Archive for February, 2013

DANGERS OF CYBERSPACE: Parents Need to Educate About Repercussions of the Internet

It’s becoming more and more commonplace for teenage athletes to post silly, stupid, or downright distasteful stuff on the web. And even worse, such activity is coming back to haunt them.

Whether it’s texting…Facebook postings…Youtube postings….twitter comments…or whatever, this is the first generation of all time that has to come to grips with the serious implications of posting embarassing stuff on the internet.

As discussed this AM with Doug Abrams, too many HS athletes assume they are protected by some sort of “right of privacy” or even the “First Amendment from the Constitution.” But as professor Abrams points out, it’s well documented in legal precedent that once a youngster joins a HS team, those so-called “rights” go out the window. Being on a school team is a privilege – not a right – and HS athletes and their parents need to know that.

So, when a HS ice hockey team posts an impromptu version of the Harlem Shake on Youtube, their school had every right to immediately discipline the team – in this case, they forced the team (Tappan Zee/Nyack high schools) to forfeit their playoff game, which basically ended their season on a very sour note.

Now, so bloggers contend that such a punishment was much too harsh  –that there was no victim here, e.g. nobody got hurt, there was no bullying, it was just boys being boys. But the problem was that argument is that there was a victim — the school district. They have every right to protect their image upon behalf of the other students and parents who live in that district.

So what’s the bottom line? First of all, parents really need to sit down and educate their kids about the dangers of social media. This is an important conversation. And the takeaway is that you have to impress upon your child to THINK AHEAD BEFORE they post anything on twitter, text, or Facebook.

What they need to understand is that something that is posted when they are 16 may come back to haunt them 5, 10, or even 20 years later.

Sounds scary, but alas, such are the times in which we live.

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COACHING TIPS: How to Keep Practices Fun During a Long Season

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broccoli and Dessert:

How Practice Sessions Can Maintain Youth Leaguers’ Enthusiasm During a Long Season

By Doug Abrams

 

In recent years, youth sports seasons have grown longer and longer.  In the not too distant past, the four sports seasons tended to last about three months each.  Athletes could usually move from one season to the next with some rest and minimal overlap.

Not so these days. In my own sport of hockey, for example, the “winter” season sometimes opens for youth leaguers with practices or games in late August or early September, even before National Hockey League teams open training camp.  The season sometimes lasts until playoffs or tournaments in April. 

This “schedule creep” imposes challenges on youth leaguers and their families, but I leave discussion of these challenges for another day. This column concerns the challenges that coaches face as they strive to maintain their players’ enthusiasm and attention spans during a season that may consume half the year or more. 

I have watched perceptive coaches “keep the fires burning” by skillfully motivating their teams with a medley of reason and psychology.  But I have also watched coaches who could not understand why absenteeism and other signs of mental fatigue sometimes increased late in the season. These signs often seemed most apparent on teams with losing records, but they also plagued teams with winning records. Late-season mental fatigue can doom a team that is locked in a close race for first place, or that plays in a league whose playoffs mean more than the regular season standings.

Throughout a long season, coaches need to conduct practice sessions marked by a healthy diet of both “broccoli” (preparation that hones fundamentals, skills and strategy) and “dessert” (preparation that accents fun and permits a measure of mental unwinding).  Here are five ways to do it.

1)  “Front loadingand pacing.  In the last two weeks, my columns have discussed why coaches should develop the season’s lesson plans before the first practice session.  Coaches teach most of these lessons before the opening game, and then adapt to the team’s circumstances throughout the season by adding new lessons and reinforcing old ones.

When the coaching staff knows that the season will last six months or more, mental fatigue is predictable for at least some players. Coaches should plan for this fatigue by “front loading” – by teaching most essential lessons before the first game. As the coaches reinforce these lessons throughout the season, they can also pace the team by easing up on instruction in the last weeks or months unless the players show signs of lapsing into bad habits.

Pacing the team does not mean designing practice sessions that abandon fundamentals, skills and strategy in favor of uninterrupted fun.  Pacing does mean achieving a healthy balance that maintains not only the players’ physical edge but also their mental edge. 

