What took so long?

We say this tongue-in-cheek, but it has always been confusing the way sports organizations who use the “U17” or “U10” etc. label their age groups. Since the “U” stands for “Under”, the phrase reads like, “Under 10” which would lead one to believe that 10 year-olds don’t qualify because a child must be under 10 to play. But no. We all learned that “Under 10” was really for ten year-olds and we all just accepted the terminology and moved on. Volleyball uses the same classification and even some travel baseball and other sports. But fortunately, US Youth Soccer came to the realization that there is no good reason to continue confusing folks. They are changing the age classifications to read “10-U”, as in “Ten and Under”. Let’s hope the other organizations out there still putting the “U” first come to their senses as well. (Courtesy Soccerwire).

What did you do last practice?

Did you show up with a good plan and implement it? Or did you not have time and had to wing it? We aren’t judging. We know how hard it is to work a full-time job and still find time to prepare for practice. That’s why we created CoachDeck. A deck of cards with 52 good, fundamental drills for soccer, basketball, baseball, softball or football. Simply pull a few cards out of the deck, or let the kids choose them, and you’re ready to go. Instant practice plan, millions of combinations. Never boring, always fun. Become a great coach with a little help in your back pocket.

Message from Jim Baugh, President of PHIT America

Our partners at PHIT America.org have important news we want to share with you. Below is from Jim Baugh, President of PHIT America:

In 2016, we got another 50,000 kids moving in school-based programs giving us over 100,000 in the past two years. Here are some of the highlights:

We doubled their activity levels adding an avg. of 85 minutes of physical activity per week per child
Many of these kids are being active and playing sports outside of school
In the past two years, almost 300 school programs have been supported
Cost per child for the two years is now at < $15 per child
We already have 3 new Major Sponsors committed to enlarge our impact in 2017; If you want to help us contact me at Jim@PHITAmerica.org

Even though we made a big success this year, 445 schools representing 224,000 kids did NOT get a GO! Grant because of a lack of funds. So, you will be learning soon about a way YOU can help get a kid active, fit and healthy.

For as little as $50, you can jump-start a lifestyle of physical activity for a child. And, for $1,000 you can help a school. THE PHIT ACT – Use PassThePhitAct.org NOW
Yes, 102 to be exact. And the great news the PHIT Act has bi-partisan support: 56 Democrats & 46 Republicans. Congress is starting to get the message.
WE NEED YOUR HELP. Get your employees, contacts and friends to access PassThePhitAct.org to send a message to their Members of Congress. We even have a chance to pass the PHIT Act this year. Help make this happen!

GREAT stuff from the folks at PHIT…let’s help them make America a healthier, more PHIT place!

Did you miss today’s OnDeck Newsletter?

Don’t despair. You can read both the soccer and baseball/softball editions here.  You’ll especially love our expert articles from Doug Bernier (baseball/softball) and Tony Earp in soccer. Sign up so that you get all future issues sent to your inbox!

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The Difference that Makes the Difference

By Tony Earp

Over the years of training players of many different age groups and a range of abilities, one of my goals is to always make the training session challenging and enjoyable for the players. It has been my experience that when players find the activities challenging and are having fun, the players show the most amount of effort and focus. The difficult part of building a training session is combining both of those elements in a balanced and effective way. Challenging can mean a lot of things, and it is not hard to make any activity challenging. The hard part is making an activity APPROPRIATELY challenging for the player. The same is true for the enjoyment. It is easy to make a session enjoyable. Play “World Cup” with the players and they will be smiling ear to ear. Fun is necessary for development, but fun does not always mean that development is taking place. The difference that makes all the difference in an outstanding training session and development opportunity is challenging the player appropriately and making it enjoyable for the players without a loss of purpose.

Optimal learning occurs when an activity is just outside of a player’s current ability level. Meaning, the player is going to have to stretch his limits slightly to accomplish what is being asked. If the task is out of reach and completely not feasible due to current level or age (cognitive ability), then frustration will firmly take hold and the players will shut down. If it is too easy, there will be a lack of focus and players can develop poor training habits and technique.

Think of it this way… if your friend was an expert mountain climber and he asked you to go climb with him, what do you think a reasonable approach to teaching you would be? If he wants you to immediately take on an inverted cliff that is only for experts, it will probably be something you decline to try and you will not enjoy yourself. If he underestimates your ability and you spend the day walking up a slight incline on the side of a hill, you may find yourself bored and a little insulted by your friends opinion of your capabilities.

