April 28th, 2022
At least once per month, I see a post or an article questioning athletes for choosing to limit their athletic experience to one sport. As with any topic, data can be selected, assumptions can be made and facts can be ignored to confirm almost any bias. This is certainly true for sport selection.
I have been a youth mentor for more than 40 years. I mentor youth who participate in multiple sports and those who choose to play in only one sport. The youth train with me for their sport(s), but they also receive coaching to be better athletes and counseling about nutrition, colleges and careers. My highest priority is teaching them about how their experiences in sport relate to them as family members, students and future spouses, business and community leaders.
In short, I coach the athlete not just the player, and the whole person not just the athlete. More importantly, I mentor the person first, then the athlete and then the player. I teach lessons within the game for beyond the game. This is true whether I am coaching a school team, a public youth team, a clinic or private training. For example, I have a saying for baseball pitchers, “You cannot become on the mound what you are not in life.”
Often a parent comes to me and asks, “Should my son or daughter play one sport or multiple sports?” My response is never reflexively, “multiple sports” even though more often than not that is the best decision. The determination is much, much more complicated than that and this is why I get so upset when I read posts and articles glossing over such an important topic to fit what the author thinks the current public narrative is or should be. In doing so, they are doing as much harm to the athlete who would benefit most by a sound holistic training program geared toward one sport as the harm caused to an athlete that chooses one sport to simply play 100 games year around hoping to maximize their development.
Here are the most important factors that, in my opinion, should be considered before the question of one sport v. multiple sports can be answered:
(1) What are the goals of the athlete? If the athlete simply wants to have as many positive experiences in sports as possible and playing a sport at the highest level in college is not the goal or an option, then playing multiple sports for great mentor-coaches is the right choice;
(2) What is the age of the athlete? Prior to 8th grade, the advantages of playing multiple sports almost always outweigh those in playing just one sport. After 8th grade, it takes the average person several years of consistent high-quality training to be an elite athlete and to master the skills of the sport to be recruited at the highest level of college sports. My experience is the average person needs to start this training in or immediately after 8th grade because they do not have four years in high school to train to be elite. Most top college programs typically offer their players scholarships prior to the player’s senior season.
(3) How much playing time will the athlete get in each sport either by ability or by coach’s philosophy? Better use can be made of an athlete’s time than watching a team play 50 games from the bench. Conversely, many of the podcasts and articles claiming that playing multiple sports is always the right thing to do are using as their example players who were the starting quarterback in football, the starting point guard in basketball and the starting shortstop in baseball. What is best for these gifted athletes is obviously not usually applicable to average athletes.
(4) What is the quality of the coaching for each sport, i.e., are practices geared toward developing the person, the athlete, and the player or are they mostly geared toward training the team to win games? There are tens of thousands of personal trainers around the country who are overbooked working with high school athletes because the coaches on the school teams do not know how to or do not invest enough time training the person to be a better athlete and to improve the athlete’s individual sport skills to be a better player.
(5) Does the athlete enjoy each sport well enough to have a growth mindset about it? Again, free time is very precious. A person should do things with that free time that involve hard work while facing adversity and the challenge of accepting failure as part of growth and improvement. If the person does not love the sport enough to want to work hard at it, then the time would be better spent elsewhere – in the one sport they do love this much or in other extra-curricular activities such as music, art, theater and/or a job, etc.
(6) How short is the athlete’s learning curve in each sport? (I avoid the term “natural ability”. Learning is always a prerequisite to elite performance. Some may learn faster than others, but on every level, physical, intellectual, and emotional, learning is involved. “Hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard.” “Under pressure, players do not perform up to the level of their ability, but rather to the level of their training.”) If the goal of the athlete is to play college baseball at the highest level, and the player gains physical attributes quickly, and learns the fundamentals and mechanics easily, then playing multiple sports in high school, if all of the other factors discussed above are aligned properly, may not keep the athlete from achieving their goal. On the other hand, if the learning curve is relatively average, then devoting 4-5 months every year working with a qualified trainer to getting bigger, stronger, faster and quicker to meet the functional demands of the sport is probably necessary. However, simply playing 100 baseball games year around will not be advisable for the average athlete either!
(7) Does the athlete have enough time to play multiple sports while maintaining good grades and to do other things, including free time to just be a kid, to develop as a well-rounded person and have the required balance on their college application such as work experience, charity work, etc.? “You choose your college first as if you were not an athlete.”
