Comparing youth in sports – Part 1

By Dean Herbert

This is the first in a series of articles on motivation and youth. The information is based on actual surveys of youth athletes as well as the sports psychology studies.

There are four critical understandings to motivation.

1.      Motivation is a complex construct (no single approach addresses all aspects of motivation).

2.      Motivation is highly individual (no single approach works for everyone).

3.      Motivation comes from within not externally (you cannot generate it in someone who doesn’t have it).

4.      The only thing parents and coaches can do is establish an environment conducive to an athlete accessing their motivation.

In an effort to motivate athletes parents and coaches often think that a comparison will be a carrot that will help youth achieve great performances. A common approach to motivating youth is to compare or set up rivalries between youth – sometimes on their own team. Unfortunately the majority of the population of any age is not motivated in this way.

Statements comparing one youth to another whether directly or indirectly do not serve to motivate our youth athletes and in fact DE-motivate most. You don’t have to believe me, these comments come directly from surveys I’ve done with youth runners.

“That girl doesn’t even have good form and she’s beating you.”

“Why can’t you just be like Cassie?”

“If Taylor is in the lead group then so should you.”

“Amy (you) you have to beat Carrie (teammate)”; then to Carrie behind your back: “Carrie you have to beat Amy.”

“You’re supposed to be up with Billy.”

“There is no reason you can’t beat Sam.”

“Make sure you beat Anthony.”

“I can’t believe you let that boy catch you.”

Why it Doesn’t Work
Peer pressure and social comparison are extremely high in youth. Kids want to fit in. They do not want to be different (and if they do it has to be on their own terms). They do want to be themselves but they are most often still in search of who that really is. In the process they will recognize the things they don’t want to be before things they do want.

The other issue with comparisons is that the athlete does not control the outcome. Why? They do not control the other athlete. What if the compared-to athlete has a great day? What if they are truly genetically physically superior or more talented? What if they have had hormone changes that are yet to occur in himself or herself? There are too many variables and the youth athlete does not have control over them which is a key element in motivation, goal setting and feelings of self-efficacy.

An athlete controls only their effort, their attitude, their race tactics, their mindset. They do not control the competition (others), the rest of the team, the weather, the course layout, parents or coaches. The most effective strategies are to keep athletes focused on what they control. In the end, it will optimize their chances of achieving their best performances.

Dean Hebert M.Ed. MGCP is a certified mental games coach specializing in youth athletes and youth coaches. He has authored several books and hundreds of articles. He works with individuals, teams and coaches in all sports as well as performs guest speaking engagements on mental toughness. His website is

Finding balance and posture from the stretch

Proper pitching mechanics are key to your success!  Before a pitcher begins transferring his weight toward home plate, he has to establish a solid starting point or foundation (Balance and Posture). This foundation must be set properly or a pitcher will not have balance in his delivery. With little or no balance, too much pressure can be put on the throwing arm and the location of the pitch can be effected.

If a pitcher is having a hard time throwing strikes, he may need to work on his posture and balance. To create proper balance and posture, a pitcher should follow a few basic guidelines. Here are some simple steps for successful pitching mechanics :

1. Line up your feet- Line up your feet properly to establish an effective delivery. All pitchers should start with their feet shoulder width apart, in the stretch position. If he starts with his legs further apart than shoulder width, weight transfer often goes back toward second base when he lifts his front leg, throwing off his balance.

Right-handed pitchers start with both feet evenly together, move the left foot forward about 2-5 inches, then spread the feet shoulder width. Left-handed pitchers line up the same way; however, they would be moving their right foot forward instead of their left. This way you start in a closed position with the intent of ending closed at foot strike.

2. Bend your knees and keep weight on the balls of your feet-I cannot think of one sport where an athlete keeps the weight of his body on the heels of his feet. Could you imagine a basketball player guarding his opponent that way? Anyone would be able to get around him and score. Why is it then that many pitchers are often found putting a lot of their weight on the heels of their feet? It makes no sense. Pitchers have a hard time finding the strike zone if they have that habit. Why? They cannot maintain proper balance. Think about it! If the pitcher lifts his leg up and the majority of his weight is supported on the heels of his feet, his balance goes where? Directly behind him! Where is their momentum supposed to go? Toward home plate.

3. Incorporate your hitting stance into your pitching posture- what does this mean? If you are a coach or parent, watch the athlete take a few swings with their bat. If you are the athlete, get into your hitting stance and look in the mirror. What are we trying to identify? We are looking for the angle of your shoulders in your hitting stance after you load. This is not only a natural angle for the athlete, they will find that angle to be much more comfortable for them because they will have more balance. If this is incorporated correctly into his posture, the pitcher will maximize his power throughout the delivery. The key to a successful pitch is to maintain this same posture until the lead foot strikes the ground.

