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

Where Should Your Focus as a Coach Be?

By Miles Noland

“Winning is a part of the system but never trumps player development.” -Former Yankees GM Bob Watson

The statement shows the philosophy of the consistently best major league baseball team in history, the New York Yankees. The Yankees know if they focus on player development they will build a strong system, and a strong system will allow them to compete for championships on a yearly basis, via prospects coming up through the system. These prospects help them win games, or they are traded for other very talented players that plug holes where the Yankees need help at the time.

If this philosophy is good enough for the Yankees, why isn’t good enough for the youth leagues?

I have heard of so many youth baseball coaches talking about a huge summer tournament they just won, or pulling in ringers for a big summer tournament to help them win. Or the big league game that the youth baseball coach brought his best pitcher back in because they needed someone quality to work through some innings.

It takes a mature youth baseball coach that understands player development and keeping kids healthy to make decisions that are better for the player in the long run, and perhaps not as good for the team in the short term. Youth baseball coaches have to realize the huge responsibility they have in leading youth athletes, and they have to put their ego aside and do what is best for the kid. Coaches, just like the Yankees and the rest of the major league teams are doing, need to put the emphasis on player development over winning. This philosophy in youth baseball may not be as exciting or rewarding in the short term, but the reward of this focus and effort comes down the road.

The reason this emphasis on player development is occurring in the major leagues but not on the youth level is a lack of quality coaches. Youth baseball coaches are not adequately trained to be in the position they are in. People that succeed in life are more knowledgeable and take action on that knowledge more than unsuccessful people. It is the same for coaching youth baseball. IF you pride yourself on serving kids and being a good youth baseball coach, you must get coaching yourself to provide the kids the best opportunity possible to develop.

Focus on teaching kids the fundamentals and mechanics of the game, and worry less about how many games you win. Focus on keeping a kid’s arm healthy, rather than stretching him out to win a tight game. Be the mature coach and the one who truly wants the best for the kids long-term, rather than merely making yourself look better by scratching out another win.

75% of kids quit baseball by age 13. Be the youth baseball coach that encourages kids to keep playing, and use baseball to great virtues like strong character, hard work, and the ability to deal with failure.

Miles Noland operates Noland Fitness LLC. His website, www.athletehitting.com is a wealth of information for young hitters.

Should Every Kid Get a Sports “Participation” Ribbon?

One complaint I regularly hear these days is that we have become too soft and giving when it comes to rewarding kids for simply “being on the team” when it comes to youth sports.  Rather than have to earn awards through athletic accomplishments, some folks feel we have become too giving about rewarding kids for simply putting on a uniform and being on the team.  I have even heard this being called the “everybody gets an award” generation of youth sports!

The positives of reinforcing all kids…
Delving deeper, there are a couple schools of thought to consider as they apply to the question of “everybody being a winner in youth sports.”  First, using the most basic behavioral psychology models, sport psychologists would agree that shaping behaviors through positive reinforcement “works” in the sense that it usually increases motivation, perseverance, and goal compliance.  This does not mean that giving every young athlete a participation ribbon will turn him or her into a future All-Star, but it does suggest that positive reinforcement is generally a good thing and usually helps with self-esteem and self-confidence.  When kids feel good about themselves, they are more likely to try harder, and for some that extra effort might make the difference between a late-bloomer athlete and one that might have quit his career much sooner if he had not been recognized in some small way.

The negatives of reinforcing all kids…
The flip-side to easy rewards may be that it doesn’t raise the bar high enough for kids to continue to train hard and improve their mental toughness and athletic skills — after all, everybody gets a trophy for simply signing up for the team, right?

A second concern about rewarding everyone is that it could take away from the kids who actually earn their awards through on-field accomplishments — might they become upset that their hard work and efforts were recognized in the same way as other kids who hardly even played?

The key, it seems, is for coaches and sports league operators to find a middle ground and create both ways to recognize kids who participate on the team (but maybe not play much, or at all), as well as create more meaningful rewards for those athletes who truly accomplish great things on the field.  Using this approach, all kids are recognized, but some are provided more meaningful rewards because they have accomplished more meaningful things on the field.

What do you think about this issue?  Have we gone overboard as a society by rewarding every young athlete for simply putting on a sports uniform, or does it make sense to reinforce sport participation — even for the kids who never see the field?

Dr. Chris Stankovich is a national expert in the field of sport & performance psychology and has assisted thousands of athletes reach their full athletic potential. He is the Founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems, and is known as “The Sports Doc” for his weekly segment on Ohio News Network (ONN). Please visit www.drstankovich.com for exciting, easy-to-understand Peak Performance videos, audios, assessments, and feature articles.

So you think you have a chance?

Now that the bracket contests are mostly officially closed, we thought we’d rain on a few parades. If you think you picked the perfect bracket, you might want to look at this article about Warren Buffett’s billion dollar perfect bracket challenge. In case you were wondering, the odds are not good. We’re just hoping one of our Final Four teams makes it.