Better Coaching Blog

Curveballs - Kids Shouldn't Throw Them, Right?

OK, here’s a baseball topic that I’ve been consistently pushing for the last 5 years but “baseball experts” won’t listen. First, all coaches should read this blog post in its entirety. Being educated should be a major priority for all coaches, and really, all people. Secondly, I’ll start with the punch line: Curveballs create no higher risk for arm injury, strain, or pain, than any other pitch. Do the research – and I’ll provide some. In a systematic review of curveballs as a risk factor, conducted by 3 medical doctors, first published in PubMed in August of 2013, the researchers aimed to evaluate the scientific evidence regarding the curveball and its impact on pitching biomechanics and the overall risk of arm injuries in baseball pitchers. They reviewed ten biomechanical studies on kinematic or electromyographic analysis of pitching a curveball, as well as five epidemiologic studies that assessed pain or injury incidence in pitchers throwing the curveball. They concluded that, despite much debate (as we see in youth baseball circles), the data does not indicate throwing a curveball creates an increases risk of injury as opposed to a fastball. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1941738113501984 In another study, 5 medical professionals set out to look at the biomechanical comparison between fastballs and curveballs as a risk factor for shoulder and elbow injuries. This study showed maximal glenohumeral (shoulder) internal rotation moment (most stress) and the maximum varus elbow moment (most stress) for the fastball was significantly higher than for the curveball. The same goes true for wrist flexor moment. However, the wrist ulnar moment was greater when throwing the curveball. When they say "moments" they're talking about points in time where stress and strain is high. Their conclusion: the moments in the shoulder and elbow were less when throwing a curveball than when throwing a fastball. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0363546509333264 Finally (I’ll stop at 3), 5 medical professionals, including Glenn S. Fleisig, MD, from the American Sports Medicine Institute, and James R. Andrews, MD (the highest profile sports orthopedic surgeon around). The researchers set out to test youth baseball pitchers with an average age of 12.5 years old. Data was collected with a 3D motion analysis system – kinetic, kinematic, and temporal parameters were compared among the fastball, and changeup, and the curveball. For elbow varus torque, shoulder internal rotation torque, elbow proximal force, and shoulder proximal force, the fastball produced the greatest values, followed by the curveball and then the change-up. The fastball also produced the greatest elbow flexion torque. Shoulder horizontal adduction torque and shoulder adduction torque were the least for the change-up. Conclusion: elbow and shoulder loads were the greatest in the fastballs, and least in the changeups. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0363546507310074 Now, I’m not saying you should teach your kids to throw a curveball. That’ll depend on their development, control with the fastball and changeup first, and many other factors. But I am saying you should be educated on your decisions, not just regurgitating what your Little League coach told you 30 years ago. Any comments or questions, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Year-Round Baseball - Come on Man!

So, now is the time we're deep into fall baseball. All COVID aside, the boys of summer are still out there performing the same rotational movements when they throw, pitch, and swing the bat, as they did this summer if they were lucky enough to do so. To put it all out there, I don't support most fall baseball programs. Some are money grabs, and some are set out with good intentions, believing that fall baseball is somehow required for a young man to play high school baseball someday. It's just not the case - not necessary, and not overall helpful; definitely not for the risk. Here's a quick explanation of Tommy John surgery - research shows this type of surgery has drastically increased in direct correlation with the popularity of year-round baseball. This surgery is being seen in 13 and 14-year old players and is attributed to the overuse during their younger years. Many parents are in favor, and in search of a program that offers fall baseball. And some look for a program with year-round options because more is better, right? Well, no. The research is clear on this. Not only is more worse for young baseball players physically and mentally, but it's also been shown to be a non-factor in making that high school team. Just had a conversation today with a youth baseball coach. It went like this: Me - "I don't plan to have my team practice October through January. We'll pick back up in February." Him - "Well, you know the organization gives you two practice slots per week all through the fall and winter." Me - "Yeah, I know. But it's not good for young bodies - the rotational movements they will conduct while throwing and swinging - there's just too much research against it." Him - "But it's only two days per week." Me - "Yeah, and it's not in line with the medical recommendation to take 4 months completely off of the rotational movement, and from throwing." Him - "But you need that practice to play in the upper league. Your boys won't be ready!" Dude, you just don't get it. It's science vs "Your boys won't be ready!" Come on, man! Below you'll find more information on this. Some is commercial information with bits of research and other links will lead you to the actual research conducted, peer-reviewed, and published. Enjoy! The Number-one Risk of Arm Injuries Continues to be Year-round Play BY DR. JAMES ANDREWS Year-Round Baseball – Is it Safe? Year-round baseball leads to more youth injuries, study says Medical Express JOHN SMOLTZ AND YEAR-ROUND BASEBALL Elite Diamond Performance Don’t let your son play baseball year-round… Dr. Brad Carofino The Dangers of Year-Round Training in Youth Baseball The North American Institute of Orthopedic Manual Therapy Prevention of Arm Injury in Youth Baseball Pitchers Edmund Kenneth Kerut, MD, FACC; Denise Goodfellow Kerut, MD, FAAP; Glenn S. Fleisig, PhD; and James R. Andrews, MD (if nothing else, just go to the Summary and Conclusion on page 3) Ulnar Collateral Ligament Reconstruction in High School Baseball Players: Clinical Results and Injury Risk Factors Damon H. Petty, MD, James R. Andrews, MD, Glenn S Fleisig, PhD, E. Lyle Cain, MD

