Will you coach again next year?

We know of many frustrated volunteer baseball, softball, basketball and soccer coaches who have something in common. They don’t feel like they’re doing a very good job with the teams they’ve been assigned to coach. They believe the kids are not getting better, not improving from game to practice to game, and that the parents are not supportive. Some of these coaches don’t think they are being given enough assistance from the league either.

Please, don’t give up! It will get better! You’ll get better! You may feel you are doing the kids a disservice but if  your heart is in the right place, you are not. This is not the time for kids to turn into superstars. This is the time for them to have fun and want to come back and play again next year. Just focus on that and everything else will fall into place. Eventually, the more talented players will receive the professional coaching they need to significantly improve but for right now all they need is a safe, fun environment to play. The league, and your community needs people like you this year, and next.

We’re rooting for Lorenzo Mauldin

This defensive lineman from Louisville has had a tougher life than most of us can imagine. Read this great article from Bleacher Report about how he has overcome his anger and turned into a model citizen with a college degree who will likely play in the NFL, but will almost definitely become a success and positive influence on others.

Haven’t read OnDeck?

You’re missing out. But not for long! You can catch up right here by reading today’s issues. There is a great article about pitching mechanics and comments are already coming regarding the piece about a coach accused of bullying.

Be sure to check out OnDeck tomorrow

You won’t want to miss either edition of our OnDeck newsletter that goes out tomorrow. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox and enjoy!

Throw Hard Son… How Dad?

By Dan Gazaway
Have your parents or coach ever told you to throw hard?I’m sure they have.It’s common to hear from the stands. “Hey, Dan throw hard.”

The problem with screaming this from the stands is that the majority of the time you are trying to throw hard, you just haven’t been taught exactly how to do it.
So, where does velocity come from?
Velocity comes from the ground up, from your feet to your fingertips. Your body has to do everything mechanically correct so that you can maximize your throwing potential.
The great news is.. once you know how to throw correctly.. you will not only throw much faster, you will throw much more relaxed, you will feel a lot less pressure in your throwing arm and you will most likely last longer every game you pitch.  Throwing late in the game gives your team a higher likelihood of winning.
Here are a few pitching tips that will help you add some “pop” to the ball:
1. Make sure all of your momentum goes toward home plate: any time your momentum goes anywhere else but toward the plate, you lose MPH and can put more pressure on your throwing arm.  
2. Throw with your legs: Be explosive to foot strike gathering momentum a long the way. Too many pitchers aren’t explosive and don’t generate any power with their legs. They are what I call “arm focused” pitchers.
3. Lead with your hips: When you lift your leg make sure your hips lead the way, not your front shoulder. This will help you generate better momentum toward the plate.
4. Rotate your hips: After foot strike be quick to get your hips all the way around. To help you do this, get on the “tip toe” of your back foot quickly. This helps bring your hips around. Be sure to keep your foot on the ground all the way to release of the pitch as you continue your momentum toward the plate.
Now those are all great tips and of course there is much more to velocity than what I’ve just mentioned here. In my pitching mechanics and coaching pitchers DVD I go into great detail (simplified detail) about how to add MPH to your fastball demonstrating all of the techniques I just mentioned and many more.
Have a great season!
Dan Gazaway is the owner of The Pitching Academy http://www.facebook.com/ThePitchingAcademy  and has been coaching pitchers for over 15 years.  His instructional products have been a valuable resource for many coaches, parents and pitchers of all ages.  His website is http://www.thepitchingacademy.com. Get their FREE pitching grips ebook here (use coupon code thepitchingacademy)

A Model of Player Development

By Tom Turner

At this level, the primary concern of the adults is to facilitate activities that cater to frequent ball contacts and the development of basic motor skills. One player one ball activities and various “fun games” are excellent complements to small sided soccer games up to 3v3. The formation of teams is not recommended, with group activity “play days” replacing formal, structured play. All activities should include every player.

At this level, dribbling the ball is still the primary soccer focus, although passing can be expected and should be encouraged. The children will be much more aware of how to play soccer games and should be given more responsibility for making teams and rules and for keeping score. Games of up to 4v4 with no goalkeepers are excellent small sided versions of soccer for these children and no formal teams should be created at this time. The players’ affinity for goalkeeping can be satisfied through “nearest the goal” or “no goalkeeper” rules, but should be decided by the participants. “Play Days” are recommended in lieu of league competitions, with activities designed to include every player. Small sided soccer games should be the primary content of practice, with “fun games” designed to maximize ball contacts used in complement.

