One final post for 2011

Thank you to all who have made this our most successful year ever. We look forward to helping more and more coaches be the best they can be in 2012. Have a safe and prosperous 2012. And please enjoy this heartwarming story by Rick Reilly to put into perspective our thoughts on the old year and dreams for the new. Happy New Year.

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Double your holiday gift!

From Carolyn Stern, CEO of UNICEF U.S. Fund

Hundreds of thousands of children in the Horn of Africa are still in peril. UNICEF is racing to help them survive – but we need your help.

Thankfully, there’s good news: An anonymous group of generous donors has agreed to match every dollar you give between now and December 31, up to $1 million!

This is the single largest matching gift of the year. That means for the next 8 days, you have an unrivaled opportunity to help save children suffering from severe malnutrition.

Too many children have already starved to death this year. Help save those that are still struggling to survive.

Donate before December 31 and every dollar you give will be DOUBLED – up to $1 million.

I wish it was over, but the famine in the Horn of Africa is still very real for the families suffering in the region. And to make matters worse, UNICEF is preparing to respond to a new malnutrition crisis in West Africa, where a million more children’s lives are at stake.

The suffering of malnourished children throughout Africa cannot be over-exaggerated. There are children many months old with impossibly small bodies, like newborns. Seasoned UNICEF staff who have lived and worked in the affected regions – people with 20 or 30 years’ experience – break into tears when trying to describe what they are now seeing in terms of human suffering

There are still severely malnourished children in the Horn of Africa and around the world who desperately need your help. With this breaking news – the largest matching gift opportunity we’ve had all year! – you have the power to save twice as many lives.

During my last visit to Kenya, I had the privilege of delivering supplies to an utterly famished boy. Imagine handing a packet of tasty, therapeutic nut-paste to a hungry 2-year old and watching him rip it open and devour the contents. The look on his face: sheer joy.

That moment of joy – when a starving child finally tastes the sweet, nutty paste that has the power to restore – this is what you give countless times over with one generous donation.

You can stop famine from taking a child’s life. You can stop hunger. You can reach an entire generation of children and not only save them from death, but give them a brighter future.

Let’s make the next 8 days a force that literally pulls tens of thousands of children back from the brink.

Please give generously now and help feed, nourish, and save children suffering from malnutrition. Every dollar you give before December 31 will be DOUBLED up to $1 million.

Be a part of something spectacularly life-changing this holiday season. Join thousands of other UNICEF supporters as they come together to save countless innocent children from suffering and hunger.

You can give using CoachDeck’s UNICEF site by clicking here.

Swinging for the fences

By Tom Turner

Would any good team coach have his or her players….

  • Hit for the fences on every at bat in baseball or softball?
  • Throw “Hail Mary” passes on every down in football?
  • Shoot every puck into the attacking zone in hockey?
  • Throw every inbound pass the length of the court in basketball?

Would any good individual performer.….

  • Hit the cue ball as hard as possible on every shot in pool?
  • Attempt to complete a distance race at sprint pace?
  • Take corners at top speed in NASCAR or speed skating?
  • Use a driver on every hole in golf?

If you answered “No, of course not” think about the impact on fun and growth when coaches and parents discourage or deny or denigrate dribbling and inter-passing and risk-taking because their team may lose a goal or a game. Good soccer teams don’t kick everything long and good soccer players have multiple dimensions for creating goal-scoring chances. In every sport, it is the changes in pace  (rhythm) that are important; in every sport, it is the diversity of skills that elevates the personalities to greatness; in every sport, it is “doing cool things” with the ball that are most fun for young players.

The lessons of history suggest that successful cultures learn and benefit from the endeavors of their ancestors: Will our next generation of soccer players reflect 40 years of stuttering evolution to become more graceful and talented, or will they still be swinging for the fences in 2012?

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 coaching@oysan.org.

