Identifying the right sports program for your child

From our partners at

Dear TrueSport Family,

Last time, we discussed five great things we learned at the first TrueSport U event. This week, we want to share how to identify the right program or coach for your child.

In the puzzle that is youth sport, the right program and coach can make all the difference; it’s no fun—and can be quite frustrating–to be on a team that is the wrong level or coached by a somebody whose values aren’t aligned with yours.

At the most basic level, look for programs that provide regular opportunities to play; offer an encouraging environment through the challenges of learning to both play a sport and compete; and are diligent about safety. Even at the more advanced levels of youth sport, coaches should view themselves as educators and confidence builders. The key is finding a situation that allows a child to both learn sport skills and maintain a passion for play.

When you choose a coach, you are inviting another adult ‘onto the team’ and asking them to be a part of your athlete’s development. As such, it is important to do three things: get references and check credentials/training for the coach; spend time talking with the coach; and look into the organization.

With all that in mind, we asked four top youth sports experts to address how to find a perfect fit for your child. Read their takes on identifying the right program or coach for your child on our dedicated page at or email us at

Read today’s OnDeck Newsletters!

What? You missed today’s OnDeck Newsletters for Soccer and Baseball? Problem solved! And make sure you never miss another issue by signing up here!

OnDeck Newsletter for September tomorrow

Make sure you’re signed up to receive our OnDeck Newsletter which goes out tomorrow. We’ve got some exciting offers and terrifically informative articles for you. Don’t miss out!

Why Won’t Coaches Learn Online?

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

It sounds so enticing…online coach training. Drills, streaming videos, quizzes, printable practice plans…everything a coach could ever need or want at his or her fingertips, just a high-speed internet connection away. Its a great theory, but one that fails to account for two things lacking in most volunteer coaches.

What are those two things? Time and Desire.

Before you discount this as an opinion from a biased point of view, please consider a couple of things: First, before there was any such thing on the market as online coach training, we had the idea. We were excited. We launched a site called CoachGuide with all of the bells and whistles, the drills, the practice plans, etc. We marketed it aggressively, even giving it away free to all coaches who wanted to gain additional knowledge. It was a huge bust.

Virtually no one took the course, even though it was user-friendly and full of great information. Now, with CoachDeck, we work with thousands of leagues around North America and get feedback from them as to why they love giving their coaches our decks of cards. And what we hear universally is what we learned the hard way when we were listening to crickets chirp at CoachGuide.

Volunteer coaches are just that – volunteers. They don’t get paid to do this. Yet we expect them to take valuable chunks of their schedules to become educated and prepared? A few will. And they’re the exception. The majority however just volunteered to coach because they wanted to spend some precious time with their kids or because nobody else was willing to do it. And there is nothing wrong with that. We need those folks. But after working at their real job all day, not many will come home, have dinner, put the kids to bed, and then say goodnight to their spouse and log onto a website and watch videos and tutorials. Most just don’t care enough about it.

Think of it this way. Ask anyone you know this question: “Want to spend hours online in a virtual classroom? Or would you rather play cards? Hoping our parent-volunteers will sequester themselves in front of a computer screen (or, for that matter, a coaching manual) and become experts, when they may only be planning to coach this one season and when they’re already devoting so much of their time, is unrealistic. We should simply expect that they are prompt to each practice and game, that they treat the kids well, and they set a positive example of sportsmanship and fair play. Anything else is a bonus.

And that’s where CoachDeck comes in. When coaches show up at practice straight from work they need something they can scan quickly while the kids are getting out of their parents cars. The fact is that if they had watched multiple videos the night before, trying to go from memory the next day they’d be more likely to get things wrong than right anyway. But with our deck of cards there is no guessing. They’re able to run drills that teach fundamental skills and can be made into games that kids love. With no experience, no extensive knowledge of the game and no “studying,” they can run a perfect practice.

The reason coaches prefer CoachDeck is it is not intimidating. In fact, it’s fun. A lot more fun than a username and password and a guy standing in front of a camera grimly explaining proper footwork. Hey, if they want to go online and become coaching experts, more power to them. The more education the better. But if we depend on them to all be as motivated as we are, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.

