Texas 60 program working wonders for kids’ learning

Our partners at PHIT America have been saying it for some time…more recess and physical activity leads to better classroom performance. Well, six elementary schools in the Fort Worth/Irving area of Texas are proving it true. They’ve modeled themselves after a Finnish approach that has worked for decades and now are giving children 60 minutes of recess, (four periods of 15 minutes) each day, compared to the average total of 27 minutes. The results have been a dramatic improvement in scholastic achievement. This should be a no-brainer for school programs nationwide. Let’s not cut Phys-Ed programs, let’s increase them!

Cutest thing you’ll see today

This little Montreal Canadiens fan wanted a puck just like his friend had. Watch what happens when a player skates over and delivers. This is what sports are all about.

Should Walmart have to rebuild a football field they destroyed?

A Walmart built in rural Oklahoma seemed like a good idea at the time. Good enough to allow its construction to destroy the community’s local youth football field. But less than nine months later, Walmart’s corporate office closed the store. Now the town would like its field back, and wants Walmart to pay.

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Making the Right Coaching Decisions

I received an email from a mom of a sixth-grade boy who was playing basketball for the first time. She said that, while her son does get to play in games, his coach has instructed him never to dribble. When he gets the ball he can only pass to someone else. She asked if I thought this was wrong. I told her that I absolutely did. But I then also gave her some advice I’m not sure she expected.

My first thought when hearing this story was that this was a coach who had his priorities skewed, who only cared about winning and not about developing players. And I still believe this is probably true. But while this may be an extreme example, every youth coach in the world has to walk the fine line each day of doing what is best for individual players and doing what is best for the team. Because they might not be the same thing.

Some kids want to win. They love playing their best, scoring goals, getting hits, diving for balls, giving all-out effort to do their best. Other kids don’t care about winning. Don’t really care as much about accomplishment as with simply playing and having fun. In youth rec leagues both these types of players and everything in between are blended together onto one team. How does a coach make everyone happy? If he plays the best players most of the time and rewards them with wins and championships he is often considered a “win-at-all-costs” “over-the-top” jerk. If he only cares about “having fun” and doesn’t even notice the score, then is that fair to the players assigned to him who are competitive? What is the perfect balance? In fifteen years of coaching with four kids, I struggled with it with every team I had.

In the situation with the coach who wouldn’t let the player dribble, I told the mom I felt this was one of the few times it might be appropriate for her to have a discussion with him. But the advice I don’t think she expected was that it would also be great for her son to try to improve on his own. I don’t know how much time the coach spends with this boy at practice on ball-handling, and if he’s a good coach he should work with him to get him to get better. But if he has no one to help him, then all of the individual attention he gives to this one player would be attention he can’t give to the rest of the team. If this boy were to practice 20-30 minutes a day, on the street, in the garage – anywhere – he’d develop skills pretty quickly. (There are 13 really good dribbling drills in our CoachDeck for Basketball). This youngster could, in a short period of time, go from being one of the worst ball-handlers on the team to one of the best if he worked on it.

So whose job is it to ensure that a player gets what he wants? That he plays a specific position, or certain amount of minutes. That he be allowed to dribble. Is it the coach’s responsibility? Or the player’s? Because these lessons carry over to life. There have been many times that one of my kids has been assigned to be part of a group project in school. And often I’ve heard stories about one of the group who “couldn’t make it” when they all got together on the weekend or who contributed nothing to the project, but who still got the same grade as the students who did the work. Is that fair? And isn’t that kind of the same thing we’re talking about on youth teams?

The dynamic of player, coach and parent is one that so often causes controversy and extreme emotion. Yet for some reason, when you read or hear about friction in youth sports it is almost always the coach who is made out to be the bad guy. Maybe that’s one of the reasons it is so difficult to get volunteers to do it. We all react to what we see happening to ourselves. But being part of a team means being part of something bigger. In all cases, if you’re a player, a parent or a coach, it will be helpful to understand that this is about more than just you.

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

Things That Last

By Tony Earp

At the end of the each season, it is normal to try to take inventory of what was gained or lost over the course of the year. Each athlete who participates in sports gains something throughout the season. Either the player improved his ability and skill, understanding of how to play, became psychologically a tougher competitor, or grew stronger and faster. These are all important aspects of a player’s development that the player will be able to apply to the next season which will help him have more success in the coming years. In addition, we hope the player loves the game more now than when the season started, and that his hunger and joy to play have both grown and are insatiable.

