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!

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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