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Street Soccer – Let the Players Play

By Adrian Parrish

Most adult coaches reading this article can remember their days as a kid playing sports in the streets. Picking your own teams, learning technical skills from your peers, setting your own rules and the only time an adult would yell at you was when you were told that it was time to head home.

More natives from African and South American countries where street soccer is still very favorable are now living and playing soccer in the US. Even one of the world’s best players has opted to play the remainder of his career in the Major League Soccer, but even with these introductions and growth in the game what has happened to the Sandlot Kids?

Perhaps you could argue that the streets are not safe due to more vehicles, the play grounds are not as safe as what they were 20 years ago, and open grass fields are been taken over by houses or office buildings. This may be true, but the fact could also be that our children never get the opportunity to be children as we schedule their play time to be as busy as an adult work life.

Children are becoming involved in structured practices at an earlier age, meaning that they are being taught so much more and become use to structured environments at increasingly younger ages. Parents fear that if the do not put their little four year-olds into this kind of set up that they may fall behind, allowing no room for trial and error which is found in street soccer.

We can not change the culture but through our practices we can give today’s children some insight into what we experienced growing up in hope that they will pick this up and take it away, and perhaps set up games among friends or even just with a ball and a wall that is at their disposal.

Almost every practice a young child will ask the question “Are we going to scrimmage today?” If you let your team scrimmage at the beginning or the end (or even both) of your structured practice, it should be a time when you allow the players to take control and create a street soccer environment.

Players need to take responsibility in setting up the fields, teams and rules and lose the controlled approach. Observing your players take on these responsibilities will help you find leaders within your team. A captain’s role is more than just leading the warm-up or stepping up to the center circle to flicking a coin. In a street soccer environment you will start to see every player take some personal responsibility and not rely on an adult to help them. Positions may be set, but every child will be given the opportunity to learn every role. These positions will not only change from game to game but during any moment of that scrimmage, thus allowing your team to create a “Total Football” style seen by the likes of Arsenal in the English Premiership and the Dutch National team of the 70’s.

But the principle is still to get the best out of each player and offer them the best opportunities. I encourage clubs to set up a Street Soccer Festival/ League that has no standings. In today’s society we focus too much on the results and do not allow our players to learn through the game. They know when they have won or lost, but they do not dwell on it.

There are many different ways of setting up a Festival/League from having set teams for the whole event or changing from game to game. Ages can be mixed, leadership can change player’s hands, but the children will learn from each other as well as the challenges and problems they face.

Many of the youth playing and living in America today may have never experienced the true and real meaning of Street Soccer, yet as we already know it is not a new fashion trend. We just feel that we are getting something better by putting our children in a structured environment, instead of just letting them play.

Adrian Parrish is the Director of Coach & Player Development for the Kentucky Youth Soccer Association. He is responsible for the Coaching Education Program and the management of the Olympic Development Program. A native of Louth, England, Parish currently possesses a USSF “A” License, UEFA “A” License (Pending), and the US Youth Soccer National Youth License. He can be reached at adrianparrish@kysoccer.net

Five Types of Nightmare Parents

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

Sports parenting is a tricky thing. While I believe most people are inherently good, when they become parents and their children get into a competitive environment, it can bring out some less-then-desirable traits in all of us. While there are many types of bad sports parents, I’ve observed five main categories through the years. Have you ever slipped into any of these?

B-Rated
This is the classic, textbook nightmare parent. He (usually the dad) thinks it is his job to “get on” his kid either during the game, after, or both. What I’m describing goes beyond making comments about working or trying harder. This is the parent who turns his back on his child in disgust after a mistake saying, “That’s terrible!” This parent can’t wait for the car ride to yell at his child about his performance and say, “If you don’t want to be out there we can just call the coach right now and tell him.” The, ‘I’m paying too much’ or ‘My time is too valuable’ “to watch that,” guy. Fortunately, from my experience, this is also the rarest from of nightmare parent.

Rose-colored glasses
The other end of the spectrum is the parent who believes his or her child can do no wrong. He can’t stop talking about how special his kid is, the offers he’s getting, the new, better teams she’s considering going to. Sometimes it is overt, sometimes it is in the form of a seemingly innocent question such as, “How’s (your child) doing?” which is posed only as an excuse to then go on and talk about how great theirs is.

Activist
The activist is generally one who is disgruntled about the amount of playing time his or her child is getting. First they form coalitions, stirring up the discontent amongst the other parents whose children are also not getting the treatment they “deserve”. Generally in these situations the case is made that the coach is showing favoritism to some and not being fair. At the youth league level it is often said that the coach favors his child’s friends. At higher levels, many times the excuse given is that the coach is only playing the ones on his travel team. The activist tries to get enough like-minded support to go to the powers that be and have the coach removed. Since simply complaining about playing time isn’t a fireable offense, the charges are often trumped up to include bullying or some other form of mistreatment.

