Seriously

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

If you’re reading this, there is a good chance you are someone deeply involved in youth sports. You may be a parent or coach and/or a board member/league administrator.  You probably spend many hours each day either thinking about or working on various items pertaining to your team or league. You are to be commended. You are also the exception.

Every year since we founded CoachDeck over nine years ago we have encountered a particular mind-set from some coaches and administrators in leagues across North America. When we approach them about our deck of cards containing 52 drills designed to help volunteer coaches run fun and effective practices, we’re told we’re not needed here. The reason? This league has its own rigid training curriculum, online, mobile or in book form, that has been created to provide detailed instructions for all league coaches so that they run thorough and precise practices strictly according to league specifications.

Doesn’t that sound fun? We’re big believers in coach education and wish that every volunteer coach had the time or the inclination to really study hard to become better. But we know that isn’t realistic.

See, these curriculums are designed by people like you and me, who really take this whole coaching thing seriously. In many cases the folks putting this material together are paid full-time to do this, it is their career. So of course their perspective about the importance of running a by-the-letter practice every week is colored by their own experience. Of course they would go online and watch videos and learn new techniques. Obviously they’d read up on the latest coaching philosophies and incorporate these into their daily teachings. Its what they do. But what these online coaching portals and elaborate training session outlines fail to account for is the human factor. That is, most volunteers just don’t have the time or desire to work at it so hard. They simply want to have fun with the kids.

Imagine you have a job where every step you take is monitored and every task is scheduled in advance. There is no innovation, no improvisation. Everything is laid out for you. And, you must study the night before to learn tomorrow’s planned routine. Now imagine you don’t get paid for this. You’re a volunteer.

I have first-hand experience with this phenomenon. When my sons were little I coordinated the T-ball division for our Little League. I was fired up and was going to be the best coordinator the league had ever had. I created a lengthy manual that explained everything about running a team, included drills, practice plans, techniques to enhance safety and many administrative tips I knew each coach would need that season. When I gave it to them, my coaches asked incredulously how I’d had time to put this together. I was basically handing them a turn-key owners manual to be a successful coach. And then I spent the entire spring fielding calls from them asking questions, the answers to which were contained within the manual they obviously hadn’t read.

The other day I was on a youth league website which offered a “Coaches Corner” page. This page contained links to practice plans for three different age groups. Clicking the link downloaded a PDF, which was created by the national organization. The one I opened for age 10 was forty-seven pages long and included diagrams and paragraph after paragraph of written instruction – thousands of words. If I were a volunteer coach I would not get past page two.

Why am I bringing this all up? Here is a review we found recently about CoachDeck taken off a website that sells our product. It, along with many more like it, has been up there for years and we didn’t even know about it until last week:

I LOVE the idea of this product and am sure I will enjoy this for years to come. Being a youth coach, full time employee, full time dad, full time husband, etc., it is sometimes hard to find the time to make a full practice plan. These cards are great to use as a quick, easy resource on those days when unexpected issues come up in the rest of your life!

CoachDeck was designed by top-level professional coaches, but so as to be non-intimidating, quick, easy…fun – (it’s a deck of cards after all), something something a novice or expert will enjoy using. Not more work.

So if you’ve read this far, you may just think this is a shameless plug for our product…and maybe it is. But my main intent is to convey this message: If there are volunteer coaches with extra time who want to become students of the game, more power to them. The more resources out there for them, the better. But when people who live and die a sport assume that everyone has their same level of commitment – take it that seriously – we may end up getting nothing because we expect too much.

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 which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

Who Is Your MVP Volunteer?

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

Having coached four children in multiple youth recreational sports, I have encountered many, many great people who have selflessly devoted their time as volunteers to helping create a positive experience for the kids in the league. There are hundreds of thousands of individuals out there who do this important work and receive no pay, no recognition, maybe not even many “thank-you’s.” Let’s change that: Who is your league’s “MVP Volunteer”?

