Tag Archives: development

Try An Individual Sport

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I’ve written a great deal on the benefits playing team sports has on young players with posts like:

I’ve also written about the positive impact I got from the individual sports of kickboxing and jiu-jitsu:

I can confidently say that without both individual and team sports in my life I would be crippled in my personal and work life today. The different types of sports compliment one another. Team sports teach broad lessons where players learn how to depend on fellow teammates and become a dependable teammate themselves. Individual sports teach harsher lessons that are felt much deeper because success and failure are set on one person’s shoulders. In our increasingly interconnected world it is becoming more and more necessary for young kids to learn how to interact well in a group setting, but that does not mean children should only play team sports growing up. An individual sport can have a wonderfully positive impact on a child. I know because I was fortunate to grow up with parents that encouraged my athletics ambitions in lacrosse, but also promoted my love for jiu-jitsu and kickboxing.

Few things teach you how to keep your hands up like getting punched in the face. As I trained more kickboxing and jiu-jitsu I found how to push past physical exhaustion in each class, but I also learned how to absorb the mental blows of getting repeatedly beat on and tapped without getting down on myself. This is much harder to do in individual sports because you’re responsible for your own mistakes. When a teammate misses a pass it’s easy to go, “aww, he should have caught that. I threw that perfect!” even if you didn’t throw it perfectly. That is the biggest benefit for individual sports. Kids learn to own their failures and then learn how to get past them on their own.

Every time I hear one of our young players say they’re going out for tennis, or trying wrestling, or joining the swim team I want to hug them. They’re going to be more well-rounded individuals by the end of their first season playing an individual sport, and if they choose to stick with lacrosse they will be better players too. I did not earn playing time in high school by being a physically imposing defender. I knew lacrosse by studying the game and I was usually in the right spot at the right time, but I also knew exactly where to best put my body to defend an opponent. If I hadn’t spent hours and hours on the mat I wouldn’t have know my body, and my body’s limits, as well (3+ hours of constant movement wearing a thick cotton gi in a dojo with the heat cranked will get you into shape!).

Kickboxing and jiu-jitsu made me a better lacrosse player, and if I ever got a little tired of one I could focus on the other. That provided a great balance for me growing up, and the different lessons learned on the field and in the dojo continue to serve me well at twenty-six. So to any AYL or other youth players reading this I want to strongly encourage you to try any individual sport that peaks your interest. I ran, golfed, and swam at a young age before zeroing in on kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, and lacrosse. You’ll never know what might spark a passion in you without trying, and I assure you that lacrosse will still be here if you choose to spend the majority of your time practicing and playing lacrosse.

Featured Image Credit – www.teamedgeonline.com

Cheers,
Gordon

The Biggest Advantage In Youth Sports

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I consider U13 the hardest age to officiate for one reason: puberty. I read a long time ago that puberty is the biggest advantage in youth sports, and in my youth coaching and officiating experience I would have to agree. Every spring season most of our boys entering the U13 age ranks seem to have sprouted a foot in height since I last saw them in the fall. The growth of these players always takes me by surprise, but the varying rate of physical development creates a few games where the matchup looks like a battle of Goliaths versus Davids.

Last year I officiated an excellent game between two U13 teams of near equal skill, but one team was slightly further along the transition from boy to man. One of their attackman stood a foot taller than all the defenders and probably outweighed the closest defender by at least thirty pounds. This attackman held the ball during the last two minutes to secure a one goal victory for his team. The opposing coach was yelling to his defender to body up and strip the attackman. I was standing as the trail official near the coaches and heard the head coach of the winning team go: “You can try, but nobody can move him!” The clock ran out while the attackman held the ball and his team won, but this team didn’t win just because they were bigger and stronger than the other team. Like I stated earlier, both teams were equal in skill but the winning team was bigger and stronger. As my jiu-jitsu instructor used to tell our class: “Skill being equal, the bigger fighter will usually win.” The issue in youth sports is that many coaches don’t coach beyond the physical attributes of their star athletes. I see the same game plan executed by several youth teams every year: get the ball to the bigger and stronger midfielder, and everyone else clears space. While that may be a very effective strategy now it will not last beyond U13 because it does not account for varying rates of development.

I read through a very interesting document put together by USA Swimming and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association titled: The Young Athlete’s Body: Physical Development. I highly encourage parents to read through the entire document to better understand how young players develop, but I feel going over the early maturer and the late maturer sections is worthwhile.

“The early-maturing individual is bigger, stronger, and quicker, acquires sport skills faster, and has more endurance potential than his or her peers. Thus, the early-maturer can be expected to be a star grade school and junior high school athlete. A major problem is that the early maturer enjoys outstanding sport success during elementary, middle, and early junior high school simply because of the physical advantages he or she has over his or her teammates and opponents. With the elaborate sport programs available for very young athletes in most communities, the eight to twelve-year-old can readily become a true sports star.”

