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 @Fit2Finish.com 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)


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

3 Ways to Increase Your Players' Ownership Stake in Their Team

   Almost everyone would agree that responsibility is a positive trait in a young athlete. But how do you go about developing this attribute?

We feel responsible to others when we own a task, when we sense that another's welfare directly depends on our actions. Ownership, of course, requires that one has some control over the item owned.

As a coach, you should always look for opportunities to provide your players with an ownership stake in their team. Here are three ways in which you can do this:
  1. Provide Opportunities to Lead: One way to give players a sense of ownership is to provide opportunities for them to lead.

    This is easiest with your older, more skilled players. These players can lead their team through their performance, the way in which they conduct themselves during a contest, and how they prepare in practices. Help them understand that they are potentially role models for their teammates.

    In addition, you should also encourage these individuals to see themselves as mentors to the beginners and less-skilled players. Ask them to represent you on the court or field of play, helping other players as required. Ideally, they will reflect your style and provide constructive comments and guidance. By giving certain players leadership responsibility, you provide them with a strong vested interest in the team and its success.

  2. Involve Players in Decisions: Another way to increase your players’ sense of ownership is to involve them in some of your coaching decisions and responsibilities.

    For example, at the beginning of a game, you might ask players on the bench to determine the opposing team’s defense. Sometimes they may know players on the other team, and understand the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses better than you. Regularly ask your players their opinion on game situations and matchups. This approach helps keep everyone involved in the game. It also sends a message to your players that their input may help define your coaching strategies and tactics.

  3. Have Beginners Own Their Small Roles: For the youngest players in participation oriented programs, let them know that they own a certain task (e.g., in basketball, setting a screen as part of a specific play) and that this task is important to the team’s success.

    If you have multiple team captains for individual games, give your young players their opportunity to serve in this capacity. Letting your players choose a team name is another fun way to promote ownership and team bonding.
While some of your players are born leaders, others will hesitate to take any leadership role. Some players will not assume responsibility beyond what they are told to do. As you work with these players, try to devise ways in which you can grow their sense of ownership in the team. Doing so successfully will increase the player’s enthusiasm and commitment to the team and its goals.

Listen to your players, and when possible, make them feel that their observations and suggestions are part of your decision-making and coaching process. Give your players a sense of control and ask them to lead in whatever way they can.

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)