As a youth hockey coach who sought balance, I recognized that players need repetition of fundamentals, skills and strategy because kids sometimes forget what they previously learned and may lapse into bad habits unless practice sessions provide positive reinforcement.  But I also recognized that 50 minutes of skating drills during every one-hour practice session would leave many players mentally flat.  I remembered what my coach Dave Snyder said before each game at Wesleyan University: “Hockey is half physical; the other half is mental.”  Top performance in games demands 100% effort, so most teams do not win consistently with practice sessions that emphasize the first half to the virtual exclusion of the second. 

2)  Do not tell the players that you are managing their “diet” of broccoli and dessert; just do it.  Players need and deserve plenty of practice drills that stress fundamentals, skills and strategy because they joined the team to learn the game. Coaches disserve the learning process when they entice players to endure these drills before being rewarded with fun near the end of the session. (“Let’s get through with the work, and then we can have some fun.”) 

Characterizing fundamentals, skills and strategy as work to be endured does no one any good.  Psychology is the coaches’ province, and the team is much better off when the coaches skillfully inject fun into the practice without explaining themselves to the players. 

3)  Some kids do like broccoli if it is prepared right.  In 1990, President George H.W. Bush made headlines (and raised the hackles of some farmers) when he publicly banned broccoli on Air Force One, the Presidential jet.  “I do not like broccoli,” he said, “I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.” 

But steaming, cheese sauces, casseroles, and spices can make this important vegetable downright tasty, even for kids.  With some imagination and forethought, coaches can similarly inject spice and taste into some practice drills designed to develop fundamentals, skills and strategy. Sometimes a coach can take a standard drill and add an element of challenge, such as a competition among team members who each keep score.  Sometimes the coach can provide instruction and fun at the same time, as I did when my squirt and high school hockey teams often played soccer on the ice to develop their footwork, skating and balance.  The players dribbling the ball and kicking it toward the net thought that they were just having fun, and I did not tell them anything about the skills component. 

4)  Most practice sessions need some dessert, even early in the season.  I recall a scene from “Hoosiers,” the classic 1986 movie that starred Gene Hackman as the new basketball coach of a small Indiana high school.  As he drilled the team hard during an early-season practice, a player called out, “When do we scrimmage?” “We don’t scrimmage,” Hackman answered, “and no shooting either.” “That ain’t no fun,” responded the player. “My practices are not designed for your enjoyment,” Hackman shot back. “You are in the Army. You’re in my Army. Every day between three and five.”

What works in Hollywood may not work well in real life. Early-season practice sessions set the tone for the next few months, so before too long these sessions would end with a few minutes of “free” intrasquad scrimmaging. (In a “free” scrimmage, the teams play without interruption, except for faceoffs and line changes; in a “controlled” scrimmage, the coach stops play intermittently to make corrections and offer instruction as the play progresses).  Depending on the players’ moods and the team’s performance, I might increase free scrimmage time later in the season. 

Especially late in the long season, if a practice session followed only a day or two after a tough game, we sometimes scrimmaged the entire practice if the coaches felt that the players needed the break. In the last few weeks of the season, I would begin to stress the playoffs if we qualified or might qualify, but I would also include some free scrimmage time if I sensed mental fatigue because I wanted the team to remain sharp to the very end. Wins and losses near the end of the season count as much in the standings as wins and losses at the beginning.

I also remained wary of over-scrimmaging.  Intrasquad scrimmaging may help maintain the players’ mental edge by re-charging their batteries, but scrimmaging can also reinforce bad habits and leave some important players (such as the goalie in hockey) standing around too much without the physical conditioning that constant action in well-designed drills can provide.  Unlike well-designed drills, intrasquad scrimmages may not keep all players active at once. Some teams that over-scrimmage in practice suffer in games because scrimmages can resemble free play more than they resemble actual game conditions. 

5)  Listen to what your players do not say.  When coaches love the sport and remain committed to doing a good job, they can easily overlook tell-tale signs of some players’ mental fatigue.  The players’ world view can be much different from the coaches’.