It is very difficult for a youth coach to not get the ball into the hands of a player benefiting from such early physical development. I know because I’ve been there. The physical gifts of the player allows him to move around defenders like they were standing still, and if you put that player on the bench it looks like you’re not trying hard enough to win (especially to the parent of the physically gifted player). The problem I’ve run into, and seen other coaches run into, is an over-reliance on physically gifted players. Boil down all the movement in lacrosse and you find it is all about the 2 on 1. When the only game plan is getting the ball to the bigger and faster player and have him run over defenders, it will fail as the player gets older and his opponents start developing. I watch players that breezed by defenders in U13 panic in U15 when they get doubled by defenders that are as strong or stronger than them. The lack of field awareness by these players in U15 is a direct result to them being told, “go to the goal!” every time they had the ball, and most are stripped on the double and left staring at the clearing defenders while trying to figure out what just happened.

“With sport successes so closely related to maturity, it isn’t difficult to imagine the problems of the late- maturing athlete-especially for parents who were late maturers themselves. Many, but certainly not all, late maturers will be small in stature for their age. They will have less strength, endurance, and skeletal maturity and lower motor skills than their average peers. These children are going to be handicapped in many sports where size, strength, and endurance determine the outcome, and in some situations they will be at undue risk to injury.”

I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for the late-maturers because I was one of them. I didn’t reach my adult height until junior year of high school and I didn’t break 150lbs on the scale until college. I earned playing time by being quick and knowing where the ball would be. The biggest discrepancy I see in size at the U13 level is between defenders and attackman. The typical defender is tall and lanky for greater distance when throwing checks, while the typical attackman is shorter to give defenders less to check at when dodging. On average defenders are larger than attackman, and that gets seriously pronounced at the U13 level. Parents of larger defenders at this age level must understand that their child might be penalized more often simply due to their size because a hit or a swing by that player looks worse to the game officials. On the other side, parents of smaller attackman need to be aware of the risk of injury that their player may be under due to his size. For example, I had a game where a larger defender was running while watching a ball go out of bounds. A smaller attackman was in his way, but the defender never saw him. Size plus speed equalled a collision that sent the young player flying. I didn’t throw my flag and was ripped by the parents on the sideline, but I couldn’t throw my flag – the defender never saw the attackman. Any player can get injured on a legal play, through incidental contact, or illegal contact, but smaller players are at a physical disadvantage and that fact will always remain in contact sports.

Different rates of physical development create advantages for the larger players and teams with larger players. There is no disputing that, but size, strength, and quickness are all negated by ball movement. Coach your players to move with their heads up and focus on finding the open man after drawing a double. This works to the advantage of the early-maturer because he learns that he can be an offensive threat as a goal scorer and a passer because he draws so much attention from the defense. A focus on ball movement also works to the advantage of the late-maturer, who I see in every game open on the weak side and is only two passes away from scoring a layup goal.

Skill is the defining factor in all sports because there is going to come a time when the physical playing field is level. The goal of youth sports is to lay down the foundational skills of the sport because coaches at the higher level don’t want to waste time teaching players how to look for the open man. Besides, players will have plenty of time to hit the weight room when their bodies are ready for it.  I’ll close this post with a pertinent quote by Duke Assistant Coach Ron Caputo:

“The difference between you and me is I don’t forget how good you are, but you do.”

Featured Image Credit – http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2011645685/

Cheers,
Gordon

Stop Turning Youth Athletics Into More Than It Actually Is

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Heads up parents, this post is going to sting.

Your child:

  • Is not going to play professional lacrosse
  • Is not getting recruited to play at Maryland, LeMoyne, or Lynchburg
  • Is not scoring the winning goal in the high school state championship
  • Is not getting All-American honors as a freshman on the Varsity roster
  • Is not getting “Most Improved Player” on his youth team

Your child is not getting any of this. At least not right now. Or even tomorrow, or next week, or a year from now. All your child is doing tomorrow, next week, or next year is playing and practicing lacrosse along with homework assignments, other sports, sleep overs, pool parties, movie nights, and family vacations.

AYL has posts up about recruiting and parental responsibility regarding a child’s athletic development. We maintain a strict policy on how every fan should behave at all of our games, practices and league events. We put a great deal of responsibility on the young players to bring their own gear and take ownership of the game they are coming to love. As I’ve said in numerous posts I do not have children so I am not about to make this post about how to raise your player because I don’t know the first thing about child rearing. What I have is an outsider’s perspective, separate from winning and losing, that I want to share with every parent who has one or more children in any youth extracurricular activity. That perspective is one of a sports official who has seen many kids start playing the game in middle school, grow through high school, and head off to college. I’ve seen the successful players and the not-so successful players go on with their lives, but I noticed that the successful players tend to have one thing in common: their parents got out of the way unless asked.

