Happy Halloween!

Let’s make sure all of our little ones are safe out there. Keep a close eye on them and don’t let them eat too much candy! And make those “cool” ballplayers dress up in something other than their team uniform. Put on a real costume and have some fun with it. No one’s going to think you’re not cool and, if they do, they’re not cool and you shouldn’t care what they think.

Deer runs onto youth soccer field, scores goal

There is no truth to the rumor that several MLS teams are hunting this deer with the intent to sign him to a long-term contract.

One of the best moments ever

What you’ll see in these 24 seconds will restore your faith in youth sports, maybe in humanity. It’s not sappy, or flashy. It’s a guy on one football team’s defense going across the line to tie the shoes of an offensive player who was struggling with his gloves. Can it get any more pure than this? So great to see.

You can change youth sports

From our partners at TrueSports.org:

Dear TrueSport Family,

Over the past few months, we have shared with you information on:

  •          The mental benefits of youth sports
  •          When to specialize your athlete and how to achieve sport-life balance
  •          How to optimize your young athlete’s diet for peak performance
  •          TrueSport’s Deck Pass, and Athlete Ambassador programs

Now, we’d like to ask a small favor. TrueSport is a movement, one powered by you, your kids, and their coaches. Through various channels such as email and social media, and in person, you have told us that you crave to see a culture shift in youth sport. In our efforts, we continually try to make the resources needed to do this available, but we can’t do it alone.

The easiest way you can join the movement and help spread TrueSport’s mission and values is to first engage with us on your favorite social media channel:

fb      twitter      instagram      pinterest      TrueSportUSA
There, you will find updates about the latest TrueSport events and programs coming to a city near you that will allow you ignite a culture of true sport in your community.

However, we also want to hear your own ideas about how to change youth sport, and what kind of events your community would benefit from having. Let us know by emailing TrueSport@TrueSport.org.

Thank you for joining us and the 1.5 million people we reached in 2014 in helping youth sport live up to its full potential. We look forward to hearing from you and to working together to help reclaim the game.


The TrueSport Team

Your copies of October OnDeck Newsletter

If you missed this month’s issues you can be sure to never let that happen again by signing up here! In the meantime, download our soccer edition anchored by an article by Jeff Pill and catch the baseball issue with Mike Epstein’s thoughts on two-strike hitting.

October 2015 OnDeck Newsletter tomorrow

Make sure you sign up to receive our OnDeck Newsletter, with lots of great, informational articles and offers from our terrific sponsors. Our October issue hits the newsstands tomorrow!

Let Them Do What They Want?

By Brian Gotta

I have read recent interviews with parents and parents-to-be who say they are not going to force their kids to play sports. The sentiment is that some parents are so over-the-top, so hungry to live vicariously through their children to regain their own unrealized glory that they’ll drive their offspring into an unwelcome world of competition and duress.

I am obviously biased on this topic. I played sports and gained phenomenal value from my experiences. My four kids all still play and I never had to force them. If anything, they wanted to participate in too many sports and sometimes we couldn’t do it all. They, like me, have also benefited tremendously from their athletic endeavors. They are all in great physical shape and, my guess is, will stay that way long after their playing careers end. They’ve learned the value of teamwork, made lifelong friends and, most importantly, they’ve lived through the proverbial “thrill of victory and agony of defeat.” I believe this will make them much better equipped to face what the world is going to throw at them down the road.

But what if your kids don’t want to play sports?

Well, what if they don’t want to eat their vegetables? What if they don’t want to go to school? What if they don’t want to clean up their rooms or brush their teeth? Until they are mature enough to make decisions on their own, our job as parents is to decide what is best for them.

I’m not even saying a kid should be made to play a particular sport. There were certain sports my kids took to, probably because they were the ones I was most interested in, but had they asked to play another team sport instead I’d have been fine with that.

I also don’t subscribe to the idea that if we just make them “try” it once and they don’t like it, then its OK to let them quit. So a child plays T-Ball, has a poor coach, doesn’t enjoy it and that means he will never play baseball again? So many things may change if he’s made to go back again next year and give it another go. Maybe this time he has an amazing coach. Maybe when the kids are a little older and more skilled the game becomes enjoyable. Wouldn’t it be awful if a youngster would have grown to love a sport, would have played it all the way through high school, but we didn’t give him the chance because we let him decide at age six or seven to drop out?