Watch the players carefully.  As the season nears the homestretch, are rates of absenteeism from practice increasing?  Do players still enjoy the chatter and camaraderie of the locker room or the bench before and after practices? Do players maintain spring in their step and smiles on their faces as they arrive for practice, participate in practice, and leave afterwards? Or do they look like they are “walking the last mile”? 

Players have several ways to tell their coaches or parents when mental fatigue begins to set in.  Some players say it in words.  Consciously or unconsciously, other players convey the message silently through their body language, demeanor, and other non-verbal communication.  Coaches (and parents) help the team’s performance when they remain alert for these indicators.              

 

 

COACHING TIPS: How to Keep Practices Fun During a Long Season

Broccoli and Dessert:

How Practice Sessions Can Maintain Youth Leaguers’ Enthusiasm During a Long Season

In recent years, youth sports seasons have grown longer and longer.  In the not too distant past, the four sports seasons tended to last about three months each.  Athletes could usually move from one season to the next with some rest and minimal overlap.

Not so these days. In my own sport of hockey, for example, the “winter” season sometimes opens for youth leaguers with practices or games in late August or early September, even before National Hockey League teams open training camp.  The season sometimes lasts until playoffs or tournaments in April.

This “schedule creep” imposes challenges on youth leaguers and their families, but I leave discussion of these challenges for another day. This column concerns the challenges that coaches face as they strive to maintain their players’ enthusiasm and attention spans during a season that may consume half the year or more.

I have watched perceptive coaches “keep the fires burning” by skillfully motivating their teams with a medley of reason and psychology.  But I have also watched coaches who could not understand why absenteeism and other signs of mental fatigue sometimes increased late in the season. These signs often seemed most apparent on teams with losing records, but they also plagued teams with winning records. Late-season mental fatigue can doom a team that is locked in a close race for first place, or that plays in a league whose playoffs mean more than the regular season standings.

Throughout a long season, coaches need to conduct practice sessions marked by a healthy diet of both “broccoli” (preparation that hones fundamentals, skills and strategy) and “dessert” (preparation that accents fun and permits a measure of mental unwinding).  Here are five ways to do it.

1)  “Front loadingand pacing.  In the last two weeks, my columns have discussed why coaches should develop the season’s lesson plans before the first practice session.  Coaches teach most of these lessons before the opening game, and then adapt to the team’s circumstances throughout the season by adding new lessons and reinforcing old ones.

When the coaching staff knows that the season will last six months or more, mental fatigue is predictable for at least some players. Coaches should plan for this fatigue by “front loading” – by teaching most essential lessons before the first game. As the coaches reinforce these lessons throughout the season, they can also pace the team by easing up on instruction in the last weeks or months unless the players show signs of lapsing into bad habits.

Pacing the team does not mean designing practice sessions that abandon fundamentals, skills and strategy in favor of uninterrupted fun.  Pacing does mean achieving a healthy balance that maintains not only the players’ physical edge but also their mental edge.

As a youth hockey coach who sought balance, I recognized that players need repetition of fundamentals, skills and strategy because kids sometimes forget what they previously learned and may lapse into bad habits unless practice sessions provide positive reinforcement.  But I also recognized that 50 minutes of skating drills during every one-hour practice session would leave many players mentally flat.  I remembered what my coach Dave Snyder said before each game at Wesleyan University: “Hockey is half physical; the other half is mental.”  Top performance in games demands 100% effort, so most teams do not win consistently with practice sessions that emphasize the first half to the virtual exclusion of the second.

2)  Do not tell the players that you are managing their “diet” of broccoli and dessert; just do it.  Players need and deserve plenty of practice drills that stress fundamentals, skills and strategy because they joined the team to learn the game. Coaches disserve the learning process when they entice players to endure these drills before being rewarded with fun near the end of the session. (“Let’s get through with the work, and then we can have some fun.”) 

Characterizing fundamentals, skills and strategy as work to be endured does no one any good.  Psychology is the coaches’ province, and the team is much better off when the coaches skillfully inject fun into the practice without explaining themselves to the players. 