So my point is this; the answer to the question of whether an athlete should play one sport or multiple sports is personal and complex. Simply playing one sport year around is almost never the answer; training with qualified physical conditioning and sports kill trainers properly for only one sport starting in or after 8th grade, in addition to playing it, might be.
One of the things many people do after being involved in something worthwhile for a long time is to reflect upon how things could have been better – what we did well and what we wish we would have done differently. As a baseball coach and youth mentor for 40+ years, I find myself very reflective about my time in the game. It has undoubtedly been fun and extremely rewarding, but I think it could have been and could be much better. In particular, I think changes should be made at the youth level for the long-term benefit of the players and for the survival of the game.
Here are some truths which I think make evident the need for change:
I know suggesting change to our beloved game of baseball is sacrilege to many coaches. However, honestly, if you listen with an open mind and heart to the feedback from youth today, you will hear them state unequivocally that 1-4 above has been and is their experience.
Here are the changes that youth baseball needs to consider:
A. Be Open to Change - “You cannot use the same thinking to find solutions to the problem that you used to cause the problems in the first place.” Albert Einstein
B. Need to adopt the Person-Athlete-Player Philosophy
a. “We coach people not sports; it is the quality of the person not the player that is the most significant
b. The communications of appreciation you will receive from your players in the future will not be about
the wins and losses, but rather about how you made them a better person.
c. Proactively teach life lessons at practices and games – have ready-to-go role plays for coaches to use
(See example on pages 22-25 in CCFL Book)
d. Players will be willing to learn when they trust you have something worthwhile to teach them and can
trust the manner in which you will teach it, e,g., making a change to a pitcher’s mechanics.
a. you must be able to do a ground up analysis of a player and recognize first what flaws need to be
addressed in their physiology and the way they move before addressing their needs for sport skill drills.
3. Player – to be discussed in detail below
C. Have a league-wide mandatory systems for teaching athleticism and baseball skills year-to-
year so the messaging is consistent and the programs are progressive in a building-block
1. Coaches are volunteers with limited time and while they may know from their experience how to play the
game, they probably do not know how to teach, in particular, using visual and kinesthetic learning modalities.
2. In fact, what they think may be the correct fundamentals and mechanics may be wrong. There is more
misinformation in baseball than any other sport.
D. Give Coaches the Training and Tools They Need to be Successful
1. Educate and train coaches about: (a) current methods to train young athletes to learn how to coordinate
their body in a synchronized manner - how to use it efficiently and effectively (“Strength is how hard you hit
the ball. Power is how far it travels.”) You do not need an advanced strength and conditioning credential or
degree to learn how to teach a youth player the basics of crawl, walk, march, skip, bound, sprint, jump, hop,
and shuffle with complex routines in all planes of motion. Dynamic movement routines and physical
conditioning should be a part of every practice and game prep. “Players should not just run to the foul pole
or tree and back.” Encourage players in the off-season to take classes in martial arts, rock climbing,
and swimming, i.e., anything that requires using their upper and lower body in sync while using the mind to
think and react. (b) Nutrition; and (c) Recovery (rest inc. “active rest”, sleep, hydration and mobility)
2. Have practice outline templates, ready-to-go progressions for throwing and receiving (I do not like the
term “catch play”!), ready-to-go drills for position play and pitcher/catcher mechanics and for multi-tasking
– very important! “If you have a line, you have a practice design problem.” Be sure all of your drills train
Preparation, Anticipation, Reaction and Action. Examples: using bases in your throwing & receiving
progression to work on force play, tags, run down and relay mechanics; use at least one base for every two
players when doing baserunning mechanics; use baserunners during BP - play every ball live – no shagging
except for safety.
