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Thank you to those who served

Today, let us remember those who gave their lives in defense of our country so that we may spend today with our families enjoying sports and other activities together. Happy Memorial Day from CoachDeck.

The New Form of Specialization: The Multi-Sport Athlete

By Tony Earp

There has been a lot of research and articles about the dangers of kids specializing in sports too early in hopes for a future career in the sport or scholarship opportunities down the road. Outside of physical and mental burnout, risk of more injuries, and the “fun” being removed from the game, many players deal with pressure from adults to excel on the playing field. The game becomes more about the adults than it does about what is best for the kids. The good news is that it seems parents are taking note and kids are doing other sports or activities throughout the year. The problem is that it seems an important step was skipped. Now instead of doing just one sport, kids are “specializing” in multiple sports. In other words, we forgot to take anything away, and we just keep adding on to the problem.

The idea is correct. It is important for players to play and experience different sports and activities as they grow up. Outside of developing better athletes, it helps prevent overuse injuries and creates well-rounded individuals with a more diverse youth sports experience.

The move away from early specialization and its benefits relies a child playing multiple sports or activities, but not necessarily multiple at the same time. This is the detail that was overlooked by some and now kids are not specializing in just one sport, but are specializing in many sports. In some cases, the situation has gone from one extreme to the other.

With this comes a new kind of burnout and over-scheduled kids who are training 4 plus hours a night in multiple sports. They run from basketball practice to soccer practice, or lacrosse practice to baseball practice, or track to volleyball. Parents do their best to try to manage the schedules and avoid overlap as much as possible so the kid can avoid missing a game or practice for both sports.

The demands of one practice, workload, intensity, what is physically or mentally targeted, is not at all coordinated with the other practices and game schedules. One practice may be a walk through before a game or recover day after a game, and the other practice could be a physically intense session with a lot of fitness oriented activities. In this case, both coaches, are trying to do what is best for their players, but since it is two separate sports with two different schedules, one practice can be very counter productive to the other. In short, it is much harder, and almost impossible, to manage the player’s mental and physical well being due to their being no collaboration between the coaches and sports.

This is not the coach’s fault as most run their teams and seasons in relation to just that season and team. It would be a tall order for coaches to manage their teams and players based on everyone’s extra sports or activities. It falls on the responsibility of the parents and the players to manage their schedules to make sure there is a good balance between both sports and life outside of sports.

Some players who do this are not playing sports on two “competitive” teams, but instead, are playing with one competitive or travel team while the other team is more recreational. Obviously the demands of recreational sports and competitive sports is often very different, but when combined can still create a situation where a child is over-scheduled and not getting the proper rest throughout the week in relation to one sport or the others.

The other issue arises when the athlete is very good at both sports. Often, it can become inappropriate for a player to play at the recreational level of a sport because of their level of play. It can lead to a negative experience for the player, his teammates, and other teams in the league if a player has clearly outgrown this level of play. The player can be seen as a “ringer” and does not belong due to running up high scores or clearly dominating even the next strongest players.

If a player is good and loves to play multiple sports, and they overlap in seasons, then what do we expect the parent or player to do? Pick? This could be an impossible decision for both. Playing at the recreational level at any of the sports is not fun for the player or really that appropriate, and playing competitively at both sports is not appropriate for the physical and mental health of the athlete. It becomes a very tough decision, so it is understandable for the player to try to do both even though it could be too much.

To help with this problem, sports need to offer competitive options that are not yearly or multiple season commitments. This would give players more options to play and train at a level that is appropriate for them, while not having to stack the same sports in the same season. Coaches and programs would need to allow flexibility for kids to play just for a single season or not train in the “off-season” without it being seen as a lack of commitment or dedication to their sport or a lack of drive to improve.

Instead, it would be supporting the multi-sport platform and the benefits that come with it that have been well documented. There will still be players who just participate in a single sport and train more than others, but that does not mean that those players will necessarily have an advantage over the kids who do not train year round. But, it also could mean that they do, but that is ok, because that is how it goes sometimes.

