Good Old Days?

I once heard an amusing quote which was, “If someone ever says they miss the ‘good old days,’ tell them to turn off the air conditioning.” When most of us grew up there was no PlayStation, cable TV or Internet – things our kids take for granted today. Would any of us want to go back in time before these and so many other technological advances? Yet I can remember coming home from school each day and calling everyone I knew to arrange a pick-up football, baseball or basketball game, depending on the season. And I’m not so sure I would have been that motivated if I’d have had all of the electronic distractions that children today have. How often do you see a group of kids playing a pick-up game of anything at the school yard?

It seems that these days, in order for kids to play sports, there needs to be organization and structure. Parents are nearly always supervising. But is this solely because children today have too many entertaining options indoors, therefore the only way they’ll go outside is if we arrange it? Or this more a function of the society we now live in? Most parents thought nothing of letting a youngster walk or ride a bike somewhere alone three decades ago. Now, if my 12 year-old daughter wants to go up to the school where we can’t keep an eye on her to practice soccer with a friend, we feel we have to come along for safety reasons.

Another significant change in youth sports seems to be the level of parental involvement. I can’t remember my mom or dad ever coming to one of my Little League games, and don’t recall seeing other kids’ parents there either. Fast-forward to a game this weekend at a local youth soccer or baseball field and you’ll often be lucky to find a place to sit or stand. Why does our generation seem to be so much more involved than were our parents? Is it simply because we have to be, since we’re now doing most of the organizing and supervising? Or is it because sports have become so much more prevalent and important in our society so we take our children’s participation more seriously? There were no “elite” teams or private lessons when I was growing up. I can imagine the look on my father’s face if I’d told him I wanted to play on a team that was going to cost thousands of dollars in travel and coaching fees. Are today’s parents overly-controlling, living vicariously through their children’s successes, and/or pushing for lucrative college scholarships that weren’t available decades ago? Or is it just that our generation wants to spend more time with our kids, and enjoying their sports activities them be the best they can be is a great way to do that?

So what do you think? Were youth sports better in the “good old days,” or are we on the right track today? Join the discussion by clicking “Leave a reply” below, or visiting our Facebook Page and clicking the “Discussion” tab.

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 He can be reached at

Basic Coaching Concepts for Children Under 11 – Part Three

By Tom Turner

Does the player move with the game or do they pass and stand still? Young players should not be restricted in their movements on the field and moving “with the game” should become a natural extension of passing. Passing sequences involving two and three players should be encouraged and can be expected at this age. These beginning attempts at combination play will become essential elements of mature play. At the U-9 and U-10 levels, an increase in the speed of ball circulation, coupled with a more controlled rhythm of play can be expected from competent players.

Does the player move into open spaces when not in possession? Players should be encouraged to “find” new supporting positions away from teammates rather than be told where and when to move. By age ten, some children have started to think more abstractly about the use of space away from the ball; however many others do not yet demonstrate this spatial awareness, making large-group positional instruction irrelevant for the vast majority of nine and ten year-olds. More advanced nine and ten year-olds will often appreciate supporting positions to the side of the field (width) while failing to demonstrate the importance of creating space downfield and ahead of the ball (depth).

Is the player more comfortable when facing the opponent’s goal than when playing with their back to the opponent’s goal? Some players are uncomfortable checking and receiving the ball with their back to goal. While older players will ultimately be selected to positions based on this skill, all young players should regularly experience this challenge as a natural part of their soccer education. Before the ability to play effectively with “back to goal” develops, young children must first learn to find passing lanes, judge when and how to run for the ball, learn how to control and turn with the ball, and learn how to disguise their movements. Because of the reduced technical and tactical demands, small-sided games create the only natural environments that provide repeated experiences in learning this difficult aspect of soccer.