3. Comments re: Technology: (e.g., camera, radar and sensory technology to analyze the ball flight and
biomechanics of pitching and hitting)
a) “You don’t need technology to help the player connect with a baseball; you need technology to connect
with the player.”
b) Technology gives you output data which is heavily biased by the data you input to it. Bad mechanics =
bad output data. The change required may not be solved by a sport skill drill, but rather by improving the
athlete’s body and athleticism. Even the sport drill change may be as simple as changing a grip or posture. “The first step is to take the bat, ball and glove out of the player’s hands – visually and literally.” You
must be able to do a ground up analysis of posture, balance, footwork, angles (in body and in movement)
rhythm and timing)
c) You need to know how to change the player’s program to refine and retool the process from which the
outcome data is derived.
d) Be more concerned with mastering the teaching of what you know than adding to what you know, e.g.,
4. Closely coordinate everything done at the youth league with the coaches at the high schools the players
will attend. High school coaches should not have to re-teach, only refine a player’s tools. The culture,
tradition, philosophies, systems and expectations should be very familiar to a player by the time he gets to
the high school program. Have frequent clinics for coaches run by or approved by the coaches at the high
schools the players will attend. Fundraising and community service campaigns should be joint ventures
between the youth and high school programs, particularly programs which are service only – no
fundraising, e.g., they help prepare your fields, you help prepare theirs; Miracle/Challenger Leagues
(youth with disabilities); Equipment Donation – ABCA’s “Turn Two For Youth” Program; GRIP Int’l.
E. Restructure How Players Are Assigned to a Team and How They are Developed - “Do not confuse
winning with good coaching.”
1.Divide the league into a “development-committed” division v. fun-non-committed division. “Fun is the
great feeling of playing well.” Baseball is a very difficult game to play just to be minimally competent – what
is “fun” differs greatly from player-to-player and greatly impacts a coach’s ability to teach and progress a
team, not to mention deal with over-protective parents.
2. Have more practices, play less games for the development players - 4/1 ratio for development players; 2/1
for recreational players.
3. For development players, have league-wide practices 3x/wk. run by league “experts” in each discipline,
e.g., throwing, fielding, infield/outfield play and hitting and 1 practice/wk. with their team concentrating on
how to play the game, team strategies and baserunning. Do not rely upon All-Star teams - they may only last
a couple of weeks!
4.For the development division, for at least the first half of the season, every player plays and every player
bats every inning with no strikeouts, no walks, no stolen bases, and no score. For the recreational division,
this format should be used for the entire season.
F. Guiding Principles to Decide What Changes are Appropriate for You and Your League
Please don’t let your disagreement with some of my specific suggestions for what needs to be done to improve the teaching process and the players’ experience in the game divert your attention from the need for change in general. The important point is we should challenge all conventions and assumptions about the way things are and should be done. We need to open our minds and be creative. The future development of our players, and ultimately, the survival of our game depend on it.
“If you have not seen it often, you can’t hit it often. Pitch recognition, and therefore good timing, is largely built from memory.”
Other than injury, the reason I hear given most often by players for why they do not move up to the next level in the game is, “I can’t hit the change-up or breaking ball pitches.” Here is the process for how to do it.
The first step, as with anything in life, is to shift the player’s thinking from negative to positive, i.e., “I can and I will hit those pitches!” Great hitters do not believe the old saying that the most difficult thing to do in sports is to hit a baseball. They have practiced often and well enough to believe they will do their job against any pitcher in any situation.
Next, we must never forget that the best way for a hitter to get the job done is to get a good pitch to do the job. Swinging at the “pitcher’s pitch” and not a pitch in the hitter’s zone will likely lead to a bad result. Great pitchers have command of their pitches to throw them to look like strikes when, in fact, they are not. Off-speed pitches, by design or sometimes through lack of command, are frequently thrown in the dirt or off the plate. A player would not hit fastballs either if the ones he swung at were not in the strike zone.
So why does this poor judgment about what pitch to swing at happen? Good judgment starts with the proper approach and discipline at the plate. The hitter must swing at strikes in their zone and sometimes must be patient to swing at only fastballs until they must do otherwise by sign or when the pitcher serves up a “cookie” of an off-speed pitch. The hitter must avoid, however, a habit of taking the first pitch simply to “see what the pitcher has.” That first pitch may be, and frequently is, the best pitch the hitter will see because pitchers are taught the critical value of strike one.
Most often, a hitter’s deficiency to hit off-speed and breaking ball pitches is caused by a failure to recognize the type, speed and spin axis of the pitch. When not on the field, visual occlusion apps are a great tool to aid pitch recognition. During practice, many hitters only see fastballs and many times even those pitches are not at the speed they will see in the next game. In short, hitters need to regularly see all types of pitches in all zones at speeds and spin axes that they will see in games. This requires batting practice pitchers and/or machines throwing all types of pitches to all zones from the release point distance the hitter will see in the game so proper timing can be practiced.
