Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Know When Your Players Need to Run

   At the youth level, the success of your practices depends on the emotional energy you display, the activities and drills you plan and execute, and the order in which your practice activities unfold. You are the conductor of your orchestra and in charge of the music’s rhythm and tempo.

Although you need structure within your practices, you also must recognize when you need to let your players run for fun and to release energy. The quality of your practices often depends on you managing this energy and not letting it go in a direction that disrupts your instruction and practice goals.

Here are a few tips for youth coaches on recognizing those moments and how to handle related disruptive behavior.

Age-appropriate Practices

The age of your players of course affects the nature of your practices. Younger boys and girls have more difficulty focusing their attention for extended periods. They require more physical activity relative to instruction time. You need to do more showing than telling. For younger kids, make sure that you move them quickly from one developmental drill to another. For all ages, scrimmaging is a fun activity, and an opportunity for you to "coach kids up" during the play. Use scrimmages as a reward, and in the proper measure. Your players will look forward to this part of practice.

Dealing with a Lack of Focus

Every youth coach encounters those practices where his or her players are hyper-active, non-attentive, or both. You probably know the signs: Players staring across the court or field at something or someone else. Side conversations continuing during your instruction or too many irrelevant questions. Play where rules are ignored, accompanied by laughing and giggling. And it's not just the youngest—even older kids regularly lose focus.

When you see this behavior spreading among your players, it's time to get physical. By “tiring” your team, you help your players settle down, making them more likely to listen to your instruction. Select a high-energy drill or have your players scrimmage for a short period of time. After your players have expended some energy, you will usually regain their attention. Then move quickly into a period of instruction. With younger players, you may realistically only have five to ten minutes of quality teaching time before you must once again engage them in physical activity.

If your players are listless and the energy level of your practice seems low, also consider running the team in one form or another. Sometimes your players need a kick to get going.

A Mild Reprimand

Finally, when your players don’t respond to your instructions, are talking while you talk, causing disruptions, or are otherwise disrespectful, you need to reign in this behavior. Even if it's only a few players, engage the whole team in a physically demanding activity. For example, send your players to the end line for some “suicides” or sprints. Besides releasing the excess energy that possibly drove the behavior, this mild reprimand will remind all of your players what you consider unacceptable behavior. For most players, these races are actually fun—but they still send a message.

You have your practice schedule and goals. But sometimes you need to flow and react to the mood of your players. Try to recognize the signs of when your players need to run and then inject the appropriate activity into your practice.

Copyright © 2014 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book: The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child

($8.95; Kindle: $2.99)


Thursday, February 6, 2014

What Leads to a Great Experience Playing Sports

   Here's an excerpt from chapter 9 (Fun, Competition, and Community) of my new book, The Young Athlete's Guide to Playing Sports. This chapter's lead topic discusses the reasons why we play sports, and how you can enjoy the benefits of participation throughout your life.
Your personal journey in sports will wind its way through ups and downs, exhilaration and frustration, and success and failure. You will enjoy moments of elation when you brush perfection. Heartache will sometimes fill your soul when the prize remains out of reach. You will enjoy the camaraderie of playing sports with others, and sometimes face rejection.

Sports, especially in competitive settings, are oppositional in nature. They pit you against an opponent—whether it’s a person, a standard of excellence, or your own expectations. This competitive quality can drive our participation.

But besides the thrill of competing, there are a variety of other reasons (positive and negative) why we play sports.

Central to a positive experience in sports are a set of fundamental elements. These include fun, skill development, heroic moments, increased self-esteem and self-reliance, community, and winning.


Playing sports provides many rewards—some that are generated internally and others that come from external sources. The most important
Understand that the feeling of “fun” comes in different forms—from the simple joy of running around to more complex variations that embody team play and competition. Depending on your unique personality, choose the sports and competitive level that creates the type of fun you find most rewarding!
internal reward for a younger child participating in sports is FUN. It’s also important for older, more competitive athletes. As Rafael Nadal, French Open tennis champion once said, “I play because I have fun. If I don’t have fun on the court, there is some-thing wrong. I am just a 19-year-old boy that likes to do what he likes, nothing else.”

Besides the immediate gratification of engaging in an enjoyable activity, fun is also an essential ingredient for long term participation. Although you may have talent and compete well, the absence of fun will likely lead you to quit when other external rewards (praise, recognition, etc.) are no longer present.

Skill development

Learning and mastering new skills is essential for you to have the necessary tools to participate, contribute, and compete. Although running around and casually playing a sport with your friends may be fun, more rewards and opportunity to play exist when you have mastered fundamental sport skills. One such reward is the self-confidence that is gained from an understanding of how to play a game and do it well.

Heroic moments (and glorious defeats)

Sports are attractive partly because of the various feelings they evoke. Besides fun, there is also the “thrill of victory” and the “agony of defeat.” Heroic moments and glorious defeats are an essential part of the sports experience. They come together as a package deal—you can’t have one without the other. They impart upon you the potentially lifelong satisfaction of rising up to meet a challenge, and sometimes the heartfelt disappointment of a failed opportunity. Either way, these emotions add depth to your life experience.

