So What if Everybody Gets a Trophy?

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

Anyone following youth sports has noticed a groundswell of sarcasm and criticism online and in the media about leagues that give out trophies to every kid, just for playing. The general consensus seems to be that this teaches them the poor lesson that they will be rewarded even if they didn’t earn anything. My thought is that we’re focusing on the wrong thing.

I’ve seen at least one viral video of a professional athlete walking with his daughter who has just finished her soccer game and throwing the trophy she was given in the trash. The video was touted as an exemplary piece of parenting. Thousands of views, shares and comments applaud this man, who is obviously physically and mentally stronger than all of us, for showing us how to raise strong children. The phrase “Participation Trophy” has become a pejorative. “Give everyone a ribbon” is a political insult.

As I’m writing this, I wonder what kind of impact this has all had on the trophy industry.

I don’t care if you don’t want to give trophies out to little kids. I don’t happen to think its a big deal. If the children are 5, 6, 7 or 8 years old should we really be focusing on winning and championships? At that age a trophy is not an award for athletic achievement, it’s a memento – a souvenir. My kids got dozens of little trophies for playing various sports when they were young. They liked to put them on their shelf in their room and collect them through the years. They would occasionally point them out to me and ask me if I remembered that team. It was nice. And as for making them weak, all four of my kids went on to play sports collegiality. Two of them are now pros. I don’t think handing them a small faux marble base with a gold plastic statue on top when they were nine did any long-term damage to their psyches.

And yet I will watch tee ball games where a player fields a batted ball, actually throws it to first, the tiny first baseman actually catches it and puts his foot on the base before the runner gets there and….the runner is allowed to stay at first base anyway. The parents are afraid the batter will be devastated if he is the only one who gets called out. What kind of lesson does that teach every player on both teams? Even if the child is upset, can’t we use that as a moment to explain that he did a great job hitting the ball but sometimes when you do your best it still isn’t good enough? That we should respect our opponent and congratulate them on their achievement? That we can use setbacks to motivate us to do better next time? But that would take more work than just letting him stay on base.

One season when I coached pee-wee basketball I spent all my preseason practices teaching my team to do the one thing that was most difficult for them: To dribble and pass the ball so as to move it up the court without traveling. Then, at the first game, the players on the other team are picking up the ball and straight running it down the court, maybe bouncing it one time, and throwing it in the hoop. I asked the referees to actually enforce the rules and call traveling when it occurred. This was not so my team could win, in fact I requested that they let the other players keep the ball. I just wanted the officials to explain to these kids that they had to dribble the ball so they would learn something their coach had obviously not taken the time to teach them. And so that my players would not witness their opponent breaking the rules and gaining an advantage without consequences. So that my team could see the value of the work we did at practice. But this league didn’t think that was important, and no whistles were blown.

Our society seems to want to grab onto the easiest thing it can find…to support, to blame; because that takes much less effort than actually digging in and teaching, learning, doing work, making progress. So the problem with kids and youth sports today is that “everybody gets a trophy”. Doesn’t that strike you as being a little too simple of an explanation?

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

Teaching Players How the Respect the Game

By Dave Holt

One of my best coaching tips for baseball is this. Teach more than the game.

We baseball coaches are pretty good at coaching skills, coaching strategy and teaching baseball techniques. We are called to go beyond the X’s and O’s and baseball fundamentals.

We must take advantage to seek opportunities to teach more than the game. Baseball is our ‘vehicle’ that we use as an excuse to teach vital life skills and virtues.

If a group of baseball kids can leave us as better teammates, having learned to play by the rules and pulled together when times are tough, don’t you think you might have left a pretty big footprint on their lives?

My player expectation chart started with character. In my ‘character’ column I break it into (3) categories of RESPECT”. Incorporate teaching these points in with your coaching tips for baseball.

  • Respect for your family, school, classmates, teachers, coaches, community and church. Take time and effort to be a good citizen. Give back to the people around you. Look out for the needs of others. Be part of the solution—not part of the problem.
  • Respect for baseball equipment, facilities, umpires, and opponents. We do not ever throw helmets, bats or baseball equipment. It is dangerous, distrustful and destructive.
  • We always take care of our facilities and do our work duties around the ball field. We may not always agree with the umpires but we will be respectful at all times. We do not show up our opponents or run our mouths in disrespect.
  • Respect the game by always playing hard. Run hard, play hard, and practice hard all the time. Take special notice to grow and become the best teammate possible.
  • Pick up teammates when they are down. Pull together in tough times—do not look to point and blame others. Put the team before yourself rather than pouting and pulling others down.
  • Avoid bad things and bad actors. Stay away from tobacco, drugs and alcohol and your peers that do use this stuff. There is plenty of bad stuff and bad people in this world.
  • It is not hard to find illegal products and the people that can provide the stuff. Saying No takes courage and conviction. Pick your friends extra carefully. Temptation and peer pressure is real and powerful.

