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The main ingredient of stardom

For those who believe in the “Team” concept instead of the “Me” attitude that has seemingly taken over modern sport, we offer these words from John Wooden, found in Wooden, by Steve Jamison.

No UCLA basketball player’s number was retired while I was coach. Later on, certain numbers were retired, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s number (33) and Bill Walton’s (32).

I was against it in both cases (and any other case) not because Kareem and Bill weren’t outstanding players, but because other fellows who played on our team also wore those numbers.

Some of those other players gave me close to everything they had, even though they aren’t as famous and perhaps didn’t have the natural gifts Kareem and Bill were blessed with.

For example, Willie Naulls wore number 33 while he was a member of our team. He worked hard, he played hard, he was an All-American. Doesn’t he have some claim to the number 33?

The jersey and the number on it never belong to just one single player, no matter how great or how big a “star” that particular player is. It goes against the whole concept of what a team is. The team is the star, never an individual player.

Did you win? (Part 2 of 2)

By Maureen Dracup

I received this email from that U10 girls’ coach I worked with; an update after their last game. “Before our game on Saturday, I started off with telling the team that we were going to try something different today. They were going to coach themselves. I was going to watch, make substitutions and sometimes ask them questions when they came off the field. They were startled. At first they were smiling and happy but then realized that they were going to have to do all the communication. You would have been very proud of me. I think I made 3 comments the entire game!”

“It took the girls about 15 minutes to realize I meant what I said and I wasn’t going to coach out to them; it was kind of quiet out there. But all of a sudden you should have seen the passes, the confidence and the plays that started to take place.”

“During the game a mother from the other team must have been getting frustrated that their team wasn’t doing as well as she thought they should. She yelled out “Shoot the Ball” when one of their players had it. She yelled it so loud that we could hear it on the other side like she was right next to us. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone yell that loud (except maybe me!). I thought to myself how annoying that sounds and how that player and/or team must feel hearing that command. One of the girls on our bench said, “How embarrassing”. That was an “Ah Ha” moment as Oprah would put it for me as a coach.”

“The end result was a win for us but you know what, that didn’t even come up!It was the first time I didn’t hear players talk about the score. They were talking about all the things we did well and what they noticed we could improve on.”

“Over these past few months, I have changed my philosophy around and can now really measure what success is.”

If we truly want to develop our players, we need to be brave like this U10 girls’ coach and risk the final result. Sure, their team won the game but I have no doubt based on meeting the girls (and the fact that they didn’t talk about the score) that the game would’ve still been a positive experience if it had resulted in a loss. She’s given the game back to the players!Focus on winning too young and we miss out on critical skills and critical players … focus on the most skilled and “pigeon-holing” players and you risk limiting their overall growth potential. Focusing too much on the results increases the risk of players turning away from the game because of burn out …. soccer became a job and wasn’t fun anymore. Focus on intent and you nurture their passion for the game!

Last summer I was on a stretch of traveling and missed one of my daughter’s U12 games. I phoned her and started the conversation with “Did you have fun?” She immediately went into the details of a scenario where she took on a defender and beat her with the dribble; something that she had been struggling with and started to really focus on. I was so caught up by the excitement in her voice that I just assumed they won the game. We hung up a couple minutes later and as I continued my drive, I realized that I never actually heard about the final outcome. A little investigative work on my part, I found out from another parent that they had actually lost the game!Yet that game was a success because her game grew and she obviously had fun!I admit I got a good laugh at myself about that …. I realized that the win/loss mattered more to me!That’s usually the case.

So as we prepare for the spring soccer season, taking care of paperwork, field assignments, rosters and uniforms, I suggest we all give our communication skills a tune-up. Take an honest look at your demeanor. Take a listen to what you’re saying. Remember, it’s not necessarily what you’re saying; it’s how you say it!These kids just want to play but they also want to please their coaches and parents!If the first words out of your mouth are “Did you win?” Or “Tough Loss”, it’s a conversation show stopper. I love getting game reports from young children so I now purposely ask questions that prolong the answer to the win/loss question. Give them an opportunity to brag on themselves. Give them the chance to reflect on what just took place. YOU can spin a loss into a positive experience!OR, even better, allow them the chance to not talk about it at all! Most kids really don’t want to analyze the game. They play because they like to play!

I hope you all enjoy the spring season. Remember, it’s just a game and that most youth players recover from the loss by the time they get to the concession stand … especially when they know they have unconditional love and support from their coaches and parents.

