Oversnacked: Fixing the Snacking Epidemic in Youth Sports

Another helpful article from our friends at TrueSport. Pre-game snacks, sports drinks at halftime, and cupcakes after a 45-minute game… Young athletes are inundated with food, and it’s not helping them. Here is what we can all do about it.

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It’s Not Free College

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

A recent Time Magazine cover story titled, How Kid Sports Turned Pro, Crazy Travel, Crazy Cost, Crazy Stress provided accounts of multiple families spending upwards of $100,000 in lessons and travel expenses to ensure their sports-playing children had the best training and played on the most competitive teams. The author surmised, “There may be no single factor driving the professionalization of youth sports more than the dream of free college.”

I’ve read many other articles like this one before. All take a balanced and “unbiased” approach to their description of the families. The author tries to appear non-judgmental. But the parents inevitably seem to come off as being abnormal, maybe a little crazy. The question is always, “Why would they do it? What is their motivation?”

Consistently, these writers bring up college scholarships, as if that is the ultimate and only reason parents go to such lengths. It is as if authors are either jumping to that conclusion or unable to find any other answer. My experience, when my kids were young and playing, was that college scholarships were never thought of. We were all just hoping our kids would be able to make the high school team.

Things have definitely changed since then. Billions of dollars are being poured into youth sports in the form of mega-complexes and elite tournaments drawing kids nationwide. There are even travel coaches using social media to form super teams that fly in 9 and 10 year players from thousands of miles away.

But what these authors also don’t seem to know is that the majority of college scholarships, especially in boys sports that are non revenue (meaning everything except football and basketball), are rarely full-ride. Most are only partial, like 25%. The average person hears “college scholarship” and thinks that means 100% tuition and room and board, or, “free college”.

But, my guess is, that the parents who are the subject of these articles are fully aware of this. They are also probably smart enough to understand that if they are spending upwards of $20,000 per year on lessons, fees and travel that they could, instead, invest that same money and ensure that their kids college is paid for.

I believe these parents main motivation is their egos. It becomes their identity as much as it does their child’s. They say things like, “It’s his passion, I’m not going to crush it.” When really what they mean is, “It’s my passion, it’s who I am, and I’ll pay anything to keep it going.” And if these parents are thinking ahead to college it’s probably not with the notion of it being free as much as it is the dream of being able to say, “My child got a scholarship to play (fill in the sport) for (fill in the school)”.

It will be interesting to see where all of this new crop of kids ends up in ten or fifteen years. Will the tens of thousands of dollars spent and miles traveled translate into the next Bryce Harper or Mia Hamm? I remember when my son was 13 and we tried out a very competitive travel team for the first time. I thought it was crazy because this team was taking players from all over the city. Nowadays, that’s commonplace. The best player on the team, probably the best in all of San Diego, was a big, strong kid who had a swing like you couldn’t imagine. He had a private swing coach, which was unheard of, and it showed. The ball came off his bat differently than any other player. He was head and shoulders better than anyone there.

When I looked him up years later I learned that he did play college baseball, but for a very small program and he didn’t play much. He didn’t ever get much bigger than when he was 13 and maybe, I’m just speculating, he lacked some intangibles you can’t pay for. Several of the players on that 13 year-old team ended up having far better careers.

I’d like to see someone tell these “over-the-top” parents they know of a financial adviser who can guarantee that if they give him $20,000 per year, their child’s college will be fully paid. Next, tell them they know a private coach who also costs $20K/year who will promise a decent chance at a 25% athletic scholarship. Then report back to us and let us know which guy they called.

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

Baseball Hitting Strategy from TX Rangers Hitting Coach – Part 3

By Doug Bernier

Success at the plate needs smart baseball hitting strategy.

Now that we have been made aware of the offensive situation we are dealing with and we have formed our attack mentality for the at bat (click to go back and read about attainable goals 1 and 2), it’s time to come up with a plan:

What pitch are you trying to hit and in what part of the strike zone?

Hitting Strategy Part 1 – Choose your velocity

By trying to be ready for both fastball (FB) and off-speed (OS) pitches, a hitter will often find his timing isn’t great for either one. The hitter ends up being somewhere in the middle – too slow for the FB and too early for the OS.

Looking hard velocity or softer velocity can simplify an approach that will still allow you to be able to hit the pitches in that group.

Most of the time you should be looking for the hardest pitch the pitcher throws. It is easier to adjust to a slower velocity than to speed up if you are looking soft. Also, it’s more difficult for pitchers to throw their OS for strikes, so laying off of them early on may work to your advantage and put you into a hitters count.

