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Posts Tagged ‘Youth sports coaching

Coaching is hard, becoming a certified coach is harder

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On Tuesday night, Aug. 31, I sat through three-plus hours’ worth of videos on youth coaching, and specifically about coaching soccer, to become — for the first time in my six-year youth sports career — an officially certified coach. In the pic at the left, I am holding my official blessing to be a soccer coach, granted by the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, part of the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

I’m not sure I’m any more qualified to be an assistant soccer for 4- and 5-year-olds than I was before I sat through the training, but I could see how it’s valuable to people who aren’t know-it-all youth sports bloggers like myself. The soccer drills were good to see, but the bulk of the training was a video, with breaks for discussion, about the sort of stuff you would run into in the day-to-day management of a team: how to create a positive environment for your kids, the importance (or lack thereof) of winning, how to deal with those fucking asshole parents. I’m paraphrasing.

The National Association of Youth Sports has its heart in the right place, and it’s done a lot to try to teach coaches that screaming obscenities at 4-year-olds is probably not the best way to motivate.

However, as I watched the video, I started feeling intimidated in my role, much as I did the first time I sat through the first pregnancy class with my wife. In each case, my panic was the same: My god, with so much to know, how does any kid survive?

Heck, at least with the pregnancy class, I had that feeling in large part because I had never been a father. I’ve coached numerous teams in numerous sports, and I knew a lot of this stuff going in, yet the NAYS video had me wondering if anybody is qualified to coach kids, beyond the usual qualification of not being on the sex-offender list. I can only imagine what the first-time coaches must have been thinking.

Here is what I learned from the video:

— I hold the FUTURE OF THE WORLD in my hands. And it’s real easy to fuck it up. Do you really want a kid to appear on Dr. Phil because of you?

— If kids don’t want to play a sport after you’ve coached them, it’s because you were such a hopeless asshole that you drove them away. Because kids never quit a sport because they find out they don’t like it. Never never ever.

— If parents have a problem with what you’re doing, it’s clearly because you didn’t make expectations clear and open the lines of communication. It can’t be, ever, that the parent is a jerk. Never never ever.

— You should monitor your players’ hydration and nutrition intake — before, during and after games. That includes ensuring they’re hydrated during the game with a sports drink, which was the helpful advice of the representative from the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. (Being a founding sponsor of NAYS has its privileges.)

— You should know basic first aid, CPR, and perhaps how to perform a tracheotomy with a Bic pen. You probably have a doctor-parent that can help with this. (Alas, all I’ve had were EMT parents, and I lost those when the local fire department said they had to keep themselves and their ambulances parked at the fire house during their shift.)

— And don’t be scared! We know you’ll make mistakes! That’s OK! Try not to think about the lives you’re ruining!

Maybe I’ve let my own anxieties tear away all the positive things that NAYS is trying to impart, and, again, in theory, I’m with it. But most of us coaching youth sports are parent volunteers trying like hell to fit this in with all our other responsibilities, including sneaking away from work so we can start practice at a reasonable hour.

I can understand why a lot of coaches don’t sit through the NAYS training, as valuable as it can be. You know you have a lot of responsibility, and you take it seriously. But sitting through three-plus hours of helpful advice, sometimes that’s not so helpful.

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Written by rkcookjr

September 1, 2010 at 11:07 pm

The greatest 10-and-under girls softball game I ever saw

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Believe it or not, there are times when youth sports really are all about the kids, playing now, at this moment. Not about parents, coaches, future scholarships, future pro careers, who’s on the travel team, or who’s bringing the snack. All of a sudden, a game gets so good and compelling, and the young players’ nerves of steel so awe-inspiring, that all you can do is watch and enjoy the ride.

Tonight, that was my 10-year-old daughter’s third-place softball game for in the kinda-sexist-named Petite Division of the Oak Lawn, Ill., house softball program.

Usually, a third-place game (I managed that same daughter in one two years ago) is a loose affair, what with the pressure of a championship gone. (Thank God.) My daughter Grace’s team is pretty loose to begin with, so they can practically barely stand erect as her Frost, the fourth-place team in the regular season, played the Storm, the second-place team.

The Frost went up 2-0 in the top of the first inning, and the Storm tied it in the bottom of the second. The bottom of the third wasn’t so good for the Frost. They gave up the maximum six runs in an inning, were down 8-2, and looked outmatched by a team that had four travel players to their one. The girls looked dispirited coming into the dugout — and didn’t look any better when they went down 1-2 in the top of the fourth. The coaches’ voices didn’t change pitch, but the Frost coaches seemed much louder as they urged their players.

