Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gaining an Edge—The Eyes Have It

   It’s standard advice to anyone throwing or shooting a ball to “focus on the target.” Same goes for making a pass. But in sports where you’re defended, you often need to hide your intention. You need to make your opponent think one thing, while you do another.

You're Being Watched!

Good defenders anticipate what action their offensive counterpart is about to take. They do this by understanding the situation, options available, and the most likely choice. But they also anticipate by observing their opponent’s behavior. One of the main behavioral clues is where the offensive player is looking.

So how do you counteract your defender's attempts to anticipate your next move?

Don't Stare at Your Target

Lesser players tend to stare at their target. When passing a ball, for example, they look at their teammate well before they make the pass. Their intention is obvious. As players from past generations would say, “They telegraph their pass.”

So how do you make an accurate pass or throw without directly looking at your teammate?

Set Up the Scene

You usually do look at your target—but only for a split second immediately before the pass or throw. By using your peripheral vision (or taking a quick glance to the opposite side), you know where your teammates are located. You set up the scene in your mind’s eye. If your teammates are moving, you then anticipate where they will be when you make the pass or throw. This is the process an experienced player uses when he or she makes a “no-look” pass. (But again, in most instances, you should look at your target just before you act.)

Gain Advantage with Your Eyes

As you become a better player, use your eyes to deceive your opponents.
► The best NFL quarter­backs like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are masters of “looking off” safeties on long passes.
“Look off” a defender prior to making a pass. Look first toward a teammate other than the one to whom you will make the pass. Similar to a physical fake (i.e. faking the actual pass), this deception is effective against defenders who depend on observation and anticipation.

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 (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Are You a "Teach Everyone Everything" Coach?

   Team roles often provide young players with a clear path to immediate success. They represent a great starting point for the beginning player. When an inexperienced or otherwise immature player understands how to meaningfully contribute to his or her team, self-esteem grows and broad smiles begin to appear.

But youth coaches should carefully avoid limiting any young child’s potential. A child’s body, skill level, and aptitude for a given sport are constantly changing throughout his or her youth. The success an athlete enjoys later in life may be entirely different from the success enjoyed as a child.

So how does a coach best prepare each child for the opportunities that may appear later in the athlete’s development? The answer for most youth sport programs is a coaching philosophy I refer to as “Teach Everyone Everything” (TEE).

Understanding the TEE Approach

The primary principle of TEE is to provide every child on a team with equal opportunity to instruction. As described above, the TEE approach recognizes that each child is on a developmental journey. TEE provides the solid foundation of skills and knowledge that will enable a child to successfully transition to new athletic roles as he or she matures.

In practices, the TEE coach instructs all of his or her players how to perform each fundamental skill—even when the child’s size and ability may dictate playing a position or role that doesn’t require certain skills.

In games, the TEE coach attends to all of his or her players regardless of how playing time is distributed. Many teaching moments arise in games, both for the active players and those watching from the bench. When a player makes an excellent play or mistake, the TEE coach not only addresses the player, but also other kids on the team who may benefit from the coach’s instruction. The TEE coach searches for opportunities in games to place players in situations where they can develop and grow. He or she balances these opportunities, the benefits of assigning team roles, and the needs of others on the team, to provide the best path to success for each individual child.

TEE—Key Principles:
  1. Every child receives equal instruction in practice on how to perform fundamental skills.

  2. Each child receives equal attention in both practices and games (but not necessarily equal playing time).

  3. Throughout the season, opportunities to expand each child's roles are explored in both practices and games.

TEE—an Example

In basketball, one or two players on a team usually play close to the basket (low post). These players must understand the principles of low post play and how to play with their back to the basket on offense. When looking to score from the inside, a player must gain position, present teammates with a target (raise a hand), use proper footwork (pivoting), “seal out” the defensive player, and finally convert the shot from short range. More advanced techniques include fakes, and progressions of moves.

A basketball coach focused on maximizing his youth team’s win-loss record might consider only teaching low post skills to his or her tallest players. Likewise, this coach might have an assistant teach more advanced dribbling techniques only to the children playing the guard position. With limited practice time and the need for players to assume certain roles, it’s understandable that a youth coach might believe this is the best, most efficient approach.

But consider the potential long-term effect of selectively teaching different techniques to different players. As mentioned in the beginning of this topic, each child will likely go through dramatic changes as they mature. A tall 10-year-old boy may eventually become a 5’10” guard on his or her high school team. Likewise, the young girl who has good ball handling skills (but is short) may grow to be one of her high school team’s tallest players. If you fail to provide early instruction on the techniques that a child will later need, you may impair the child’s opportunity for success.

