Pat Summitt, hero

If you’d like to be moved about someone you may have heard of but not known much about, read the LA Times’ Bill Plaschke’s great article about Tennessee Lady Vols coaching legend, Pat Summitt, who passed away Tuesday.

Ha Ha Ha Ha

We love In the Bleachers by Steve Moore. This might be one of the best ever! (Courtesy Go Comics).

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June OnDeck Newsletter has arrived

Want to know 12 signs of good baserunning? Or have  you given much thought to how we teach young soccer players to be more creative and less automatic? This and much more can be found in this month’s OnDeck Newsletter which you can download for free here!

OnDeck Newsletter for June Coming Tomorrow

You sure don’t want to miss this issue of our OnDeck Newsletter. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox free. There are lots of great articles, information and offers for all baseball, soccer and softball coaches, parents and league administrators.

Play, Learn, and Create

By Tony Earp
When coaching soccer, it is easy to get caught up in all the technical and tactical aspects of the game that you want your players to learn, and all are skill areas I am sure the players need to know very well to have success on the field. We know we want the players to learn those skills, but how do we approach teaching it to them, or a better question, how will the kids approach learning those skills? It is the approach that kids take to learning new skills that we need to pay attention to so we know how to teach it to assist in the process of learning. During a training sessions, I know the kids will want to play and that is how they will learn. How will I know if they picked up the skills? They will demonstrate a strong understanding, a mastery of those skills, once they are able to create things I did not ask them to do on their own without any direction.
Play is a great word because it can be used to describe so many different things. It can be used describe almost any situation or activity in which an individual, of any age, is doing what they want, when they want, and enjoying it. It can be done alone or in a group (small or large). Usually play involves very little structure or rules, but it still usually always has a distinct goal or purpose. Often one of the goals of “play” is to get better at whatever is being done. This is true even though someone playing would not probably point to that as being the reason, which is a great thing, and why play is so valuable.
For example, when I was a kid, we built ramps and rode our bikes off them in the street. Now we were playing, and definitely having a lot of fun, but at the same time, there was this internal push to get better at jumping off that ramp. Once we could go over one ramp and land it consistently without falling, then we wanted to go off an even higher and steeper ramp, even when we knew we would fall much more often and fail the first time we tried. If we kept going over the same ramp, at the same height, over and over, it would eventually get boring and we would not want to do it anymore. As kids, we did not think of it this way. We just did not want to be bored, and it is fun to be challenged. Even though we were not consciously doing it to get better, each time we reached a certain level, we tried to do a little bit more. It made it more fun, and it helped us get better. The fun usually can be found just outside where we are comfortable.
At the same time we were making ramps higher, just going over them and landing was no longer all we wanted to do. We could do that…now what? Well, how about a twist of the handle bars, or try to spin around in the air? I am not saying we never got hurt, but we were playing, having fun, and without anyone pushing us to do so, we were trying to get better… and we got better.
Think of a kid’s video game. If they completed a level and then just had to repeat it again, they would probably not want to play it very long. Although the game itself is fun, it is only fun because there is another challenge around the corner. When do kids stop playing a video game, usually when they have beaten every level or there is nothing left to accomplish.
Play is a critical part of a player’s development because it is the foundation of how we learn anything. It is nature’s coach, and the way we were born to discover our limits and surpass them. We did it as kids, and still might do it as adults in some aspects of our lives. When you think of a training session, play must be involved heavily within the session for kids to learn. We need to create that experience within each session to ensure the same sense of enjoyment and internal drive to try new and challenging skills is present as it is essential for learning and growth.
Now, when you play, there is a process in which you take to learn. You learn what works and what does not as you fail and succeed at the task. Let’s go back to my experience jumping over ramps on my bike as a kid. We fell off our bikes, got bruises, and were too scared at times to try something new. We would “inch” into new jumps or more challenging tricks. We failed a lot more often than we succeed. We “wrecked” the bikes and our bodies… at first, but than we landed more often on two wheels rather than our face. But after each fall, we thought about what went wrong, tried to fix it,and tried it again. This was the benefit of the “play.” There was no one there to say, “Don’t do that” or “Don’t try that again.” There was also no one there trying to talk us out of trying something. Trying to convince us we were not good enough or it was too risky. We determined what we were going to try again, how we were going to do it, and when we were ready. This is how we learned.
At practice or in a soccer game, it is the same. Things do NOT work a lot more often than they do work. The worst thing as coaches we can do is take the “play” out of the game, and tell kids not to try difficult skills, things just beyond their current level, again, and again, and again when they play. After each failure, we need to be the voice that helps them correct the mistakes, as well as the voice that tells them to try it again. The same fear free environment that we all are part of when we play needs to be created by coaches on the soccer field. It is the natural way the players learn new skills. We cannot expect players to play just beyond their current abilities while at the same time criticizing and chastising them after every mistake. The mistakes should not just be expected and welcomed, they should be a sign to both the coach and the player, that learning is taking place and development is in the process. The play is being used to learn. Frankly, when kids come to practice and expect a mistake free day, or focus on not making mistakes, they are no longer “playing” and that key element needed to learn is lost. It becomes more of a scripted environment, a staged reenactment of playing soccer, and the kids are just trying to memorize their lines to avoid any “boos” from the crowd (a coach or parent).
Now, once the learning is happening, and the skills and confidence are improving, players will then feel comfortable to create with their new knowledge and skills. That is the evidence that every coach should be looking for to see if their players truly understand the concepts being taught. Once the players take those skills and start doing what they want with them, things that the coach did not even ask them to do, the players are demonstrating a strong understanding and confidence with those skills. Their competency is on full display.
Don’t believe me? One of the most common things I hear coaches say is (me included), “The kids did great with this (skill/concept) in training, but never use it in the game.” Well, this is exactly why. In a scripted controlled environment, they can repeat what you are asking them to do. But in the unpredictable environment of the game, the players do not really have enough understanding to create using those skills in that environment. This is why games are the key times for coaches to observe what the players are doing and not doing, what has been learned or not learned. A lack of a skill used in a game that was the focus of training the week leading up to the game shows a lack of competency in those skill areas. I would suggest more “play” in training to help deepen the understanding.
This is the natural progression of getting better at anything without really thinking about trying to get better at it. We play. Through our playing, we consistently try to push our abilities by doing more difficult or challenging things that make the play more fun. We explore the unknown possibilities of our actions. It is where excitement and fun reside, and where learning finds its home. As the learning takes hold, and the knowledge and skills deepen, we enter into the best part of play… the ability to create. The ability to create starts the process over. It provides a new way to play, new things to learn, and then new things to create.. and the cycle continues.
If there is a training session format that I could recommend to all coaches, this would be it. It is the most natural, it is the most effective, and it is the one that we all enjoy. Let the kids play to learn, and then let them create with what they learned. In a training environment, the coach is the facilitator of the play, and does not have to be an inhibitor of it when teaching. While still giving instruction and providing correction, you allow the kids to play and challenge themselves beyond their current abilities. Then, you can sit back and enjoy watching them create beautiful pictures on the field on their own. Through play, your players learned, and now they can create when they play.
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