3)  Some kids do like broccoli if it is prepared right.  In 1990, President George H.W. Bush made headlines (and raised the hackles of some farmers) when he publicly banned broccoli on Air Force One, the Presidential jet.  “I do not like broccoli,” he said, “I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”

But steaming, cheese sauces, casseroles, and spices can make this important vegetable downright tasty, even for kids.  With some imagination and forethought, coaches can similarly inject spice and taste into some practice drills designed to develop fundamentals, skills and strategy. Sometimes a coach can take a standard drill and add an element of challenge, such as a competition among team members who each keep score.  Sometimes the coach can provide instruction and fun at the same time, as I did when my squirt and high school hockey teams often played soccer on the ice to develop their footwork, skating and balance.  The players dribbling the ball and kicking it toward the net thought that they were just having fun, and I did not tell them anything about the skills component.

4)  Most practice sessions need some dessert, even early in the season.  I recall a scene from “Hoosiers,” the classic 1986 movie that starred Gene Hackman as the new basketball coach of a small Indiana high school.  As he drilled the team hard during an early-season practice, a player called out, “When do we scrimmage?” “We don’t scrimmage,” Hackman answered, “and no shooting either.” “That ain’t no fun,” responded the player. “My practices are not designed for your enjoyment,” Hackman shot back. “You are in the Army. You’re in my Army. Every day between three and five.”

What works in Hollywood may not work well in real life. Early-season practice sessions set the tone for the next few months, so before too long these sessions would end with a few minutes of “free” intrasquad scrimmaging. (In a “free” scrimmage, the teams play without interruption, except for faceoffs and line changes; in a “controlled” scrimmage, the coach stops play intermittently to make corrections and offer instruction as the play progresses).  Depending on the players’ moods and the team’s performance, I might increase free scrimmage time later in the season.

Especially late in the long season, if a practice session followed only a day or two after a tough game, we sometimes scrimmaged the entire practice if the coaches felt that the players needed the break. In the last few weeks of the season, I would begin to stress the playoffs if we qualified or might qualify, but I would also include some free scrimmage time if I sensed mental fatigue because I wanted the team to remain sharp to the very end. Wins and losses near the end of the season count as much in the standings as wins and losses at the beginning.

I also remained wary of over-scrimmaging.  Intrasquad scrimmaging may help maintain the players’ mental edge by re-charging their batteries, but scrimmaging can also reinforce bad habits and leave some important players (such as the goalie in hockey) standing around too much without the physical conditioning that constant action in well-designed drills can provide.  Unlike well-designed drills, intrasquad scrimmages may not keep all players active at once. Some teams that over-scrimmage in practice suffer in games because scrimmages can resemble free play more than they resemble actual game conditions.

5)  Listen to what your players do not say.  When coaches love the sport and remain committed to doing a good job, they can easily overlook tell-tale signs of some players’ mental fatigue.  The players’ world view can be much different from the coaches’.

Watch the players carefully.  As the season nears the homestretch, are rates of absenteeism from practice increasing?  Do players still enjoy the chatter and camaraderie of the locker room or the bench before and after practices? Do players maintain spring in their step and smiles on their faces as they arrive for practice, participate in practice, and leave afterwards? Or do they look like they are “walking the last mile”?

Players have several ways to tell their coaches or parents when mental fatigue begins to set in.  Some players say it in words.  Consciously or unconsciously, other players convey the message silently through their body language, demeanor, and other non-verbal communication.  Coaches (and parents) help the team’s performance when they remain alert for these indicators.              

 

 

PLAYERS vs. COACHES: When HS Coaches Pressure Their Players to Focus Only on the Coach’s Sport

This is an issue that has been growing in real concern in recent years. Basically, a HS varsity coach starts to apply subtle but direct pressure on his players to focus on just the coach’s sport all year round.

Let me give you an example to clarify. Let’s say it’s a HS varsity basketball coach, and he tells one of his players, “Look, I understand you want to play baseball this spring and summer. But I want to be upfront with you. There are other kids on the basketball team — kids you will be competing against for playing time next season – – kids who are going to spend their spring and summer playing on basketball teams that will help advance their basketball skills…and these are teams that I’ll be monitoring. So, I just want you to know that these other kids will be focusing on basketball while you’re out playing baseball. Again, I just wanted to be upfront with you about this….”