How to Handle Concussions in Youth Hockey

This is a guest post from Candace DiGiacomo of Tucker Hockey. For spectators, one of the most compelling aspects of hockey is its physicality and high-tempo nature. Many hockey players also relish the physical battle, but sometimes that can manifest itself in harmful ways. On rare occasions, this could take the form of concussion, which is something that players, parents and especially coaches have a duty to handle sensibly. Concussion doesn’t strictly mean that the player has lost consciousness. While that certainly is a symptom of concussion, there are numerous other red flags which coaches and parents should learn. If the player seems dizzy, is finding it difficult to keep his/her balance or slurs his/her speech, these could all hint at concussion. Also, if he/she complains about feeling unwell or having a headache, something that wouldn’t be decipherable to others, take his/her word for it and treat it as a potential concussion case. If you’re a coach and you have even the slightest concern that one of your players might be concussed, take them off the ice immediately and inform a suitable medical professional. The player’s parents should also be notified, although they would most likely rush to his/her aid if they’re attending the game and they witness the potential concussion incident. Players, too, should think safety first and be honest about their symptoms. This is one case where it’s OK for a player to prioritize their own welfare over the collective good; their health is far more important than any scoreboard. If you are involved in hockey, it’s worth taking a few moments to read through this infographic by Tucker Hockey on dealing with concussion on the ice. Candace DiGiacomo works for Tucker Hockey, a Calgary-based hockey school offering tuition to adult players as well as minors. The school is run by Rex Tucker, an accomplished coach with 20 years’ experience of coaching hockey players of all ages and abilities.

Discipline and Body Language

Body language is an outward sign of the emotional stage of the player. It works both ways – emotions change body language and body language can change emotions. That’s where solid play begins. If the athlete isn’t confident and ready, the play will be inconsistent, at best. Follow the link below for a good article on how discipline effects an athlete. Article Here.

Sleep: The Miracle

GETTING A PROPER AMOUNT OF SLEEP IS AS IMPORTANT AS ANY WORKOUT YOU CAN IMAGINE FOR YOUR ATHLETES I want to identify a topic that is vastly overlooked during an intense physical training program for youth athletes.  This topic is something that many of us would equate with a miracle drug.  It’s something that we all (or most of us) enjoy and something we often ignore. It’s often talked about with us in awe of those that use it and many of us with we got more of it. It seems like the ultimate passive activity and the least productive part of our lives. Let’s talk about sleep. With millions of us deficient regarding our sleep patterns, it’s clear that we need more, better sleep.  Most of us actually need more sleep than we’re getting.  Surveys conducted by the American Psychological Association between 1999 and 2004 showed that over 70 different sleep disorders were represented in more than 40 million Americans and up to 60% of us report at least a few nights per week of sleep issues.  Possibly even more concerning, according to the American Psychological Association, 69 percent of children have experienced one or more sleep problems a few nights a week. Wonder why a kid is lost in space during practice? Although we all have differing needs for amounts of sleep, the general rule is us humans are built for about 16 hours of conscious thought and approximately eight hours of sleep at night.  Some of us report that six hours of sleep is all we need, that’s not likely correct, but others state a need for up to ten hours according to the American Psychological Association. Children, up to about age 17-18, should receive closer to 9 hours for proper physical development and cognitive function. During sleep muscle cells repair, muscles grow, growth hormone is produced, and protein synthesis occurs. One fascinating process is the rush of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) through the brain to wash out the waste created by the massive amount of work by the brain cells. Without these occurrences, our bodies will not be able to grow or repair itself as needed, we won’t feel as energized, or as mentally clear. Additionally, skipping sleep can drastically lower testosterone levels in as little as ONE WEEK. This lower testosterone is directly linked to lower energy, concentration problems, higher levels of fatigue and a decrease in strength. In a study by the University of Chicago Medical Center, 10 healthy men age 18-23 were deprived of sleep for one week and their tests showed a drop of 10-15% in testosterone. And we all know what testosterone does for us, and our athletes. The real question may be, how can us coaches apply these lessons to our lives, as well. #BETTERCOACHING

