Encourage competition while discouraging cheating in youth sports

Youth sports area great for teaching the value of competition, but it’s important to also teach the difference between playing to win and taking shortcuts. Our friends at TrueSport have some terrific pointers on how to get young athletes to see that sportsmanship trumps winning without making them lose their edge.

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Coaching for Fun

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

It was a new riff on an old joke: I asked someone how he came to coach his daughter’s soccer team. He said, “I was standing with a group of parents and they asked for a volunteer to step forward. I stood still and everyone else stepped back.”

For those of us who have been there, have taken the reigns of a team we weren’t necessarily ready to coach, who did it more out of necessity than out of enthusiasm, we can relate. It’s funny, but then it’s also not.

Volunteer coaches are the youth sport equivalent of saints. Sure, volunteer board member also often work tirelessly for little reward. I was a board member while coaching three of my sons’ baseball teams in three different divisions. There are volunteer officials and umpires who also work hard. But an official can choose when he works. A board member who doesn’t coach isn’t in the spotlight. Coaches must be at every practice and every game. And they are the ones who take the heat when kids don’t play as much as parents think they should. When positions are decided. They are the ones criticized when the players don’t play well.

Most organizations would cease to exist without these coaches. But often, we take them for granted. We don’t always give them the support they need. We don’t show them the appreciation they deserve. Sometimes we expect too much of them in terms of requirements we demand of their time beyond the necessary practices and games. And we often expect more than we ought to when it comes to how they run practices.

For kids ages 5-10 technical training should take a back seat to fun. I’ve said this before: If a kid that age is going to be a college or pro star it’s not going to be because he had incredible coaching. If you’re not convinced, look at all of world class soccer players who grew up playing on the streets with friends from dawn to dusk. Look at the professional Latin baseball players who had no resources as children, but just played.

On the other hand, adolescents with great potential can be derailed by coaching. Coaches who are pressured to run ultra-structured practices focusing on technique and tactics take the chance of alienating children from the sport because practices are a chore. And the same goes for coaches. We all know that the attrition rate for youngsters and volunteer coaches is too high. But would anyone ever quit doing something if it were fun?

So when you look at your volunteer coaches roster before the season begins, put yourself in their shoes. Imagine yourself as a scared novice who feels unsure of himself. Think about them working a full-time job and having to ask for time off to get to practice. Consider the pressure they’re under to balance work, family time and this new responsibility and be mindful of your expectations. Do you want to make it more difficult in the vain hope that everyone is “trained properly”? Or do you want to make it easy and fun? This isn’t training for the Olympics, it’s rec sports. The kids who are going to make it are going to make it…if they choose to come back next season. And if they have someone willing to coach them.

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

Starve the Beast

By Tony Earp

There are many benefits of taking time off during the year as a competitive athlete. The obvious ones are mental and physical rest the body needs in order to stay healthy and avoid overuse injuries or “burnout.” The amount of rest needed changes from player to player depending on age, competitive level, and personal needs. In short everyone is different, and so is the need for rest and recovery. But what is the best thing about rest? The answer is the least talked about benefit and the one I found to be the most helpful as a developing young player. In short, REST STARVES THE BEAST, and when the time is right, you let the beast eat again.

Let me explain… I hated taking time off from playing soccer. I had to be pulled kicking and screaming away from the soccer field. I would even go as far as to sneak out to play or lie about where I was going when leaving the house with my friends (sorry mom). My coaches and my mom constantly encouraged breaks and stressed they were necessary, but I was a kid who loved the play and I did not care about what was “necessary” or “good for me”…. I just wanted to play.

I had a coach that finally got me to buy into the “rest” concept with the “Starve the Beast” approach. Simply, he explained that you have this beast inside of you who loves to play and feasts every time you step on the field. He will always eat and he is always hungry, but he can only eat so much at time. He told me that I needed that beast ready to eat every time I step on the field. When I rested, or when I starved the beast, he could eat a whole lot more.

It is not easy to starve the beast. The urge to let the beast eat and go play is strong and it takes discipline to ignore it. But when done right, and at the right time, when I stepped on the field to play again, the beast was hungry to eat more than he was before. In other words, the “beast” was willing to work harder, for longer, and break through any barriers that stood between him and his food. After a break, I learned that my level of play and level of training drastically increased.

