Time to be thankful

Those of us with children playing sports, at any level, have so much to be thankful for. Freedom from injuries. Volunteers who make everything possible. Coaches. Teammates. The means to be able to allow our children to play. Take this time to think of all of those across the world who do not have our advantages and be thankful.

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Five Types of Nightmare Parents

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

Sports parenting is a tricky thing. While I believe most people are inherently good, when they become parents and their children get into a competitive environment, it can bring out some less-then-desirable traits in all of us. While there are many types of bad sports parents, I’ve observed five main categories through the years. Have you ever slipped into any of these?

B-Rated
This is the classic, textbook nightmare parent. He (usually the dad) thinks it is his job to “get on” his kid either during the game, after, or both. What I’m describing goes beyond making comments about working or trying harder. This is the parent who turns his back on his child in disgust after a mistake saying, “That’s terrible!” This parent can’t wait for the car ride to yell at his child about his performance and say, “If you don’t want to be out there we can just call the coach right now and tell him.” The, ‘I’m paying too much’ or ‘My time is too valuable’ “to watch that,” guy. Fortunately, from my experience, this is also the rarest from of nightmare parent.

Rose-colored glasses
The other end of the spectrum is the parent who believes his or her child can do no wrong. He can’t stop talking about how special his kid is, the offers he’s getting, the new, better teams she’s considering going to. Sometimes it is overt, sometimes it is in the form of a seemingly innocent question such as, “How’s (your child) doing?” which is posed only as an excuse to then go on and talk about how great theirs is.

Activist
The activist is generally one who is disgruntled about the amount of playing time his or her child is getting. First they form coalitions, stirring up the discontent amongst the other parents whose children are also not getting the treatment they “deserve”. Generally in these situations the case is made that the coach is showing favoritism to some and not being fair. At the youth league level it is often said that the coach favors his child’s friends. At higher levels, many times the excuse given is that the coach is only playing the ones on his travel team. The activist tries to get enough like-minded support to go to the powers that be and have the coach removed. Since simply complaining about playing time isn’t a fireable offense, the charges are often trumped up to include bullying or some other form of mistreatment.

Behind-the-Back
These are parents willing to do whatever it takes to give their children an advantage, even if it hurts others. One time a coach of my son’s travel baseball team confided to me that a parent had approached him and said he thought we were really weak in the leadoff position of the batting order, (where my son had been slotted). Not surprisingly, he thought his son was better-suited there. So if the coach had listened to him, this dad would have been perfectly content to see my son suddenly on the bench and his kid in his place. It either would never have occurred to him that his meddling had adversely affected another youngster, or he wouldn’t have cared. The Behind-the-Back parent only knows about what’s best for him.

Loudmouth
The Loudmouth is probably the most common and may be the the category many of us fall into at times. The loudmouth, of course, argues calls with the officials from the stands. But he often also tries to help coach the team by making comments like, “We’ve got to pass!” or “We’ve got to make that play.” Even worse is when they pretend to be encouraging a player on their team by trying to rattle an opponent. They’ll say something like, “Just throw it straight down the middle. He hasn’t swung all game,” or “Get the rebound after she misses.” Ironically, if someone would ever stop the game and tell a Loudmouth they had been drafted into actually being the coach the rest of the game, my guess is they would turn beet red, sheepishly sit down and bite their tongue.

Of course there are many more types of “Nightmare” parents, but let’s dwell on the positives. There are also loads of “Dream” parents who come to the games, cheer for their children, their team, and maybe even show respect for players on the other team. This is the type of parent we should aspire to be. And looking in the mirror to see if we fall into any of the traps above is the first step in getting there.

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

Are Youth Sports Chewing Up Kids and Parents?

According to this Dr. Andrew Jacobs in his article in the Washington Times they are.  What are your thoughts?

Encourage competition while discouraging cheating in youth sports

Youth sports area great for teaching the value of competition, but it’s important to also teach the difference between playing to win and taking shortcuts. Our friends at TrueSport have some terrific pointers on how to get young athletes to see that sportsmanship trumps winning without making them lose their edge.

Coaching for Fun

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

It was a new riff on an old joke: I asked someone how he came to coach his daughter’s soccer team. He said, “I was standing with a group of parents and they asked for a volunteer to step forward. I stood still and everyone else stepped back.”

For those of us who have been there, have taken the reigns of a team we weren’t necessarily ready to coach, who did it more out of necessity than out of enthusiasm, we can relate. It’s funny, but then it’s also not.