A great practice habit for hitters to assist them in pitch recognition is standing in during pitchers’ bullpen sessions. If the pitcher’s control is an issue, the hitter can stand behind a screen or wear their fielding glove to protect themself from a wild pitch. The hitter must simulate the intensity and process they would use if they were facing this pitcher in a game. All of the load, coil/internal rotation, stride and weight transfer mechanics must be done to practice proper timing and the hitter should call out the type of pitch they see and “swing/no swing” on every pitch.
In fact, this lack of game process is probably the most common practice flaw I see at all levels of players. The only time many hitters use their game process is when they are facing a live pitcher. Otherwise, e.g., during tee and toss work, they do not begin by looking out at an imaginary pitcher and go through their normal hitting process. They also do not build into practice drills off-speed pitch designs. In short, batting practice is very predictable without enough randomization.
The single biggest and most critical deficiency in hitting today is the failure to build “track time” into swing mechanics and drills. Almost all hitters at all levels today try to time their stride to the arrival of the pitch instead of striding out early enough to track all aspects of a pitch. This may work well for same-speed fastballs in a cage, but it will not lead to success against the many types of off-speed pitches elite pitchers can command. A hitter’s stride must to be from balance-to-balance and needs to begin just after release point on all pitches - only the front heel getting down and the front leg stiffening are delayed until pitch recognition occurs and the swing begins. Simply put – stride then track, don’t track then stride.
One of the many effective drills I describe in my book is the Pitcher Tee Drill. A coach or player stands at the game release point distance behind a screen and pretends to pitch from the wind-up or stretch varying the arm slot and right-hand and left-hand deliveries. The hitter varies the timing of his swing by whether he sees the palm (fastball), pinky finger side (breaking ball) or pronated thumb side (change-up) side of the pitcher’s hand. The hitter waits to swing an imaginary one-finger snap for a fastball, a snap and a half for a breaking ball and two finger snaps for a change-up, but the stride is made at the same time for all three pitches so the hitter is conditioned to have enough time to track any type of pitch.
Try these tips and you will find that your players will successfully move up to the next level and, when they get there, they will hit for power and average!
Parents of a young athlete are understandably excited to participate in the development of their child. Sometimes, despite their loving intentions, parents hinder the development of their athlete and hinder what coaches are attempting to do to train them. How can parents and coaches work together for the mutual benefit of the athlete?
For most purposes, parents should parent and coaches should coach. Parents should not underestimate the value of developing the integrity, character, and work ethic of their child. Good coaches know that a player cannot become on the field or court what they are not in life. A teachable spirit and a growth mindset are condition precedents to maximum athletic and player development. Coaches should also recognize that the more successful they are in connecting with, validating, supporting and educating the person, the more success they will have in developing the athlete. And the more success they have developing the person and the athlete, the more success they will have in developing the player.
Many problems for the athlete can arise when a parent wants to fulfill both roles as parent and coach. Many times, issues with communication and trust at home carry over to the child-player and team. Also, even very successful players do not know how the fundamentals and mechanics of their sport should be done, do not know how to teach them to players of different personalities and learning styles, and what the parent-coach was taught as a player, mechanically and in methodology, is not correct.
The single most glaring deficiency in most players is not a sport skill; it is a lack of athleticism. Typically, baseball players grow up competing in tournaments and having success against, at best, average competition. For many, this illusion is not exposed until a wood bat is put into their hands against pitchers with elite velocity and command of several pitches.
Most leagues and teams do not proactively prioritize teaching athletic skills at all or, if they do, not in a systematic and progressive manner. Most practices do not have an athletic training component programmed into them other than some minimal running, bands, and ab-core work. Coaches mistakenly believe that running fast and jumping high are sufficient athletic skills. Players are deluded into thinking that they are good enough because they are the best on their team or in their league; the truth is, good is never good enough.
Most parents who want to supplement their athlete’s development immediately think of weight training. While there is a time and place for this to be sure, this is not what a young athlete needs most. For most athletes, prior to about 8th grade, what they need is to learn is how to move their body well and to apply force effectively, efficiently, and quickly. Weight lifting should be held in abeyance and activities such as martial arts, rock climbing, trampoline, swimming, ice skating, snowboarding, mountain biking, dancing, and general body movement skills should be prioritized outside of their sport.