At this stage, young players start to identify themselves with a “team” and will be much more motivated to attend to formal instruction and repetitive practice activities. Improving and refining individual play through technical repetition is an important goal at this stage and small group tactical awareness can be rapidly expanded. Games of up to 6v6 provide a natural balance between technical repetition and tactical complexity. Granting players the freedom to creatively produce individual solutions to tactical and technical problems is a critical element of coaching. Improved vision and support are the tactical markers of this age, and improved ball circulation is achieved as players understand more about controlling and changing the rhythm of play. Goalkeepers should be frequently rotated.

At this stage, motivated and talented players are capable of demonstrating almost every technique and practices should still include significant periods of technical repetition and small sided play to reinforce and refine this technical base. The competitive structure will involve playing numbers through 8v8 and, for the first time, players can appreciate the basic ideas of positioning and roles; meaning games involving possession in midfield will be possible. The early lessons of support and mobility can be expanded to evolve combinations in two’s and three’s, and defending can also become more coordinated as players learn to relate to each other in both attack and defense. Individual and group decision making can be associated with purposeful changes in the rhythm of play, and movement away from the ball can become a critical element of problem solving. The careful introduction of activities designed to develop soccer specific fitness find a foundation in this period.

Young teenagers are not polished soccer players, and the expansion and refinement of their technical base must still be the primary focus of these important years. Coaching 11v11 team play will begin at U13, and patience will be required as the players’ physical and tactical dimensions adapt to the larger field size and increased numbers. Practice activities should be geared towards improving decision-making under pressure, while challenging players to solve small and large group problems quickly and collectively. As defenders become stronger, faster and more aggressive, attacking players will require sharper instincts for creating and using space, particularly, when playing with their backs to goal. Soccer-specific fitness activities should become integrated into an overall training and development plan, with caution advised with regard to over-training and burnout.

This is truly the beginning of the formal “team” building years. As players begin to reach physical and technical maturity, training should seek to develop the skills specific to positioning. Training becomes more focused on functional (positional) play, and fitness becomes important as a means of achieving victory. Players’ strategic understanding of soccer must be expanded to help make them coach-independent. Appreciation of the various systems of play, the study of individual and team tendencies, and the tactical applications of the laws become important aspects of player development.

Tom Turner is a U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach, Region II Boys ODP Coach, Ohio North State Director of Coaching. He can be reached at coaching@oysan.org.

Coach, or Bully?

The girls field hockey coach at my daughter’s high school recently resigned amid allegations of bullying. She was last year’s city Coach of the Year and won a Division One City Championship for a school that has never had one in any sport. Was she a bully who cared about winning at all cost? Or a tough coach who demanded 100% commitment from her players?

Society’s focus on bullying is at an all-time high, and for good reason. No child should be subjected to torture or abuse a the hands of someone bigger, stronger, or in a position of power. But what constitutes “bullying” and what passes for “tough coaching”? Where is the line? And is that line blurry, subject to interpretation?

The coach in question (I’ll call her Jessica) is also the school’s girls lacrosse coach, a position she continues to hold. When she stepped down she did so with the stipulation that she was not admitting guilt to any of the allegations. She had full support of the school administration and the School District. My daughter does not play either field hockey or lacrosse, so I have to disclose that I have never actually seen this woman on the sidelines. However she attends all of my daughter’s high school soccer games as a fan and supporter. She’s young, pretty, and about 5’4”, so not at all physically intimidating.

For three seasons my daughter’s high school soccer coaches have let players get away with, what I believe is, way too much. Girls would go skiing with their parents over spring break and miss games, (games against our rival school!) and there would be no consequences. Girls would not feel like practicing, invent excuses, but then be allowed to play in the next game. Meanwhile, we heard that Jessica told her teams up front that they better not even think about going out of town for spring break, concerts, etc. if they want to play for the team. Many times the comment has been made around our dinner table that we wished she was coaching our soccer team.

But, apparently about nine parents did not like her. They complained to the school administration. The Athletic Director rightly, in my opinion, backed the coach. So, not getting satisfaction, these parents invaded a School District meeting and levied allegations. Among them were that she “belittled” their girls, and sapped them of their love of the sport and will to play. Comments that were attributed to here were, “You don’t fit in on this team,” and “You’re not good enough.” Jessica denied making those comments, but even if she had, does that make her a bully?

Without intending to prejudice the reader, I should note that this high school is not known for its athletics. It is an academy, very focused on arts and academics. Many kids play varsity sports here who would not make a more competitive school’s team. And it is a very affluent high school. Your jaw would drop at the cars parked in the student lots. My guess is that many of these kids and parents are used to getting their way.

