Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Be a Leader — Help Less Talented Players on Your Team Succeed

   The success of your team is based not only on how well you play, but also on how well your teammates play. Although you may perform at a high level, possibly to the best of your ability, do you also help your teammates reach their potential?

If you’re one of the more talented and experienced players on your team, you’re likely in a position to exercise team leadership. One way to lead is to do so by example. If a talented player demonstrates a positive attitude and work ethic, other players will tend to follow this example. Some players will also watch how you play and naturally pick up on some of your skills and techniques.

But beyond setting an example, what else can you do?

Help Your Teammates Improve Their Play

As a player, you have a unique advantage over your coach—you're out there on the court or field interacting with your teammates during each moment of the game. You have the opportunity to advise and “teach” your lesser skilled teammates as game events occur.

Just like a good coach, you need to understand how to best communicate information to your teammates. Pick key moments, provide constructive comments and direction, reinforce positive plays by your lesser skilled teammates, and avoid negative comments. Hand out praise (“Nice pass/shot,” etc.) But above all—communicate.

You may find some players very open to learning from you. Take a few minutes before or after practice and help these players improve a skill or correct a bad habit.

Defend Your Weaker Teammates

Besides helping your teammates improve as players, there’s another important area in which your leadership can make a difference. In neighborhood games, locker rooms, and other group situations, you will sometimes witness a weaker boy (or girl) become the subject of another kid’s poor joke, intimidation, hazing or other demeaning behavior. It’s easy to sit back, not risk your standing within the group, and let events like this unfold to their unfortunate conclusion. It’s also an opportunity, however, for you to demonstrate one of the more noble aspects of superior leadership—that the strong help the weak. Speak up and tell others to knock it off.

If you've ever been picked on and had someone else come to your defense, you know how you felt afterwards toward your protector. He or she earned your admiration and loyalty. Not only is defending others in these situations the right thing to do, but it also can boost your standing among your peers. Everyone respects the person who stands up to the bully or “mean girl.”

Rise above your own individual game and comfort zone and help your teammates whenever possible. In addition to benefiting your own self-interest by improving your team, you may find that your leadership efforts also reward you with a sense of satisfaction in helping others achieve.

Copyright © 2012 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 (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kids Talk Too Much

   In my recent post Kids Don't Talk (and What to Do About It), I discussed teaching your kids the importance of communicating with each other while playing. You want your players to talk on defense and shout out plays. Your kids should also feel free to ask questions when they don’t understand your instructions.

But you also want them to understand how to control and prioritize their communications. Especially with younger children, it’s typical for them to launch into a long-winded story on the point they are trying to make. These stories often come at an inopportune time (e.g., during instruction to the entire team or while a game is going on). You may also coach children who ask excessive questions in an attempt to gain more attention from you.

So how do you handle the overly talkative kid who disrupts your practices?

You must gently, but firmly, indicate to your players when their questions or talking is inappropriate. Help them better understand how to prioritize their communications—when to talk, and when to be quiet. If the situation permits, try to help the child recognize the essential point of his question and how he could have asked it more quickly. ("So John, what you're asking is....")

The Disruptive Child

If you have a child that is particularly disruptive, first consult the child’s parents to discover any special circumstances that may explain the problem behavior. The parent may either talk to their child or provide you with additional information that will help you better deal with the situation.

Here's one personal example. A few years back, I coached a fifth grade boy named Darren who had a hard time sitting still; he constantly asked me questions—many of them not related to the specific topic I was covering. Darren was a nice kid, but his behavior was hurting my ability to instruct the entire group. After a couple of practices, I discussed his behavior with his mom. She mentioned that doctors had diagnosed him as having a mild case of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) and said that she would talk to him. For my part, I decided to try an approach where I would grant Darren one question per practice. Whenever he would raise his hand or begin to blurt out a question, I would quickly say: “Darren, are you using up your one question?” He would pause; his brow would furrow slightly as he pondered the moment; and then usually say “No, not yet.” I think Darren actually enjoyed this process and treated it like a game. The number of questions went down and it appeared that Darren began to internally filter his questions prior to asking them.

Balance Talk and No-Talk

It's a challenge for any coach, especially volunteer ones, to deal with these types of situations. Based on your personal coaching style and experience, you likely have your own approach. For younger players, try to balance discipline and fun, talk and no-talk time. Encourage your players to speak up—especially while playing. But also help them to tighten their questions and comments, focusing on topics specific to a game or practice.

If you've got any good ideas on this topic, please share them with other Inside Youth Sports readers!

Copyright © 2012 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 (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Provide Opportunities to Create Great Memories

   Ideally, youth sports provide a child with opportunities to experience events that in some way enrich their life. Giving a child the chance to succeed or fail in a memorable way is one such opportunity.

For years, my YMCA finished each basketball season with a tournament. These events were exciting for both the kids and parents. As a coach, I also liked them because they provided an incentive for my kids when we were losing games. (I would frame the season as preparation for the tournament.)

But several years ago, a new assistant youth director decided that these tournaments weren't in the best interest of kids. He believed that too many kids walked away disappointed. Time has passed, the youth director has moved on, and the new youth director was willing to bring the tournaments back. Is that a good thing? I believe so.

Memorable Moments

Season-ending tournaments often generate memorable moments. Through my years of coaching, I've experienced many of these. But here's one example that clearly shows how success and disappointment can both be part of a unique life experience.

