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)


Friday, November 22, 2013

Starting Tomorrow, The Joy of Youth Sports is on Sale for $.99.

   Here's your chance to get the Kindle version of The Joy of Youth Sports for pennies! Starting tomorrow through November 29th, you can purchase the Kindle edition of the book for just $.99.

This short book provides parents with a concise overview of how to create a great youth sports experience for their child. It includes 5 steps that parents need to take to help their child both compete and have fun.

And if you're looking for a gift for your older athlete, check out The Young Athlete's Guide to Playing Sports: What Every Athlete Needs to Know to Play, Win, and Have Fun. Endorsed by leaders in the sports community, this book contains tips, techniques, and approaches that will help any player, in any sport, improve his or her game. It's also an excellent read for parents who want to provide guidance and instruction to their child.

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)


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Find and Exploit Your Opponent's Weaknesses

   Here's an excerpt from chapter 5 (Competing for Success) of my new book, The Young Athlete's Guide to Playing Sports. This topic discusses how to identify and take advantage of an opponent's weaknesses.

Your ability to play a sport well always starts with your own game. Ideally, you possess an arsenal of skills that give you an edge over your opponents. Any weaknesses you have are minimal. Your game is both strong and resilient. Like a tree buffeted by high winds, it remains standing no matter the fierceness of the storm.

But in a contest that pits you against a tough opponent, you also need to consider the nature of your opponent’s abilities and game. You need to understand his or her strengths and weaknesses. By doing so, you can employ tactics that improve your chance of winning. Before or during a contest, try to find and exploit your opponent’s weaknesses. Even the best players have them.

Your opponent’s “weak side”

Start by determining whether your opponent has a weak side. Athletes typically have a dominant side and a weak one. For instance, tennis players rarely have equally strong forehand and backhand groundstrokes—one is usually weaker than the other. In many sports, a young athlete’s weak side is the same as the athlete’s non-dominant hand. Right-handed basketball players will usually dribble better with their right hand. Right-footed soccer players will likely dribble the ball better with their right foot. And in both cases, each will find it easier to move to the right (and better protect the ball). For these players, their weakness lies in using their left side and moving in that direction.

So in the above examples, how would you exploit your opponent’s weak side? If the tennis player favors his or her forehand, you would of course hit more balls to the backhand side. For the basketball and soccer players, you would defend them by positioning yourself slightly to their right (“overplaying”) and forcing them to use their weak hand/foot and move to their left.

Other weaknesses

Your opponent’s weaknesses can lie almost anywhere within his or her game. Like the examples just discussed, they may be obvious. Other defects (like an inability to play well in stressful situations, for instance) may be less obvious. Sometimes these subtle weaknesses won’t appear unless you force your opponent past a certain threshold. Up until that point, your opponent’s play may be flawless. But exert enough pressure over an extended period, and your opponent’s game begins to fall apart. Confidence erodes, self-doubt creeps in, focus is lost, and athletic performance falters.

Here are several other examples of potential weaknesses and ways to exploit them:

  • Your opponent has a specific skill area that is exceptionally weak. Similar to having a weak side, an athlete may have a skill area that is extremely weak. Some baseball batters can hit a fastball, but struggle with curveballs and change-ups. A basketball guard may play well against a passive zone defense, but regularly commits turnovers when dribbling against a pressure man-to-man defense. An offensive football lineman can pass block against a bull rush, but is unable to handle a speed rush on the edge. Once you identify a skill weakness, go after it! (Throw the curveball, pressure the basketball guard when dribbling, and use a speed rush against the offensive lineman more often than a bull rush.)

  • Although possessing excellent sports skills, your opponent is physically deficient in some way. A skilled player may lack strength, size, foot speed or quickness. If you are quicker, try to deny your opponent the opportunity to use a skill. Against an exceptional offensive scorer, for instance, try to defend this opponent before they receive the ball by denying the pass. In racquet sports like tennis, try to move your slower opponent around the court side to side, forward and back, opening the court for an eventual winner. Take advantage of other physical mismatches. In the football example above, use the bull rush against the offensive lineman who has quick feet and good technique, but lacks size or strength. In basketball, consider posting-up defenders who are much smaller.

  • Your opponent relies too much on his or her physical athleticism. Some athletes ignore (or are unaware of) good tactics because they typically win contests through physical talent alone. Try to counter any athletic or physical advantage with a compensating game strategy and tactics. A good example is the “Rope a Dope” boxing strategy used by Muhammad Ali to sap George Foreman’s punching power over the course of their famous fight.