4. Place glove and baseball in the center of your body- if the glove and ball are placed too far to the right or left of your body, you will struggle finding balance. If a right-handed pitcher places his glove too far to the right, too much weight will be transferred back when he delivers the pitch. In turn, his momentum will be lost. The majority of his weight can continue to stay back, but he has to correct the problem at some point in his delivery. It’s best for the pitcher to start with his hands in the center of his body. If a pitcher begins positioning his glove too far in front of his center, he will also have a problem maintaining proper balance.

5. Chin over shoulder- this is a very simple concept to understand. Wherever your chin goes, your head goes. What direction should your head go throughout the delivery? Forward. Keep your head level with the target for a smooth delivery.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy. He has instructed over 2,000 pitchers 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

Nutritional immunity – Facing off against the invisible opponent (Part 2)

As we know, nutritional deficiency can make it easier for organisms to invade the body.  Therefore, a well-balanced, consistent diet may be your best ammunition.  Here are some additional strategies for your nutritional arsenal:

Small Trades Can Yield Major Payoffs
Examples of small trades that may lead to the major reward of strengthened immunity include choosing:

–          vitamin-fortified meal replacement bar instead of a candy bar;

–          baked potato instead of French fries;

–          salad made with dark greens instead of iceberg lettuce; and/or

–          vegetable soup or a serving of tomato/marinara sauce with your meal.

Generally speaking, the darker a fruit or vegetable, the more rich its vitamin and mineral content.

And to Avoid:
* Refined sugar and excessive fats, which may make the immune system sluggish –  instead, rely on fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds; not only are they rich in fiber, but they also contain high amounts of vitamins and minerals;
* Large, infrequent meals – smaller, more frequent meals digest more efficiently; &
* Food monotony – rotating foods will increase the variety of vitamins and minerals, plus may help avoid food intolerances.

Also, nix the hydrogenated fats or margarine, and opt for more omega-3 essential fatty acids.  These “good fats” are found in flax and fish oil (try salmon, mackerel, and tuna).

The Mighty Multivitamin
Unfortunately, even the mightiest of meals may not provide the array of immune protection that a young athlete (or adult chauffeur) needs.  Many Americans’ diets still fall shy of US RDA guidelines, and we normally don’t consume as many fresh foods in the winter as we do during the warmer seasons.  It’s tough to find fruits and vegetables, especially during weekend travel.  One solution is to pay particular attention to those that are in season.

Also, a whole-foods-based multivitamin/multimineral may help make up the difference.  While it won’t replace whole foods, you may be able to compensate for short-term deficiencies.  Compare labels to see that you’re getting enough antioxidants, such as vitamin C, beta carotene, and selenium.  Check that you’re purchasing one free of dyes, preservatives, and other unnecessary additives.  Finally, pay particular attention to wheat, corn, soy, and dairy, which may cause problems in sensitive people.

Besides the extra insurance that a multivitamin may provide, backing it up with a good night’s sleep can also key to replenish energy stores.

Germophobes Unite!
Next, maintaining a strong, healthy body isn’t just about what you’re getting;  it’s also about what you’re not getting…germs from areas other than foods:

* Wash your hands frequently and properly (for at least 20 seconds), since cold viruses can live for several hours on the hands, tissues, or hard surfaces;
* Use antibacterial products (moderately); &
* Disinfect your gear  – remember, locker room germs make unwelcome dinner guests!

Finally, be a good teammate:  if you’re severely ill, don’t risk wiping out next week’s roster with this weekend’s illness.  At the risk of shortening your team’s bench, no one welcomes a player who’s low in energy and highly contagious.

Remember, a worn-out body is a doormat for germs seeking a warm place for the winter, so avoid becoming a “hotel” for these unwelcome guests!  To lessen your odds, think of The Three Rs:  replenish, restore, and rest.  Even if you can’t keep illness completely at bay, you may be able to lessen the intensity of symptoms with proper nutrition and preventative measures.

Have a specific question, comment, or suggestion for a future article?  Contact Jodi Sheakley at

Nutritional immunity: Facing off against the invisible opponent

By Jodi Sheakley (Part 1 of 2)

When one hears the term, “opponent,” we picture the athletes who sport a different team’s logo.  Yet many of our rivals don’t even wear athletic jerseys.  Some of our toughest opponents include cold and flu viruses, bacteria that cause strep or staph infections, and a host of other unwanted guests.

Frigid weather places additional stress on our immune systems and threatens to weaken us.  For example, cold viruses thrive in colder temperatures, where humidity is low.  Young athletes are particularly prone to illness after wearing themselves down, particularly during intense weekend events.