But then, the magic started happening. The Frost scored four runs in the bottom of that inning, the last two, if I may brag, on a two-run opposite-field single by Grace. Now down only 8-6, the Frost’s spirits were back up, and the parents started getting a little more interested in the game. A few by me joked about not wanting to go to the bathroom, lest they miss anything. All that toilet talk made me have to use the bathroom (where, by the way, I was saw my daughter’s manager in the next stall).

Actually, not just the parents were zooming in their focus. This Frost-Storm game was taking long enough, games were finishing on other fields, and hearing about the comeback under way, players and their families decided to stick around and watch. Slowly more people were circling the field, cheering good plays (by either team), and making more of a buzz and ruckus than your average Florida Marlins home game.

I don’t know much about the Storm. But what they were seeing out of the Frost was pure guts. Players who normally didn’t hit were smacking balls. The Frost would get pushed to the edge of the abyss, then come fighting back. Again in the bottom of the fifth, the Frost got two quick outs. But then came four more runs — on two-run singles placed to about the same spot Grace placed hers. By the end of five-and-half innings, a 8-2 Frost deficit had become a 10-10 tie. More fans streamed toward the field, out of the impending darkness, to check out what was going on.

What was going on was two teams of 9- to freshly minted 11-year-old girls who were as cool and loose as the crowd was wound tight, especially we parents. It’s always difficult to watch your child play because you can’t protect them from injury or failure. It’s even harder when they are being put in situations that would make major-leaguers fold. In the Frost’s comeback, all of the eight runs they scored after falling behind came with two outs. A lot of them came with two strikes. I don’t think they even heard the parents or coaches anymore. I didn’t. I didn’t know of anything that wasn’t happening in front of me.

The Storm came back with one run in the bottom of the fifth to go up 11-10. That meant, for the Frost, score in the top of the sixth, or the game is over.

Grace was up first. She had two hard singles her first two at-bats. But she struck out against the same pitcher she already hit twice. If you followed me on Twitter and Facebook (and why wouldn’t you?), you would have seen this:

Grace strikes out to start 6th. Just setting team up for more two-out heroics.

Hey, after what I had seen the previous two innings, that was not a cocky thing to say. Meanwhile, the players and coaches for the Petite championship game, which was already supposed to have started, were now gathering around to watch.

It turns out the heroics were after one out. More girls smacked base hits to that same magic spot in right field, and the Frost ended the top of the sixth up 13-11. Do you believe in miracles?

The Storm didn’t become a second-place team by folding up easily, either. Though they appeared rattled at times that the Frost wouldn’t go away, they rallied for two runs in the bottom of the sixth and final regulation inning. They had the bases loaded with two out. One walk, and the game was over.

The Frost’s pitcher, Jackie, who in her first game pitching cried herself to distraction after her rough outing (so much I had Grace make a point to tell her everything was OK and her teammates had her back), was now in her third inning tonight — and she wasn’t backing down. Sure, she might get a little frustrated over a bad pitch, but her eyes were lasers into the catcher’s glove. The count works to two balls and two strikes. At this point, the 15,000 people were standing or on the literal edges of their seats to see what would happen. Discussion over how a 10-year-old girl can stomach this much pressure was rampant. If anybody brought Maalox, they were chugging it.

Jackie throws a pitch catching the outside part of the plate. Called strike three. Game is tied.

You know the cliche that it’s a shame somebody has to lose this game? (Ask John Isner and Nicolas Mahut about that one.) As it turned out, in Frost v. Storm for third place, no one had to. It was 8:35 p.m., 35 minutes after the championship game was supposed to have started. So no extra innings — there’s a tie for third.

For this game, there really was no other appropriate way to end it. I don’t know how the Storm felt. But the Frost players were beaming and jumping around with excitement over grinding out such a tough, um, not-win. After each game in their league, a team will form a line with players on each side, slapping hands and chanting, “We. Are. Proud of you, yeah, we are proud of you,” as the other team runs underneath — and then the teams reverse the lineup. In this case, I think the 27,000 fans who saw the end were ready to do the same chant with each team.

