Three tips to win at the blame game

By John Ellsworth

After a tough loss or even a big win where your sports kid makes a few errors, what habits and behaviors do they exhibit after the game. Do they blame the loss or errors on external factors like the condition of the field, the officials, crowd noise, or the opposing team?

If this happens your kid is in the process of or has already developed a “blame game” mentality. At the end of the day its important for every kid to learn how to take the wins and losses into context. Taking responsibility for making mistakes is as important as feeling good about their individual performance in wins or losses. It’s important kids learn how to cope with the challenges that comes with making mistakes, or coming off of a poor individual performance.

“The major problem with making excuses and giving explanations is that it doesn’t help the child learn to manage him or herself or to perform,” says James Lehman MSW.

As sports parents, coaches, and mentors, it a necessity for everyone involved in kids sports to remember that’s its how the message is delivered that sets the tone for how kids cope with and learn from mistakes. Does the message support the “blame game“, or does it support the reality that mistakes are a part of life.

It’s important for adults to model positive behavior in the face of setbacks. The language adults use in both verbally and non-verbally teaches both good and bad approaches to coping with the situation. If kids see parents playing the “blame game” on an official or coach for a bad call they will learn that its permissible to deflect the responsibility for mistakes onto others.

Tip #1: The Role Model Concept

Here’s a novel idea, why not use the role model concept to talk to your young athletes about setbacks. Have a few examples ready to pull out of your back pocket of situations and athletes responses to these situations. They can serve as constructive alternatives to playing the “blame game.” Use all the resources at your disposal to educate your young athlete. Most important of all encourage your athlete to move on.

Everyone makes mistakes, fails, makes errors and get frustrated when they don’t have what it takes to be successful on the field of play on any given day.

Being able to deal with, rather than fear, mistakes is one of the most important character traits for a “Major League Person” to acquire. Consequently, I have felt that one of the most important contributions Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) can make to improve youth sports is to make the “mistake ritual” a common practice in youth sports,” says Jim Thompson of the Positive Coaches Alliance (PCA).

Tip #2: Flushing the Mistakes

Many coaches have used the “flushing mistakes technique” to help athletes rid themselves of self blame for making mistakes. It’s a simple technique that requires the athlete to use a flushing motion, kind of like flushing a toilet, to metaphorically flush away the negative feeling that comes from making a mistake.

The 2000 US Women’s Olympic softball team used the flush to come out of the loser’s bracket to win the gold medal in Sydney.

Ken Ravizza, sports psychology professor at Cal State Fullerton and consultant to many college and professional teams, has developed the concept further. Ken, helped Cal State Fullerton turn its season around and win the NCAA Baseball Championship in 2004

Tip #3: Communicate Healthy Messages

We serve as teachers, parents, coaches and role models for young athletes. In these roles it’s critical we communicate messages that support healthy approaches to meeting life’s challenges void of defensive maneuvers to deflect and place the blame elsewhere. In doing so we not only develop healthy approaches to sport performance, but longer term tools for dealing with the challenges kids will face down the road of life.

For more information about this article contact or for information on mental game coaching contact John R. Ellsworth – Mental Game Coach at Protex Sports, LLC. www.protexsports.com. You can also send your questions to Ask Coach John.

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Build Self Esteem – Reward Your Players

By Olan Suddeth

So, you are coaching youth league baseball. Did you realize how important you now are in the eyes of a dozen or so kids? If you doubt this, then ask a few random ex-youth baseball players about influential adults from their childhood. I guarantee that a large number of them will answer “youth league baseball coach” – assuming, of course, that they were lucky enough to have a good one.

Don’t think for a moment that your job as a coach is just about teaching kids to catch, hit, and throw. Baseball is full of valuable life lessons, as well – how to work with others, the importance of hard work and discipline, how to succeed, how to handle failure. You have a fantastic opportunity to help build confidence and self-esteem in these kids… the opportunity to make a difference.

Now that I’ve perhaps overwhelmed you a bit, let’s bring this discussion back down to earth. Understand, I expect a lot from my players – even if they happen to be only five or six years old. If they dog it and don’t turn in a good effort, I’ll let them know it. I don’t believe in coddling baseball players; organized sports are not play groups, nor should they be. However, if you are always negative, not only can you hurt a kid’s feelings, but you run the risk of no longer being able to reach them – and thus, your team suffers. Address problems as they arise, deal with the incident, then move on. Stay positive!

Encourage, encourage, encourage

It may sound trite, but if a kid does a good job, let him know. You know good and well that if he misses a grounder, you’ll remind him to stay in front of it, to get his glove down, etc. Are you telling him “good job” when he makes a good play? You don’t have to brag on every routine grounder in practice, but you need to let kids know that you see and approve when they do things right.

If a kid makes a bad play, but is giving it his best, let him know that it’s okay. He already feels bad about not making the play – and what more can you expect than his best effort? It’s fine to give him pointers on what he can do next time to help succeed, but don’t berate him just because he fails.

On the other hand, if he’s not giving it his best, point that out, and let him know that you expect more – and that he should, too. Your players will respect you for this, especially if you apply this standard to the whole team (star players should never be exempt).

Don’t underestimate the power of a bribe

Kids love to get rewards. Heck, people in general love to get rewards. Sure, your players are there to play baseball, and some coaches seem to think that baseball in and of itself should be a reward. I say, bribe ’em!