Their Favorite Memories

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

After ten years, my daughter’s involvement in club soccer finally concluded as her U18 team finished its season. All the girls, some who have been together the entire decade, will be moving on to play at various colleges. It was sad for the girls and sad for the parents to see it end. At their final practice, their coach asked them all to name their favorite memory from their time with the club. He was surprised by what he heard.

The girls had been through an incredible journey in these ten years. They’d won state championships, played for national championships, been ranked consistently in the top ten in the nation and sometimes as high as number one. Annual playoffs took them to places like Seattle, Chicago, Richmond, Denver, San Francisco and New Jersey. Their regular-season games had them traveling throughout Southern California, Arizona and Nevada.

The coach was expecting these “hardened veterans” to all relay their favorite moments on the field of competition. He was certain he’d hear about the game-winning goal scored or the championship trophy hoisted. But not one girl mentioned anything about scoring or winning. Their favorite memories were the fun things they did together, usually having nothing to do with soccer.

One girl recounted the time they were on a trip at a regional tournament and they kidnapped a teammate while dressed up and disguised in towels. Another chose the time when they made a video to the “Call Me Maybe” song and posted it on YouTube. One girl’s favorite memory was when she was nine years-old and won a sweatshirt from the club President by hitting it down off the goal net while a bunch of others were also trying. She mentioned that it was particularly special as the President awarded it to her in front of everyone and told her great job.

What does this tell us? Seems to me it means there is a whole lot more to youth sports, even at the highest levels of competition, than the result on the field. While we parents often measure a team’s success in terms of wins and losses, that is just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more below the surface we often don’t see.

We talk to our kids about how they played, how they feel, what they could have done better, differently. We often forget that the bonding that takes place before and after games, the friendships forged while sharing a common purpose might be just as important. We often forget that these are really just kids, after all.

When the final game ended and the girls knew their club career was over, they all got into a huddle, arms around each other’s shoulders, and shared one last thing – a good cry. At the time we parents thought the girls were sad they’d played their last game together. What I realize now is that they were sad to be losing so much more. They hadn’t just been teammates. They had been best friends. They were saying goodbye to their family.

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

12 Signs of Good Base Running

By Doug Bernier

The great thing about base running is that everyone can be good at it. Different from hitting, fielding, and throwing, running the bases is more about knowledge and effort, not just technique and talent.

