May, 2016 OnDeck Newsletter is out!

Check out the May, 2016 OnDeck Newsletter with great articles about promoting sportsmanship, educating volunteer coaches, making baseball and softball more interesting and teaching soccer players the right shot at the right time. Get your copy for either baseball/softball, soccer, or both here!

Teaching Kids to Be Good Sports

By Dr. Darrell Burnett

“Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” – Heywood Hale Brown

Youth Sports: The Last Vestige of Sportsmanship

We’re living in an age where the preservation of traditional values can no longer be taken for granted. It seems we need to have reminders (books, movies, newspaper articles, etc.) to maintain our awareness of the importance of preserving the basic human values which are essential to the survival of a community.

It’s no different in the world of sports. The traditional value of sportsmanship is being challenged from all sides: professional, college, high school, and even in youth sports. There are some who say sportsmanship is becoming a lost art and that unless we remind ourselves of the essentials of sportsmanship and strive to maintain the basics of sportsmanship it will gradually fade as other values have done in our society.

In the midst of all this, it seems doubly important that we recommit ourselves to guiding our youth, reminding them what sportsmanship is all about, rewarding them for showing good sportsmanship and showing, by our example, that sportsmanship is still alive and valued in youth sports today.

Here’s a 10-item checklist for kids to follow as they try to develop a habit of good sportsmanship.

1. I abide by the rules of the game.
Part of good sportsmanship is knowing the rules of the game and playing by them. If a player decides to play a given sport, it is the responsibility of that player to learn not only how to play but how to play according to the rules which have been established and standardized to allow competitive games to be played in an orderly fashion. The more a player knows the rules the more that player can enjoy the sport.

2. I try to avoid arguments.
Part of good sportsmanship is anger management. Arguing with officials, coaches or opponents is often simply a misguided effort at “letting off steam” in the heat of competition. A good sport knows that anger can get in the way of a good performance. A good sport knows how to walk away from an argument and to stay focused on the game at hand.

3. I share in the responsibilities of the team.
Good sportsmanship implies that the player on a team is a team player. In other words, the player understands that his or her behavior reflects on the team in general. Moreover, a team player does not condone unsportsmanlike conduct from teammates and reminds players that they all share in the responsibility of promoting good sportsmanship.

4. I give everyone a chance to play according to the rules.
In youth recreational sports the more talented players, if they are good sports, will look out for and encourage the less talented players on the team, cooperating with coaching plans to let everybody play. Unfortunately, some coaches may become so preoccupied with winning at all costs that they never play some players, regardless of the time and effort they put in at daily practices, even when the score warrants clearing the bench.

5. I always play fair.
Honesty and integrity should be an integral part of sports. A player with good sportsmanship does not want a hollow victory which comes as a result of cheating (“dirty” fouls, ineligible players, performance enhancing drugs, etc.)

6. I follow the directions of the coach.
A player with good sportsmanship listens to and follows the directions of the coach, realizing that each player’s decisions affect the rest of the team. If a player has disagreements with the coach, the player discusses the disagreements privately in a civil manner, away from the public eye.

7. I respect the other team’s effort.
Whether the other team plays better, or whether they play worse, the player with good sportsmanship does not use the occasion to put the other team down. In the field of competition respect for opponents is central to good sportsmanship. If an opponent out-performs a player that player accepts it, learns from it, offers no excuses and moves on. If a player out-performs an opponent, that player enjoys the victory, but does not gloat, does not belittle, and does not minimize the opponent’s effort.

8. I offer encouragement to teammates.
A sign of good sportsmanship is a player who praises teammates when they do well and who comforts and encourages them when they make mistakes. Criticizing teammates in the heat of battle simply distracts from the focus of working together and gives the advantage to the opponent who develops a sense of confidence when seeing signs of weakness or a lack of unity in the midst of the competition.

9. I accept the judgment calls of the game officials.
Part of the human condition is making mistakes. Arguing with an official over a judgment call simply wastes energy. The player with good sportsmanship knows that errors may be made, but the player also knows that a game is made up of all the plays and calls from the beginning to the end of the game, not just the call in dispute. The player with good sportsmanship may be upset, but that player also has learned to focus his/her energies back on the game and on doing the best he/she can do for the rest of the game.

10. I end the game smoothly.
When the game is over, pouting, threatening, cajoling have no place in the life of the players with good sportsmanship, who emphasize the joy of participating, regardless of outcome. They’re not devoid of emotions but they know that their efforts to end the competition smoothly, without antagonistic emotional display, will help ensure that the games will continue in the future.

