Tag Archives: youth sports

Obstacles Are Not As Tough As We Think

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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.

Cheers,
Gordon

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.

Cheers,
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