Yep. You missed it

The June OnDeck Newsletter has gone out and is full of entertaining and helpful articles for coaches, parents and players. But we’ll let you in on a little secret. You can check it out here, and view all previous editions as well! And why not sign up to get all future issues so we don’t have to go through this again!

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You Can’t Teach Instinct

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

I was watching a college basketball game on television and saw a player make a play that did not warrant any ‘oohs” and “aahs” from the commentators, and it was not shown on replay or on any highlight shows the next day. But it struck me because I realized that no coach had taught this kid to make this play. And it got me thinking about the way most youngsters today are learning their sports.

On this particular play, the player was heading toward the basket full-speed when he received a pass from underneath. Without even dribbling he went up for a fake shot, then made a perfect pass back underneath for a layup. He had less than a second to process where he was, where the defender was, and where the basket and his teammate were. He simply reacted. There was no time for thought.

No coach could have possibly taught him that move. I can’t imagine a scenario where a coach would slow practice down and work on this exact situation so that a player would have that in his repertoire. Rather, that came from years of trial and error, probably playing pick-up games for hours on end.

Do our kids get enough of that? Of course, there is a place for structured practice. The fundamentals need to be taught through various drills. There is value to private, one-on-one lessons for those who can afford to send their kids. But if you had to choose, would you want your kids to have the best technique, or the best instinct?

Kids should be encouraged to play on their own, away from structured coaching. This is not only good for their athletic instincts, but for their life skills as well.

My boys were lucky that there were three of them, pretty close in age, and they had a cul-de-sac that they could use as a wiffle ball field. They drew bases in chalk and had tournaments against each other that lasted weeks. They made up their own rules, settled their own disputes, but most importantly, they played and learned. Learned when they could take that extra base. Learned how to make a fake throw and tag someone out.

When I ran practices, “Live Situations” was always part of the plan. We’d essentially play a live game in a controlled environment where we coaches could stop the action and praise something a player did right and explain to the team why and how he did it. We could also correct mistakes. It was like a scrimmage but with a pause, rewind and play button.

I’m thinking of all the boys and girls my children’s ages who spent countless afternoons alone with some private instructor honing their mechanics. Many of them had and are having success in their athletic careers so I’m not criticizing it. But I wonder if they’d have had as much benefit or more from just playing.

Now, as I’ve written before, I understand that in this day and age it isn’t as easy as it might have been thirty years ago to tell grade-school kids to just go down to the school and to be home at dark. But imagine if ten families, each paying for their child to attend individual private lessons at various locations, instead, all paid one tenth of the amount to one coach who would simply supervise them play against each other at a field without saying a word. That sounds kind of radical, but why? What if, in lieu of coaches, parents all rotated and took a day to do the same thing, and let the kids organize it all?

This may just be a fantasy of mine, but I don’t see how anyone could argue the benefit. Again, there is a time and a place for structured coaching. But if you want to see your young players really learn how to “play”, that’s exactly what they’ll have to do.

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

Happy Friday from us at CoachDeck

We hope your weekend is filled with athletic adventure! Ride a bike. Shoot a ball. Catch a ball. Watch a ball game. Maybe it’s all-star time for your kids. No matter what, get out of the house and channel your inner-superstar! Have a great weekend.

Fall equipment purchases

You may be involved in a youth soccer league that does a fall season, or a youth baseball league that runs a pitching machine league this fall. Maybe the high school semester just ended and it’s time to look at purchases for baseball, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey or soccer this fall. Whatever your needs, we recommend our partner Upstart Sports. They’ll have what you need and, if they don’t, contact them and they’ll get it for you. You can trust the folks at Upstart to get you the best sporting goods at the lowest prices.

Need More Than One Club In Your Bag

By Tony Earp

When working to improve a player’s finishing, the most important part is helping the player choose the right shot when going to goal. Although striking the ball well, with proper technique, power and accuracy are all important, a brilliantly struck ball with great technique, power, and accuracy can still not produce a goal. Finishing is not just striking the ball harder. It is more about striking the ball SMARTER. Just like a golfer cannot show up at the golf course with only his driver in the bag and expect to do well, a player cannot hit every shot on goal with just power and expect to score. Like a great golfer, you need a lot of different clubs in your bag to hit the right shot, at the right time, when the game demands it from you.

Watch a highlight reel of some of the best finishers of the game. Is every goal a laser hit from outside the penalty area into the side netting? I would bet that most of the goals are not scored that way. If you study the world’s best goal scorers, most goals are scored by the player being very aware of his surroundings and then taking the RIGHT shot to beat the defenders and the goalkeeper. Sometimes this type of shot is hit low and hard to the corner, sometimes it is a chip over a goalkeeper’s head, or possibly a ball hit with some bend to move outside of the goalkeeper’s reach and into the side netting. In all of these scenarios, the player made a decision about what type of shot he was going to hit based on what was going on in the game. Picking the right shot, at the right time, can create a moment of brilliance when the player finds the back of the net in an unexpected way.

