When it comes to kids in sports, how much is too much?

Interesting video examining the topic of time spent by families with kids who play sports.

Baseball pitching mechanics

By Dan Gazaway

Balance is a key element to solid pitching mechanics and will bring you much success if utilized correctly. Without balance, it is difficult to throw strikes and throw hard. Without it, all of your other pitches won’t do what they are intended to do. So how do you keep your balance?

As a pitcher, you want to start off with a solid balance point. In the stretch position, make sure you start in a closed stance not an open stance. To get into this posture, (if you’re a right handed pitcher) place your right toe in the groove of your left shoe and then spread your feet armpit width apart. This will ensure that your start in a closed position with your feet. The key is to start closed and end closed to foot strike after you take your stride. How can your leg lift affect your balance? When you lift your leg, make sure you “lift” not “kick” your leg up. If you “kick” or “twist” too much, you are likely to lose your balance.

Remember, the key to pitching mechanics is balance. All of your momentum needs to go in one direction, and one direction only, toward home plate. Make sure you don’t rock back or forward during your leg lift. Also, ensure you don’t lower (bend) your back leg any further when lifting your lead leg. Your energy goes down when you do this and it is hard to get a good push off the pitching rubber; keep momentum going forward.

One last tip on your leg lift; the majority of your body weight should rest on the ball of your pivot foot instead of the heel of the foot or on the arc. If your weight is on the heel of your foot, you may find it difficult to push off the pitching rubber anyway. When you push off the ball of your pivot foot, not only do you explode to foot strike, gathering more momentum (velocity); you can also keep better balance.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy (www.thepitchingacademy.com). 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 contact@thepitchingacademy.net.

Developing decision makers

By Fran Kulas

Would you, as a parent, go in your backyard and cheer for your kids while they are playing tag with their neighborhood friends? Would you tell them where to hide in a game of “hide-and-go-seek”? Would you tell them who to pass to in a two-on-two basketball game in your driveway? I feel sure those who asked themselves these questions responded with a definitive “no.” Since you wouldn’t cheer for your child or offer strategic comments to them in neighborhood games, why do you do it during their team’s soccer game? Is it because you view their performance as being more important because they are wearing uniforms and there is a referee? Are you the type of parent who believes that your success in raising your child will be measured by what your child does or doesn’t do in his/her soccer game?

The sideline behavior of coaches and parents must improve. In Dr. Lynn Kidman’s book “Developing Decision Makers,” she points out that “it is imperative that we give priority to the development needs of children, ahead of adult needs.” Children actually need less direction than most parents and coaches are giving them. Let’s explore solutions that will help give the game back to the kids.

Adult Reinforcement
Adult influence is a very instrumental factor on the way children develop psychologically, socially, cognitively, and emotionally. As Kidman points out, “Adult reinforcement is the main influence on the way children perceive failure. If adults make it clear that they expect their children to win, they insinuate that the children will fail unless they win.”

Adult reinforcement can be both positive and negative. While parents and coaches may have the best intentions at heart, Kidman notes that adult expectations can often inhibit a child’s enjoyment of a sport. “Because the desire for adult approval is very strong before puberty,” Kidman writes, “Children’s ability to perform at their own level and for fun can be inhibited. Therefore adults have a responsibility to consider which expectations are their own and which are their children’s. This is a difficult task because it requires some degree of objectivity.”

Sideline Behavior and Comments
A simple, yet seldom-used method of determining what children want to hear from the sidelines is proposed in the book: “A good way to determine whether the sideline comments are helpful and supportive is to ask the children what they prefer to hear on the sideline, if anything.” Have you ever tried this approach? I challenge you to do so and report back to me with the responses you solicit.

Steve Tranter, Director of Coaching for the Cincinnati United Premier Soccer Club in Cincinnati, Ohio, distributes a document to all of his coaches entitled” Coach Protocol.” In this document, coaches are instructed to “only give instruction when the ball is out of play.” While this may be considered extreme, it certainly serves as a sound guideline for parents and coaches to refrain from trying to control the players’ every move versus allowing them to discover the game at their own rate.

Parents and coaches often get wrapped up in the moment and get overwhelmed with the emotion that they want the players to succeed. We must, however, as adult leaders in a child’s game, ask ourselves, “Are we giving information for rapid performance change or for deep rooted learning?”