Every player is different and every situation is different, so players who want to, and do, play multiple sports, need to be handled according to what is best for that particular player. With that said, it has to be recognized that there are additional dangers with kids playing multiple sports that overlap in season. Just like a player who specializes and is just playing one sport without rest, a player with multiple sports and no rest could be in an even more developmentally inappropriate situation that can have more negative effects than just playing one sport. There can be additional wear and tear on the body. In reality, the training and time has just doubled… along with diversifying the experiences. The real goal would be to diversify in sports without drastically adding to the number of hours/time spent training and playing to create the most developmentally ideal and safe playing experience possible.

In short, there are issues with specialization, but there can be even more issues with playing multiple sports at the same time. It is all about balance which is what the original push against specialization was based on. Although you want to be careful not to paint everyone with the same brush. What is right for one person is not right for another. Although, most agree that a proper balance needs to be struck between sports and other aspects of life. Especially when the push to play one sport or multiple sports is coming from adults with goals of making higher level teams, scholarships, professional contracts etc, there are a lot of adverse effects to the child.

We do not want to acknowledge the dangers of specialization, but at the same time, have kids stretched thin between multiple sports and only point to the benefits. The benefits of being a multi-sport athlete can quickly be diminished by the overwork and fatigue placed on the body. We want to be careful we do not move from one extreme side of spectrum of youth sports to the other.

Kids can play one sport, or play multiple sports, but parents and coaches need to be constantly monitoring the player’s physical and mental condition. The player must be enjoying the experience and growing within that experience. It should be self-driven, and not externally driven. The player has to want it, not just the coach and/or parents.

As a child who loved one sport, I understand what it is like to have a passion for something and pursue it relentlessly. It has sacrifices and struggles, but I never did it for any other reason except that I loved it. I do not think that is right for most kids. And, what about the child who is truly passionate about multiple sports or activities? Do we deny the opportunity to pursue both? I think that is a hard thing to do.

In the end, we do not want to push kids in specializing in one sport because we think it will help them achieve more, and we also do not want to push kids into playing multiple sports because new research shows it is better for them and many high level athletes played multiple sports. The common ground there is the word PUSH. It is the PUSH from adults and coaches that make either scenario inappropriate for the child.

Know your child. Know your players. Make decisions based on what is best for them and what they love to do and are passionate about. Do not make decisions or push one way or the other out of fear your child or team will be left behind or will lose opportunities to be successful.

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

Building Robots

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

It is very easy to search the internet and find articles written about over-competitive coaches who ruined the experience for young players and turned them off a sport. But soon, I am concerned, there will be just as many kids who are disenchanted not by hyper-aggressive coaches, but by too much structure at an early age.

I read this on a soccer club website:

Our coaches are master teachers whose demonstrations include demanding instruction, step-by-step clarification, and playful joking to bring out the most sensitive technical points for children to grasp and imitate. They have a great understanding cognitive, psychosocial, and motor development of youth, knowledge about components of physical fitness and appropriate training principles, knowledge of sport and physical activities including skills, rules, officiating techniques for a variety of activities.

A description of their elite, travel program preparing players for playing in college? No, this was in their self-described “Rec (Beginners)” division for five and six year-olds

There seems to be this gripping fear in the United States soccer community that the reason our National Team doesn’t compete with the rest of the world is that we’re not properly training our children from an early age. Everywhere I look I see pressure coming from various national organizations for coaches, even those of the volunteer variety to run fully scripted practices with “progressions” that are planned well in advance.

Yet we all know that some of the best soccer players in the world grew up kicking a homemade ball on the street with friends from morning until night. They had no regimented or professional coaching until they were well into their teens. They weren’t “constructed.” They just loved to play and the grown-ups stayed out of their way.

If a six year-old has the potential to be a National Team player, A) you don’t know it when he’s six and B) no “superior” coaching is going to be required at that age to get him there. However, there is a good chance that if he’s subjected to “demanding instruction” and incredibly “structured” practice plans, that he might someday opt to be a great video game player instead, where there are no forced agendas.

And this, “the earlier we can begin formal training the better” attitude isn’t just limited to soccer. I received an email from a Little League President which stated, in part;

We are very blessed that we have several former Major Leaguers coaching at the T-Ball Level.”