On a final note, a word of caution. We can’t be so naive as to think that by teaching and valuing sportsmanship in our youth we will ensure that they will take these values with them into their young adult and adult sports lives. However, if we don’t expose them to the essentials of sportsmanship, and if we don’t guide them in developing a sense of good sportsmanship, we can all but guarantee that they will fall prey to the young adult and adult world of sports and athletics, with its continued tendency to minimize sportsmanship, and maximize winning as the only real value in competitive athletics.

Sportsmanship Checklist for Kids

1. I abide by the rules of the game.
2. I try to avoid arguments.
3. I share in the responsibilities of the team.
4. I give everyone a chance to play according to the rules.
5. I always play fair.
6. I follow the directions of the coach.
7. I respect the other team’s effort.
8. I offer encouragement to my teammates.
9. I accept the judgment calls of the game officials.
10. I end the game smoothly.

Sportsmanship is the ability to:

  • win without gloating
  • lose without complaining
  • treat your opponent with respect.

Sportsmanship Tips:

  • If you make a mistake, don’t pout or make excuses. Learn from it, and be ready to continue to play.
  • If a teammate makes a mistake, offer encouragement, not criticism.
  • If you win, don’t rub it in.
  • If you lose, don’t make excuses.

Dr. Darrell Burnett is a clinical psychologist and a certified sports psychologist specializing in youth sports. He has been in private practice for 25+ years in Laguna Niguel, California. His book, IT’S JUST A GAME! (Youth, Sports, & Self Esteem: A Guide for Parents), is described at his website,, along with his other books, booklets and CDs on youth sports and family life.

Behavior Checklist for Youth Coaches (Part 2 of 3)

By Dr. Darrell Burnett

I have reasonable and realistic expectations.

A major frustration for kids, in sports or in life, is trying to live up to expectations of adults in their lives. At times, youngsters have a strong need for adult approval. If they don’t get it, due to unrealistic expectations from adults, it can be a major source of low self-worth. Since a coach often plays a major role in the life of a youngster, it is important to keep expectations reasonable. A good coach’s skill expectations are based on the knowledge that all youngsters in youth sports 1) vary in their development of physical coordination skills, 2) go through plateaus in their skill development and 3) have growth spurts which can affect their coordination.

A good coach’s motivation expectations are based on the awareness that there are three levels of motivation for kids in youth sports: 1) some kids, especially the entry-level youngsters, are playing because their parents enrolled them, 2) many youngster are playing because it’s a social event allowing them to be with their friends, 3) a smaller group of youngsters, beginning at about age 11 or 12, are playing because they enjoy sports for sports’ sake.

A good coach’s dedication expectations are based on the knowledge that the level of dedication to practice and mastery of skills depends upon the level of motivation in a youngster. A good coach also knows that dedication wanes when playing the sport is no longer fun.

I treat kids with respect, avoiding put-downs, sarcasm or ridicule.

When a youngster signs up to play sports, he/she deserves to be treated with respect. This means no put-downs, no sarcasm and no ridiculing by the coach. Dr. Thomas Tutko, renowned author, lecturer and sports psychologist, notes that any youth sports coach who volunteers to take on the job of guiding kids in any given sport needs to be careful of how he/she comes across to the youngsters. He uses the words “potential child abuse” when describing the verbal and emotional harassment that sometimes takes place in the name of “coaching” in youth sports.

I remind kids not to get down on themselves.

I once observed a brilliant piece of youth sports coaching at a basketball game. A youngster missed a lay-up on a fast break. The coach substituted for the youngster. He then said to him, “Son, I didn’t take you out because of the missed lay-up. I took you out because after you missed the lay-up you hung your head, delayed in getting back on defense and allowed your opponent to score an easy basket. If you get down on yourself after you make a mistake all it does is give your opponent an advantage. Now, get back in there, learn from your mistakes and quit beating yourself up!”

Youth is a time of mixed feelings. Kids can go from “cocky” to “unsure” in seconds. A steady reminder from the coach can help them to keep from falling apart when thing aren’t going well.

I remember not to take myself too seriously during the game.

Cartoons have a way of reminding us about some of our weaknesses. In an obvious parody of the singing fat lady, a cartoon depicts a youngster coming off the playing field after a defeat. The parents are beckoning him to the car. He responds, “Not yet mom and dad, the game’s not over ’til the coach cries!” In yet another cartoon, as the scoreboard indicates a loss for the home team, a youngster has his hand on the coach’s drooping shoulder, saying, “It’s OK coach, it’s just a Little League game!”

