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Category Archives: Character Building

Create an Optimal Experience

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My Coach and I in Park City Utah when I was 15 for the Triple Crown World Series.

Through my experience as an athlete, student, and coach, I have learned and experienced how much of an impact a coach can have on a player; both positive and negative. How many times have you heard the story about the one coach who ruined a kid’s athletic career? Unfortunately it’s a common story too many children have lived through. Fortunately, we also hear the stories about the one coach who influenced an athlete to pursue sport for the rest of their careers. This was my experience in youth sport; I was coached by a coach who understood the value of self-confidence, and what it means to truly believe in a player, despite the odds. Without his guidance, and trust in my abilities, I wouldn’t be who I am, or have the dreams I have, today.

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Giving my teammate Caly a piggy back ride after a team victory

Youth sport is such an influence place to teach life lessons to children. For instance if I ask you to recall a childhood memory from a 3rd-5th grade classroom, most of us draw banks or have very vague memories. When asked to recall a sporting memory from childhood most of us can quickly recall a vivid memory, some of which still elicit emotion. Unfortunately, the volunteers who so kindly step up to coach are usually not supported with mass amounts of training. They simply add coach to their laundry list of responsibilities and do the best they can. A simple way to improve your coaching is to strive to give kids an overall optimal experience in sport, not the experience of a winning season.

So what consists of an optimal experience in sport? When you send your child off to play youth sport are you hoping they will eventually walk away with the skills needed to play at the collegiate level? Some maybe, but mostly, you just want your kid to have a good experience and hopefully like the sport, right?

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This is me playing second base when I was 15 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Unfortunately, in a society where sport is an entertainment business, optimal experience can get mistaken for a winning season. A winning season doesn’t always equate to a great experience. In one of my many seasons of softball we had a very good team. Our record was good and we were one game out of the finals. We even got to travel to some amazing places to play ball. This same year 5 girls electively ended their softball careers.

It’s not just about the scoreboard; it’s about having fun, improving, learning, creating friendships, and developing self-confidence. These are the things parents will come up and thank coaches for after the season is through. Try to keep this in mind when you head out to the field to coach your youngsters. Create an optimal experience for all your athletes.

Quote of the day: 

“When all is said and done, it’s not the shots that won the championship that you remember, but the friendships you made along the way.” -Unknown

Autonomy Breeds Pride

It’s early. The morning dew is still beaded up upon each blade of grass that covers the outfield. If you look off into the distance, you can see the fog still hovering low over the surrounding fields.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA A familiar buzz catches your attention and shifts your gaze to the right field line of the field directly in front of you. It’s the low chatter of a well oiled team preparing for their upcoming competition. They are like a machine, rotating in and out of drills in perfect synchronization. You can almost see the aura of energy radiating around them.

This is one of my favorite scenes from the travel ball world; seeing a team that takes pride in themselves and is anxious to take the field. A team that doesn’t need a coach to get them started in the morning. A team that is accountable and takes responsibility for the necessary actions needed to prepare for competition.

How do you get your team to create that desired morning buzz? Here’s my best suggestion; let them develop their own warm-up routine and pre-game cheer. If you let them be a part of the creative process, they will feel a sense of ownership towards their pre-competition routine. It won’t be something they were merely ordered to do. It will be something they created. Their own masterpiece. Letting athletes make their own decisions gives them the opportunity to be proud of the things they’ve chosen.

Giving them the reins on creating their warm-up will also allow a few other things to emerge. This is a great opportunity to observe who steps up as a leader. softball-warm-upIt’s hard to get 11-20 people to agree on one thing, this will show you which person is comfortable taking charge and facilitating the compromises that will need to occur. It will also allow you to see unique skills your athletes possess; who’s creative, who’s a good listener, who thinks outside the box, who communicates well, who follows, and who’s organized.

Another thing to keep in mind; their warm-up doesn’t have to be uber serious the whole time. When I was playing collegiate ball, Sonoma State University used to begin their warm-ups with a silly human obstacle course relay race. I remember how loud they would get as soon as warm-ups started. We were on the opposite sideline running through our mundane dynamic stretches and they were cheering eachother on, laughing, smiling, and really getting pumped, yet staying loose for game time. I was always secretly jealous that my team didn’t take part in anything like that.

Let your athletes take charge, of course with knowing that you get the final approval on any routine that is developed. Give them a sense of pride and ownership by increasing their autonomy. You never know, they might come up with something that surprises you!