Maureen Dracup holds a USSF National “B” License, USSF National Youth License, USSF National Goalkeeper License and is the former NYSWYSA Associate Director of Coaching. You can reach her through her blog at maureendracupsoccer.blogspot.com

Did you win? (Part 1 of 2)

By Maureen Dracup

Over the past couple of months, I spent time attending coach education events; a licensing course in Chula Vista, California, the NSCAA convention in Baltimore and the USYSA workshop in Pittsburgh. While the classroom and field sessions are an invaluable venue to pick up new ideas and grow as a coach and educator, the opportunity to meet, re-connect and network with coaches from around the world has an even greater impact on me.

I had a particularly engaging exchange with a coach from Ohio. It was one of those seamless conversations that seemed to touch on every possible subject that falls under the umbrella of youth soccer. At one point, the notion of a “must win” U10 game came up. The give-and-take of the discussion flowed; no debate ensued as we were philosophically on the same page, but it has been on my mind ever since. Most leagues no longer publish standings for this age group and most tournaments are set up in festival format (“everyone wins”) but below the surface, little has changed. Winning the game (league or tournament) is still what’s driving most decisions with our teams. You see this if you stand on the sidelines of many of our U10 games. Go to a game but don’t watch the players; just listen to the spectators and coaches!

I had the opportunity to work with a U10 girls’ team from Chili, NY over the past couple of months. They have all the makings of a successful team … spirit, athleticism and desire to learn. They have supportive parents and a coach that is eager to grow and open to feedback!In the time I spent with these girls, I didn’t make them better players. I did make some fixes to their play that with time and repetition should improve their game. Where I saw the real and almost immediate growth was with their coach!

A statement the head coach made to me early on, “but it’s hard because there’s so much pressure to win” when we talked about staying the course and sticking to training sessions focused on technical development, regardless of the outcome of the league games; using guided discovery rather than always telling the players what they should do … her comment, dealing with pressures to win, is so real!I’ll just bet most of you have experienced this. I know I have. But who is that pressure coming from? Is it the parents? Opposing coach? Club Director? Is it a fear of losing players? Is it your own ego? And while there’s pressure, are you strong enough to stand up against it? Are you willing to fight it? If you work on connecting passes to bring the ball up the field in training, are you patient and allow them to try it in the game even when the pressure is on in your defensive third? If your players try to do this and they get stripped of the ball, do you scream at them (because they failed) or do you applaud the attempt to connect passes (the “intent”) and encourage them to try it again (knowing it might fail again)? If you’re yelling at them in the game, what are you really yelling at? That they tried to use their technique in the game during a pressure situation or that the attempt didn’t work? Should you ever hear a U10 coach or spectator make disapproving remarks during a game?

Can we teach players to compete, to play to win, without compromising development? Absolutely! In fact, we should be coaching our kids to compete, to want to win. But this cannot be confused with coaching to win. When we organize our U10 training sessions to win next Saturday’s game, we’re most likely sacrificing time spent working on critical technical skills. Setting up training sessions filled with competitive, small-sided activities will give players the environment to compete, make decisions and reinforce their technical and tactical skills. We apply our coaching fixes during the training sessions and use Saturday’s game to sit back and assess … see what worked and see what didn’t. Be quiet and plan out your next training session based on what you see needs fixing!

When we focus on the final score to determine the overall performance of a U10 game, we’re looking too big and not using the proper measurement to assess player and team development. If we look at the game as numerous opportunities (to take a defender on with the dribble or to move and change angles to support the player on the ball, e.g.), we stay focused on player development, maintain a competitive environment yet have something real to measure the success (or failure) of the game; real in terms of information that can directly relate to how effective training is, and what could be changed or enhanced. For example, you may have lost the game but if your team is becoming more effective at recognizing when and where to move to support the player with the ball, that lost game was worth it because in the end, your players are growing. I’ve seen too many U10 games decided based on who can simply blast the ball the farthest; more often than not, the score doesn’t tell the full story.

It’s not a skill unless it can be executed in the game; performed under pressure. If they don’t have the environment to try, how do they ever acquire the skills required to reach higher levels? If we only play our best players in their strongest positions, we may win the game but we’re not really progressing (as much as we could) in terms of player development. Thinking of a U10 game as an extension of training just might get your head around this approach, this point of view. Maintain the importance of wanting to win but keep the overall focus on the play that occurred during the game; reward intent and not result. Thinking this way, we also allow each child to succeed as they all have areas of individual strength and weakness.

Maureen Dracup holds a USSF National “B” License, USSF National Youth License, USSF National Goalkeeper License and is the former NYSWYSA Associate Director of Coaching. You can reach her through her blog at maureendracupsoccer.blogspot.com

Give it a shot!