Behind-the-Back
These are parents willing to do whatever it takes to give their children an advantage, even if it hurts others. One time a coach of my son’s travel baseball team confided to me that a parent had approached him and said he thought we were really weak in the leadoff position of the batting order, (where my son had been slotted). Not surprisingly, he thought his son was better-suited there. So if the coach had listened to him, this dad would have been perfectly content to see my son suddenly on the bench and his kid in his place. It either would never have occurred to him that his meddling had adversely affected another youngster, or he wouldn’t have cared. The Behind-the-Back parent only knows about what’s best for him.

Loudmouth
The Loudmouth is probably the most common and may be the the category many of us fall into at times. The loudmouth, of course, argues calls with the officials from the stands. But he often also tries to help coach the team by making comments like, “We’ve got to pass!” or “We’ve got to make that play.” Even worse is when they pretend to be encouraging a player on their team by trying to rattle an opponent. They’ll say something like, “Just throw it straight down the middle. He hasn’t swung all game,” or “Get the rebound after she misses.” Ironically, if someone would ever stop the game and tell a Loudmouth they had been drafted into actually being the coach the rest of the game, my guess is they would turn beet red, sheepishly sit down and bite their tongue.

Of course there are many more types of “Nightmare” parents, but let’s dwell on the positives. There are also loads of “Dream” parents who come to the games, cheer for their children, their team, and maybe even show respect for players on the other team. This is the type of parent we should aspire to be. And looking in the mirror to see if we fall into any of the traps above is the first step in getting there.

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 Athletes Can Perform Their Best When it REALLY Counts

By Dr. Jim Taylor

For many sports, it’s that time of the competitive season when results REALLY start to matter. For many athletes and teams, from high school to pros, the REALLY important competitions of the year—States, Regionals Nationals, Worlds—are coming up and it’s REALLY important that they perform their best.

Yet, this is also the time of year when many athletes aren’t performing well at all. In fact, in the last few weeks, I’ve been getting emails and calls from parents and coaches who are desperate for help in getting their athletes back on track. Here’s the consistent message I’m getting: “My kid is performing REALLY fast in practice, but, in competitions, he/she is a totally different athlete. He/she seems scared during competitions. While performing, he/she is REALLY cautious.  And, after the competition, he/she kicks him/herself for performing REALLY tentatively.”

So, what happens to athletes as the big competitions approach that causes them to go from “all out” to “play it safe” in such a short time? And what can you do about it so you can set yourself up for success in the REALLY important competitions that are fast approaching?

Why the Change?

Results matter. Let’s be realistic: results matter! You don’t get ahead in your sport because you’re a nice kid or because you try hard (though effort helps). Rather, you move up the competitive ladder because you get the results in the form of wins, placings, , and qualifying for the bigger tournaments or series.

The problem is that when you focus on results, you are actually less likely to get those results for two reasons. First, if you are focusing on results, you’re not focusing on the process, namely, what you need to do to perform your best to get those results. Plus, this result focus can cause you to get really nervous before competitions which makes it nearly impossible for you to perform your best.

“Too” zone. With this emphasis on results, you enter the “too” zone in which you care too much about results and your results become too important to you. In other words, failure to get the results you want is perceived as a direct threat to your self-esteem and goals.

Expectations and pressure. You create expectations which lead to pressure that cause a threat reaction in which you are nervous and tight before competitions. If you are saying any of the following about your upcoming competitions, you know you have gone to the “dark side:” I must…, I have to…, I need to…, I should…, I better…, I gotta…. Each of these is always followed by an implicit threat: “…or else something bad will happen.”

Overthink. In response to this downward spiral, you start to overthink, try too hard, and attempt to control every aspect of your performances. These reactions only cause you to dig yourself into a deeper mental and emotional hole.

This quadruple whammy pretty much ensures that you will perform scared, tight, and cautiously. The paradox here is that this shift almost guarantees that you don’t get the results you want.

Next: How to Reverse the Spiral

Dr. Jim Taylor holds a Ph.D. in Psychology, is an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco, and blogs on politics, education, technology, popular culture, and sports for huffingtonpost.compsychologytoday.comseattlepi.com, and on his own blog at drjimtaylor.com.

Positive Coaching vs. Negative: What Is Your Coaching Style?

By Dave Holt

Baseball coaches will have to choose between positive coaching and negative coaching.

It really boils down to which of the two communication styles you want to use coaching youth baseball.

I just do not believe everyone on the team has to be miserable in order for one to be a good coach.

Start building your own ‘Culture of Player Development’

If you use the negative coaching communication style then you will take the skills of baseball and likely become a nagger. You will find yourself as a nag, nag, nag on every mistake, error, swing and miss or any misplay or boo-boo.

