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If you’re a baseball or softball player or coach, you’ll love our tips for outfielders in the baseball edition of our popular OnDeck Newsletter. If you’re a soccer parent or league administrator you won’t want to miss the “Soccer Landmines” article in our soccer issue. Sign up here and you can get either one delivered to your inbox for free!

Lazy Volunteer Coaches?

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

Over the years we’ve had the fortune to have thousands and thousands of youth sports organizations provide our unique CoachDeck to their coaches. Of course, not everyone we approach becomes a client, and we understand when the budget it tight and there’s no room for anything but the barest necessities. But the we felt compelled to address the comments we received from one organization President recently, because we’re sure he’s not alone in his thinking.

In telling us he was going to pass on ordering decks for his soccer club this individual wrote, “The concept appears to reward the lazy coach where you state in your literature that ‘you can literally show up at practice with no time to plan’. This goes against everything we encourage in our coaches where we are looking for a practice plan that spans the whole season to measure individual player and team development.”

See, we at CoachDeck do not think volunteer coaches are lazy. Busy, maybe, but not lazy. They are doing us a favor by coaching for free. The individual who wrote this email is probably paid a salary by the club. Guess where a good portion of the club’s revenue comes from? Recreational player registrations. If no one volunteered to coach, this revenue would be eliminated and so would some or all of his salary. Yet, those good folks who are doing this job for free are lazy?

We, as league administrators, need to realize that not everyone can devote the amount of time we’d like. Not all are as “into it” as we are. I think of a person who owns a sandwich shop. When he makes a sandwich for a customer he tries to create a work of art. All the ingredients applied precisely, the plating perfect. He wants it to be the best sandwich the customer has ever had.

Then he hires employees to help him make sandwiches. He observes them rushing through the process, skipping steps, not being as careful as he’d like. He can’t understand how they would not take the same pride in each meal as he does. What he doesn’t get is that it is not their business. They are just doing this job temporarily. This shop may be his life, but it is not theirs. It doesn’t mean they don’t care at all – they just don’t care as much.

So we designed our product to bridge the gap between the professional and the volunteer. CoachDeck was created to give a lifeline to the coach who is overwhelmed but trying his best. We want to provide a shot in the arm of confidence to those who might only be coaching because no one else was willing to do it. We’re proud to give them a tool that’s easy to use, not a chore, so that they can have fun with kids instead of being robotic drill instructors. It’s rec sports. Fun comes first. Individual and team development? Somewhere further down the list. We know that not all volunteer coaches will be as diligent or skilled as we are. But we’ll thank them for pitching in, and never call them lazy.

Ironically, on this particular club’s website we found this: The recreational program is geared for players who love the game of soccer and want to keep playing and improving their skills, while not committing the additional time and effort necessary for a travel team.  Games are held every Saturday and the individual coaches decide on the number of practices.  If your child enjoys playing soccer and does not want to commit to the more demanding requirements of a travel team, then come join our recreational soccer program.

We couldn’t have said it much better ourselves.

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

Pro Tips for How to Play Outfield

By Doug Bernier

The tips on this page for how to play outfield will help you create a foundation of knowledge and technique that will make you a better outfielder, maximizing your natural talents and helping you go as far in this game of baseball as you can.

Having an understanding of the proper way to track down and how to catch fly balls will help you cover more ground, and take more hits away from the other team.  There are many types of fly balls that can be hit into the outfield.  Balls to your left, right, up, and back, as well as many variations of each.

Former Red Sox outfielder offers tips for outfielders on Baseball-Insider.comFormer Red Sox Outfielder Jonathan Van Every believes the three essentials of being a good outfielder are:

  • Get a good initial read
  • Get a good first step
  • Take a good route to the baseball

1. Ready position

This is the position we should be in every time when the ball is being pitched and traveling through the strike zone.

