Setting the Tone for a Positive Experience

By Dr. Darrell Burnett

Some coaches have a difficult time handling the youth sports atmosphere, and some may underestimate their importance to their players.

The No. 1 reason why kids come back is positive coaching. Coaches must grasp the idea that their role is important. When I talked to coaches and we define a successful coach, it isn’t determined by their win-loss record. The coach has to keep the kids involved.

There are four needs a coach must establish for a child to keep him or her returning to youth sports.

  1. A sense of belonging.
    If the children cannot find a group to come to them, they’ll go to the group. The coach can add to that sense of belonging by making the child feel like part of the team. This point leads to the second need.
  2. To feel worthwhile.
    If the coach relates to the kid as a person and as a member of the team, it will add to the value of youth sports.
  3. A sense of dignity.
    The coach’s job is to treat the children with respect, and let them know they will be treated with respect simply for coming out and playing.
  4. A sense of control.
    The coach lets the children know they are in control of their own destiny, and lets them work their way into a role on the team.

The other job of the coach is to control the parents to prevent a situation from getting out of hand. The first step is to define unruly behavior.

If you’re going to deal with unruly parents, you’ve got to have it all spelled out before the season begins. A preseason meeting with the parents can help prevent any unwanted situation. Coaches need to tell parents that offensive language, and the berating of players, coaches and officials are unacceptable. The coach also must provide consequences for any action considered inappropriate.

If there is a situation, the first step is to remain calm, otherwise you can feed the fire.

When a situation occurs, the coach has to have some way of dealing with it. One way is to have other parents who participated in the preseason meeting talk to the offending parent to try to calm him or her down. After the event occurs, the coach must become the teacher, so the parent understands what he or she did wrong and why it was considered unacceptable. The coach has to look for the positives in every situation.

Darrell Burnett is a clinical psychologist and a certified sports psychologist specializing in youth sports. As a member of the National Speakers Association he is active on the lecture circuit. His book, IT’S JUST A GAME!(Youth, Sports & Self Esteem: A Guide for Parents), is described at his website, www.djburnett.com, along with his other books, booklets, and audio cassettes on youth sports and family life.

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One Question

By Tony Earp

Can you play? It is simple question and the most important one. All the evaluations and feedback, opinions about what makes up a great player, and debate about the most important skills a player can possess, all come back to that simple question. The only thing that matters when determining a player’s ability level is if or if not that player can meet the demands of the game. When players are training, focusing on improving different skill areas of the game is very important, but will it translate into the players being effective and better in the game?

As many coaches have seen, there are players who are technically sound, physically capable, understand the game, and work hard, but struggle to be effective in games. They have the tools, but cannot seem to use them when needed. All the pieces of the puzzle are there, but they cannot put them together to meet the demands and challenges of the game.

These players have worked hard fine tuning their technical ability on the ball. With both feet, they are sound in receiving, passing and dribbling with speed and control. Tactically, they understand their role in their position, the principles of attacking and defending, and the coach’s expectations on how the team should play. The player is physically capable of playing the game, and the player is competitive and wants to win. Again, all the critical skill areas to play the game are possessed by the player, but for some reason, the player is unable to use them in the game effectively.

Something was missing in the player’s training. Something very critical. Although the player has learned all of these skills and has these tools, he has never learned:

  1. HOW/WHEN/WHY TO USE THEM.
  2. HOW/WHEN/WHY THEY ARE CONNECTED

Often this occurs when learning of these skills are done in a vacuum, isolated of one another, and not within the context of the game.

Think of it this way… like many people, I enjoy watching the many YouTube videos of people doing crazy tricks and skills with the soccer ball. From juggling, skill moves with the ball and finishing, there are some amazing things people can do. Many may watch these videos and just assume these people must be great players based on what they can do with the ball, but that assumption may be very wrong.

The only thing I know watching that type of video is that the player is exceptional at that one skill. I have no idea if the player is actually an effective player in the game. I know he can juggle, do a wicked (insert Boston accent) skill move, or hit a crazy bending shot, but I have no idea if that player is any good at playing the game.

