Read the February OnDeck Newsletter

If you missed them, the CoachDeck OnDeck Newsletters for Soccer and Baseball/softball have been delivered. There are many exciting articles and offers inside which we’re sure you’ll enjoy.

OnDeck Newsletter goes out today

The February, 2012 issue of our popular OnDeck Newsletter will be going out later today. If you’re not subscribed and would like to receive it, you may sign up here, and also read previous issues.

Breaking in a new baseball glove

This is the time of year for so many to break in that new baseball mitt they bought for the new season. What’s the best method? Here is an entertaining and informative article that debunks many myths and provides guidance, written by the LA Times’ Chris Erskine.

The good, the bad and the boring

I happened to be at the fields of a league that had recently purchased our products to provide to their coaches. I watched parts of of three different teams’ practices. What I saw was both gratifying and disappointing.

My son had a varsity game at a local high school which, it turned out, is adjacent to a Little League complex. I noticed the name of the league on one of the backstops and  remembered that they’d recently placed an order with us. There was an hour before the game began so I decided to spend a little time watching some of the preseason practices being conducted by the youth coaches.

The first team was almost finished and the coach wrapped up practice with a drill straight from our baseball deck, called Home and Second Race. The team is divided into two squads. One begins at home plate, the other at second base. One by one, a player from both teams races around all four bases. When he gets back to where he started, the next in line goes. The object is to see which team finishes first.

All the players on both teams were excited – jumping up and down as the last runners rounded the bases. It came down to a photo finish, which was too close for me to call. The coach named a winner and one group of players rejoiced, the other shouted their disapproval. They all asked if they could do it again, but the coach said they had to give up the field to the next team.

A few minutes later the next group took the field. There were only six players – half of what the first team had had. Four adults were present. A pitching machine was set up on the right field foul line, presumably to pump out fly balls. These coaches decided to utilize it. So they lined the six players in center field and, one-by-one, a kid stepped out away from the group and waited for a ball to be shot out of the machine into the air.

This was clearly a Minors division team – not the top level of Majors. It is unlikely that any of these players would ever see a ball hit off of a bat anywhere near as high as the machine was firing them. But the kids dizzily moved their feet, trying to get underneath the ball as it hurtled down, and occasionally caught one, but usually watched it drop a few feet away. Each player took four or five in this fashion while the other five players in line twisted around in boredom, mostly facing the opposite way.

One of the four coaches was feeding the balls to the machine. The other was catching the throws back in from the players. The third and fourth were out with the players, but they spent more time talking to parents who wandered by than with the kids. It was everything I could do not to walk onto the field and ask them if I could help.

What would I have done differently? If outfield practice was, in fact, what I thought we needed to work on, I’d have had all four coaches take a couple handfuls of balls and work with one or two of the players individually. Each of us would have tossed fly balls in the air, starting with easy ones to build confidence, then gradually increasing the difficulty. Not only would the flies have been much closer in approximation to what the players would really see in the game, but they’d have gotten ten times as many repetitions along with much more instruction. Instead of this being the sole, tedious activity performed at today’s practice, we could have accomplished more and better training in fifteen minutes, then moved on to something else.

And if we were going to shoot balls from the machine to the kids one by one, why not at least make it a  game? Our CoachDeck Team Fly Balls drill does just this. This drill would have divided the six kids into two teams of three – Team A and Team B. Each time a player makes a catch he gets a point for his team. Each good, one-hop throw in is worth another point. Now, all of the players would be excited and paying attention throughout the drill. Plus we’d be simulating game-like competition.

As I walked away and headed to the high school game, I passed a third team practicing. Because they looked a little older and their field was very well-kept, I assumed this was a Majors team. They were also doing a drill right out of our deck, the Relay Drill. Three teams of four players were throwing the ball down and back in a race. One of the players kept shouting, “Hurry!” and, “Throw it!” trying to exhort his teammates to win. Again, when the drill was over, they asked the coach if they could play one more time. And like the first team, there were also twelve players at this practice.

So I don’t know if some of the coaches received a CoachDeck and some did not. Or if only two of the three team managers had decided to utilize the deck. I know that one of the frustrations I hear from our customers when we follow-up with them at season’s end is that they noticed some of their coaches not using the deck. It annoys them, as it should, that they spent the league’s money to provide them with this training tool, and it was ignored.

But just because some coaches don’t take advantage of CoachDeck is not an indictment of the product but rather, of those individuals. It would be wonderful if we could guarantee 100% participation, but that will likely never be possible. What we hear from leagues who have tried other things such as manuals, books and DVD’s is that more coaches use CoachDeck than anything else – by a wide margin. Even if a third of the league’s coaches pay it no attention, that still means two-thirds are running fun and exciting practices the players love. It would be illogical to eliminate a program benefiting the majority of the kids in the league because of the apathy of a few. It seems more sensible to replace the horses we’ve led to water, but who refuse to drink.

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 tothem; 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 measurewhat 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

Tryouts: What’s the message

By Adrian Parrish

No matter how you conduct your soccer try-outs somebody will find a flaw, somebody will be unhappy, even if you opt to keep every player that attends the tryouts. The reason being is that it comes down to opinions and the inability to please everyone.

You can ask the parents or the players what their definition is of a good effective coach and again you will get many different opinions. So trying to educate people to understand the different shades or gray can sometimes be a difficult task. Are you all about winning or does player development play a huge role in your way of thinking?

Clubs and organizations can make their lives easier by portraying their expectations from day one and sticking to it. Creating a fine balance of developing players and swinging the axe to cut players from teams is something that needs to be measured depending on what the club wants to achieve. However if they are to be successful both need to take place.