Speed is not the most important factor in baserunning. How much heart, effort, and savvy you put into your baserunning determines how good of a base runner you will be. Putting pressure on the defense creates mistakes and can turn into runs for your team.

When do you become a base runner?
Baserunning begins once you put the bat on the baseball. Once the ball is hit you are no longer a hitter, you are a runner.

12 Signs of a Good Baserunning
When answering the question of how to run bases, here are 12 things you can focus on learning or improving.

1. Being able to go from 1st to 3rd on a base hit to the outfield (when possible).
2. Reading a line drive while on 2nd base and being able to score on a single.
3. Running hard all the time.
4. Knowing how and when to break up plays by sliding hard into base.
5. Not missing any signs put on by the coach.
6. Being able to read and anticipate pitched balls in the dirt and advancing when possible.
7. Knowing your speed and understanding when to take a chance and when to play it more conservative.
8. Not making the first or third out at 3rd base.
9. Knowing where your defense is playing behind you, especially the outfielders so you can react to the ball and not have to wait and look to see what happens.
10. Not getting doubled up on a line drive to an infielder.
11. Always running hard through home, especially with two outs. If a runner gets thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double and you are taking your time touching home and the out happens before you score, the run does not count.
12. Getting good secondary leads so you can try to get that extra base on a hit.

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 athttp://probaseballinsider.com/baseball-instruction/fundamentals-of-hitting/baseball-situations-and-hitting/

The One Quality Great Teammates Have in Common

By John O’Sullivan

“Coach, can I talk to you?”

“Sure,” I said. “What’s on your mind today Michael?”

“Well, I just want to know what I can do so I get to start more games and get more playing time as a center midfielder. I don’t think I am showing my best as a winger, and my parents tell me I am not going to get noticed by the college scouts unless something changes.”

Well Michael,” I said, “there is something that all coaches are looking for from the players they recruit. In fact, it is exactly what I am looking for from you as well. If you approach every practice, every fitness session, and every match with this one thing, I think you will see a huge improvement in your play, regardless of where you play. Interested?”

“Of course, coach. What is it?”

I waited a moment before I answered to make sure he was listening.

“You have to stop asking what you can get, and start asking what you can give. You must serve.”

Michael furrowed his brow as he tried to process what I told him.

“You want me to serve the team, like with food?”

I smiled, “No Michael, serving others is the one thing that unites successful people, from friends to employees to athletes to business owners. The great ones know that to be more they must become more, and to become more they must serve others.”

“So, you are saying that instead of asking what I can get from the team, I should be asking what I can give to the team?”

I wanted to leap out of my chair and hug him.

Michael got it. It’s not about him. It’s not about me. It’s about service. The tool that would eventually earn him more playing time and increase his chances of playing in college serving others by focusing upon what he could give, instead of what he could get.

My great friend and coaching mentor Dr. Jerry Lynch is the founder of Way of Champions is the winner of 34 NCAA titles and one NBA World Championship as a sport psychologist and consultant. He calls this paradigm-shifting question the most effective question an athlete can ask, and an attitude that every coach must try and instill in his or her team.

We live in a world these days where self-centeredness and a ‘what’s in it for me” attitude of entitlement is far too prevalent. In the age of the selfie, Instagram, Facebook and a million other ways to say “look at me,” the concept of teamwork and the importance of service to others has gotten lost in the shuffle.

This is very sad, because service to others is the exact thing that athletes need to not only become elite performers, but the type of athlete that coaches look for, celebrate, and fight over at the next level. Do you want to stand out from the crowd?

Start by serving everyone in that crowd.

Far too many athletes bring the attitude of “what do I get” to practice and games. They want to know how they can:

  • Get to start
  • Get more playing time
  • Get to play my favorite position
  • Get to score all the points/goals
  • Get to work hard when I want to
  • Get to show up (physically and mentally) when I feel like it
  • Get to give less than my best because I am an upperclassman
  • Get attention as the star player

Sadly, this is the path to short-term satisfaction, at the expense of long-term development and high-level performance. This attitude does not promote success; it inhibits growth on and off the field, the court, and the ice.

If you want your athletes to perform at their very best, whether you are a parent or coach, then you must get them the right question.

What can I give?

Athletes who ask themselves what they can give bring “I can give/I can do” attitudes and actions to the table for their teams. The can actually “get” everything they are looking for simply by starting with the following service oriented ideas:

  • I can give my best effort in practice and games
  • I can give my team a positive attitude no matter what the circumstances
  • I can give my team a boost no matter how many minutes I play
  • I can give my team a better chance to win no matter what position I play
  • I can do the dirty work so my teammate can score the goal and get the glory
  • I can sacrifice my personal ambitions for the better of the group
  • I can lead by example
  • I can be an example of our core values in action

As a coach, I used to think that the most important thing was to have my best players be my hardest workers. But now I realize that isn’t enough. Being a hard worker can still be a selfish pursuit.