  • Although athletic, your opponent is either not well-conditioned or possesses less endurance than you. Similar to the previous item— but in this case an athlete is physically ill-equipped for a longer, tougher contest. Against this type of opponent, you try to survive the beginning onslaught, knowing that over the length of the contest the tide will turn as your endurance prevails.

  • Your opponent loves a certain style of play, but does not easily adapt to other styles. Some athletes love “pace.” If you hit a tennis ball to them hard, they return it harder. Against these opponents, mix up your shots. Hit some balls soft and high, others hard and low. Add some spin. Change locations. If you’re a baseball pitcher, for instance, mix in some changeups against a good fastball hitter. Sometimes it’s not one style that works, but the constant changing of style that wins the day. (See “Change it Up” on page 84 for more on exploiting this weakness.)

Finally, here’s an example that illustrates the last item. When I played tennis as a junior in high school, I had the opportunity to watch the deciding set of an important match in which our second singles player was struggling. Although Jay was an excellent player with smooth strokes, his opponent seemed to have figured out his game. Jay's opponent loved pace and was crushing his return at every opportunity. It appeared Jay had little chance to win.

In utter frustration, Jay changed his tactics—he began to serve underhand. He hit the ball upward in a looping arc so that when it came down in the service box, it bounced high. Seeing the opportunity to quickly end the point, Jay’s opponent charged forward, wound up, and swung to put the ball away. But in his eagerness to end the point, Jay's opponent began to hit the service returns out of play. He struggled hitting the soft “sitter” at shoulder height.

During rallies, Jay began to mix in lobs with regular ground strokes. I watched in disbelief as Jay’s opponent grew more and more frustrated, dumping shots into the net and spraying the ball past the end lines. As the match continued, his opponent completely lost his composure and Jay came back to win the match.

In this instance, Jay’s willingness to boldly change his tactics exposed his opponent’s inability to handle a certain style of play. Although you probably won't have to resort to such an extreme approach, keep probing your opponent to discover where his or her weaknesses lie.

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)


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Advantage/Disadvantage (Part 2)

   Here's Part 2 of the Advantage/Disadvantage topic from my new book, The Young Athlete's Guide to Playing Sports.

Number mismatches

In team sports such as hockey, basketball, lacrosse, and soccer, there are often two-on-one and three-on-two situations.

What do you do when you’re outnumbered? For example, what do you do when you’re the defensive “one” on a two-on-one fast break by your opponents toward your goal? Depending on your sport, there are several tactics you can use.

  • In hockey, where a goalie is defending the net, you ultimately need to defend the pass to the opposite player, leaving your goalie to handle the shot from the player driving toward the goal.
  • In soccer, you would use the same tactics if the ball was on the outside. But because of the larger goal, you need to defend the player with the ball driving in from the center of the field. (A shooter has a much larger target area when attacking from the inside.)
  • In basketball, you would drop back toward the basket (playing a one man zone) and possibly feint the player with the ball, induce a poor pass, and maybe intercept it.
Notice that your responsibilities and tactics defending a 2-on-1 depend on your sport and other factors such as whether a goalie is present. But even with their differences, each sport shares similar tactics in certain situations. In the hockey example above, the defender would initially try to slow down the break farther from the goal should the opportunity present itself. Most sports share a similar objective in situations like this—to induce a bad pass or force a few extra passes to enable teammates to get back and eliminate the numbers mismatch.

There are also specific tactics to employ when you’re on offense, depending on whether you or your opponent holds the odd-man advantage. Should you enjoy the two-on-one advantage just described, you can aggressively drive toward the defender. This can open up a pass to your teammate should the defender commit to stopping you. In the opposite situation where you’re outnumbered (such as when facing a defensive double-team), you can make a well-timed pass to a teammate to neutralize the pressure.

Advantage gained through transition

Offensive advantage is often gained by quick transitions. These can result from either player or ball (puck) movement. Upon a change in possession, a team can often gain an advantage by executing a break toward the opponent’s goal. Should the defense not immediately react, the offense will enjoy a 2-on-1, 3-on-2, or similar odd-man advantage.

In team sports with goals, look to the weak (opposite) side for easy scoring opportunities. Players who receive a pass from you will often have an open shot.
In non-breakaway situations (e.g., half-court offense), quick ball movement can result in open scoring opportunities on the weak side. This is most evident against zone defenses. Offensive players can reverse/swing the ball from one side to another through a series of passes or a skip pass. Because the zone cannot transition fast enough to the opposite side, open space exists for a player to receive a pass and possibly score.

Scoring opportunities in individual sports also arise out of quick transitions. As shown in the above tennis example, the winner comes when the ball is finally hit to the open area away from the prior shots.

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)