The only exception is if you see a tendency with certain pitchers. For example, sometimes with runners in scoring position some pitchers will throw a first pitch curve ball (which can be a great pitch to hit, especially if you are looking for it). Sometimes in this situation I will look for a curve ball first pitch and if my at bat extends past that first pitch, I’ll go back to looking to hit his fastball.

So, Attainable Goal #3 is to go into your at-bat already knowing the answer to this question….

Are you looking for a fastball (or it’s variations, such as a cutter or sinker, which are similar in velocity)?

Or are you looking for an off speed pitch? Slider, curve ball, change up, etc. These pitches are usually similar in velocity (except sometimes the slider, which could be placed in the harder velocity group, depending on the type of slider and how hard the pitcher is throwing it).

Hitting Strategy Part 2 – Shrink the zone

Now lets take our plan to the next level.

Home plate is 7 baseballs wide. But if we are looking at the strike zone I would say its closer to 8 baseballs wide and lets say 10 baseballs tall.

If we are looking to hit every strike in that 8 x 10 box we are not going to be very successful.

There are high percentage strikes we should swing at (more likely to get good results) and there are low percentage strikes that if we swing at will usually result in weak contact and/or an out.

We need to shrink up our hitting zone until we get to 2 strikes. I like to think of making my own 3 x 3 box within the strike zone. I place this imaginary zone where I most want to hit the baseball.

I can set this up right down the middle and belt high. Maybe I am trying to drive a ball to the opposite field and I set this 3 x 3 zone on the lower, outer half of the strike zone.

Perhaps my swing is feeling pretty good and I’m looking for pitch on the inner part of the plate and looking to drive the ball to my pull side.

This is all good stuff. It’s better to have a plan and have it not work out then go up to the plate with no plan at all.

Example

Here is an example of a more advanced plan.

Let’s say I am a right handed hitter and I am facing a right handed pitcher who is throwing mostly sinkers (a.k.a. 2-seamers).

His goal as a pitcher is to let the down and in movement work for him so the batter will either pull the ball foul or hit a ground ball to the pull side.

This is a very difficult pitch to drive.

When facing these types of pitchers my plan is to move my 3 x 3 box just to the outside part of the center of home plate. I also raise my sights somewhere between mid thigh and my belt.

Even though the pitcher is not trying to throw to the ball to this location, this helps me to not swing at HIS pitch. If he does elevate the sinker or leave it out over the plate it won’t have the same movement and it will be a much easier pitch to hit.

Pro tips – (#1) Keep the plan to your strength as a hitter, but also (#2) realize that it may need some adjusting depending on the pitcher you are facing at that moment.

Having a plan isn’t guaranteed to give us the results we are looking for every time. However, taking your best swing on the pitch and location you wanted will result in better at-bats and better overall production.

Trust in the process which will clear our mind and that will allow you to take your “A” swing on more pitches in the zone that you want to hit.

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

Coach Communication – Part One

By Craig Sigl

Youth coaches have a difficult job and yet most are very passionate about their role which fuels them to take it on.

I want to address the big pink elephant in the room about youth coaching and that is the age-old balance between striving to win and developing players. Let’s face it, coaches want to win. Let’s accept that. Even coaches who preach that they have “fun” and “sportsmanship” and “life lessons” first STILL want to win, at heart, and we all know it.

I get it! I want my clients to win too and I celebrate right along with them when they succeed at achieving their goals. There is one area of coaching where you don’t have to make the choice between striving to win and developing players by putting your efforts into it and that is:

Coach to Player Communication

The ironic thing about coaches putting efforts into this area is that it definitely contributes to, and sometimes is the difference in, turning a team or player into a winner even if that’s not your main goal! I’ve got a 4-part series here on my best tips to help achieve both of those goals for you as a coach. Parents can learn just as much from this series.

1) Create the environment for your players to build their confidence.

I could write a book on confidence building but, the first and most efficient thing for a coach to do is to NOT do things to your players that hurts their confidence. You may be a passionate, loud coach who believes you have to be tough on your players but you also better be aware and read your player’s reactions to your yelling to see if you cross the line.

One of the most common things I have heard from athletes who come to with an issue is: Inconsistent confidence.

And so many times, a coach has been a big reason for the problem. If you aren’t sure about whether you cross the line in hurting your player’s confidence vs. giving good feedback, the best thing you can do is to consistently PRE-FRAME your style and how you give advice and coach. Like this:

“Team, listen, sometimes I yell at players. Sometimes I call players out and it might embarrass them. Sometimes I say things that even I am not proud of. It happens. I’m not perfect. But make no mistake…that even when I am doing those types of things, it does NOT mean that I don’t like you. It does NOT mean that I don’t think you are good enough to excel on this team. It does not mean anything but this:

I CARE so much about you succeeding here. Period. Nothing else and nothing less. So, please forgive me, in advance if I ever go over the line. DO NOT take it personally. It’s just me caring about and doing my best to make you successful. Got that!”

