Saturday, April 27, 2013

Let Your Players Teach You

   Most instructors quickly learn that the act of teaching inherently drives one toward a fuller understanding of the material taught. Teaching a skill to others forces one to break down the skill into its more fundamental parts. As a coach, you will find that you naturally gain a greater insight into the "what, when, where, why, and how" of each skill technique that you teach your players.

Why not use this same principle in reverse to help your players better understand the skills you want them to learn?

Instead of you instructing your players, have your players instruct you. Require them to vocalize the steps that they go through as they execute a skill.

An Example

My most common use of this teaching approach is when I instruct my basketball players how to shoot a free throw. I usually begin the instruction with a question that goes something like this:

COACH: Besides using good shooting form, what’s the most important rule to follow when shooting a free throw?
Invariably, the players yell out behaviors that are associated with the shot itself. I go along with this as I want the players to begin thinking about the skill components that are present in a typical free throw.

PLAYER 1: Aim for the rim!

PLAYER 2: Spread your feet shoulder width apart!

PLAYER 3: Put one foot ahead of the other!

PLAYER 4: Bounce the ball several times before your shoot it!

COACH: Anyone else?

PLAYER 5: Follow through after the shot!

COACH: Those are all important parts of the shot, but what’s the most important guiding rule? Anybody?

PLAYERS: (no response)

COACH: The most important rule is to “Do it the same way every time!”
I then go on to briefly discuss that each player, no matter their shot preparation and actual shooting form, must develop a free throw routine – one where they prepare and execute the shot the same way every time. This routine helps ensure a repeatable motion (muscle memory) that will not fail the player in pressure situations.

I then have each player step up to the foul line and walk me through their free throw shooting routine. I ask them to verbalize each portion of their shot—to teach me how they execute a free throw. Most mumble one or two comments. I usually will respond, “What’s that? I can’t hear you.” or “Yes, you put your feet up to the line, but do you have one foot in front of the other?” or “How many times do you bounce the ball before you shoot?” My goal is to have each player break down their shot and understand the fundamental elements of the shooting process.

As they progress through this exercise (and also watch others step to the line and describe their shot), they become more aware of good technique. By becoming the teacher for a few moments, they are gently forced to organize this information within their mind as they prepare to describe how they shoot a free throw.

Break Down a Key Skill in Your Sport

Like other instructional approaches discussed in this blog, adapt this technique to your sport. Pick a key skill and ask each of your players, in turn, to teach you how it is executed.

For example, in baseball, have your players describe each of the steps they go through when they are batting. They should describe their stance, position relative to the plate, their back elbow and shoulder position, and other steps related to the actual swing. When a less confident player struggles to explain his or her technique, ask leading questions such as, “How far away from the plate should you stand?”

Use this teaching technique at least once during your season. You will find that it’s a fun way to further engage your young players in the learning process.

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)


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why's That Player Yelling, "I'm Open, I'm Open!"

   In team sports, communicating with other players is a positive player trait. But nothing says that you’re a beginner more than when you regularly stand still, wave your hands, and scream to your teammates “I’m open! I’m open!”

Anyone who's watched younger kids play recreational soccer or basketball knows this is typical behavior at the earliest ages. These young beginners' attention is centered on the action around the ball. They want the ball because that’s where the fun is.

Unfortunately, older players sometimes fall into this same behavior pattern. They may not yell, wave their hands, or run to the ball as often—but they still focus too much of their attention on the ball. Often, these players just stand around waiting until someone passes them the ball.

If you're guilty of this behavior, what should you do instead of waiting for someone to pass you the ball?

Help a Teammate

Stop shouting and do something—MOVE! Go set a screen. Clear out space. Consider what you can do to help a teammate NOW. As discussed in Stuff Happens Away from the Ball, focus some of your attention on the potential action and opportunities away from the ball

When you do something without the ball to help a teammate score, you’re also more likely to get a pass from that person. And when others on your team begin to play with this unselfish attitude and style, the passing and scoring opportunities increase, everyone is involved, and the fun really begins. You find yourself part of a ballet of movement and interactions that can lead to perfect moments of anticipation, execution, and improvisation.