Self-Confidence vs Self-Efficacy

YOU CAN'T HAVE ONE WITHOUT THE OTHER...OR CAN YOU? March Madness is a time when we see young men, phenomenal athletes, walk to the foul line in pressure situations nearly every night. At times, they produce with what an announcer will inevitably call “ice in their veins” or miss a shot in a big moment and be labelled a “choke artist.” At the root of this performance (or lack thereof) is confidence. Many authors have written about this topic and more coaches have researched it. It’s one topic that I’ve spent many hours working on to figure out how to instill in my young athletes. I dedicated half of a podcast interview to methods I use to instill confidence in youth athletes. For athletes, having a high level of confidence is as important as the physical skill set needed to perform in their sport. We, as coaches, understand the importance of having our players perform with confidence, but how do we get them to do that? Some steps outlined by the leading sport psychologists include the importance of calling on past successes, performing positive self-talk, remaining positive, and modeling behaviors of higher performing athletes. Many of these concepts are spoken about in various forms on podcasts such as Brian Cain’s Peak Performance podcast, the Sport Psychology Mind Coach – Chris Thomas’ podcast and mental training coaches such as James Leath and Will Drumright on the numerous podcasts in which they are featured. The one I have used more than any other is reminding my athletes of their past successes. Throughout a softball season, I spend a lot of time talking with the players about the work they’ve put in and the successes they’ve had. I ask them to tell me about their successes in school, at home and on the field. This is in an effort to remind them often that they truly have had successes as we, by nature, remember the failures much more vividly. This is especially effective when one of my players made a big hit or a great defensive play in a big situation. While self-confidence and self-efficacy are commonly thought to be interchangeable, the main difference is that self-confidence is an overarching view of one’s own aptitude while self-efficacy is situationally dependent. Many sport psychologists consider self-confidence to be a personality trait; one that can, and does, adjust over time. And we all know what that trait looks like. The major benefit of an increased state of self-confidence is its ability to overtake negative emotion and increased levels of anxiety. This can be applied in all facets of life. Self-efficacy differs in that it is a concept that can be measured on many different levels. While self-confidence is the broad stroke of the paint brush, self-efficacy is the fine tipped pen. As self-confidence is a deeper part of one’s personality, it remains more constant over time, and shows a slower, more gradual change. Self-efficacy changes much more quickly and can do so from one simple task to another as it’s assigned based on the confidence the athlete has in the immediate skill he is performing at the time. Do you have any tips as to how you grow the self-confidence in your players? What about situations in which you see self-efficacy with a general lack of self-confidence? Let me know. Send me an email at: coachmorgansullivan@gmail.com BETTER EVERY DAY!