But what about when there is not a next season? What about when the player is done competing, and playing sports is something that is in the rear-view mirror? At that point, what will the player take with him to help him move on to the next step in life? In other words… what really lasts? When there are no more games to play, here are a couple things that will stay with any athlete who had the courage to compete and learn how to play a game:

Active and Healthy Lifestyle
This may be the most obvious, but it is one of the most important things that lasts from playing sports, or I hope lasts for all players, as it positively affects all other areas of an athlete’s life. By playing sports, players tend to learn a great deal about the benefits of exercise, eating right, getting enough sleep, and other healthy habits. This may be more true in some sports than others, but the hope is that the feeling of being in good shape, working hard, getting a good sweat, and that rush from pushing harder and a little farther than you thought was possible never goes away. In a small way, staying active is an avenue a former athlete can use to still compete, either against others or himself.

When an athlete leaves a hard practice or game, there is sense of accomplishment. A great feeling of how the body was pushed and feels stronger. Sometimes after a great game or training session, athletes feel like they can accomplish anything. It is a feeling athletes try to recreate by staying active or seeking out new physical challenges by staying active.
As a coach, this is one thing I really hope sticks for all players. I hope they stay active, and do not allow themselves to let unhealthy habits overcome healthy ones and an active lifestyle they have spent most of their lives being a part of in sports. Outside the lessons and skills of the game, these lessons, I believe are some of the most important for athletes to learn as they can be used throughout the rest of their lives.

Ability to Struggle Positively
Over the course of a playing career, all players will struggle… often. It is part of playing sports. It is expected, and over time, athletes learn how to struggle positively. They embrace the struggle, look forward to it, feed off it, and understand it is required to improve. In fact, when there is no struggle, and there is no turmoil, it can cause more unrest as the athlete becomes concerned there is no opportunity for growth. They seek out the struggle. They look for paths of the most resistance rather than the least resistance. Not because they don’t know how to work smarter than others, but they know that usually the path of least resistance does not lead them to where they want to go. As it never has before.
With this in mind, athletes develop the skills required to struggle positively. They do not get bogged down or quit when things get hard. They struggle with a smile, and they learn to do it playing the game they love. It is not something they were taught. They had to do it in order to survive on the playing field, and it is what is required to survive the game of “life.”

The Need to Help Others
Being a part of a team develops a need to help others that becomes a part of who players are for the rest of their lives. For a team to be successful, everyone must help one another to earn success as a group. A player learns to recognize success, not in just what they accomplish, but what they can help and inspire others to accomplish. To be able to help someone else achieve something they could not do on their own, is more rewarding than any other type of individual accomplishment. To feel whole, to feel successful, can only be achieved by helping others do the same.
This need to serve a greater cause outside of their own interests is part of why former athletes are often very active in their communities and serving others. It is what helped them be successful when they played, and it is what will help them be successful when they are done playing making influential contributions in their communities.

Willingness to Accept Help
This is the flip side of helping others on a team. Being a part of a team, a player needs to accept help from others. They learn they can achieve more with the help of others than they could ever do on their own. Many people refuse to accept help from others as they see it as a sign of weakness or openly admitting they cannot do it alone.
Through playing on a team, a player learns that accepting help is a sign of strength, and an indication of a greater understanding of what it takes to accomplish extraordinary things. They do not just accept help when offered, they often seek it out. Again, when talking about sports and teamwork, the willingness to help others and the willingness to accept help are two key habits that will benefit players for the rest of their lives.

The ability and willingness to compete is a necessary characteristic of any successful individual. This is not defined by an overwhelming need to win, but the courage to try to reach beyond what they are currently capable of doing, moving into an uncomfortable place, where they could fail. In short, being competitive means they have the courage to take risks. They have the courage to lose, and know how to overcome it. That is what defines a “competitive” person, and it is something I hope all athletes take away from the competition of sports.
Through sports, kids learn how to compete. They do not shy away from what is hard because they might fail. Instead, the embrace the difficulty and do their best even if it is not good enough win. They do not have a fear of failure. They have a fear of what would happen if they did not even try, and that is what it means to compete.

