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)