If he brought you to a climbing area that is appropriate for your level, and a little challenging, you will not only be willing to climb, but you will also learn more and enjoy yourself.

If a training activity is not going well and the kids are struggling with it to the point they begin to shut down or stop trying, there is a chance that I asked them to do something that is either too far out of their reach or possibly too easy. Coaches often mistakenly just take it as the kids being lazy or there is a lack of focus, and the coach may attempted to be corrected it through running or yelling. The kids could be having a bad day and not really focusing, but more often than not, the reason for a lack of effort is due to the appropriateness of the activity.

All activities can be tweaked to be more difficult or more simple to make it more appropriate for the players. When the challenge is appropriate, the players’ work ethic will improve. A challenge being appropriate keeps success in reach which keeps kids motivated to achieve the goal of the activity. When it is too easy, the goal has already been achieved. When it is too hard, the goal looks miles away with no clear path to get there. Keeping the activity appropriately challenging shows the path keeps the goal in sight and a guided path on how to get there.

The benefit of the activity being appropriate challenging makes it enjoyable for the kids. They have more fun trying to learn the skills, even if they fail at first, because they can see they are not that far off. I have used the example of video games before. If a level was impossible to beat, it would not be very fun to play. When a level is difficult but the kids make progress and keep getting closer and closer to beating it, they cannot wait to try again after they fail. Not to mention, they are probably having a blast. On the flip side, if the level was really easy and they beat it on the first try, I am sure the kids would think that level was boring. If the entire game was like that, they would probably stop playing.

Since enjoying training is part of making it optimal for learning to make that key difference in development for the players, the coach has to make an effort to make the sessions fun. Part of that, as already has been explained, is the activities being appropriately challenging. The other part of it is making sure the environment, while being competitive, is a place where the kids can feel safe to compete.

Fun is a slippery slope at training, as it can be in any situation. All coaches want their players to enjoy training, but it needs to be done in the context of the learning goals for the session. For example, a coach can have their team just “scrimmage” all session. Although there are some things developmentally good about that, and the players will have fun (at first), does that help the players reach their individual and team goals? Players would have fun at first but if the coach continuously just had the kids play at practice, and did little else, even that will eventually become boring for the players.

More importantly, although the activity is a lot of fun, how is it helping the players move closer towards their developmental goals? When kids play, they want to get better. When they come to training, they want to be challenged to move beyond what they currently do. Fun can quickly cause players to lose focus due to being too distracted from the task at hand or become bored as the “fun” has no direction.

Fun is important, but it has to add focus to the session. Not take it away. When the coach can make activities competitive and fun for the kids, while being appropriate challenging, the coach has created the best possible learning environment for the kids. The most enjoyable training sessions kids participate in are ones that fit this criteria. The coach challenged them, encouraged them, had fun with them, and provided an environment that would help them get better.

When designing your training sessions, do not create a session that is too complicated and far beyond your players’ ability levels. Also, avoid creating a session that is just nothing more than a series of Knock Out and World Cup type of activities. Although they are fun at times, they should be used as part of a means to the end, or in other words, a way to help players get to their next development level. It is easy to make a practice too hard or too easy. The difficult part of coaching, where the skill of craft resides, is being able to develop training sessions that make players train just slightly beyond their current level and they do it with a smile. That is the difference that will make all the difference for your players.

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

Our Leagues Are More Important Than Ever

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

My son, who is 25 and a pro baseball player, recently gave a rare compliment to my wife’s and my parenting when he said, “You guys were smart not to get us a PlayStation when we were younger because it forced us to go outside and play.”

Not only do video games encourage kids to sit indoors and wallow in inactivity, but all the new technology devices we didn’t have as kids are creating a sedentary generation. We all need to deal with this reality individually as parents, but those of us involved in youth sports leagues have perhaps and even greater responsibility. There has never been a time when the availability of good, quality youth sports organizations has been more vital. For years I’ve been writing wistfully about the “good old days” when children would play unsupervised, invent games, stay out until dark, make up their own rules and settle their own disputes. But those days may be gone for most of us. So getting kids involved with structured sports leagues could be our best chance to keep them active, fit and healthy.