Quote of the day:

“The difference between a good athlete and a top athlete is the top athlete will do the mundane things when nobody’s looking.” – Susan True

Thrive on Effort

One of the things I love most about my job as an instructional aid in elementary schools is the chance I get to observe kids at play. kidsrunhallowenOne October morning during the kids morning recess I was helping supervise the kindergarteners. The kids were all wound up and decided they wanted to race each other. Running on the playground usually is forbidden, but one of the teachers decided it would be okay if she took them to the grass and facilitated a silly game of racing. About 30 kids lined up parallel with the teacher on a long, wide strip of grass. The guidelines of the race were to run all the way down to the edge of the grass and the blacktop and back. Aside from just racing, the kids had to imitate whatever festive Halloween character the teacher called out, like a ghost for instance. The teacher would yell out, “ready set ghost” and all the kids would take off howling “Boo” all the way to the end of the grass and back.

After a few rounds of being owls, bats, and monsters, I began to notice distinct motivation orientations emerging within the children. 7E4EFCC6-B1F1-F81A-57020201164D86B4Some kids started to only run halfway down the stretch of grass, turn around and come running back, beating 75% of their classmates. This is the perfect example of an ego-orientation; these kids were only concerned with winning. It didn’t matter if they had completed the race in full, all they wanted was to cross the finish line before their peers. These kids who only ran half way were motivated by social comparison; they possessed an ego-oriented goal motivation. The fun of racing came from beating other children. They didn’t care if they cheated or weren’t participating correctly. They simply defined success as crossing the finish line before other kids.

On the opposite end of the spectrum there were the task-oriented kids; no matter how slow they were, they would run all the way to edge of the grass every time and then turn around and come running back. The kids who ran to the end of the grass every time simply enjoyed the task of running and defined success as completing the task correctly. It never mattered what place they were in when they finished, as long as they ran the whole way and correctly acted out whatever character was instructed. These kids associate effort with success, they have a task-orientation.

With athletes, it is beneficial to reinforce a task-orientation. Athletes who equate success with effort are more willing to take on challenging tasks.images-66 They feel as if they have succeeded even if the outcome is unsuccessful, because they tried their best. They tend to focus on progress rather than outcome. Athletes who thrive on social comparison tend to only take on challenges where they feel they can win. Think about it, if winning is the goal, it doesn’t matter how you attain that goal. The “win at all costs” mentality makes cheating acceptable because the only goal they have is to win. Task-oriented athletes simply wish to complete the task at best of their abilities. They won’t cut corners to make it to the finish line, they simply do their best.

Talent isn’t an innate trait, it is something that is earned through hard work. In the end, developing athletes with a task-orientation will produce highly skilled players.

Quote of the day:

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.” – Maya Angelou

Providing Productive Consequences

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Over the weekend I found myself at a 12U traveling softball team practice. I had offered to help coach throughout the season every once in a while, and this particular Sunday I was called upon.  Practice began as the girls went through their warm up routine. A little images-51laughter here, a few giggles there, and suddenly balls were being missed left and right. No one could make a proper throw and the drills were quickly becoming unproductive. The head coach had finally had enough, and instructed the girls to jog a lap around the perimeter of the field because they needed to refocus.

This method of refocusing is common, and I can’t claim that I haven’t used it myself. I’ve seen countless coaches use it in hopes their athletes will come back with a better mindset. My question is, what part of jogging a lap teaches the players to refocus their mind? I can agree that it gives them a physical break from the prior drill, and maybe gives them a moment to take their mind off the skill, but how does this method 420110405140055001_t607transfer over to a game situation? During games athletes can’t call timeout and jog a lap around the field in order to regain focus.

My point is, as coaches, we need to teach our athletes how to refocus. Instead of sending them on a jog when the wheels start to fall off at practice. Why not gather them together and take a few cleansing breathes. Then discuss the physical and mental cues that are needed to perform the drill correctly. This teaches your athletes the actual steps they need to take in order to regain focus. It is also a method they can take into a game situation. They can take a breathe between pitches and think about what they need to do in order to be successful on the next pitch.softball-focus

It’s natural in our society to give or receive a consequence when an undesired outcome is reached. However, as coaches, we need to look at ourselves as teachers. Most consequences don’t teach athletes how to avoid similar situations in the future. When things start to go awry, pinpoint what is causing it. Then take the time to teach your athletes how they can counter that cause. Alter your perspective and strive to teach your players solutions rather then resorting to handing out a simple punishment.

 

Quotes:

“Practice puts brains in your muscles.”

A Perspective on Playing Rough

As a coach, if you resort to rough play, what does it say to your opponent, and what does it say to your players?

