My Bad

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

We have all heard the famous phrase, “To err is human. To forgive, divine.” However, when it comes to parents, teachers, employers and, especially coaches, what I’d rather say is, “To err is human. To admit it is fine.”

I was watching a baseball game on television. A runner was on first and there was a base hit to right field. As he headed to second I noticed the runner hesitate, clearly looking for direction from the third base coach who was off camera. The runner then accelerated towards third and was thrown out, fairly easily. The announcers made comments that he “got a little greedy,” implying he was to blame and had made a mistake.

I don’t know whether the coach signaled for him to come or did nothing. I am pretty sure he didn’t tell him to hold up, or else the runner wouldn’t have tried for third. Either way, the coach goofed. No big deal. Sometimes you take a chance and hope the other team can’t make the play, and this time the gamble didn’t pay off.

After the play ended and the umpire had signaled out, the coach walked away stoically. In the pros, you don’t worry about what the fans or announcers think. If they thought (as I’m sure most did) that the base runner erred, that’s not the coach’s concern.

But what if, instead, he’d given the kid a couple claps for his hustle and a pat on the back on the way back to the dugout? Then, at least, the fans would know that the coach, (who had told him to run) was not upset with the player. What if he’d even taken it one step further and patted himself on the chest a couple times as if to say, “My bad.”? Then everyone in the stands and watching on TV would know what had happened and that the player had not screwed up. By not making a public display of acknowledgment it almost looked as if he was hoping that no one would know he’d told the runner to go and that people would blame the runner. Of course, I may be reading too much into this.

Why is this a big deal? Again, in the pros, it probably isn’t. But if you’re coaching a youth league team, a travel or even high school team. I think it is. Here are some reasons why:

Having their backs
Players who know the coach is going to accept the blame for his own mistakes will be more relaxed and play better. I’ve seen too many youth coaches make blunders and then try to deflect the spotlight by blaming the kid. Or, almost as bad, saying nothing, even though fans in the stands clearly believe the youngster just messed up. If a coach owns up to his error, “My fault, Johnny,” then players play more free and loose, not as afraid of taking chances. In my opinion, a great coach will tell players, “If I tell you to do something – do it – and if it doesn’t work out, I’m going to take the blame.”

Loyalty
All it takes is that one time for you to bail out a player who has just had something unfortunate happen and they’ll be a fan of yours for life. Imagine this scenario: There is a crucial moment in the game and the ball is hit to the left of your second baseman. He does his best to get to it but it goes off his glove and the other team scores. The kid feels terrible. And then you say, “That’s my fault, Johnny. I should have had you playing more over to the left. Great effort.” After hearing something like that every player on the team knows that you’re putting their interests ahead of yours. And isn’t that the job description of a good coach?

Team
Publicly accepting responsibility also sends a powerful message not just to a single player, but to the team, which is: Team first. We are not individuals here only caring about ourselves. We are a team from top to bottom and we look out for each other.

Life Lessons
When you own up to your shortcoming you teach your players a valuable skill in life, which is to accept responsibility and not blame others when things don’t go well. You also help them understand that mistakes are not the end of the world. We get back up and move on.

And finally, when you get right down to it, the ironic thing is that rather than make you look weak in the eyes of parents and fans, admitting your errors publicly actually makes you look stronger. Because only someone with supreme self-confidence is willing to do so. No one is right 100% of the time. But no one really respects someone who pretends he is.

Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and 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

Top Three Pitching Tips

From professional baseball to all levels of youth baseball hurlers will be able to compete on the mound using the top three tips. All baseball coaches will benefit their youth baseball teams by coaching these baseball tips into their players. You do not have to be an expert baseball guru to coach successfully. You do not need to know much about baseball instruction, baseball mechanics, or baseball technique.

Although there may have other coaches, instructors and personal trainers say this, Ray Miller from the Baltimore Orioles is known to coin the phrase. His mantra was: “Work fast. Throw strikes, Change Speeds.”

#1 Work Fast: Keep Your Fielders on their Toes

Ask infielders and outfielders if they would rather play behind a guy who works fast or lollygags around the mound between throws? The answer is unanimous.

