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

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Five ways to support youth sports – Day 4

Part four in our five-part series this week from our friends at TrueSport.org.

In order to make youth sports a positive and enriching experience for all kids, it’s important to understand the challenges many families face in terms of participating in youth sports.

This week we encourage families and your sport organizations to consider 5 components of youth sports – one each day – and how it impacts your kids.

Day 4: Youth Development

Positive coaching is essential for a great youth sports experience, and it’s crucial for parents to reinforce lessons learned on the field and at home.

At TrueSport we provide downloadable educational lessons for youth sport coaches and parents. Topics range from sportsmanship to hydration, leadership to bullying prevention, and many more.

Make sure your student-athlete is both a student and athlete as a great education will serve them well whether or not they achieve success as an athlete.

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

Still more about playing time and parents

We continue to get questions sent to us about our article about parents and their kids’ playing time. Below is one received yesterday, and our response. We can only hope that the parents of this coach-pitch level boy are slightly exaggerating the behavior of this coach. We have a feeling they are not.

I just read your article on playing time and while I agree, in theory, with your point about parents not intervening regarding playing time – what do you think parents should do if a coach is really out of control?

My older two boys (15 & 12) play travel and high school baseball. My husband and I have NEVER discussed playing time with their coaches. When they were or weren’t getting playing time – we have left it to them to earn more or talk with their coach. My husband has coached for years, my brother is a high school coach, and we have fantastic friendships with our other boys current and past coaches.

My eight year old is on a team this spring with the same coach he had last year. For the first time in 10 years of having kids playing youth baseball we requested a different coach and somehow ended back with this guy. Quite frankly – he is a jerk. Yesterday was the first game and he had his kid and his kids two best friends play 6 innings in the infield while there were other kids on the team who played two in the infield and two on the bench (which is actually against league rules). Last year he let my son play short stop while his kid was taking a bathroom break and when his kid came back he pulled my 7 year old out mid-inning and said loudly enough to be heard by the audience “X sit down – X is back now and he is better than you”. He laughs at kids when they make errors. This is in an instructional/recreational (not travel) coach pitch league with a five run limit per inning where the final score is often 25-25. Nothing is at stake except the kids feelings and development.

My husband and I are trying to figure out what to do. Do you think that when an adult is behaving this badly and the kids are this young – parents should still do nothing? I am really struggling with this because while I believe kids need to learn to navigate these situations themselves – it seems that parents should protect kids from adults who are abusing their power.

I am assuming that you have gotten feedback from your article so I would love your perspective on if it is ever appropriate to say anything to the coach or even the commissioner?

Our response:

Thank you for your note and your comments. You are correct, I do get a lot of feedback from my article. Very often my advice is probably not what the parent wants to hear, because I “read between the lines” in their complaints and can tell that the reality is that the coach really isn’t being unfair, but the player is simply not deserving of playing time based on performance and/or effort, isn’t working hard enough, etc. But in these cases we’re talking about older kids than yours.

The fact that you have older sons playing, your husband coaches, and that you say you have not ever complained about playing time leads me to believe that this is an unusual and difficult situation. My article was aimed at the parents of older children. Of course, I would not say that an eight year-old should have to talk to the coach about his playing time. Especially if this guy is as big a jerk as you describe.

At that age, all kids should be rotated around to all positions. Maybe the positions shouldn’t be 100% equal in distribution, but no one should play the entire game in the infield, nor the outfield. And no player should ever sit out a second inning until everyone else has sat out his first.

So the part where I provide advice is a little tougher. I have a feeling you don’t want to be the complaining parents, that this isn’t your style. And if the coach were following the rules to a T, but was just a snide, unpleasant guy, I’d almost say you’re going to have to put up with it. However, if he is breaking the rules in terms of playing time and/or positions, it absolutely should be reported. Again, I can only take you at your word about how big a jerk this guy is, but from your description it seems unlikely that having a conversation with him will bear fruit. I would definitely report what he is doing, (the rules part) to the commissioner and I think I’d fill in the other details about his demeanor as well. You may want to ask that the commissioner not mention who reported the information so that there is less chance of retribution against your son.