I’ve seen middle schoolers stunned speechless by their parents critiquing their ground ball technique after a game, and other kids reduced to tears because their mom or dad thought the kid should’ve scored that goal in the third quarter. Parents who do this adulterize their child’s sport. They swoop in like some out of town interloper and steal the game away from their kids. These parents are sport-adulterers and they’ve gotten rid of the “youth” in “youth athletics.” Now it’s just “athletic development pursuant a full collegiate scholarship, professional contract, or some high accolade.” See the problem? The sport-adulterers become their child’s agent. I’ve spent season after season deprogramming young players from their overly excited and demanding parents to just relax when they are on the field. It’s like every game is a tryout to these kids because of the pressure imposed by the parents.

I had one player that I constantly reminded to not pay attention to his parental unit on the sideline. I got him to understand that I as the coach was the only adult voice that he cared about when he played. The best part is how great the young kid played when he wasn’t beholden to some arbitrary performance level. His parents wanted him to score three goals a game and they let him know it – he never scored. When I rebuilt his operating system I wanted him to relax, have fun and smile – he scored five goals in our next game. Suddenly I’m a great coach who understood the value inherent in the young kid that his parent’s thought never shined in the old coach’s system. Not the case. I simply allowed the young player to play like a young player. Oh, the kid was eight and a half by the way.

The worst part is how innocent-sounding these parent’s justifications are:

  • “I just want little Johnny to have more confidence on the field.”
    • Translation: My kid needs to go to the goal more often.
  • “I just want little Timmy to get tougher”
    • Translation: My kid never gets ground balls. Maybe we should invest in an athletic trainer so he gets more explosive.
  • “I’m just not seeing any improvement.”
    • Translation: What if a scout sees my player now and isn’t impressed? His whole chance to get a scholarship will be ruined!
  • “He/she doesn’t seem to be having fun anymore.”
    • Translation: I don’t get it, I’ve invested thousands of dollars over the last three years in his athletic development, he plays all year for two different travel teams, and I’m sending him to a recruiting camp for four days. He just seems to be going through the motions and I’m worried all of this money I’ve spent is going to waste because he is spending more time playing flag football with his friends in the park.

If you want to be your child’s agent then go all the way and actually hire an agent. I’m sure the big names agencies are stoked about signing your twelve year old who shows great potential (sarcasm). I’m being sarcastic because it is the only way I can discuss this issue without breaking down into tears. I’ve seen too many young players quit before they turned thirteen because the adults around them were more interested in the final outcome than the process. It is the adults that care which team wins or loses the U13 championship game at a summer tournament because they think it means more than it actually does. What does it actually mean? I say it means less than the plastic the trophy was made out of.

I won championship games in the spring and summer during my youth lacrosse days. I know I won because I have warm, happy feelings thinking back to those games. What I don’t remember is more significant:

  • I don’t remember what my team name was for any of the championship/playoff teams I was on
  • I don’t remember what the final score in any of those games were
  • I don’t remember what the championship t-shirt looked like
  • I don’t even remember if I had a good game or not

I do remember that I had fun, and because I had fun I stuck with it past thirteen and got to be a pretty decent player. These days I officiate, which has completely changed my understanding of what achievement and accolades are all about. I was the Chief Bench Official for the Georgia 1A-4A State Championship Lacrosse game in 2013 between Westminster and Northview. It took five years of hard work to become the best official I could be before I was made the fourth man on a championship game crew. In my mind it was a huge accomplishment and a just award for the work I put in.

Here’s my point for this backstory – After the game no one cheered my name, no one asked for an autograph, no one gave me a trophy or a medal, and no one told me if I had a good game or not. All I knew for certain was that I did an exceptional job for my role in the crew. Officiating crews don’t get many accolades outside of the officiating world, but my internal knowledge that I did a good job was worth far more than any plastic championship trophy. Let’s teach our young players accurate self-evaluation, it will pay off better in the long run than pawning that plastic trophy.

What I love most about AYL is that we do everything with one core concept in mind – “it is all about the kids.” Everything we do is put up against that belief and that is why we are successful. I want kids to win, improve their game and grow as individuals. However, I will not stand for any adult that puts professional-level pressures on an eight and a half year old. Matt Ryan is paid to be under pressure and scrutiny, while your eight and a half year old probably doesn’t realize that you are paying for him to play. Keep that in mind next time you are on the sideline.

Cheers,
Gordon