As a kid, I did not care or really relate at all to the idea of stopping burnout or overuse injuries. Why? Because I was a kid! Those things did not mean anything to me, and I did not feel it was something I would have to deal with no matter how much I played. Although I could have been negatively affected by those things, it was not going to stop me from playing and training. When this coach explained the “starve the beast” concept, it made more sense to me.

Of course I saw myself as “the beast” (what kid does not want to be a BEAST), so it became something I bought into because I understood it and I related to it. After a break, I noticed the difference in my effort, attitude, and level of play after a break. I recognized how the BEAST responded when I got back on the field. When I stepped on the field, I wanted to show everyone what the BEAST could do, and I wanted to let the beast EAT.

When you have a passionate kid who loves something and pursues it relentlessly, parent and coach request to take breaks is not going to convince the kid to put the soccer ball away. It just does not make sense to the child to do that. The equation is simple… I love something, doing it makes me happy, so I am going to continue to do it. The starve the beast approach is not just fun, it acknowledges the kids passion and drive to continue to do it. It says, “I know you want to play, I know you’re a BEAST, but watch what happens when you cage the beast for a bit and then let him loose when he is rested and HUNGRY.”

My parents made it fun. When my break was up, the question would be asked, “Are you ready to let the beast eat?” I would always answer, “Oh, he’s ready to eat.” Then off to training I would head. Normally to one of my best training sessions I had in a very long time.

Make sure your child takes time to “starve the beast.” Not only will it help prevent injuries and burnout, but it will also set your child up to have more success on the field in the future. In short, breaks are good. They are necessary. BUT, you need to find a way to get your child to accept the need for a break. Just saying, “you need a break” may not do the trick. It may just cause frustration or resentment. Try the “starve the beast” approach, or something similar, and make the time off away from the game something they will welcome.

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

Seven Absolutes of How to Hit a Baseball

By Doug Bernier

Because of the different set ups and stances, there are different ways for how to hit a baseball. But once a hitter gets to the contact point that is where all the differences stop and the absolutes and similarities start.

If you compare Johnny Damon (who has a very open stance and a leg kick), to Albert Pujols (wide stance and has very little movement), and to David Eckstein (gets in his legs a lot, chokes up and stands very close to the plate) you would find that initially they look completely different.

BUT… when you strip away the pre-pitch rhythm, the leg kicks and all of the other movement that is personal preference, you find that they are a lot alike.

The 7 absolutes are seen at contact. No matter how a hitter gets to the contact point of his swing, all great hitters do the same thing.

Every good hitter will do these 7 things on a perfect swing. Sometimes, depending on a pitch, not all 7 will be attained every time. It’s important to remember that hitting is a battle, and sometimes using your athletic ability to hit a ball will trump all the perfect mechanics we will talk about.

1. Hitting against a firm front side.

This doesn’t always mean a stiff leg, you can have a slight bend but this leg is keeping the rest of your body and hands behind the baseball. This leg will stop your forward momentum and start the axis of rotation that you will now be hitting on. This is very important, you lose this firm front side you lose a lot of bat speed and your head movement drastically increases.

2. Have your back foot on its toe

When you commit your backside and decide to swing, the force you generate going toward the baseball will be abruptly stopped by your firm front side so you can start rotation, what’s left is your back toe on or slightly off the ground.

3. The hands are in a palm up, palm down position.

On a right handed hitter if you took the bat away at contact and had him open up his hands his right hand should be facing straight up towards the sky (or receiving the money) and the left hand should be facing the ground. This bat grip is the most powerful position you can be in at contact.

4. Head on the ball.

I.e. Seeing the ball at its contact point. This might be obvious, but it’s not simple. Knowing how to hit a baseball starts with knowing how see the ball. How to be a better baseball hitter – Seeing the Baseball talks more about the importance of this point, as well as some tips to improve your ability to see the baseball.

