Tag Archives: failure

Obstacles Are Not As Tough As We Think

Published by:


I think the featured image for this post is hysterical. My family’s three dogs, Thor, Nugget, and Zeus from left to right, believe they are stuck in the kitchen. You’ll notice a barely perceptible metal fence going from one wall to the edge of the kitchen counter. This fence weights half a pound and is about three feet tall, but to my three dogs it is more impenetrable than the Bellagio vault that the Ocean’s Eleven team broke into.

I remember being a young kid and wondering why everything was so hard. When I look back on how I reacted to tough times I see that the obstacles I had to overcome as a child were not nearly as bad as I made them out to be.

The most difficult obstacle I had to overcome before I turned eighteen was failing French junior year. I didn’t put in the work and by mid-terms I had a big fat “F” staring back at me along with a meeting with my class dean. I had zero reasons for failing French. My home life was good and I did not have too many extra curricular activities taking up my time. I just thought that French wasn’t worth studying, and I wasn’t very good at it to begin with. My French teacher and my class dean begged to differ. They informed me that if I didn’t pull up my grades I definitely wouldn’t be playing lacrosse and I would likely be repeating my junior year.

The older I get the more I believe in the motto “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome“. I knew that I had zero motivation to become fluent in French, but I had a lot of reasons to pass. With the exception of HTML code, languages do not come easily to me, but I am pretty good at memorizing. So I adapted to this obstacle that I created and started studying French vocabulary. While I did horribly on the audio portions of our weekly tests, I started acing the vocabulary recall sections. Eventually those scores averaged out and by the end of my junior year I had a “B-” in French. Even though I still cannot speak a lick of French, I managed to overcome my obstacle that I thought was insurmountable, but it turned out to be completely doable.

There is no growth without adversity. There is no advancement without failure. There is no success without obstacles.

How shallow would success be if you decided you wanted to get somewhere and then you were suddenly there without any work in between?

I received my third stripe on my white belt when I was sixteen years old after a year of training jiu-jitsu. In front of the whole class my instructor asked me how I got my third stripe. I said, “You gave it to me Sifu.” He sternly replied, “I didn’t give you anything, you earned that stripe.” That one sentence changed my perspective on everything. When I received my blue belt a year later my instructor asked me how I got my blue belt. I replied, “I earned it,” and he nodded sagely. I earned it by committing my time, my energy, my sweat, and even a little bit of my blood to pursue a goal that meant something to me.

I believe that it is our job as adults in youth sports to present young kids with adversity, with failure, and with obstacles. We give them those three challenges in a controlled setting and then slowly prod them to grow, to advance, and to earn the level of success that they want to reach. If we do that our young adults will come to see that the obstacles they will face every day of their lives are not so insurmountable. If we don’t, then our young adults will spend their lives stuck in the kitchen like my three dogs, wondering why they can’t get past what is right in front of them.


Tower of Babel

Published by:

Coaching is like speaking another language because youth players all want to be a hero. They want to dodge through five opponents, or go for the big check, or stay on the field because they just subbed in and you are wrong about taking them out. You can see the head coach roll his eyes from sixty yards out whenever that happens.

This is what I call the Tower of Babel problem. For those of you unfamiliar with the Tower of Babel story, here is the cliff-notes version:

After the Great Flood, all the peoples of Earth shared a single language. They came upon the land of Shinar and decided to build a city with a tower so high it would reach the heavens. The purpose of the tower was to keep everyone from being “scattered upon the face of the whole earth” (Genesis: 11:4). God decided to confound the builders by giving everyone different languages. Unable to communicate, the tower was abandoned and the city was forever known as Babel.

What we have here is a failure to communicate

What we have here is a failure to communicate

People laugh when I say my favorite part of coaching is giving the kids back to the parents at the end of the day. As much as I love coaching lacrosse, kids can be flat-out exasperating since they rarely do exactly what you want them to do. I’ve had first and second grade players sit down and pitch a fit when I tell them to try a different dodge. I even had one kid endlessly repeat his favorite word, “no,” for an entire practice. Then I’ve had kids who latch on to what I say and perform a move flawlessly. Often, players are deemed coachable or a head-case based on his reactions during practices and games, but I take exception to that flawed idea!

I firmly believe that youth players become coachable if a coach is patient and willing to use a few new coaching tools.

Tool # 1 – You Do Not Know Everything

  • Less of a tool and more of a state of mind. This concept is critical at the youth level. I’ve coached spring and fall ball teams for ten years and I pick up new coaching methods from brand new coaches all the time! Keep your eyes open and watch your fellow coaches for better techniques.

Tool # 2 – The Bench is Useful

  • I do not believe in punishment running until the JV level. Agree of disagree with that, but I see no reason to make a second grader run laps because he is acting like a second grader. Instead, I put an end to their fun time. Whenever a player challenges me or misbehaves everybody has to leave their sticks on the ground and sit on the bench for five minutes. Then I walk over and say, “Does everyone want to keep sitting on the bench?” The reply is a very loud “NO!”

Tool #3 – Establish a Buddy Coach

  • If you are the head coach with assistants make one of them the team “buddy coach.” At the first practice introduce the buddy coach and tell all your players that anyone who has a problem with you can tell the buddy coach. If a player comes up and argues with you about something, stop them and remind them to tell the buddy coach. This accomplishes two things. One, you get to keep coaching the rest of the team. Two, the buddy coach can express the kid’s problems to you much better than the kid can. Typically, the buddy coach is the youngest coach, but it can be any coach who doesn’t mind hearing a few complaints here and there.