Work Fast. Although there may not be solid data to show proof there appears to be a strong correlation in better defense and guys who work fast. Players who work fast are able to keep the attention of their fielders better.

In other words the fielders do not have enough time to let their minds wander and lose focus. They have to stay ready because the next throw is coming.

When I see a youth player take several steps toward the catcher after they throw a the ball I know that the fielders are probably going to loose focus. They have too much time to let their minds wander between throws.

The best coaches, pitching instructors will condition and train them to retreat immediately to the rubber after delivering the ball. I call it “Back-track.”

Proper technique and fundamentals are to go directly back to the mound after the delivery. Then the hurler can immediately toe the rubber, get sign from the catcher and begin to throw their next delivery. Repeat this process every throw.

Often in amateur youth baseball coaches and managers instructing a youth baseball pitcher will allow them to parade around the mound area between throws.

Keep encouraging little league players and youth league players the best pitching tips are to back track to the rubber and see if the defense plays better. Include ‘working fast’ in your bullpen baseball practice drills and baseball throwing drills.

#2 Throw Strikes: Make ’em’ Swing the Bat

When I was scouting and recruiting baseball players for independent professional baseball teams I often could not see the player in a game. I had to go by his stats and recommendations or other baseball coaches.

The stats I would look at were strikeouts and base hits per inning and walks per inning. If the guy’s numbers showed they kept their walks low and the other stats were decent I knew I found a player that would be able to help our ballclub.

Just knowing that they throws strikes was enough to take a chance on signing a guy site unseen.

We know how important it is to get ahead of the hitters to have the advantage. Command and control allows getting ahead with the first throw.

When we are ahead in the count they can go for the corners of the plate. You will often hear the top instructors teaching and mentoring players to ‘get that good stuff over the plate,” and “Let the defense help you out.” No matter what baseball pitches are thrown “throw them over the plate.”

Down the middle until two strikes. Have the catchers set up their target down the middle until we get ahead of the count.

Good youth baseball coaching tips for your players are to go to the corners when you get ahead in the count. When you go back to even or behind in the count then go back to the middle.

What if the other team finds out this is your baseball strategy? You do not care because you want your defense to show their stuff. You want your defense to make plays. You want the hitters to swing the bat and put the ball in play.

#3 Change Speeds:

Baseball instruction should include changing speed on pitches. Baseball drills are good techniques for teaching players how change speeds.

Keep it simple when teaching baseball strategies. Work off the fastball. You do not need to throw curves, sliders, knuckleballs and other trick throws. The Curveball does not come until a kid can shave.

When coaching youth baseball have your players throw the basic baseball pitching grips pitches the most. The four seam fastball or the two-seam fastball, the straight change-up and the hump-up fastball. That is all you need to use in your drills and practice plans.

Throw strikes with your fastball. That is the best type throws to be able throw over the plate and to the corners.

Throw your change-ups only to the best hitters who can really hit your fastball. If you throw change-ups to the weaker hitters you often do them a favor…they cannot get around on your fastball anyway.

Use your hump-up fastball when you really need to get out of a jamb and cannot afford to give up a base hit. The hump-up fastball is thrown 2 or 3 mph faster than your normal working fastball using the four-seam baseball grips…just enough for a good hitter to miss hit the pitch.

Use these top baseball coaching tips to keep the game simple and help instruct players how to play baseball.

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.

10 Strategies To Build Unstoppable Confidence In Youth Athletes – Part 4

By Craig Sigl

Strategy #9. Stop delivering typical sports cliches and trite sayings that mean nothing to a kid like:
“You just have to believe in yourself”
“When you’re out there, you have to be focused”
“Stop overthinking”
“Just go out there and have fun”

I often catch some flak for this but follow me here because this is my personal pet peeve having worked in this area for so long, and youth coaches are the worst offenders.

Think about this, can you explain to a kid HOW to believe in themselves? Can you give them the definitive steps to “Stop overthinking?” Or how about that vague command to “Get focused” or “Get your head in the game?”

They don’t know what any of that means, let alone HOW to do what you are telling them. And so what happens? You create confusion, uncertainty, worry that they “Aren’t doing it right” and will ultimately disappoint the adults giving them the advice.