I have an experience of being forced to play. While I loved all sports, middle school tackle football was no fun. I was stuck with the double negative of not only being one of the youngest in my grade, but I was also a late bloomer and among the very smallest. That meant I couldn’t match up against the bigger kids and I had no chance of ever seeing the field in a game. The practices were grueling and without any glory. After the seventh grade season I probably would have hung it up if left to my own devices. It was not my parents who demanded I continue, it was my older brother. He was in college at the time and “suggested” I play at least as long as he did, which was through Freshman year. I idolized him and was not going to do anything to disappoint him. I weighed 89 pounds my freshman year but went out anyway. I can remember hating it so much I actually crossed off days on my calendar until the season ended.

I didn’t have an “Rudy” moment. I don’t think I ever saw the field, except maybe for a play or two in mop-up time. But do you know what? I wasn’t traumatized. I don’t look back on the experience with any negativity. Frankly, I hardly remember it at all. And it didn’t make me hate the sport. I played four years of intramural football in college. And now I wish someone had made me stick it out through high school because I finally started to grow a little by my senior year and I may have had some success.

But even staying with it as long as I did, I have to believe that somewhere in my psyche I learned something about perseverance, discipline, battling against the odds. I learned that sometimes you can work really hard and things don’t turn out like a storybook, but you go on. And there is value to that.

Not all kids are athletes. I get that. I coached several young neighborhood boys who were sweet and gentle and didn’t have a competitive or athletic bone in their bodies. They played a few years of baseball on my teams but I knew that when it got more intense they were probably going to drop it. I hoped though, that they would still play rec soccer, tennis – something to stay active. Every parent has to make the decision when to stop making their kids do things, including sports. I am not going to speculate on a certain age or grade when this is appropriate. It is a case-by-case, family-by-family decision. But what I do know is that if your kids are on a team, on a field, outside, what they’re not doing is getting in trouble or mindlessly playing video games. Their time is being spent in an activity that is enriching and healthy. And as parents, what more can we want?

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

Team Discipline

By Jeff Pill

Team discipline is crucial to the overall success of any team endeavor. Not only do disciplined teams perform well on the field, but, if teams are able to maintain good discipline both on and off the field, the overall soccer experience is far more positive for all involved; parents, players, coaches and administrators.

In fact, maintaining team discipline is one of the biggest fears or challenges for beginning coaches. Often, coaches are lost or ineffective because they are unable to maintain order and discipline with their team.

Towards the end, I have included several brief suggestions on what I have found to be successful in maintaining good team discipline. Hopefully, you have developed your own “list” of what works for you. If not, let this serve as inspiration to come up with your own system.

1. Plan Ahead

The single most important thing that can help is the coach’s organization. Here, if it is obvious to the players that practices are conducted in an orderly manner, with clear goals and objectives, they are more likely to treat both the coach and the training time seriously. If practices flow easily from one activity to the other with minimal “down time”, the players are able to stay focused on the task at hand. By making training meaningful and educational, the players will be motivated to pay attention and keep focused.

2. Choose Your Activities Carefully

There is nothing worse than putting players through “boring” drills that are inappropriate to their playing ability either by being too difficult or too easy. Activities should be fun, challenging and replicate the demands of the game itself. In this way, the players sense that their time is not being wasted. Having activities be competitive motivates them to play their best. Keep the players moving and engaged. Make sure that there are plenty of balls at hand so that a good activity is not interrupted by taking unnecessary time out to chase the ball. Even young players will engage themselves in a great game. Remember, your parents will appreciate the fact that their young player comes home and sleeps through the night because they have tired themselves out in healthy, engaging fun activities.

3. Have A Clear Picture In Mind of What Appropriate Behavior Looks Like

If you know what the players will look like when they are playing the game, you will be able to recognize when they are not playing the game correctly, or not behaving appropriately. This will enable you to step in immediately when inappropriate behavior is seen. As soon as you notice it, you must deal with it. Having a clear picture in your mind will allow you to be decisive. Then, you should also have a clear picture in your mind of how you are going to deal with the situation. Having players do push ups or run laps as punishment is inappropriate, especially for younger players. Removing them from an activity is more effective. Their primary desire is to be involved in their peer group. Therefore, removing them from the activity is an effective way to deal with problems that occur. As one coach said, “Don’t be afraid to use the bench!”