Does the player try to recover the ball when possession is lost? “Defending” at this age should be no more complicated than encouraging young players to try and win the ball back when lost. The better players can grasp the concept of “marking” an opponent and “picking up” opponents when not in possession, and they will recover behind the ball as a group. However, in deference to the technical difficulties associated with attacking play for most nine and ten year-olds, any concentrated emphasis on “team” defending should be delayed until at least U-11.

Does the player simply kick at the ball when an opponent is in possession? Tackling for the ball can and should include efforts to regain possession. The player who routinely kicks the ball away should be encouraged to use their body and the open space away from the opponent to attempt to win the ball back.

Does the player mentally transition after a change in possession? When the ball turns over from the attacker to the defender or from the defender to the attacker, the game offers chances to demonstrate awareness of two very important concepts: immediate recovery of the ball and immediate counter-attack to goal. Players should be assessed on how well they understand these concepts and encouraged to react as quickly as possible to any change in possession. By extension, the players immediately in support of the ball can also be assessed on how well they react to help their teammates.

Does the player improvise when solving tactical problems? Those players who use nonstandard techniques to solve tactical problems are demonstrating signs of creativity. A “good” pass gets to its target at a pace that can be controlled, regardless of the technique used in the delivered; similarly, a goal is a goal, regardless of how it was propelled into the net. Young players who improvise should be encouraged, not scolded, and it must be remembered that for young players, the “thought” behind an action is generally more telling than the outcome, which is often limited by experience and technical range. Three elements impact creativity. The first is technique, the second is tactical awareness, and the third is confidence. Players who have the audacity to think and act out of the ordinary may be future stars of the game, and, while their techniques will be refined over time, their willingness to take risks must be nurtured at every level. Creative players are not always the easiest individuals to coach.

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

Improve Your Bat Speed – Part 1

By Dan Gazaway

The single best way to improve your bat speed is to work on the sources of your power and bat speed as a hitter. Hitting a baseball well is nothing more than moving the right parts of the body at the right time. Once you understand what parts of your swing mechanics are in charge of creating the most bat speed, you can target those areas with some baseball hitting drills. This is the first part to a three part series of articles that will help explain the three sources of power to your baseball swing. I will provide a good drill for you to use below.

The first source of power to improve bat speed is your back side. It’s a combination of movement of your back knee, thigh and back hip. Before I get into how this movement works, I need to make sure you understand how to maximize this movement. Prior to the pitch, it’s necessary to shift some weight onto your back leg. This “load” process will allow you to rotate your backside with some force IF you have enough weight loaded up on your back leg. Hitters who avoid loading properly won’t have any pressure on their back leg and consequently won’t rotate their back knee, thigh, and hip properly.

Ok, now that you understand what a proper load is, I’ll explain how this rotation occurs. After the pitch is thrown, the hitter begins to rotate his back knee, thigh, and hip toward the pitch. Simply spinning the back leg in a circle without gaining any ground on the pitcher is not effective and will not produce power. All of your baseball hitting drills should focus on taking energy towards the pitch. A good way to make sure you are doing this correctly is to see if your knee cap is closer to the pitcher than before you started your swing.

One good drill to work on is to begin in a pre-loaded position with a batting tee set up in the strike zone. At about 70% of your full swing potential, take some swings working on rotating and taking your back knee towards the pitcher. Keep in mind that it’s absolutely vital to keep your front leg fairly straight when you are doing this movement. A front leg that bends will prevent any power from being transferred into the second step.

When working on your baseball hitting drills on your own, work as long you can remain focused. Once you lose your focus, you’ll lose the intent of what you are working on. Look for Part II in this series next issue.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy and Simplified Pitching ( He has instructed over 2,000 players in the last seven years and received a Bachelor’s Degree as a Health Education Specialist at Utah State University. He is a motivational speaker for topics ranging from attitude, goal-setting and leadership and be contacted at

The Car Ride Home

By Dr. Patrick Cohn

Coach Brian Gardner of St. Louis, Miss. has coached ice hockey for 10 years and even led one team of 11- to 12-year-olds to a national championship.