I would give that kind of speech often and you will have inoculated them for any confidence destruction from your actions. They will then build their confidence on the continuous improvements they make in skills and effort which you will praise regularly and everywhere.

2) Notice and call out team players and teamwork behaviors

There was a scene in the famous movie “Hoosiers” about a small-town school basketball team that went to the state championships. In that scene, early in the movie, the coach tells the players they must pass the ball 3 times before anyone takes a shot. One of his players violates this twice and makes both shots. The coach takes him out of the game. Fans and parents yell at the coach because they all want to win that game and that player seemed to have the hot hand. But the coach knew that teamwork was much more important that any single win in the long run.

You can see another example of this in the movie “Miracle” about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team which almost made me cry it was so good in how it showed this “teamwork” thing. Now, this is nothing new to coaches, right? You all know about this power. But many coaches don’t fully take advantage of it by calling it out on a regular basis, especially when they see it in their less-talented players. You need to put it on your radar to really look for players supporting each other in less than obvious ways (like right after a big score). Go all out to point out players who make unselfish assists in games AND practice. Notice who doesn’t ever complain when others do and tell them, individually how much you appreciate and notice that. Don’t fall into the trap of just giving the majority of your attention to your star players but certainly take the star player aside and tell them how much you appreciate how they built up or inspired a lesser player.

Truly, your team is only as good as the weakest links, and you know that deep down.

3) Consistent messages of open and honest communication with you.

You probably have a pre-season meeting with players and parents, great! You probably are good about post-game analyzing and recaps, even better! What you probably are not doing is giving your players the idea, through consistent messages, verbal AND non-verbal that you want them to come to you for your feedback on how they can improve.

Players are deathly afraid to talk to their coaches, even the friendly ones. Believe me, I’ve heard what they really think and won’t tell you or their parents. The more individual, personal, quick chats you have with each player on your team, the more they will get that message. Every person on earth wants to be recognized and acknowledged and kids need it even more since they base their entire identity on what others (especially adults) say to and about them.

Do not underestimate this and blow it off thinking: “I give my players lots of encouragement and advice.”

That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about going a level deeper into showing each player that you care about them as a person and an athlete. One key in doing this, is to get as specific as possible when giving feedback, good or bad. Don’t just tell a player they need to work on their shot. Don’t just tell them that they need to be more consistent. Don’t just tell them they need to be more aggressive. Get into details and specifics of what exactly they can do to improve their performance and HOW.

You don’t have to be warm and fuzzy about it. Do it with your own style, even if it’s a rough, tough style.

You know what I mean. Do it and reap the rewards of players who will do anything to please you.

Stay tuned for part 2 coming next

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

Three Questions That Turn Losing into Learning

By John O’Sullivan

“Do you want to win every game you play for the rest of your life?”

That was a question that Olympic gold medalist and current USA Women’s Volleyball team head coach Karch Kiraly asked his team as they prepared for the 2014 World Championships.

“Because we can,” he told them. They could schedule easy opponents, play overmatched foes, and play in friendly instead of hostile environments. But then what? Would they be challenged? Would they be pushed? Would they be bored? Of course. Deep down no one wants to win all the rest of their games. You must lose sometimes, and they did as they prepared in 2014..

Kiraly’s team went on to claim the World Championship, and is a favorite for gold in Rio this summer, because they continually challenge themselves. They lose sometimes, but they learn from losing. His question to his team is one our Changing the Game Project speakers ask parents all the time: “Do you want your kids to win all their games for the rest of their life?”

Of course the answer is no. We understand that winning is great, but losing and being challenged and pushed is where young athletes learn the most. We don’t want our kids to play all their games against overmatched teams, or in easy tournaments, because they would eventually get bored and quit. They want to be challenged. Here is the clincher, though.

They are OK with losing, and most kids understand it’s part of the process.

Sadly, many adults struggle with losing far more than their kids. Angry moms and dads berate their kids and officials from the sidelines, and on the ride home after games. Coaches yell and scream at athletes, or worse yet, don’t even let some kids play in matches because they fear losing. They use physical punishment (running, pushups, etc) when kids make technical errors, instead of teaching them. They scream for more effort from players who have given their all, but haven’t developed the technique and tactical ability to succeed.

When I suggest to these coaches that there is a better way, the response is predictable: “Life is tough, I’m not going to coddle these kids, I’m getting them ready for the real world.”