Go to your local sporting goods store and invest a few dollars in some helmet stickers (these usually retail for around $2.99 per pack). Think of the tomahawks you see on the helmets of the Florida State Seminoles football team – the principle is the same. Set some standards early in the year, then announce them to the team. When players meet these standards, give them a sticker, and let the put them where they like.

Ideas include: hitting safely in a game, making a good stop in a game, stealing a base, throwing a runner out, etc. I’ve also seen coaches give out baseball stickers for hits, skull & crossbones stickers for defense – this is very popular with kids.

Give out game balls. Select a player who has done a great job during the game, and give them a baseball. In most leagues, this one won’t cost you a cent, since the ballpark usually provides at least a couple of balls per game. Don’t just hand over a blank baseball, however. Grab a sharpie, wite the player’s name, the date, the teams involved, and “Player of the Game” or “M.V.P.” on the ball. You’ve now turned just another baseball into a keepsake – reminder of a special moment.

Game balls are a great way to make sure that everyone gets some recognition over the course of the year; keep track of who has and who hasn’t gotten one, and try to make sure that every player gets at least one. However, don’t fall into the trap of bragging on the “lesser” players every time they manage to put a bat on the ball, while still neglecting your good players if they fail to go three for three with five put outs in the field.

If you own a computer and a printer, you might want to consider giving your players certificates. Pre-print some “player of the game” certificates to go along with their ball. At the park, you can fill out their name and the date, and sign it. These don’t have to be fancy, but they can really make a kid fee special. Give out certificates (and balls) for kids that get their first home run.

Extracurricular activities

Sure, you’ve spent hours at the ballpark this week. The game is over, practices are done, and you are ready for some relaxation time. Guess what? You are a youth league coach. Relax in the off season!

Now, don’t be silly and insist on taking the team somewhere after every game. You should, though, take the team to Pizza Hut, McDonalds, or an ice cream parlor at least a couple of times over the course of the season. I have observed a direct correlation between the number of such after-game events and the overall happiness of the team.

Go to your local dollar store and buy enough water guns for the whole team. Have a parent fill them, and then pull them out, unannounced, after practice or a game. Add some water balloons, and you have a happy team!

Bring a football to practice one day, end practice early, and play a little two hand touch. Bring a couple of half gallons of ice cream to a game once during the year. Give your kids small hollow chocolate Easter bunnies right before Easter.

At the end of the year, go and spend the five dollars per kid – collect money from the parents to finance this, if need be – and buy the team simple medals to go along with whatever league trophy is handed out (you can get these from any trophy or award store – they’ll be happy to help you). Be really classy and have their names engraved on the back for another whopping dollar or so!

Be positive, be upbeat, and demonstrate to your players that you enjoy them, believe in them, and appreciate them. Not only will you enrich their lives, not only will they play harder for you, but you might just get a little bit out of it yourself.

Olan Suddeth is a Little League coach in the Birmingham, Alabama area. His website, Youth Baseball Info, offers free articles, drills, and tips for youth baseball coaches, parents and fans.

More Little League rules (myths) you might not know

Rule? The pitcher gets eight warm-up pitches between innings.

Reality: Under normal circumstances a pitcher gets amaximum of eight pitches between innings. The pitcher is only allowed a maximum of one minute in order to complete these pitches, however. Thus, if the pitcher is slow he or she may not be able to complete the eight pitches before the one minute elapses.

The one minute clock starts at the end of the previous half-inning, that is, when the third out is made. Thus, the time for the pitcher and catcher to take their positions comes out of the one minute that the pitcher is allotted.

Little League umpires rarely time teams with a stopwatch. If the pitcher and catcher (or another player wearing the required helmet/mask/throat guard) take the field promptly and don’t dawdle between pitches, then umpires usually allow them the full eight pitches, even if it takes somewhat longer than a minute. If the catcher is slow getting his gear on and the defense doesn’t send another player out in his place, or if the defense has a two-minute rah-rah huddle before taking the field, an umpire can limit the number of pitches allowed, or even eliminate them completely once the one minute period is exceeded.

Conversely, if weather or other game conditions warrant it, an umpire can grant a pitcher extra warm-up pitches. In particular, if a pitcher is injured and his replacement has not had time to warm up, the umpire may allow the replacement as many pitches as the umpire sees fit.

Words of wisdom

From the inimitable Dodgers broadcaster, Vin Scully: “It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between an all-star game and an old-timers game.”

Lip reading NFL players

Courtesy of Bad Lip Reading.com. Funny stuff

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, humanitarian

Looking for a sports figure you can have your kids look up to without worrying about them getting let down? Roberto Clemente Award winner, Clayton Kershaw is about the safest bet there is. Read about his efforts in Zambia, and root for the Dodgers to make him the richest player in baseball. His story is humbling and inspirational at the same time.

Kevin Durant’s grandma knows best

He may be a multimillionaire and arguably the world’s greatest basketball player but Kevin Durant is still not above taking a little advice about his language from his grandmother. Take a look at this text from her asking him to stop swearing. You can also see one of his better dunks over Marcin Gortat. Love the announcer at the end of the clip trying his best to find the words to describe what he just saw, “He’s…not human.”