Make practice fun and meaningful

There are two things that kids want from practice. They want to get better, and they want to have fun. There are many coaches who are great at teaching fundamentals, but don’t have much fun doing it. And there are other coaches who run fun practices, but don’t teach much in the way of skills. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Coaches who make their practices enjoyable while teaching the basics usually get the most of their players.

Don’t get me wrong. Practice isn’t supposed to be just amusement. But think about a job you may have had (or currently have), that was actually kind of fun. Sure, you were working and getting things done, but it was more of a pleasure than a chore. Why can’t we make our practices the same way?

Here’s an example of what I mean: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked by a field and seen a group of kids, standing line, each taking a turn dribbling to a cone and back. If the ball is not controlled properly or a player takes his time moving down and back – no big deal. The coach might tell them to speed it up or keep the ball under control, but other than a verbal correction, there are no consequences for lack of effort or poor performance. Meanwhile, seven kids are always standing still, bored stiff.

Instead, why not divide that same group of kids into two teams and run a relay race down and back? A coach can incorporate a minimum number of touches or require a zig-zag through middle cones to teach ball control, but now, as the two teams come down the stretch in a close race, everyone is involved and excited. And when the drill is over, they want to do it again.

But maybe most importantly, what you’ve also done by conducting the drill in this manner, is to simulate game competition. Now, when one of those players has the chance to put those skills into action during a game, they’ve been there before. They’ve experienced the same pressure in a practice setting and thus, are more likely to perform.

We’ve tried to build this coaching philosophy into CoachDeck. Beyond being a simple pack of 52 good, fundamental drills, each card has a unique, “Make it a Game,” feature that turns an ordinary drill into a fun and exciting competition kids will love.

We believe this is one of the reasons that baseball, basketball and soccer leagues using CoachDeck are reporting that more kids are coming back to play year-after-year. This obviously means more registrations and a healthier bottom line for the league. In this way, leagues using CoachDeck tell us they don’t look at CoachDeck as a luxury, but as an investment that pays dividends.

Which is all nice. But our bottom line is that more kids are playing sports – and sticking with it. If we can have a little to do with that happening, than that makes coming to work a little more fun for us too.

ABF pitching research

One of our partners, the American Baseball Foundation (ABF) presented its summary of research related to youth baseball pitching to the Development Commission of the International Baseball Federation at its world congress held in Dallas, Texas on December 2 & 3, 2011.  Identifying the relative importance of causal factors affecting youth pitchers, David Osinski detailed key research, undertaken mostly in Birmingham under the direction of the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI), that substantiates overuse as the leading injury cause. You can get more details here.


A ball is a ball, a strike is a strike

By Ryan Sienko, Owner of Catch and Throw

Ball!!! How many times has that four letter word frustrated pitchers, managers, and fans that thought the pitch was a strike? We all understand that the umpire’s calls are part of the game, but that doesn’t soften the blow of a ball thrown right down the middle on a 3-2 count and called for a ball. I am going to try to give you a different read on how to accept calls but why happy umpires are important, and how you can learn about, and from, each umpire.

In order to have sanity we need to understand one thing. Umpires will not change the call on a called ball or strike even if they know they were wrong. I realize that doesn’t soften the blow, but understanding that can help a pitcher out in the long run. As a former professional catcher, I can sympathize with pitchers everywhere. In fact, I fought umpires for strikes my whole career. There are some things that we can do to not only understand the calls, but learn and prosper from the umpire’s zones.

Umpires are always trying to get better just like our players. They are always trying to make the right calls just like hitters are trying to swing at strikes and pitchers are trying to throw strikes. Sometimes it does not always work out that way. The one thing that umpires have that players do not have is the ability to make up for mistakes.

A couple of things that you can ask yourself about the umpires are:

1. Why are umpires important?

2. How can they help you?

3. How can you work with them?

Pitchers and catchers need to adjust and focus on the most important pitch of his life, THE NEXT ONE! The next pitch is the most important pitch of his lifetime and looking back can only affect the future since you cannot change what has already happened. Every coach has seen the breakdown of players that are affected by not only umpire’s calls, but by other plays that have happened in the game and the players cannot stop the bleeding until it is too late. Many pitchers will let a call that they thought went against them turn into 4 or 5 runs. That is simply unacceptable. The ability to mentally focus on the task at hand instead of what will not be changed will not only bring you to what is important, but will score you major points with the “Man in Blue”. In fact, he is a teammate as anyone else on your team.

