Tag Archives: youth players

If You Can’t Fix It With Duct Tape You’re Not Using Enough Duct Tape

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When I played lacrosse in high school I had to make sure I had shorts to change into before practice. There were a few times I forgot to pack shorts in my bag, and I wasn’t about to ask my teammates if they had extra shorts because I created this problem by not packing my shorts. Plus who wants to wear someone else’s shorts?

When I first made this mistake I tried to think of a quick solution other than running in my khakis. Then I remembered that I always kept a roll of duct tape in my car’s emergency care kit. I rolled the legs of my pants up to just above my knees and then wrapped duct tape around the rolled up pant leg so they wouldn’t roll down after a minute of running.

I geared up and practiced wearing rolled up beige khakis. Of course I was embarrassed and uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as I would be practicing without the pant legs rolled up. Everybody and my coach knew I made a mistake, but no one said a word about my peculiar attire because I was out there with a solution and not an excuse. Since then I’ve come to the conclusion that if there is a mistake or a problem that I am the cause of, it is better if I get out ahead of the problem. The only thing worse than making a mistake is not having a possible way to fix it. It doesn’t matter if it is a good fix, but you better have something.

In my senior year I again forgot my shorts, but I still had duct tape and I repeated the same procedure (this time with jeans!). A sophomore also forgot his shorts and tried to tell our coach that he couldn’t practice because he didn’t have shorts. I’m warming up for practice and coach yelled out, “The only player who can show up without shorts is Corsetti!” I had a good chuckle at that, but that illustrates the same mistake with two different reactions: I had a solution and could practice, while the sophomore had an excuse and could not practice.

I interact with kids of all ages throughout the season and I get a lot of the same questions:

  • “Do you have any string?”
  • “Do you have a screwdriver?”
  • “I forgot something do you have extra equipment?”

What do I look like a Brine sales rep? A 100-foot length of string can be bought at Home Depot for a couple bucks. Add in one roll of duct tape and scissors and players can handle 98% of all equipment issues they may have without having to look to an adult to help.

I want kids to solve their own problems and then ask for help if they’ve exhausted the critical thinking skills they are developing. The only way they get a chance to solve problems is if we adults get out of the way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given a roll of duct tape to a middle school kid to tape up his butt end when no other tape is available, and the kid asks me where the scissors are.

What do you need scissors for? The scissors are for cutting string. Use your hands to tear the duct tape! Your hands are amazing instruments that are capable of manipulating objects. Need to rip duct tape? There’s an app for that called “Hands!”

macguyver-imaginationOk, vent over, but the point is valid. In order to fix something you need to be able to inventory the materials immediately available to you. One of my Mom’s favorite shows growing up was MacGyver. In each episode he solved difficult problems using his imagination, ingenuity, critical thinking, and elbow grease. In fact, MacGyvering something is being “creative in solving problems using household items.”

So young players out there if you make a mistake off the field or on the field don’t immediately look for an excuse to absolve yourself of your mistake. Instead, try to think hard about how to fix your mistake and then own up to it. Tell whoever is in charge that you screwed up, but then explain how you think you can best fix the problem. If you learn how to do this at a young age you’ll be well prepared for when you make a mistake working in your real-world job. Explaining to your boss that you screwed up is never a fun thing, but you can lessen the anguish by having a potential solution in your back-pocket.

Now watch MacGyver escape and beat the bad guys using some quick thinking!

 

Cheers,
Gordon

Ender’s Game

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Many coaches cite coaching legends as their inspiration for their particular coaching style. While my Dad and John Wooden are my two favorite coaches, I gained many insights into working with young players from the book Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. If you are unfamiliar with the novel, here is a brief synopsis from amazon.com:

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

I’ve read Ender’s Game at least a dozen times over the years, and every time I learn something new about the characters or plot that I didn’t pick up on in an earlier read. On my most recent reread I realized that the character Ender is an excellent example of how a youth coach can manage a team.

