Fall equipment purchases

You may be involved in a youth soccer league that does a fall season, or a youth baseball league that runs a pitching machine league this fall. Maybe the high school semester just ended and it’s time to look at purchases for baseball, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey or soccer this fall. Whatever your needs, we recommend our partner Upstart Sports. They’ll have what you need and, if they don’t, contact them and they’ll get it for you. You can trust the folks at Upstart to get you the best sporting goods at the lowest prices.

Protecting High School Pitchers’ arms

This is an article posted on our partner, Upstart Sports’ blog. Wait until you read how many pitches a coach in Illinois allowed his D1 committed pitcher to throw in a recent game.

Maybe we will need a SurfDeck

There are many benefits to surfing that are clearly apparent. But one of our favorite columnists, Chris Erskine of the L.A. Times writes about how it is catching on as a legitimately-sanctioned sport in Southern California high schools. And his take is amusing and thought-provoking. The title, No screaming parents? And you call surfing a sport? should be enough to peak  your interest. Very worthwhile read for parents of young athletes, even if you live in Nebraska.

Inactivity Pandemic worsens

According to our partners at PHITAmerica.org, 2015 saw another decline in the number of Americans who would be considered active enough to promote good health. This is especially prevalent in children. We need to get daily PE in every school and begin encouraging good fitness behavior in our youth. Supporting your local youth sports leagues is a good start.

May, 2016 OnDeck Newsletter is out!

Check out the May, 2016 OnDeck Newsletter with great articles about promoting sportsmanship, educating volunteer coaches, making baseball and softball more interesting and teaching soccer players the right shot at the right time. Get your copy for either baseball/softball, soccer, or both here!

May OnDeck Newsletter out tomorrow

You don’t want to miss this month’s newsletter with some great tips for soccer players and baseball coaches, as well as great articles about sportsmanship and best-practices for training volunteer coaches. If you’re not already signed up, do so now and be sure to always have OnDeck sent to your inbox.


By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

If you’re reading this, there is a good chance you are someone deeply involved in youth sports. You may be a parent or coach and/or a board member/league administrator.  You probably spend many hours each day either thinking about or working on various items pertaining to your team or league. You are to be commended. You are also the exception.

Every year since we founded CoachDeck over nine years ago we have encountered a particular mind-set from some coaches and administrators in leagues across North America. When we approach them about our deck of cards containing 52 drills designed to help volunteer coaches run fun and effective practices, we’re told we’re not needed here. The reason? This league has its own rigid training curriculum, online, mobile or in book form, that has been created to provide detailed instructions for all league coaches so that they run thorough and precise practices strictly according to league specifications.

Doesn’t that sound fun? We’re big believers in coach education and wish that every volunteer coach had the time or the inclination to really study hard to become better. But we know that isn’t realistic.

See, these curriculums are designed by people like you and me, who really take this whole coaching thing seriously. In many cases the folks putting this material together are paid full-time to do this, it is their career. So of course their perspective about the importance of running a by-the-letter practice every week is colored by their own experience. Of course they would go online and watch videos and learn new techniques. Obviously they’d read up on the latest coaching philosophies and incorporate these into their daily teachings. Its what they do. But what these online coaching portals and elaborate training session outlines fail to account for is the human factor. That is, most volunteers just don’t have the time or desire to work at it so hard. They simply want to have fun with the kids.

Imagine you have a job where every step you take is monitored and every task is scheduled in advance. There is no innovation, no improvisation. Everything is laid out for you. And, you must study the night before to learn tomorrow’s planned routine. Now imagine you don’t get paid for this. You’re a volunteer.

I have first-hand experience with this phenomenon. When my sons were little I coordinated the T-ball division for our Little League. I was fired up and was going to be the best coordinator the league had ever had. I created a lengthy manual that explained everything about running a team, included drills, practice plans, techniques to enhance safety and many administrative tips I knew each coach would need that season. When I gave it to them, my coaches asked incredulously how I’d had time to put this together. I was basically handing them a turn-key owners manual to be a successful coach. And then I spent the entire spring fielding calls from them asking questions, the answers to which were contained within the manual they obviously hadn’t read.

The other day I was on a youth league website which offered a “Coaches Corner” page. This page contained links to practice plans for three different age groups. Clicking the link downloaded a PDF, which was created by the national organization. The one I opened for age 10 was forty-seven pages long and included diagrams and paragraph after paragraph of written instruction – thousands of words. If I were a volunteer coach I would not get past page two.

Why am I bringing this all up? Here is a review we found recently about CoachDeck taken off a website that sells our product. It, along with many more like it, has been up there for years and we didn’t even know about it until last week:

I LOVE the idea of this product and am sure I will enjoy this for years to come. Being a youth coach, full time employee, full time dad, full time husband, etc., it is sometimes hard to find the time to make a full practice plan. These cards are great to use as a quick, easy resource on those days when unexpected issues come up in the rest of your life!