When You Should Stay in One Place

There are times when you will want to stay in position—most typically when you’re part of a specific offensive set or play, or playing a position within a team defense. You may also individually decide to maintain a position to create space between yourself and other players. In some cases, your team’s needs and your offensive talent may dictate that you look to score more often than your teammates. But unless you have a specific responsibility, move without the ball and create opportunities for your teammates.

Your Coach is Watching

Although you may get a few more scoring opportunities when you stand around and yell for the ball, your coach will notice this behavior—and possibly judge you less favorably. To the opposite, your coach will also notice the positive actions you take when you don't have the ball. He or she will appreciate the screens you set to free a teammate, the backdoor cut you make to get open, and moving to clear out space.

So if you want to look like you know what you’re doing, and help your team succeed, move without the ball and do the other little things that create opportunities for you and your teammates. Don't stand around yelling "I'm Open!"

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)


Friday, April 5, 2013

Is Your Child Playing on Too Many Teams?

   Many young athletes enjoy playing different sports and often excel in more than one.

If you're the parent of one of these kids, it's likely that you can sign up your child to play in multiple youth leagues at the same time. With extended seasons in many sports, programs and leagues often overlap. Even within the same sport, different leagues run at the same time. For example, your child can play in a competitive league (AAU) or one geared more to fun and development (YMCA). Opportunity is everywhere—especially when your child is a talented young athlete.

As described elsewhere on this blog and in my book The Joy of Youth Sports, playing multiple sports is beneficial to your child’s development and health. Parents should encourage this behavior. But before you commit to more than one organized activity or team per season, also consider the potential negative effect on your child, your family, and the teams for which your child will play. Here are some points to consider:

Impact on Your Child and Family

Participating in too many activities can potentially burn out your child’s desire to play. High parent/coach expectations, competitive pressure, physical stress, and repetitive drills can sometimes turn a child's joy for playing to a feeling of apathy.

Too much time in organized sports can detract from other important individual and family activities. A child's academic success may suffer as may your family life (e.g. transportation, missed dinners, time away from other duties, etc.). And finally, too many organized activities can also consume other opportunities for your child to enjoy sports—specifically the self-directed neighborhood pickup games that offer essential benefits.

The Effect on Your Child's Teammates

Less obvious is the detrimental effect that the inevitable missed practices and games will have on your child’s teammates and coaches. These individuals may depend on your child’s presence for success. Not only do a player’s skills and talent contribute to the success of a team, but the player’s participation in practice also directly impacts the team’s play.

Good coaches grow their program throughout the year, building upon each prior practice and game. In practices, they both address mistakes in the prior game and teach new sets, plays, and other more advanced team tactics. They want to work with players to overcome their individual weaknesses. They seek to establish greater team chemistry and bonding. Without your child’s presence at practices, a coach cannot accomplish these tasks and achieve the program’s desired goals.

The Star Athlete

Any child who misses practices and games can hurt a team's prospects for success. But even more impactful is the absence of the team's "star" athlete. This child often play's a key role and is essential to the team's success. In equal-participation leagues, the child may have been assigned to a team in an effort to create equally competitive teams. When the team's best player is absent, this balance is lost. And it's no fun when one team can't compete because they lack a key player.

As the parent of an exceptional young athlete, you need to pay special attention to the potential impact of your child's participation on any of his or her teams. Although your child may want to play, sometimes you may need to limit participation.

Strike a Balance

Although you want to provide your child with the best opportunities, balance your personal interests against those of other parents, players and coaches. Two core values in sports, both at the individual and team level, are respect and responsibility. In team sports, players are responsible to their teammates and must respect their teammate’s needs as well as their own. As a parent, demonstrate and convey these values to your child by realistically committing your child only to teams on which he or she can fully participate.

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)