An old Chinese Proverb states: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Let’s remember these wise old words while on the sidelines of the soccer field. Kidman points out that “too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.” There couldn’t be a more true statement.

Let Them Play!
U14 boys’ rugby coach Hugh Galvan, paints a clear picture in Kidman’s book when he is quoted saying “Certainly I used to be more directive, make a lot more decisions for p layers and didn’t include them in the decision-making process, yet ironically, they play the game, not me.” This youth coach has a firm grasp on what a coach is really meant to do: empower players to perform and make decisions independently. “There is no point in coaching unless the teaching you do helps the student overtake you,” Galvan said.

Yet sometimes as parents and coaches, we sometimes selfishly want players to rely on us to be successful. Letting players play and make decisions on their own is perhaps the most important responsibility for adults. It is well documented that decision-making ability is considered particularly important within a free-flowing dynamic sport such as soccer, in which the coach has limited influence once the game begins. Sometimes, less is more.
Recently at a U.S. Soccer National Youth License course, instructor Ron Quinn provided a slogan for all adults in the game to model themselves after: “Over-coaching is when players look to you for every move they make. Under-coaching is when they can’t find you.”

Fran Kulas is Director of Coach and Player Development for Concord Soccer Association. He can be reached at frankulas@comcast.net

Managing your volunteer coaches

We take them for granted. Once we’ve gotten parents to “step up to the plate,” and volunteer to coach a team, we often breathe a sigh of relief and figure now that that’s taken care of we can get on to more important issues. However, the way you manage your volunteer coaches throughout the season might determine whether or not they come back to do it again next year. And maybe more importantly, it could also be what determines if some players return as well.

It is natural, even necessary, when involved in a youth sports league at the Board of Directors level, to take a “macro” view of the league. We are required to look at the big picture, plan strategically and think about what is best for the organization as a whole. Yet, we would all agree that the sole purpose of any youth sports organization is to provide a positive experience for each child participating. Things like concessions, uniforms, trophies, fundraising and a myriad of other issues that consume our thinking are all important to the overall health of our leagues. But the bottom line is that for each boy and girl participating, the only thing that really matters is what happens on the field at each game and practice. Wouldn’t it be a shame if there was a child who decided not to play next season who may have come back if we’d done a better job “coaching” our coaches?

What can we do to help our coaches be the best they can be? Well, aside from the more obvious steps we may take such as providing education, training and useful materials, there are ways to successfully manage our volunteers throughout the season.

We all know how busy everyone on the board is. Most division coordinators are probably also coaching a team, in addition to attending board meetings and other responsibilities. Asking them to take more time to go out and observe other team’s practices and games means stretching them even more thinly. However, people respect what you inspect, and even if it is just for a few minutes, the things we can learn by observation about the way coaches are interacting with kids and how the kids are responding to the coaches can be invaluable. Anyone who has been in the workplace in the “real world,” knows that the most effective managers don’t hide in an office, but get out and work with the troops in the field.

Another technique along the same lines, which is one that will net desired results in less time, is to make occasional quality-check phone calls to parents. I would recommend that, before the season, you let your coaches know that from time-to-time you will be contacting some of their parents just to get their input on how the year is going. It is important that your coaches know that your allegiance is to them first and foremost, and that your intentions are not to dig up problems, but just to make sure parents understand that the organization cares how their children are doing and is available to handle any potential concerns. I can tell you from personal experience that it is very rewarding to hear three or four parents from one team consecutively tell me that the coach is doing a wonderful job. By the same token, if more than one parent conveys negative feedback, that might be a team I want to observe in person on the field.

A weekly email to each division’s coaches, maybe every Monday, can also be helpful. This email can simply be a recap of the previous week’s accomplishments and a forum to communicate important information, scheduling changes and other updates. If you must address problems, such as improper storing of equipment, care of fields and facilities, etc. it is important not to single anyone out and embarrass them in front of their peers. If your weekly emails gradually turn into weekly admonishments, you can count on having to recruit a whole new crop of coaches next year. However, if you go out of your way to point out things you’ve seen and heard that your coaches are doing well, and provide tips that will be helpful to all, they’ll look forward to hearing from you.