CoachDeck was designed by top-level professional coaches, but so as to be non-intimidating, quick, easy…fun – (it’s a deck of cards after all), something something a novice or expert will enjoy using. Not more work.

So if you’ve read this far, you may just think this is a shameless plug for our product…and maybe it is. But my main intent is to convey this message: If there are volunteer coaches with extra time who want to become students of the game, more power to them. The more resources out there for them, the better. But when people who live and die a sport assume that everyone has their same level of commitment – take it that seriously – we may end up getting nothing because we expect too much.

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

Need More Than One Club In Your Bag

By Tony Earp

When working to improve a player’s finishing, the most important part is helping the player choose the right shot when going to goal. Although striking the ball well, with proper technique, power and accuracy are all important, a brilliantly struck ball with great technique, power, and accuracy can still not produce a goal. Finishing is not just striking the ball harder. It is more about striking the ball SMARTER. Just like a golfer cannot show up at the golf course with only his driver in the bag and expect to do well, a player cannot hit every shot on goal with just power and expect to score. Like a great golfer, you need a lot of different clubs in your bag to hit the right shot, at the right time, when the game demands it from you.

Watch a highlight reel of some of the best finishers of the game. Is every goal a laser hit from outside the penalty area into the side netting? I would bet that most of the goals are not scored that way. If you study the world’s best goal scorers, most goals are scored by the player being very aware of his surroundings and then taking the RIGHT shot to beat the defenders and the goalkeeper. Sometimes this type of shot is hit low and hard to the corner, sometimes it is a chip over a goalkeeper’s head, or possibly a ball hit with some bend to move outside of the goalkeeper’s reach and into the side netting. In all of these scenarios, the player made a decision about what type of shot he was going to hit based on what was going on in the game. Picking the right shot, at the right time, can create a moment of brilliance when the player finds the back of the net in an unexpected way.

Players who are not as savvy around the goal, probably would have just pulled out the driver and just hit the ball as hard as possible at the goal. By trying to strike the ball hard, the player will either miss the mark completely, or the ball’s path makes it easy for a goalkeeper to cut down the angle and make the save. A well positioned goalkeeper is very hard to beat by just hitting the ball hard.

Like a great golfer, great goal scorers look at the shot they need to hit, pick the right type of club (part of the foot/position of the foot), decide how hard they need to swing, and if they need the ball to be low, high, or curve the ball left or right. Then they try to hit that shot. A soccer player needs to do it in a fraction of a second while the golfer has some more time to think about it, and often, both do not hit the exact shot they would have liked. Even the best in the world, golfers and soccer players, miss the target more often than they hit it. Although they get a lot closer, more consistently than anyone else.

When working with players on finishing, this is what we are really trying to get them to learn. Not to just strike the ball hard with great power and accuracy, but to also pick the right shot at the right time to give themselves the best chance to score. A technically perfectly hit shot with great power and accuracy can still give the player little chance to score, but a well hit shot that makes sense in relation to where the player is to the goal, where the ball is in relation to the player, and where the goalkeepers and defenders are standing gives the player the best chance to have success.

Most players do not have the discipline from close range to use the inside or outside of the foot to slot the ball past a goalkeeper in the corner. Even from 10 yards away, the player steps in to try to hit the ball with an incredible amount of force that often causes the technique to break down. It is completely unnecessary to get that much power, but most players fail to see that causing them to miss easier goal scoring chances.

I get it. Hitting the ball hard is a lot of fun, but there are no bonus points for how fast the ball is going when it hits the back of the net.

On the flip side, when players are farther from goal, they need the ability and courage to not just step in and strike the ball hard, but try to aim at a part of the goal and hit the ball with more power. From distance, the goalkeeper has much more time to move to the ball, so a shot needs to have the right path, velocity, and be aimed at a target on the goal that keeps the ball as far away from the goalkeeper’s reach as possible until the ball crosses the white line. Most players are afraid to miss the target, so they hit a straight shot at the middle of the goal giving them little chance to score.
It is my preference for a player to give himself the best chance to score by aiming away from the goalkeeper rather than just hitting it somewhere on frame. I would rather see the player miss the target trying to give himself a chance to score than hit the goalkeeper in the hands with the ball because he is afraid to miss. I am not looking for a shot on goal. I want a player to try to score. Those are two different approaches.

On top of this, finishing is just another form of ball striking. It is the same as passing. All throughout a game, players pick their teammates out from different distances, often with incredible accuracy, when passing and moving the ball around the field. But when they get the chance to score, the mentality changes. A player who can drive a ball 30 yards to a teammate and hit him in the chest without the player having to move cannot hit the side of the goal from 10 yards away. Does that make sense?

