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 He can be reached at

Favoritism or Family?

We came across an interesting article from the Baton Rouge Advocate detailing how four coaches at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette coach their children on their teams. We get tons of questions and complaints from youth league parents stemming from the favoritism they feel is given to the sons and daughters of youth league coaches. At the college level is this the highest form of nepotism in sports, or is it a nice thing that should be allowed and even encouraged?

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.

What if your child doesn’t make all-stars?

We all know this is a stressful time of year for parents of baseball and softball players. Being selected to the league’s all-star team is an honor and can be a thrill. But what if your child is not chosen? Every year there are borderline players who get left off the team and are disappointed. Often, their parents believe it is because of nepotism or favoritism, some “ism” and vent their bitterness in complaints and online forums. We’re not saying that politics don’t ever come into play, in fact we know they do and have witnessed it first-hand. However, the way you react can go a long way towards turning it into something positive instead of being a catastrophe for your youngster. The best thing to do is turn it into a motivator. Explain that this whole process is a marathon, not a sprint and that if you (the player) really want success badly enough, think long-term. Kids grow, bodies change, things are going to happen over the next 4-5 years and who knows, if you work harder then maybe the next time you’ll be picked and one of these other players won’t. The best lesson we can give our kids in the face of adversity is not to blame, but to overcome.

Running a great youth practice

Whether it be baseball, softball, soccer, basketball or any other sport, there are a few keys to running a great practice with your youth team, regardless of their age. The first, most important aspect is making it fun. This doesn’t mean you just mess around all practice, but nearly any serious drill can be made into a fun and exciting game that kids love. Check out to see how we turn ordinary drills into competitions that also simulate gameday intensity.

Father’s Day Gift for Baseball and Softball Coaches

Do you have a coach in your life? You know the guy. He has two buckets of balls and huge bag of gear in his garage at all times. Well, at least the times when he’s not down at the field coaching a bunch of eager youngsters how to play baseball or softball? Want a unique Father’s Day gift for him? Why not order him a CoachDeck? He’ll love the 52 fun drills and games inside a handy deck of cards format. Tens of thousands of volunteer coaches have one of our decks. We also make a deck for basketball, soccer and football. Shouldn’t the dad-coach in your life have one too?

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.