Goal-Setting

Why set goals? How do we do it? What are the benefits? Why set goals? Think about throwing a ball. Do you consider where your target is? Do you align your body (ideally) to best throw to your target? Every one of us may spend countless hours to think about our present life and future. Most of us wish to change our lives in one way or another. Whether it is family life, friendship, career or finances, there’s often something that we would change. The first step is to set goals. Figure out A (where you are) and Z (your goal) and then figure out B through Y and you have a roadmap to get what you want. What are some benefits of goal setting you ask? 1. You focus on the important things Goals help us to define our priorities. You will be able to focus on what you want to achieve and spend precious time on them. If it’s not important enough to set a goal, you’ll be less likely to waste time on it. 2. You will be more self-confident and enthusiastic When you set a goal and measure the achievement, you are able to see what you have accomplished and what you are capable of. This process of achieving goals provides you with the assurance and a belief in yourself necessary to improve both self-confidence and self-efficacy. This sense of accomplishment will create an excitement within yourself to take on another challenge! 3. You can finish the task efficiently Goals will allow you to create a roadmap for future actions. This will prevent wasted effort and allow you to see both progress in what you have accomplished so far, and the next steps needed to get where you want. You will focus and concentrate your time and energy on the task and keep away distractions. 4. You will make progress After you have achieved one goal, you will try to achieve higher goals. In the long turn, you will see big progress you have made when look back. You’ll grow more faith in the system and will begin to use it more and more in your daily life. 5. You take control of your life Having a system of setting goals is like a GPS for life. It gives you direction and helps you choose where to go in life. It makes you see a vision regarding your ideal future and to turn it into reality. Dr. Edwin Locke Are the benefits listed above enough to turn you into a goal-setting machine? Or do you want to learn more? Dr. Edwin Locke and colleagues say goal setting is an objective, aim, or action to attain a specific standard of proficiency on a task, usually within a specific period of time. For more information regarding setting goals and specifically Dr. Locke’s goal setting theory, please go to the following website: http://www.edwinlocke.com/ How do We Apply This? To change an individual’s behavior and reaction to both positive and negative experiences, there must be a good reason. Learning to set goals is a good reason. Goal-setting: • Short-term to Long-term goals – define success • Realistic • Challenging • Specific • Quantifiable • Participation There is no more effective learning strategy that I know of, supported more strongly by research, than goal-setting. Below is a sample goal-setting strategy. Remember, short-term and specific leads to long-term and measurable. • S = Specific • M = Measurable • A = Attainable • R = Realistic • T = Timely Specific Goals should be as objective as possible, clearly explaining what you want to happen… in detail… What, Why, When, Where, and How. Measurable You must be able to precisely measure each goal, often this area is called quantifiable. You should establish benchmarks and create a “map” that leads you to a target. As an individual recognizes they accomplished a goal, motivation increases, and provides the fuel for this journey. Also, measuring goals provides valuable feedback for adjustments if some goals are not met. Attainable When you identify goals that are most important to you, you begin to figure out ways you can make them come true. You develop the attitudes, abilities, skills, and financially capacity to reach them. You begin seeing previously overlooked opportunities to bring yourself closer to the achievement of your goals. You can attain most any goal you set when you plan your steps wisely and establish a timeframe that allows you to carry out those steps. Goals that may have seemed far away and out of reach eventually move closer and become attainable, not because your goals shrink, but because you grow and expand to match them. When you list your goals you build your self-image. You see yourself as worthy of these goals, and develop the traits and personality that allow you to possess them. Realistic An individual must have the understanding and skill set necessary to accomplish, at least, the beginning short-term goals. Success breeds success and creates the willingness to set more challenging goals. Timely An effective goal-setting program must have a timeframe for learning. This “calendar” keeps the individual on track and provides key measurement information. Goals can be further divided into types of goals. Outcome Goals: The focus here is on the end result, a win, the time in a race Performance Goals: Here athletes attempt to meet a standard of performance, improving free-throw shooting proficiency. Process Goals: Actions and/or components of a movement are the focus: such as improving balance in a golf swing. Finally, make sure that you provide feedback on goal performance. You measure your progress and see how you are doing. If the goal is too hard, adjust the goal’s difficulty, but be realistic about it. If you’re not giving enough effort, reevaluate the goal and decide if it’s really worth it to you. If you follow these simple rules, your goal setting process will be much more successful, and your overall performance will improve. #BETTERCOACHING

The Socioeconomics of Travel Sports: Is it for the Kids or the Parents?

Travel sports are crushing the element of proper development for young athletes. And the really crazy part, many of the young athletes playing travel sports don’t care what team they play on – they just want to play. The concept of travel sports is a socioeconomic status symbol for most parents and, for the ones that truly believe it’s the best thing for their kids, it’s often a delusion. I’ve seen this also in rec baseball leagues where the focus is on how many games can we pack into a summer season. As someone that’s coached more than 20 youth sports teams, there’s one clear point I can make –  development happens in practice. Games are different. Games showcase what has been learned and what needs to be taught. The coach has time in practice to instruct, develop, and build confidence in the players. It’s time spent for what all youth sports parents should be focused on – character and athletic development. If the focus is on the games, it’s a misguided effort, at best. How much emphasis is placed on practice in a travel baseball season? How about the select softball team? Or the elite basketball team? How much development happens in a weekend-long tournament? What’s the cohesion like on the travel team that has a different lineup every weekend because the team changes so often? Next, and this is by far my biggest problem with travel ball teams, is the focus on winning. Of course, we all want to win. But the focus of the team from the coaches – AND THE PARENTS – should have little to do with winning when we’re talking about 8, 9, or 10-year-old players. However, I’ve watched way too many U10 softball coaches in travel ball tournaments get all bent out of shape because their team is down by a run and his left fielder misplays a fly ball. Any team that has kids below the junior high level that shows a primary focus on winning and not on player development is misguided and is harmful to youth sports. Now let’s talk about playing time. How are you sure your kid will get some legit playing time? What is the reaction of the parents when they shell out big bucks to get their kid on the travel team but he doesn’t play much during the weekend tournament (because the coach is focused on winning)? Interesting? The parent can still say, “My boy plays on a travel team.” That’s the social status statement. “Your kid only plays rec ball.” The allure of playing on a travel team because the coaching is better is also misguided. Anyone can start a travel team. It takes no special education, no coaching certification, only money. How does that make the coaching better? Additionally, the competition is often better, however, as we’ve discussed, the playing time and development are not guaranteed. It’s a gamble. What’s the correlation between travel sports and playing college or professional later? Nada. How about the correlation between youth travel ball and a college career. Nada. Travel ball absolutely has its place. The high school baseball player that wants more work or more exposure in the summer – play travel. The high school basketball player that wants more work to get into a college program – play travel (AAU). Notice the trend – high school. Ask the 9-year-old softball player or the 10-year-old basketball player this question, “Do you want to play basketball with your friends from school or would you rather play in travel basketball tournaments most weekends?” You don't even need to bring up the other conversations (the kid will have to be up really early on Saturdays, no friends get to hang out with you one the weekends during season, forget the pool or parties or sleeping in). Bet I know the answer. So, is the choice for the kid to play travel ball the kid’s option, or is it a decision (status symbol) for the parents? Here’s a great article that breaks down travel ball options from the Youth Baseball Edge. #BetterCoaching

