Tag Archives: positive

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/


The Good. Just The Good.

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When I’m not writing about playing better or coaching techniques, I’m usually writing about overcoming negative behavior in youth athletics. Well today I want to write about one of my favorite experiences as a lacrosse official in a U11 game.

About three years ago I was officiating a tournament in north Georgia at the start of the summer. I had a mix of age levels each day, and that particular day I had three U11 games. The first two U11 games were brutal. Parents screaming, coaches screaming, players launching themselves into airborne miniature missiles aimed at the heads of their opponents or swinging their sticks so violently I was surprised that none broke. Usually in these games I can make a kid laugh or smile even when all the other adults are going crazy, but in those two games the kids on both teams were dialed in with a level of seriousness that was unexpected. My partner and I threw flags, and we might have ejected a coach. I can’t remember, it was really hot.

I can deal with crazy people and wild penalties, and I can deal with hot weather. Combine the two though and I get cranky. With my third U11 game coming up I was not happy about having to ref it. Here was another game where the players would be out of control, the coaches encouraging out of control behavior, and the parents yelling at me that I wasn’t keeping anybody under control.

Yet, that didn’t happen.

The players played with the appropriate level of body contact for their age group. They didn’t swing their sticks. In fact, they rarely tried more than a well timed lift check! The game was competitive, but the coaches stayed positive with their players and didn’t gripe to my partner or I excessively. Even better, the parents were enjoying the game and were very pleasant. I started that game with the idea that it was going to be a giant mess of craziness, but I ended it startled and genuinely happy.

I was so pleased with how everyone behaved that I asked both coaches to have their players take a knee on the far sideline where their parents were. I introduced myself and told them that their game was the best game I got to officiate all day and that everyone made me feel like coming out again the next day. I told the players that they made me a happy referee because they played with skill and finesse, and I complimented the parents and coaches for keeping the youth game in perspective and enjoying a nice, albeit hot, Georgia afternoon.

It is easy to get jaded in sports, especially when you see the same poor behavior at every game. Most games it isn’t that everyone is being a pain, but that there is one person on the sideline, one coach in the coaches box, or one player on the field making a mockery of the sport. But every once in a while there are games where the game is played and everyone enjoys it for what it is. A safe, fun time with friends.

I want to see a player helping up his opponent after a hard hit. I want to see a coach maintain a high level of intensity with his team without going overboard. I want to see a parent calming down another parent on the sideline who may be taking the youth game a little too seriously. Those are the moments I live for when I’m reffing.


Screaming And Yelling

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In this post I WILL MAKE ABUNDANT USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS! In case you don’t know, writing in capital letters online means the writer is screaming or yelling the words. I will be using capital letters often in today’s post because I want to get to what I believe is a poor behavior among new coaches, which happens to be SCREAMING and YELLING at young players.

I’ve found that new coaches, regardless of sport, yell instructions at their players. The more the players mess up, the louder the coach gets. What I hear regularly during games all over the state of Georgia is, “WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT? I TOLD YOU TO NEVER DO THAT!” Generally that statement is screamed at a youth player who just shot the ball from twenty yards out or lunged hard as a defenseman and got beat. The new youth coach doesn’t understand why the player would do such as thing when he screamed and yelled about not making those kinds of mistakes in practice. What the new coach does not understand is how to communicate effectively.

New coaches usually try to emulate coaches they see on TV. Unfortunately, the camera only focuses on the college or professional coach doing one of two actions. One, the coach is staring stoically at the field. Two, the coach is screaming to high heaven at his players or the officials. This is what new youth coaches see and then replicate during practice and games. Problem is the camera rarely catches what the coach is doing the most. Namely, communicating calmly with his coaches and players. The cameras don’t tape those exchanges because it makes for boring television. Because new youth coaches see extremes in coaching behavior, either silence or YELLING, they model their behavior after what they see as effective. After all if a successful college or professional coach is SCREAMING at his players all the time, it must be an effective tool.

