Tag Archives: coaching

It Made A Difference For That One

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Over the last ten years I’ve coached a great many youth and high school players. I’ve had the real privilege of officiating a freshman that I coached when he was thirteen, coming in to play for a few minutes while his team was winning, and then seeing that freshman turn into a senior leader on his team four years later. Officiating is, and will always be, the way I give back the most to the game of lacrosse, but there is such an allure in coaching players of any age that it is always a pleasure to coach at a camp, clinic, or rec league.

My favorite part about coaching is getting to watch the lightbulb moment in action. Seeing a high schooler I’m instructing over the offseason fully understand the proper way to break down on defense after several repetitions, or seeing the gears turn in the mind of an eleven-year-old as he processes the benefit of finding the extra pass in a two on one. That is my selfish reason for coaching. I really enjoy it when players gain a flash of insight about how to play the game better after a little nudge or two from me in the right direction. But that is not the main reason I coach.

When you take out the team records, the individual statistics, the diagrammed plays, and the seemingly constant travel to practices and games all that is left is one question – why do I do this? For me at least, the answer is that it matters to the players.

When I was very young I won a competition in my Taekwondo class for being able to stand at attention the longest. For a seven year old boy standing still for any length of time is an accomplishment, but I managed to keep myself from squirming long enough to win a martial-arts themed coloring book. In this book were many different stories about the proper attitude to bring to a lifetime of training, and one story stuck with me for nearly twenty years. After searching I found this coloring book story was based on “The Star Thrower” by Loren Eiseley.

The story was shortened considerably in the coloring book, but here is the core of the tale:

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”

– The original text from above may be found here: http://mommiesofmiracles.com/star-thrower-loren-c-eiseley/

In the coloring book a new martial arts student witnessed a master tossing starfish from the beach into the sea, but no matter who the people in the story are the truth is always clear – It does not matter how long you’ve coached or how many wins you accumulate. What truly matters is that you had a positive impact on another person and they will remember you as I have remembered the amazing coaches in my life.

So if at the end of this regular season you are tired and wondering why you’re still leaving work early for practice and staying late to help a player improve their technique remember that you’re a coach and every one of your players is a star on a beach waiting for your positive impact.

Featured Image Credit – http://elonawareness.com/2013/10/17/the-starfish-story-how-ordinary-people-can-make-a-difference/

Cheers,
Gordon

The Stopwatch Parent

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One of our longtime youth coaches sent Coach Lou, Mary Jo, and I this article: http://blog.nj.com/njv_guest_blog/2013/10/the_scholarship_chase_is_killi.html. I feel the author, John McCarthy, hits the major points about investing time, energy, and money into a chase for a full-ride athletic scholarship to a major college or university starting when the kid is playing the pee-wee sport of their choice. All of this has been slowly pushing down into younger and younger age levels shortly after I began playing lacrosse in the mid 1990’s.

My planned post for today, The Stopwatch Parent, ties in perfectly to Mr. McCarthy’s article. I’ve coached a lot of youth teams over the last decade, and there is usually one parent each season holding onto a stopwatch during games. The stopwatch has one purpose: it lets the parent track how long their player is on the field compared to all the other players. My favorite quote from McCarthy’s article is, “[A new parent] also learned that while all of the parents were vocal in their support for a travel team, none was willing to serve as a coach.” I see this on every team I’ve ever coached and every youth game I’ve ever officiated. There are a lot of parents who love the idea of their kid being on an elite travel team, but very few are qualified to make coaching decisions that benefit the team over any individual player.

There are at least one or two parents per team who do not understand that their child is playing a team sport, and their stopwatch or iPhone timer are the giveaways that these parents don’t care about the team. They are blinded by their adoration for their young player, and until I become a parent I doubt I will understand this mentality, but these parents need to learn the mindset that comes with playing a team sport. That mindset is TEAM FIRST not ME FIRST.

I coached a U11 team years ago, and I answered a dozen phone calls from concerned parents wondering what their child could do to get more time on the field in each of our tournament games. Bear in mind that the kids of these concerned parents were the better players on my team, and my assistant coaches and I adjusted the lines to make sure at least one of our better players was on each line to lead the other less-experienced players while on the field. Apparently, this was a poor coaching strategy. Reading between the lines on each of these parent conversations, I came to the conclusion that these parents wanted one line filled with the best players (their kids) to take the lions-share of playing time at the expense of every other kid on the roster. After all, we were an Elite U11 Travel Team and their kids were the best of the best on the team.