Evil is lurking at every corner to get our kid’s attention on the bad stuff. Resist bad stuff. Keep an eagle eye out for destructive habits.

I spent almost great 20 years in professional baseball as a minor league player, field manager, and various time in scouting, and acquiring players. I was with an affiliated ball club the Boston Red Sox and a few years in the Independent Professional Leagues.

I hardly ever experienced any players disrespecting another team’s players. Yes, professionals are highly competitive and we did get into occasional bench clearing situations. But, these incidents were not out of disrespect but more out of individual frustrations and backing up your teammates.

Now, I have a very different story in my years in amateur baseball. At every level I have coached in I have seen several obvious instances of mean spirited and unsportsmanlike behaviors.

I have seen coaches tell players to bench jockey my teams, fail to control their players’ mouths and look the other way when the dugout gets raunchy and classless.

My players often ask me if professional ballplayers razz the other team’s players. I tell them, “You know, pro ball players respect each other enough to not engage in stuff like that. Everyone is trying to survive just to keep a uniform on, therefore pros play hard, compete hard but rarely get into a mouth war with their opponents as peers.”

I want my team to be the classiest team we will see all season. My most important coaching tips for baseball is to play with class. Be humble in victory and sad but determined in defeat. No profanity or verbal abuse. No taunting opponents—only pull for out team. No arguing with umpires—and call the umps by their names.

Coaching Tips for Baseball Parents

Baseball coaches set the tone for your baseball parents. Baseball parent behavior is an extension of the baseball coach whether you like it or not. One of my biggest coaching tips for baseball is ‘set the tone’ for the behaviors you want from your spectators.

  • Parents are an example of good sportsmanship at ball games especially with the opponent’s fans, umpires and opposing players.
  • You are welcome to watch baseball practice. If you do, please situate yourself where you will not be a distraction. Stay in the seating areas.
  • Please do not talk to your child during practice or games until practice is over.
  • Please do not come on the ball field or near the dugouts at any time. Players should begin to take responsibility to bring their own gear and drinks.
  • Never coach your child or any kids from the bleachers.

Parents: Enjoy the games and support the players by letting them know you enjoy watching them play and are appreciative of the effort they put out.

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.

Identity Building

By Craig Sigl

I had a conversation with a sports dad who was asking my advice about how he should advise his 9th grade son regarding choosing what sport to play in an upcoming school year. His son isn’t the typical sports kid, no,he is one of those rare kids who is just a natural athlete and excels at everything.

The story is, his son, let’s call him Max, had played baseball for years as his primary sport and football in season for his school team. It seems that his football coach wanted to give him a shot at starting quarterback for the upcoming season and thought he had a better than average shot at it but, of course, there were no guarantees. Max loved his football coach and got excited thinking about the prospect of being starting QB. On the other hand, Max was a standout on his baseball travel team and his coach there really wanted him to play the fall season with them. Max was the captain and stud of the baseball team and had lots of past success and everyone looked up to him. The baseball coach put some heavy pressure on him to play with the team year round telling him that he had reached the age where it’s time to specialize.

When I asked the dad what his son had said about these choices, he said Max seemed excited, yet hesitant about the football option and seemed pulled more toward the baseball option talking about how it was a sure thing and “I can’t go wrong with baseball since I’m good at it.”I sensed that the dad was convincing himself on our phone call that Max should play baseball because he wanted to see his son feel good about himself and build confidence. That is, until I asked him point blank:“What is it that you want your son to get through playing sports?”He answered:“I want him to learn life skills like determination, discipline, teamwork, the value of working hard for something, follow through, and respect for self and others.”“So, which of these 2 options do you think will give him the best environment to get to the next level of learning those things you just mentioned?” I responded. Long pause…. He came back with: “Wow, you’re right. I hadn’t thought of t that way.”I continued on…“it seems like another season with the same baseball team will probably go a lot like the last season, right? Where is the challenge for him there that can develop his determination? Where is the hard work that requires discipline there?You are so concerned about his confidence but it seems he already knows how to build that from his baseball experiences.

He was so happy to have this clarity and thanked me profusely for the insight ready to jump off the phone and tell Max his advice. I told him, “Not so fast! The 2 of you have been so focused on performance results and celebrating his wins and basing so many of your actions and conversations around that that you are going to have to get Max on board with what we just talked about. Everything taught in youth sports is geared toward and measured on performance as to whether goals have been reached. You say you want all those life skills for your boy but have your actions and words supported that over performance over the years? Another long pause…. You see, Max (and most kids) are fully trained and programmed that Short Term performance results are what matters in their participation. You are going to have start reprogramming him for the long term benefits of life skills and let me tell you, that is no easy task since all of society and culture are on the opposite side of that.