Interview with Youth Sport Psychology Expert Richard Stratton, Ph.D.

Below is an interview with a youth sport psychology expert from Youth Football Online. It’s worth your times if you coach kids. Here’s our exclusive interview with youth sports psychology expert Professor Richard Stratton, PhD. We met Dr. Stratton at the Virginia Tech campus and were eager to get his feedback on the following questions related to youth football athletes, parents and coaches: YFO: What is winning in youth sports? Dr. Stratton: Winning in youth sports is when kids give good effort. You always want the kids to compete but all you can ask for is effort. It’s about doing your best because most of the time a single player doesn’t have control over an outcome of a game. YFO: What are common mistakes made in youth sports? How do we correct them? Dr. Stratton: A common mistake that occurs in youth football is coaches will not spend enough time on fundamentals. They will work more so on triple reverses and other gimmicky plays rather than focus on fundamentals. Coaches need to focus on teaching the fundamentals of the game. Keep it simple and work those fundamentals.
Another major mistake is that coaches will do the same drills every single practice. Kids will lose interest very quickly if practices are very repetitive. Change things up in practice weekly to keep the kids focused. Also, keep things brief if you are too long winded because kids will lose focus. YFO: Can you offer some tips for parents of youth athletes? Dr. Stratton: It’s important to understand that mistakes happen. They really should encourage the kids rather than really getting on the kids about mistakes. It’s important for parents to know that win or lose the game is over and they shouldn’t dwell on it. Always encourage improvement but understand that life goes on.
Parent and coach interaction is also very important. Always support the coaches and try not to tell them something different than their coach is teaching them. It’s really hard on kids to hear one thing in practice, then hear something different at home. As parents, it’s important to support the team, coaches, organization, and the other players. It is vital that parents are committed. Do your best to get the kids at practice consistently and on time. YFO: How do you build confidence in your youth athletes? Dr. Stratton: Always encourage the kid. Always be positive but make sure your kids compete. Confidence is developed by practice repetition. Always challenge your players. Always make sure your players are accountable for their job. An individual player can’t control what the other players do, so each individual is responsible for doing their job. Encouragement is the best way to develop confidence in a player. YFO: What is the best way to teach handling adversity? Dr. Stratton: Mistakes are going to happen. There is nothing you can do to change what happened, move on. Coaches have to lead by example when things aren’t going well for your team. If a coach cannot maintain his composure then the players will maintain their composure. One mistake is not going to win or lose a game. Losing a game can be the result of various mistakes throughout the game. As a coach it is vital that you do not make a bad situation bigger than it really is. Stay level headed and only worry what you can control. YFO: What is the best way to motivate youth football players? Dr. Stratton:
A) It’s about an appropriate use of goal setting. Create a sequence of goals for kids, with the understanding that goal setting is a methodical process. You’ll have long term goals, whether it is winning your league’s championship or winning a majority of your games. Visualize it as steps, short term intermediate goals- step by step- one week at a time to reach your long term goal.
B) Need to have an evaluation process to understand each kid’s skill set.
C) Challenging kids, but they must be realistic. Attainable goals. Risk taking, pushes the kids to keep working. Changing up drills, so the practice isn’t the same everyday. Going to coaches clinics will really helps with creativity. Youtube is great as well when you can’t get to a clinic. YFO: Should youth athletes use social media? Dr. Stratton: Young kids use social media all the time- they need to understand that the material gets out. Some kids may need to turn off their twitter accounts. It is going to be tough for those kids that are getting early exposure. Kids should not specialize early, stay in cross training, participate in multiple sports. YFO: What are the benefits for playing youth football/ sports? Dr. Stratton: It’s fun. Gives them an opportunity to learn skills. Gives them a relatively safe environment to compete. Some fitness, physical activity for kids to keep them away from the keyboard. You can help them to understand why being obese is counterproductive to not only playing sports, but their entire lives. YFO: With distractions abundant, how can a youth athlete be mentally strong? Dr. Stratton: The last few years of our research at Va Tech was on mental toughness. We aimed to get a sense of where mental toughness was coming from, was it something that people developed or was it something people were born with. Four components were as follows:
A. Self belief.
B. Focus your attention. Kids aged 6-12 tend to be over-inclusive or have trouble focusing. Most sports require at least some degree of narrow attention. If you’re a lineman, you have a primary blocking assignment. Making it easy, gets the kids to focus. Make the systems easy. Teach what they need to be attending to. Are defensive linebackers jumping around, is that information that a youth football athlete needs. Always distractions.
C. Dealing with pressure.
D. Motivation.

