Have a fantastic Friday

Watching the NHL Playoffs this weekend? Maybe the NBA? Hopefully enjoying the nice spring weather and going outside for a round of golf, some tennis, or perhaps coaching a youth baseball, softball or soccer game using your CoachDeck cards. Whatever the plan, make it fun and make it sporting!

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Youth baseball and softball ramping up

It’s only January, and much of North America is under the grips of Old Man Winter. But behind the scenes, the volunteers are coming out of hibernation to begin plans and preparation for the spring 2018 baseball and softball seasons. It won’t be long before we see them on the fields raking, digging, seeding and watering. If you happen by and offer to help, you won’t be turned away!

Dear Coach, I Play On Your Team

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

Dear Coach. I am one of the players on your team. I am too young to understand that you volunteer to be my coach and that you are not an expert. I don’t know what you do away from the field, I only know you as “Coach”. But I thought maybe it would be good if you knew something about me.

I like watching sports on TV, playing video games, riding my skateboard and going places with my family, especially when we can bring our dog, Misty. My favorite foods are pizza and my mom’s mac and cheese.

This is my fourth season playing and I’m probably not the best at it but I think I’m pretty good. Sometimes I go out in the backyard or down to the park and practice with my dad but he’s really busy so not as much as I would like. I practice by myself sometimes too.

The first coach I ever had was really nice and he called everyone, “Buddy”. I liked that and I liked him. I think our team was really good but I can’t really remember. I know that twice he said after the game while we were having our snack that I was “Player of the Game”. I think there were a lot of players of the game that year but I was proud I got named that those times.

The first few times I went to practice that year I was really scared because I had never done it before and the coach was bigger than my dad and had a loud voice. I got used to it though and at the end of the year almost everyone on my team was one of my best friends.

The second year, I had a different coach. He didn’t call everyone Buddy, but it was better because he came up with nicknames for all of us. I was “Alligator”. I don’t really know why but that’s what he called me. When practice was over Coach would always say, “See you later, Alligator.” and it was funny. What I liked about this coach was that he made everything a game. If he thought we should practice running, he made it a race. When we practiced other stuff it was always half of us against the other half. I think our team was pretty good that year too. I am pretty sure we won a lot of games.

The coach I had last year was not my favorite. He was always talking to us about winning, which is fine because I want to win, but it was more the way he did it. He would say things to some of the kids, including me, that made me feel bad. He’d say we were hurting the team and that we didn’t “want it.” enough. I thought I wanted it plenty, though I’m not sure what “it” is. He would always make the team run when he was mad and he was mad a lot. He would yell at us when he got really mad. Sometimes my mom and dad yell at each other at home and I hate it. So when he did it, it reminded me of that.

This coach would tell us to do things we didn’t understand and then act like we were not paying attention when we didn’t do it right. When all-stars were picked last year I wasn’t on it. I thought I should have been but when the coach announced who made it he said they deserved it. So I guess I didn’t.

I told my parents I might not want to play this year but they said that was silly and that of course I was going to play again, so they signed me up. I know this is a new level I’m at now and that we have some good players. I think I will be able to help the team just as much as them. But I’m also afraid of making mistakes.

No matter what happens, I hope you know I’m trying my best.

Thank you, Coach.

Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League 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

Youth baseball and softball participation rising!

After years of hearing “doom and gloom” about the declining number of kids playing baseball and softball, finally some great news. The Sports & Fitness Industry Association has released a report showing that participation levels are improving and improving dramatically. This clearly bodes well for both sports’ futures and for our nation’s youth. (Courtesy Fox Sports and Ken Rosenthal).

Building Robots

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

It is very easy to search the internet and find articles written about over-competitive coaches who ruined the experience for young players and turned them off a sport. But soon, I am concerned, there will be just as many kids who are disenchanted not by hyper-aggressive coaches, but by too much structure at an early age.

I read this on a soccer club website:

Our coaches are master teachers whose demonstrations include demanding instruction, step-by-step clarification, and playful joking to bring out the most sensitive technical points for children to grasp and imitate. They have a great understanding cognitive, psychosocial, and motor development of youth, knowledge about components of physical fitness and appropriate training principles, knowledge of sport and physical activities including skills, rules, officiating techniques for a variety of activities.

A description of their elite, travel program preparing players for playing in college? No, this was in their self-described “Rec (Beginners)” division for five and six year-olds

There seems to be this gripping fear in the United States soccer community that the reason our National Team doesn’t compete with the rest of the world is that we’re not properly training our children from an early age. Everywhere I look I see pressure coming from various national organizations for coaches, even those of the volunteer variety to run fully scripted practices with “progressions” that are planned well in advance.

Yet we all know that some of the best soccer players in the world grew up kicking a homemade ball on the street with friends from morning until night. They had no regimented or professional coaching until they were well into their teens. They weren’t “constructed.” They just loved to play and the grown-ups stayed out of their way.

If a six year-old has the potential to be a National Team player, A) you don’t know it when he’s six and B) no “superior” coaching is going to be required at that age to get him there. However, there is a good chance that if he’s subjected to “demanding instruction” and incredibly “structured” practice plans, that he might someday opt to be a great video game player instead, where there are no forced agendas.

And this, “the earlier we can begin formal training the better” attitude isn’t just limited to soccer. I received an email from a Little League President which stated, in part;

We are very blessed that we have several former Major Leaguers coaching at the T-Ball Level.”

That’s fine, but what skills can a Major Leaguer teach to five and six year-olds that couldn’t just as effectively be imparted by an average parent? Yet it is likely everyone in that league believes these tykes are getting a big jump start to their baseball careers because of the people teaching them to run to first base after they hit the ball, instead of to third.

The younger the players are, the more the experience should be about having fun making mistakes and the less it should be about correcting those mistakes. Volunteer coaches, without impressive pedigrees, are often better in this role than pros. Kids don’t want to go to practice knowing that every minute will be choreographed and planned, stripped of fun or spontaneity. If they’re on the field with a ball, they’ll naturally get better. It’s when they say they don’t want to play anymore that even the greatest coach in the world can’t help them.

Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League 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

As fair as it can get for selecting all-stars

We found a link on the City of Christiansburg (VA) website explaining their selection process for baseball and softball all-stars. It mirrors the selection process we published in 2012, adding the additional component of an independently-assessed tryout. For transparency and fairness, we highly recommend all leagues adopt one of these processes, or something similar.

What day is today?

Of course…it’s Friday! Time to get ready for a weekend of youth baseball, softball or soccer. Or basketball, or football or walking, jogging, going to the gym, hiking, biking, anything that gets you active and energized. The weather shouldn’t be an excuse this weekend. And you can rest your sore muscles Sunday afternoon watching the final round of The Masters!