Top 5 Benefits of Mental Preparation for Youth Athletes

Another great article from our friends at TrueSport.org. Mental preparation is as important for youth athletes as their physical or nutritional preparation. Here are the top 5 benefits of mental preparation.

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Dealing with Disrespectful Parents and Fans in The Stands

Disrespectful parents and fans can create a negative youth sports experience for kids. Here’s what you can do to help make the stands a happier place. Here’s how to do it from our friends at TrueSport.

This month’s OnDeck Newsletter is a winner!

You’ll be shocked at the drama and hilarity in our November OnDeck Newsletter. Critics are raving! Well, not really. But it’s pretty good. Check it out here and sign up to get future issues.

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Dear Coach, I Play On Your Team

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

Dear Coach. I am one of the players on your team. I am too young to understand that you volunteer to be my coach and that you are not an expert. I don’t know what you do away from the field, I only know you as “Coach”. But I thought maybe it would be good if you knew something about me.

I like watching sports on TV, playing video games, riding my skateboard and going places with my family, especially when we can bring our dog, Misty. My favorite foods are pizza and my mom’s mac and cheese.

This is my fourth season playing and I’m probably not the best at it but I think I’m pretty good. Sometimes I go out in the backyard or down to the park and practice with my dad but he’s really busy so not as much as I would like. I practice by myself sometimes too.

The first coach I ever had was really nice and he called everyone, “Buddy”. I liked that and I liked him. I think our team was really good but I can’t really remember. I know that twice he said after the game while we were having our snack that I was “Player of the Game”. I think there were a lot of players of the game that year but I was proud I got named that those times.

The first few times I went to practice that year I was really scared because I had never done it before and the coach was bigger than my dad and had a loud voice. I got used to it though and at the end of the year almost everyone on my team was one of my best friends.

The second year, I had a different coach. He didn’t call everyone Buddy, but it was better because he came up with nicknames for all of us. I was “Alligator”. I don’t really know why but that’s what he called me. When practice was over Coach would always say, “See you later, Alligator.” and it was funny. What I liked about this coach was that he made everything a game. If he thought we should practice running, he made it a race. When we practiced other stuff it was always half of us against the other half. I think our team was pretty good that year too. I am pretty sure we won a lot of games.

The coach I had last year was not my favorite. He was always talking to us about winning, which is fine because I want to win, but it was more the way he did it. He would say things to some of the kids, including me, that made me feel bad. He’d say we were hurting the team and that we didn’t “want it.” enough. I thought I wanted it plenty, though I’m not sure what “it” is. He would always make the team run when he was mad and he was mad a lot. He would yell at us when he got really mad. Sometimes my mom and dad yell at each other at home and I hate it. So when he did it, it reminded me of that.

This coach would tell us to do things we didn’t understand and then act like we were not paying attention when we didn’t do it right. When all-stars were picked last year I wasn’t on it. I thought I should have been but when the coach announced who made it he said they deserved it. So I guess I didn’t.

I told my parents I might not want to play this year but they said that was silly and that of course I was going to play again, so they signed me up. I know this is a new level I’m at now and that we have some good players. I think I will be able to help the team just as much as them. But I’m also afraid of making mistakes.

No matter what happens, I hope you know I’m trying my best.

Thank you, Coach.

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

Mental Side of Hitting – Part One

By Doug Bernier

Every baseball player struggles from time to time. In these moments of searching for answers it’s easy to fall into the trap of chasing hits.

Tying your self-worth as a player to getting hits is a guaranteed ticket to an emotional rollercoaster, and in the end, it’s counter-productive to getting the results you want.

The mental side of hitting doesn’t need to be a roller coaster – from a pros perspective

During those slumps and moments of struggle, it’s critical to have attainable goals that can be achieved every at-bat.

On any given day, the outcome may not be what we would like – but if we stay consistent with our process and mental plan, the results will follow.

Attainable goals are a series of repeatable objectives the you can control. There are days when you do everything right. You put a beautiful swing on the ball and the outfielder makes a diving catch… and you just don’t get the results you were hoping for.

That’s why it’s important to make your list of attainable goals things that you CAN control. In the next couple posts, I’m going to give you some examples of this, and finally a checklist that I was given by a very smart hitting coach with the Texas Rangers.

The Mental Side of Hitting – Attainable Goals

We choose objectives that force us to pay attention to what is happening on the field and form a mental plan around our strength as a hitter that we feel will give us the best chance of victory for the next battle against the pitcher.

When I would struggle as a youngster I’d hear coaches and parents tell me to “make an adjustment.”

The problem is I only knew 2 adjustments… I’d either choke up on the bat or widen my stance. They were both physical and weren’t able to get me out of a funk or keep me consistent when I was going well.

In 2002, my first year of pro ball is when I saw the importance of having attainable goals as they relate to hitting. The Rockies taught us to work on a mental 2 strike approach as opposed to physical adjustments. Many big leaguers didn’t like to make a physical adjustment with 2 strikes because they were trying to compete with a stance or feel that was not overly practiced. Their thought was, if they were a better hitter by making certain physical adjustments, they would use them the entire at-bat.