This kind of unwanted pressure places a HS athlete in a real dilemma. I mean, how would you feel if you were this kid who obviously wants to keep his basketball coach happy, but also wants to play baseball? And what if the baseball coach, or the soccer coach, is also applying the same kind of pressure on this same kid?

After all, the athlete can’t say anything back to the basketball coach as that will only anger the coach. Nor can the kid’s parents complain to the coach or the HS AD.  Yet as a number of callers pointed out today, this has become a real concern as ambitious and aggressive HS coaches who want to build their program are indeed putting this kind of pressure on their athletes. And it’s just not fair.

The bright spot in today’s conversation came from Jamie Lynch, the football and boys’ basketball coach at Islip HS on Long Island. Lynch, a former star football player at Colgate, said he was most familiar with this issue, and as an educator and coach, he worked hard to make sure that if any of his athletes want to play for different teams throughout the off-season, that was fine with him. He also communicated this to the parents as well as the other coaches. As far as Lynch was concerned, any coach who tries to impede or throw psychological pressures in the way of HS athletes should be relieved of their coaching duties.

OF course, we’re talking only about HS coaches here. The other part of the issue has to do with the pressures that travel team coaches place on kids to focus just on the travel team sport. As you know, travel team programs and coaches are not under the jurisdiction of public high school associations. What a mess!

COACHING TIPS: How to Deal with Opponents’ Trash-Talking

 

What Coaches Should Tell Their Players About Opponents’ Trash Talking

By Doug Abrams

Last week’s column discussed difficulties faced by youth league and high school coaches who try to teach entirely new lessons during games, when players cannot effectively process instruction as they concentrate on the action. Experienced coaches prefer to develop the season’s lesson plans before the first practice session.  They teach most of these lessons before the opening game, before adapting to the team’s circumstances during season by adding new lessons and reinforcing old ones.

This column continues last week’s theme by moving beyond skills and strategies, the physical side of the game. The focus here is on the mental side. The more mental challenges the coach can anticipate and confront beforehand, the less the coach must try to motivate the team for the first time when a predictable crisis happens during the game.

This column discusses how to prepare the team mentally for opponents’ “trash talking,” insults that can distract unprepared players and throw them off their game.  Trash talking occurs more often in some sports than in others, and more often in some leagues than in others.  When the coach anticipates the likelihood of trash talking, the coach can ready the players even before the first game.

Anticipating Trash Talking

Helped by thoughtful callers, Rick Wolff and I have discussed face-to-face and electronic trash talking on “The Sports Edge.”  We agreed that if the coach anticipates a season rife with trash talking, the best time to begin building players’ mental strength is before the first game.  If the coach has not already acted by then, first-time instruction in the heat of a game is simply too late.  Mental conditioning, like physical conditioning, happens gradually over time.

When I coached high school hockey a few years ago, our preseason meetings and practices featured instruction about the trash talking that the coaches knew would occur in many of our games. Here is what we would tell the players.

1)  Personal accountability.  No matter what opposing players say, our team will not engage in trash talking.  Period.  Our coaches train our players, and not the opponents. Our parents raise their own children, and not the opponents. Our players control their own conduct, and not the opponents’ conduct.  Personal accountability means playing the game right by taking the high road.

 2)  Taking the high road can win games.  The high road may seem difficult, but playing the game right can also pay dividends. Hockey games are won in only two ways – by putting pucks into the other team’s net, and by keeping pucks out of our net.   If a player on the bench waiting to enter the game is thinking mostly about scoring points in insult contests with an opponent next time, the player is not thinking about what puts points on the scoreboard. Players win games by thinking offense and defense; teams do not win with their mouths.

 When a team holds a reputation for being mouthy, the team can also lose out with the referees, who must make quick judgment calls in fast-moving games. Like other people, referees sometimes react to what they believe they saw, and not necessarily to what really happened.  A reputation for trash talking can deprive a mouthy team of any benefit of the doubt that accompanies instantaneous judgment calls.  

 During our high school team’s pregame warmup, referees would often approach the coaches on the bench to say how pleased they were to be handling our team rather than some of the league’s other teams.  We appreciated the compliment, but we also wondered whether our reputation for playing the game right sometimes paid dividends on the scoreboard.