Oh, of course, there were some dimbulbs who couldn’t grasp the excitement of the moment. One old fart sitting next to me was ripping the coaches and the players like he was watching a Chicago White Sox game. Dude, these are volunteers coaches and 10-year-old girls, not full-time millionaire pros. Another guy was upset the Frost and Storm couldn’t play extra innings. I mean, really whining about it. Another parent mentioned to Grace’s coach that it’s too bad the Frost made so many errors, or they would have won.

My response is to quote my late father: If my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle.

Who cares? Each team makes errors. Half the fun of watching this age group play is seeing how they recover from their mistakes — and both teams improved by leaps and bounds in learning how to forget their mistakes and move on.

It’s nearly three hours after the Frost-Storm game, and I’m still feeling a buzz about it. It’s the kind of buzz that keeps me excited about my kids’ games, even when around me there’s hassles with parents, coaches, future scholarships, future pro careers, who’s on the travel team, and who’s bringing the snack.

Your 2010 Frost, after losing to the eventual champion. Yep, they’re a loose group.

When team-building exercises go wrong

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You know what happens when you enlist kids from the baseball team you coach to help you with a burglary? Punny newspaper ledes, that’s what. From the Everett (Wash.) Herald:

ARLINGTON — An Arlington Little League coach is accused of showing some of his players how to steal more than second base.

Investigators allege that George Spady Jr. was with his son, a nephew and another player from his baseball team when he broke into a vacant shop and took overhead lights and bolts. The boys were encouraged to assist with the break-in, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Edirin Okoloko wrote in court documents.

Spady, 31, was charged Monday with second-degree burglary, a felony.

Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies were called to one of the players’ homes after the boy told his stepfather that his coach had taken him along to break into a shop in Arlington, Okoloko wrote.

The stepfather was angry that an adult would use the boys to commit a crime, and, even worse, “that the adult was his son’s baseball coach,” Okoloko wrote.

I can see the lede now if a coach ever takes his team to a hooker: “A local baseball coach showed his kids ways to get to third base besides hitting a triple.”

Written by rkcookjr

June 9, 2009 at 8:07 pm

As the Stinson turns (big break for the defense edition)

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player-thumbIt’s a shame that Max Gilpin, the 15-year-old who died after a football practice last August in Louisville, Ky., is growing more and more of a footnote in the aftermath of his demise. But that’s how it goes when stuff like this happens.

From the Louisville Courier-Journal:

A Bullitt County circuit judge this morning [Tuesday] issued a domestic violence order against Jeffery Dean Gilpin, the father of the Pleasure Ridge Park football player who died after he collapsed at a practice.

During a court hearing, Gilpin’s wife, Lois Louise Gilpin, alleged that her husband had been abusive in the past and had recently threatened harm if she did anything to “dishonor” her stepson, Max Gilpin, who died at a practice on Aug. 23.

Jeff Gilpin, represented by attorneys, denied the allegations.

Nevertheless, Judge Elise Spainhour told Jeff Gilpin to avoid all contact with his wife and to enter anger counseling, along with grief counseling. The pair plan to divorce, they said.

“I’m very sorry you lost your child,” Spainhour told Jeff Gilpin. “You need to try to salvage your life. You don’t want to live in a sea of anger.”

Gilpin already has one ex-wife: Max’s mother, who is joining him in filing a civil lawsuit against former coach David Jason Stinson, as well as other coaches and the Louisville school district. They filed on the basis of wrongful death, saying Stinson denied water to players and pushed them too hard on a day when the heat index reached 94 degrees.

But what really made Max Gilpin’s case stand out is that Stinson is facing an August court date after a grand jury indicted him on reckless homicide charges as a result of the player’s death.

Presumably, Jeff Gilpin’s home life shouldn’ t have anything to do with Stinson’s guilt or innocence. But for sure Stinson’s lawyers will be poring through his divorce filings (if they haven’t already) looking for anything they can use. Already, Jeff Gilpin did them a favor during his civil trial deposition by saying he wasn’t sure that Stinson denied anyone water — a key fact on which the civil and criminal cases turn.

Stinson’s attorneys are going to be especially aggressive not only because they have a client to defend, but also because they know (thanks to the contributions they’re receiving from coaches nationwide) that Stinson’s guilt or innocence is going to have a profound effect on coaches’ authority. Especially their authority to inflict physical punishment like “gassers,” the sprint drills Stinson was alleged to have his players run because of a perceived lack of hustle, a coaching technique as old as coaching itself. With that at stake, and with his father’s personal foibles coming into the spotlight, it’s unfortunate Max Gilpin himself is more and more of an afterthought and symbol than a boy who died tragically.