  • In between pitches, outfielders can be walking around and moving, or doing whatever we feel is comfortable, it doesn’t really matter. Don’t fall into the trap of not moving your feet for 2,3,4 pitches. Keep your legs light and ready by moving in between pitches.
  • As the pitch is about to be delivered we want to be in an athletic position. This position would mirror a basketball player playing defense, or a tennis player about to return a serve.
  • We want to have our legs a little wider than shoulder width and have some movement with our legs.
  • Our hands are off of our knees and we are anticipating a swing and getting a good first step.
  • React with what you see, let your eyes guide your body.

2. Movement of baseballs off the bat

Most of the time, balls that are hit to outfield are either hooking or slicing. This will affect the corner outfielders more than the centerfielder. Balls that are hit back up the middle towards the centerfielder can have some movement but usually have more backspin and less sidespin.

Balls hit towards the corner outfielders will likely have some hooking or slicing action depending on the side of the plate the hitter is hitting from. The action of a batted ball tends to hook or slice toward the foul line. Very rarely you will see a baseball start toward the line and work back into the gap.

Left Fielder
  • Right handed batter: If a right handed hitter hits a fly ball to left field, the action on the baseball most likely will be going left to right from the outfielders perspective (or hooking from the batters perspective).
  • Left handed batter: If a left handed hitter hits a fly ball to left field, the ball will be working from your left to right (or slicing from the batters perspective).
Right Fielder
  • Right handed batter: If a right handed hitter hits a fly ball to right field, the baseball will be working from your right to left (or slicing from the batters perspective).
  • Left handed batter: If a left handed hitter hits a fly ball to right field, the ball will be working from your right to left (or hooking from the batters perspective).

It’s important to understand this theory when tracking down fly balls and making your first move on baseballs

3. Movement of baseballs on the ground (snaking ground balls)

Keep in mind how the outfield grass is cut. When there are a bunch of nice looking designs and lines in the grass, after a fresh mow, the ball will do weird things.

The outfield grass is different shades of green because of which way the grass is laying, so when the ball is rolling towards you the ball will actually “snake” or zig zag left and right depending on which way the outfield grass is laying when the ball is rolling over that section.

This can be tough for some fielders to get used to this when fielding ground balls. Just know how the ball is rolling, take your time, and watch the ball into your glove.

tips for outfielders, how to back up plays, outfield positioning“Know when to throw out runners at home plate and when to throw to 2nd base. With a runner on 2nd base and a ball hit that takes you to your right or left a few steps, throw to second. Base hits that are hit right at you take a chance and try for the runner at home.”- Kevin Russo, Left fielder and second baseman for the New York Yankees

4. Using a crossover step

Using a crossover step is the foundation to starting your track after a fly ball. This is where you can save valuable steps by getting to where you need to go in a straight line.

Our first move from our ready position is to make a good, hard step.

  • This step is made by if we need to be going left, we will take our right foot and throw it over our left foot in the direction we need to run. This movement is quick and violent, so we can get to top speed as quickly as possible.
  • The opposite is true by going to our right we will take our left foot and throw it quick and violent over our right foot in the direction we need to run.

After our crossover step is made and we are in stride, we will need to use our eyes to figure out where the baseball is going to hit the ground. Once we find this spot we need to beat the ball there. Our eyes are very good, with practice, at calculating how hard the baseball is hit, how high it is hit, and how much spin is on it. This calculation is what we rely on to get to the spot where we need to be to catch the baseball.

5. Catch the baseball with your eyes

As the baseball is coming down and it is about to fall into your glove, keep your glove out of the way of your eye sight.

Every outfielder has done this before and it gets a little scary because when your glove crosses in front of your eyes you lose track of the baseball for just a split second but that is about the time you are catching the ball. This is how people drop fly balls.

As you are running to your left and right, follow the baseball all the way into your glove and catch the it with 1 hand.   Click here if you want to read more about tracking fly balls.  Also, you can read more about how to avoid losing baseballs in the sun.

6. Run on your toes

When outfielders are running after the ball, sometimes it might feel like the ball is bouncing all over the place.

This happens because of how you are running after the baseball.