In a 4th-6th grade basketball tournament at the local YMCA years ago, my team was a low seed. Having won only a couple of games during the regular season, no one expected that we would go far. Nevertheless, we made it all the way to the championship game. On the way, we won two overtime games with one of my players, Luke, sinking shots at the buzzer. Everyone was excited. But just a few minutes into the final game, it was clear that my kids were physically spent. We lost.

Despite our loss, the kids on that team enjoyed an unexpected, exciting journey. It provided a unique, memorable experience—one that I expect still remains with many of them to this day. (Especially for those kids who never played organized sports at a high level.)

As to Luke, he went on to enjoy a successful high school sports career and played baseball in college. I happened to run into him a few years ago. Out of curiosity, I asked Luke if he remembered that tournament. Given his later success in sports, I wasn't sure how he would respond. He smiled and said that those memories were still with him. As we talked more, it was clear that he enjoyed reminiscing about that youthful heroic moment.

Dealing with a Season-ending Loss

The flip side of an exciting "win" is a disappointing, sometimes crushing, loss. In so many of these instances, though, there are positive moments. These losses can also lead to the child learning a life lesson (in a relatively safe environment). Kids learn to deal with dashed hopes. After the initial disappointment, losses are placed in a larger perspective. In the tournament mentioned above, we were disappointed not to win the final championship game. But my team knew how far they had traveled. They knew that they had given their best effort and along the way experienced some incredibly exciting and rewarding moments.

I’m always saddened when I see administrators or parents in organized sports limit these opportunities. Intending to “save kids from being disappointed” and not “ending a season with a loss,” they instead deprive children of their possible big moment.

Although sensitive to disappointment, kids are resilient. Events that result in a flood of tears are quickly forgotten with the child’s next success. Don’t remove, out of a misguided desire to protect a child from disappointment and loss, the opportunities to experience memorable moments.

Copyright © 2012 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 (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Play the Ball (Don’t Let it Play You)

   If you've ever played baseball, it’s likely you learned that to best field a ground ball you need to move forward toward the ball as it’s approaching you. By doing so you control the point at which the ball reaches your glove, making it easier to field. Should you stand still and wait for the ball to reach you, the ball may take a hard-to-handle short hop. (In baseball parlance, “The ball will eat you up.”)

This principle, in a more general way, applies to other situations in sports. By being proactively aggressive, you take control of situations as opposed to them controlling you. You dictate the conditions (even in defensive circumstances). You provide yourself with more opportunities to succeed. You further bolster your confidence, while possibly lessening your opponent’s.

Let's take a look at a few of the ways you can apply this principle to your game.

Proactively Defending an Opponent

If you’re defending an outstanding player in a team sport, you have two choices:
  1. Defend your opponent after he or she receives the ball.

  2. Defend your opponent before the ball is received.
The first approach requires you to react to your opponent’s actions. At this point, you may be helpless to handle your opponent’s considerable offensive skills (or you may need to foul your opponent to prevent a score).

The second approach, on the other hand, is one in which you dictate the conditions. You aggressively try to deny the ball from ever reaching your opponent. You choose to defend another part of your opponent’s game—the ability to get open and receive a pass. Without the ball, he or she can’t score. You negate an entire part of your opponent’s game. And just as important, your aggressive defense may psychologically “take your opponent out of the game.” Without the ball, your opponent may be the one who becomes passive and ineffective.

Similarly, you can deny your opponent the opportunity to dictate play in individual sports. For example, a tennis player may choose to regularly serve and volley against a baseline player who doesn't possess a good return (or who wants long rallies).

The Dangers of Being Passive

To the opposite, if you’re passive, you will likely lose control of the play and subject yourself to more of those “short hops” that lead to errors. But it’s not just that. You will also miss out on opportunities to make big plays—the home runs that sometimes win a contest.

In describing his frustration over his team’s lack of a punt return game, the NFL coach, Wade Phillips wryly said of his punt returner, “He’s not really a punt returner, he’s more of a punt catcher.” Like most NFL coaches, Wade was looking for his punt returner to make plays. Simply catching the ball (or watching it bounce and roll dead) wasn't good enough. Wade knew his team’s chances of winning were improved by the occasional big play.

And it’s not just missing out on the big plays. Passively watching and reacting almost always leads to mediocre performance. You are back on your heels and off balance, not only in a physical sense, but also in a psychological one. You’re on the defensive and this tends to sap your confidence over time.


Instead of watching, you need to proactively engage—and do so at a point where you can more easily control the play and outcome. For instance, if you’re a basketball or hockey player helping out a beaten teammate in a defensive situation, you shouldn't wait until the attacking player is close to the goal and about to score. Instead, if possible, engage the opponent earlier to prevent a score (and avoid fouling the player as he or she shoots).

Of course there are situations and match-ups where you need to be defensive and selectively look for opportunities to attack. But these are ideally under your control. You choose to play more conservatively. You set up your opponent for your counterpunch. You’re the spider, weaving the web.

Copyright © 2012 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 (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)


Thursday, November 22, 2012

10 Reasons I'm Thankful for My Life in Sports

   Sports are often about the moment. The last-second winning goal, the flawlessly executed shot, players moving together as an improvisational “One.” Perfect moments. And of course there are the moments of opportunity lost. An instant of inopportune hesitation, a fatefully poor choice, the basketball that rolls around then off the rim.

