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.