Is there a board member who works tirelessly “behind the scenes”? The one everyone knows they can count on and who probably does more than their fair share? How about a coach who has been there “forever” and does it for the love of the kids? Maybe an official who volunteers to referee or umpire games without pay, even though it costs him money to do so. Who do you have that we can recognize?

If we get some good stories, we’ll publish them in upcoming issues of OnDeck so that not only will your special people see they are, in fact, truly appreciated, but so that others will have the privilege of knowing about their positive contributions. Maybe we can inspire more people to act in kind, which means more kids benefit.

Here is my MVP: I coached two of Mark Remick’s boys on my Little League team so I got to know him pretty well. There is not a more selfless individual I’ve met. In addition to being at every game as a coach, he was on our league’s board of directors for many years and never missed a meeting. But where he really stood out was in his care for the league’s fields. Before and after games, Mark took care of the dragging, watering and chalking. Throughout the year he maintained the outfield grass with fertilization and weeding, installation of outfield fences and much more. It has been several years since he and I moved on from the league and now, when I drive by the fields, its apparent that they sure do miss him.

See how easy that was? And I’ll bet you can do even better.

So submit your write-ups to info@coachdeck.com and if your story is chosen we’ll thank your special person by highlighting their accomplishments in an upcoming edition. We may not be able to make them famous, but its the least we can do to give them the recognition they deserve.

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 which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

Are You a “Before” or “After” Coach?

By Brian Gotta

It was one of the first examples of “after” coaching I’d seen. And since then I’ve witnessed many more instances in baseball, softball, soccer and other sports. A “before” coach is what I’ve always hoped I was and tried to be. Experience certainly helps, but even a novice can work on coaching before, instead of after.

The situation I’m referring to was in a Little League machine-pitch game. Keep in mind these kids are about eight years-old and may be in only their second or third season of baseball. There was a runner on third, nobody else on base. The ball was hit to the player on the pitcher’s mound and the runner took off for home. The pitcher saw him and threw the ball to the plate. It was an easy out. Then it happened: The third base coach said, with a distressed expression and tone, for everyone to hear, “You didn’t have to run!”

I’m thinking, “Nice of you to tell him now.” How about when he started to run home, yell, “Come back!”? Or let’s rewind a little more. Why not before the pitch, when the runner was on the base, say to him, “If it is hit to the pitcher, don’t run.”? Or even better, what if you worked on just this scenario in practice? Make sure that it is ingrained in every player’s mind what to do in every situation.

In my experience, coaches who give instruction after a play has occurred tend to be more admonishing. It’s as if they are embarrassed that their player was unprepared so they, in turn, out of anger, embarrass the player. “Before” coaches on the other hand,  might occasionally be caught unprepared but will more often admit and accept fault instead of passing it down.

How do you become a “before” coach? Again, experience comes in handy. In the case above I’m guessing the fellow coaching third was very novice. He maybe hadn’t ever been in this exact situation with a runner on third, less than two outs, and a ball hit back directly to the pitcher. So perhaps he and his player were experiencing it for the first time. Even if that’s true, I wish he’d chosen to take the player aside, privately, and say, “Hey, that’s my fault. I should have told you not to run because you didn’t have to. We’ll work on this at the next practice.”

Then do work on it at practice. Replay that exact situation with every player. Show them what to do next time it happens. Even broader, work on all situations at practice. Whether it is soccer or baseball/softball, there is a time for individual drills to improve skills but there is also a time for team/live game training. One of the most valuable activities is putting players in different scenarios, then going live, and then stopping to instruct. Kind of like using the DVR remote. Play. Pause and teach. Play again. Stop. Rewind. Teach again. Play. And so on. This is how not only the players, but coaches, gain valuable experience.

Inexperience can be mitigated with preparation. Sure, on a baseball diamond or soccer field there are dozens if not hundreds of scenarios that can occur at any moment and to anticipate each one is challenging. But that is your job as a coach, to be thinking, constantly asking yourself during the game, “If this happens, what should we do?” And then instruct your players accordingly. Before, not after the play is over.

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 which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com