I despise the terms Elite Youth Player and Elite Youth Team. I do not believe there is any such U9, U11, U13, or U15 player or team in lacrosse or any other sport. I officiate every age level of lacrosse all over Georgia and the Southeast. I have not yet seen a so-called Elite U11 player who has the stick skills to compete with a third-string high school player. I’ve seen really good U11 players when compared to other U11 players, but even the very best U11 player I’ve seen is still raw in terms of stick skills, lacrosse IQ, defensive footwork, and communication. Which is completely understandable as they are 8, 9, or 10 years old! They haven’t had the time to polish their skills to an elite level, and calling these players elite at such a young age makes the term meaningless and gives the player very little incentive to work on getting to a higher skill level.

This is my message to all stopwatch parents:

The youth coach has a harder job than you can possibly imagine, and if you are spending your time in the stands criticizing your team’s coach for not playing your kid enough then you need to step onto to the sideline and volunteer to help substitute players. If you don’t want to do that then you need to sit down and use your iPhone to find an individual sport that your kid might want to try because you can’t handle that your “elite” player has to share playing time with his teammates.

Even the best players sub off the field.

Featured Image Credit – https://news.slac.stanford.edu/announcement/expedited-shipping-available-slac-eshop

Cheers,
Gordon

Youth Statistics

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Youth Statistics

I accidentally pissed off someone a few weeks ago. I was coaching a youth lacrosse team at a tournament and while the team was warming up I was on the sidelines watching my players. A gentleman with a scorebook wearing the apparel from the other team came up next to me and asked where my team was from. I told him and then he asked what our record was. I responded that I had no idea. I think he assumed that I was not the person in charge and asked to see my team’s Head Coach. I stated that I was the Head Coach, and he seemed a little taken aback by my statement.

He asked again what my team’s record was. I again responded that I did not know and I did not personally keep track of that information. After hearing what I had to say this individual became quite angry and stormed off to his other team’s bench. It took me a second to realize what was going on but then it hit me – he was fishing for information about how good or bad my team was. When I didn’t give him the information he wanted he went away and pouted. When I realized all of this I was shocked, but after the game I was downright angry.

Just to be clear my team’s record and some basic statistics are kept on a spreadsheet on a computer somewhere, but I have never looked at it. I was very forthright with this individual when I told him that I do not keep track of records or stats on my team, but he thought I was hiding my team’s record to give my team some kind of advantage or to disadvantage his team. Eventually, I moved from anger to sadness. Sadness because I’ve seen this kind of behavior before on the sidelines and in the stands, but it was never fully brought out into the open until that game.

“There are lies, damned lies and statistics” – Mark Twain.

That Mark Twain quote should tell you everything you need to know about my feeling on keeping stats at the youth level. They are not necessary and can be down right dangerous. I dislike statistics because they confirm what is already known. This player is better than that player. This team is worse than that team. When I officiate youth lacrosse games I can usually tell within the first five minutes which team is likely to win and I never look at the stat book. I look for two things. One, does the team communicate well, and two, are they going for every ground ball? That is all I need to determine whether or not one team is better than another.

While statistics confirm what anyone can figure out if they get their eyes out of the stat book and onto the field, they are also of no benefit for the youth player. Statistics benefit parents and overzealous coaches. That is it. Do they validate all the lessons the parent is paying for? Do they confirm to the coach that he is right keeping only his first lines in the game while everyone else rides the bench? Probably both. Statistics do nothing for the youth player except quantify his abilities at an age when he should be more concerned with the quality of them.

I have two standing rules with every team that I coach: The score is always “zero to zero” and I don’t care if they make a mistake as long as they are running as hard as they can. I do not care what Johnny’s shot percentage is. I do not care what my goalie’s save percentage is. I do not care what our team’s faceoff percentage is. I care that they are going after every ground ball as hard as they can and that they keep playing as if the score is perpetually tied. This approach allows for kids to make mistakes without fear.

Statistics create fear because statistics lock kids into predictable behavior. I want the kid who is eager to win his next faceoff, not the one more concerned about keeping his 80% win record going. The former kid is going to go after every faceoff with tenacity, while the latter is likely to implode if he loses one or two faceoffs early in a game. I want the goalie who forgets about the last goal he let in, not the one who is worried that the team stat keeper just put another mark in the “Goal’s Against” column. The former plays without fear, the latter turns into a hole in the net.

Truthfully, I do care about one statistic and I’ve hinted at it this entire post. I care about ground balls. In my opinion, ground balls should be the only statistic kept by teams. Let the league keep the win/loss record, but if a team wants to keep stats they should only keep ground balls. Ground balls are an effort statistic. They show how consistent your team is at getting the loose ball off the turf and into a workable possession. Without GB’s, shots and goals are simply not possible. Ground balls are the true measure of a team.

I believe we have one goal at the end of the day in youth athletics. That goal is to get the kids to want to play again the next day. That should be the statistic we are measuring – which kids stay and which kids go. If they leave because they found a different passion then more power to them, but if they leave because adults started ranking and quantifying them then shame on us.

Featured Image Credit – www.murraystate.edu

Cheers,
Gordon