I am not being critical of those players or those videos. I actually think they are tremendous tool for young players to watch and get ideas to train on their own, spark their own creativity, and expand their understanding on what is possible to do with the ball.

The point is that a player’s goal is NEVER to just get good at a single skill movement or an activity in training. It is not to be a better juggler or be able to do a skill move with the ball. A player’s goal should ALWAYS be to improve their ability to play the game. So when training, or practicing any skill, it always needs to be done in the context of how it will be used in the game.

When training, without the context of the game, or a clear understanding of the application of the skill being worked on, it is possible to develop players who are excellent at training but struggle to play the game. Just like in the classroom, information and skills learned are most effective and useful when applied to their required use when it really matters (in real life).

In contrast, there are players that in training seem to struggle, but when the game starts, they are able to play at a higher level than expected. They may not be as technical on the ball or physically good as we think they should be, but when they step into a game, the player can find ways to be successful and very effective in helping his team. On an evaluation, a coach may have a slew of areas the player needs to improve on, maybe a lot more than other players, but at the same time, the player seems to be more successful than a player who would rate better on a written evaluation.

This type of player shows a clear understanding of several important things:

  1. His own strengths and weaknesses. He understands how to play towards his strengths and hide his weaknesses.
  2. The game. Really understanding nuances of the game, the critical points, that allow the player to make exceptional decisions and anticipate the game.
  3. Competitive spirit. Let’s face it. Some players are better because they just want it more.

The larger point is that all players are deficient in some skill areas comparatively to other players, but that may have little impact on their level of play. Despite not being as strong in some areas as other players, their “total game”, or their ability to be effective in games, is much higher than players who have considerable better technical or physical abilities.

Again, the real “evaluation” or the only “test” that really matters in determining a player’s level is how they do when the whistle blows. I have always been one who believes in player evaluations and feedback, but when we cut through all of the fog of player development and determining a player’s level of play, the only true evaluation is the game. The game is the only real measure of a player’s level of play.

The game is not biased, it is not political, it has no self-interests, and does not care about getting phone calls or emails from parents. The game will always be the most honest person with any player about what they are and are not able to do. Simply, either you can play or you cannot play.

When training, keep this in mind. Your goal, whether on your own, with your coach, or with some friends, is to get better at playing the game. Find ways to train yourself to be more effective in a game, when it counts.

Skills are necessary, juggling is important to improve your touch, YouTube is fun, but the game cares very little about how many “views” your last video post received, how many times you can juggle, or how crazy your skill moves look. It will only ask you one simple questions once the whistle blows… Can you play?

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

Remembering what it’s about

This is the time of year that youth baseball coaches start to turn on the competitive spirit. League championships, all-stars. But it is also the time of year to remember what our most important purpose in coaching is, and that is to make sure our players want to come back and play again. This story might put it into perspective.

Baseball cutoffs and relays – 3 simple tips for instantly faster relays

By Doug Bernier

In baseball cutoffs and relays, split seconds can mean a HUGE momentum shift in the game.

Get that out and now your team is energized. The game is shifting in your favor, and that attitude is contagious. It’s also contagious when that all out effort falls short and the runner is called safe.

It’s more than just one out. It’s the kind of play that can set the tone for the rest of the inning or even the rest of the game.

Every step counts. We can’t afford to waste time by being inefficient with our body movements.

So, thinking ahead and getting into a strategic relay position is a very easy way to see massive improvement in your relay time. Watch the video or read (below) to find out 3 easy ways to shave precious seconds off your baseball cuttoffs and relays.

Baseball cutoffs & relays – 3 Simple Tips for instantly faster relays
Cutoff Speed Tip 1 – Catch the ball on the glove-hand side of your body
Think ahead and get into position to cutoff the baseball by making the catch on your glove side. This will save you precious time and put you into a better position for the relay throw.

Cutoff Speed Tip 2 – Turn to your glove side, not the other way
Turning to the opposite side from your glove requires extra steps, which costs precious time in a cutoff situation. It also creates an awkward momentum that can lead to weaker and less accurate throws. So to be faster, stronger and more accurate, turn to your glove side to make the relay throw.