When the article came out about the accusations in the paper, I took the coach’s side in the online comments section. I got into it with a few of the disgruntled parents, asking if they’d gone to every practice and witnessed any “abuse” first-hand. They hadn’t. They’d gotten the story from their daughters. “But why would they lie?” they asked. I know many parents and players also came to Jessica’s defense saying that she was the best coach they’d ever had. The disgruntled parents rationalized this support by claiming that those girls were given preferential treatment because they played on her club team. It sounded to me like maybe those girls were also the ones who took the sport more seriously and didn’t look at it as something to do recreationally. I was told by one of the parents who supported Jessica that the anger was all about playing time. That when Jessica brought up some girls from JV and benched players who she didn’t think were giving their all, it boiled over.

Here was the point I tried to make to the furious parents. When does this parental involvement end? Five years from now, when your daughter is in the workplace and has a jerk for a boss are you going to storm into the CEO’s office and demand he be fired? Situations like this are how young people learn the skills they’ll need to cope later in life when, presumably, mommy and daddy aren’t there to save the day.

If your child isn’t playing, if the coach “doesn’t like” her, before demanding she be fired, maybe look in the mirror first. Ask yourself what you could do to make her “like you” more. Show up for practice a half hour early. Stay a half hour after. Work outside of team activities and improve. Ask the coach what you need to do to earn more playing time and do it. That’s my advice to the players. My advice to the parents? Unless this coach has physically assaulted your daughters, let her coach and let the girls toughen up. This is an opportunity for them to learn a tremendously valuable lesson that will serve them the rest of their lives.

Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

The Role of Organized Sports in Your Child’s Life

By Jeffrey Rhoads

Sports provide your child with many benefits including physical exercise, fun, confidence and a sense of community. And for many children, sports are the most natural and joyful way of expressing grace and excellence in their young lives.
With these benefits in mind, and hoping to provide the best opportunities for your child, you and other parents dutifully sign up your young children for the local youth program of choice.  Surely this is the single best way for children to pursue their interest in sports, develop their abilities, and get the most out of the experience.  But is it?

Benefits of Organized Sports
Organized sports, administered by adults, offer one path for a child to learn and appreciate sports.  Skill clinics and traditional developmental youth leagues ideally enable knowledgeable coaches to teach children specific sports skills and team play along with sportsmanship and life lessons.  Proper instruction, balanced with competition suited to the age group and skill level, can provide the program’s youth participants with a great experience.  In addition, activities are supervised, helping to ensure the safety of your child.

Don’t make the mistake, however, of believing that organized sports by themselves will provide your child with the best overall sports experience.  Organized sports are only one part of the equation.

Rich Beginnings
In my youth (and possibly yours) playing and learning sports was a multi-faceted developmental experience.  It began with my Dad introducing me to sports by playing catch and providing some basic instruction.  Too young to play in a youth league back then, I can also recall my Dad occasionally taking me to a local baseball field on a warm summer evening to watch a Little League baseball game.  Mostly, I remember the stop afterwards for an ice cream cone.  In elementary school, a gym teacher began our basic instruction in a variety of games and modified sports.  Games of kickball during gym class and recesses provided a fun introduction to team sports.  At seven or eight, I played in my first neighborhood pickup baseball and football games.  Being one of the youngest, I only hoped to get an occasional chance to catch the ball and take some swings at the plate.  I was thankful for the opportunity to play with older boys and be part of the neighborhood group.  As I grew and became a more accomplished athlete, my role increased–and this success only fueled my enjoyment and interest in sports.

Learning to Become Self-Reliant
But it’s essential to understand that these neighborhood games were much more than just playing sports.  They were also about learning how to interact with other children–without the help of parents or other adults.  We learned how to recruit neighborhood kids, organize the game, deal with arguments, balance our individual competitive instincts against the needs of others in the group, and otherwise manage the game so that everyone wanted (or at least continued) to play.  Often, it was a balancing act to keep everyone satisfied and the game going.  Depending on who was playing and our mood, the games emphasized either relaxed fun or more serious competition.  But most importantly, we controlled our experience–we learned to become more self-reliant.

A Complementary Role in Years Past
For us, the organized sports activities of our youth were separate, complementary experiences that helped fill our weekday evenings and Saturday mornings.  In some ways, organized sports represented the formal test of our daily fun and games.  We accepted that these youth leagues were run by parents, more structured, and usually more competitive.  It was still an exciting, satisfying experience–run by caring coaches who balanced competition, learning and fun.  That’s not to say there weren’t moments of stress, fear, and boredom–or the occasional poor coaching.  In my first year of football, I was the youngest (and lightest).  Trying to tackle bigger boys was a scary experience.  While playing youth baseball, I also recall each year facing a pitcher who had an unbelievable fastball, but who also was very wild.  We all were fearful of that pitcher, but knew that if we took enough pitches there was a good chance that he would walk us (but hopefully not hit us).