Hopefully the youth culture won’t kill their dog

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Most bands that see someone cop their image are immediately on the phone to their attorney to get a lawsuit good and ready. But most bands, as has been abundantly clear through a long, storied and quirk-filled career of college alternative, telephone-based, TV theme and children’s music, are not They Might Be Giants.

Two guys named John (like the two guys who make up They Might Be Giants) named their Seattle T-ball team after the band, using the images from their first children’s album, “No!” (It’s a word you end up saying a lot when you manage T-ball.) The two Johns in TMBG were so excited, they started a contest in which they will sponsor 10 more teams, anywhere across the nation.

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Photo of the Seattle T-ball team comes from a parent who submitted it to the band. I presume if the band is OK with a team using its image, it’ll be OK with me doing the same (fingers crossed).

The band is having you send your pitches (no pun intended) to littleleague@tmbg.com. You need to include your city, state and zip; the name of the local sports organization; the ages of your team members; the size of your team (presumably, number of players, not actual sizes of players, though both might be helpful); and anything else the band should know.

Band member John Flansburgh is quoted on the band’s site saying: “If a pizza parlor or a super market can sponsor a team, why can’t a rock band? We’ve posted a free shirt offer on our web site, and as new teams form we’re going to post their group photo alongside the Seattle team. We only have t-shirts to offer right now, but if we can get hats too, we’re up for that.”

Given the troubles many leagues are having attracting sponsors, this is a great offer, presuming your legal isn’t halfway over already (maybe the offer will be good for next season if it’s too late). I’m amazed more entertainment aimed at children, or even their parents, haven’t turned to youth sports sponsorship. “Night at the Museum 2” probably could have sponsored every team in every sport in America for what it spent on TV ads, and reached just about as many kids and parents. I’m sure TMBG is doing this sponsorship contest out of the goodness of its heart. But a band that won a Grammy this year for its children’s album is reaching the right market handing out T-shirts to T-ballers.

However, I am emailing the band to find out if they understand what youth sports sponsorship entails. I’m curious how the two Johns (the T-ball coaches) got to pick the shirts. Depending on the league, TMBG is going to have to do more than hand out free T-shirts. Is the band willing to pay $200 to see “Phillies” on the front and “They Might Be Giants” on the back? I’m sure there are a lot of league boards that are going to have conniptions over the thought of the uniforms not being uniform.

Dad Jekyll, Coach Hyde

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The latest question posed to the Positive Coaching Alliance: “Why is my husband such an asshole when he coaches?”

My husband is coaching our son’s 9 year old Little League Team. There are 2 other assistant coaches, each with a child (1 boy, 1 girl) on the team. The coaches are trying to teach sound fundamentals to all the kids, and, as is often the case they are all type-A sports-loving men.

All 3 coach’s [sic] kids have a lot of talent. All 3 are struggling with performance anxiety, especially in a game situation. All 3 are practically paralyzed each time they are up to bat. All 3 can hit at practice, but not in the game. All 3 want desperately to do well for their team and for their Dad. All 3 are scrutinized by their Dads when they bat because Dad wants desperately for them to overcome their anxiety and perform.

Only 1 child on the team (not one of the coaches’ children) consistently hits the ball. I hear some encouragement from the coaches but they are frustrated and I’m hearing a lot of comments from the coaches like: come on be a hitter, you’ve got to swing at that, swing the bat, be aggressive, etc.

I have tried talking to my husband, the head coach. He doesn’t seem to be able to change his approach.

Do you have any suggestions? These kids aren’t having fun and I fear they will lose their love for the game. Help!!
— Janet

Janet, dammit, I suggest you read an excellent, well-informed post from this here blog about coaching your own child. It tells you how your husband (and the assistants) should interact with his child (and their children) as a coach (coaches). It also tells you how easy it is to fuck that up. Save up for some therapy bills, Janet.

Specifically for coaching your kid in baseball, I would recommend this:

— Your husband, and your child, should realize that baseball is a game of failure. As the old saying goes, you’re considered a star if you get a hit 30 percent of the time (except by sabermetricians who criticize you for not walking enough). So he, and your child, should relax and not worry about failure because of the nature of the game. If that doesn’t work, there’s always Inderal.