Normally, microorganisms lie “asleep” in the body.  But when the immune system weakens from stress, poor diet, or lack of rest, these infections can take hold.  And while we may not be able to control our exposure to them, we do have control over what we eat.

‘Tis the season, then, to consider some other options to strengthen your young athlete’s immunity during the taxing physical challenges that he/she faces.  Read on for more information on specific foods that may help boost nutritional immunity:

Vitamin C – Helps with 300+ metabolic functions in the body, plus it partners with vitamin E and beta-carotene to strengthen immunity.  The body may need more of this vitamin when exposed to toxins and illnesses.  While found in fruits and vegetables, watch out for juice drinks.  Although they may offer 100% or more of Vitamin C, they often contain the same amount of sugar per 12-ounce serving:  a whopping nine teaspoons!

Many health experts also promote other antioxidants in boosting immune function:
Beta Carotene – Found in green and yellow vegetables, cantaloupe, apricots, parsley, peaches, and papayas;

Selenium – May work with vitamin E to aid in the production of antibodies.  Sources include broccoli, chicken, dairy products, onions, seafood, and whole grains;

Vitamin E – Aids in tissue repair, helps the body use vitamin A, relaxes leg cramps, and may enhance athletic performance.  It is found in cold-pressed vegetable oils, dark green leafy vegetables, brown rice, milk, oatmeal, and eggs; &

Zinc – Obtained through egg yolks, fish, meats, legumes, mushrooms, pecans, poultry, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, seafood, sunflower seeds, soy lecithin, and whole grains.

Worried about meeting your Recommended Dietary Allowances for the day?  Learn to love “double-duty” foods that provide a number of immune-boosting benefits.  Chicken thighs provide iron, zinc & B vitamins, while marinara sauce supplies beta carotene and vitamin C.

Overall, prevention is key.  Though if you’re struck, you might want to try chicken or turkey soup, since hot liquids may help relieve symptoms and shorten the duration of a cold.  Andrew Weil, MD, suggests, “Try sucking on zinc glutonate or zinc acetate lozenges, which.may shorten the duration of a cold in half.”

In conclusion, some of the best protection may come from your grocery store rather than your favorite pro shop.  In this case, a good defense is.well, a good defense!

Have a specific question, comment, or suggestion for a future article?  Contact Jodi Sheakley at

Teamwork Tips

By Joey Bilotta

Think soccer stardom is won on technical skills alone? Think again.

Beyond individual ability, scouts at international soccer schools look at how players work with their team. They don’t want to sign a player who’s going to disrupt harmony within the squad. They’re going to research, talk to coaches and parents, and get background information about team attitude.

What they want is a well-rounded soccer player, someone whose teamwork skills will fit into their system from Day One. That’s a big part of what scouts look for, and it’s the same thing we tell players in our international soccer schools.

A lot of players show individual ability. Good team players take the game to the next level.

Training for teamwork on the pitch
Players moving up to pro teams from international soccer schools average about ten thousand hours of play with the ball. Our coaches estimate conservatively 50 percent to 60 percent of that time involves practicing with a team.

Like any other skill, practice is crucial to building player interaction. Our international soccer schools dedicate one training session per day to team-oriented play.

Do the same with your team: set up scrimmages and organized positional plays. Let players know where they should play a specific position on the field. Make it a priority to interact with teammates. Develop an instinct for how each player reacts.

Participation is key
It’s important for all players to attend the practice sessions. You build relationships with your teammates, the same as players in international soccer schools. It’s almost second nature, a sort of in-built telepathy. You know where people are going to be on the field. You know what they’re going to do with the ball.

You build those relationships through many hours of practice as a team.

Building better teamwork off the field
Chemistry for teams works the same at home as it does in international soccer schools. You have to learn to live with the good and bad about everyone. When you step over the line on the field, you’re as one. You’ve got to be as one off the field as well.

Social activities bond teams together so you can understand each other’s personalities. Players in our international soccer schools take cultural excursions together. You can do the same thing with your local team.

Activities can be simple: a hiking trip, paintball, laser tag, or something similar. It doesn’t have to be soccer-related.

Training like a pro
Players in international soccer schools concentrate on teamwork as well as technical skills. Don’t forget to implement that at home. Coaches and parents talk about players showing better organizational skills, reading the game better, and helping organize their teammates into different positions on the field.

Are they talking about you? Start training like an elite international soccer schools player today, and they will be soon.

Ready to kick-start your soccer adventure overseas? Thousands of our soccer players have achieved international confidence and world-class soccer skills. Some have gone on to trials with professional teams. Will you be the next? Contact EduKick Soccer Camps to find out how you can take your soccer game to Spain, England, Italy, France, China, Brazil, or Mexico.