Of course, the best-case outcome means that the coach will have to follow the rules to the minimum standard, which still might allow him to be unfair about rotating player around, (just not AS unfair) and it is unlikely he will stop being a jerk. So the only three options beyond this I can think of would be to see if your husband can volunteer to help as an assistant, (which this guy may not accept), or just make the best of if or, if it gets too bad, pull your son off the team.

I’m sorry that this is happening and wish I had more to offer. I hope this helps and thanks again for writing.

January, 2015 OnDeck Newsletter goes out tomorrow

Our first volume of OnDeck for 2015 hits the virtual newsstands tomorrow. The price? It’s free! Want it delivered to your inbox? Sign up here and never miss an issue.

Youth Sports Coaching – Not a Job, But a Calling

By John O’Sullivan

So they call you Coach, huh? Have you ever stopped to consider what that means?

You have taken on one of the most beautiful, powerful, and influential positions a person can ever have. Some people may call it a job, and others a profession, but in reality, being a great coach is not that at all. It is so much more than that.

By becoming a coach, you have chosen to work with young athletes. You have chosen to guide them through the trials and tribulations of learning two beautiful games: sport and life. You are in a position to change their lives forever, not only by making them better athletes, but better people. You are a leader, you are a role model, you are a person who serves your athletes, and you are a person to whom they entrust their physical and emotional well-being.

Never take this responsibility lightly.

Coaching can be one of the most difficult jobs in the world. We work with young athletes in highly emotional and public situations. We keep score, and because of that our work is often judged week to week, even day to day, based upon the performance of a bunch of kids, how well they play, how much they play, and where they play.

Every time we coach, our words and actions can have a huge impact in the lives of our players, both positively and negatively. We are faced with moments of success and failure, and with calls from officials both good and bad. Our words and actions in these situations can stick with our players forever.

The thing is, we don’t get to choose which things stick, and which ones they forget, so in everything we say and do, we have to choose wisely.

Coaching also means you will be dealing with parents. Many of them are wonderful, and will support you and be grateful that you have taken the time and energy to teach and mentor their child. Celebrate them, and be thankful they are on your team.

Others are not so wonderful. They have unrealistic expectations for their children and the team. They will be a friend to your face, and an enemy behind your back. They will make life miserable for their own child, and often for you and the rest of the team as well. Do your best to educate them and minimize their negativity, and empower others to do the same. Most importantly, be a trusted mentor for their child. Those kids need a positive role model more than most, and it’s not their fault that mom or dad has lost the plot.

The science of coaching and teaching has evolved tremendously in the last few decades. We now know that many coaching and teaching methods used when we were kids are not as effective as once thought. Fear and intimidation does not work as well as an environment of love and respect. Lines and lectures are a thing of the past. Rote repetition is effective only to a point. Just because you taught something does not mean your players learned it. Just because you went over it does not mean they retained it and can replicate it in a game. Far too many coaches are focused on running exercises in practice that are successful 90% of the time, when in reality messy practices that replicate game situations are far more powerful learning tools. Do you have these type of practices on your clipboard?

Every player we coach, we leave a lasting impact. There is no way around this; you will influence every player you come in contact with. What will your influence be? Will it be something positive and affirming that bolsters your athletes and serves them throughout life? Will it be a more fulfilling experience for you and your players, more enjoyable, and more successful?

Or will it be something that tears them down, that diminishes their self worth, that makes them fearful of failure, or ties their self-worth with sports success? We all mean well, but sometimes when we are pushing to win a game, or talking to our teams after a tough loss, we say and do things that we later regret. I know in the past I have, and I never considered for a moment that my harsh, personal and often over the top criticism of a kid might follow him or her off the field. But it did.

I believe that being a coach is so much more than running a bunch of practices and organizing kids for games. It is about connecting with your players as people first, and athletes second.