Imagine for a moment a job where you have a boss or manager. During the entire day the boss either sits quietly in his office, occasionally peeking outside to make sure everyone is working, or venturing out of his office and SCREAMING LOUDLY AT YOU TO FINISH YOUR WORK! HE YELLS REPEATEDLY THAT YOU ARE MAKING THE SAME MISTAKES AS YESTERDAY AND HE IS SERIOUSLY CONSIDERING FIRING YOU! After hearing that coach day after day either being silent or incredibly loud would you be enjoying your work? No! You’d be spending those precious quiet moments dreading your boss coming out of his office for another round of verbal whipping. That is what goes through the heads of youth players when all you do is go from one extreme, silence, to the other, being loud.

This loud behavior continues on the sidelines also. The new coach yells at his players even though they are three feet away from him, and often that yelling is neither positive nor instructive. I am often shocked that new youth coaches do not see how destructive their behavior is. Like the example above, their extreme behavior does not help them win games because it turns the coach’s players into scared kids who are more worried about disappointing their coach instead of focusing on making a good play. The problem is exacerbated during the season because the new coach, who is likely losing a few games, decides that the players aren’t listening to him and decides to yell louder and more frequently. The coach never realizes that his players are tuning him out. At that point, the coach cannot communicate effectively with his players because they no longer want to listen. He has SCREAMED them out of wanting to learn the game.

What then is a new coach supposed to do if they can’t yell at their players? Here are a few strategies to save your vocal cords:

  • If your going to yell, yell positive – I SCREAM and YELL all the time when I coach youth games. However, I try to make sure I am yelling positive comments to my players. I don’t yell out, “WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU THINKING?” I yell, “NICE ROLL DODGE!” There is a huge difference between yelling negatively and yelling positively. Kids will latch onto your words if they are positive. So find things during the game that your players are doing well and yell out your praise to them.
  • Keep yourself quiet when talking one-on-one – If I had a dollar for every coach I’ve seen scream into a youth player’s face I could retire. Screaming negatives doesn’t help when the kid is all the way across the field, and it certainly doesn’t help when you are face-to-face. I make sure that I lower the decible level of my voice whenever I speak to a kid on the sidelines. They often need encouragement if they just came off the field, especially if they made what they feel was a bad play. If they screwed up get down to their eye level and say the following, “You did a great job winning us that faceoff. Just make sure to pass the ball when you get double-teamed. If you do that you will probably get an assist or lead us to a goal.” That is two positives surrounding one negative, otherwise known as a praise sandwich. This technique, which I love, has worked wonders for me when I coach youth players because it reinforces what they did well and gives them advice on what to do when they hit the field.
  • Have a “pay attention” word – This is an excellent tool for getting a group of youth players focused on you and what is coming out of your mouth. Whenever I coach I have my team do the following: When I say “Eyes up!” The players must look at me and respond, “On you!” This gets all the players looking directly at me and gets them focused on what I am saying. If I’m in a loud environment I’ll raise my voice to be heard, but otherwise I calmly say what I want to say and break the huddle. Come up with your own “pay attention” word and tell me what it is in the comments section below.
  • Ask a parent or friend to watch you during practices and games – One effective tool in making sure you are not yelling out negatives is to enlist the help of someone you trust to watch you during practices and games with a clipboard in hand. Each time you yell something negative, your friend marks that on the clipboard along with any positive statements you make. After the practice or the game review the marks that your friend made. Your goal is to have fewer or zero negative marks and multiple positive marks. This is also a great way to show the kids’ parents that you are working on becoming a better communicator.
  • Never yell in anger – When adults yell in anger to kids the kids get scared. When they get scared, they screw up on the field. When they screw up on the field the coach yells even more and gets even angrier, which leads to more mistakes. That cycle can be stopped before it ever starts by making a commitment to yourself, and your coaching staff, to never yell in anger. If you feel yourself getting angry, pause for a moment, take a breath and remind yourself that angry communication is poor communication.

I hope this post has given youth coaches some insight into why yelling, especially yelling in anger, is not an effective tool when communicating to young athletes. Follow the strategies I set forth above, and you will be amazed at how much better your players respond to your coaching.