One key that I will go into more detail in the next post is having an aggressive vs. passive mindset. Early in my career I had a mindset of “put the ball in play”, “swing at strikes”, “work the count”,”hit the ball on the ground.” I thought this was how a smaller guy with not a lot of power was supposed to hit. In some cases I was taught to think like this at the plate. I was constantly feeding myself passive thoughts.

One of my attainable goals was to realize this passive self talk and change it. I started to think, “hit this pitch off the center field wall”, “drive this ball in the gap”, “hit this ball hard”. This simple goal of changing my self talk is one key that turned me into a more aggressive hitter that drives the ball much more than I did early in my career.

The Mental Side of Hitting – Creating a plan that works for YOU

During most of my pro playing career, I struggled to explain this process with clarity. Then I talked to Texas Rangers minor league hitting coach, Chase Lambin who I played against for years. This guy was a grinder who got everything out of his ability. He has been really trying to relay this information to his players and he has helped me a lot to simplify this mental process.

Next:  Explanation of this process in great detail about concrete, attainable goals

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. You should click to watch this great defensive play by Bernier

Five Questions to Ask Your Coach

By Tony Earp

One of the things all players need to do more is ask questions. I challenge every player I coach to ask questions during training sessions, before, during, or after games, and any other time they are not sure about anything. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where most people, including youth soccer players, do not like to appear like they do not have all the answers already. Especially when around their peers, kids are very hesitant to ask questions in fear of being judged by the other players, or even the coach. More often than not, players (all of us really) would rather pretend like we understand than ask a question to get help we need to perform at a higher level. Our fear of being seen as incompetent outweighs our desire to improve.

So during the season, I would challenge all players to ask questions of their coaches when anything is unclear or to get a deeper understanding of an aspect of the game they feel they already know. All of us, coaches, parents, and players, should always be seeking more information and knowledge to help us make good decisions and elevate our level of “play” on the field and off the field.
Here are 5 things a player should never hesitate to ask your coach:

1. What are my weakest areas as a player? Be ready for the answer to this question. Often people ask for feedback and they only want to hear good things. Too negative of a response and we do not take it well. As a player, one who wants to be great, you WANT to hear the negative. The positive does not help a player improve, but it makes them feel good and build confidence (so it is important to). When a coach is very honest with a player about what he needs to improve, it is the most valuable information the player receives. Listen intently, make sure you understand, and then go to work making it a strength.

2. What are your expectations of …. ? All coaches are different and no two have the same views about almost anything. Each will have a different opinion about how the game should be played, players should act, and what makes up a great player. Although I hope a coach would make this clear before the season, it does not always happen. There are a lot of assumptions. A coach assumes players know what he wants, and the players assume they understand what the coach expects. Often, both are wrong and it is a key reason for confusion and misunderstanding. Find out what your coach expects from you, and work hard at exceeding those expectations.

3. What is my role within the team? Coaches see every player in some type of role within the team. For the team to be successful, each player must play their role so the team can reach their goals. You hear coaches say, “Know your job.” On a soccer team, a forward, midfielder, defender, and goalkeeper can play very different roles and have very different “jobs.” Each coach will ask those players to play those positions very differently. Players will assume that playing forward for one coach is the same as playing for another coach. It is not. Within the system the team plays, your role can be very different. Make sure you know your role on the field (know your job) and execute!

4. What did YOU do as a player? Coaches need to know their players in order to coach them effectively. But, players should also know their coaches in order to play for them effectively. Understanding a coach’s background, playing experience, coaching experience, and how they played the game, often gives valuable insight to why and how the coach teaches the way he or she does. We are all influenced by our past and experiences, and a coach is no different. Coaches often reflect the way they were as a player in their approach to teaching the game. As you learn more about a coach’s playing past, habits, successes, and failures, it is easier to anticipate what the coach will do or say before the coach says it or does it.

5. Why? As a coach, I love this question from players. After explaining something during a training session or during a game, I appreciate when a player asks why. For me, this is a clear sign that either player wants to learn more about what I was talking about, or the player does not understand why I am asking them to play a certain why. Players often understand what I am asking them to do, but often do not know WHY they are doing it. As a coach, I try to explain the why, but I know not every player gets it or maybe even agrees with it. By asking why, a player can not just know what they are doing, but can understand why they are doing it and how it relates to the game. This is probably the most important part of the education piece of coaching. When players do something without understanding why, the slightest change in any aspect of the task will leave the players left unsure about what to do. When the WHY is clear, a player can make appropriate adjustments to any changes in the game or in a training activity. They can take the same principles of the WHY and apply it to any other situation to make a better decision.

Just ask questions….that is all I am saying. Too often, players are passive onlookers in their own development. Players should take control of their development, own their development, by asking important questions to coaches throughout the year. As a coach, I have learned a lot from my players asking questions about training activities and the way I ask them to play the game. In answering, I feel I helped them become a better player and student of the game, and it challenged me to fully understand my coaching approach and philosophy.
Simply, when we stop asking questions, we stop learning. When we stop learning, we stop growing.

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