But connecting these moments are the greater themes. The reasons why we play, watch, and coach sports. The experiences gained, the lasting satisfactions, and the regrets of opportunities lost.

On Thanksgiving, in this setting, it seems appropriate to serve some personal reflections on this subject. So here are ten reasons why I’m thankful for my life in sports:
  1. I’m thankful for the opportunity to express myself. To find a venue to achieve some individual excellence—to both fit in and stand out.

  2. I’m thankful for the warm sense of community that sports have provided me.

  3. More than the community itself, I’m thankful for the lifelong best friends that sports have brought me.

  4. I’m thankful for those instances where I worked hard, played well, and achieved success. They are forever within me and cannot be taken away.

  5. I’m thankful for never having a serious injury in my youth that kept me away from my sports.

  6. I’m thankful for parents that were always supportive and provided me with the opportunity to fulfill my passion for playing sports.

  7. I’m thankful for the connection with my dad that sports provided. Playing catch, after dinner games of ping-pong in the winter, and coaching me in youth sports, all helped strengthen our relationship.

  8. I’m thankful for those perfect moments—when I was one with the play and sometimes rose above my own expectations. (How did I do that?)

  9. On the backside of life, I’m especially thankful for the opportunity to coach kids and possibly make a difference in their lives. Coaching helps keep me connected and is the closest experience to playing.

  10. I’m thankful now for some of my failures, difficult times, and even some youthful betrayals. They've provided experiences that have prepared me to better handle similar situations later in life.

I hope all Inside Youth Sports readers have a happy Thanksgiving Day. And if you've got the opportunity to play in a pickup football game, enjoy it!

Copyright © 2012 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 (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Kids Don't Talk (And What to Do About It)

   Through their development years, many children are shy and reluctant to stand out among their peers. Sometimes this is because they lack sports skills and confidence. Other times the reason lies in either the child’s inherent personality or group dynamics related to age and sex differences. When these children are the center of attention, they say few words, speak in a low voice, or unintelligibly mutter their words.

Since team play always benefits from players who communicate with each other, you need to reinforce the importance of talking. You need to get your quieter kids to come out of their shell. So how do you do this?

Early in your season, emphasize the importance of communication. Wherever a role or specific play requires a player to call out instructions, have the player say the words loudly with emotional emphasis. Ideally, each player should have the opportunity to play some role that requires them to call out a command.

One Example of Getting Kids to Speak-up

I have a little fun each basketball season when I teach my team our out-of-bounds plays. The most basic one is the “Stack” play. The first step in executing this play is for the player taking the ball out to yell the name of the out-of-bounds play. The players then align themselves in the proper formation; in this case, four players line themselves vertically in front of the one putting the ball in-play.

Invariably, young beginners will weakly say “Stack.” I’ll say, “Louder!” The player will again say “Stack”—this time with slightly more volume. As before, I’ll say “Louder!” but with more force and volume. Now the player says “Stack!” with more emphasis. This still isn't loud enough, so I yell out “STACK-K-K!” The player usually gets it right the next time. As different players take the ball out, players start competing to see who can scream “STACK-K-K!” the loudest. Along with the laughs, the players start losing their inhibition to speak in a commanding voice when necessary.

Communicating on Defense

When playing man-to-man defense in basketball, communication between the players is absolutely essential. Players must call out screens. The player defending the ball must sometimes call out defensive switches or ask for help. In addition to walk-throughs where I instruct multiple players to call out the screens, I constantly reinforce the importance of communicating during scrimmages often yelling “Talk on defense!” If necessary, I’ll blow my whistle and mildly reprimand a player for not calling out a screen. I view the failure of players to communicate as an unacceptable mental mistake.

No Room for Shyness

Always teach your players the importance of communication in team sports. Break down their inhibitions using drills and plays appropriate to your sport. Make it fun by having your kids yell their commands and instructions as LOUD as they can. There’s no room for shyness when it comes to players communicating with their teammates during a game.

Of course, some kids talk too much. They can be too gregarious. But that's another problem unrelated to communicating game situations. (This issue is the topic of an upcoming post.)

Do you have any good exercises, drills, or other methods to get your kids talking?

Copyright © 2012 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 (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why's My Kid Not Starting!? (8 Key Points to Consider)

   In competitive youth sports programs and high school athletics, coaches are free to select which players start a game and how many minutes of playing time each receives. Some players may not play at all in a given game.

Parents are sometimes confused as to why their son or daughter is not starting or playing more. You may watch your child score and dominate other players on offense and shake your head as the coach substitutes for your child. Your child may play great defense and shut down opponents, but still not make the starting team. It's natural for you to ask, "So why's my kid not starting?"

It's also natural in these situations to begin wondering if the coach is treating your child unfairly.

Yes, you and your child may sometimes encounter favoritism or parent politics (see The Coach's Kid Always Plays). But there are also plenty of valid reasons—many of which are not always obvious—for a coach to select one player over another.

Understanding the Coach's Evaluation Process

Coaches evaluate their prospective players based on their physical attributes, sports skills, how well players fit into the roles that comprise team play, and on other more intangible qualities. Some of these factors are controllable by the player while others are not. Generally, the key to more playing time for your child is to understand this evaluation process, and to focus on improving performance in controllable areas important to the coach.

So let's dig deeper into how a coach evaluates players. To help you better understand the process, let's do some role playing.