Athletes should be taught and developed to excel at crawling, walking, marching, skipping, backpedaling, bounding, running, sprinting, jumping, hopping and shuffling in all directions. At practice, games of chase, tag, shuttle runs, speed ladder drills and progressively complex dynamic movement routines should be done and progressed year-to-year by youth Leagues. Physical games should include not just action, but reaction as well. Games and drills teaching mental focus are also essential.
If a parent hires a trainer for athletic development, they must be sure the trainer has solid certifications, education and experience and, most importantly, has a track record of success coaching athletes in the same sport the athlete plays. The trainer must understand and excel at programming and teaching the skills that meet the functional demands of the sport. The trainer must be constantly challenged to answer the question, “How will this exercise or drill help me in my sport?”
Essential components of an athletic training session for a baseball athlete include:
Parents can assist in the program by:
Coaches and parents must cooperate to mentor the person, athlete and player to achieve their common goal – developing a Champion for Life.
the mental approach to coaching
What is your mental approach to coaching? By your mental approach, I’m not asking about the approach you take to coaching the mental side of your player’s game. I’m talking about your mental approach to your own coaching and the approach of your assistant coaches to their own coaching.
All good coaches know the critical importance of the mental side of training, competing, and in fact, for everything in life. It is both an essential component to elite development and the edge and difference maker in competition. In baseball, we call it the sixth tool of a complete player. All good coaches pay regular and very specific attention to developing the mind of their players, e.g., mental toughness, tenacity, focus, relaxation, and positivity. We constantly address the “mental approach” that will best handle the situation, e.g., an at-bat, an opponent, etc.
I wrote a book, Coaching Champions for Life, which discusses in great detail the general mental approach to coaching. Specifically, what I am asking here is when mistakes happen in a game, for example, what are the very first thoughts that come to your mind and to the minds of your assistant coaches?
We all see and hear coaches immediately bark rebukes at their players when mistakes happen. Why do they do that? Is it as simple as their coaches did it to them when they were players so they have been conditioned to do it to their players? Is it a release of anxiety on their part for some self-imposed pressure such as their need to “win”? Do they actually think it will immediately translate to better mechanics and play of their players? Do they really believe telling is teaching? (It’s not.)
Here’s my philosophy. There are only two types of games; well played and poorly coached. When mistakes happen, they’re the fault of the coaches. Period. When a batter strikes out, a fielder makes a fielding or a throwing error, when the team fails to handle a situation properly; it is the fault of the coaches, not the players. No other “mental approach” to coaching will lead to optimum results in the short or long-term.
Championship coaches, teams, and programs are built by coaches who recognize the importance of “looking first in the mirror with honest intent.” When mistakes happen, coaches must immediately and intently reflect upon the ways they failed to properly train the player(s) so that the error would not happen. What are the weak links in our training of preparation, anticipation, reaction and action of that player and of our team?
The philosophy of “get better every day” applies first and foremost to the coaches. The mindset of our own accountability for every mistake our players make must be trained into our psyche to be not just a habit; it must be an instinct.
Players are required to have and can be held immediately accountable for having these things: a teachable spirit, their best effort, a growth mindset, and an unfailing commitment to the maximum development of themselves and the team. They can and must be held accountable for all of these things. But failing to do these are not mistakes. They are matters of character. Coaches can exemplify, train, and mentor these things too, of course, but players should be called out immediately for failing in any of these areas.
What I am advocating here is a change in the long-standing custom of coaches being reflexively, vocally critical of their players when mistakes happen rather than recognizing and considering that the primary cause of the error was a failure of coaching methodology. It is sadly too easy for a coach to use their position of power to criticize a player for their mistakes. This habit will not change the mechanics of the player in the short-term and will not set an example of how to handle problems in life in the long-term outside of the sport.
During games, we see coaches keeping several notebooks of meticulous data about the play of their team and their opponent. Who is keeping book on the performance of the coaches? I think if coaches put as much effort into evaluating their own methodology and approaches as they do their players, they would win more championships and more importantly, they would develop more Champions for Life.
The average team batting average in Major League Baseball in the year 2000 was .270. This average has gradually gone down to .244 this past season which is the lowest it’s been since 1972. Conversely, 23 MLB teams have set franchise records for home runs since 2017. Why are these teams hitting for power and not average?
