our forwards will chase it down. I either get yelled at by my coach, or by you. To make matters worse, sometimes the other parents join in and yell, too! I am so stressed out there. It’s not a very good feeling.

It’s confusing to me when you yell at the officials, especially since you teach me to respect teachers, coaches and my elders. Dad, some of these referees are kids that go to my school. I see them at lunch and in the halls and I am so embarrassed. Would you yell at me like that if I was a new referee? Even when the officials are right, and you are standing 50 yards away, you yell at them. I wish you would just let the game play out and let me and my coach handle what is going on.

It’s confusing when you are still upset about the loss hours after a game. How long is it appropriate to be sad and angry? I mean, I am the one who played, right? We are supposed to win some and lose some if we play good teams, right? We got beat, but now we have to move on and get ready for the next game. I am not sure how staying angry will help me get better for the next game. I certainly don’t feel like learning much immediately after a loss. The best thing you can do after a game is tell me you are proud of me for competing, and showing good sportsmanship, and that you love to watch me play. What are we going to eat is helpful too. But that’s all. I can get better next practice.

It’s confusing when you talk badly about my coach in front of me. You tell me to respect my coach and listen to what he says, but then I hear you and other parents say he doesn’t know what he is doing. My friends say that their dads tell them not to listen to the coach, and they don’t know who to listen to anymore. No wonder our coach gets so frustrated with us.

It’s confusing when you talk badly about my teammates in front of me. I know some of my teammates aren’t as fast, or as strong, or don’t kick as well, but they are my friends, Dad. In school, they teach me that I should treat everyone with respect, but then you disrespect my teammates right in front of me. I wish you would try to see the good in my friends instead of pointing out their faults.

It’s confusing when you yell and scream at mistakes and act like playing soccer is an easy thing to do. I am not sure if you remember what it was like to be a player. Do you remember what it was like to be going through a growth spurt, and feeling awkward when you try to run and jump (never mind the sore knees)? Do you remember how hard it was to learn to trap or pass a soccer ball, or for that matter hit a baseball, or catch a fly ball? Sometimes you try your very best, and still get it wrong. It doesn’t help or make me feel any better about my mistake when you yell at me for it, or tell me to “get my head in the game.” What does that mean, anyway? You yell things and most of the time I have no idea what you are talking about.

Dad, I don’t want to tell you how to parent or anything, but sometimes I feel like your love is conditional upon how the game goes.

When we win, everything is great, but whenever we lose, or I have a bad game, it seems like you hate me. I wish I was riding home with someone else, and not you. I think it’s because you keep talking about the game when I don’t want to. You go over every mistake. Even when we win, all I hear about is what went wrong. If you talked about the game at dinner, or the next morning, it would be fine, but please, not on the car ride home.

I certainly appreciate all the time and money you spend to let me play. But sometimes it feels like we are out there playing just to entertain the adults. We just want to play. And we want you to watch if you can do so without yelling at the refs, screaming at other parents, and coaching from the stands.

Could you do that for me dad? Could you just come, watch the game quietly, and then not talk about it on the ride home? If you can, I would love for you to come.

But if you can’t, I would prefer if you just dropped me off and let me play.

Dad, I love sports, I love my team, and I love my teammates. I want to play with these guys forever, but not if it makes you hate me and angry at me all the time. Not if it makes me feel worse about myself.

Please let me know what you decide. I love you.

Your son,

Bobby, #10
(Every once in a while, we get an email or a post from a young athlete who has struggled with parental behavior in sports. These letters are heartbreaking, and very personal, so we do not republish them. This letter from “Bobby” is a compilation of the various stories we have heard from kids, not an actual letter we received. It is, however, an accurate reflection of the things we hear and see everyday on our sidelines. We ask all parents to please read this with your son or daughter, and share it with other parents you know. Ask your kids how they want you to act, how you can cheer in a helpful way, and when is a good time to talk about the game. When you ask, please listen to and respect their answer.)

John O’Sullivan is the Founder of the Changing the Game Project, and author of the national bestseller Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports back to Our Kids. He is a longtime soccer player and coach on the youth, college and professional level, and a nationally known speaker on coaching and parenting in youth sports. His work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Soccer America, and SoccerWire.com, and he recently gave a TED talk on “Changing the Game in Youth Sports.”



By Doug Bernier

Rhythm is part 1 of the baseball swing. It provides the relaxed readiness that is essential to a well-timed swing. Good rhythm allows for quick reactions that will have you making contact with the baseball more often.

(The baseball swing, Stage 1)

In every sport, before a quick action, relaxation and rhythm precedes your explosive move.

Example: When a tennis player is returning a serve, or a basketball player is defending in a one on one situation, each defender is relaxed and waiting to explode.

In other words, it’s is the movement that helps keep the hitter on his toes and ready, but loose and not rigid or tense.

Why rhythm is important: This idea is the same for hitting. Once you get into your stance, the slight movement in your hands and legs will help to keep you relaxed and under control. This helps us not get too stiff or mechanical when we start our swing.

The bottom line is…

You are quicker and more in control of your body if you have rhythm and are relaxed.

This means better bat speed, and better reactions and adjustments in the split seconds you have before contact.

Next: Load

Doug Bernier, founder of Pro Baseball Insider.com, debuted in the Major Leagues in 2008 with the Colorado Rockies, and has played professional baseball for 13 years. Most recently, Doug signed with the Minnesota Twins in 2013, where he logged time at every infield position except 1st base in 33 Major League games. Currently Doug is with the Twins’ AAA team in Rochester, NY

Nine ways coaches can prevent bullying

Whether you are a paid professional or a volunteer coach, bullying is something you may have to deal with. And the first step is awareness that it is happening. Here, from TruSport.org, are nine ways coaches can prevent bullying.

Why do more kids and coaches come back?

Leagues using CoachDeck tell us that not only do more coaches volunteer to return season after season because they felt like they did a more capable job of running practices, but because children better-enjoyed those fun and productive practices, more of them wanted  to come back and play again the next year. If you’re interested in creating the healthiest and most dynamic league experience possible for your coaches and players, CoachDeck can help!

Guidelines for youth basketball players

For the first time ever, USA Basketball and the National Basketball Association (NBA) have put out guidelines geared toward promoting proper participation levels in youth basketball. The announcement addresses the amount of playing time, rest and guidelines on specialization.