We're going to name you the head coach of your child's youth basketball team. Let's also assume that it's the first time you've coached in a competitive league. You're fair-minded, want to develop each of your kids, but also want to give the team it's best chance to win. It's time for you to pick your team. Are you ready?

Although you're a novice coach, you do know there are some key team roles that need to be filled: a point guard to bring the ball up against defensive pressure, a "big man" who can get rebounds, and at least one player who can also score. So with this in mind, you watch your kids practice and begin the process of figuring out who can do what. Here are the 8 key points to consider and related questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. Your first and most obvious task in evaluating a player is to consider the child’s physical attributes. Is the child small, large, tall, short, athletic (i.e., quickness, speed, jumping ability) or non-athletic relative to his or her teammates? These physical characteristics sometimes initially dictate a child’s position and role. For example, the tallest or heaviest child often plays close to the basket in basketball; a small, quick child likely would play a guard position away from the basket. (Other sports have similar matches: the largest boy is a lineman in football; the child with the strongest arm is often the pitcher in baseball.)

  2. Next, consider the child’s skill level in each of the sport’s key individual areas and note the strengths and weaknesses. Each sport has its own set of individual skills. In basketball, for example, the offensive skills include ball-handling, passing, outside shooting, inside shooting (e.g. layups, half-hooks), free throw shooting, and rebounding. Defensive skills center on rebounding, blocking shots, steals, tenacity, and an ability to cover an opponent man-to-man. Consider whether a child's skill-set trumps his or her obvious physical attributes. For instance, one of the shorter players may still be an outstanding rebounder.

  3. Is the child’s nature and personality a good match with his or her skill set and position? Some players have a “scoring mentality” while others are more comfortable as role players. Mismatches here, trying to fit the square peg into the round hole, will often hurt the child’s chance to excel.

  4. Does the child demonstrate a high sports IQ—understanding player and ball movements, anticipation, spacing, and timing? Does the child minimize mistakes both in practice and in pressure game situations—and do the child’s positive actions outweigh the mistakes (plus/minus)?

  5. How does the child function within the team framework? Does he or she make other players better? Do the child’s strengths somehow compensate for another starter’s weaknesses, better balancing the team dynamics as a whole? Is the child willing to make individual sacrifices for the benefit of the team or is the child instead a disruptive force or otherwise negative influence on the team?

  6. What is the child’s attitude in both practices and games? Is he or she coachable? Does the child respond immediately to the coach’s whistle, or is he the last one to listen? Does she go all out in drills and scrimmages, or do only what is expected? (Average players who view practice as a necessary evil usually don’t get noticed by the coach. Early in the season, players earn their game minutes by what they demonstrate in tryouts and practice.)

  7. Does the child demonstrate outstanding personality characteristics (“champion’s heart,” “never gives up”)? Does the child have the ability to translate negative situations and energy into positive actions?

  8. How does the child’s age and year in school compare to other teammates? Does he or she have the potential to dramatically improve?

As you can see, there are many attributes that a coach must consider when judging a player, determining the player’s best role on the team, and whether he or she should start.

The differences are often small in determining who starts and who comes off the bench. For example, a coach may think that two players are roughly equivalent, but notes that one seems to play better as a starter while the other plays well off the bench. A player, who is extremely strong in some areas, but equally weak in others, will often come off the bench to play a specific role in a certain game situation.

What You and Your Child Can Do

If you child is not starting, but seems to have the necessary physical attributes and skill set, the best approach is for your child to concentrate more on the controllable factors. Your child should clean up any possible attitude issues, minimize mistakes, and seek practice matchups where he or she can dominate a starter and compel the coach to realize who the better player is. Every coach likes a player with desire, hustle, and a willingness to sacrifice for the team. These are all controllable behaviors that will often help a player receive more playing time relative to similarly skilled teammates.

Sometimes, even after calmly considering your child’s situation, you may be at a loss to understand why your child is not playing more. If you feel that the differences favoring your child are significant, you may want to arrange a meeting with the coach to learn more. Collect information and try to understand the reasoning behind the coach’s judgments and decisions. As you listen to the coach’s explanation, weigh his comments against the factors described above.

It’s not always easy to keep an objective perspective when it comes to your child. In your desire to see your child excel in his or her sport, avoid communicating negative attitudes that can lead your child to believe they are somehow the victims of poor coaching or other circumstance. Instead, stress to your child the controllable ways in which he or she can influence a coach’s decision. Hard work, practice, desire, tenacity, and a team-first attitude will go a long way to securing more playing time for your child.

By supplying positive parental support, you can make a difference—helping your child to learn what it takes to achieve success both on and off the court.

Copyright © 2012 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 (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Stand Up for Yourself in Pickup Games

   When playing pickup, you will face a few players who view playing sports from a very simple perspective: Winners win—Losers lose. To these players, winning is everything. Their self-esteem is directly tied to achieving that goal. These players will use gamesmanship, mental warfare, and other questionable tactics to try and secure victory. They may bend the rules or make “bad calls” to gain advantage.

For instance, in a game of pickup basketball, you might cleanly block our opponent’s shot. But he or she counters your good defensive play by saying that you committed a foul. Likewise, when you steal the ball, this type of player will call “foul”—even though there was little or no body contact. You can also expect this opponent to claim that “they never touched the ball” in a situation where they slightly deflect the ball out-of-bounds.