5. The Your back knee, back hip and head should be in a straight line.

A thought is to stick a pole in the ground through your knee, hip and head and rotate around that pole. That ensures you are not too far forward losing power and not too far bat getting tied up and having an uphill inconsistent swing

6. Your head should be right in the middle of your feet.

Think of it as a triangle draw 3 lines between your head and two feet. A triangle is a very strong structural object used in many applications (roof joists etc.) So being in a strong triangle will be the strongest possible position for your body. Also it allows you to rotate on an axis with minimal head movement.

7. Top arm is bent

Ideally you want your elbow planted firmly against your side. This is where you are most powerful. The closer your elbow is to your body, the more torque you can create as you spin. The farther your elbow gets as you straighten it, the more you are losing power and leverage and making the force of the baseball more powerful against you.

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

Great advice from TrueSport

From our friends at TrueSport. Be sure to read the article accompanying this blurb below:

Youth sports are a great place to teach athletes about teamwork, but sometimes it’s your own child who doesn’t seem to ‘get’ it and isn’t a team player. Instead of treating the situation as a shortcoming or like your athlete is doing something wrong, turn it into a positive lesson about leadership and the importance of teamwork. Just like with improving the skills needed for their sport, there are steps you can take to improve your athlete’s ability to be a team player!

What Makes and ODP Player?

By Tom Turner

Many young soccer players are probably wondering what it takes to become an “elite” player at the State Regional or even National ODP level. While some players have good technical skills, others have speed, and still others can kick the ball a long way or are strong in the air. Is it any one thing, which makes a player get noticed?

The answer of course is yes… and no! While some elite players have impressed coaches by doing one or two things better than their peers, others may have impressed by simply being good over a wide range of abilities. The key component for all elite level or ODP players, however, is the ability to control the ball and be comfortable with it when in possession. This is the first thing a coach looks for when evaluating talent: what can the player make the ball do?

The “yes” and “no” answers can be illustrated by comparing the following two teams. The first team has 11 players who work hard to get the ball, but do not have the individual talent to take advantage of their possession and therefore struggle to win games. The second is loaded with individual talent but has no one willing to do the hard work in winning back the ball when it is lost.

This team also struggles to win matches. Finding the right blend or balance between the two teams is the key to choosing select team rosters. There needs to be players who work hard to win the ball and there need to be players with the individual talent to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them.

Choosing rosters for the Olympic Development Program, like any other team, is in part a question of balance. Coaches must try to blend the “workers” and the “players”, the consistent with the brilliant. The following is a list of terms which identify what coaches look for in “elite” level players. While each coach has his/her own preferences in looking for talent, these components will all be considered in selecting players for ODP teams.

TOUCH ON THE BALL: Does the player have control over the ball with both feet? Can he/she make the ball do what he/she wants while in possession? Does the player look comfortable with the ball under pressure?

BALANCE: Is the players in control of his/her body? Is the player able to change direction in a controlled manner with the ball?

TECHNICAL SPEED: How fast does the player control the ball and play it? Does the player have the ability to use good skill quickly?

COACHABILITY: Can the player carry out a directive from the coach? While many young players are tactically weak, a good player will be coachable, and therefore have the ability to develop good habits?

WORKRATE: Is the player willing to push him/her self to the limits? Does the player attack and defend?

AWARENESS: Does the player see good opportunities to pass/dribble/shoot? Does the player have vision of what’s happening on the field or does he/she make the game difficult?

REACTION TO FAILURE: How does the player respond to a bad call or a mistake? Does failure result in a drop in performance?

LEADERSHIP QUALITIES: Does the player communicate to others? Does he/she demand the ball? Will they take charge when the game is on the line?

PHYSICAL SPEED: Is the player fast? Does the player have enough speed to be effective without being exploited by opponents?

SIZE & STRENGTH: Is the player physically able to play with bigger opponents? Is the player’s size the reason for his/her success (especially at younger ages)?

As you can see, there are many components, which can go into making an “elite” soccer player. Different positions call for different requirements in players’ abilities. During the State Olympic Development Program camps, you will learn many new ideas about soccer. It will be a chance to compare your abilities with other players of the same high standard. For those who advance to the

Regional teams it is another step towards national team recognition.

Tom Turner is a U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach, Region II Women’s ODP Coach, Ohio North State Director of Coaching and Assistant Coach US Women’s Pan Am Gold Medal Team.

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.