When you run and your heels hit the ground first at impact your eyes will bounce and it will give you the illusion of the baseball jumping all around.

To minimize this bouncing, try letting your toes hit the ground first and the impact will be a lot softer on your eyes and you will see a big difference when running after a baseball.

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 

Parents’ Issues Checklist

By Dr. Darrell J. Burnett

The following parents issues checklist for teaching character and sportsmanship is short, but sweet. Answer YES or NO to the following 10 statements, tally up your score and see how you did.

  1. I maintain a “Fun is Number One” attitude in youth sports.
  2. I treat officials, coaches, my kids, their teammates, and their opponents, with respect, modeling manners for kids, avoiding put-downs, ridicule, or sarcasm.
  3. I praise my kids, their teammates, and their opponents, just for participating, regardless of their athletic skills.
  4. I remember to look for, and make a “big deal” out of positives with my kids, their teammates, and their opponents as a way of teaching character and encouraging personal health and wellness.
  5. I remain calm when my kids or their teammates make a mistake, but instead, help them to learn from it.
  6. I remind my kids and their teammates not to get down on themselves when things don’t go well in youth sports or other adolescent activities.
  7. I try not to take myself too seriously when it comes to my involvement in youth sports, reminding myself that there is life beyond youth sports whether my kids are playing athletic games for preschoolers or at the college level.
  8. I remind myself and my kids to laugh and keep a sense of humor.
  9. I emphasize teamwork in team sports with my kids, teaching them to think “we,” instead of “me.”
  10. I teach my kids by giving them a good example of good sportsmanship: winning without gloating, and losing without complaining.

Now, tally up your score. Which of these do you need to work on?

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.

Soccer Parent Landmines

By Tony Earp

Being a parent is difficult, but being a parent of a soccer player poses additional challenges that can put a lot of stress on parents and the child. The soccer community is not the easiest to navigate, and it can be overwhelming, especially for parents with kids going through the process for the first time. There will be a lot of things that go on throughout the season that can distract parents from what is most important; their child having fun and learning the game. With all decisions a parent must make, it is important that the result of each decision is in the best interest of the kid and it helps make their playing experience better. There will always be bumps in the road, but those bumps can quickly turn into large sink holes that can torpedo a season and child’s enjoyment playing the game.

It is not just the kids, but the parents, who feel the pressure of the club soccer experience. All want to be doing what is right to help their child have success on the field. The heart, I believe, is always in the right place, but the pressure and culture of the competitive environment can lead parents to act or get involved in the process in a way not originally intended.

Based on my experience in youth soccer and working with parents, here are some tips for getting through the season that makes it enjoyable for everyone.

Do Not Reward Performance to Motivate Kids

There are parents who decide to motivate their child through “rewards’ for good performance on the field. With the goal to try to help their child have more success on the field, work harder, or “play better,” the child is offered something in return. Now, do these rewards work to help a player work a little harder, focus more, or maybe score a couple more goals? Sometimes they do work, but only in the short term. This type of reward system begins to make playing the game about getting something in return; not playing the game because it is fun or it is something the child wants to do. Once the excitement of the rewards wears off, the child’s desire to play the game will also diminish or a bigger reward will be required to reach the same level of motivation.

Outside of that, it can affect performance in a negative way. For example, a player who is being incentivized to score goals may start playing differently or making bad decisions in order to try to score more goals that do not help the player improve. What if the player does not score a goal but has a great game, works really hard, and played very well? Even though the player had success on the field, the player will still feel like they failed because he did not score and will not be rewarded.

Should kids be rewarded for great effort and doing their best? Absolutely! I am not advocating otherwise, but parents need to be very careful about using rewards to try to get the child to play differently or enjoy the game more. In short, you should go out for ice cream after the game to celebrate having a fun day at the soccer field, but you do not take that away or hold it over a child’s head based on their performance. Quickly, what was meant to make a player want to play better will turn into a reason why a player will not want to pl

Avoid the Drama of the Parent Sideline

The sideline of a soccer game or practice can be a tough place to sit in peace and just enjoy the game or watch your child play. Parents are constantly faced with the uncomfortable conversations or the “soccer gossip” from other parents who are “in the know” or are frustrated about… whatever. As you are watching the game, you will hear parents talking about other parents, the coach, other players, or other teams. It will start with, “Did you hear?” and end with, “So..what do you think?”