Though everyone makes the occasional bad call (and sometimes gets caught defending it), you need to watch for the opponent who regularly does so. Against these players you need to decide how to handle their behavior.

What You Should Do

If you’re a beginner or new to a group, you may want to take it slow at first. Your opponent may have special standing within the group and you may be viewed as an outsider. In these situations, consider questioning the call once. Do so without emotion. Force your opponent to make a statement defending his or her call. This puts your opponent on notice that you will not passively accept every bad call.

Even when you’re familiar with other players, you may decide it’s simply not worth the emotional effort to argue a call. You may not want to push the issue beyond a couple of comments.

But understand that there’s a risk to not challenging others who repeatedly manipulate the situation to their advantage. You lose respect.

Your teammates expect you to stand up for yourself and your calls. They expect you to speak up when you’re fouled. When you don’t, you give your opponent and his or her team an advantage. Since your teammates want to win, you will lose their respect should you continually back down.

You also lose respect from your opponent. Against players who often make self-serving bad calls, you must meet them head-on. Otherwise, you’ll keep getting run over. Much like confronting a bully, you need to stand your ground. It’s not fun arguing. It ruins the flow of the game. But once your opponent realizes you’re not going to easily give in, his or her behavior often changes (at least for that game). Your battle with your opponent returns to one of pure competition.

Do you have any suggestions on how to handle these types of situations?

Copyright © 2012 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 (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review Key Points of a Game with Your Players

   Each game, win or loss, brings with it both positive and negative moments. Inspired individual performances, outstanding team play, exemplary effort, missed opportunities, careless mistakes, lackadaisical play, and moments of good and bad judgment are examples of player performance and game elements that you can either praise or criticize.

It’s important to address these points while they are still fresh in players’ minds. But how do you go about doing so?

What to Say After the Game

After your game, gather the team together and highlight any positive points. At this time, you may also want to briefly address your primary concern—but be aware of post-game emotions and how your message may affect certain players. Always try to follow any criticism with praise. Many of your players may already be disappointed with their performance.

At younger ages, try to spread your praise to cover each member of your team. For the weakest players, pick out their contributions (no matter how small) and compliment them. In basketball, for example, I might point out how a screen helped another player score. For another kid, I might mention an excellent rebound. Many times you can simply compliment weak offensive players for their good defense.

Lastly, position your next team practice as an opportunity to overcome the more obvious problems that hurt your team’s performance. Provide hope. You want to instill the belief that the team and each of its members are improving. That practices and work is leading to better play, and ideally victory.

Analyzing a Loss

Good coaches, even at the youth level, will find it difficult to immediately let go of a loss. This is normal and an indication that you care, are competitive, and want to improve your players’ performance and opportunity to succeed. The loss represents a problem that you need to solve.

Typically, you will go through an analytical process to better understand your team’s performance. What key breakdowns and failures contributed to the loss? What good points can you further strengthen? You should find your mind weighing the individual player performances, the effectiveness of your team strategies and game plan, the missed opportunities in certain game situations, and the corrective actions that you need to take before your next game. Let it all roll around inside you for a while.

The Next Practice

Before your next practice, pull together all of the key positives and negatives in your mind, and determine what areas that you should address in the upcoming practice. Write down a practice schedule that includes drills or other activities that will help correct the noted deficiencies.

After your practice’s initial warm-up, whether you won or lost the prior game, pull your players together and again highlight the game’s key points. Congratulate your players for their positive plays and together analyze the problem areas. For the latter, ask leading questions (see Teach Like That Famous Greek Guy). Give them a chance to respond and try to elaborate on their good answers. Firmly state the corrective actions that you believe are required. At this point, begin the drills and other activities that directly relate to your talking points.

Always understand the cause-and-effect relationship for key events that occurred in the prior game. Discuss these, along with the lessons learned, with your players and implement corrective actions in the next practice.

Copyright © 2012 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 (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sports Gear: Sometimes it’s Worth the Extra Spend, Sometimes it’s Not.

   Our guest post this month features an article by Mindy Tan, Marketing Manager for Epic Sports, an online provider of sports gear. Mindy gives an inside look at buying sports gear—what determines quality and price, and how parents can make the right buying decision.

Price is a monetary value assigned to products for sale that most generally is decided by, or at the very minimum discussed with, the marketing department. It is not a reflection of the true quality of a product (or the lack thereof). That being said, a company cannot price products lower than the cost of manufacturing and pushing them through the distribution channel. A higher price can actually equate to higher quality.

So, when it comes to sports gear, how can you decide when it is worth the extra money to purchase the name brand?

There is no single universal answer because every person has different needs from their products. Though we may all use the gear for the same purpose, we need to consider other aspects of our personal sports experience that will have an impact on the worth of the gear.

  1. Endurance: If you can see yourself keeping the particular piece of sports gear until it has exceeded its life, you may be willing to invest in a higher quality, and thus longer lasting product. If you plan to outgrow or upgrade the product in the near future, you might not need a product that provides this longevity.

  2. Agility: Are you flexible with features or are you set on having some specific feature? A lower priced product might not come with all the features that you are looking for.

  3. Strength: What is the strength of your relationship with the sport? Are you likely to change sports or lose interest? Are you invested on a personal level or just recreationally involved? A young player or a recreational player doesn’t need the best equipment in existence to see if he/she likes the game. Unless there is a high affinity, most sports gear purchases can be negotiated to a minimum.