Self-esteem and self-reliance

As you learn new skills, gain experience, and progress toward a clearer understanding of how to play a sport, your confidence will naturally grow. This, in turn, leads to an increased sense of self-esteem (satisfaction in oneself). You become more self-reliant, understanding that you individually command tools that can affect the outcome of a game. Your self-reliance also increases as you begin to organize and manage your own pickup games (a skill not cultivated within the adult-run games typical of youth leagues).


When you play a sport, you share with other participants the game and its values. This is most evident in team sports, where success is dependent upon the contributions of each team member. But individual sports also provide a sense of community. Shared values are present in all sports.

Community is also present in the bond that ties together athletes of all ages and generations. You and other young athletes feel the same joy and appreciation for sports that your parents, grandparents, and coaches experienced when they were young. You can also play certain sports (golf, tennis, etc.) with family and friends throughout your life.


And finally, winning is part of a successful sports experience. Viewed with proper perspective, winning is an essential and required reward for continued participation. Everyone likes to experience their fair share of games where the final score favors them. At the most competitive levels, winning on the scoreboard plays a far greater role in defining “success.”

Vince Lombardi, a hall of fame NFL coach, once said, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” Although this may be true at the most competitive level of sports, it’s not true in youth and scholastic sports.
But there are different ways to define “winning”—especially when you’re younger. Consider again the benefits described above. Those glorious defeats, where an individual or team competes courageously against a vastly superior team, do mean something. Improving one’s individual performance, regardless of others’ performance, is a “win.” Learning how to master new skills and successfully interact with others rewards you with the valuable prizes of self-reliance and confidence. And when it comes to winning the battle of lifelong participation and fitness, these other types of victories are often the ones that matter.

Copyright © 2014 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book: The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child

($8.95; Kindle: $2.99)


Friday, January 10, 2014

Your Parents' Safety Concerns

   One of your parents’ most important concerns, as it relates to your well-being, is your physical safety. There’s no getting around this—especially in our wired world where each tragedy involving a child is broadcast 24/7 to every corner of our nation.

Today’s parents are sensitized to all of the misfortunes that can possibly befall their child. It doesn't matter whether the risk is statistically real.

Where you live and play affects the potential risks you face. A tough city neighborhood is more dangerous than a gated, suburban community. You need to respect these hazards and your parents’ warnings.

There are also real risks associated with playing certain sports. Years ago, parents might worry about their son playing “tackle” football because he could break his leg. Parents now also worry about their child suffering a head injury that results in a concussion.

Since your parents control your opportunity to play sports, you need to recognize their concerns. And if you independently want to play sports, you will need to come up with ways to dispel your parents’ fears.

Anytime you step out of your door, there is an increased risk that something can happen to you. Many fun and educational activities include the possibility of personal harm. Mature individuals (including most parents) recognize and manage risks every day. Show your parents that you appreciate their concerns, and tell them the ways in which you are protecting yourself. Be responsible to gain more freedom
Listen to your parents’ warnings about dealing with strangers and any other potential risks that they believe you may encounter. Respect the boundaries they establish.

As you get older, and your judgment matures, your parents will likely listen to your ideas on managing the risks that concern them. Be proactive about finding win-win solutions. For instance, your local YMCA, community center, or similar facility provides a semi-supervised setting where you and your friends can play. If your parents are reluctant to let you play unsupervised, they may find these facilities an acceptable alternative.

Also consider how you can use technology to alleviate your parents’ safety concerns. You have an incredible array of tools available for you to communicate with your parents. Cell phones and smartphones with GPS location-based services provide your parents with a means to stay in touch with you and know where you are. Discuss with your parents how you can possibly use these tools to help satisfy both of your needs.

Copyright © 2014 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book: The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child

($8.95; Kindle: $2.99)


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Paths to Success

   Here's an excerpt from chapter 7 (Take a Look at Yourself in the Mirror) of my new book, The Young Athlete's Guide to Playing Sports. This chapter's lead topic presents helpful information on the different ways to succeed in sports, and how you can find your own best path.

Paths to Success

Success in sports comes in different forms. The most obvious one is derived from your ability to play a sport well. You win. Your team wins. Everyone wants to play with you.

How do you become one of these players?

The best athletes are usually gifted with “natural” athletic talent. They typically have physical attributes (size, strength, speed) that set them apart from others. They may also have exceptional motor skills (hand-eye coordination).

But here’s an essential truth you need to understand: natural talent alone does not determine success in sports. Although it often accompanies success, it’s only one ingredient in the mix of qualities that define a winning, competitive athlete. As previously discussed, hard work (practice and preparation) is also necessary to shape one’s talent into effective play. Likewise, good coaching and instruction help transform raw talent into a more refined product. Other more intangible qualities also play an important role. The “will-to-win,” ability to learn, and tactical intelligence, all help define an athlete’s prospects for success.

