Unbelievable play

If you haven’t already seen this superman leap into home, take a look here!

At what age should kids begin playing “travel” or competitive sports?

We all know that travel or competitive sports for kids have grown explosively in the past decade. Do you believe this is a good thing? And, if so, how old do you feel kids should be before they are allowed to play travel sports?

The state of baseball in the inner-city

A very discouraging article ran in this morning’s San Diego Union Tribune. You can read it here. Essentially, the article highlighted the fact that many inner-city teams cannot field a JV team due to lack of players. This, obviously, does not bode well for the future of the Varsity programs. There were two root causes given, which were:

  1. Kids from economically disadvantaged areas are competing against kids who pay thousands of dollars to play travel ball, take private lessons and who use $400 bats. When they see themselves at a disadvantage based on skill level, experience and equipment, they get discouraged and quit.
  2. The quality of the youth league coaching they are getting is inadequate, leading to boredom and frustration – again causing them to give up the sport.

While the first issue is serious, we believe CoachDeck can help with the problem among the ranks of volunteer coaches. Our product was designed to allow even the most novice coach run a fun and effective practice, even if they are coming to the field straight from work and have had no time to prepare. We are hearing from organizations everywhere using our product that more kids are coming back to play year-after-year because they are getting more out of the experience. We would love to believe that as awareness of CoachDeck spreads to every youth league, the trend of kids giving up sports because of lackluster coaching can be reversed.

Using Assistant Coaches or Helpers

Clearly, the more coaches you have on the field during practice, the smaller your groups can be and the more individual attention can be given each player. Greater individual focus usually leads to longer attention spans, more activity and less standing around wasting time. If you know ahead of time how many helpers you’ll have with you, you can quickly organize a practice that will be lively and fast-paced, as well as thorough. Many of the drills available in CoachDeck are designed with small groups or stations in mind. By rotating three players each through four 15-minute stations, you’ve used an hour of practice time while keeping all of your players active and working on four separate skills!

One thing to keep in mind is, there is a difference between teaching sports, and simply supervising an activity or drill. This is one of the reasons CoachDeck is so valuable to the volunteer coach. Now you can be confident that your assistant coaches are teaching the same things you teach, and your players are not getting conflicting messages. Simply asking three players to “go over there with Timmy’s dad and work on fielding” isn’t good enough unless you agree with what Timmy’s dad is doing. It is awkward when someone is nice enough to chip in and help at practice but then you hear him teaching something different than you. I recommend you delegate easy-to-understand drills to helpers who haven’t coached with you before so that you don’t end up having to stop what you’re doing and “coach” the coach. On the other hand, having moms and dads, (and siblings), who are willing to help in this way is tremendous and should be taken advantage of.

Developing a Plan

Your first order of business should be to develop a thorough plan before each week’s practice. By using the vast library of drills available in your CoachDeck you’ll quickly be on your way to running a crisp, fun and valuable practice that will have your players constantly on the move, and eager for more learning.

Spend some time before each practice and ask the seven essential practice-planning questions:
1. What are the two or three things our team needs the most work on?
2. How much time do I have available to me?
3. What resources do I have? (i.e. field/court equipment, training devices for player stations, etc.)
4. What restrictions do I have? (i.e. missing players, splitting time on a field/court with another team, weather/field conditions, etc.)
5. How many Assistant Coaches, (or helpers), will I have at practice?
6. Which drills from CoachDeck will help me accomplish my practice objectives?

The necessity of question one is clear. Since you will have a limited amount of time, and attention from your players, you’ll want to utilize it wisely. I have probably never run a practice when I felt I wouldn’t have liked to cover at least four more things when it was over. You’ll need to decide which three or four aspects of the game your team needs the most work on, and try to really dig in and hit those areas hard. And since you know how much time you have, you should try to prioritize the things you’re going to cover and give them each a pre-determined amount of time.
You may also want to spend a little time considering the resources available to you. If you are coaching baseball, for instance, and the field you will be using has a batting cage, or if you own your own net, you can have a station dedicated to hitting that is separate from the rest of the field. In soccer or basketball you may need to practice on a field/court with only one goal. Certain drills would be better than others in these cases. The same holds true for question four, “What restrictions do I have?” If you are going to be without four players, you may not be able to plan an inter-squad scrimmage. If you know it will be wet and rainy, it might be better to do fewer drills that involve running at full speed and changing direction, and do more static drills where kids won’t be as prone to slip and fall.

And knowing how many coaches you’ll have to help out will help you plan which of the drills you’ll be able to pull from the deck so that all of your players are constantly in motion. With the answers to these six questions you can easily come up with an effective game plan, allowing you to run a fast-paced and organized practice for your players.

Life Lessons

A great article, “Life Lessons” by Rocky Harmon, originally published in our CoachDeck On Deck Newsletter December 24, 2008, can be found here. A must read for parents who are tempted to pick up the phone and complain to their child’s coach about playing time.

A tale of two steals of home

As a basecoach, I’m pretty aggressive and pride myself in being able to exploit defensive mistakes. But this story isn’t about my acumen, rather about two different opposing coaches’ reactions to a similar situation.