NEVER ANSWER THAT QUESTION. Well, you can, but I strongly suggest avoiding it. It can lead you down a road you had no intention of being on.

Although I think all of us are somewhat drawn to conflict or at least enjoy hearing about it, I would do everything you can to avoid getting sucked into these types of conversations. The conversation may be prefaced with “just between you and me” but that is not how it will stay. It will always get back to whom it may concern, and then it will work its way back to you. Something you really did not care much about to begin with, will quickly become something that totally consumes you. My suggestion is avoid the conversation or change the subject when someone tries to have this type of conversation with you.

There is a fear of not being “in the know” so sometimes parents feel the need to seek out this information, so they are “informed” and can help make decisions to help their child. The one thing I will say about that is these conversations rarely consist of accurate information. In the end, you will not be more informed, but you will feel you are and that will lead to additional issues.

If through the course of the year, you feel the need to address a concern or discuss an issue, only do it with the person who it concerns. If you want to be informed, go to the source. Whether it is a coach or another parent, address all concerns and issues directly with that person. If you choose to “gossip” about it with others, eventually the person whom with you have the concern with will hear about it, but not in the way you would want and not told really what you said. Or worse, you will think you are informed and you are not, and you make a decision or choice that will affect your child adversely using bad information.

Be the Parent Not the Assistant Coach

It is important that your child has their parent waiting for them when they leave the soccer field and not an assistant soccer coach. Ask your child about their practice and show an interest in what they learned or if they had fun, but avoid giving tips and advice on how they could have played better or what they need to do next time when they are on the field. Leave that for the coach. That is the coach’s job, and you can always ask the coach questions if you need to about those things, but your child just needs you to be their parent and show you care about how they did and you love to watch them play.

Again, because all parents want to help their child have success, it is hard to stop from doing this when your child comes off the field. You might have seen something that you feel can really help them play better or have more fun, so again, I believe parents are just trying to help. But do your best to let that information come from the coach. If your child asks you how you think he did, do not be afraid to answer his questions. Dodging the question or acting like you are uninterested would not be beneficial either, but be careful when answering to try not to correct the issue for the child. Be more general with your statements and allow the coach to correct the finer points. Encourage the player to discuss it with the coach. The key is let the child ask you. Let the child determine if it is something he wants to talk about.

We all have our opinions of how things should be done, and as I said before, if you ever have concerns or questions, the best thing to do is ask the coach directly. The worst thing you can do is undermine the coach and tell your child to do things differently than what they are being asked at the soccer field. It just confuses the child, and it will cause conflict in the relationship between the player and the coach, and in the relationship between you and your child.

Avoid Emotional Public Responses

I do not like to be the bearer of bad news, but there will be things that happen throughout the season that upset you. Even the best coaches and parents, will make mistakes and say or do something that you have a real, and legitimate, issue with. Often, a bad situation can become much worse than it needs to be by a knee-jerk emotional response… especially in public in front of others.

Whether at practice or in a game, something will happen or be said to you or your child that will light your fuse and ignite your natural parental response to protect your child. Again, completely understandable, and I have seen a lot of situations where it is justified (but still not appropriate).

Although before responding or making a very public response and embarrassing scene for your child, I would suggest digesting what you see and take a more thought out and reasonable (not emotional) approach to responding to what happened. Why? First, what may have happened or what you heard may not be an issue if you completely understand the context behind it. Second, usually what is said out of an emotional response, even if justified, is not what you wish you would have said after the fact.