So what were the crucial elements comprising my youth sports experience?  They were involved parents, gym teachers, neighborhood pickup games that provided an opportunity for unstructured, self-organized play–and organized sports.  The latter was only a part of the whole.

Organized Sports Today
But it’s a new world–and some of the changes are clearly ones for the better.  Title Nine, for example, has opened the world of sports to millions of young girls.  Other changes include more two-paycheck families, more single parents, 24-hour news that sensitizes us to the potential dangers our children face on their own, and an expanded universe of non-sports activities available to a child.  Unlike Title Nine, these changes are more mixed in their benefits and drawbacks.  But one truth is certain, parents now lead lives filled to the brim with personal and family activities.
In a generation of busy parents, it’s no surprise that organized sports have now taken on a much larger role.  Scheduled, highly structured, and safe, organized sports more easily fit into today’s lifestyle.  Why not expect that organized sports can be the beginning and end of your child’s sports experience?

Unfortunately, placing these heavy expectations on an organized youth sports program is bound to result in failure of one kind or another.  A limited number of volunteer coaches with varying degrees of expertise, multiple age groups and skill levels bunched together into single leagues, and different attitudes regarding how to balance fun and competition, all make it difficult to produce a program that fully satisfies the needs of every participant.  As a result, complaints arise that traditional youth sports programs are too competitive, do not provide equal playing time, and fail to give younger beginners and less-skilled children the best opportunity to learn and have fun.

A Better, More Balanced Approach
So how do we provide the best sports experience for our youth in today’s world?  I would suggest that parents embrace a principle embodied in our past–balancing participation in organized sports with the other developmental opportunities that include direct parental involvement and separate, self-directed play by the children themselves.  Don’t simply outsource your child’s sports education to an organized youth sports program.

Even in a more complex changing world, you still control your choices.  Spend some time playing catch with your child, place limits on “electronics” time, let go a little (take a chance like your parents did with you) and send your child outside to play with other neighborhood children.  City, suburb, and rural neighborhoods all present different safety issues and potential risks. Only you can determine how much risk you are willing to assume.  But ask yourself, “Is your neighborhood really any more unsafe than the one you grew up in–or has our omnipresent 24-hour news cycle simply sensitized our society to the potential dangers?”

If you are not comfortable with unsupervised play, or your work schedule keeps you and your child away from home during the day, then try to find a facility where your child can play with others in a self-directed setting.  For example, it’s not unusual in the afternoon at the local YMCA to see younger children involved in either a fun two-on-two pickup basketball game or a more competitive full court game.  The YMCA provides a safe, semi-supervised environment that still provides children an opportunity to do their own thing.

And finally, take an active interest in your child’s organized youth sports experience.  Find the local programs that offer the best blend of fun, learning, and competition that fits your child.  Be supportive.  But also strive for a healthy balance between parental involvement and providing your child with the freedom to explore sports on his or her own.  Don’t believe that organized youth sports programs are the entire answer or that you are a poor parent for not placing your child in every available program.  You may find that everyone in the family benefits from less emphasis on organized sports.

Inactivity epidemic reaches all-time high

Our partners at PHIT America.org have just released a new study on our nation’s growing trend of inactivity. Every year since 2007, more and more people studied report that they are completely sedentary, reaching a record high in 2013. You can read the disturbing study here. Because of the ubiquity of smart phones and video games, the study reports that people are moving their fingers, but not their bodies. Obviously, this inactivity leads to heightened obesity and, correspondingly, mortality rates. PHIT America is sponsoring legislation to increase physical education budgets in schools, and much more. Visit their website and find out how you can help them get our country back up and moving. Literally.

Figure out the championship rules before the season

Here is an email from a frustrated Little League parent:

My son’s Little League is making everyone upset. Several of the Majors managers are on the board and so far, no one seems to know how the playoffs are going to be determined. Last year the top four teams got in but this year we’re hearing that only the top two teams will play. Many of us have asked but so far no one wants to say what we’re doing. I’m afraid that they’re waiting to see if two of the board members’ teams are going to be in the top two before deciding. It doesn’t seem fair that the people running the league have an unfair advantage.

Difficult to argue with this parent. This doesn’t seem fair. Cases like these are exactly why we recommend publishing all of the season’s rules pertaining to playoffs, all-stars, rainouts, umpires and any other potential variables, before the season begins, to avoid these appearances of impropriety. We’ve even put together a checklist of items for leagues to consider before the season. It may be too late for this league, but maybe next year’s board will consider it.