Often in training, I will stand in the goal and tell players, “Pass me the ball.” One after the other, the players step up and play an accurate ball to my feet or drive a ball into my chest. Strange, those “passes” would all be brilliant finishes going to goal. What has changed? The approach and mentality of the player.

When passing, players, like a good golfer, are more concerned with getting the ball accurately to the target. With that in mind, players are more likely to “to pick the right club” and the right pass of the ball to get it to a teammate with pace and accuracy. When passing, players tend not to just blast the ball in the direction of their teammates hoping it gets there. Instead, they are much more calculated, and their consistency and accuracy are much better.

If players can take the same approach to finishing, realize they have more than just “one club in their bag”, it will make them much more efficient at putting the ball in the back of the net. Instead of the players only taking out their driver in front of the goal, they will utilize the other clubs in the bag to hit the correct shot to give themselves the best chance to score. As stated above, most players already do this in regards to passing and moving the ball around the field to their teammates, so the ability is there.

Like a great golfer, great goal scorers can hit the shot they need, when they need it, during a game to give themselves the best chance to score. Helping players become great finishers is not just about striking the ball harder or more accurate. It is about helping them to hit the ball SMARTER and picking the right shot, at the right time, that can create a brilliant moment when the ball hits the back of the net.

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

Teaching Kids to Be Good Sports

By Dr. Darrell Burnett

“Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” – Heywood Hale Brown

Youth Sports: The Last Vestige of Sportsmanship

We’re living in an age where the preservation of traditional values can no longer be taken for granted. It seems we need to have reminders (books, movies, newspaper articles, etc.) to maintain our awareness of the importance of preserving the basic human values which are essential to the survival of a community.

It’s no different in the world of sports. The traditional value of sportsmanship is being challenged from all sides: professional, college, high school, and even in youth sports. There are some who say sportsmanship is becoming a lost art and that unless we remind ourselves of the essentials of sportsmanship and strive to maintain the basics of sportsmanship it will gradually fade as other values have done in our society.

In the midst of all this, it seems doubly important that we recommit ourselves to guiding our youth, reminding them what sportsmanship is all about, rewarding them for showing good sportsmanship and showing, by our example, that sportsmanship is still alive and valued in youth sports today.

Here’s a 10-item checklist for kids to follow as they try to develop a habit of good sportsmanship.

1. I abide by the rules of the game.
Part of good sportsmanship is knowing the rules of the game and playing by them. If a player decides to play a given sport, it is the responsibility of that player to learn not only how to play but how to play according to the rules which have been established and standardized to allow competitive games to be played in an orderly fashion. The more a player knows the rules the more that player can enjoy the sport.

2. I try to avoid arguments.
Part of good sportsmanship is anger management. Arguing with officials, coaches or opponents is often simply a misguided effort at “letting off steam” in the heat of competition. A good sport knows that anger can get in the way of a good performance. A good sport knows how to walk away from an argument and to stay focused on the game at hand.

3. I share in the responsibilities of the team.
Good sportsmanship implies that the player on a team is a team player. In other words, the player understands that his or her behavior reflects on the team in general. Moreover, a team player does not condone unsportsmanlike conduct from teammates and reminds players that they all share in the responsibility of promoting good sportsmanship.

4. I give everyone a chance to play according to the rules.
In youth recreational sports the more talented players, if they are good sports, will look out for and encourage the less talented players on the team, cooperating with coaching plans to let everybody play. Unfortunately, some coaches may become so preoccupied with winning at all costs that they never play some players, regardless of the time and effort they put in at daily practices, even when the score warrants clearing the bench.

5. I always play fair.
Honesty and integrity should be an integral part of sports. A player with good sportsmanship does not want a hollow victory which comes as a result of cheating (“dirty” fouls, ineligible players, performance enhancing drugs, etc.)

6. I follow the directions of the coach.
A player with good sportsmanship listens to and follows the directions of the coach, realizing that each player’s decisions affect the rest of the team. If a player has disagreements with the coach, the player discusses the disagreements privately in a civil manner, away from the public eye.

7. I respect the other team’s effort.
Whether the other team plays better, or whether they play worse, the player with good sportsmanship does not use the occasion to put the other team down. In the field of competition respect for opponents is central to good sportsmanship. If an opponent out-performs a player that player accepts it, learns from it, offers no excuses and moves on. If a player out-performs an opponent, that player enjoys the victory, but does not gloat, does not belittle, and does not minimize the opponent’s effort.

