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)