Volunteer coaches are the youth sport equivalent of saints. Sure, volunteer board member also often work tirelessly for little reward. I was a board member while coaching three of my sons’ baseball teams in three different divisions. There are volunteer officials and umpires who also work hard. But an official can choose when he works. A board member who doesn’t coach isn’t in the spotlight. Coaches must be at every practice and every game. And they are the ones who take the heat when kids don’t play as much as parents think they should. When positions are decided. They are the ones criticized when the players don’t play well.

Most organizations would cease to exist without these coaches. But often, we take them for granted. We don’t always give them the support they need. We don’t show them the appreciation they deserve. Sometimes we expect too much of them in terms of requirements we demand of their time beyond the necessary practices and games. And we often expect more than we ought to when it comes to how they run practices.

For kids ages 5-10 technical training should take a back seat to fun. I’ve said this before: If a kid that age is going to be a college or pro star it’s not going to be because he had incredible coaching. If you’re not convinced, look at all of world class soccer players who grew up playing on the streets with friends from dawn to dusk. Look at the professional Latin baseball players who had no resources as children, but just played.

On the other hand, adolescents with great potential can be derailed by coaching. Coaches who are pressured to run ultra-structured practices focusing on technique and tactics take the chance of alienating children from the sport because practices are a chore. And the same goes for coaches. We all know that the attrition rate for youngsters and volunteer coaches is too high. But would anyone ever quit doing something if it were fun?

So when you look at your volunteer coaches roster before the season begins, put yourself in their shoes. Imagine yourself as a scared novice who feels unsure of himself. Think about them working a full-time job and having to ask for time off to get to practice. Consider the pressure they’re under to balance work, family time and this new responsibility and be mindful of your expectations. Do you want to make it more difficult in the vain hope that everyone is “trained properly”? Or do you want to make it easy and fun? This isn’t training for the Olympics, it’s rec sports. The kids who are going to make it are going to make it…if they choose to come back next season. And if they have someone willing to coach 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

Didn’t Make the All-Star Team? So What?

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

Our local Little League has established a new tradition in the years since I served on its Board of Directors. At the beginning of June, lawns signs appear throughout the neighborhood honoring players who have been selected to this year’s all-star team. I’m sure it’s exciting for the kids who were chosen. But I feel badly for the ones who didn’t get a sign.

Whether it was baseball or rec soccer, my kids all made all-star teams when they were younger. In Little League I coached a tournament team for eight straight years. I had a big part in the league’s restructuring of its voting methods so as to make the selections more democratic and transparent. It was always tough choosing the final three or four players because you hated to see anyone be disappointed, but once the rosters were finalized we moved on and didn’t think much about those left off.

So maybe I’m getting soft with age, or maybe it’s because as my children got older some of them did experience major disappointments in their athletic careers, but whatever the reason, it makes me sad to think of a boy or girl who was hoping to get one of those signs and didn’t. Who has to see it on a friend’s yard every day for the next few weeks.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling for the abolishment of all-stars. I recently read an article on a popular youth sports-related website basically shaming leagues for picking some children for all-stars and leaving others off. The author suggested that everyone who wants to play should be allowed and that they should create as many teams as necessary to accommodate them all. Then it wouldn’t be all-stars, would it?

Instead, here is the message that I would like to convey: If you didn’t make it at age 10, you can make it at 11. If you didn’t make it as an 11 year-old , you might at 12. And if you didn’t make it at 12, guess what? I’ve seen dozens of kids who were the best players in the league at 12 but who, by the time they were 16, had been passed up by others who were not as talented a few years earlier.

Turn this disappointment into motivation. Make it your mission to improve so much that they have to pick you next year. Or the year after. Don’t give up. Be determined to make believers of the doubters.

Often in youth sports its a lot about size. Kids who are shaving at age 12 have a huge advantage over youngsters years away from puberty. Some 12 and 13 year-olds are fully grown. Others won’t grow until high school. But if you’re a late-bloomer even that can work to your advantage. Many big, strong, full-grown pre-teens don’t work hard because they can have success without effort. This is one of the reasons so many of them are overtaken later.

Or maybe you are of average or even above-average size but your skills need improvement. Either way if you really want to be good at something you can be. You just need to practice. And this is true for anything, not only sports.

So if you’re truly disappointed about not making the team this year I do feel badly about it. But not too badly, because from my new perspective I realize you have the power to do something about it. Understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes a kick in pants is a step forward. Use this to light a fire and start working harder than anyone else. Just wait and see where you are next year, the year after and the year after. And, if you aren’t willing to pay the price – to do what is necessary to become the best you can be, then I guess you weren’t really that upset about not getting a sign after all.