Some of Gardner’s players’ parents drive for as long as 1.5 hours to get their kids to the ice rink. That’s a long time for parents to be alone with their kids after a game, says Gardner. Especially if they spend that time talking about the players’ performance.

“A lot of times, parents think more about their kids’ success than the whole team,” says Gardner. The result: They give too much instruction, which can undo Coach Gardner’s lessons and coaching system.

“At the least harmful level, the parents second-guess some of the systems we put in place, such as a power play system. They say ‘You should do this, not what Coach says,’” Gardner relates.

On a more harmful level, parents tell their kids that they played badly. Out of frustration, parents sometimes even suggest to kids they should consider giving up the sport.

This behavior, while well-meaning, is counter-productive to Coach Gardner’s efforts and not helpful for the players, he says.

What exactly is the best way to talk to a young athlete after a game?

First of all, it’s critical to support the coach. You’ll only confuse your child by disagreeing with the coach or offering counterproductive coaching.

Second, you need to encourage your child as often as possible. Even if your athlete’s team lost, you can find something positive to say about his or her attitude, effort or about two or three positive plays. As a sports parent, your goal is to build your child’s confidence—not tear it down.

During the car ride home, you should avoid discussions about what your child did wrong in the game. Young athletes know what they did wrong in a game and don’t need to dwell on it during the car ride home.

Let your athletes cool off after the game for 30 minutes to one hour before jumping in to discuss their performance. Let your child initiate the conversation rather than bringing up the missed pass that cost their team the win. Be as positive as possible.

Award winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and Youth Sports Psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free e-book, “Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes” by visiting

Hanley doesn’t hustle

You’ve all probably heard about Marlins All-star shortstop Hanley Ramirez getting benched for not hustling on a play where he made an error in the field. If you think it is bad, but haven’t yet seen the play, here it is. My guess is you’ll think it was even worse after watching.

Hat’s off to Marlin’s skipper Fredi Gonzalez promptly removing Hanley from the game when the inning was over. I might have been tempted to do it during the inning. Apparently Hanley showed his true character even more when he commented that Gonzalez didn’t understand because he’d never played in the Big Leagues.

How many millions of kids through the years would give anything to trade places, even for just one day, with Hanley Ramirez? Sadly, all to often, those with the most God-given talent appreciate it the least. It was good to hear that old veterans Andre Dawson and Tony Perez gave Ramirez a stern talking-to, calling him immature and telling him he owed Fredi an apology.

But the unfortunate thing is, Ramirez is too good a player to be on the bench for long. There will likely be no long-term negative ramifications – at least none he’ll care about. Hopefully, as coaches of kids who aren’t paid to play, we can point to this incident and use it in a positive manner as an example of what not to do, how not to be, rather than let our players think that if you’re a star you can do whatever you want with no consequences.

Should my child “play up”?

(Because of some questions we’ve been asked recently here at CoachDeck, we’re re-printing an article first published in our newsletter last year. This article addresses the issue of pushing kids to play up with older kids in order to expose them to a higher level of competition).

Should My Child Play Up?

I’m in my eighth year on my local Little League board, and this is the time for spring registrations. It is also the time of year that our board gets inundated with email requests for six, seven and eight year-old kids to be allowed to “play up,” a division beyond their age group.

Because our league does not begin tryouts until players are age nine, our guidelines state that six year-olds play T-ball, seven year-olds play coach-pitch and eight year-olds are in machine-pitch. What we inevitably hear from parents with children at these age levels is that their sons or daughters are “big for their age,” are “already hitting live pitching,” and are “a little more coordinated and athletic,” than most of their peers. Parents assert that their kids will be “bored,” and “may lose interest,” if forced to play in their designated leagues, and that in fact, it may be a safety issue to allow them on the field with ordinary kids. We even get offers from parents to have letters of reference sent from a private coach who could vouch for the child’s advanced ability. Essentially, what we’re hearing is, “my child is too good to be playing with other kids his age.”