No, the most important thing as a coach is to have a team that all ask “what can I give,” especially when it come to your captains, your upperclassmen, and your most talented athletes. You must teach them that the selfish attitude may once in a while lead to success, but the selfless attitude leads to excellence, celebrates the success of others, and makes you the type of athlete that EVERY COACH wants on his or her team.

The most successful sports team in the professional era is not the NY Yankees, or the Boston Celtics, or Real Madrid, but a team from a far less known sport. It is the New Zealand All Blacks in rugby, who have an astonishing 86% winning percentage and numerous championships to their name. In the outstanding book about the All Blacks called Legacy, author James Kerr discusses one of their core values that epitomizes the selfless attitude.

all blacksIt’s called “Sweep the Shed.”

You see the goal of every All Blacks player is to leave the national team shirt in a better place than when he got it. His goal is to contribute to the legacy by doing his part to grow the game and keep the team progressing every single day.

In order to do so, the players realize that you must remain humble, and that no one is too big or too famous to do the little things required each and every day to get better. You must eat right. You must sleep well. You must take care of yourself on and off the field. You must train hard. You must sacrifice your own goals for the greater good and a higher purpose.

You must sweep the shed.

After each match, played in front of 60,000 plus fans, in front of millions on TV, after the camera crews have left, and the coaches are done speaking, when the eyes of the world have turned elsewhere, there is still a locker room to be cleaned.

By the players!

That’s right, after each and every game the All Blacks leading players take turns sweeping the locker room of every last piece of grass, tape, and mud. In the words of Kerr: “Sweeping the sheds. Doing it properly. So no one else has to. Because no one looks after the All Blacks. The All Blacks look after themselves.”

They leave the locker room in a better place than they got it. They leave the shirt in a better place than they got it. They are not there to get. They are there to give.

If you are a coach, recognize that by intentionally creating a culture where players seek to give instead if get, you will have a team that not only develops excellence on and off the field but is a team that is much more enjoyable to coach. Create a culture that rewards the 95% who are willing to give, and weeds out the 5% who are trying to get. When you do, the “getters” will stick out like a player who is vomiting: he feels better and everyone else feels sick. Eventually, he will get on board, or be thrown off the ship.

Parents, teach your children to be teammates who give. It will not only serve them well in athletics; it will serve them well in life.

For as former NY Yankee great Don Mattingly so eloquently stated:

“Then at one point in my career, something wonderful happened. I don’t know why or how . . . but I came to understand what “team” meant. It meant that although I didn’t get a hit or make a great defensive play, I could impact the team in an incredible and consistent way. I learned I could impact the team in an incredible and consistent way. I learned I could impact my team by caring first and foremost about the team’s success and not my own. I don’t mean by rooting for us like a typical fan. Fans are fickle. I mean CARE, really care about the team . . . about “US.”

Mattingly continued: “I became less selfish, less lazy, less sensitive to negative comments. When I gave up me, I became more. I became a captain, a leader, a better person and I came to understand that life is a team game. And you know what? I’ve found most people aren’t team players. They don’t realize that life is the only game in town. Someone should tell them. It has made all the difference in the world to me.”

Please share this article with an athlete or a team that matters to you. Encourage, no implore them to take Don Mattingly’s advice, to take the All Blacks advice. Come to prepared to compete, and to be a “giver” and not a “getter.”

You will stand out.

You will be a difference maker.

And you will get everything you want by giving full of yourself, and helping everyone else get what they want.

It changes everything.

John O’Sullivan is the Founder of the Changing the Game Project, and author of the national bestseller Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports back to Our Kids. He is a longtime soccer player and coach on the youth, college and professional level, and a nationally known speaker on coaching and parenting in youth sports. His work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Soccer America, and SoccerWire.com, and he recently gave a TED talk on “Changing the Game in Youth Sports.”

How many concussions are our kids really getting?

We’re all hyper-aware of concussions these days, and for good reason. It’s becoming apparent that it’s no longer appropriate to just say, “he got his bell rung” and send a player back into the game. It turns out that our nation’s youth are getting many more concussions than we have thought. Coaches, parents, keep your eyes open for concussion warning signs and think safety first!

Favoritism or Family?

We came across an interesting article from the Baton Rouge Advocate detailing how four coaches at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette coach their children on their teams. We get tons of questions and complaints from youth league parents stemming from the favoritism they feel is given to the sons and daughters of youth league coaches. At the college level is this the highest form of nepotism in sports, or is it a nice thing that should be allowed and even encouraged?