Youth Sports: The Effects of Heckling Fans

As someone that’s been a part of sports for the better part of 30 years, I’ve come full circle. I spent my younger years complaining at referees and umpires, and watched coaches do the same thing. I've seen coaches thrown out of games, suspended, and fired for their angry outbursts. Since I've been coaching youth sports, I've seen coaches come running out of the dugout to approach an umpire, a basketball coach tell a teenage referee that she has no business being on a basketball floor, and a flag football coach restrained for his anger towards a teenage referee. However, removing those coaches from the job is a Band-Aid. Many youth sporting events go without umpires or referees because there is such a shortage. When umpires and referees do show up, it’s often a 16-year-old kid that’s “there to help.” Not knocking that 16-year-old – if anything, I commend them! The shortage of umpires and referees is another symptom. And that kid is another Band-Aid. These two symptoms – bad coaching and a shortage of umpires and referees – are ruining youth sports in America. When a good coach is in youth sports, it’s a great thing for the athletes. Take Coach Steve for example. He's a U12 baseball coach with some overactive parents and players not as good as their parents think they are. Steve has a full-time job, a great family at home, loves baseball, and loves to work with the kids. Steve believes fully in the total development of the youth athlete and promotes a culture of hard work and positive reinforcement. At today's game Coach Steve has to deal with one parent that’s upset because his son isn’t batting third in the lineup, another parent that is mad her son hasn’t pitched in the last two games, a dad mad because Johnny was the catcher yesterday and his son hasn't gotten to be the catcher yet this season, and another parent upset because Coach Steve, as the 3B coach, sent his son home in last night’s game and he got thrown out at the plate. And in the game today, the regular backstop dad was behind the plate telling his son to keep his back elbow up when he’s batting - exactly what Coach Steve told the athlete NOT to do. On nearly half of the strike calls against his team and anytime there's a close play at first base, the parents' section erupts with disapproval. When Coach Steve makes a pitching change in the 4th inning, 3 sets of parents are on pins and needles awaiting to see if it's their son he's putting in to pitch. When the decision is made, one set of parents is proud, and the other two are loud with their frustration. That’s been going on all season. So, next year, Steve isn’t going to coach anymore. Let’s jump to next year. So now, Coach Steve isn’t coaching. The youth league is struggling to find coaches, as usual. Finally a coach steps up. He’s not as good as Coach Steve, or as nice, or as knowledgeable, or as helpful, or as focused on development. The kids on the team see the coach yell at the umpire every game. They associate their coach with that angry outburst – they’ve seen it from him in practice, too. Some athletes don’t care, some are nervous, some are scared but they all see it and learn it. The parents in the stands are yelling at the umpire, too, because they’re frustrated with the coach, the team, the game, the lineup, the defense, and the umpire. The kids see that, too. Now the culture of the team is centered on anger, and frustration, and nothing fun. Most of the kids don’t like this team. About half of them won’t be back to play next year. The umpire has had enough, too. He’s been dealing with heckling parents, angry coaches, and mouthy kids all season. He’s surely not doing this job for the money – he was one that did it for the love of the game; to give back. But the game is different now. The kids aren’t respectful, the coaches are angry, the parents are louder. The umpire isn’t going to be an umpire next year. When you ask the umpire why, he’ll say, “Because it wasn't worth it anymore.” When you ask Coach Steve why he quit coaching, he’ll say, “I couldn't put up with the parents anymore.” When you ask the kids, they’ll say, “Because it’s not fun anymore.” So now, we have a shortage of umpires across the country, good coaches leaving the sports causing a shortage, causing youth leagues to beg anyone willing to coach, and kids quitting youth sports at an alarming rate. Where did this problem start? The parents are trying to do the best for their kids - the parent that truly thinks his kid should be batting third in the lineup and the mom that knows her kid should have pitched more recently and the dad that wants his kid to have a better chance of hitting the ball telling him to keep his back elbow up (although that’s bad for kids – separate topic). All of this was a quick illustration of an issue that’s happening all across America. Kids are leaving youth sports at an alarming rate, good coaches are hard to come by, and umpires are spread extremely thin. I understand, some coaches are just bad, some umpires are also bad, without the heckling from the parents. However, when people in the stands feel that they are a better umpire than the one behind the plate (although they’re not trained) and a better coach than the one coaching their child’s team (although they’ve never done it) it's a problem. Parents on the sidelines, cheer for your team! But apply a “no verb”mindset when cheering. This is to say, please be supportive to the entire team. Be as loud as possible – just be supportive when doing so. Umpires are human and they do make mistakes, especially at younger levels - that's sports. I get it, I have kids in youth sports, too. I want them to succeed in every endeavor they take on. But I also know my role as a parent. I know you want the best for your children; the best sports experience. That experience does not include angry parents, creating angry coaches, and replacement umpires, especially when you apply the direct importance of a missed or bad call in a youth sports game. Really, how big is it when a bad call is made in a U12 baseball game? If anything, it’s a chance for you, and the coach, to teach your athlete how to deal with adversity. Here are 10 Types of CRAZY Baseball Parents. So parents, stay off the umpires and coaches. Coaches, stay off the umpires and stay in the game; we need you. Umpires, stick with it. We need you, too. Here's a good article on this topic from the Washington Post. Please leave some feedback. let me know what you think. I'm interested in a conversation regarding this topic. #BETTERCOACHING