  4. Training: Heavy use can create the need for a more durable product, regardless of how long you plan to own the product.

Spare No Expense to Get What You Need

Because of the inherent danger involved with participating in certain sports, especially contact sports, there are some products that require a high quality product. Purchases of helmets and other safety gear should be made with care. This is an area where the amount of research a manufacturer puts into the design and development of its products is in direct relation to the quality of the product and the amount of money you should be willing to spend. Pay attention to independent studies and ratings on safety gear as well. More so than anything else, the quality of the manufacturing research, materials and process should determine this purchase— not price.

Footwear is another area in which there are specific criteria that one should consider prior to purchase. Knowing what type of foot the player has (flat, normal or with a pronounced arch) will help you identify which shoe is right for you. Comfort, durability, performance and stability are important factors, though if you will soon outgrow them, durability may not be an issue. Stability is a very important safety aspect. Whether name brand or private label, be sure that your athletic shoes offer stability so as to reduce your chance of injury.

Some Private Label or Generic Brands Provide Quality at a Better Price

There are lots of reasons a quality product can be priced low. Some manufacturers price their products low simply because that is the pricing strategy that their marketing department and/or founders wanted to go with. Many companies start small with a founder who just wanted to provide quality products that people can afford.

How can you determine which low cost products are of high quality and which are not?

  1. Read the fine print: Many times the difference between two products lies more in the extras that are provided for the more expensive version. For example, higher priced products tend to come with a manufacturer’s warranty that covers products for anywhere from one to five years after purchase. The cost of providing this warranty raises the cost of the products. Read the product description and contact the retailer and/or the manufacturer of the product with any questions you have regarding materials, manufacturing processes, and quality. Retailers who offer multiple brands have less incentive to deceive consumers on which is a higher quality —either way, they have another product for you. Manufacturers, on the other hand, might be a little biased.

  2. Experiment: Unless you don’t ever plan on purchasing the same type of product again, you may benefit from trial and error. By experimenting with purchasing products that are lower priced, you can see which ones are of adequate quality. Don’t want to take the chance? Read user reviews from a variety of sources. Don’t use advice from blogs or YouTube video reviews because many blog owners receive free products in exchange for an “honest” review. Instead, search reviews on the products at verified purchaser review websites.

  3. Determine if you are getting a good deal: It is possible to get good value on an expensive product. Consider the example of a football helmet. You are willing to spend $200 on a helmet because it could save a player from concussion and serious damage to the brain. The price of this product might be considered high (after all you could get a less expensive helmet from a company that has done less research) but the value you receive is high. Sometimes spending more equates to a better overall value—better than you would get from a "value" priced product.
So, in order to determine where you can save money and where you should spend more, you really have to rely on what is important to you in each individual product. You can then decide how much each of the product's features are worth to you and make the right purchase.

Written by Mindy Tan, Marketing Manager,

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book:
The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the best youth sports experience for your child (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Trust Your Skills (Don't Think Too Much)

   As you progress in your sport, you will receive instruction from many sources including your parents, coaches, other players, videos, and books. To learn a new skill (or correct one that is deficient), you need to understand the fundamental movements that comprise the skill and how these movements flow together in a coordinated sequence. You will need to initially think about the skill, break it down, and analyze your execution of it.

When you’re competing, however, it’s essential that you trust the skills that you have learned and practiced. As the Nike motto says, you need to “Just Do It!”

Imagery Instead of Thinking

You cannot think about how you will execute a skill during a game. If you do, you obstruct the subconscious body-mind connection that you've developed through hours of practice. This will slow reaction time and often destroy the natural flow needed to properly execute a skill. Likewise, observing yourself (as if you were a third person watching you) will also hurt your ability to perform well.

Confidence and positive imagery is instead the key to success. You must know that the ball will go in, and see it doing so in your mind’s eye. See yourself executing each skill with perfect form—without thinking through every step. Live in the moment of these images—picture your success.

For example, broad or triple jumpers in track need to get their approach’s steps down properly to achieve the longest jump. The last step should ideally land immediately before the far edge of the takeoff board. By repeating successful approaches and takeoffs in practice, the mechanics of this skill are ingrained within a jumper. Thinking about how this is done during a track meet will only inhibit the body’s ability to do what it has been trained to do. Instead, a jumper needs to cast away any doubts about footwork and envision a perfect approach, takeoff, jump, and final result.

When I played basketball in high school and college, I always approached the free throw line thinking that these “gimme” points were mine and envisioned the ball going through the hoop. Once I had begun the initial movement of my shooting motion, I would clear my mind, focus on the target, and let the hours of practice take over.

Use Trigger Movements

To let “muscle memory” take over, incorporate trigger movements at the beginning of the skill. In golf, this might be a simple “waggle” of the club’s head before beginning your back-swing. For a basketball free throw, you might bounce the basketball four times to engage your body and then exhale immediately before beginning the actual shooting motion. Whatever your routine, do it the same way every time.

Practice your skills to the point that you don’t need to think about how you perform them. Trust your skills and play your game with confidence knowing that your body will follow your mind’s eye to the result you see and desire.

Copyright © 2012 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 (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

No Sleepovers the Night Before a Game

   Earlier this year, one of my players showed up late for an 11:00 AM game, arriving just before its start. As I briefly talked to him about the importance of arriving in time for warm-ups, I noticed that his eyes were glazed and his hair ruffled with a large cowlick jutting upwards.