We all agree that kids playing sports is a good thing. We know about the health advantages and that playing team sports teaches kids to interact as part of a group and learn social skills. But after years of coaching, my experience with my daughter’s softball team helped me see another benefit which may trump them all.

Adolescents, especially girls, thrive on feeling safe. We, as parents, do everything in our powers to foster that sense of security – as we should. However, we also all know that the most successful people in the world are typically those who take some risks. Those who are often willing to move out of their comfort zones and try new things are the ones who enjoy the benefit of rich experiences. That’s where I found sports was the greatest teacher.

I had the toughest time getting my team of 11 and 12 year-old softball girls to get off the base. I gave them the steal sign and they wouldn’t go. I wanted them to get aggressive lead-offs after the pitch so that we could take off on a passed ball. But it made them nervous. Most would still would only get off base a few steps, then scamper back. It dawned on me that being off the base wasn’t in their nature. It was scary. They wanted to be where they were safe.

As the season progressed, more and more girls began to buy in. They started to learn that when they stayed too close to first, if the ball got away from the catcher, they would not be able to take second. But when they did get farther away, though it was nerve-wracking, it often paid huge dividends. The more shy and timid girls who took longer to adapt learned from watching the daring and confident players. By the end of the year the entire team was stealing, rounding bases hard and sliding – all things that had frightened them months before.

They realized that to have the best chance to advance, they needed to take calculated risks. That sometimes to get where we want to go, we have to do something a little scary. They figured out that you can’t steal second base with your foot on first. On occasion, the risk didn’t pay off. They failed. But they discovered that failure wasn’t the end of the world, because there would be another chance later. Of course, these lessons were not just about softball.

In all sports, soccer and basketball included, boys and girls are learning that if you want to score, you’ve got to give it a shot. Sometimes you miss and sometimes you lose. But once in a while it goes in and you win. True, those who only watch while someone else goes for the glory will never know the agony of defeat – but they will also never experience the thrill of victory.

So when you’re coaching these young, impressionable players, remember what you’re really there for. You’re not just with them to teach them about the game. While playing and having fun, you’re helping them learn the most important facts of life.

Letter from a reader

We received this email from a coach who is struggling with disgruntled parents on the soccer team she is coaching:

I am the coach of a u11 academy girls soccer team. I have been getting a lot of flack from parents about playing time. This is from, of course, the parents of the weaker players who are not starters and don’t play quite as much. I just read your article and forwarded on to my parents, some of which are addressing (or flat out asking) if they spend all this money on our preseason tournament is their child gonna play? Some have “threatened” to not go if their child does not play more. Anyway, rather than respond defensively and say something I might regret later I just sent the link to your article. Hopefully, they will get it. Thanks for the help!

Glad we could help. The article referenced is Parents and Playing Time.

Football release date – March 1st!

Our much-anticipated CoachDeck for football finally has a due-date! March 1, 2012 the decks will be in our warehouse available for purchase. We’ve got a sneak preview copy and it is awesome! Put on the pads and the helmets. Are you ready for some football?

Four runs or less

By Todd Guilliams

Our objective in a nine-inning ball game is to hold our opponents to four-runs-or-less. This goal provides direction for our defense during the course of a game and practice. Once the goal has been established (four, five, six runs or whatever works in a specific program), then the players have to understand how to achieve it on a consistent basis.

Why four-runs-or-less? Over the past two seasons, statistics show that the opponents have been held to four-runs-or-less 75 times in 114 games (66%) and won 65 of those 75 games (87%). This translates into 33 wins a year in a 57-game schedule.

Winning just seven out of 24 remaining games (29%) in which more than four runs are sacrificed, the 40-win mark is reached. The mark of four-runs-or-less works in the Eagles’ program, but the team also plays in a big ballpark where the wind blows in on a consistent basis and the home run is a rarity. Shoot toward a goal on defense that is realistic in a program based on the team’s pitching and defense, as well as the size of the ballpark in which games are played. Also, make sure this goal is challenging and one that will push the defense to execute at a high level.

TEN KEYS TO FOUR RUNS OR LESS

Keep the double-play in order.
Outfielders must hit the cutoff man.
Avoid the “big inning’~–allow opponents only three outs per inning.
Minimize walks by challenging hitters.
Have a coach call the pitches as well as all the pick-off plays.
Utilize hitting charts and scout the opponents.
Position fielders according to the score, number of outs, count, hitter’s strength and inning.
Shut down the running game–force opponents to play station-to-station.
Get the leadoff hitter out of every inning.
Pitching, pitching, pitching–a quality pitching staff is the key element in achieving four-runs-or-less on a consistent basis.