4. Involve The Parents

Especially with the younger players, having the parents support and reinforcing your discipline policies are crucial. Your expectations for player behavior should be clearly stated during the preseason parent meeting. Enlist their support. It has been my experience that they will be glad to do so.

5. Remember, You Are The Role Model

It is always good to remember that our actions are speaking so loudly that the players can not hear what we are saying. If we ask for respect, but show that we don’t respect others (e.g. the referee) then we are asking for problems. If we expect players to be kind to each other, but we are not kind to ourselves, then expect the worst. Model appropriate behavior and get it in return.

6. Recognize The Difference Between Open Acts of Defiance and Childhood Irresponsibility

“Kids will be kids” is a great phrase that both excuses a lot of inappropriate behavior, on one hand, and reminds us all that kids make mistakes on the other. When players openly defy, and act inappropriately, then swift, appropriate action is called for. However, when players momentarily forget themselves, and do not show any malicious intent, then a gentle reminder is perhaps more appropriate. Just remember, youngsters are often quite skillful at disguising the two types of behavior. We all have to be sharp in recognizing the difference so that we can act appropriately.

7. Finally, Be Sure To Put Yourself In Their Shoes

If we can remember what it is like to be at a fun practice that is both enjoyable as well as educational, we will be better off. Always ask yourself, “What would I like to do if I were at practice and needed to work on my passing?” This will enable you to avoid a lot of possible challenges.

Jeff Pill is the college soccer coordinator for Maranatha Baptist University, serving as the men’s soccer coach and overseeing the women’s team. Before coming to Maranatha, In addition to his USSF “A” License, a NSCAA Advanded National Diploma, and a National Youth License for coaching, Pill’s awards include five New Hampshire Coach of the Year awards, Sportsman of the Year, New Hampshire Senior All-Star Coach, and the President’s Award from the New Hampshire Soccer Association. Pill has served on the New Hampshire Senior All-Star Selection Committee, Vice President for the New Hampshire Coaches Association, a technical reporter for FIFA during the 1994 and 1999 World Cup games, and Director of Coaching for New Hampshire.

Two Strike Execution

By Mike Epstein

I have often been asked to crystallize my thoughts concerning two-strike hitting. This has been an area of concern since baseball’s earliest days.

The ability to “put the ball in play” when hitters’ backs are against the proverbial “wall” has tormented many from baseball’s earliest days. In this article, I’ll present some ideas that can bring both players and coaches to a better understanding when dealing with this vital part of the hitting game.

The principal reason two-strike hitting is so difficult is because it is the ONLY time a hitter must guard against every pitch, every pitch speed, and every pitch location in the pitcher’s arsenal. It is for this reason that so many hitters fail with two strikes! If you’ve followed my hitting articles, you should already know that no player can “guard” both sides of the plate on any given pitch. The beauty is that he doesn’t have to—until he gets two strikes on him. Then “concessions” must be in order.

We can really simplify this subject by saying at the outset, that if a player stays “inside the ball,” and employs good rotational mechanics, the only thing keeping him from becoming a good two-strike hitter is the mental approach he takes to the plate.

First, to be a good two-strike hitter, a player has to “know” himself. I know, I know. I sound like a broken record on this point. But to deal effectively in situations where there might not be a “next” time, we’ve got to come to grips with “who we are” if we are to achieve. What kind of hitter am I? Better “off speed” than fastball hitter? Do I like the ball up or down in the strike zone? Do “like-handers” or “opposite-handers” give me the most trouble?

Second, to be a good two-strike hitter, a player must have a “plan” when he goes to the plate, and this plan is arrived at by knowing himself FIRST. He then gets his hitting plan from watching the pitcher, from his warm-ups before the first inning to his most recent pitches to the previous batter. What pitch is he having trouble getting over? Is he an “against the count” pitcher? What pitch does he throw when he’s behind in the count? Does he have a dominant “strike out pitch?” Do I feel “comfortable” against this guy—or does he just have to “throw his hat on the mound” to get me out?

Answering these questions honestly can make the difference when the game is “on the line,” and it all starts with the opposing pitcher’s first warm-up pitch. If you’ve done your homework, you have some choices. If you’re facing a top-drawer pitcher who’s making tough pitches that day, you may not want to “let” him get two strikes on you. In this case, you would expand your hitting zones and be more aggressive trying to put the ball in play, and not have to get to a two-strike count. If you feel there’s no way that pitcher can get you out that day, you might want to shrink your strike zone somewhat and look for “your” pitch, knowing he “can’t” strike you out.