Checklist of items for your baseball league to address before the season

Every year, new boards come into youth baseball leagues around the country and begin making decisions about the upcoming season. Those most pressing issues are usually the ones handled first. Therefore, we spend most of our time in the winter board meetings talking about tryouts, scheduling, team selections, managers, uniforms, registration and the like. What often gets pushed to the back burner however, are some of the policies that later take on the utmost importance. And if we wait until after the season begins to address these, there are many skeptics who believe the late decisions give unfair benefit to some over others. It is best to get all of your rules and guidelines out in the open before Opening Day so that there is no controversy later. Here is a list of a few items that we recommend you address and clearly delineate prior to the start of the season.

1. League Championship: What determines your League Champion? Overall record? First-half/Second-half? Playoff? Who makes the playoff? Is there a regular-season champion and a play-off champion? What is the tiebreaker if two teams are tied? What if three or more teams are tied?
2. Post-season playoffs: If you will be participating in a Tournament of Champions or other post season tournaments involving neighboring leagues, how will you determine which teams get to go?
3. All-stars: What are the selection criteria for all-stars? Does the board pick the teams? Managers? Players? Some combination of these?
4. All-star Managers: How will they be selected? Is it strictly the President’s choice? Will weight be given to prior experience? Will team standings be factored in?
5. Rainout schedule: In the event of rain, what is the procedure for make-ups? Is there a clear process to determine how games are made-up so that no one cries foul when they are forced to play back-to-back games or extra games in a week?
6. Player call-ups: What if a player is injured, quits, or is non-attending? How long does the player have to be out before a manager must call-up a replacement from a lower division? What is the process to ensure timely reporting of injury or a player who has missed consecutive games to ensure a manager is not using a missing player to his advantage?
7. Late registrants: What happens when a player wants to register after the draft has taken place? Is there a system in place to ensure no one believes a team has received an unfair advantage from the Player Agent or the board by getting a “ringer” who wasn’t available to everyone else during the draft?
8. Players choosing managers: What is your policy for parents of players who say, prior to the draft, that they want to play only for one manager, or NOT for one manager? What system is in place to make certain no one can manipulate the draft in their favor?
9. Umpire no-show: If the umpire doesn’t show up what happens? Play the game with a parent umping behind the mound? Does it count in the standings? Play a practice game and reschedule? Pull an umpire from a lower division game?

Your league may not experience all of these issues, but there’s a good chance you’ll encounter some. And if you clearly define your policy on these situations before they occur, no one can accuse you of showing favoritism.

At what age should kids try out for sports?

I ran into a friend of mine who is on the board of the local Little League where I served eight years. He was telling me about some changes the league was making which they felt were very positive.

One of their new ideas is to create a division above the current “Machine-Pitch” level where some of the “more talented” kids could begin doing live pitching instead of facing a machine. In the past we’d always mandated that six year-olds play T-ball, seven year-olds Coach-Pitch, eight year-olds, Machine-Pitch, and then only when you are nine do you begin facing live pitching.

I don’t want to get into a debate on whether the idea of starting kids on live pitching at eight is better or worse than age nine, but it did bring up some questions, most notably, how would those “more talented” kids be selected? I know from experience on the board that 80% of the parents in our community believe their six and seven year-olds possess advanced skills. How, I wondered, would the board determine who gets to “play-up” and who doesn’t? Were they now going to begin tryouts a year earlier, at age 8?

My friend said that they were dead-set against tryouts for eight year-olds and that they were going to base who got to play on the evaluations filled out by the previous year’s Coach-Pitch manager. I think they’re in for some trouble with this strategy. Not only is it difficult to get 12-14 managers at this level to fill out the evaluations to begin with, I feel that asking them to determine who is eligible to move up or not puts these people in a tough situation. Few who sign up to coach seven year-old kids in Coach-Pitch are going to want to take on the added responsibility of determining which players advance and which don’t. Plus, I can just hear the parents now of the kids who aren’t above the threshold. “He said Johnny was better than my son? Johnny couldn’t hold a candle to Timmy!” Now, in a division that is supposed to simply recreational and instructional, I can see parents watching every game with score books and keeping batting averages so that, at the end of the season, they can prove their son deserves a shot at skipping a level next year too.

What it means is, they’re eventually going to have to do a tryout for eight year-olds, which got me thinking, how young is too young for children to “try-out” for a sport? I’m not referring to assessments where confidential evaluations are made in order to form fair teams, yet where everyone makes a team and gets to play. I’m talking about a full-fledged try-out where some will be given the good news that they made the cut, and others will be told they are not good enough.

I’m not sure there is any definitive right or wrong answer, but it is certainly one every organization in every youth sport should examine.