Attitude from the Top Down

A COACH WITH THE RIGHT ATTITUDE WILL SET HIS TEAM UP FOR SUCCESS A coach presenting a positive attitude during the parents meeting and the first few interactions with the players will set the tone for the rest of the season. It will be a direct indicator of how he will handle the players, what he will and won’t accept and will be a strong support for his season long goals. It’s extremely important for a coach to have a positive attitude and good conversations with the parents. The parents want to know who they are entrusting their child with and it’s as much about how you will handle yourself as a leader as it is your competency on the dry erase board regarding X’s and O’s. The coach must be the personality model for his players as the team will often take on the personality of the coach. By midseason, coaches will often see players imitate mannerisms and sayings displayed by the coaching staff. This is especially true in difficult situations as the players will revert to what they know to be successful – and they can’t go wrong if they do what they think the coach would do. Make sure those mannerisms and sayings are ones you want your kids to repeat. Here are my 4 keys for creating a positive attitude among the players: 1. Develop an Attitude of Praise Celebrating a child’s efforts by letting him know he tried hard and you’re proud of him can go a long way in fostering a positive climate.  There are lessons to be taught in winning and losing, successes and failures. Remember, a yelling coach will create deaf ears, and a coach that constantly yells at his players has nothing to escalate to. 2. Avoid Negativity and Pessimism When a coach focuses on the negatives, the players will immediately feel failure. When the coach accentuates the positives, players will feel success. My high school coach once told me that my mistakes on the field were his mistakes in coaching. His point was that it’s our responsibility as coaches to teach every kid what correct is. If the player fails, we didn’t teach him correctly, understanding the concept that not every kid learns the same way so we can’t coach every kid the same way. When you show negativity to a player, even if you hope it motivates him to improve, little by little it will eat away at his confidence, and therefore, his decisiveness. 3. Stress the Positives Effective coaches understand that success is not always measured by wins and losses. Success can be the smaller kid that always struggles with tackling form, applying a solid, heads up stick, wrap, and drive tackle. It could be measured by the guard that always seems to forget to pull on the trap, conducting that pull and laying out the defensive end. 4. Apply Positive Discipline The key to positive discipline is not punishment, but highlighting the positive actions the player could have taken, ensuring to show that he is capable of taking them, and reinforcing the effects if he had taken those actions. For example, take the two players messing around waiting on a tackling drill. A coach approaches them and says, “Hey you two. See the rest of the players standing in line, watching the drill. You two can do the same thing. And in doing so, you can see the tackling form of the players in front of you and use that to make yourselves better tacklers. Then, as better tacklers, you’ll be the ones with your names called over and over on Friday night.” Coaches can be both firm (ensure your intent and expectations are clearly stated prior to the action) and kind (positive and supportive when desired actions or attitudes are shown), with the ultimate goal of self-discipline and no loss of confidence from the player. This will reinforce social life skills in a manner that is directly applicable to on and off the field discipline, as well as a good relationship between the players and the coaches. Coaches, please don't feel that constantly being positive is a sign of weakness. You can remain firm and strong with your actions and your outlook. The more your kids WANT to play for you, the less you will have to MAKE them play for you. #BETTEREVERYDAY