That’s fine, but what skills can a Major Leaguer teach to five and six year-olds that couldn’t just as effectively be imparted by an average parent? Yet it is likely everyone in that league believes these tykes are getting a big jump start to their baseball careers because of the people teaching them to run to first base after they hit the ball, instead of to third.

The younger the players are, the more the experience should be about having fun making mistakes and the less it should be about correcting those mistakes. Volunteer coaches, without impressive pedigrees, are often better in this role than pros. Kids don’t want to go to practice knowing that every minute will be choreographed and planned, stripped of fun or spontaneity. If they’re on the field with a ball, they’ll naturally get better. It’s when they say they don’t want to play anymore that even the greatest coach in the world can’t help them.

Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

How to Slide

By Doug Bernier

Sliding is how we get into a base as quickly as possible while maintaining contact with the bag (i.e. not over running it and risk getting tagged). Sliding can be used to stop or redirect our momentum, break up a double play on the bases, or make a tag play more difficult by using a hook slide.

There are three types of slides in baseball: Feet first (or pop up), head first, or hook slide.

Feet First or Pop Up Slide
This is the most useful of the slides, and the safest. When in doubt, go feet first. This method of sliding can be used in any situation. This is also known as the pop up slide because if you do it correctly you will be able to use your momentum when you hit the bag to pop up quickly and continue running if needed.

How to Pop Up Slide
One of your legs is going to be extended and will make contact with the bag. It doesn’t matter which one you choose. Your ankle of your other leg will be placed under your straight legs hamstring. This will look similar to the number “4”. You will keep both your hands up. This is so when you make contact with the ground you will not slam your wrists in the ground and break a wrist. You will make contact with the ground with your bent knee and the upper part of the back of your straight leg.

Head First Slide
The head first slide may get you into the base a little quicker than going feet first, but there is a higher risk of injury.

Benefits: Head first is thought of as the quickest way of sliding into a base. This is because you keep your momentum going forward opposed to having to sit back on your legs or back side.

It can also be beneficial because sometimes you can manipulate the slide a little by shifting your hands to try to avoid a tag.

Downsides: Head first should not be used when sliding into home plate at any time (the catcher with all his gear on can do some damage to your fingers and your shoulders if you come in head first). Also, sliding head first when trying to break up a double play is illegal, and you and the hitter will be called out.

Sliding head first can be dangerous. Some guys have broken fingers by hitting the base the wrong way, or if an infielder jumps and lands on them. Also, if a infielder jumps and comes down on your arms or shoulders you can really hurt your shoulders.

Some teams are really starting to advise their players to stop sliding head first and to get used to sliding feet first.

How to slide head first, and tips to prevent injury

  • As you are running start your lean forward.
  • Extend your body forward and try to keep your forearms and hands out in front of you.
  • Cock your wrist back so when your hands make contact with the bag, the heels of your palm will hit it and not your fingers. This will help to prevent finger injuries.

Hook Slide
The hook is a spin off of the regular feet first slide. The only difference is that instead of making contact with your foot, you will slide feet first but to one side or the other and grab the base with one of your hands.

This is very useful especially on a play at home plate. It gives the defender making the tag less body to touch. Also, when done correctly you can move your hand so you can avoid the glove that is trying to tag you. When hook sliding into home you can hit the back corner of the plate with a real quick hand movement that can be difficult to tag.

You can use this at other bases as well, especially if a throw is taking a defender to one side of the bag. In this instance you can slide to the other side of the bag and grab with your hand.

How to Hook Slide
The mechanics are the same as the feet first slide, except you’ll be sliding to one side or the other and reach back with your hand to grab the bag.

You can also use the hook slide when trying to break up a double play at second base. The rule in professional baseball, is you can make contact with an infielder as long as you can touch the bag with any part of your body.

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 5 organizations (CO Rockies, NY Yankees, Pirates, MN Twins, & TX Rangers) over the past 16 years. He has Major League time at every infield position, and has played every position on the field professionally except for catcher. Where is he now? After batting .200 in 45 at-bats and fielding .950 during 2017 spring training with the Rangers, Doug was assigned to the Ranger’s AAA team the Round Rock Express.