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 He can be reached at

My 9 Year-Old is a Forward

By Tony Earp

Your 9 year-old player is NOT a forward. We do not even know if he is going to be a “soccer player” in the future. The only thing we know for sure is that he plays soccer and seems to enjoy it. He may even begin showing areas of the game that he is better at than others, but he is not a forward, defender, midfielder, or a goalkeeper yet. Why? He is too young and not nearly experienced enough yet to know for sure. We do not know if a 9 year-old will grow up to be a doctor, teacher, mechanic, scientist, or an artist, but we certainly know they are not one right now. At the moment, the player is playing soccer and is being a kid, and that is all we know for sure.
Too often, we label players as being fit for a certain position WAY TOO EARLY in their development. We see certain tendencies, many which have nothing to do with actually playing that position correctly later on, and decide that is where the child should play. The child is put in that position because it is where they are best right now, but more importantly (but not really), it is what helps the team win more games right now. Once a player is pigeon holed into a position, it is the only position the child plays for games and it severely limits the player’s ability to develop all the skills required to play in the future and the overall understanding of the game.
There are countless benefits for players to get to experience all positions on the field. The players gain a better understanding of the entire game. Playing all positions helps with understanding responsibilities and positioning on the field. The player’s learn the relationships between different positions on the field. Most importantly for young players, it challenges the players to use different skills, in different ways, in different parts of the field, and it is more fun!
Playing the same position all of the time only requires the player to use certain skills, usually their stronger ones, over and over again, so the game becomes less and less challenging over time and the player’s learning slows down. There is little opportunity to grow past what the player can already do on the field and what the player already knows. As the players get older, the size of the field gets bigger, the number of players on the field increases, the formations change, and the playing approach becomes more sophisticated. As the game changes, the player with less experience in different positions will be more limited in regards to fitting into the game than a player who has played and learned the skills and knowledge required to play different positions. The player will begin to struggle as more is required by the coach and the game. The saddest part is the player who has grown up loving the game and was doing very well will increasingly begin to struggle, and the game will quickly become not as much fun. The player, in the spirit of having a lot of success right away, was deprived of the needed development opportunities to play the game and have success at the older age groups.
Which kids are usually labeled as a forward or defender when young? Coaches use physical attributes, which I am told change as kids grow up, and skill levels, which also change, and the personality of the player, which, you guessed it, also changes over time. The big and strong, but slower player, with a “big kick” gets placed as defender each game, while the speedy and more athletic player with more skill gets placed as a forward.
Each time the player labeled as a defender gets the ball, he is asked to just kick it forward and away from his own goal. The player rarely gets opportunities to take players on with the ball, dribble in space, receive passes from teammates, or get forward to try to score. The player gets good at winning the ball and kicking it far up the field for the forward to chase down. The player is praised and rewarded for doing his very well. Unfortunately, he will be required to do more than this in the future, even as a defender, when the game gets more advanced as he gets older, but he will not have learned how to do anything more.
When the forward gets the ball, he is asked to try to run forward and use his speed to get past the slower defenders. As soon as he is near the goal, the coach will want him to try to score. Between the two players, the forward gets the benefit of getting more touches on the ball and working on skill moves. But, the player gets little experience defending near his own goal, learning to play out of the back, and seeing the game from a different part of the field. If the player is moved to a different position by another coach, the player will be very unhappy about it and will become frustrated quickly as he can no longer do what he has always done… run forward and score goals. The player never gets to learn and appreciate any other aspect of the game. The only way the game is fun is if he is playing forward and scoring goals. A player who may have been considered the “best” player on the team, and doing everything right, can quickly become the player who struggles and does not have the required skills to continue to play at a competitive level as the seasons pass.
What about the players who do not fit either of these profiles? What about the players who are considered to be weaker because they cannot impact the game the same way? I have heard coaches say they try to “hide” these players on the field so they do not have to do much, or put them with stronger players who can cover for the weaker player’s mistakes. This limits the player’s negative impact on the team. Some may call this “good” coaching, but I feel this is the LAZIEST form of coaching. Instead of trying to help weaker players improve, the coach decides it is just easier to find a way that the player’s deficiencies will hurt the team the least. That is not coaching. That is REFUSING to coach. Again, these players are not allowed to play certain positions that are reserved for the “stronger” players and they miss opportunities to get better and learn how to play the game. Often these are the smaller, less athletic and coordinated players, who are driven out of the game way to early because they were not athletic enough as a young kid.
Yes, as players get older, at the senior levels, players will not be moved around as much and players begin to be more specialized in playing certain positions on the field. With that said, and as players develop as forwards, midfielders, defenders, and goalkeepers, it is still good for them to move around at times to help them learn the intricacies of each position in relation to the one they play (goalkeepers much less than others). At the older age groups, there is still a lot of development to be done, much of it tactical and understanding systems of play, which is best learned by experiencing different positions and formations. It would not be as fluid as with a younger team, but some movement in positions is still beneficial.
Really talented players can usually be effective and have a decent amount of success in most positions on the field. These types of players have a strong understanding of what is required from each position on the field. Their knowledge of the game and skill set is not limited to a single position. Yes, based on their strengths and weaknesses there will be certain positions they are more suited for, but even that can change slightly based on the system of play and formation.
When I first started coaching, I tended to leave kids in the same position. I did not know as much (but I thought I did since I played the game my whole life), and I thought I was making the game better for the kids allowing each to play where they wanted to. The more I have learned as a coach, the more I realized how wrong my thinking was in regards to helping the players develop. I allowed the stronger and faster kids to just use those advantages all the time and have success. I encouraged and cheered them for doing it, and they did, over and over again, and the game was easy for them. I never challenged those players to work on their weaknesses and do things in the game that they were not comfortable with. Those would have been the things to really help them jump in ability level. Although there is nothing wrong with using their strengths, I never asked them, challenged them, or put them in positions to make them play differently to help them grow beyond what they could already do. If my job as a coach was to make them better, I did not do my job. I thought I was, but now I know, I was just cheering on what they already knew how to do. It would have helped those players immensely and they may be even stronger, more well rounded and higher level, players today if I would have given them more opportunities to improve and expand their skills.
So again, your player is not forward, at least not yet. He may be one in the future but he is not one right now. If you are right and he is a forward later on, and he has experience playing multiple positions, he will be an even better forward because of that experience. But if you are wrong, and he does not develop into that position, then where is he going to play? He does not know how to play anywhere else or have the skills to do so. With the assumption that we may not be able to predict the future for a player, it may be prudent to give the player the opportunity to learn the entire game by playing all positions when they are young. The players have plenty of time to learn how to be more specialized when they are older. When they are young, let them experience as much as possible.
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