To ensure a proper and pragmatic response to negative events throughout the year, gather all the necessary information, examine it, and then proceed how you see necessary in the best interest of your child and yourself. Again, the soccer field, especially during games when competition is tough and emotions are running high, situations occur that do not have to be a major issue but are exacerbated by an emotional response from a parent (or coach).

Do Not Make Decisions out of Fear

This is the most important piece of advice I can give a parent, and the one that will make the biggest impact on your child’s experience. When deciding anything for your child, the decision should be based on what is best for your child to have a fulfilling, fun, and appropriate experience on the soccer field learning an awesome game. Decisions made out of fear will lead you and your child down a road you really do not want to go. 10 teams later, thousands of dollars spent, and many relationships burned, you will wonder how you got to that point?

A common fear parents have, and make a lot of decisions based off of, is the fear of their child being left behind. Something currently happening or missing in their child’s soccer experience creates a fear that their child is not progressing as fast as he should. Parents make decisions to change clubs/teams, force kids to train or practice more, or do not allow their kids to play for certain teams in trying to make sure their child does not fall behind their peers. The first sign that their child is lagging behind his peers, a decision is made to make a change. The parent will try to change the environment in the hopes of finding a better one will help their child have success and advance their skill.

With a decision based on fear, often all the facts are not taken into account and the actuality of the situation is skewed by the fear. The bigger and long-term perspective is not considered. With these types of decisions, we only look at a small and possibly insignificant piece of the puzzle. An “issue” may have nothing to do with the environment, the coach, or other players on the team that a child is falling behind. It can be for a lot of reasons that are out of the player’s control (developmental changes – both physical and cognitive), or possibly a losing interest in the game which will happen with some players (like with anything). Granted, there are definitely situations that kids should be moved off certain teams and moved to others, too many to mention here, but too often the move is not really necessary or appropriate. Often a change is an emotional reaction to the first sign of any type of obstacle or struggle for the player.

Most kids will not play this game at a “high” level. Moving kids from club to club or team to team to try to improve their level is not the best way to do that. Forcing a kid to train or practice more than he desires is not beneficial either. Yes, the proper environment to develop and extra training can help improve skill level, BUT ONLY WHEN IT IS SOMETHING THE PLAYER WANTS TO DO. Change does not help if the kid does not want it or a change does not address the real issues.

**Final thought… ** the one thing all of these items have in common is focusing on doing what is best for your child. Making the experience completely about them, and making it very little about you or the other adults along for the ride. When parents get distracted by all the other things that happen over a course of the season that cause a loss of focus on the real reason your child is playing, the experience quickly turns negative for everyone involved. Soccer is a game. We sometimes forget that. It is best to sit back and let your child discover the game, learn how to play it, and decide where he wants to take it. Avoid these soccer parent landmines, and you will not have to spend your child’s soccer season rummaging through the debris of the aftermath of these types of situations.

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

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Family Fit Day a Success

So says Adam Molda of the Cedardale Health & Fitness Center in Haverhill, Massachusetts. This was a day filled with fun, activity and fitness. Over 150 local children played tennis, basketball, dodgeball, racquetball, yoga, Zumba, and leaned about nutrition. The day was inspired by our partners, PHIT America.org who continue their epic and worthy crusade to fight the “inactivity pandemic” in America and get folks, young and old, out, moving around, and active. We need more events like this nationwide!

Follow all the LLWS action here

If you can’t be glued to the television during the work week but would like updates on what’s happening with the youngsters in Williamsport, you can get updates on everything that is happening in the Little League World Series by clicking this link. Exciting games are happening every day!

Tchau, Rio!

When The Games began we took them for granted, and didn’t watch every day because they’d be on again tomorrow. There were some hiccups, such as the green pool water, but overall Rio held up its end of the bargain. By the time we came to the final few days it began to sink in that soon they’d be over for another four years. There is nothing like seeing athletes in sports that we don’t find mainstream working hard to achieve an incredible dream…the elation of success, the devastation of loss. We all love the Olympics because it brings out the best in our human spirit…and because we only get to savor them once every four years. See you in Japan!