In the book Ender is given a team of young soliders to train and compete against other teams in the Battle Room. His team is filled with what the instructors’s at the Battle School believe are the dregs, or least capable soldiers. Under Ender’s tutelage his team, Dragon Army, goes undefeated in the Battle Room. They beat other armies by unheard of margins and still win even when the instructors stack the odds against Dragon Army. From this book I learned the following principles that I believe can be applied to any group of young players:

  1. Be loud for the group and quiet for individuals – Whenever Ender spoke to his army he always projected a commanding and strong voice. He gave orders loudly so everyone could hear, but did not scream angrily to get his point across. However, when he spoke with individuals he lowered his voice to a calm, measured level and gave easy to follow instructions for the members of his army that were having trouble with a concept. As a coach you need to be loud with the group, but there is no need to yell an answer at a player who asks a question.
  2. Find the leaders on your team and use them – Dragon Army was unique at Battle School because Ender gave a lot of control to his subordinate officers, known as Toon leaders. He wanted an army that was autonomous, could think for itself and adapt to changing situations. He did not want a group of automatons latched onto his commands without any deviation. Try to find the leaders on your team, or allow your team to vote on captains. Then use those captains in practices and games by telling them to give the orders on the field instead of you yelling them out to everyone. If you have a play called “Nitro,” have a captain on the field or on the sideline yell out the play. This will involve the leaders of your team, and give your voice a break.
  3. Keep things simple – Ender always gave simple orders. Be early. Be ready. Be focused. Youth players do not need to know the intricacies of a zone defense or an overly complex offensive formation. Plays should be simple to understand and easy to execute.
  4. Give broad orders – Specific orders tend to be restrictive. Ender always gave orders that were open to interpretation on how to achieve the objective. In lacrosse a broad order would be to pass the ball twice after picking up any ground ball. A specific order would be to always pass the ball to the left when starting your offense. Well what happens when the defense starts overloading the left side? Specific orders stifle creativity and ingenuity. Give your players broad orders and you’ll be surprised at what they come up with to score a goal or get the ball back.
  5. Your players are smarter than you think – When at the fields, I am constantly astounded by how smart and intuitive the kids are. One thing I’ve found after years of coaching youth players is that they can absorb a large amount of information if the instructions are simple (see #3) and direct. If your players are not getting what you are teaching it is not because they are stupid or slow. It is because something is amiss with how you are teaching/coaching. Remember principles 1-4 and you’ll be well on your way to coaching a successful team.

As I said earlier, I’ve read Ender’s Game many times for two reasons. One, I love to read and I thank my parents profusely for instilling a love of the written word in my life. Two, it is an excellent read that both kids and adults can enjoy.

Go read!
Gordon

Sweating and Smiling

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How does the staff at Atlanta Youth Lacrosse judge a successful day of games? Simple – if the kids leave our fields sweating and smiling we’ve had a great day.

I was speaking to my dad, Lou Corsetti, this past evening about how the 2012 Fall Ball season was wrapping up at AYL. We agreed that, from our perspective, each kid we see after a game is sweating, smiling and seems to be loving life because they are playing a sport they enjoy. That is our measuring stick when determining if a particular day or season is successful. We are a child-centric, as opposed to an adult-centric league. Here are the differences:

Adult-Centric

  • Focused on score
  • Finding a championship team
  • Keeping detailed statistics and reporting them to the masses
  • Interested solely in determining “the best” player(s) or team

Child-Centric

  • As much equal play time as possible
  • Interested in the concepts of teamwork and perseverance
  • Working with new and inexperienced players to improve their skill

It seems like I am bashing all adults with this comparison. That is not the case. I am highlighting the stark differences between the wants of adults and the wants of children. Adults want a winner, kids want close competition. Adults want to separate the “best” from the “rest,” while kids want a mix of all abilities. Adults need detailed statistics to determine “the best,” but kids can tell just by watching who is better than others. Simply put, the wants of adults are considerably different from the wants of children when it comes to sports.

Here is an interesting observation that I have noticed over years in youth lacrosse: Even if they lose, as long as they got in the game the youth players have a great time. On the flip side, some (not all) parents do not seem pleased if their child’s team loses a game. Despite their child’s happy, smiling face over a hard game well played, the adults have difficulty sharing in their child’s exuberance. Why is this? It could be that adults are inundated with the benefits of winning and not the benefits of competing.

I think that kids naturally want to compete. They play tag to see who is going to be “it.” They start a pickup hockey game in the street and keep score. They play kickball and know who is the “best” kicker out of all their friends. Kids like competition, but once winning and losing become more important than the competition itself they start losing a little bit of their childhood idealism. Is winning great for professional athletes? Absolutely. Winning often comes with bonuses, trips to the playoffs, awards, and star recognition. Is winning great for youth players? I do not believe it is the end-all-be-all. What do the kids get after a win? They feel really good and proud for a few hours and then they’re worried about who is going to host the next sleep over.

Youth players care about winning. They often know the score more accurately than the adults. But they are not consumed by winning the same way adults can be. As long as they sweat on the field they will come off it smiling. Which is why we at AYL judge our days and our seasons by those two metrics.

Cheers,
Gordon