As a pregame imperative, it is a good idea to learn all of the umpire’s names, especially the man working the plate that night. Umpires and pitchers and catchers are all alone on two islands and the game would not work without them. As a pitcher it good policy to say hello, tell them to have a good game, and smile. As a catcher it is recommended that you tell the umpire what the starter is featuring on that given night and when other pitchers come into the game, that you tell him about the relievers as well. Also, finish up talking to the umpires before the game by assuring them that you will keep them “clean”. This means that you will do your absolute best to keep the ball off of him. Umpires appreciate friends and some will let you know what their strikes zones are and how they are going to call things. For example, one umpire who was known as “Hoops” would always remind me that he would give nothing down, but would extend the sides. Knowing what the strike zone is going to be is critical information that could really help when you might really need a strike call.

Figuring out how you can use the umpire as a friend instead of a foe really will give you an advantage. Keeping them happy and focusing on what you can control as a player will give you an edge that cannot be measured.

Ryan Sienko is founder and CEO of Catch and Throw, a catching instruction, information, and conditioning company. He played professionally for eight seasons with the Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox and in independent baseball where he was an All-Star. In early 2010 the Joliet Jackhammers inducted him as the inaugural player to their Hall of Fame. He is also an associate scout for the Baltimore Orioles. Ryan can be reached at ryan@catchandthrow.com

The psychological consequences of injury

By Dr. Alan Goldberg

(Note: This is the third in a series on Injuries to Athletes:)

So what happens to all of these psychological goodies when you’re suddenly sidelined by an injury? To put it simply, you become overwhelmed by a variety of internal and external losses. As the athlete struggles with the impact of these losses, all hell breaks loose! If the injury is significant enough to keep you out of commission for a good chunk of time, the first thing that you lose is your identity as an athlete and team member. You lose your place and role on the team. “Identity confusion” sets in. Translated into understandable English, this means that you start to question who you are if you’re not constantly in the pool, out on the field, course or court practicing and competing in your sport. An Olympic gymnast permanently sidelined from her sport because of a career-ending injury put it quite clearly. “I’ve been doing gymnastics since I was 6 years old. It’s all I know. It’s who I am and what I do. If I’m not a gymnast then who am I really”?

Without your sport, with its’ frequent practices and competitions, you suddenly have a potentially significant vacuum in your sense of self that you have to try to fill. This is only less extreme if you have been able to expand your involvement into other activities in other areas of your life. Unfortunately, most serious athletes commit so much of their free time to excelling in their sport that other, non-athletic activities are virtually impossible.

This individual identity confusion is compounded by the fact that your injury has suddenly changed your identity and place on the team! You are no longer the leader, workhorse or clutch performer. Now your position is on the deck, bench, or sidelines with the coach and your role on the team is suddenly unclear and questionable!

Hand in hand with this sense of identity confusion comes 2 other significant losses: First, you lose you physical health and sense of invincibility. Many athletes are used to being independent and relying upon their bodies to respond as trained and directed. With the injury, you have to face the cold hard fact that your body has somehow failed you. This can be a tough pill to swallow. Furthermore, injuries frequently make you dependent upon others, i.e. doctors, trainers, physical therapists, etc.; Most athletes have a strong independent streak and hate having to depend on anyone other than themselves.

Second, you lose a major source of your self-esteem. If you get your goodies from being faster than everyone else, hitting the ball harder, throwing touchdowns or shutting an opposing player down, then you’ll get precious few good feelings from standing on the sidelines helplessly watching the action. Suddenly, you’re plagued with self-doubts and have to struggle with questions of your own self-worth. If you’re not pushing others in practice, working hard on your game, and helping your team in competitions, then what real value do you have on the team? For many athletes this is probably the hardest part of their injury. It’s a huge blow to your ego. Suddenly, slower or weaker athletes are taking your place and doing what you should be doing, but can no longer do.