Throw Your Hands at the Ball? (Part 2)

By Mike Epstein

(Read Part One of this article here)

Work the hands in front!

The hitter’s hands must work in front of his body for a number of reasons. One of the most important concerns the notion of staying “inside” the ball. However, another important reason is it allows the hitter’s bat to stay as close to 90º to the oncoming pitch as possible. When a hitter does this, he maximizes the exposure of his bat’s “sweet spot” to the pitch. In addition, he has a much greater chance of keeping inside pitches fair, and not hooking them foul.

Downside of being “hands-conscious”

If a hitter “throws his hands at the ball,” none of these advantaged hitting positions come into play. And, if the hitter’s preoccupation is with his HANDS, he will most assuredly “lose” his hips and lower half. Once a player loses his legs, he loses the strongest muscles in his body! This restricts him from taking advantage of the vital separation of the upper and lower torsos (torque) which is the root of all speed and power in the swing!

Perhaps we can get a better picture of this by looking at a pitcher throw. If we isolate a pitcher’s movements into simply throwing—with no lower body movement whatsoever—it is very obvious why no one pitches this way. If the pitcher just stood on the mound and threw the ball solely with his arm and did not use his lower body at all, you’d probably say, “Why would a pitcher do that?” When he throws with his arm only, he loses the most powerful muscles in his body and all the vital torquing, momentum, and rhythmic movements he needs to provide maximum velocity to his pitches.