The approach of keeping as many players at the youngest age group in an academy format seems to be a good avenue to take. However it is probably important to learn from the mistakes which in my opinion are being made be the European clubs. Instead of naming the few elite, you should try to keep all the players involved with the program. We may not be able to find a perfect answer for the definition of a coach but one of the roles and responsibilities is to develop and educate the players.

The mistake that is being made by many of the professional clubs in Europe is that they take the elite few for the younger age groups, but many of them fail to go on and make the grade at the top level. So the process of keeping a bigger pool so that you can develop and mold more players in to the clubs style can take place. This would not mean naming players in to first, second and third teams but to keep

players training and playing together so that the club can develop more savvy soccer players.

Eventually the process of cutting and naming of A and B teams has to occur, because clubs have to start separating the elite, not for purposing of winning games but simply because the same caliber of players have to train and play against each other. However there should always be the opportunity for movement to take place between the two levels.

Of course this can cause problems if the process is not clear from the begging to those who are being selected. To keep yourself from the emotional turmoil that parents and players can drag you through during this process, you can keep it clean and simple if you follow some the guidelines below.

  1. Put your philosophy across early and stick to it, therefore if you cut players say you are going to and why.
  2. Collect as much data on the players during the try-outs and keep the players continuously involved.
  3. Have neutral coaches come in and assist you.
  4. If the club is going to form a second team, explain that movement can take place in between the teams from season to season. Club directors of coaching should encourage as much communication between the coaches of the two teams.
  1. When posting or naming the teams inform the players and parents that if they have not been selected and would like some feedback, that it is the players’ responsibility to contact you. We recently did this with the Kentucky Youth Soccer Association Olympic Development Program and received zero phone calls from parents but several from players showing their true maturity request information on how they can improve.
  2. Stick to your decisions but be fair.

There is no perfect answer to what can be volatile situation but if you remain strong to your ideas and keep avenues and lines of communication open you will gain respect from the people that really matter, the players.

Adrian Parrish is the Director of Coach & Player Development for the Kentucky Youth Soccer Association. He is responsible for the Coaching Education Program and the management of the Olympic Development Program. A native of Louth, England, Parish currently possesses a USSF “A” License, UEFA “A” License (Pending), and the US Youth Soccer National Youth License. He can be reached at adrianparrish@kysoccer.net

Important counts for catchers

Although every pitch is very is very important, learning what counts are the most important will not only make you a smart catcher, but it will help keep pitchers in the ball game longer and translate into more wins for the team.

Here are the counts of a ball game listed in order of urgency:

0 Balls 0 Strikes
First pitch strikes are essential to a successful battery. If a 1st pitch strike is thrown, you have an opportunity to not only have the batter put the ball in play, but to be ahead of the hitter for the entire at-bat.

1 Ball 1 Strike
This count is called a swing count. The pitcher has an opportunity to either get ahead or fall behind the batter. The 1-2 count will dictate many things. In a 1-2 count situation you have a lot of options as a signal caller, but in a 2-1 count you are challenged more.

2 Balls 1 Strike
This is called an action count. Many times you will see movement with runners in a 2-1 count. The reason being 2-1 is a fastball count, because the pitcher needs to throw a strike making it a perfect time for a hit and run or a chance to score easily from first on a double because the runner can get a running start. A pitcher and catcher do not want to fall further behind (3-1) so the count dictates the pitcher’s command pitch which, in most cases, is a fastball. A pitcher that can command a change-up can have some success in a 2-1 count because of the aggressiveness towards fastball swings.

0 Balls 2 Strikes
Once the pitcher gets into an 0-2 count, the hitter is really on the ropes. He must expand his strike zone slightly to protect from striking out. The options in this count are endless. In baseball, lead-off walks and 0-2 hits are deadly to pitchers so one must look at an 0-2 count as an opportunity to put a hitter away. 0-2 counts are a great time to, 1) Bounce breaking balls 2) Elevate fastballs 3) Paint a corner or 4) Move a batter’s feet to set up another pitch. Pitches above the head or way off the plate are wasteful and do not set up anything else. Let the pitcher know to 1) Miss down if trying to bounce a breaking ball 2) Miss up, shoulder high, if trying to elevate 3) Miss away if trying to paint an outside corner and 4) Miss in-off if trying to move the feet inside. All of these scenarios are basically saying keep the ball from the middle of the plate in this count, and if you follow these guidelines the worst that can happen is a 1-2 count in which you still have many options.

1 Ball 2 Strikes
1-2 is an action count even though the pitcher is still ahead, because he doesn’t want to get the count back to even (2-2). Another reason 1-2 is an action count is, being the 4th pitch of the at-bat, the pitcher is on the verge of throwing too many pitches to the hitter. If a starting pitcher averages three to four pitches per at-bat, he will be able to pitch longer into games not only qualifying for wins, but saving the bullpen from having to be over-worked. Most of the best hitters in the game average over four pitches per at-bat. At the All-Star break of 2009, Jason Werth leads the Major Leagues with 4.5 pitcher per at-bat. Kevin Youkilis averages 4.47. Chase Utley averages 4.1 and the Tampa Bay Rays average 3.99 per at-bat as a team.

2 Balls 2 Strikes
2-2 is another swing count. The pitcher can either get the hitter to put the ball in play, get a foul ball, get a strikeout, or the count runs full at 3-2. This is a count where you have to be sure you throw a command pitch. The command pitch is the pitch that one knows he can throw for a strike. The 3-1 count can be put in this same category.

3 Balls 2 Strikes
For obvious reasons this is an important count to throw a strike in. A ball equals a walk. Walks find many different ways to score and outs get the game over with. As a general rule, whatever pitch you threw 2-2 you should throw 3-2. The command pitch to make sure it is a strike. By throwing a strike, you put the pressure on the hitter to make something happen.

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