Well, with video, I could easily demonstrate that most of the top power hitters today at every level are not setting themselves up for success to hit a variety of pitches in all zones by having a proper stance and posture, a proper grip, getting their hands and arms in the proper positions prior to the start of their swing and by doing a proper weight transfer during their swing.
Players are undoubtedly bigger and stronger than ever so their bat speed and exit velocity numbers generate impressive power when they do make solid contact, but they do not need to make anywhere near 100% contact to hit a home run particularly at the college level when they use an aluminum bat. Sadly, in today’s game for the above-listed reasons elite pitchers will dominate them most of the time, but hitters are not motivated to correct any of their set-up issues because very few, if any, of their teammates can hit for power and average against elite pitching either.
However, if I had to pick one trend in the past 20 years that has sabotaged hitters’ chances of hitting for power and average it is the failure of players to stride early enough on all pitches to allow them to track the ball well from release point to contact.
Hall of Famer, Tony Gwynn, a lifetime .338 hitter in 20 MLB seasons, explained it this way: “The key is the ball … you recognize what it is and your hands and body take over. I’m going to take my stride and then I recognize the pitch, then I’m just going to stay there until it’s time to swing the bat. When my swing is mechanically sound, my front leg is stiff or solid and I’m deriving my power from the drive of my back leg.”
According to Gwynn, the keys are striding early enough for every pitch to be able to track it from release point, then pitch recognition occurs, the heel of the front foot gets down and the front knee snaps straight back so the front leg can be solid at contact. Power is generated as weight is transferred from back side into a stiff front side by the back leg driving forward a few inches after the back hip is fully rotated and the laces of the back shoe are facing the pitcher.
Study frame-by-frame video of even the most elite power hitters at any level today and you will see this is not what they do. They simply try to time their stride so they get their front foot down as the pitch arrives resulting, most of the time, in them being late getting their front heel down. Consequently, the force of their body’s rotation causes their front foot to spin open, the knee of their front leg to be bent, and the barrel of their bat to drop, i.e., a line drive is turned into a harmless fly ball or pop up.
This habit of striding early and at the same time on every pitch must be built into every practice drill. On every tee, toss or pitch drill, hitters need to stare out at an imaginary pitcher, e.g., not just at the ball on the tee, stride from balance-to-balance after an imaginary release point (the heel of the front foot will still be slightly raised because the back leg and hip remain loaded) and practice tracking and hitting randomized pitches in all zones at game speeds. The habit of most players today is to stride at different times for different pitches so they can hit “cage bombs” off of easily predictable pitches.
One of the many effective drills to build good hitting habits I describe in my book is the Pitcher Tee Drill. A coach or player stands at the game release point distance behind a screen and pretends to pitch from the wind-up or stretch varying the arm slot and right-hand and left-hand deliveries. The hitter varies the timing of his swing by whether he sees the palm (fastball), pinky finger side (breaking ball) or pronated thumb side (change-up) of the pitcher’s hand. The hitter waits to swing an imaginary one-finger snap for a fastball, a snap and a half for a breaking ball and two finger snaps for a change-up, but the stride is made at the same time for all three pitches so the hitter is conditioned to have enough time to track and get his front foot down for any type of pitch.
Simply put, to hit for power and average, stride then track, don’t track then stride.
We coach the athlete not just the player and we coach the whole person not just the athlete.”
I. Understand that we coach people not sports – it is the quality of the person, not the
player that is the most significant outcome.
II. The value of a person’s life is the impact he or she has had on other people.
A. The purpose of life is to be successful and significant
C. A team has two goals every day: (1) could we have defeated out toughest competition today? (2) Did our conduct inspire those who observed us to be better in their lives?
III. Good coaches are good teachers. Great Coaches are Mentors = Role models in everything we say and do + Teachers = Reliable and Credible Information + Connection (Can we see past the player to the athlete and past the athlete to the person? Do we know our athletes as people?) + Methodology (Building block progressions) and Modalities (Auditory, Visual and Kinesthetic)
IV. This must be a part of your pre-season and pre-practice planning! Make a commitment to proactively design life lessons into practice plans and not wait for them to happen by experience or inference – practice plans are posted every day and players are expected to have sport and life-lesson quotes to discuss!