Throughout the game, the boy played with little energy and seemed to have difficulty concentrating. Afterwards, I talked with his parents and mentioned my observation to which they casually responded, “Oh, he was at a sleepover last night.”

Kids love sleepovers. They’re a fun, exciting experience where young boys and girls get to watch movies, play games, eat junk food, and stay up late. Sleepovers are also an opportunity for kids to learn more about themselves and their friends, talking into the night exploring topics that are new and exciting. These shared, communal experiences are part of growing up.

But I think most of us still remember how we usually felt after a sleepover when we were young. And as a parent, I would expect you’re familiar with the tired, grouchy child that often shows up on your doorstep the next day.

If your child is listless and tired, he or she is unlikely to play well. Not only will your child play poorly, but in team sports, your child’s performance may also hurt the team’s success. Your role is to help your child understand his or her responsibilities and that meeting this responsibility sometimes requires sacrifice. Explain to your child why sleepovers are a bad idea the night before a game. A coach expects that your child will properly prepare for a game—and that includes getting enough sleep the night before.

Copyright © 2012 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 (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Emotional Leadership—Your Attitude Affects Your Players' Attitude

   Anyone who instructs children understands that, in addition to teaching the subject matter, a teacher must also set the emotional tone. Likewise, youth coaches must provide both instructional and emotional leadership.

In practices and games, you will sometimes need to emotionally pull your players in the direction you want. Here are some of the ways in which you do this.

Show Up Prepared

Come to each practice ready to set the appropriate intensity level. Your body language and tone of voice should communicate that you are prepared and ready to go. This will help put your players in the right state of mind and lead to a productive practice.

Be organized with respect to what you want to accomplish in each practice session. Know how you want your activities (i.e., warm-up drills, building on new skills, addressing strengths and weakness from the last game, etc.) to unfold and the time that you will spend on each one. Keep the energy level high by moving from one activity to the next. Avoid “dead time” where it’s obvious you’re thinking, “Now what should we do?”

Recognize and Manage the Flow

Your practices and instruction must successfully mix the right amount of structure, competitive activities, individual and team instruction, fun, and the opportunity to simply run and expend energy. Much like understanding the flow of game situations and the movement of players on the field of play, you will need to understand and react to your players, adjusting the pace and nature of your practices.

At times you will have to raise your voice, at other times lower it. You may need to shorten your verbal instruction when your players seem less focused. You will sometimes need to send your players to the end line to run “suicides” or sprints, to blow off energy and restore some control to your practice. And there will be other times when you must recognize that your players are in a more childlike state of mind; they're giggling, laughing, and enjoying some unstructured moments of fun. Quiet yourself and let this dynamic flow for a few minutes.

As you gauge and react to your players’ emotional state, respond with actions that establish the energy level you want. But also recognize that there are times when you will need to loosen the reins.

Remove Cynicism

Always try to remove any negative emotion or cynicism that may have found a place in you from the frustrations of your daily life. You want to stay positive, be hopeful, and always show that you believe in your kids and their ability to improve.

Although I generally had great youth coaches, here's one example of the opposite. After an extremely successful first year in Pony League baseball under the guidance of an excellent baseball coach, my second year was far less enjoyable. One of the changes included a new coach. This gentleman was not especially knowledgeable about baseball; he was also disabled, walking with a severe limp. I have no idea whether his disability or the other events of his day affected his outlook on life, but I distinctly remember sensing a cynical, less hopeful attitude when he came to our practices and games. I also recall the resulting negative effect it had on my attitude and that of my teammates in that forgettable season.

Set a Good Example

Finally, recognize that your attitude is reflected in all aspects of your coaching behavior, including how you conduct yourself in game situations. When players see you yelling at the referee, they start yelling at the referees. Avoid improper language. Do your best to set a good example and correct your players should they mimic your mistakes.

If you genuinely enjoy coaching your sport and your team, the attitude of your players will reflect your enthusiasm. Give your players the benefit of both instructional and emotional leadership.

Copyright © 2012 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 (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Acing Tryouts

   Our guest post this month features an article by Dr. Wendy LeBolt that discusses the process of a young athlete trying out for a team. As usual, Wendy brings excellent insight, warmth, and a lively writing style to this topic, explaining what athletes and their parents should expect during tryouts.

Jodi had worked her way up the ranks to one of the area’s top teams, pretty much by coach’s invitation. Smooth sailing until her team and another decided to merge. There would be open tryouts for the Division I team.

She showed up early on a Saturday morning, signed in and pinned a number to her t-shirt. Then she scanned the field with huge eyes that told me exactly what she was thinking: “What am I doing here? There are 45 girls who are all better than me.” That’s the day she became a competitive soccer player. That’s an experience that set her on track for success beyond the athletic field. Here’s what she learned.

Come Prepared, Trust Your Game, Don’t Look Around

When you look at all those other kids, there may be something they do better than you do. They are probably looking at you and thinking the same thing!

There’s a lot to being a good player. Some might be more aggressive. Some have better ball skills. Some shoot better. Some defend better. Some run faster. Some have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. You are probably not the best at all these things and neither are they. But the coach is looking for the best mix of these characteristics in the players he will choose.

Coach probably has a player evaluation sheet. Here is the information we collect at a soccer club where I coach.