There our other reasons for employing the TEE approach. Many game situations at higher levels of play involve “match-ups”. Although a player would not normally play a certain position, his or her opponent may present a match-up opportunity. In our basketball example, consider a match-up where a smaller opponent is defending a guard who normally plays away from the basket. Because of the size mismatch, the offensive player may be able to “take his player low”, isolate the defender, and easily score a basket when a teammate passes the ball to him. But what if this player has never learned the skills necessary to play the low post position reasonably well? The advantage is lost.

Skills primarily used in one position or team role are also sometimes helpful in other situations. For example, knowing how to play with your back to another player can help a basketball guard more easily receive a pass away from the basket when defended aggressively.

Provide Opportunities in Games When Possible

Practice provides you, the coach, with the opportunity to teach all of your players a sport’s fundamental skills. Games provide your players with the opportunity to put these new-found skills to use. Although TEE may fit more readily into your practice instruction, you can also use this approach in games—especially in youth programs that emphasize participation.

Try to find opportunities for your players to occasionally step beyond their primary role. In many sports, it’s easy to move a child from one position to another during a game. Although a child may lack the skills to play a position well, let him or her try. Pick moments that provide the child with a better chance to succeed (when the other team is playing its weaker players, for instance).

You can even find opportunities for your least skilled beginners to play a key position. For example, toward the end of a one-sided basketball game, you might rotate a different player into the point guard position each time down the floor. Make sure that everyone on your team is in on the fun, and they understand that you’re not concerned about the inevitable turnovers.

Also, emphasize to your players that each of them is responsible for putting the skills you teach to good use in his or her individual practices and neighborhood pickup games. The latter is often where a young athlete learns how to actually apply a skill in a way that works for him or her.

A Path to Success

TEE is an approach that leads to success over the course of a child’s developmental years—not just one single season. Here’s a diagram that illustrates the ideal cycle of development:

With some children (especially younger ones), a full cycle may occur within your season. In these cases, you will enjoy one of the more rewarding aspects of coaching youth sports—witnessing the rapid development of a child’s abilities and self-esteem under your tutelage. But more often, the benefits will accumulate through the entirety of a child’s youth sports experience.

Finally, TEE also provides the best path to lifetime success in sports. Learning all of the fundamental skills to competently play a sport, increases the chance children will continue to play a sport into their adult years. With a fuller understanding of the game, they will enjoy more success in pickup games and find greater acceptance within the community of individuals that play their sport.

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 (Amazon $8.95)
(Kindle Edition $2.99)


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Is Your Child "Going Pro" in Sixth Grade?

   Along with transferring your passion for a sport onto your child, another mistake is to begin planning for your young star’s inevitable college scholarship and trip to the professional ranks based on youth sports success.

As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, your child will experience a number of physical changes through his or her high school years. Even when the genes are good, there is no guarantee of future success. Other “intangible” factors associated with your child’s disposition and personality will likely emerge. Your child’s interests will also change over time.

The bottom line is that middle school heroes are as likely to become intramural stars as they are high school starters.

Is This Ultimately Your Child's Best Sport?

Even when a child shows exceptional talent in one sport at a young age, they may later excel in a different sport. I coached one 5th grade basketball player who showed excellent skills, an aggressive attitude, and seemed to have a natural aptitude for the game. I have little doubt that he would have enjoyed success playing competitive basketball at higher levels.

But by the time he reached high school, the boy had instead found his calling as a soccer player. He went on to enjoy an outstanding college career (winning All-American honors).

Not So Fast on That Athletic Scholarship

To expect that your young star is one step away from a college athletic scholarship is unrealistic. With the exception of elite athletes, scholarships are much more often based on financial need and academics than on athletic prowess.

Absolutely let your child enjoy their dreams of glory, fantastical as they may be. On occasion, those dreams do become reality. But keep yourself to the job of providing opportunities for their genius (if it’s there) to naturally emerge.

Multiple Sports

Instead of focusing on your child’s success in one sport, give your son or daughter the chance to play different sports. Especially at younger ages, give your child a taste of multiple sports. They will enjoy meeting new friends, experience crossover benefits from one sport to another, avoid overuse injuries and burnout, and more likely find the sport that best suits their athletic talent and nature as they mature.

In the case of that 5th grader I mentioned above, I ran into him a few years back. He made a point of introducing himself to me. Despite his success in soccer, he obviously still remembered that long ago YMCA basketball experience. I also suspect that a few of the skills he learned in basketball helped him succeed as he began to play competitive soccer. All of his sports experiences helped mold him into the excellent soccer player he became.

Always maintain a balanced, realistic perspective regarding your child’s success in youth sports. Don't buy the fools gold that is early success in one sport. Provide your child with the opportunity to play multiple sports and build the base of experiences that will benefit him or her later on.

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 (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)