What it Means to Love
I saved this for last as I feel it is one of the most important things players learn from sports. It is often believed that loving something is easy and it only comes with happy feelings and the only is part of the best moments of your life. What is not talked about is the other side of love. The side of loving something that brings heart-ache and the hardest times a person will go through. With the highs and the joy comes the deepest lows and indescribable anguish.

But that is what it means to love. To love something you are willing to sacrifice for it, and even when it hurts you the most, your commitment to what you love never waivers. For something you do not love, maybe just “like” a lot, you will quickly walk away from it when things get hard or you do not get anything in return. But that is not love. To love something you give it your all without expecting anything in return.

Players who truly love to play a game learn this lesson, and learn how and what it takes to love. Often the game is their first love, and they are protective of it and committed to it. It gives them great pleasure and happiness to play, and even on their worst days, they would never want to be anywhere else. Overtime, they find out the reward for loving something so deeply is not what they get in return, but what they are able to give because of how much they love.

For me, this is the most important thing that can last from a child’s experience playing sports once all of their seasons are over.

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

Choosing the Best Youth Sports Program for Your Child

By Jeffrey Rhoads

Ideally your child plays for a coach who is an excellent instructor-one who recognizes teaching opportunities and communicates lessons in a positive, uplifting manner. But in addition to a good coach, participating in the right youth sports programs is essential to your child’s enjoyment of sports. Choose the wrong program or league, and you risk damaging your child’s desire to play sports.

Just as a coach should find a team role in which a young player can succeed, you must locate the youth sports program that best suits your child’s age, interests, and level of play. Only by providing your child with a progression of playing opportunities that match these factors, will you provide him or her with the best sports experience.

Starting Out
For the youngest children playing organized sports for the first time (ages five through eight), the emphasis is primarily on fun and basic skill instruction. Fun at this level is running around with a minimum of structure and rules. Within a couple of years, your child can more fully participate in the adult version of the game and begin to learn additional individual skills and team concepts. Competition is also introduced at this level. Youth sports programs that are developmental in nature and participation-based are essential to children in both of these age groups. You should make sure that your child’s youth sports leagues emphasize these principles.

As your child ages and his or her skills develop, you may see your child excel in one or more sports. You will then face the decision of placing your child in a more advanced, competitive league. Possibly your child will have the chance to play with older children. An opportunity for your child to begin specializing in a sport may also appear. In these decisions, carefully weigh the pros and cons. If your child truly enjoys a sport, exhibits a competitive nature, and is more physically mature, playing at higher levels with better players will usually improve his or her level of play. But advance your child too quickly and you risk your child’s confidence and enjoyment of the experience.

Avoid SpecializationExplore Multiple Sports
Specializing too early presents the risks of injury, burnout, and loss of crossover benefits from other sports. Several studies (most recently a 2011 study conducted by Loyola University Medical Center) have found a higher incident of injury associated with early specialization. For children who have not yet reached puberty, specialization in a single sport is also risky because physical maturation (changes in body type) may limit their ability to succeed in that sport. For example, a young girl who grows to be six feet tall is unlikely to find success as a gymnast.

Try to balance your child’s development against these risks and select youth sports programs that you feel best match your child’s particular personality and ability. The right youth sports program should challenge your child, but also enable them to enjoy the entire experience.

Should your child participate in select travel teams, you should still look for a program that provides good instruction. A league that is comprised mostly of competitive games, but little practice time, will not provide the opportunities for a coach to teach and develop his or her players.

Also remember that competitive, talented athletes often still enjoy leagues which emphasize participation. These leagues can provide a chance to play with friends in a more relaxed environment. They also offer better athletes the opportunity to develop and exercise leadership skills. As a parent interested in your child’s happiness, you could do a lot worse than placing your child in a participation-based instructional league.

Provide Opportunities for Self-Directed Play
And finally, provide your child with opportunities to play pickup games with other kids. This unstructured, self-directed form of play complements organized sports and affords your child with other essential benefits.

Jeffrey Rhoads has coached youth sports for over 25 years. He has worked with all levels of young players–including both absolute beginners with limited athleticism and more talented athletes who went on to success in high school and college. Mining both his experience as a youth coach and his own joyful, sports-filled youth, his writings provide valuable guidance for parents, coaches and players on how to create a great youth sports experience. He is the author of The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child.