The other significant feeling that accompanies these losses is a sense of alienation and isolation. Robbed of the limelight, unable to fulfill your old role on the team, and unable to even practice with the rest of the team, it’s common to struggle with feelings that now you are suddenly very different, that you no longer fit in.

In H.G. Bissinger’s “Friday Night Lights”, the story of the Permian Panthers High School football team from Odessa, Texas, the author tells about the experience of Booby Miles, the team’s star running back. A young man with tremendous promise and pro potential, Booby is suddenly sidelined by a career-ending injury. Instead of capturing the limelight, he now captures splinters on the bench. He becomes a forgotten man on the sidelines. With his injury, his stock on the team and in the community suddenly plummets to zero as the media, coaches and fellow teammates contribute to his sense of isolation and alienation by completely ignoring him.

The final loss that accompanies a physical injury lies in the athlete’s inability to constructively cope with stress. If your sport has been a vehicle for you to tame chronic low self-esteem or manage psychic stress, an injury suddenly robs you of this familiar and comfortable coping mechanism. As a consequence you are now in an even more vulnerable position and further susceptible to the negative affects of stress and depression.

For example, a distance runner was sidelined for 4 months for the very first time in his life because of broken ribs. After he was finally given the doctor’s go-ahead to resume training he was distressed to find that he was continually plagued by an inexplicable shortness of breath and feelings of intense anxiety, both of which were so bad that they actually prevented him from running the way he had before his injury. Despite the fact that the doctors had ruled out any medical reasons for his breathing problems, he continued to suffer from these symptoms.

After meeting with him I learned that he had grown up in a very abusive home and from the time that he could remember, he had dealt with his problems by literally running away from them. When his best and only way of psychologically coping, running, had been temporarily taken away by the rib injury, a lot of the problems he’d been avoiding for all those years finally caught up to him. In fact, those problems were so upsetting and anxiety provoking that they literally “took his breath away” and forced him to finally face them head on.

So what does all this loss mean to you as an athlete or to your coach? If you want to speed up the rehab process as much as possible, then you need to EXPECT certain feelings and behaviors to emerge as a result of your injury. You need to understand that these feelings and behaviors are absolutely NORMAL and a natural part of successfully coping. As with any kinds of loss, the athlete may go through a number of stages directly related to mourning. Some sport psychologists feel that these stages parallel Kubler-Ross’s five stages in her discussion of death and dying: Denial; Anger; Bargaining; Depression; Acceptance.

Many athletes first meet their injury with outright denial. They may downplay or ignore the seriousness of the injury, falsely believing that everything’s O.K. As a consequence they may continue to train through the injury, only making matters worse. Frequently the injury is often accompanied by feelings of intense anger. The athlete may adopt a “why me, why now” attitude and act hostile and resentful to coaches, teammates, parents and friends. Some athletes then get into an internal bargaining with themselves, i.e. “if I do this and that, then maybe I’ll be able to get back out there”. At some point in this whole process, depression finally sets in as the athlete comes to directly realize the nature and seriousness of his/her injury and loss. The depression may entail a loss of interest in or withdrawal from once favored activities, sleep and eating disturbances (sleeping too much/insomnia, overeating/loss of appetite), low energy and possibly even suicidal thoughts and feelings. At the end of this depression stage, the athlete comes to accept his/her situation and make the best of it.

So what is the best way to handle injury so that the psychological pain is minimized? Next: ATHLETE STRATEGIES FOR COPING WITH INJURIES

Dr. Alan Goldberg is a nationally-known expert in the field of applied sport psychology, Dr. Goldberg works with athletes and teams across all sports at every level, from professional and Olympic caliber right down to junior competitors. He is the author of 25 mental toughness training programs and Director of Competitive Advantage. His website is www.competitivedge.com.