Cuttof Speed Tip 3 – Get into throwing position earlier
This is something to work up to (because first you have to have a good read on where the throw is going)… Get your body so you’re nearly in throwing position already before you even catch the ball.

All 3 of these tips are simple, but they require thinking ahead and getting into position. Practice them until they’re second nature, and you’ll never have to think about it again!

Use these 3 simple, strategic tips to eliminate inefficiencies in your baseball cutoffs and relays. You’ll have more success throwing out baserunners, and those exciting close plays will work in your favor instead of 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 a 17-year pro career, Doug has officially retired from playing and is now a scout with the Colorado Rockies. You should click to watch this great defensive play by Bernier

3 Simple Steps to Soccer Confidence

By Dan Abrahams

“Confidence takes constant nurturing. Like a bed, it must be remade everyday.”

So says the great soccer player Mia Hamm. I think she’s right. Confidence is an every day thing. It’s an every week and an every month thing.

I feel that many soccer players (and soccer coaches and parents as well) think that confidence is some magical, mystical thing. They think that it can’t be nurtured and it can’t be worked on intentionally. They think it’s something you either have you you don’t! In my opinion they’re wrong! Confidence can be worked on. It just takes time and effort. It must be worked on constantly, it must be an every day thing.

Here are three simple steps to help you develop confidence:

1. Use your memory. Possibly my number one tool for developing confidence is to take time out every day to remind yourself of you at your best. This should comprise your personal highlights. You might include games you’ve played well in, or training sessions when you’ve been on fire.

Whatever you include in your daily reel of inner images, make sure you make your mental movie big and bold and bright. Enhance your images by asking yourself these questions:

“What does my very best look like?”
“What does my very best feel like?”
“What do others see when I play at my very best?”

2. Just as it’s important to exercise your memory, it’s vital to use your imagination. I’d like you to take time every day to picture your dream game. And when I say ‘dream game’, I don’t just mean you at your best, I mean you surpassing your best. I mean you being quicker and stronger. I mean you showing Lloyd-like ball control, Neuer-like bravery in goal or Ramos-style defending.

“What does 10/10 look like? Feel like? What does 12/10 look like? Feel like?”

This is your opportunity to make your images unrealistic. It’s your chance to feed your brain a mental map of excellence that surpasses your current game. By doing so you create a blueprint on your mind to strive for. Don’t sweat the bad moments, the mistakes made so much. Focus your mind securely on the future standard you want for your game.

3. Finally, the third tool in my confidence toolbox is perception!

Mistakes WILL happen. You WILL have bad games. You WILL PROBABLY get dropped at some point. You MAY get injured. Bad stuff happens in soccer, it’s inevitable, and that’s ok. Accept the tough times, the bad games, the hairy moments. Be patient. Be persistent. Learn from them, but don’t dwell on them.

“I know I’ll make mistakes…that’s ok. I may be slightly disappointed when I do, but my job is to carry on playing, to carry on working at my game, to carry on getting the most from my ability”.

Great soccer players are, in part, great because they accept the rough with the smooth. They accept that along their soccer journey there will be some tough times. That’s part and parcel of striving to find out just how good you can be in the game we love so much.

Dan Abrahams is a global sport psychologist, working alongside leading players, teams, coaches and organisations across the world. He is known for his passion and ability to de-mystify sport psychology, as well as his talent for creating simple to use techniques and performance philosophies, and he is the author of several sport psychology books as well as the founder of the Dan Abrahams Soccer Academy. You can order his books and contact him at https://danabrahams.com/books/

How to Teach Accountability In A Positive Way

Another great piece from our friends at TrueSport.org:

Holding people accountable is often perceived as a negative, but accountability can be empowering when it is done in a positive way. Read this to learn how you can use positive reinforcement to teach youth athletes accountability. 

Should coaches be allowed to warm up the pitcher?

A recent Facebook post by Little League addressed this issue. Most of the comments were from people calling Little League’s rule that adults cannot warm up pitchers, “dumb”. What do you think? Is it OK for a coach to jump behind the plate and warm up a pitcher when his catcher is getting his gear on? Or should it be, as Little League mandates, a player with a mask who does it.