Rarely if ever will baseball players measure up to your standards. You have all seen a father criticize his child constantly and rarely if ever give them praise for anything because nothing is ever good enough.

That is how some youth sports coaches choose to communicate with their entire baseball team. The players will never ‘measure up in their minds.

Importance of Good Communication Skills

Very few great baseball coaches have taken the art of communication and utilized the negative coaching approach.

Become a positive baseball teacher developing confident self-assured baseball players.

Realize the Game is Not That Easy

I think in order to use the positive coaching communication style you have to clearly understand one thing.

You have to have a deep appreciation of how difficult baseball is to play well. Baseball is a very difficult game to play.

Unless you realize the difficulty level then one is more likely to conform to negative communication styles.

The youth baseball coaches that truly ‘get-it’ and appreciate the difficult nature of performing baseball skills often gravitate to the positive coaching method.

That is why the great baseball coaches and professional baseball coaches avoid the negative coaching styles method.

Five Very Effective Communication Skills

1. Watch your tone: I watch the negative coaches yelling, screaming and shouting at their players across the field. Constantly embarrassing and belittling kids after a misplay or a swing and miss while hitting.

Even losing their ‘cool’ and having deep anger and a show of temper in their voices.

I choose the positive coaching method. I will do my coaching mainly between innings in the dugout away from the crowd.

I would rather ask questions and have the players do some critical thinking on the situation and have them explain their mindset.

Then I can reply with affirmation or minor corrections in a calm non-embarrassing light, away from the fray.

Teaching baseball is essential coaching method for positive coaching. Yelling and embarrassing ballplayers is not conducive to good learning communication.

Often volunteer youth baseball coaches have little or no background or training to teach kids. This lack of training often shows when they choose the negative coaching methods.

2. Be Aware of Your Body Language

Negative body language and facial expressions can be just as hurtful or demeaning as verbal words.

Positive coaches are careful to refrain from sending a negative headshake or waving our arms in disgust to our players.

Make a good use of communication skills by only using positive body language. After a swing and miss or a foul ball let the batter know you are pulling for them.

Give them some good body language vibes and some positive claps (along with ‘Hey, that’s the way to swing it!”)

3. Use Humor in your Communication Style

There is nothing wrong with keeping things light from time to time. Playing baseball tense and anxious inhibits baseball skills from rising.

Coaches and parents often take the game of baseball so serious they forget to enjoy the games.

Speak with a smile and it will be harder to come across as a mean coach with bad communication.

Avoid sarcasm though. One persons joke is not always funny to someone else. I had a player quit one time because I did not take enough time to listen to how bad a couple of their teammates were ‘picking on him.’ I kind of heard them but I just sort of let it go as sarcasm and having a joke.

But they were really picking on this kid day after day and I really dropped the ball by not putting a stop to the teasing. I felt sick when I finally realized how bad the situation had reached. I’m working on my lack of empathy character flaws so I do not miss this behavior in the future.

4. The Compliment Sandwich:

Tips for Effective Communication

After watching youth baseball games for a while I think that it is about 10:1 ratio. That is 10 negative statements to 1 positive encouraging line.

I have no scientific proof or data on these bad communication assumptions but I know it is pretty close.

I like to use the complement sandwich. For every negative or corrective statement ‘sandwich’ it with a couple good positive encouraging lines.“Hey Larry, that was a really good cut! You were just a little late on it. Now, get ready this time to swing it.”

Use two or three times as many positive complements and encouragement to any pessimistic, downbeat, nonconstructive, unhelpful, disproving and harmful coaching statements.

Study the pros. They aren’t always right, but baseball IS their business. Why ask a butcher how to roof your house?.

5. Avoid the Post Game Verbal Lashing

Professional teams and some college teams often avoid meeting after a loss.

Why? Simply because a coach might be too emotional after a tough loss and communicate negatively after the heat of the battle.

I am not telling you to avoid a post game meeting but you might want to be aware of your emotions.

Keep the meeting short and if you have more to say wait until the next time you get together. Parents want to get going after the game and don’t want to held up by a lecturing upset baseball coach. Remember…positive coaching! It works a whole lot better. Just try it.

Similarly, avoid the post-game analysis on the way home in the mini-van with your kids. Youth players do not want to listen to you re-hash the entire ball game and nit-pick every player and second guess undermining the baseball coaches strategies.

And do not blame the umpires either. Try it if you think it looks easy.

After finishing his professional playing career Dave spent eleven seasons managing in the Red Sox minor league system helping to develop several major league ballplayers. After leaving the Red Sox Dave managed and recruited in the Independent Professional Baseball leagues. He has also coached collegiate wood bat and high school teams. His site, coachandplaybaseball.com is a wealth of information for baseball players and coaches of all levels.

Top Ten College Football Traditions

We love college football. Here is a fun look at some of the top traditions nationally. Courtesy USA Today.