Effective Communication for Coaches

Effective communication is one of the most written about, most studied, and most talked about topics in the coaching world.  “It’s not what you tell them – it’s what they hear.” I have that quote from Red Auerbach inscribed in the coaching book I carry regarding his take on the importance of effective communication.  No amount of knowledge of the sport will matter if the coach is not able to find the proper method of delivery. Types of Communication There are three different main types of communication: interpersonal communication, intrapersonal communication, and nonverbal communication. Interpersonal Communication Interpersonal communication is the method of exchanging messages through verbal and nonverbal means. This type of communication covers what is said or the message that is delivered (Interpersonal communication, 2015), and, possibly, more importantly, the way it was delivered. Everything from the body language used (nonverbal communication) to the tone of voice applied can change the interpretation of the meaning. Intrapersonal Communication Intrapersonal communication is an often undervalued form of communication. While we spend a fair amount of our day talking to ourselves, most of us don’t place much value on what’s being said and the effect it can have on our outlook, motivation, and even performance. When the term changes to “self-talk” it becomes a sport psychology concept used to talk ourselves into a higher level of performance.  We can train ourselves in this form of communication to increase our performance (Lister, 2017).  However, it can also be used in a negative fashion to talk ourselves into a poor performance. An example of this in youth sports is when a hitter thinks to himself, “this pitcher is throwing really fast. I’ll never be able to hit the ball.” With that thought, he’s probably correct. Nonverbal Communication Nonverbal communication is the way we transmit our messages to another person, other than speaking or writing. It includes the volume and pitch of our voice, our body posture, eye contact, facial expressions, and many other forms (Non-verbal communication, 2017). This, in my opinion, is the most important type of communication because, for the most part, it’s unconscious. We conduct this form of communication without thinking about it unless we’ve placed a large emphasis on bringing it to the forefront of our minds. Types of Listening Poor listening skills are nearly as bad as poor message delivery and can just as easily create the miscommunication problem. Without effectively listening to the message being delivered, the message will not easily be received, if at all. Active Listening Beyond simply hearing what the person is saying, active listening is understanding the entirely of the verbal and nonverbal cues provided during the message delivery (Active listening, 2017). As much of the message delivered is nonverbal, being attentive to the signals provided will greatly assist in the receipt of the message. Supportive Listening Supportive Listening Supportive listening refers to a method where the speaker feels the receiver is providing beneficial emotional support during the delivery of the message  (Jones, 2011). With this type of listening, there’s an emotional connection between the speaker and the listener and a solid belief that the listener understands the speaker. Aware Listening Aware listening is a transformational type of listening in which the listener first listens inwardly as it will sway our other types of listening. It’s a type of listening where we understand those around us, the other listeners, may not react in the same manner in which we do. Communication Barriers There are numerous barriers to communication. They all cause conflicts within the message between the sender and the receiver but some are more easily overcame than others. Inconsistency between words and actions This is one of the main problems with youth sports coaches. As they don’t have the years of experience often necessary to maintain a steady message, they change parts of the message such as verbiage. This becomes problematic as the young athletes are then unsure as to the meanings. Remaining Silent This is a communication killer that I often see from the children I coach in youth sports. As they feel it’s less threatening to communicate nothing, it creates a lack of a message. This makes communicating very difficult for both parties. Difficulties in Expression This is another problem often seen in youth sports. The children, especially younger ones, are not yet skilled in communicating their feelings or thoughts. This often creates a poorly delivered message, or not the proper message at all. Others include: Receiver not paying attention to the sender Receiver’s tendency to evaluate and judge communication Lack of trust between sender and receiver Socialization and hereditary differences Differences in the mindset or perception between people Embarrassment Tendency to tell people what they want to hear The Sandwich Approach The “sandwich approach” is another way to deliver a message to a player regarding their performance. This is directly in line with the Positive Coaching Alliance and their theory regarding their “criticism sandwich”. This technique places the instruction, or criticism, between a positive statement and a compliment. A technique for this would be used when a fielder misses a fly ball in baseball. The conversation would look like this: Coach: “Great hustle to get to that ball! What I’d like to see next time is for you to get your glove above your head so you can directly see the ball go into your glove. I know you can make that catch for me!” Another example of this used with a hitter that strikes out without swinging. Coach: “That was a tough at-bat. I want you to step into that batter’s box WANTING to hit that ball. You’re a good hitter. I know you can hit this pitcher!” It’s imperative to reiterate the importance effective communication. The way we deliver our messages as coaches is crucial to the most widespread receipt possible. Our efforts in listening to our players may be the bridge that supports a close relationship and a general feeling of openness among the players. Without understanding first the importance of effective communication, and secondly the methods and techniques within the topic, it will be difficult for a coach to connect with his or her players and the instructions, regardless of how simple or advanced the techniques or drills they will not likely be received. #BETTERCOACHING

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