And while I never petitioned the league to allow my sons to play up, I can relate to these parents. When my oldest son came through the ranks I couldn’t wait for him to get through the lower levels and into kid-pitch. I was fired-up about the prospect of steals, standings and league championships. I coached him in T-ball, coach-pitch and machine-pitch, but was impatient to move on to “real baseball.” With my second son, a year younger, I was a little less fervent, but by the time my third boy got into Little League, something began to dawn on me: I realized that each stop along the way was going to be my last. And I began to appreciate things I hadn’t noticed before.

I began to understand that for many of the kids I was coaching, T-ball might be the most fun they ever have playing sports. Instead of barking, “pay attention!” at a seven year-old boy who was dreamily watching a butterfly flutter around him in the outfield, I smiled knowing I might be watching this Norman Rockwell painting come-to-life for the final time.

Sure, league championships are great, all-stars is exciting, but there is also something to be said for those afternoons when kids are playing – and that’s the key word – with nothing at stake. When no one really knows who won or lost, when the fielders make occasional outs, but most of the time everyone is safe. And the biggest suspense is what kind of snack there will be after the game.

One thing I’ve learned from watching hundreds of kids come through our league is that whether a kid plays machine-pitch or skips straight into kid-pitch will have absolutely no bearing on whether he makes the high school team, or, for that matter, even the 12 year-old all-star team. Sometimes I wonder if many “play-up” requests are not more for the parents’ benefit than the kids’. But ultimately, the family and the league must decide what’s best for the child.

So when parents with younger children ask my advice about playing up I tell them not to be in too big of a hurry. Though it may not seem like it now, it goes way too fast. There may come a day you’ll look back and would give anything to have another year in Coach-Pitch. I know I would.

Keeping Perspective

Giving players a pat on the back for a good performance is the easiest way to get the most out of them. If players can tell they’re making progress, and that improvement is rewarded often and enthusiastically, they can’t wait to come to practice to get more of it. Be generous in your praise without overdoing it. Kids want to impress their coaches and it makes their day to hear you find something good they did.

When coaching a team with young players, especially if you’re rotating children into various different positions and you’re not keeping score, it is often difficult to determine if kids have been learning what you’ve been teaching. And remember, the best coach in the world can work with a team of six to nine year-olds, run the world’s best, most organized practices, and they will still make mistakes. It is probably not a reflection on your coaching if your team sometimes looks more like the Bad News Bears than the Chicago Cubs. But with patience, hard work and fun, you’ll see improvement from week to week and you’ll finish the year with a group of players and a season you’ll always remember with fondness.

Amherst legend lives on through his grandson

Stan Ziomek, head of Amherst (MA) Little League, recently purchased CoachDecks for his league’s coaches. What we didn’t know was that Stan is an icon in Amherst and that his grandson, Kevin, is a projected early-round draft pick as a pitcher. Here is a fantastic article about Stan and his pride and joy.

An easy way to tell if you’re a good coach

If you are a volunteer coach in any sport and any age and you are wondering how your performance will be graded, this article may provide you with some direction and peace of mind.

How to run a practice the team won’t want to end

Kids love games and they love to compete. If you keep these two things in mind as you work with your players, your practices will be filled with fun and excitement.

For instance, a good coach will teach his players baserunning by having them line up behind home plate and encouraging them one by one to sprint to first base and overrun it. A great coach will add the component of pulling out a stopwatch during the same exercise and read the times out loud to lend some competition to the drill. An even greater coach will then have the players run again and try to beat their previous time. And an expert coach will then play the Down to First Drill, which combines the lesson of running hard from home to first base with a fun game that your players will beg you to play again and again.

Soccer and basketball coaches can do the same thing. Instead of simply practicing shooting or goal kicks, see who can make the most consecutive, or the most out of ten. Add in that whoever gets the rebound gets to shoot next. Anything you can do to turn a static drill into a fun game ensures that more kids are paying attention, having fun, and simulating game-type competition.