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).


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

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 He can be reached at

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, 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