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

A “Sometimes” Player

By Tony Earp

With over 15 years of working with players, regardless of ability, I have found the most distinctive difference between players is whether or not a player is an “ALWAYS” player or a “SOMETIMES” player. Always players are exactly what they sound like. No matter the day, time, activity, game, or any other circumstance, they ALWAYS give a maximum effort. They do not take breaks or choose when to compete and work hard. There is no compromise or variability to their approach to training or games. It does not mean that every performance is their best, but they always give their best effort.

Then, there is the “SOMETIMES” players, and they are exactly what they sound like. They give their best effort and work hard sometimes. Not always, but when it is usually the easiest or most convenient for them. Or even worse, only when they are certain it is in their own best interest.
Here are some situations where “SOMETIMES” players shine, and the different approach of the “ALWAYS” players:

“It is Fun”

Of course. It is easier to give a good effort when we are having a good time. To work hard when it is not your favorite thing to do, is much harder. Ironically, the things we enjoy doing the least, often are what benefit us the most. I have trained players that completely change their work rate and attitude as soon as the training session consists of something they find fun and enjoy.
In contrast, an “ALWAYS” player does not require it to be fun for the effort to be given. Although they like certain things more than others, they do not let that affect their drive to play or miss an opportunity to improve.

“They Can Do It”

These players love to show people what they can do, but are scared to be seen struggling at anything. When they can do a task and do it very well, then they are willing to give a good effort. But, when something is hard or just out of their reach, they stop working hard for it. They find it easier to believe they could not do it because they did not CARE TO DO IT. Not that they were not able, but they just convinced themselves it was not worth it, it was below them, or just marginalized the importance of the activity. This approach helps them feel better about not being able to do it, and does not make them look vulnerable struggling to learn it.
On the other hand, “ALWAYS” players like the opportunity to do things they do not know how to do. They embrace the struggle and will not be discouraged or embarrassed by failure. They have learned that for each moment of struggle comes a lifetime of rewards.

“They Will Win”

These players play hard and with confidence when they are NOT in a fight. When they know they can easily walk over an opponent and get the result they want, you can see their energy level rise and often this is when they are at their best. On the flip side, when the opponent is tough, or they are completely outmatched, they shut down. They disengage from the game, begin making excuses, blaming others, faking injuries or fatigue, or anything else that excuses them from taking responsibility of the result. Often after or during this type of situation, the player will seem apathetic about the result or his performance.
The “ALWAYS” player always tries to compete at his best level. Although he will have “off and on” days, it is never an excuse for a drop in effort and his competitive level. Normally, as the opponent gets tougher, this type of player uses it as fuel to push beyond his current level or drives him to train harder in the future. He learns from the experience, does not make excuses for himself or others, and does not blame anyone. Not even himself. He just goes back to work so he can fight even harder next time.

“Playing with a Friend”

There is a social aspect of the game and it is important. Although it is a lot of fun to play with friends, there will be times when that is not possible. I see this a lot in training sessions. If certain players are not paired with who they want to play with, their effort drops considerably. If they do get paired with who they want to play with, then their level of play is much higher. When they are not on their friend’s team, the body language changes drastically, head drops down, and I know the players is going to give half the effort he normally would.
An “ALWAYS” player may prefer to play with certain kids, but he never lets it show. No matter who he is playing with he will do everything he can to support and play with the other players on the team. Regardless of level, this type of player gravitates towards being a leader on the field and knows success is a group effort. He relies on the other players and they rely on him. He knows not giving his best effort is an insult to his other teammates on the field.

“Coach/Parent is Watching”

For me this is the most common example of the “SOMETIMES” player but the most subtle form of it. When a coach or their parents are nearby, I can see a distinct increase in their level of play and energy. For people watching, this looks like an “ALWAYS” player, but if you can sneak peaks of these types of players training when they do not think anyone is watching, that is when the “SOMETIMES” is exposed. This can be the most self-destructive form of the “SOMETIMES” player. When kids learn to only work hard when people are watching, it will be very hard to achieve anything, on or off the field. Most of the things earned in life are worked for when no one else is around or when no one is asking you to do it.
An “ALWAYS” player does not care who is watching or not. Often, their effort is even higher when they are alone. They are not doing it for anyone else. It is not about pleasing or gaining approval of another person. It is about making sure they never let down themselves or others who rely on them when the whistle blows. They have set an unbelievable expectation for themselves to meet. Higher than anyone else could ever put on them. They hold themselves accountable to never falling below those expectations.
“SOMETIMES” players grow into “SOMETIMES” adults. “ALWAYS” players grow into “ALWAYS” adults. This is an important lesson to teach kids from an early age as it will play an important role in the rest of their lives. When we help players become “ALWAYS” people, they not only have a better chance of succeeding in soccer, but in even more important aspects of their lives.

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

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