V. The sport and life lessons that can be taught are not a mystery – they have been the
same from the beginning of time:
A. Sport – injuries, bad weather, poor playing conditions, bad calls by officials, disputes about playing time, ineligibility of players by grades or conduct, bad language, bad attitudes, helicopter or unruly parents, disrespect from other teams, etc.
B. Self – attitude, work ethic, leadership, adversity, self-confidence, self-pity, self-esteem, self-advocacy, self- awareness, self-image, self-control
C. Relationships – peer pressure, bullying, envy, the media, supporting teammates;
D. Temptations – smoking, drugs, alcohol and sex.
E. Survey your team (coaches and players) at the beginning of the season anonymously to learn what they feel are the positives, negatives, securities and insecurities in their lives!
“Never assume self- contentment from athletic ability.”
VI. How to design them into a practice
A. They must be at the tip of your mind at all times – how can I relate what we are learning about our sport to the players so they will be better people, siblings, sons, daughters, spouses, students, employees, and community leaders?
B. Discuss quotes at the beginning of practice, during dynamic-warm-up (players must be able to think and do at the same time) and at the end of practice.
VII. Elite coaches design into every practice teaching Preparation, Reaction and Action –
the same is true when we teach life lessons – role play!
VIII. Example of Extrapolating a Sport Lesson to a Life Lesson – bad call by a game
official – unfair test by a teacher
A. Bad Call in Baseball Game
1. Preparation (Content and Context – when, where, and how does this occur and why is it important to deal with it properly?)
a. You are the clean-up hitter and you strike out with the bases loaded on a pitch that was clearly not a strike.
b. Your whole team and your fans are watching your reaction – if you stay positive, their negative reaction will be minimized and they will move on quickly and you will set a great example of how to deal with adversity in the future. If negative, they will be distracted and wallow in negativity which will likely lead to more poor results and more bad calls by the umpire in that game and future games.
c. Your reaction to the call will affect your focus and play on defense – ditto for your team.
2. Reaction (what should your verbal and non-verbal language be when the issue arises? a. any verbal comment or negative non-verbal reaction, e.g., slamming down of the helmet or bat, will have severe consequences including ejection from the game by your own coach or by the umpire
b. Must be role played during scrimmages and game-sims at the end of practice
c. Role play must include an individual and/or team “mistake ritual.”
3. Action (after the issue arises and your initial reaction, how are you going to deal with it before and after it occurs moving forward?)
a. When you get back to the dugout, discuss how hitters get three strikes and the hitter must take accountability for the swings and misses on the first two strikes.
b. Also discuss that with two strikes the hitters must adjust to the umpire’s zone.
c. The player and the team must immediately re-focus on supporting the next hitter and tracking along with the game situation or, if it was the third out, they must re-focus on playing great defense.
B. Unfair Test by a Teacher
a. You failed a “pop quiz” or did poorly on a midterm exam that included questions on material you barely discussed in class or did not discuss at all.
b. Both of these situations happen frequently in school. If you fail to anticipate them or if you react inappropriately to them, it could: 1) negatively affect not only how well you did on that test, but your grade in the class generally, (2) how your classmates react to the test and how your teacher acts toward your class moving forward, and (3) what your attitude is toward school generally.
a. As with the bad call in the baseball game, any verbal or non-verbal negative initial reaction could have serious bad consequences.
b. These test issues are very common and therefore, should be role played and designed into a life lesson discussion as a part of the practice plan early in a player’s career!
c. What will the student’s “mistake ritual” be when these types of things happen? e.g., visualization of something positive, positive self-talk about recommitting to better study habits and that the poor grade can be overcome, breathing techniques, etc. (just like the strike out can be overcome by playing great defense).
a. Make a habit to ask every teacher at the beginning of every term if they give pop quizzes and test on material not discussed in class.
b. Make a habit of reviewing subject on a regular basis not just when tests are scheduled. c. Make a habit of going to see the teacher during office hours days ahead of scheduled tests to discuss material that will be on the test.
d. Make a habit of asking other students who have taken the class from this teacher previously
about the teacher’s test philosophies – you might decide not to take the class from this teacher at all if possible!
e. Remind yourself that class grades are usually affected by many things including homework, class participation and multiple tests and that sometimes extra credit work is available to bolster poor results in other areas.
f. Also remind yourself that grading commonly has a subjective component that can be affected by a teacher’s view of your work ethic, attitude toward the subject, and respect for the teacher.