So it is with a hitter, although it is more “camouflaged” than with the pitching motion. When a hitter has a preoccupation with his hands, he also loses the lower body advantage. When a hitter tells me he thinks “hands to the ball” when he is hitting, I simply ask him if he’d ever consider using a 17” bat? Because that’s what he’s indeed using when he only uses half of his body to hit with.

Before the minus3s, a hitter WAS able to use only his hands and arms because the ultra-light, ultra-resilient aluminum bats made it possible. The bat did all the work. With the heavier, less resilient minus3s, however, this makes little sense. We’ve got to adjust our thinking here. Take a hard look at the players producing all the runs in amateur baseball and you’ll see very few who are not utilizing rotational mechanics. Even though many of their coaches teach “hands to the ball.” Kids are going to do what works; every hitter wants to be successful.

Now, mind you, I’m not saying every hitter must use his lower body and be rotational. Far from it. But after so many years instructing hitters, I am convinced there are many more players capable of really DRIVING the ball to the gaps if they were given a fair shot at mechanics that promote this. After all, can you name one player who wouldn’t want to hit the ball harder (or further) than he is right now? I can’t, either. Yet, we take this ability away from hitters by communicating cues like “throw your hands at the ball” and teaching mechanics which constrain all but the elite hitters from accomplishing this. Go figure.

It’s got to make sense!

But, I think the most salient point of all might be just “plain ol’ common sense.” IF we tell a hitter to “stay inside the ball” because of its importance to productive hitting, how can we also tell him “hands to the ball?” If the pitch is on the outer half of the plate, how can he then stay “inside” the ball—and also let his hands go “to” the ball? It can’t happen, yet we continually instruct hitters to do them at the same time. It is confusing and also frustrating for him.

The American Baseball Coaches Association and other interested groups are at this very moment addressing their concern over the growing number of youngsters who leave baseball early for other sports. Hitting a baseball is a very demanding exercise, requiring a high degree of athleticism, mental toughness, visual acuity, and a strong work ethic. It’s certainly not for everyone. But, far too many youngsters quit for other sports because they don’t hit well. One of the reasons for this shortcoming is the conflicting information coaches dole out without thinking it completely through. Chalk it up to my pet peeve, “conventional wisdom.” We must teach with objective facts rather than subjective opinions.

Hitting isn’t for everyone, but…

Every player can’t be a big leaguer. But, with some common sense teaching from my DVDs, CD-Roms, and books, ANYONE can easily teach the right information and furnish the mechanical blueprint for a player to correctly stay “inside” the ball. A proper hitting technique can give more players an enjoyable and fun experience. In all my years in this game, I’ve never known one player who hit .150 who had “fun.” Having first-rate information is a good start.

When we tell hitters to “stay inside the ball” AND “throw your hands at the ball” in practically the same breath, we defeat our purpose and goal of trying to get the player to hit his potential.

Why make such a tough thing to do—tougher?

Good luck, continued success, and “get a good pitch to hit!”

Mike Epstein is one of America’s top hitting analysts, instructors, speakers, and published writers. His uncanny ability to simplify the complexities of the baseball swing has thrust him to the forefront of America’s hitting coaches. The Collegiate Baseball Newspaper calls Mike “Baseball’s hitting guru.”

Prior to Mike’s teaching years, he was an All-American baseball player and still holds the highest lifetime batting average of .384 at the University of California (Berkeley). He was a member of the first United States Olympic Baseball Team, leading the team in many offensive hitting categories (Japan, 1964). He was named the Sporting News and Topps Minor League Player-of-the-Year in 1966.His website is

Behavior Checklist for Youth Coaches (Part 2 of 3)

By Dr. Darrell Burnett

I have reasonable and realistic expectations.

A major frustration for kids, in sports or in life, is trying to live up to expectations of adults in their lives. At times, youngsters have a strong need for adult approval. If they don’t get it, due to unrealistic expectations from adults, it can be a major source of low self-worth. Since a coach often plays a major role in the life of a youngster, it is important to keep expectations reasonable. A good coach’s skill expectations are based on the knowledge that all youngsters in youth sports 1) vary in their development of physical coordination skills, 2) go through plateaus in their skill development and 3) have growth spurts which can affect their coordination.