It is about being passionate, and loving the game you teach, so your players will play with passion and love.

It is about empathy, making every player feel important, and giving him or her a role on the team.

It is about integrity and consistency for kids during good times and bad.

It is about being a model of the behavior you expect from your athletes, both on and off field of battle.

It is about being a teacher, not only of the X’s an O’s of a sport, but about life, about optimism, about persistence,  and about character.

No, coaching cannot simply be a job. It must be a vocation, a calling to a place that best suits your skills, your passion and your ability.

You can change lives with a single word, a single pat on the back, and a single conversation that says “I believe in you.”

The world needs great coaches more than ever before. The world needs you!

Are you ready?

John O’Sullivan is the Founder of the Changing the Game Project, and author of the national bestseller Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports back to Our Kids. He is a longtime soccer player and coach on the youth, college and professional level, and a nationally known speaker on coaching and parenting in youth sports. His work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Soccer America, and SoccerWire.com, and he recently gave a TED talk on “Changing the Game in Youth Sports.”

Don’t Be Afraid to Coach!

One of the most difficult jobs youth league administrators face each season is rounding up enough volunteers willing to coach. If you’ve never coached a youth sports team before, it is natural to feel trepidation and to figure someone else can do a better job. But here are a few reasons why even you should have the confidence to say, “I’ll do it.”

I get it. It can be a little scary. I had a unique background in that my summer job for seven summers in high school and college was coaching a rec baseball league. I was on the field from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM five days a week instructing kids ages 6-15. So when it came time for own children to start playing sports, there was never a doubt if I would be the coach.

However, the first team I ever had was not in baseball but in pee-wee roller-hockey at the YMCA. I had never played hockey growing up. I can’t even skate. I certainly didn’t have any drills or practice plans. But I just figured out some basic exercises for the kids to do and, most importantly, I was enthusiastic. I exhorted them to play hard, encouraged their effort and was their biggest cheerleader. After the season the parents all seemed to think I did a great job, and I know the kids didn’t want to have it come to an end.

In the sports world, how many times have you seen a player with less talent outperform one with more ability because of hustle and hard work? It’s the same principle here. You can make up for lack of knowledge and experience with enthusiasm and effort. If your main objective at each game and practice is to inspire your players to do their best, to eagerly praise every accomplishment and pick them up after each failure, even if you’re not the greatest coach your players will respond positively. And if the players are always giving 100% because they are following your example, if they are having fun because you bring humor and a positive attitude, then their parents will overlook any technical shortcomings. The parents of the hockey team I coached didn’t know and didn’t care that I’d never played or even skated before.

Say you’d love to coach but you don’t have time? I know people with very demanding jobs. But they ask for the time off, make it up evenings and weekends, and their bosses understand. Let’s say we’re talking about a practice and two games per week. Maybe six, seven hours a week total for a few months. Couldn’t you get into work an hour earlier, stay an hour or two later a few days a week and make it happen?

And if it is your competitive nature that is standing in your way, put your ego aside. Its not that big of a deal if your team loses more games than it wins. Who’s going to remember in five years? Can you be a positive influence on a group of kids? Can you teach them that winning and losing isn’t as important as trying their best and being a supportive member of a team? Can you have enough fun during practices and games that they’ll all want to come back again next season? You just read the job description for a successful youth coach.

Someone has to step up and volunteer to coach or there are no youth sports. We all can’t simply expect it to be someone else’s job. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be good at it. Maybe you’ll love it and you’ll come back every year hereafter. And even if you decide that one season is enough, at least you gave it a try. At least for a couple of months, you volunteered your time to help the community. No, years from now you probably won’t remember your win-loss record. But when someone pulls out an old team photo of a group of smiling kids in their new uniforms, you’ll see yourself standing tall behind them. And you’ll be glad you decided to put yourself out there and let them call you, “Coach.”

Brian Gotta is President of CoachDeck LLC (http://www.coachdeck.com). He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com.