Although it’s a volunteer position, some youth sports coaches seem to have made it their “life.” The same person who appears so relaxed and easy going away from practice and the game takes on a whole new persona as “coach.” At times, there seems to be entirely too much ownership and identity tied in with the position. In youth sports involving a “draft” there seems to be the danger of a little too much ego involvement. In other words, it’s as though the coach was thinking; “I drafted you kids. If you don’t produce it makes me look bad.”

(Next issue, Part 3: Fun, Teamwork and Good Sportsmanship)

Dr. Darrell Burnett is a clinical psychologist and a certified sports psychologist specializing in youth sports. He has been in private practice for 25+ years in Laguna Niguel, California. His book, IT’S JUST A GAME! (Youth, Sports, & Self Esteem: A Guide for Parents), is described at his website,, along with his other books, booklets and CDs on youth sports and family life.

A Behavior Checklist for Youth Sports Coaches (Part 1 of 3)

by Dr. Darrell J. Burnett

When the UCLA Sports Laboratory surveyed children for the main reasons why they continue to participate in youth sports, the number one reason given was positive coach support. Research points to the benefits of getting kids to continue to participate in youth sports, noting that kids who stay in sports tend to stay in school, get better grades and have fewer behavioral problems.

It seems obvious that the key to a successful youth sports program where the kids keep coming back is positive support, which the kids feel from their coach.

It is extremely important that we, as coaches, remember that a successful youth coach is defined not in terms of a won-loss record, but in terms of how many kids decide to return to play again next year.

I praise my kids just for participating.

It’s important for us, as coaches, to put youth sports in the proper perspective. Kids have lots of pressures growing up today and it seems silly for adults to add more pressure in an area which is supposed to be “fun and games.” The first thing we need to do is to give the child credit for choosing to play a sport rather than hang out during free time. We need to credit each player just for being there. The youngster chose to sign up, come to practice and come to the games. Even when the child is having a bad day at practice or the game, at least he/she is participating and not dropping out. We need to remind ourselves not to notice and praise kids only when they achieve. It’s easy to praise the kids who do well in a sport. We also need to praise the youngsters who don’t shine but who stay with a sport day in and day out, showing up for practice and games, even though their playing time is limited.

I look for positives and make a big deal out of them.

It is said that a major source of a child’s self-view is what they hear about themselves from others, especially from adults. If we want to help promote a positive self-view in kids while they play sports we need to concentrate on looking for positives and then noticing them with animated praise.

Research shows that a healthy relationship has a 4 to 1 ratio of positives to negatives. That’s a good rule of thumb for coaches. As we arrive for practice or games, we should be thinking of trying to keep a healthy ratio of positives to negatives.

Moreover, if we want kids to hear the positives, we have to be specific. “Nice try” and “good game” are too vague. Kids need something specific so they can visualize it and remember it (i.e., “I like the way you hit the cut-off man,” “I like the way you kept hustling until the whistle blew.”) Helping a youngster notice his/her specific progress are all ways of noticing positives.

Finally, it’s not enough simply to notice a positive. It’s equally important to “make a big deal” out of it, to praise with animation. Why? Because kids hear, respond to and remember action. The bigger public commotion we make as a coach when a kid does something right, the better. In fact, a good motto is: “Praise in public and criticize in private.”

I stay calm when kids make mistakes, helping them learn from their mistakes.

The key to positive coach support is the art of interacting with a child after a mistake has been made. Ideally, youth sports offer kids great lessons in life: 1) it’s OK to make a mistake, 2) mistakes are inevitable and 3) mistakes are stepping stones for learning.

When a youngster makes a mistake in a sport, one of two things can occur: 1) the youngster can learn from the mistake and try to improve the next time; or 2) the youngster can become preoccupied with the fear of making another mistake.

If a coach stays calm and tries to instruct the child, there’s a chance that the child will see the mistake as an opportunity to learn. If the coach stays calm there’s a chance that the kid will stay calm, focus on the mistake and learn from it.

Unfortunately, as human beings, we often tend to have more animation in our reactions to negatives than in our reactions to positives. So it takes an extra effort on our part as coaches to remind ourselves to do all in our power to try to stay calm when mistakes occur. (Next: Checklist Part Two)

Dr. Darrell Burnett is a clinical psychologist and a certified sports psychologist specializing in youth sports. He has been in private practice for 25+ years in Laguna Niguel, California. His book, IT’S JUST A GAME! (Youth, Sports, & Self Esteem: A Guide for Parents), is described at his website,, along with his other books, booklets and CDs on youth sports and family life.