Tool #4 – Stop Yelling and Get Quiet

  • When a friend yells at you what is your reaction? My reaction is to make my voice a few decibles higher than my friend’s. The same concept applies to kids. Problem is, they have really young lungs and can out shout the best of us. The most effective coaches only yell to get everyone’s attention, then they quickly revert to their inside voices. When I started coaching I yelled constantly, and I still do, but I’ve learned to pick and choose when to yell. Making my loud and quiet voices compliment one another.
  • Sounding out your words and enunciating gets your point across far more than yelling. Consider your high school spanish class. Did the teacher demand you yell out “COMO SE YAMA?” No, they asked to you sound out the phrase slowly and deliberately. This applies directly to coaching. I find it far more effective to huddle a team up and precisely state what I want in a calm, level voice. Every player’s eyes and ears are on me because they don’t want to miss their instructions. Contrast that huddle with the yelling coach whose head is about to pop off. That coach’s players are averting their eyes and praying that the verbal whipping ends quickly so they can go play.

Tool #5 – Create a Team Cry

  • When I was a high school captain I started the War Cry midway through the season. Whenever our team was down, or did something really awesome I screamed out “Let me hear your war cry!” The whole team would yell, hoot, and holler until the next whistle. Many years later, I watched a youth coach yell out “Ready!” Every player on the field responded, “Focus!”
  • Having a Team Cry bonds players together, especially if it is catchy and repeatable. Plus you can use it to get everyone’s attention in the huddle. Here are a few fun cries I’ve heard:
    • Listen! – Up!
    • Ears! – Open!
    • Eyes! – On You!
    • This is! – Sparta!
    • Instructions! – Boom!
    • Loot! – Argg!
    • Break! – Down!

Tool #6 – Try This, Not That

  • Every year I see a coach screaming at one kid, “what in the world are you doing? I told you to do this, not that!” This is ineffective because the kid will do one of two things. Either he decides to screw the coach and do things his way, which does not help your game plan. Or, he tightens up and cannot make a play to save his life. Instead of yelling at a player to do something, pull him off the field at the first opportunity.
  • When you and him have had a moment to calm down go chat with the player and ask him why he tried that move, dodge, check, shot, etc. Let the player explain why he did what he did, then go: “well, did your way work?” The player will shrug his shoulders and say, “not really.” Then say, “I don’t mind innovation, and your move might work, but only if you do so-and-so. Now I want to put you it, but you are going to have to show me that you can play with your teammates. If you do that I’ll give you the green light to try that move out in another game. Sound fair?” Almost every time, the kid says yes.

Try out one or all of these tools this Fall Season. Commit to making your players coachable instead of writing off the ones that don’t listen. If you apply these tools even the most difficult player will start listening to what you have to say.

I’ll leave you with one of the greatest movie scenes in history from Cool Hand Luke, please don’t be like the warden. If there is a failure to communicate, it falls at the coach’s feet to fix it.

Featured Image Credit – www.ibiblio.org


Avoid the Snowball Effect

Published by:

One player drops a pass. Then a second, and a third. Suddenly, every player cannot pick up a ground ball and every shot is wide of the cage. What is going wrong?

The answer – your team fell victim to the snowball effect. This effect is “descriptive of an entity or situation where something once small and relatively insignificant grows exponentially at a swift pace, engulfing everything in its path” (urbandictionary.com). The problem with the snowball effect is the symptoms are originally small and hard to detect. A missed ground ball quickly turns the ball over to the other team and your team deflates. Ultimately, the team cannot get over the accumulation of small missteps and the game is lost far before it ends.

Repeated Mistakes = Avalanche!

Repeated Mistakes = Avalanche!

We see this in every professional sport. A pitcher cannot find the plate for two innings. The coach comes out says “Man, just relax and forget about those two innings.” During a football game, the special teams give up huge chunks of yards on every kickoff in the first half. During halftime the coach says, “Fellas, calm down. We still have two more quarters to go.” After those little pep talks, most players at the professional level dust themselves off and forget about their poor performance. Then they strike out the next three batters or pin the offense at the two yard line.

Yet, we cannot make the mistake of treating youth players like professional athletes. The same strategies for halting the snowball effect do not apply. The reason is that most kids get down on themselves if they make too many mistakes. They do not have the experience to say, “ok, I screwed up earlier, but that is behind me now.” Instead, every mistake builds on itself and leads to the next one, and the next one. Until the player is too afraid to move.

Stopping the snowball effect in a game starts with practicing failure. If this sounds odd, that is because it is. If practice makes perfect then how come teams that do well in practice come up short in games? It is because they did not practice how to fail on the field. Ever see a player get the ball checked out of his stick and just stand there wondering how he let that happen? Or the player who misses a ground ball, who decides to wallow in self-pity instead of turning around and making a play. These situations happen all of the time at the youth level because kids think it is the end of the world if they screw up with everyone watching them. Practicing failure steels players against self-pity, and dejection.

Properly practicing failure requires an environment that welcomes mistakes as an opportunity to improve. Tell your players that making a mistake will never make you upset, but standing still and forgetting to play after a mistake will draw your ire. To develop this skill take a few minutes each practice and make your players feed poor passes to one another. If they catch the ball, great. If not, they learn to forget about the bad pass and run to pick up the ground ball behind them. Do a ground ball drill and tell the players to miss the ground ball, then turn around and pick it up. Forcing your players into situations where they experience failure teaches them how to forget about it and move onto the next play.

The next time your team starts to snowball in a game, call a time out. When they circle around you, remind them how you practiced never to give up on the play. Remind them that you do not care if they make mistakes, only that they try and fix them. Do this and see that snowball get smaller and smaller. Until it finally disappears.

Featured Image Credit – www.people-equation.com