His blog, Inside Youth Sports, can be found at: www.insideyouthsports.org

Proper Thinking

By Mike Epstein

In two-strike hitting situations, “proper” thinking helps the hitter to get to all his hitting zones and “time” every pitch. The hitter has to prepare himself for every speed pitch in the pitcher’s arsenal that day. That’s why it is a good idea to see as many pitches as possible from that pitcher (make the pitcher pitch!). The best way I know of is to mentally prepare for the “in-between” velocities of the pitcher you’re facing. By this I mean, if the pitcher has three pitches, one 70 mph, one 80 mph, and one 90 mph, the hitter must prepare for the mid-speed (80 mph) pitch. If he only has two, say an 85 mph fast ball and a 75 mph slider, you’d gear up your pre-swing for the 80 mph velocity. By doing this, the hitter gives himself a “chance” to catch up to the faster speed pitch, yet still be able to stay back and put the off speed pitch in play. Gearing up for one of the extreme velocities would put the hitter at a grave disadvantage: too late on fastballs and too early on off speed pitches. With two strikes, “proper” thinking prevails.

Ted Williams told me that when the slider became popular, around 1950, that it was the hardest pitch for him to hit. From his earliest days, he felt no pitcher could throw a fastball by him, so he would “lay” for that pitch on every pitch because it was a mid-velocity pitch. I didn’t fall into that category! (and neither do the majority of hitters). Having ability like that will reduce anyone’s strikeout potential, but the point to be made here is that the average hitter can compensate for this by preparing for the mid-velocity pitch with two strikes.

Reaching Potential Demands Good Two-Strike Execution
To me, the quality of a hitter’s technique lies in the superiority of his two-strike execution. By executing efficiently, he will bring a newfound confidence to his game. Once Harry Heilmann learned how to inside-out the two strike fast ball on the inside corner, and hit it back through the “box,” he KNEW there wasn’t a pitcher alive who could throw a fast ball by him. Likewise, when Ted Williams realized that he could “look” for the slider (mid-speed pitch) and STILL hit the cheese, he knew he was “on” to something. Statistics bore them out. ANYTIME a hitter can “forget about” a pitcher’s fastball, the confidence this brings him is overwhelming. This is what we call being “comfortable” at the plate against certain pitchers.

Being “comfortable” leads to “confidence,” and having “confidence” with two strikes is the name of the game for the hitter. The fastball “sets up” EVERY pitch in a pitcher’s repertoire. And when a hitter doesn’t have to worry about the fast ball—because he can catch up to it even when he isn’t “looking” for it—he should rarely be fooled. Now, the hitter can “sit” on his pitch, and be more selective—even with two strikes! Hitters with little (or no) confidence normally fear getting to two-strike situations, and almost always open up their hitting zones prematurely to guard against it. The rule of thumb is when a hitter is ahead in the count, his strike zone should shrink; he can look for a “certain” pitch. When he is behind in the count, his strike zone should expand; he can’t be selective. The hitter with poor two-strike execution invariably lacks the confidence to get to two strikes. In essence, he is “always” hitting when he is behind in the count. Few have had success hitting this way. These hitters will swing at borderline pitches because they lack the self-confidence to hit effectively with two-strikes. And by so doing, their batting averages and overall production radically tail off. Reaching potential demands first-rate, two-strike execution.

Don’t “Sell Your Soul” To Two-Strike Hitting!
Many times I see players have success with their two-strike hitting approach and slowly gravitate towards adopting this hitting approach on a full-time basis. The player should not be tempted to do this, nor should the coach/instructor persuade the player to do so. In my opinion, there is little more distasteful in baseball than seeing a player who can really drive balls short-circuit his potential by adopting a singles/contact approach at the plate with less than two strikes. Leave singles hitting to the bona fide singles hitters. If you’ve got serious “pop” in your bat, keep working hard at being the run producer you’re capable of being!

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/

Sports industry exec rides cross-country to benefit PHIT America

More exciting news from our partners at PHIT America.org.  Sports industry executive and veteran Doug Gordon will be taking a bicycle trek from one coast to the other beginning Monday, February 15 to raise money and awareness for PHIT. The 60-day trip will begin in Charleston, SC and wind up in San Diego. You can follow the trip at RideDougRide.org.