Through out my experience as an athlete, I don’t remember having an opinion or perspective on rough play. I do, however, remember a specific incident when one of my teammates made a rough move on our opponent. The only thing my coach told her was, “If you’re going to dish it, be prepared to take it.” I immediately adopted this response as my philosophy in regard to rough play. I would never encourage it, but if it were to happen, my players better be prepared to deal with the consequences gracefully.images-41Now that I’m a little wiser and a little older, I wouldn’t tolerate rough play from my athletes. I want my team to be respected not only for their talent but how they present themselves. I want my athletes to achieve success in the fairest play possible, without any sort of rough or negative behaviors. Playing rough, reminds me of the saying, “If you ain’t cheating you ain’t trying”. If a team resorts to playing rough, it puts off the vibe that they are incapable of defeating their opponent fair in square. They need an extra edge to defeat the opposing team. If I’m the opponent, I take this as a compliment. My team is so good, our competitors are worried about beating us, so they are resorting to other means. As for my own team, I want them to believe that being a winner means putting in your best effort, not cheating and merely attaining a higher score to be named the winner. It’s all in how you define success, I don’t agree with winning at all costs, I believe in winning means putting forth your best effort. Respecting the game, the opponent, your teammates, coaches, and officials.

Playing rough teaches players to get rough when the tough gets going, and not only on the sports field, but it also teaches them that getting rough is the answer in life. As coaches we can instill the opposite trait in our players by teaching them to react with good sportsmanship when this situation presents itself. This will carry on with them through life, and help them to always treat people with kindness no matter how rude or rough they are. As an adult, networking is the key to success, especially in the workforce; learning to never burn bridges is a great lesson to instill early on.

Quote of the Day:

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation. Your character is what you really are; your reputation is merely what others think of you”- John Wooden. 

Care First

In order to get the most out of your athletes, you must care about who they are as people first. It’s a very simple rule, but it’s easy to get caught up in competition and forget it. I had the same coach from the age of 10 to the age of 18. I owe most of my success, and skill level to him. However, the thing I remember the most, is that he cared. He supported me and believed me, not only as an athlete, but also as a person. I wanted to work hard for my coach because I knew how much he believed in me. I didn’t want to let him down.

Creating a caring relationship also makes criticism easier to handle. I knew that when he was criticizing my game, he still enjoyed me as a person. This is a hard concept for youngerimages-28 players to grasp. Most youth players take criticism personally and think their coach doesn’t like them if they correct them often. This personal relationship helps them to distinguish the difference between criticism and dislike.

Although I’m terrible with names and faces, I make a prominent effort to remember my players as quickly as I can. I also like my players to fill out an “About Me” form. It’s a basic questionnaire with details on their favorite things, goals in life, past softball experiences, and unique things about them. Not only does this help my players to feel more comfortable around me, but it also helps me put names to faces.

The better they feel, the better they will play. You as a coach play a huge role as to how they feel as people. It gives athletes great confidence and self-esteem when they are certain their coach appreciates them as a human being. They’ll come to you for more than just softball, down the road they will probably seek advice on life choices from you. I know my coach is someone I still turn to, and I haven’t played for him in almost 6 years. Strive to make a difference in not only their softball skills, but in their life skills.

 Quote of the day:

“They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”

It’s Okay to Make a Mistake

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“It’s okay to make a mistake.” Just say that to yourself. “It’s okay to make a mistake.” Again. “It’s okay to make a mistake.” Do you feel more relaxed? I sure do. Think about how much stress would be relieved if your boss, or teacher said, “’ It’s okay to make a mistake today.” I suddenly don’t feel so panicked about completing the task at hand. It’s almost as if the possibility of making a mistake has completely left my mind.

In any situation of life, giving your best effort is a scary task. Contemplate this. If someone tries as hard as they can to complete a task, and they can’t; they fail, they simply weren’t good enough. That’s a hard pill to swallow.  In many cases it’s easier to lie to ourselves. By giving half the effort, we always have an excuse to fall back on. “Well if I tried harder I probably could’ve done it.” Sports is the perfect place to learn to deal with failure, real baseball-error-1failure. Giving your best effort with no excuse as to why you failed. It’s one of the only parts of life where failing really doesn’t matter. Your team may loose the championship if you drop a fly ball, but the world won’t end, no one will lose their job, and life will go on tomorrow. Jim Thompson in his book Positive Coaching says it best, “One of the great things about sports is that it can give children the chance to experiment with making gigantic efforts without horrible consequences when they fail. They can see how it feels to give everything they have to a task, something a surprising number of people don’t ever have any experience with. “

If we never learned to deal with failure, we would have never learned to walk, ride a bike, or read. As children failing was common. We were used to failure, and it didn’t deter us much. As we grow older we tend to stop learning as much because our willingness to fail has greatly decreased. Bring that youthful mindset back to your players by simply telling them, “It’s ok to make a mistake.” Like John Wooden says; “I’m positive a doer makes mistakes.” If you want your athletes to continue to grow, improve, and develop as players, they will make mistakes. So let them.

For coaches who want to develop players as people as well as athletes this is a great principle to instill. It also gives you an out as a coach when you make a mistake. It allows mistakes to simply be learning situations and nothing more.

Quote of the day:

“Believe in the miracle of the second chance.”

 

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