You are also fighting the fact that kids pre-frontal cortex doesn’t fully mature until their mid 20’s! This is the part of the brain that understands Delayed Gratification. If the deck isn’t stacked enough already, remember that kids are in a deep struggle to establish their identity and they start building it from EXTERNAL feedback. Max has a lot to lose by going to football and adults far underestimate this motivation kids have to get that external feedback which they base their confidence and identity on. If you want your child to be successful in the long term, you want them to build their identity on qualities, resources, skills, and talents that are NOT DEPENDENT on continued achievements or praise from others. I’ve seen many a talented athlete burn out or stress out because they always felt like they had to continuously “PROVE THEMSELVES.”It never ends and the stress and tension of that burden actually hinders the performance everyone wants.

Instead, Max’s father would do very well to help his kid instill beliefs that last a lifetime that sound something like this:“I’m a fighter and competitor and never ever give up”“I love and seek out challenge”“Discipline and hard work will get me through any difficulty”So….the big take away from this story:

1.Consciously decide what you want for your kid in youth sports.

2.Make your actions and words congruent with #1 above

3.Help your kids build their ego/identity on things that can never be taken away or judged by anything outside of them.

Alright, sports parents. Let’s do this!

Craig has personally worked with thousands of professional and amateur athletes on the mental side of their game. He is an author and creator of 7 mental toughness programs sold in 28 countries and writes to over 35,000 athletes in his emails. Download free ebook: “The 10 Commandments For A Great Sports Parent” at www.mentaltoughnesstrainer.com

More on sports specialization from a former NFL QB

Our partners at STOP Sports Injuries.org have shared an article written by Chuck Landon of The Herald-Dispatch referencing former NFL quarterback Chad Pennington’s comments in the USA Today about specialization for kids in sports. Definitely good information for parents.

Proper nutrition for youth athletes

Aour partners at STOP Sports Injuries tweeted this article by Alaina Brandenburger or CBS New York which is an important read for parents with children who play sports.

Tips for avoiding heat distress

Heat illness is a serious issue, especially this time of year. Here are some tips from CoachSafely.com to help athletes a prevent overheating while playing or practicing during the dog days of summer.

Didn’t Make the All-Star Team? So What?

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

Our local Little League has established a new tradition in the years since I served on its Board of Directors. At the beginning of June, lawns signs appear throughout the neighborhood honoring players who have been selected to this year’s all-star team. I’m sure it’s exciting for the kids who were chosen. But I feel badly for the ones who didn’t get a sign.

Whether it was baseball or rec soccer, my kids all made all-star teams when they were younger. In Little League I coached a tournament team for eight straight years. I had a big part in the league’s restructuring of its voting methods so as to make the selections more democratic and transparent. It was always tough choosing the final three or four players because you hated to see anyone be disappointed, but once the rosters were finalized we moved on and didn’t think much about those left off.

So maybe I’m getting soft with age, or maybe it’s because as my children got older some of them did experience major disappointments in their athletic careers, but whatever the reason, it makes me sad to think of a boy or girl who was hoping to get one of those signs and didn’t. Who has to see it on a friend’s yard every day for the next few weeks.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling for the abolishment of all-stars. I recently read an article on a popular youth sports-related website basically shaming leagues for picking some children for all-stars and leaving others off. The author suggested that everyone who wants to play should be allowed and that they should create as many teams as necessary to accommodate them all. Then it wouldn’t be all-stars, would it?

Instead, here is the message that I would like to convey: If you didn’t make it at age 10, you can make it at 11. If you didn’t make it as an 11 year-old , you might at 12. And if you didn’t make it at 12, guess what? I’ve seen dozens of kids who were the best players in the league at 12 but who, by the time they were 16, had been passed up by others who were not as talented a few years earlier.

Turn this disappointment into motivation. Make it your mission to improve so much that they have to pick you next year. Or the year after. Don’t give up. Be determined to make believers of the doubters.

Often in youth sports its a lot about size. Kids who are shaving at age 12 have a huge advantage over youngsters years away from puberty. Some 12 and 13 year-olds are fully grown. Others won’t grow until high school. But if you’re a late-bloomer even that can work to your advantage. Many big, strong, full-grown pre-teens don’t work hard because they can have success without effort. This is one of the reasons so many of them are overtaken later.

Or maybe you are of average or even above-average size but your skills need improvement. Either way if you really want to be good at something you can be. You just need to practice. And this is true for anything, not only sports.

So if you’re truly disappointed about not making the team this year I do feel badly about it. But not too badly, because from my new perspective I realize you have the power to do something about it. Understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes a kick in pants is a step forward. Use this to light a fire and start working harder than anyone else. Just wait and see where you are next year, the year after and the year after. And, if you aren’t willing to pay the price – to do what is necessary to become the best you can be, then I guess you weren’t really that upset about not getting a sign after all.

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