TEN SITUATIONS THAT AFFECT FOUR-RUNS-OR-LESS

Batter at the plate
The hitter is always the number one priority.
The pitcher works extremely hard to retire the leadoff hitter every inning. This is the backbone of four-runs-or less! Pitchers are to be aggressive, challenging the batter (especially with fastballs in a 2-2 count or BP fastballs when behind in the count), making him swing the bat.
Prevent the bunt for a hit (drag bunt).
Runner at first base
Prevent the stolen base.
Pitchers must be quick to the plate – 1.3 seconds or less
Vary times to the plate and to home. Pause one-to-five seconds before delivering the ball to the plate or throwing over to hold the runner close
Use a variety of pick-off moves
a. Step back off the rubber with ball over head–no throw
b. Throw to first base. Use a variety of pick-off moves
(1) Throw from set position
(2) Throw on the way down
(3) Throw on the way up
c. Hold the runner until the batter calls time-out. Don’t deliver the ball to the plate. Freeze the runner and see if he is getting anxious
Do not be afraid to call pitchouts
Middle infielders pinch between pitches to eliminate delay steal
Catcher must block balls in the dirt and keep the runner from advancing on a wild pitch or passed ball.
In a bunt situation, get an out.
Runner at Second – No Outs
A. Prevent third base, one out
Try to entice the batter to hit the ball on the left side of the infield
Fastballs inside to a right-handed batter pose a difficult challenge for them to hit to the right side
Slow curve balls and changeups are also difficult for right-handed batters to stay back and hit to the right side
Dominate outer half of strike zone to a lefty in this situation with two-seam fastballs
Showcase off-speed pitches off the plate to set up outside fastballs to left-handed batters
Third Base – One Out
Pitchers work hard for a strikeout
Throw up and in, especially with two strikes on the batter to induce a pop-up in the infield
Bring the infield in, especially with two strikes on the batter
Catchers must keep the ball in the dirt in front of them
Be wary of throwing off-speed pitches over the plate – Changeups and Curve balls! This will usually lead to a fly ball to the outfield!
Runners at the Corners with Two Outs
Prevent the lead runner from scoring on a double steal attempt.
Throw through 90% of the time on a first and third steal attempt with the SS covering second and 2B coming into the cut to shorten the overthrow
If the runner at first leaves early:
Pitcher should step off.
Look runner back at third.
Give ball up to SS or 2B.
First baseman trails runner after pitch crosses the plate.
Get the out between first and second before the runner crosses the plate.
Runners at First and Second with Less Than Two Outs
Get an out in a bunt situation.
Pitchers throw low strikes to either side of the plate to induce a double-play ground ball.
Prevent the double steal.
Pitchers use inside move at second.
Use trail runner picks (pick at first base).
Catcher keeps ball in front.
Bases Loaded – Less Than Two Outs
Pitcher induces batter to hit the ball on the ground by throwing low strikes.
Be careful with changeups in this situation as it tends to end up as a long fly ball.
Do not be afraid to challenge hitters with fastballs on the inner half to prevent them from getting their arms extended.
On-Deck Batter
The coach should know the strengths of the batter at the plate as well as the next batter coming to the plate
Pitch the batter tough with a runner in scoring position and first base open
Know which batter poses more of a threat, the batter at the plate or the man on deck
Consider challenging the batter at the plate when there is a strong hitter on deck, a hitter with whom the pitcher will have trouble!
Runner at Third – No Outs
Concede the run early in the game and get the hitter
If the hitter makes an out without advancing the runner at third, the defense has created a 3rd-base, 1 out situation
Runners at Second and Third – Less Than Two Outs
Concede the run at third base
Depending on who is at the plate and on deck, go for the strikeout
Infielders keep the ground ball in the infield
On a base hit, the outfielder must hit the cutoff man to prevent additional runners from moving up. Do not be concerned with throwing the runner out at the plate

Todd Guilliams is Assistant Baseball Coach at Valdosta State University. Guilliams began his coaching career with a three-year stint (1989-91) at his alma matter, Eastern Kentucky University, where he helped guide the Colonels to an OVC Championship and the NCAA Division I Regional Tournament and has been an associate scout with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Athlete strategies for coping with injury

By Dr. Alan Goldberg

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

#1 BE SAD – Allow yourself to mourn and feel whatever loss you are experiencing. Being “macho”, “strong” or “brave” by burying or hiding your feelings in this situation is not only a WASTE OF ENERGY, but will interfere with you effectively coping and recovering. Feeling is an important part of the healing process. Remember that! Feeling is part of healing!