— When you go to games (and Janet, I know you do), you should get all sarcastic when the coaches say stupid shit like “come on be a hitter,” especially if they’re saying it in the form of a run-on sentence. When they say, “come on be a hitter,” you say, “That’s right son! Bash that ball like a baby seal!” Or “So NOW you get around to telling him what that aluminum stick is for?” Or “Brilliant fuckin’ advice, Lasorda.”

— Because talking reasonably to your husband failed, withhold sex and block his online porn until he gets the message.

You’re welcome.

Press, press…

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Pull.

Malcolm Gladwell, the author for whom you can blame 1,000 sales conference references to “The Tipping Point,” strikes again in the New Yorker with another lengthy article delving into the secrets of innovation and success. And this time, he’s completely full of shit.

I’m not a steady Gladwell reader, but all I know is that “How David Beats Goliath” takes eight web pages to say, with dubious evidence, what Sun Tzu said about 2,500 years earlier in 18 words: “So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.”

My particular youth sports beef comes with Gladwell using as evidence how a supposedly unskilled team of 12-year-old girls from Redwood City, Calif., were shaped into an elite basketball fighting force because their coach used a press defense. He wonders why more teams don’t use it, pointing to example’s of Digger Phelps’ undermanned 1971 Fordham team upsetting a UMass squad featuring Julius Erving, and Rick Pitino’s continued success with a press defense even though his talent is supposedly so thin, Antoine Walker is his only notable pro.

Gladwell might know tipping points, but I’m not sure he’s so wise on basketball strategy. The press works if you have a team that relentlessly practices it, and a team playing against you that doesn’t know it’s coming or doesn’t practice for it. I would guess that 100 percent of the teams Redwood City played never played anyone else with a press defense, and didn’t have a college basketball-playing daughter of a former NFL star helping out in practice.

Plus, the effectiveness of the press goes down the higher level you go. Yeah, a press can work great at the 12-year-old level because most kids’ ballhandling skills aren’t good enough to overcome it. But when Pitino tried that in the NBA, he got hammered. Even on the college level, for every Fordham-over-Dr.-J’s UMass upset with the press, there are 100 teams that try it and watch the ball fly past them for easy layups. Apparently Gladwell also missed how slow and methodical Michigan State bounced Pitino’s Louisville team out of this year’s NCAA tournament.

The rec leagues I’ve coached in (junior high/late elementary coed) limit the press to either a certain point of a game (elementary level) or when you’re down (junior high). By doing so, it prevents a game that gets out of hand either way — either a team never able to inbound the ball, or a pressing team getting blown out. Anyway, why don’t I have them defend the whole court instead of the last 24 feet? Because no one is scoring from 50 feet out. I tell my kids to move out the big people, and except for kids we know can shoot from 16 feet out, give player on the outside a lot of space. Then get the rebound and leak out on the fast break — that’s where a commitment to playing the whole floor worked for the teams I’ve had.

Gladwell misses the point when he fawns on the press defense. You coach based on how the strengths of your players match the weaknesses of others — no argument there. But questioning why everyone doesn’t use the press more is way too simplistic a point. So is Gladwell presenting as fact that Pitino uses the press because he ALWAYS has substandard teams. The current starting lineup of Lawrence North High School would disagree.

Any coach who believes their success is completely tied to his or her own system is delusional — and so are the writers who swallow that line. If you don’t have talent on you team, your precious system goes down the crapper. Anyway, you could make an argument on the flipside — the reason so few NBA successes come out of Pitino’s system is because it doesn’t prepare players for what they’ll be doing in pro ball.

By the way, the Redwood City team Gladwell talks about with girls who hadn’t played, or weren’t terribly talented? I bet they weren’t a bunch of kids who had never touched a ball. I don’t care how many practices they had — if the girls didn’t have some speed or coordination already, the press would have failed in a hurry. And as far as development, this coach could be hurting his kids because as they advance and have to play more halfcourt ball, they’ll have no idea what to do.

Gladwell is a good writer, but I think he’s whiffed here. If Dean Oliver presented evidence to show the best ways to attack a defense, I’d listen more, because at least Oliver, the director of quantitative analysis for the Denver Nuggets, puts together statistical models to prove his points. Gladwell’s message is supposedly that teams should concentrate more on attacking their opponents’ weaknesses, but don’t a lot of coaches do that already?

By the way, even if successful, the press can cause you a lot of headache. Just ask Micah Grimes.