What more could a sports fan want?

The Cubs and the Indians in the World Series. College football. NFL. Hockey season has started and so has the NBA. It’s that magical time of year when the four major sports seasons collide in spectacular fashion, if only of for one more day. Savor it, sports fans. It is like the Hailey’s comet of fandom!

U.S. kids ranked nearly last

Another alarm is being sounded by our partners at PHIT America.org. Incredibly, in a fitness test comparing our children to others around the world, children from the United States ranked 47th out of 50. Take a look at how the tests were conducted and who were the fittest nations here. We need to support PHIT and their GO! Grants that fund elementary school physical education programs.

Let’s pass the PHIT Act!

One of the saddest things we could imagine is the idea of grade school and middle school aged children who would like to participate in a sport, but who are unable because their families cannot afford it. Our partners at PHIT America.org feel the same way and are trying to do something about it. The PHIT Act will pave the way for greater participation in not only youth sports, but other fitness programs to make American healthier and fitter. Be sure to contact your congressional leaders and tell them the PHIT Act passage is important to you.

If you missed them, here they are

We’re talking about this month’s OnDeck Newsletters for soccer and for baseball/softball. You’ll love the articles on “Daddy Ball”, what to look for in players relative to their desire, and much more. Don’t forget to sign up so you get all future issues delivered to your inbox!

OnDeck Newsletter goes out today – Don’t miss it!

In a few hours, our popular OnDeck Newsletter for October, 2016 will be sent out to thousands of folks interested in youth soccer, baseball and softball. You can sign up to make sure a copy is delivered to your inbox or read all previous issues. And with a coupon for 10% anything on www.upstartsports.com, it is definitely a great move to make!

Who Wants It the Most?

By Tony Earp

There is no way to predict which players will be the ones who will end up playing at the highest level or achieving the most over their soccer careers. As coaches, we like to think we are good at identifying the soccer stars of tomorrow, but we are often wrong. There is just no way to know how a player will develop and change over time. Too many unknown variables lay ahead of each player that will directly or indirectly affect his or her path and where that path eventually will lead. With that said, with any team or group of players I have coached over my years in this profession, I can easily identify the players who WANT TO BE THE BEST by their focus and effort during training. It is easy to see who wants it the most!

You might be thinking that I am talking about the player who does exactly what is asked and is never a “behavior issue” in training, but I am not. Although that may fit the description of this type of player at times, it is not a defining characteristic. I have coached many players who other coaches would describe as being inattentive, disruptive, and stubborn, but I saw something different. I saw a player who was inattentive because they wanted to play, disruptive because they came up with their own rules, and stubborn to be the type of player they wanted to be. No matter how a coach might label this player, there is no denying that this type of player would put his heart into everything he did. Passion and desire is often not obedient and structured. Some of my most passionate players and those who wanted to be the best, were also the most difficult to manage in training and in games. This is the type of player who does not stick to the path, but creates their own.

On the flip side of the coin is the player who never takes his eyes off the coach and is zeroed in on absorbing as much information as possible during each training session. This player is a coach’s dream in training and in games. He will do whatever is asked and more, while taking advantage of every opportunity to get better. It is obvious this type of player is determined to be the best and his actions show he wants it more than others. Like the player who is driven by passion and desire, this player is driven by other forces. This type of player is fueled by purpose and the quality of each and every action. He wants to be the best and will jump through any hoop, leap any wall, and overcome any challenge to move closer to the goal. This is a player who sticks to the path, and runs through anything standing in the way.

A player who “wants it” is a player who does the little things right all the time. The player who does not take a second off during a training activity or game. A player that is driven to improve and is actively working towards that goal. Most importantly, these players do the most of their “work” when no one is around. They do not just work hard when people are watching, or do what is asked for the proverbial “good job” from a coach or parent. They don’t care about that. They just care about their ability to play the game. Since that is their goal, they take every opportunity possible to work on their craft. They do not just do it when asked to do it by someone else.

When kids are young, the better players can sometimes be the players who have just developed physically or cognitively faster up to that point. There can be as much as a two year difference in physical and cognitive ability of players of the same age group. We point to the players who are more mature in those age groups as being the stronger players. We assume those are the players who be the best in the future, and some may be. But, we must also give our attention to those players who seem to want it the most, who love to play the most, and who have the most passion, drive, and purpose when they play. These players may need time to physically and cognitively catch up to their peers, so they cannot be overlooked. When these players develop, hopefully they received the same coaching and attention needed along the way to help them reach their potential.

Let me give you two examples of what I am talking about….

My first example is a player who I have coached over five years starting at age 8. He was always a “wild one” on the field and showed a tremendous amount of passion and joy to play the game. He was never happy unless he was competing, playing, and winning. He has never had much patience for standing around and listening for instructions, but I could always tell he was listening. When working on one skill, he was always the first player to try the skill his own way. It was common to hear, “What about this coach?” while he tries a heel pass versus the inside of the foot passing the rest of the team was working on. When I called the group in to talk, he used that time to work on his favorite skill move or start an impromptu 1v1 challenge with a teammate by megging him. Although the behavior could be seen as distracting at times, I understood where it was rooted. The kid just loved to play.