Against pitchers like Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Kevin Brown, Eric Gagne, et al, very few—if any—hitters have a “dead red” area. Few, if any, feel “comfortable” against pitchers of this caliber. But everything in baseball is relative, meaning that even in your league, there are pitchers of this “caliber” relative to the others. So, in this instance, you probably won’t
elect to wait for “your” pitch—you’ll probably never see it that day. Open up your hitting zones! In other words, effective two-strike hitting implies knowing your strengths and weaknesses, who the pitcher is that day, and how “comfortable” he is to hit against. Doing your homework before each at-bat can add plenty of confidence and points to your OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage: baseball’s benchmark for productive hitting).

You’ve often heard me mention how quickly at-bat situations can change. This, in turn, will affect your two-strike hitting approach. If you have the potential to “go yard,” and you represent the tying or winning run deep in the game, you may not want to make any concessions with two strikes. In a situation like this, there is no two-strike hitting. Your team needs the long ball from you. It’s “outhouse or penthouse.” Other times, and if you’re not a “power” guy, or you don’t represent the tying or winning run, contact, and just “putting the ball in play,” is warranted. As a hitter, you have to be aware of these things and “hit according to your type.” (Next month: How Do You “Know” Yourself as a Hitter?)

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 http://www.mikeepsteinhitting.com/

Behavior Checklist (Part 3 of 3)

By Dr. Darrell Burnett

I maintain a “Fun is #1” attitude, with lots of laughter and a sense of humor.

Fun is the major motivator for kids in sports. In survey after survey, whenever youngsters are asked why they play sports, the number one reason is always the same – to have fun. Winning is on the list but it is last on the list. Kids like to compete, but it’s the fun of competing, the excitement of competing, not just the winning.

Research shows that kids learn better when they’re having fun. The effective coach is the coach who learns what fun is for the kids by getting into their shoes and seeing the world from their point of view, the world of fun. The effective coach knows that fun; laughter and humour are second nature to kids.

I emphasize teamwork and help kids think “we” instead of “me.”

One of the major cornerstones of self-esteem is developing a sense of belonging. We’re social animals and we need to feel as though we belong to a group. Youth sports offer an automatic sense of belonging (team name, team uniforms, team photos, team picnics, etc.) However, a coach plays a central role in making the “team” concept become a reality. The coach makes sure that all kids on the team get recognized, not just the “stars.” The coach does not allow teammates to criticize each other. The coach encourages parents to notice and compliment all the players on the team, not just their own kids, and not just the “stars.”

I am a role model of good sportsmanship.

In an age where sportsmanship is struggling to survive in professional, college and often in high school sports, the youth sports coach is the key role model of good sportsmanship. Youngsters are looking to the coach to show them the way in the three areas of sportsmanship; 1) winning without gloating, 2) losing without complaining and 3) treating opponents and officials with fairness, generosity and courtesy.

The task of the positive coach is to teach youngsters to be in control of their emotions throughout the competitive contest and afterward in their interactions with opponents and officials.

A final note.
As coaches we are human beings, not robots. In spite of the best intentions we may all have our bad days. Hopefully, using the items on the behavior checklist as guidelines, we will stay on task throughout the season, working toward our goal of offering positive coach support, doing our part to make each season a success where youngsters decide to come back next year and to stay involved in youth sports during their formative years.

Full Checklist (Print and save):

  • I praise kids just for participating.
  • I look for positives, and make a big deal out of them.
  • I stay calm when my kids make mistakes, helping them learn from their mistakes.
  • I have reasonable and realistic expectation.
  • I treat my kids with respect, avoiding put-downs, sarcasm, and ridicule.
  • I remind my kids not to get down on themselves.
  • I remember not to take myself too seriously during the game.
  • I maintain a Fun is #1 attitude, with lots of laughter and sense of humour.
  • I emphasize teamwork, and help my kids think “we” instead of “me.”
  • I am a role model of good sportsmanship:

(a) Winning without gloating

(b) Losing without complaining

(c)Treating opponents and officials with fairness, generosity, & courtesy.

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, www.djburnett.com, along with his other books, booklets and CDs on youth sports and family life.