(Originally Posted at www.probaseballinsider.com)

Failure Q and A

By Craig Sigl

I’ve noticed people can take great offense to the word “failure,” especially in a youth sports context. So, first, let’s define what failure is?

As a mental toughness trainer who has worked with thousands of youth athletes, by far the biggest problem is fear of failure. I have looked at and examined this concept and the word and
have determined it to be non-useful in the context of youth sports participation and therefore, my definition of it is: “A destructive word OTHERS use to describe events when they don’t achieve their goal or outcome.”

In other words, I teach that there is NO SUCH THING AS FAILURE. It doesn’t exist except as a useless story in your mind. (get rid of the idea of failure and you get rid of the fear of it).

Second, what can be seemingly offensive about this word?
It’s destructive to all athlete’s confidence, young and old, and it’s completely unnecessary to use the word for any situation or circumstance. I teach my young athletes to use deadly accurate descriptions of events that allow for growth and improvement, not destruction. For example:

– Event:
A baseball player strikes out at the end of the game leaving runners on base when a hit would have won it for them.

– Destructive description of event using “failed”
“I was up to bat in the last inning and failed to get a hit costing my team the game. I was a failure.”

– More useful description of the event:
“I was up to bat in the last inning and struck out. We didn’t win. I did my very best and learned something about myself that I will use the next time I’m out there. I’m now better able to handle that kind of pressure having gone through it.”
(Notice no need for the word “failure” in any of that useful description)

Why do parents want to protect their children from failure?
Some parents do this because they don’t want to witness their children experiencing difficult emotions..usually it’s the mother. This is because those parents are extremely empathetic and can actually feel the difficult emotions themselves when their child is feeling them. The truth is, those parents are protecting themselves from the feelings that come from “failure.”

Do their interventions hinder children in the long run? If so, how?
Absolutely yes. The whole point about childhood is to learn how to handle life and the difficulties we face while having a support and guidance network as a back stop. If children don’t get the opportunity to experience the adversity and work through it, they don’t learn the mental and emotional skills they will need as an adult and the consequences are much greater as we get older.

What potential life skills come from failure?
Ultimately, it’s resilience. When an outcome is not achieved and disappointment and other emotions follow, there’s 2 basic ways kids (and all humans) respond:

1. Wallow in victimhood
2. Learn from the event and come back stronger and smarter

Resilience, or the ability to come back from adversity or “get back on the horse after you fall off” is paramount to building confidence. Confidence cannot be built in the presence of fear. When you conquer anything difficult, you don’t fear it any more. This applies to small kids as well as adults.

How can parents help their child bounce back from failure to be a better person and athlete?

1. Acknowledge and allow the child to express and discharge the difficult feelings after the event.
2. After emotions subside, help them see the silver lining to the dark cloud.
3. Inspire them by reminding them of their proven strengths and abilities.
4. Label them as someone who always comes back or is a “comeback specialist”

If you have any anecdotes and points you would like to add, please let me know.

I have a story I tell often about a 12 year old volleyball player who’s goal was to play on a college team. She came to me in tears telling me “my coach hates me” and a long story about how she is treated unfairly by this coach and was bumped down to the “B” team in her select club.

After she finished, I shocked her by saying loudly: “That’s great!”

“This coach is doing you a huge favor. What if you had nothing but nice coaches the whole way until your senior year in high school AND THEN you got a bad coach like this? And you fell apart like this right when you needed to be at your best for recruiters?”

“BECAUSE of this bad coach, you are here in my office learning mental toughness and by the time you are a senior, you are going to be the most mentally tough player around and it won’t matter whether you have good or bad coaches all along the way. This coach is doing you a huge favor at this age! She said my favorite words:

“I never thought of it that way”

I ran through all 4 of the steps above in that meeting and this girl ended up bouncing back and starting on the “A” team.

Craig Sigl’s work with youth athletes has been featured on NBC TV and ESPN. Get his free ebook: “The 10 Commandments For a Great Sports Parent” and also a free training and .mp3 guided visualization to help young athletes perform under pressure by visiting: http://MentalToughnessTrainer.com