And finally, it is a terrific idea to ask for for end-of-season coaches evaluations from your parents so their opinions can be heard. It is understandable that parents may be reluctant to say something negative about a coach for fear it might get back to him, especially since we’re talking about community sports. Therefore, many leagues allow parents to fill out evaluation forms anonymously. However, it is also important to know that allowing parents to evaluate anonymously could pave the way for some to negatively critique a coach who was actually solid and fair, simply because they felt their child should have played more and/or at a different position. A league in which I was involved allowed for anonymous evaluations, but stated on the evaluation form that those which were signed would carry more weight. And when you do run pre-season coaches clinics, how about asking some of the more highly-evaluated returning coaches to share some tips with the others?

If you want to look at the health and success of a youth recreational sports league, you need look no further than the cadre of coaches interacting with the players each day. An organization in which these volunteers are prepared, enthusiastic, appreciated and well-managed makes the experience more enjoyable for the coaches, parents, board and, most importantly, the kids.



CoachDeck Baseball updated

The 2011 version of CoachDeck for Baseball is now available and has been updated. Two drills in the “Hitting” category have been eliminated and replaced with new ones. Gone are, Belly-Button Swing and Rapid Fire and now in the new “lineup” are Bunt Zones and Bunt with Partner. Feedback from customers indicated that “Belly-Button” and “Rapid Fire” were lesser utilized among the 13 hitting cards and also that there was a desire for the addition of bunting drills to round out the Hitting category. All  customers purchasing Baseball CoachDecks from this time going forward will receive the new version.

They picked on the wrong kid

Another great story by Rick Reilly of SI about a kid from the tough streets of Philly and his favorite Eagle, DeSean Jackson, coming to the rescue. DeSean might be one of your new favorite players after reading this.

2010 AAU Sullivan Award Semi-Finalists

The AAU Sullivan Committee has announced the 2010 AAU Sullivan Award Semi-finalists. These twelve outstanding athletes give it their all on and off the field or court. They have talent, leadership, character and sportsmanship; they have what it takes to be America’s top Amateur Athlete. Learn more about these individuals through his/her biographies, and then go online to vote at USA Today for your choice to be honored with the 81st Annual AAU Sullivan Award. Vote today online at USA Today by clicking here. The semi-finalists are: Blair Brown, Jimmer Fredette, Robert Hoadley, Regina Jacquess, Alix Klineman, Evan Lysacek, Maya Moore, Cam Newton, Tahnee Robinson, DJ Williams and Karrissa Wimberley. You can read each’s bio and accomplishments here.

Inspirational Athletes

Many of us have baseball-playing children who were born in the 90’s or even later. This means they may not remember one of the most inspirational and gracious athletes to have played the game, Jim Abbott. Despite being born without a right hand, Jim was an All-America pitcher at Michigan and for the Gold Medal Olympic Team in 1988. He played for 10 seasons in the Major Leagues on 4 different teams, and threw a no-hitter for the New York Yankees versus Cleveland (September 4, 1993). His big league playing career ended in 1999. Here’s where you can go to learn what Jim is doing now, read his biography, see videos, and more.

Facebook pages for sports fans

If you would like to be kept up-to-date, get the latest information and breaking news in the sports world, here are four Facebook pages to consider following.

And hopefully you won’t mind us plugging our own Facebook page and maybe you’ll even follow us as well.

CoachDeck vs. coaching clinics

We often hear from sports leagues and organizations that they are planning to do coach training clinics prior to the season and that for this reason they don’t believe they also need to provide CoachDecks to their coaches. We’re big believers in coaching clinics and feel every league should run them.

The drawbacks to clinics are that it is usually impossible to get 100% attendance and those who do attend can only retain 30-40% of what they see and hear. What we’re hearing from leagues everywhere is that CoachDeck is the perfect supplement to clinics, so that throughout the season coaches can quickly refer to the deck and be reminded of things they learned.

Many organizations we’re working with are using CoachDeck as a reward for those who attend their clinics by handing them out there. We’ve heard that nothing “makes” a clinic or a coaches meeting like bringing out a box of our decks to distribute to all of the hard-working volunteers who stepped  up to coach a team.