Talent is Relative

You should also appreciate that talent isn't absolute—it grows or shrinks relative to circumstance. In youth, it’s often relative to one’s physical development. You may physically mature earlier or later than others your age. “Stars” at the youth level may dominate because they are bigger, taller, or stronger. But like runners who charge to the front at the start of a long race, only to quickly fall back into the pack, their advantage is frequently short-lived. No longer tall or strong for their age as they and others mature, their talent (in this case a physical advantage) disappears.

Although natural talent helps one excel at playing sports, it’s not a prerequisite for success. There are other ways for an athlete with less talent to succeed—ones that an athlete can learn and control.
The measure of one’s talent is also relative to the level of competition. Middle school stars who possess outstanding skills may find that this talent alone isn't the path to success when they graduate to high school. Many others may now have similar abilities—ones that were regarded as exceptional at lower levels.

Consider professional athletes. At lower levels, most were exceptionally gifted athletes. But at the elite professional level, many are now viewed as having limited athleticism. Their talent is less remarkable.

Successful Athletes Adapt

Yet despite their diminished relative ability, many of these professional players still enjoy great success. For example, from 2006 through 2008, a decidedly non-athletic Jason Kapono found success in the NBA because of his ability to make 3-point shots. Tom Brady did not become one of the best quarterbacks of all time because he is a physically great athlete. (His NFL combine results, including a 5.28 40 yard time, were some of the worst ever recorded for a quarterback.) Instead, he adapted his play at the professional level to counter the quicker, faster, and stronger NFL defenders. He learned how to more quickly process patterns of play and make the right decisions.

These players all find other ways to play their sport well; their path to success changes. They may excel in one area of play—possibly one that is crucial to the success of their team. They build upon their experience and countless practice repetitions; their minds have a fuller grasp of how to play the game, enabling them to more quickly take advantage of opportunities that present themselves during a contest. They may also have greater mental discipline to both prepare and persevere. They’re better conditioned. They work and play harder. Their will to win is strong.

If you’re a young athlete who wants to play competitive sports, your path to success will likely resemble the one just described. Few athletes consistently win throughout their career by relying on their athletic talent alone. Instead, hard work and the other qualities described above come into play. And this is good news for you and every other young athlete. You can develop and control many of these other qualities!

Copyright © 2013 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book: The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child

($8.95; Kindle: $2.99)


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Coaches Have Different Perspectives

   Here's an excerpt from chapter 6 (What Your Coach Wants) of my new book, The Young Athlete's Guide to Playing Sports. This topic discusses how coaches often hold different views on how a sport should be played and what you can do to accordingly improve your opportunity to play.

Unique Perspectives

Coaches possess their own unique perspectives on how their sport should be played and the associated skills and values they need to teach.

One coach may prefer a man-to-man defense while another one is convinced that a zone defense is best. But besides different views on strategy and game tactics, your coaches may also hold entirely different philosophical views on what constitutes success and how to achieve it. You need to understand the type of coach you play for.

Defining Success

If you’re playing for a hard-nosed, demanding coach, you will have to put in the necessary extra time expected of you. If your coach is intense, display a similar attitude (as opposed to one that is more laid-back). Pay close attention to what parts of the game your coach emphasizes and concentrate on improving your play in those areas.
To one extreme, your coach may view success largely as a matter of winning versus losing. This type of coach will believe that players should dedicate themselves to the team, work hard, and sacrifice to reach the primary goal of winning as many games as possible. Your coach will likely invest a great amount of time into the program and expect you to do the same. You’re more likely to play for this type of coach as you climb the competitive ladder.

Toward the other end of the spectrum is the coach who believes that players should have fun, enjoy the game, while also learning skills and possibly life lessons. This coach may or may not invest a large amount of effort in his program. He or she is less concerned about you winning and more so about you playing to the best of your ability, and striving to improve. You are more likely to play for this type of coach in youth programs when you’re younger.

Focus on your coach’s perception of what’s important, not your own!
Typically you will have little control over who is your coach—especially if you’re an average athlete playing at the more competitive levels.

You may prefer a prior coach’s style or approach, but this is irrelevant to your current situation.

Adapt Your Play

Coaches sometimes adapt their coaching style to better match a player‘s particular personality type and attitude—but you shouldn't expect this to happen. Unless you demonstrate some unique talent, it’s unlikely you will be chosen over someone who more closely fits your coach’s model player.
If you want to maximize your opportunity to play, you need to adapt your preparation and play to match your coach’s perspective and needs. His perception of you may be very different from your own. For example, you may think that you’re an asset to your team when the ball is in your hands and you’re aggressively trying to score. But your coach may instead see you as a liability—a selfish player who won’t pass the ball to an open teammate.

Copyright © 2013 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book: The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child

($8.95; Kindle: $2.99)