Our partners at PHIT America.org recently published statistics showing that childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. One study showed that children who became obese as early as age 2 were more likely to be obese as adults Healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases.

The dietary and physical activity behaviors of children and adolescents are influenced by many sectors of society, including families, communities, schools, child care settings, medical care providers, faith-based institutions, government agencies, the media, and the food and beverage industries and entertainment industries.

What this means to me is we need to be evangelicals for our sports leagues. We must double our efforts to boost enrollment through advertising, word-of-mouth – any and all methods we can employ. Get the word out at local schools, encourage existing members to bring along friends and neighbors, be proactive in the community. Shake the bushes.

We also should look at the way our organizations are run. Are we trying to be as inclusive as possible, or do we discourage some children from trying us out? Leagues that are overly-competitive or that don’t teach volunteer coaches how to make kids love the experience might see their numbers dwindle as they lose participants to the myriad of new ways they can have fun without any fear or embarrassment.

If you are involved in running a youth sports organization, you are absolutely providing a service that is vital to your community and will have lasting, positive benefits that practically can’t be overstated. It’s time we all got off the couch and make sure every kid in town does too.

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

Ten Powerful Turn-Failure-Into-Success Strategies

By Bill Cole

Henry Ford believed that “Failure is only an opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” Woody Allen says, “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying anything.” And Winston Churchill held that “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” All these great men know that dealing with failure successfully is part of a winner’s mind set. Here are my top ten mental strategies that winners use to keep them strong and take them towards success.

1. Winners Realize That Every Human Being Makes Mistakes: Richard Whately said, “He only is exempt from failures who makes no effort.” Even seemingly perfect, famous people make mistakes every day. If they fail, so can we. And we can move on from those errors to reach our potential.

2. Winners Attempt To Make Fewer Mistakes: “The greatest general is he who makes the fewest mistakes.” Napoleon Bonaparte was right. In sports, the team making the fewest errors usually wins. Most battles are won through error containment. Make your mistakes, but limit when you do them and how often.

3. Winners Correct Their Mistakes: St. Augustine said “It is human to err, but it is devilish to remain willfully in error.” Confucius said, “A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it is committing another mistake.” Winners take mistakes as an opportunity to make good, to move on, and to learn from the situation.

4. Winners Take Responsibility For Their Errors: “Do not blame anyone for your mistakes and failures” Bernard Baruch meant that to grow and change, we must see all of reality and we must deal with that reality. The first step in gaining control over our errors is admitting that they exist.

5. Winners Don’t Make The Same Mistake Twice: “He that’s cheated twice by the same man is an accomplice with the cheater.” Thomas Fuller said this to encourage us to learn from a mistake, vow to never repeat it, and to move on without reservation or fear of making other mistakes.

6. Winners Fail Fast And Move On: Business guru Tom Peters says “Only with failure can you verify wrong ways of doing things and discard those practices that hinder success.” Winners cultivate an attitude of “lead, follow or get out of the way”. They are voracious for success, and devour any mistake that can take them closer and faster to that success.

7. Winners Create A Lifetime Self-Coaching System: Baruch said that “The art of living lies less in eliminating our troubles than in growing with them”. Develop a self-coaching system that helps you see your errors, define them, accept responsibility for them, improve them and to do all that with a positive attitude.

8. Winners View Failure As Just A Detour, Just a Delay: “I think and think for months, for years. Ninety-nine times the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.” Albert Einstein knew that persistence was key in being “creative”. The answer did not just drop out of the sky. He worked at it. He stayed with it.

9. Winners Know That Failure Is The Teacher Of Success: John McEnroe says “The important thing is to learn a lesson every time you lose”. McEnroe won more than any other tennis pro of his era, yet even he knows that errors are the sign-posts to success.

10. Winners Know That Admitting Failure Shows You To Be A Secure Person: Pro golfing legend Lee Travino said, “We all choke, and the man who says he doesn’t choke is lying like hell. We all leak oil.” The person trying to project an image of perfection is setting up a fragile reality, ready to burst at the wrong time. Be secure in your human imperfection. It’s easier than building an image that can’t be maintained.

Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on sports psychology, peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps sports teams and individuals achieve more success. He is also the Founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching Association, an organization dedicated to advancing the research, development, professionalism and growth of mental game coaching worldwide. He is a multiple Hall-Of-Fame honoree as an athlete, coach and school alumnus, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published author of books and articles, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports and big-time college athletics. www.SportsPsychologyCoaching.com
Copyright © 2000-2008 Bill Cole, MS, MA

Best Batting Stance: Comparing Open, Square and Closed Batting Stance

By Doug Bernier

Watching a baseball game, you’ll likely see 18 different batting stances. You will see some hitters stand tall, some squat low, and some very wide. But regardless of the vast variety of quirks, you will find that all hitters stances fall into one of these three categories: (1) Open (2) square, or (3) closed. This article describes the different batting stances, including the advantages and disadvantages of each, so you can choose the best batting stance for you.

This issue is very much an individual comfort thing, especially when dealing with how upright you stand or how low you squat.

What are the differences between square, open and closed batting stances?

A certain stance may help your hands or your swing work a little better than another. That is something you need to play with and feel comfortable with.

In this section I will talk about the open, closed, and square batting stances, including what the advantages and disadvantages are of each one.

Square Batting Stance

This is the most common stance hitters use in the batters box, and some would argue it’s the best batting stance. Beginners should start with this one.

This is where all good hitters want to be at contact, so if you can start here it makes your stride and swing less complicated.

  • A square stance is where both feet are in line with the pitcher and parallel with the edge the batter’s box.
  • Your stride just needs to go straight toward the pitcher.
  • From this setup you should be in an optimal position to hit any pitch.
  • Your upper body is already in the correct position to attack the baseball.
  • It should be easy to see the pitcher with both eyes.

Open Batting Stance

This one is second most common, and is usually from a result of having some problems with the square stance. Most people go to this setup because they were having a little trouble seeing the ball well, they like to get on the plate and pull the baseball, or they used to step in the bucket a little when they were square.

  • An open hitting stance is when your front foot is further from home plate than your back foot. You are open to the pitcher.
  • Standing open to the pitcher will allow you to turn your head a little more to the pitcher so you will be able to see the ball better with both eyes.
  • When open, you need to get back to square to hit the ball, so your front foot will step toward home plate eliminating the tendency to step away from the plate if you start square.
  • This is a problem that some hitters have especially when a right handed hitter is facing a right handed pitcher and a left handed hitter is facing a left handed pitcher.
  • Some people think to eliminate the problem, you should close your feet off, but that will make your stepping in the bucket more pronounced and you will end up in the same spot with your feet.
  • Getting your feet back square to hit the baseball allows you a better chance to hit any pitch in any location that comes your way.
  • Some hitters use this stance because they are more successful at pulling the baseball.
  • Getting a little closer to the plate will take away the outside part of the plate and make it closer to them. Then they can look to their strength which is to pull the baseball.
  • Sometimes these hitters sell out to pulling the baseball and don’t get quite back to square, that is why they have to get closer to the plate then most hitters.

Closed Batting Stance

This stance is not used as much as it was back in the 80’s and early 90’s. It is used mostly for selling out on a approach of looking for the ball the other way and hitting it that way. It can create some problems with getting to an inside pitch.

Your upper body is already closed off and your bat has to go a little further to get to an inside pitch because it has to get around your body. Most people go to this stance because they are having trouble handling the pitch away and hitting the ball the other way.

  • A closed batting stance is when your front foot is closer to the plate than your back foot – making you closed to the pitcher.
  • Being closed will make seeing the baseball a little more difficult since your back is turned a little toward the pitcher.
  • From here, you would like to get to square but if your front foot slides back from the plate then you have momentum starting to spin away from the pitcher. This makes it tough to stay square through the baseball.
  • If you keep your feet closed at contact, you will be able to handle the pitches away much better and hit the ball with more success the other way.
  • On the other hand, if you keep your feet closed at contact, it makes your path to an inside pitch very long and tough to get to consistently.

All baseball batting stances have pros and cons and should be used to fit the type of hitter and the swing that you have. Pay attention to problems that you may have at the plate and make adjustments to make your swing more efficient.

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 

Mike Matheny Manifesto

St. Louis Cardinals Manager, Mike Matheny, has strong opinions about youth sports. Before managing the Cardinals he was asked to coach his son’s youth league team. He wrote a letter to the parents in advance of the season that is an interesting read. And, he has written a book entitled The Matheny Manifesto. Here he is on NPR’s Fresh Air discussing that book, and his philosophy.