Players who are not as savvy around the goal, probably would have just pulled out the driver and just hit the ball as hard as possible at the goal. By trying to strike the ball hard, the player will either miss the mark completely, or the ball’s path makes it easy for a goalkeeper to cut down the angle and make the save. A well positioned goalkeeper is very hard to beat by just hitting the ball hard.

Like a great golfer, great goal scorers look at the shot they need to hit, pick the right type of club (part of the foot/position of the foot), decide how hard they need to swing, and if they need the ball to be low, high, or curve the ball left or right. Then they try to hit that shot. A soccer player needs to do it in a fraction of a second while the golfer has some more time to think about it, and often, both do not hit the exact shot they would have liked. Even the best in the world, golfers and soccer players, miss the target more often than they hit it. Although they get a lot closer, more consistently than anyone else.

When working with players on finishing, this is what we are really trying to get them to learn. Not to just strike the ball hard with great power and accuracy, but to also pick the right shot at the right time to give themselves the best chance to score. A technically perfectly hit shot with great power and accuracy can still give the player little chance to score, but a well hit shot that makes sense in relation to where the player is to the goal, where the ball is in relation to the player, and where the goalkeepers and defenders are standing gives the player the best chance to have success.

Most players do not have the discipline from close range to use the inside or outside of the foot to slot the ball past a goalkeeper in the corner. Even from 10 yards away, the player steps in to try to hit the ball with an incredible amount of force that often causes the technique to break down. It is completely unnecessary to get that much power, but most players fail to see that causing them to miss easier goal scoring chances.

I get it. Hitting the ball hard is a lot of fun, but there are no bonus points for how fast the ball is going when it hits the back of the net.

On the flip side, when players are farther from goal, they need the ability and courage to not just step in and strike the ball hard, but try to aim at a part of the goal and hit the ball with more power. From distance, the goalkeeper has much more time to move to the ball, so a shot needs to have the right path, velocity, and be aimed at a target on the goal that keeps the ball as far away from the goalkeeper’s reach as possible until the ball crosses the white line. Most players are afraid to miss the target, so they hit a straight shot at the middle of the goal giving them little chance to score.
It is my preference for a player to give himself the best chance to score by aiming away from the goalkeeper rather than just hitting it somewhere on frame. I would rather see the player miss the target trying to give himself a chance to score than hit the goalkeeper in the hands with the ball because he is afraid to miss. I am not looking for a shot on goal. I want a player to try to score. Those are two different approaches.

On top of this, finishing is just another form of ball striking. It is the same as passing. All throughout a game, players pick their teammates out from different distances, often with incredible accuracy, when passing and moving the ball around the field. But when they get the chance to score, the mentality changes. A player who can drive a ball 30 yards to a teammate and hit him in the chest without the player having to move cannot hit the side of the goal from 10 yards away. Does that make sense?

Often in training, I will stand in the goal and tell players, “Pass me the ball.” One after the other, the players step up and play an accurate ball to my feet or drive a ball into my chest. Strange, those “passes” would all be brilliant finishes going to goal. What has changed? The approach and mentality of the player.

When passing, players, like a good golfer, are more concerned with getting the ball accurately to the target. With that in mind, players are more likely to “to pick the right club” and the right pass of the ball to get it to a teammate with pace and accuracy. When passing, players tend not to just blast the ball in the direction of their teammates hoping it gets there. Instead, they are much more calculated, and their consistency and accuracy are much better.

If players can take the same approach to finishing, realize they have more than just “one club in their bag”, it will make them much more efficient at putting the ball in the back of the net. Instead of the players only taking out their driver in front of the goal, they will utilize the other clubs in the bag to hit the correct shot to give themselves the best chance to score. As stated above, most players already do this in regards to passing and moving the ball around the field to their teammates, so the ability is there.

Like a great golfer, great goal scorers can hit the shot they need, when they need it, during a game to give themselves the best chance to score. Helping players become great finishers is not just about striking the ball harder or more accurate. It is about helping them to hit the ball SMARTER and picking the right shot, at the right time, that can create a brilliant moment when the ball hits the back of the net.

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

My child should have made all-stars

It is the time of year that baseball, softball and soccer leagues begin gearing up for all-stars. The all-star tournaments can be a ton of fun and great experience for kids, but they can also cause a lot of anxiety and resentment. Invariably, when all-star teams are selected, some feelings are hurt when children are left off the team. Of course, parents are upset and hurt to see their children upset and hurt, but there is probably also a little bit of anger mixed in. Parents’ egos come into play. They want to be able to proudly let other parents know that their child is an all-star. And, it makes it doubly irritating to see other parents be able to have that “prestige” when their kids are seemingly no more deserving. It is hard, this time of year, no doubt. And in baseball, softball and soccer the decisions are very subjective. This often leads to suspicions or accusations of nepotism and cronyism, especially when coaches’ and board members’ children are picked over others.

The best service a league or club can provide in this matter is to make the selection process as fair and as transparent as possible. One way to accomplish this is to have a vote. It is OK to let the coaches vote, but let the kids vote also. They will more than likely get it right and since the top 50% of the team is going to be chosen no matter what, by vote or not, having the kids’ vote data might just make those tougher final choices a little easier to map out.

This is cool

Check out this GIF showing every world cup soccer ball since 1930.