8. I offer encouragement to teammates.
A sign of good sportsmanship is a player who praises teammates when they do well and who comforts and encourages them when they make mistakes. Criticizing teammates in the heat of battle simply distracts from the focus of working together and gives the advantage to the opponent who develops a sense of confidence when seeing signs of weakness or a lack of unity in the midst of the competition.

9. I accept the judgment calls of the game officials.
Part of the human condition is making mistakes. Arguing with an official over a judgment call simply wastes energy. The player with good sportsmanship knows that errors may be made, but the player also knows that a game is made up of all the plays and calls from the beginning to the end of the game, not just the call in dispute. The player with good sportsmanship may be upset, but that player also has learned to focus his/her energies back on the game and on doing the best he/she can do for the rest of the game.

10. I end the game smoothly.
When the game is over, pouting, threatening, cajoling have no place in the life of the players with good sportsmanship, who emphasize the joy of participating, regardless of outcome. They’re not devoid of emotions but they know that their efforts to end the competition smoothly, without antagonistic emotional display, will help ensure that the games will continue in the future.

On a final note, a word of caution. We can’t be so naive as to think that by teaching and valuing sportsmanship in our youth we will ensure that they will take these values with them into their young adult and adult sports lives. However, if we don’t expose them to the essentials of sportsmanship, and if we don’t guide them in developing a sense of good sportsmanship, we can all but guarantee that they will fall prey to the young adult and adult world of sports and athletics, with its continued tendency to minimize sportsmanship, and maximize winning as the only real value in competitive athletics.

Sportsmanship Checklist for Kids

1. I abide by the rules of the game.
2. I try to avoid arguments.
3. I share in the responsibilities of the team.
4. I give everyone a chance to play according to the rules.
5. I always play fair.
6. I follow the directions of the coach.
7. I respect the other team’s effort.
8. I offer encouragement to my teammates.
9. I accept the judgment calls of the game officials.
10. I end the game smoothly.

Sportsmanship is the ability to:

  • win without gloating
  • lose without complaining
  • treat your opponent with respect.

Sportsmanship Tips:

  • If you make a mistake, don’t pout or make excuses. Learn from it, and be ready to continue to play.
  • If a teammate makes a mistake, offer encouragement, not criticism.
  • If you win, don’t rub it in.
  • If you lose, don’t make excuses.

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.

Is Baseball Boring? How to Keep Kids Interested

By Doug Bernier

Baseball is boring!

We’ve all heard that said.

Baseball is a game with slower tempo than football, basketball, and hockey. It has less of an adrenaline rush than the X games.  Some people tag baseball as “boring” and not fun to watch or play.

In my experience, people who think that way are usually missing out on one VERY important aspect of the game.

I was reading The Matheny Manifesto during Spring Training of this year. Mike Matheny is the very respected Manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. He was a big league catcher for 13 years and has tremendous baseball knowledge. A particular section of the book stood out to me as he was explaining some of his methods for being a little league coach. After every practice he would teach the players their responsibility during a given play.

Teaching strategy.  In Little League.  Mind blown.

For example, he said that most players didn’t realize that during a ground ball to 3rd base everyone on the field has a responsibility and a place to be. He found that once kids (and even parents) realized this, that the game became less boring.

Playing outfield (which can seem boring, especially in youth leagues) can be more interactive and fun as you are thinking through scenarios of where to be on any ball that is put in play.

The game can slow down at times such as when coach visits the mound, or when the pitcher is having trouble throwing strikes, or maybe even when the pitcher is striking everyone out. But I know that for me, when I am thinking through the game and different situations it makes the game more challenging and fun.

I take this approach even when I am watching games. This helps me to keep learning and makes the game more enjoyable.  My hope is that Pro Baseball Insider can be a tool to help some folks to understand the game a little better, a tool to help those of us who love the game of baseball show others who think baseball is boring that there is more to the game than first meets the eye.

So, is baseball boring?  How to keep kids interested in baseball?   Once kids learn the strategy involved, they will be involved in every play -even if they don’t touch the baseball on that particular play.

So, even at a young age,  learning how to think along with the game can turn baseball from a boring to a strategic often exciting game.

Your turn.  Now here’s the question for you all.  What do you think is the best age to begin teaching baseball strategy?  Certainly there is a LOT to learn in baseball.  Do you know a creative way to make teaching the finer points of baseball strategy and positioning fun to learn?

Doug Bernier, founder of Pro Baseball Insider.com, debuted in the Major Leagues in 2008 with the Colorado Rockies, and has played professional baseball for 13 years. Most recently, Doug signed with the Minnesota Twins in 2013, where he logged time at every infield position except 1st base in 33 Major League games. Currently Doug is with the Twins’ AAA team in Rochester, NY. Originally published at http://probaseballinsider.com/baseball-instruction/fundamentals-of-hitting/baseball-situations-and-hitting/