So, instead of the kid just playing in the present moment with their body, which they do naturally and don’t have to be told HOW to do, by the way, we teach them with these silly cliche’s to get in their head and their useless fear-based thoughts.

Also, you might think that telling them to “Just go out there and have fun” is good advice and it CAN be…but, it is a risky move and here’s why:

The whole culture of youth sports is organized around winning and how well the kids perform. There’s no question about that.

Coaches, parents in the stands cheering good play and being disappointed in poor play like I already mentioned…and other messages constantly coming at them like:
Did you win?
How did you do?
Did you start today?
Did you score?
How many points? etc.

If that isn’t enough, Kids base their identity on whether or not they get playing time, make the team, get to the next level and even their friendships are centered around this. These messages are constant and everywhere…

and then you go and tell them to “Just go out there and have fun.” They hear that and at best, they forget it after 2 minutes and slip back into the whole performance-centered mentality they’ve been overwhelmed with. And at worst, subconsciously destroy their confidence in advice from you because of the mixed messages. Kids don’t need anyone to tell them that. Doing stuff is either fun or it isn’t… they don’t have to “try” to have fun.

The irony of of it all is that the parent or coach is giving the advice with the hopes that it helps their performance when in actuality, it hurts it.

Strategy #10. Do whatever you can to foster fearlessness.
The core of my work with all athletes is in helping them get over fears, in particular, all forms of “Fear of Failure.”

As the smallest boy in junior high and high school for years getting bullied and picked on, I lived with a lot of fear and carried it into adulthood. I vowed in raising my 2 boys that this would NOT happen to them.

I am proud to report that as young men, they are both pretty fearless. One of them has spent 2 summers selling pest control door to door. The other one joined the Air Force and had to be talked down by his mother from wanting to be a helicopter gunner in combat and has as his motto: “I just don’t care what others think.” The interesting thing about his motto is that he has tons of friends and has always had no problem making friends contrary to what most kids think. (I’m brushing my knuckles across my chest and patting myself on the back for that one!)

How did I do it? Well, of course, I taught them what I teach all of my clients and in addition to that, I think the piece d’resistance is that, regularly, I would grab my boys and get them in the car and just drive around looking for adventure.

Each summer, we would take off for a week or more with only a general direction and a map and see what we could find.

Here’s a typical example: One year, we decided to drive through Western Canada and went as far north as Edmonton. We kept seeing signs about the sport of “curling” and wanted to know what that was all about.

So, in our driving, we pass by a curling club, turn around, stop, get out of the car, knock on the door and as the owner comes to the door we say that we are from the U.S. and we are very interested in learning about curling.

It’s summer time and out of season for curling but the very gracious owner takes us in, shows us around, gives us a full tour and proudly explains the sport and all the champions his club has produced. We all had a great time and we thanked the owner profusely. (Canadians are so nice).

That’s just one simple adventure out of hundreds coupled with a consistent message I constantly delivered to them that there is no such thing as failure.

Conclusion and recap:
1. Get your kid to buy into the benefits of confidence and that it can be built like any other skill. 2. Give him/her a few tools to actively start working on it. 3. Eliminate the confidence killers.

If you want more, I’ve got a video program for confidence-building directly aimed at the kids on my website. I’ve learned a few things about how to get across a message to a kid. I sincerely hope you take these tips and use them to positively affect another person for their whole life. That’s my mission!

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 30,000 athletes in his emails. Discover Craig’s programs for mental toughness and confidence building at: www.mentaltoughnesstrainer.com

The Ball is a Toy

By Tony Earp

With the competitiveness and pressure around sports, it is easy to forget that every sport is just a game. Not much different than jumping rope, tag, or hide and go seek, soccer (like other sports) is a game to be played for fun. There are winners and losers, but the goal is to play, get exercise, and enjoy the time with the friends. It is sad when sports moves from this view into more of a “job” or work, both in which a game was never intended. Even when players play a sport for a living, for the most part, the best at the game still play it because it is fun and they love it. Like most games, when the game was invented, I am confident the “creator” did not do it so one day those who play this game at the highest level will get paid to do it. This means, at the heart of every game, every sport, and in soccer, the things used to play the game should be seen as toys.