#2 DEAL WITH WHAT IS – Injured athletes have a tendency to focus on the “could ‘a beens”, “should ‘a beens” and the “way it was” IF ONLY they hadn’t gotten hurt. The fact of the matter is no amount of wishing upon a star will change the reality of your situation. Yes it sucks that you got injured. Yes, it’s thrown a monkey wrench into all your plans and dreams. Unfortunately, this is your reality right now and you have to allow yourself to deal with where you are, right NOW!

#3 SET NEW, MORE REALISTIC GOALS FOR YOURSELF – As you begin the recovery process, you may very well have to learn to measure your successes very differently than ever before, perhaps in millimeters now instead of meters the way it was before your injury. It may mean that you also have to start all over again back at “square one” to build up arm or leg strength and endurance. Keep focused on your NEW goals and leave the old ones in the PAST for now where they belong. Once you’ve come all the way back from your injury you can start entertaining your old goals.

#4 MAINTAIN A POSITIVE ATTITUDE, NO MATTER WHAT – As difficult as this will be, try to stay as positive as possible. Understand that “IF IT IS TO BE, IT IS UP TO ME.” In other words, your attitude and outlook is ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING! When positive, your attitude can speed up the healing process and lessen the emotional pain that you have to go through. However, when you’re negative you’ll slow the rehab process down to a screeching halt and make yourself miserable in the process. It’s all up to you. Avoid being negative because nothing good ever comes from negativity. Negativity will only bring you and everyone else around you down.

#5 TAKE AN ACTIVE PART IN YOUR HEALING – Be conscientious about your physical therapy. Follow the doctor’s advice closely. Don’t cut corners. Work as hard with your rehab as you did in your training. In addition, practice using healing imagery on a daily basis. If you’re recovering from a broken bone or separated shoulder, spend 5-10 minutes imagining that bone or shoulder beginning to heal. “See” in your mind’s eye a healthy supply of red blood cells surrounding that area and facilitating the mending process. I can’t scientifically guarantee that this will speed up your healing. However, I can promise you that this will make you feel less helpless, more in control and much more positive. These attitudinal changes in themselves will speed up your healing.

#6 CONTINUE TO “PRACTICE” AND “WORK OUT”. If your injury allows you to still continue any part of your training, do so! If not, “practice” mentally. Use mental rehearsal on a daily basis (5 -10 minutes at a time) to see, hear and feel yourself performing in your sport, executing flawlessly with perfect timing. Take this time to also mentally work on your weaknesses. You might even want to show up for some of the regular practices and mentally rehearse what the team is doing while they’re working out. Regular mental rehearsal of your skills will keep the neuromuscular connections activated so that when you are able to actually begin physical practice, you will not have lost as much.

#7 SEEK OUT THE SUPPORT OF YOUR TEAMMATES – Participate in team functions. FIGHT the urge to isolate yourself. You may feel worthless and suddenly different, but chances are good that you’re probably the ONLY one on the team that shares that opinion. The worst thing for you to do when you’re in a vulnerable state is to separate yourself from your group. Make a serious effort to reach out rather than pull in!

#8 THINK ABOUT HOW TO USE YOUR SPORTS LEARNING AND EXPERIENCE IN OTHER AREAS OF YOUR LIFE – If your injury forces you into permanent retirement, you may feel that you have little to no skills or expertise that you can transfer from your sport to other endeavors. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH! To excel as an athlete in your sport you have gradually developed over time some pretty powerful success skills like dedication, commitment, persistence, motivation, the ability to manage time, “reboundability” from setbacks and failures, as well as a whole host of other valuable LIFE skills. These success skills can be readily harnessed to other challenges that you pursue in your life outside of sports. Don’t think for a minute that much of what you’ve learned and mastered is irrelevant to the “real world.”

#9 IF NECESSARY, SEEK OUT A COUNSELOR- If you are really depressed for an extended period of time, have lost interest in things that use to excite you, have noticed that your sleep and eating patterns have changed and/or you are having suicidal thoughts, seek professional help! Don’t fool around here. If you’re having these kinds of symptoms this means that you have really lost perspective and you are in need of some qualified, outside support. Seeking out the help of a professional therapist or counselor is NOT a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it’s a sign of strength.

#10 BE PATIENT– If your injury is temporary, allow yourself enough time to heal properly. If you’re over anxious to get back to the court, field, course or pool and rush the healing process, then you may set yourself up for another, more serious injury which may cost you even more time. Rushing the healing process so that you can get back a week or two earlier is “penny wise, pound foolish.” That is, you might get back a few days earlier, but because you didn’t wait those extra days to heal properly, you may end up developing a chronic injury that could keep you out for extra weeks and even months. Remember, sometimes the fastest way of coming back is the slowest. GO SLOWER, ARRIVE SOONER!

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.