“Life is tough,” I respond, “and sports is a great way to teach kids to deal with challenging situations. But don’t you think it would be better for those kids to tackle those future difficult situations with a strong sense of self-confidence and belief, instead of thinking ‘last time we messed up we got screamed at’ or ‘I messed up and got benched?’’”

The response to my question is also predictable from most coaches that come from the “I have always done it this way, that’s how I was coached” camp: crickets, or at most a shrug and shake of the head.

As parents and coaches, we too often frame losing as something to always be feared and avoided at all costs. When we do this, we don’t prepare kids for future success; we prepare them for future anxiety (we also encourage cheating but that is a whole different article).

There is a better way. Losing can be something positive if framed correctly, especially for young kids.

Trust me, I understand how frustrating losing feels, as both a parent and a coach. I want my kids to be successful, and I certainly want my teams to play hard and get some results for their efforts. I am disheartened when I see the goals pouring in our goal, and my athletes struggling. I want to fix it. I want to make it better. I want to feel better after the game, and usually venting my frustration makes me feel better. But what about the kids? Does it make them better?

There is a better way. It works incredibly well when I am coaching a team, and it works great with my own kids to help after a tough loss.

I ask three simple questions after a tough loss and/or a disappointing performance:

What went well out there?

What needs work?

Why are we better because we lost today?

I learned these three questions from my great friend Dr. Jerry Lynch, author of the outstanding new book Let Them Play: The Mindful Way to Parent Kids for Fun and Success in Sports. Dr. Lynch has been part of over 30 national and world champion teams on the collegiate and professional level, so when he makes a recommendation on how to help a team or athlete, I tend to listen. Here is why these questions work.

What went well out there?

After a loss, many athletes are expecting to get dressed down. They usually feel lousy about a loss, just as parents and coaches do. But they didn’t do everything wrong. Some good things happened, and this question lets players know that we saw some good things. They scored some goals, made some good tackles, and had some great combination plays. Instead of only focusing on what went wrong, this question helps kids understand that they are doing a lot right. This helps them feel like they are continually improving, and that the process has space for both success and disappointment. Better yet, research shows that the most effective leaders and teams give nearly six positive comments for every negative one. It is never all bad, so be sure that your kids never forget that by first asking “what went well?”

What needs work?

Obviously, we lost, so not everything went well. But this is sports, there is always something that needs work, right? We often underemphasize “what needs work” when we win, and overemphasize it when we lose, so asking this in both cases provides balance. We have acknowledged the good, now let’s acknowledge the things we have to put in some extra work on. Did we defend well as a team? How is our fitness? Are we working hard for each other offensively? As a parent, you can ask your son or daughter what things they can focus on in training that week, or better yet, what can they accomplish outside of practice to improve their play. Athletes must be prepared to receive critical feedback from their coaches regardless of the result, and asking them to identify what needs to be worked on is far more effective than simply lecturing them.

Why are we a better team/athlete because we lost today?

This question is the clincher. Development is a process. It is a marathon, not a sprint. There are going to be ups and downs, and the critical thing is we continually learn and improve. The outcome of the competition cannot be changed, but we can influence the outcome of our next event, and our preparation for it. This question helps athletes frame the loss, and take ownership of the training and preparation for the next match. For example, your team might say “We are better because we learned that when we don’t defend as a team, we get scored on a lot. We need to focus on team defending if we are going to be successful next match.” Your athlete might say “I am better because I learned that against a good team, I have to play a lot quicker, so I will be focused on that in practice this week.” This question opens the door to a path forward, helps them move on from the loss, and gives them ownership over their preparation for the upcoming contest.

Three simple, magical questions that turn losing moments into learning moments:

What went well?

What needs work?

Why are we a better team because we lost today?

When a coach asks his or her team these three questions, losing is no longer a scary moment; it becomes a teachable moment. You build a stronger connection with your athletes, you put the loss in the past, and you get your athletes refocused on the process of getting better. Most importantly, you demonstrate that you are in this together. Your athletes will love you for it.

Parents, when you ask your kids these three questions, you remind them that it’s the process, not just the outcome, that matters. You help them take ownership of their improvement, and focus on both their strengths and weaknesses. You also let them know that you are in it with them, whether its good, its bad, or it’s ugly. It lets them know that you don’t simply love watching them win, but that you love watching them play!

Next time your team is loses, take a deep breath, and ask the three magic questions. You will be glad you did.

And so will your kids.

John O’Sullivan is the Founder of the Changing the Game Project, and author of the national bestseller Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports back to Our Kids. He is a longtime soccer player and coach on the youth, college and professional level, and a nationally known speaker on coaching and parenting in youth sports. His work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Soccer America, and SoccerWire.com, and he recently gave a TED talk on “Changing the Game in Youth Sports.”