As he aged, his passion and creativity matured with him. In his age group, he may be one of the most exciting players to watch on the ball and is completely unpredictable (in a great way) on the field. He never ceases to amaze in what he has the guts to try when he plays that no other player would even dare think about trying during a game. The way he moves on the ball and what he is capable of doing was not a product of my coaching. It was a product of him wanting to be the best. What many people do not know about this player is the amount of time he spent at home on his own just trying things with the soccer ball. Lifting, chipping, bending the ball all around the house and backyard, along with many other challenging skills, provides this player with a distinct advantage when he plays. He is capable of manipulating the ball in a way that other players cannot creating a number of options only available to him when he has the ball.

Second example, I currently work with a player who always arrives early for training. When waiting for training to start, while other players are talking and hanging out, this player finds space to work with the ball. Either dribbling and changing direction, juggling, or anything else the player feels the need to work on, gets its needed attention before the organized training session even begins.

During training, he never trains below a maximum effort and he can be someone tough on himself when mistakes are made. Although undeterred, he will quickly use disappointment as fuel to try again and work even harder. When the session stops, and I am talking to the players, he never cuts away from me with his eyes and often asks questions about the training. More often than not, I can count on him stopping me after training and asking specific questions about his performance and ideas on how he can work on skills on his own.

On a final note about both of these types of players, and the players in my example. The players who want it the most, seem to appreciate their coaches and parents who provide guidance an opportunity the most. These players have never left a training session with me, or any other coach, without saying thank you. Of the two players I talked about above, the first always walks by me on the way out of training with a quick “finger point” and says, “thanks coach.” The second player always shakes my hand, says, “thank you” and then usually asks me a question that is based on helping him improve.

Both of these players are very different in almost every way, but both are very similar in where it matters the most, they both want it the most!

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

Daddy Ball

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

We hear the phrase often: “Daddy Ball.” It is a derogatory term describing a situation where a parent becomes a youth coach for the sole reason of promoting his own child. The accusation is that the child gets benefits in terms of playing time and position that he or she wouldn’t have received had someone else been coaching the team. But what if it’s not true? And what if it is?

Those of you who have read my articles through the years know I have done a lot of volunteer coaching. I coached three boys and a daughter primarily in baseball and softball, but also basketball, soccer, flag football, roller hockey, nearly everything they played growing up. So I’m quite sure there were times people looked at decisions I made regarding my kids and chalked them up to preferential treatment or, “Daddy Ball.”

So my first question is, where were those parents when the league asked for coaches? I didn’t do anything sneaky to become the coach. I volunteered. Same as they could have. I find it tough to think of someone who is not volunteering to accuse an individual who is of having anything less than admirable motives.

Are there parents who manipulate and “game” the system to ensure their children have advantages? I’m sure there are, though I can’t really remember a case of ever seeing it blatantly. Maybe I was blind to it because it was something I was doing myself.

I think there is also possibly an aspect of jealousy. Of course, anyone who is watching their child play behind the coaches’ kids is going to automatically believe that the decision is not based on merit or fairness, but is “Daddy Ball.” And, if one of those parents were to take the helm of the team and put their child where they believe he deserves to be, that’s what everyone would be saying about them.

Mike Matheny, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, was asked to coach his young son’s baseball team a few years back and he wrote a preseason letter to the parents that has become rather famous. The part that stood out to me was when he asked that all parents get involved and work with their children away from practice. He said that in his experience, the common denominator of every player he’d ever seen make it in the pros was that they had someone to work with them as youngsters. It seems to me that wanting to be the coach for your kids is an extension of this. Sure, I wanted to give them advantages. Not unfair ones. None that were unearned. I wanted to give them the advantage of my attention, my time, my knowledge of the game and my coaching. I didn’t feel anyone else could do a better job and so I sacrificed a lot of hours and career opportunities to do it. If that’s “Daddy Ball,” so be it.

When my children were just beginning to play recreational sports I remember speaking with a friend of mine whose sons were all older and in college. He had coached them in baseball all the way through high school and said that one of the main reasons he believed he had such a close relationship with his boys was all that time they spent together in the dugout. I made up my mind then and there that I’d coach my kids as long as I could.

And speaking of a letter to parents, as I write this I think of a bit I might put into a letter of my own, should I ever become a volunteer coach again. It might go something like this:

In an effort to avoid the perception that I am giving preferential treatment to anyone I will be asking for a democratic vote before each game to determine the batting order and playing positions. All parents who have attended every game and observed every minute of each practice will be eligible to vote.

I wonder how many votes I’d get.

I guess the answer could be to not allow parents to coach their own children. But then we’d have no more rec soccer, basketball, softball, football or baseball. So maybe another solution is to tone down the insults and use the phrase “Daddy Ball” less and the words, “Thanks, Coach.” more.

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