Player Name: __________________

Aggressive: ____
Ball Control: ____
Sportsmanship / Coachability: ____
Passing: ____
Accuracy: ____
Shooting: ____
Speed / Endurance: ____
Strongest Position: ____
Right or Left Footed: ____
Overall Rating: ____

Additional Comments:

The categories will be slightly different depending on your sport so ask yourself: What does the game demand of a good player? Where are you strong? Where are you weak? Then, go to work. Work on your strengths; they’re likely what will get you on the team. Work twice as hard on your weakness; they’re likely what would keep you from getting on the team.

  • If you need speed, then run sprints. Short repeats of 10-12 secs, with gamelike speed and very short rest.

  • If you need endurance, then use longer repeats of 20-60 secs at a slightly slower pace.

  • If there are ball skills, work on these until you can do them without looking, left and right.

  • Add the effort traits like: work-rate - your effort off the ball/hustle; coachability - listening and doing exactly as the coach asks; good decision-making and poise - use your head, play your game and keep your cool.

A word about confidence. You may not feel confident, but don’t psych yourself out by looking around. Pay attention to your own game and stay focused on what you know you can do and do it well. If you make a mistake, recognize it and come back stronger. Everyone makes mistakes; coaches are looking for what you do next.

Then, take the long view. Choose to have fun. Meet some other kids. Learn a few things. Act like the awesome game you’re playing today is no big deal - just the way you always play. By no means turn and look to see if the coaches were watching you when you just left that other kid in the dust. Be consistent. Play your best. Trust that over the course of the tryout, you will get the coaches’ attention.

How Can I increase my Chances of Being Picked?

It may sound funny but I always tell kids to “dress for success.” By that I mean wear something to tryouts that will make it easy for coaches to distinguish you from other players. Don’t blend in. Everybody wears a white t-shirt and black or white socks. Why not wear a tie dye shirt? Orange socks or pigtails - if it suits your style.

Follow Up

Be sure you know the plan for the team and tryout. Find out
  • How and when the coach will contact you after the tryout.

  • How many sessions will there be. Can you come to more than one? If so, be sure to attend as many as you can to show your interest.

  • Sometimes a coach is looking to fill a particular playing spot or two. Or he may prefer one style of player over another. It’s fair game to ask about this.

  • Be prepared for the “I’m sorry but we don’t have a spot for you” phone call. It’s the rare player who never gets the “turn down” call. Be ready. Ask what you can work on for next time. Then thank the coach, and start preparing for next time.

Jodi did make that Division I team. They saw something in her they could work with even though she was far from the best player at those tryouts. You can’t control whether or not you’ll be chosen, but you can adopt the attitude that the tryout process will make you better. And that makes you way more likely to make the team - this time or the next time around.

Good luck and play well.

Dr. Wendy LeBolt is the CEO of Fit2Finish, LLC, providing dynamic fitness and injury prevention programs for youth athletes and their teams in the Mid-Atlantic area. Read her blog for free fitness information and tips you can put into play.

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book:
The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the best youth sports experience for your child (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Helicopter Parents, College, and Pickup Games

   My Sunday paper reprinted a Washington Post opinion piece titled Grounding the helicopter parent. Although the article's authors (two college presidents/professors) discuss "helicopter parenting" in the context of the college experience, it included a statement about pickup games:

"We remind parents that this generation was raised differently than ours. Remember pickup games? Kids would get together and play baseball, basketball and soccer without parents or coaches screaming "encouragement" from the sidelines. Isn't it amazing how we survived our childhoods without orange slices provided by our parents?"

As an advocate for kids playing more pickup, I appreciated their short commentary on the over-involvement of today's parents in their child's youth sports experience.

In my earlier post, Pickup Games Are Dead! I talked about some of the reasons that pickup games play a much lesser role than years ago. Although there are several reasons for the disappearance of neighborhood pickup games, parental over-involvement in their child's sports experience is certainly a contributing factor.

With organized sports so dominating the landscape, I worry that many of today's parents have lost sight of the unique benefits that their child derives from playing pickup. Learning how to organize games, manage arguments, and otherwise interact without assistance from adults, all help develop self-reliance. Enjoying the intrinsic rewards of the play itself, an essential element of playing pickup, promotes long-term participation. Instead of dropping out, kids continue to play. Isn't that a more fulfilling, lasting reward than yet one more organized sports experience highlighted by "soccer snacks"?

Playing both pickup and organized sports helps balance the overall youth sports experience. When pickup games are thrown into the mix, young athletes can Play Up or Play Down to experience different roles, develop their talent, and have the type of fun they need. Every kid gets his or her "playing time." Opportunity is viewed beyond the context of organized youth sports, and that helps tamp down the instinctual parental response to protect their child and get involved.

As the article's authors also point out, parents are often best at providing support and encouragement to take advantage of opportunities. (This theme of "parents as providers" is one that I echo in my book The Joy of Youth Sports.)

In the world of youth sports, many parents would do better to provide and promote opportunities for their child to engage in self-directed play. Start when they're young. Get the ball rolling by playing catch. Play in some backyard games with your child and neighborhood families. Begin to encourage your child to independently play games with their friends. Carve out time in your child's schedule so he or she has the opportunity to play pickup. Accept some risk.

Why wait for college to begin your child's education in self-reliance?

Copyright © 2012 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 (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)