Own goal off the face

We’ll close out the month that saw our NCAA bracket implode with a perfect analogy from the soccer world. Here’s to a great April.

This is worth a chuckle

It’s not NCAA Tournament-related, but it is NCAA basketball. Here is the final sequence for Syracuse in their loss to NC State in the ACC Tournament put to music. No disrespect to Syracuse fans, but this is pretty funny.

Madness resumes tonight

It picks up again tonight as the first round of Sweet 16 games tip off. As we predicted, this tournament has been one of the most exciting, upset-laden rounds of 64 in history. Imagine if it were expanded to include even more teams. The Onion reports that the NCAA expands March Madness to include 4096 teams in this hilarious double-parody.

Read March OnDeck Newsletters

If you missed the latest installments of OnDeck, you can check out our soccer newsletter here, and the baseball version by clicking here. Enjoy!

OnDeck Newsletter goes out today

Make sure to check out our March, 2014 OnDeck Newsletter. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox here.

What if?

By Brian Gotta

A pretty young girl, suddenly scarred for life. A group of five year-olds with broken noses and shattered teeth. A young boy who is in a coma with brain damage. Is this an article about a war-torn region of the world? No. Here are some things I have witnessed in youth sports.

Please excuse the graphic nature of this opening paragraph, but if it gets your attention, it served its purpose. Nothing in youth sports concerns me more than safety. And a walk past my local Little League’s T-ball field brought this topic back to mind. With baseball and soccer seasons beginning across the nation, I felt there no better time to make another plea for us all to be as careful as possible to avoid injuries.

Last week, as I approached a little league field where youngsters were playing their first game of a new T-ball season, I immediately noticed several safety issues. Bats were stuck through the inside of the fence so that if a player went after a foul ball he could run into them. Equipment was laying around waiting to be tripped over. But the most frightening thing I witnessed was that the team up to bat had seated all of the little boys and girls waiting for their turn only about five feet away from the hitter. I quickened my pace as I approached, seeing them bring a batter up to the plate. He took his first, surprisingly hard swing, and missed. He swung again, even harder. I envisioned the bat flying out of his hands and, if it had, into the faces of several of the waiting children. I reached the field and asked the coach who was putting the kids in line to please scoot them back, way back, so that they were out of harm’s way. He did so gladly, but I walked away wondering why he needed me to inform him that these little ones were in danger. Maybe someone from the league had already covered safety issues and this team either didn’t pay attention or forgot. But it looks like a refresher course is urgently needed.

Several years ago I was coaching my daughter’s softball team. I was talking to the opposing head coach before the game and pointed out that the field’s chain drag was laying in foul territory, about a ten feet behind first base. It was curled with sharp, rusty edges exposed. I said to him, “Imagine if a girl were to be running back to catch a foul ball and tripped and fell onto this.” The grave expression that came over him told me he was imagining the awful consequences of a 10 year-old girl who would need facial plastic surgery and live with permanent scarring if this happened. We moved the drag to the other side of the fence, but it had been laying there for several games before ours that day.

And here is an incident that really did occur in my league, though I did not witness it. At a coach-pitch practice, kids were swinging bats and not wearing helmets. One of the players got too close to another and was hit in the head. The ambulance came to the field, he went to the hospital with a concussion, but luckily was otherwise OK. How fortunate he and the league were that the injury was not more severe.

So this season, at every practice and at every game, think safety first. Take your most pessimistic self and look around the playing area for everything that could possibly cause injury. And just making the field safe is not good enough. We all know balls can travel far from the boundaries – and kids chase after them. Everywhere a child may venture needs to be cleared of equipment and any hazards.

Keep a vigilant watch from the moment the first player arrives until when the last player leaves, anticipating danger. Playing baseball, softball and soccer can be perilous enough with sprained ankles, collisions and a whole slew of other unavoidable accidents. Let’s make sure the risks that are avoidable are not added to the mix.

Brian Gotta is President of CoachDeck LLC (www.coachdeck.com). He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com.

© CoachDeck LLC All Rights Reserved

Cues (Part 1 of 2)

By Tony Earp

If you ask veteran high level players why they did something on the field, you may not get the answer you would expect. Often high level athletes do a lot of things out of “instinct” or, as I like to say, out of habit. It is hard for the player to explain why or how it was done. It is something that has been learned over time, and at this point, is done on a subconscious level from meaningful repetitive training. As it is said, “Practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent.” OK, but what IS learned over the many hours of training that produces these fast and efficient high level skill movements from elite players? I’ll give you a cue…

A cue is a “response-producing stimulus, often not consciously perceived, that results in a specific behavioral response.” During games, the play happens so fast that many of the decisions a soccer player makes, the smaller and frequent decisions, are done without a formal thought process. Many coaches are good at telling players how to do things on the field, but tend to leave out the cues that help explain the why and when. These cues are what high level players use to “make decisions” so quickly. So… when do players learn these cues and how do coaches help this process?

Let’s use individual defending as an example. Often, you will hear coaches tell players to “not dive in” or “you have to tackle that ball.” But why and when? Why should the player not try to tackle or tackle the ball during the game? Well, there are cues that players need to learn from an early age to help answer those questions.

Some cues for a player to try to win, or tackle the ball, are a bad receiving touch by the player receiving the ball, an under-weighted (softly hit) pass, the attacking player is facing their own goal, the attacking player’s head is down, or the player takes too big of a touch on the dribble (just to name a few). Now, with practice and reinforcement from an early age, the hope is these cues would tell players when to try to win the ball. When the cue is recognized, the body reacts accordingly allowing the defender to win the ball quickly. In the pace of a game, if this has to be thought about, it will take too long for the player to make the decision.

On the flip side, the player should not try to tackle the ball if the player’s touch allows them to bring the ball under control quickly, are facing the defender’s goal, the player’s head is up, and the attacker has a lot of space and time. Trying to tackle the ball at these moments can be costly for a defender. These cues would tell the defender to try to get in a good defensive position to limit the players options going forward, try to make play predictable for other defenders, and try to delay the attacking player from going forward or playing a penetrating ball forward.

Again, the decision whether to tackle the ball or not needs to become a reaction to these cues so the player can react in “real time” of the game. If a coach or teammate is telling a player to tackle the ball or not to dive in, normally it is already way too late.

Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at tearp@superkickcolumbus.com