A good coach’s motivation expectations are based on the awareness that there are three levels of motivation for kids in youth sports: 1) some kids, especially the entry-level youngsters, are playing because their parents enrolled them, 2) many youngster are playing because it’s a social event allowing them to be with their friends, 3) a smaller group of youngsters, beginning at about age 11 or 12, are playing because they enjoy sports for sports’ sake.

A good coach’s dedication expectations are based on the knowledge that the level of dedication to practice and mastery of skills depends upon the level of motivation in a youngster. A good coach also knows that dedication wanes when playing the sport is no longer fun.

I treat kids with respect, avoiding put-downs, sarcasm or ridicule.

When a youngster signs up to play sports, he/she deserves to be treated with respect. This means no put-downs, no sarcasm and no ridiculing by the coach. Dr. Thomas Tutko, renowned author, lecturer and sports psychologist, notes that any youth sports coach who volunteers to take on the job of guiding kids in any given sport needs to be careful of how he/she comes across to the youngsters. He uses the words “potential child abuse” when describing the verbal and emotional harassment that sometimes takes place in the name of “coaching” in youth sports.

I remind kids not to get down on themselves.

I once observed a brilliant piece of youth sports coaching at a basketball game. A youngster missed a lay-up on a fast break. The coach substituted for the youngster. He then said to him, “Son, I didn’t take you out because of the missed lay-up. I took you out because after you missed the lay-up you hung your head, delayed in getting back on defense and allowed your opponent to score an easy basket. If you get down on yourself after you make a mistake all it does is give your opponent an advantage. Now, get back in there, learn from your mistakes and quit beating yourself up!”

Youth is a time of mixed feelings. Kids can go from “cocky” to “unsure” in seconds. A steady reminder from the coach can help them to keep from falling apart when thing aren’t going well.

I remember not to take myself too seriously during the game.

Cartoons have a way of reminding us about some of our weaknesses. In an obvious parody of the singing fat lady, a cartoon depicts a youngster coming off the playing field after a defeat. The parents are beckoning him to the car. He responds, “Not yet mom and dad, the game’s not over ’til the coach cries!” In yet another cartoon, as the scoreboard indicates a loss for the home team, a youngster has his hand on the coach’s drooping shoulder, saying, “It’s OK coach, it’s just a Little League game!”

Although it’s a volunteer position, some youth sports coaches seem to have made it their “life.” The same person who appears so relaxed and easy going away from practice and the game takes on a whole new persona as “coach.” At times, there seems to be entirely too much ownership and identity tied in with the position. In youth sports involving a “draft” there seems to be the danger of a little too much ego involvement. In other words, it’s as though the coach was thinking; “I drafted you kids. If you don’t produce it makes me look bad.”

(Next issue, Part 3: Fun, Teamwork and Good Sportsmanship)

Dr. Darrell Burnett is a clinical psychologist and a certified sports psychologist specializing in youth sports. He has been in private practice for 25+ years in Laguna Niguel, California. His book, IT’S JUST A GAME! (Youth, Sports, & Self Esteem: A Guide for Parents), is described at his website,, along with his other books, booklets and CDs on youth sports and family life.

And we weren’t done apparently

Yesterday we told you about a Little League in Oregon that found out a board member was stealing and had essentially cleaned them out. Now, on the other side of the country, we find out it’s happened again. Come on folks, a little morality and, a little more oversight.

Another Little League theft

We hate bringing you stories like these. but unfortunately, its the world we live in. This is a league that purchased CoachDecks from us a few years back. If you’d like to help, in the article you’ll see there is a fundraising site set up to take donations.

FIFA Laws of the Game

Did you know there’s an Owners’ Manual for soccer put out by FIFA? If  you’re not sure about any rules, this is a really good place to start…and finish. It is complete, thorough and yet concise. Even the most entrenched soccer coach/admin might find a thing or two here about which they weren’t previously aware. For instance, did you know that according to the international governing body of soccer, the color of the playing surface for all games MUST be green? Those of us playing on those worn out, drought-stricken fields better get out a can of spray paint!