Ask a kid to show you his toys. What do you think he will point to? Most likely, the child will point to a video game system, maybe some board games, an ipad, dolls or stuffed animals, but I highly doubt that most children would point to their soccer ball. To me, this is a very sad thought. As a kid, my soccer ball was always in my “toy bin” in my room. That is exactly how I saw the ball. It was not something I would go “train” with or use to “practice.” It was just a toy, and something I would go to have fun and entertain myself. It was no different than my Atari, Pogo Stick, or Voltron action figures (I will pause and allow for Google searches).

This is a change that needs to occur in the youth soccer culture. The soccer ball cannot be seen as a work tool, or something that is only used when asked by an adult or coach. That is not how toys work. Think of anyone who is amazing at what they do (an artist, writer, programmer, mechanic, architect, etc… ) and I bet those people see the “tools” of their profession more as toys they get to play with everyday, and that is the reason why they are the best at what they do.

When it comes to toys, what do kids do with them? Well, for one thing they tend to use the toy in way that it was probably never intended, or in other words, they find creative ways to use the toy. When it comes to soccer, this is a key thing that is missing with kids and their relationship to the soccer ball. Many kids will only do what they have been told to do with the soccer ball. This is rarely the case with something a kid sees as a toy. If anything, parents often, and even to the point of frustration, have to keep reminding a child what a toy should be used for. For example, I was constantly told, “Your sister’s Barbies are not Frisbees.” Although I think I proved my parents wrong by successfully throwing them over the house to my friend.

If we want players to be imaginative with the ball and creative when they play the game, they need to view the soccer ball as a toy, not just at home, but at practice and in games. It is something they play with and needs to be treated accordingly. It should not be something a child dreads to have during a game, or something they are asked to get rid of right away. Frankly, they should never be discouraged from “playing with it” for too long. This is why I think the soccer ball should always be part of activities during practice and the player’s should be around it as often as possible. No one likes waiting their turn in a line to play with a toy.

As adults, we forget how to play with toys. We tend to use things exactly for what they are designed for and use them how directed to make sure we do not break them or use them incorrectly. Unintentionally, we sometimes force kids to share our same way of thinking when they play. We ask them to see the soccer ball, or the game, through our eyes and share our views, but is that what we really want for the kids? Do you really want the kids view and understanding of the game limited by your understanding and view of the game? I think most parents and coaches hope kids discover the game in their own way, and their understanding and joy to play it surpasses their own.

The only way for this to happen, for kids to regain their freedom and enjoyment of playing the game, is for them, and all of us, to view the soccer ball in its purest form… as a toy. As such, parents will allow a kid to interact with the ball like it is a toy, and the child will play with the ball like it is a toy. This will unleash the player’s love to play with the ball and unlock the possibilities of what the player can do with the ball. Like with any toy, once the imagination becomes involved, there is not much a kid cannot do with it.

From now on, when a parent tells their kids to go play with their toys, hopefully the soccer ball (or the football, baseball, bike, skateboard) is considered to be in that category. Yes, it may still take a back seat to the PlayStation or Xbox, but maybe the players will consider playing with it if the power goes out.

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

That’s a funny team photo

Thanks for everything this year, coach. The players all really loved being on the team, playing and taking the team photo…well maybe not the last one. (Courtesy Guff.com)

Tip of the cap to these coaches

We don’t know how many readers enjoy The Charger Bulletin from The University of New Haven, but we’d like to get this article written by Sarah DeMatteis a little more airtime. She tells of her joining a Little League as the only girl among dozens of fifth-grade boys and the message the coaches imparted to all of the players before the first practice. A very uplifting message that renews your belief in the potential of volunteer coaches.

More on Mandatory Play

Yesterday we posted some comments about the Little League Mandatory Play rule which stipulates that a player must play a minimum of two innings in the field and get at least one at bat. Below are more comments from the Little League Facebook post. What do you think about the rule?:

I believe it’s a fair rule. The kids who work hard at practice and put in extra work at home to improve should be rewarded with more playing time. The parents who complain about play time may need to take a look at how their kid practices and ask themselves if your kid puts in any extra work to improve. And if little league didn’t want any emphasis put on winning and losing and the fact some kids are better then others, there would be no score kept and no all stars, which is the best players in the division.