IX. Design Team Building Activities into the Program that Involve Service to the Community and the Less Fortunate with No Financial Reward
A. Miracle League – youth with disabilities
B. Children’s Hospitals
C. Community Work Projects
D. Gather Used BB Gear for Disadvantaged Youth – ABCA “Turn Two for Youth”
E. Volunteer at Elementary Schools
F. Host a “Parents Night Out” with players as babysitters
G. Canned Food Drives
H. Raise Awareness Campaigns
I. Clean up a city park or a local youth league’s baseball field
J. Help to promote and work at a school event
K. Read and discuss as a team “Chop Wood, Carry Water” by Joshua Medcalf
Here is a helpful outline to use when evaluating your own coaching so you can be sure you are training champions on and off the field, i.e., Champions for Life:
I. Person – Athlete - Player
A. Can you look at the player and see the athlete?
B. Can you look at the athlete and see the person?
C. Your success at coaching the player depends on your success in coaching the athlete and your success at coaching the player and the athlete depends on your success with coaching the person.
A. A player/athlete does not care what you know to help them as a player or an athlete until you are able to connect with them to show them you understand them as a person.
B. You must be able to discover, relate to and validate their feelings and experiences as a son, daughter, friend, student and person in general.
C. You must be able to take the person as and where they are and educate and motivate them to want to improve as a player, athlete, teammate, and person despite their obstacles and adversity.
A. Can you see a flaw in a player’s fundamentals and recognize whether the player needs help with the mechanics of your sport or needs first to correct a flaw in their athleticism?
B. You must be able to watch a player move and recognize weaknesses in their mobility, stability, elasticity, endurance, strength, power, speed, agility, and/or quickness. All corrections to fundamentals begin with an analysis of posture, balance, footwork, angles, and rhythm/timing. However, the solution to these problems many times must start with physiology and psychology, not methodology; coach preparation and reaction before action.
C. Then you or an assistant must know how to design a program and teach the techniques to the player to correct these physiological weaknesses.
D. You must also be able to educate the athlete about nutrition and recovery so the work they are doing to improve physically will be optimized.
A. Do you have accurate information and an understanding about how the fundamentals of your sport should be done? (Very rare!)
B. Can you teach the mechanics of the fundamentals in logical and efficient building block progressions?
C. Can you teach the building block progressions using all of the learning modalities (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic)?
D. Can you program your teaching in a differentiated way so that players along the entire ability spectrum can consistently progress?
I have been coaching youth sports (baseball, basketball, soccer and bodybuilding) both as a personal trainer and as a team coach for 40 years. I have been “in the trenches” with the club sport/ professionalization of youth sports long enough to see first-hand the seduction of families into this dark web. The real problem is not the passion of the athletes and their families for wanting to be the best in a single sport. The real problem is that youth are not prepared physically to play and they play way too many games. When I say they are “not prepared physically to play”, I mean they are not getting consistent nutrition, recovery (this is much more than just rest and sleep) and physical conditioning training by a qualified trainer to play their sport. Most team coaches at schools and clubs are not qualified to train their athletes properly in these ways nor do they have time to do so even if they are. At best, their time and talent is limited to training their players to win games, medals, and trophies. Parents see their children do “conditioning drills” during practice and think this is sufficient to safely prepare their child’s body to play the sport. It’s not. In short, exercises done for rehabbing an athlete post injury are many times the same ones that should have been done proactively to prepare the athlete to play the sport. Some of the athletes I train, play one sport, some play multiple sports, but before I will take them on as clients they must commit to train with me in the gym for months prior to playing their sport and this includes a strict commitment to nutrition and all aspects of recovery. Therefore, while my athletes might still be injured in a collision playing a sport, they will not be injured otherwise.
Adam Sarancik is the owner of Elevate Sports Academy which mentors student-athletes in physical conditioning, nutrition, career and college counseling, and sport skills. He has spent most of his adult life coaching youth ages 8-22 in baseball, soccer, and basketball. He is a favorite speaker at and director of coaches' and players' clinics. He has also developed several youth baseball leagues. Adam is also a frequently published contributor to the ABCA publication Inside Pitch, Collegiate Baseball newspaper and is a Certified Impact Trainer for The Positive Coaching Alliance.
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