The first event came during a baseball game, several years ago, when I was coaching my middle boy’s Majors team. There were runners on first and second and we got a base hit to the outfield. My lead runner scored as the throw got away from the catcher and rolled to the back of the backstop. The runner from first got to third and rounded it as the catcher retrieved the ball and covered the plate. The pitcher was there too. The catcher handed the ball to the pitcher and the pitcher walked back to the mound, glancing over at my runner who was still leading off.

However, their catcher’s mask was laying at the base of the backstop, and he headed back to get it. As he and the pitcher walked in opposite directions, home plate became increasingly vulnerable. I quietly coaxed my runner off more, and when the time came that I knew neither player could get to him, he took off. The pitcher and catcher each took a desperate step towards home, then stared helplessly as he scored easily. It was a back-breaking play to surrender defensively.

From the third base dugout, the opposing team’s assistant coach tipped his cap by complimenting me on the play. The manager, who has since become one of my good friends, did what very few coaches would do. He stepped in and took the blame. He came out of the dugout, patted his chest and said loudly enough for players and fans alike, “That was my fault. I should have called time out. That one’s on me.”

Fast forward to just last week. Now I’m coaching my daughter’s softball team and have a runner on third with two out. It doesn’t look like we’re going to drive her in conventionally, so I take a chance. I tell her to get a huge lead on the next pitch and then listen to what I tell her. The pitch comes in and she jumps off base, almost halfway down the line. The catcher has the ball and her coach, as I’d hoped he would, yells, “Get her!” The catcher throws the ball to third and I tell my runner to go. By the time the ball reaches the third baseman and is thrown back home, we score easily. I see the other team’s assistant coach react with disgust and the manager, who told the girl to “Get her,” blamed his catcher. He said, “When I said to get her I meant run at her. When you throw the ball to third she’s going to score.”

How easy would it have been for the coach in the first scenario to yell at his players for leaving home plate unattended? I believe many coaches would have been embarrassed and made the kids accept responsibility by telling them they should have seen that coming, or trying to cover for themselves by saying, “We’ve talked about that before!” But I wonder which coach inspires more confidence in his players and which coach’s players are always nervous and afraid to make mistakes. It seems that the coach who has the self-confidence to be willing to step up and take the blame for his team’s poor performance is the one who will ultimately get the most out of his players.

Six fundamentals for youth coaches

Six steps to being a good coach, when distilled down are:
• When coaching young players, try to spend as much time as possible on their level, by taking a knee or sitting, to reduce the disparity between you and them
• Never say something negative about a player’s ability, and find something positive to go along with any corrections you need to make
• Blaming your mistakes on players only leads to their confusion and shame, and makes you appear insecure
• Part of being a good coach is being tough now and then
• Don’t tell and yell – show and know. In other words, demonstrating to your players what you want them to do, and having them show you that they’ve got it is better than talking
• Make the season fun by staying out of the traps of over competitiveness and lack of organization.

As I’ve said before…if all you do with your team this year is ensure that every youngster wants to come back and play again next season…you’ve passed with flying colors!

Words of wisdom from Wooden

John Wooden, the former UCLA basketball coach widely regarded as the greatest ever, has written Six Ways to Bring Out the Best in Other People:
1. Keep courtesy and consideration for others foremost in your mind, at home and away.
2. Try to have fun without being funny.
3. While you can’t control what happens to you, you can control how you react. Make good manners an automatic reaction.
4. Seek individual opportunities to offer a genuine compliment.
5. Remember that sincerity, optimism and enthusiasm are more welcome than sarcasm, pessimism and laziness.
6. Laugh with others, never at them

A coach needs to be organized

The level of success you have this season will depend upon your organization. Your CoachDeck contains 52 great drills to assist you. But the bottom line is, come to practice with a strategy in which all players are constantly active and doing something productive, and you’ll look like a genius and wonder where the time went. Come to games with an organized plan and a prepared player rotation grid, and instead of managing chaos, you’ll be managing a team.

The need for organization goes well beyond what you do on the field. You may want to begin each season with a letter to all of your team’s parents. And don’t try to run the team it all alone. Enlist as much help as you can from other parents who come out to practice. Many of them are willing to help but do not want to “butt-in” and won’t approach you if you don’t ask. Often, once you ask another mom or dad to help out, you’ll have another assistant coach at every practice and game thereafter. But if you don’t ask at the first practice, they may just all figure you’ve “got it covered” and that you don’t want any help.

There are other aspects to your organization as well. It is important for you to set a good example to your team by always arriving to games and practices on time, if not early. You should expect nothing less of your players.

Keep your equipment bag neat and organized and make sure that you’ve got everything stored where it belongs when practice or games end. It’s a great idea to get your players in the habit of putting all the gear away after every event.

Finally, make sure you recruit a good team parent, or, if one person is unwilling to do this job alone, ask two to share the duty. A good team parent makes your life imminently easier as he/she will help you send emails and make phone calls to your team concerning practices, rainouts, game schedules and other necessary items. The team parent can organize your season snack schedule and end-of-the-year team party. I’ve had a team parent so thorough she even produced laminated roster cards for every player and their parents containing players’ names, uniform numbers and contact information, along with clips to attach them to every child’s bat bag. I can’t tell you how often I needed to call a player and used the roster card on my son’s bag because it was handy.

Your organization skills are often the difference between positive parent feedback and negative. And whether you’ve got a ton of experience coaching or are a novice, spending a few minutes ahead of time getting prepared will make you look like a pro.