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

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It is easy to forget…

That we’re coaching youth sports for the benefit of the kids, not for ourselves. That winning is nice, but making sure every kid wants to come back and play again next season is more important. Let’s all try to keep an eye on the big picture as we run our practices and coach our games this week.

Youth Soccer Drills

Fifty-two of them in a handy deck of cards. Keep it in your pocket, fan them out for a quick glance, “stack” the deck before practice with the four you want to do that day. Broken into four color-coded categories; passing, dribbling, shooting and defense, you’ll never be at a loss for what to do next. Let a player pick a card from the deck as a reward, hand cards off to assistants so that large teams can be broken into smaller stations. The possibilities are endless with CoachDeck.

Tips for coaching youth soccer

We’ve offered some pointers this week for coaching youth baseball and softball, many of which can apply to any sport. Our tip for soccer coaches? Spend as much time as possible having young players touch the ball. Drills that involve a lot of standing around or running up and down the field while others control one ball, (a.k.a. scrimmage) do not improve players’ abilities to dribble, pass and shoot. We have some great suggestions for soccer drills you can use to encourage lots of touching and improve technique. Thanks for being a youth soccer coach!

Why coaches won’t go online

Imagine this scenario: You’re a busy, volunteer coach of your son or daughter’s soccer, baseball, basketball or softball team. You probably said you’d coach the team because the league was begging for volunteers. You aren’t really sure how to run an effective practice so the league has pointed you to an online training site where there are animated drills, streaming videos and downloadable practice plans. So you work all day at your job, then come home, have dinner, put the kids to bed and at 9;00 at night have to decide whether to spend a little, precious time with your spouse or log onto a website and start watching videos teaching you to do something you don’t get paid to do. You’d have to print out sheets of paper with drills so that you can remember what to do at practice tomorrow.

Fortunately, there is a better alternative and these leagues have found it. CoachDeck is a standard deck of cards containing 52 good, fundamental drills that can all be made into fun games kids love. Now a coach who doesn’t have time to prepare can simply pull a few cards out of the deck and instantly have a great practice plan ready to go. Nothing is more convenient and easy to use than CoachDeck!

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