 To borrow a phrase from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, players facing trash talking need to “keep their eyes on the prize.”  For youth leaguers with passion to win, the prize is victory on the scoreboard.

 3)   Self-restraint is tough, but it ultimately pays off.  Like other contact and collision sports, hockey can be an emotional game. Channeling emotions in the face of trash talking takes mental strength because turning the other cheek may seem contrary to a competitive athlete’s creed.

Dave Snyder, my hockey coach at WesleyanUniversity, used to say that “sports is half physical; the other half is mental.” This 50%-50% formula — physical preparation plus mental preparation — means that winning close games can sometimes depend on self-discipline and willingness to do the right thing by tuning out trash talking. 

I try to do the right thing at the right time,” says NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, “They may just be little things, but usually they make the difference between winning and losing.

“Thank you!”

Beginning during the preseason period, the coaches’ instruction about skills and strategy produces physical strength, and their instruction about self-discipline produces mental strength.  In a close game a few years ago, one of our high school players returned to the bench chuckling after his line shift on the ice.  Outside the referees’ earshot, a trash-talking opponent had sent some choice insults his way.  Our player said that he turned around immediately, replied “Thank you!,” skated away, and left the opponent dumbfounded. 

The old proverb reminds us that “forewarned is forearmed.” 

 

 

COACHING TIPS: Does It Make Sense for a Fifth Grader to Play on a HS Varsity Basketball Team?

This has to do with the age-old question of whether a talented youngster should “play up” in competition. Of course, we’re usually talking about a 11-year-old playing “up” against 12-year-olds or maybe even 13-year-olds.

But consider the case of 11-year-old Julian Newman who, as a fifth grader, is actually playing, and playing a lot, for Christian Downey HS, a parochical school near Orlando.

Bear almost in mind that this is not a case where the youngster is extremely tall for his age; in fact, just the opposite. Julian is 4 feet 5 inches tall, which makes him a mite among HS varsity hoopsters.

How is he faring? As of this writing, he’s averaging 12 points a game, 10 assists, and most amazing, 3 rebounds. And his team is 14-5.

He doesn’t have a jump shot per se. Rather, he hoists the ball up whenever he has an open shot. But he does have the ability – and the strength – to shoot free throws.

You should also know that Julian is allowed to bypass strict Florida public HS rules and regulations about playing up, simply because he attends a private school which is not within the jurisdiction of public schools. Plus his father is the team’s head coach. It was the dad’s decision to move Julian up to the varsity, simply because, in the Dad’s opinion, his son was too dominant a player at the JV or middle school level.

Now, admittedly, Christian Downey is not a Florida powerhouse. But yet, if you google Julian Newman and watch some video of game action, it’s pretty evident that the players are regular-sized HS varsity players and they play hard all the time (that is, they don’t let up in their efforts when Julian has the ball). And in fairness, because of lack of size, Julian uses his quickness to dribble effectively and dart around opposing players.

But all this being said, is this the right thing to do? Playing a kid up a year or two is one thing…but this youngster is playing up with kids who are 6 or 7 years older. I do worry about physical contact; that is, if an opposing player accidentally came crashing down on Julian, he could really get hurt. On the other hand, he seems to be handling the competition fairly well.

I’m curious – what’s your reaction to this? Remember, three years from now, Julian will have played three years of varsity basketball. And he’ll only be in the 8th grade.

COACHING TIPS: How To Teach Players During the Heat of the Game

Teaching Players During the Game

By Doug Abrams

 “No coach has ever won a game by what he knows,” said Paul “Bear” Bryant, Alabama’s longtime football coach. “It’s what his players know that counts.” 

Youth league and high school coaches never stop teaching, but they usually have only three “classrooms” — practice sessions, team meetings, and games.  This column discusses when coaches should teach from the bench during games and, equally important, when they should not.

1)  Games are not the time to teach complicated new lessons.  The most efficient coaches strive to organize the season’s lessons from beginning to end before the first preseason practice.  Then they react to the team’s needs by adjusting their teaching agenda from week to week.  Some adjustments concern new lessons, and some reinforce prior lessons. 

Games inevitably present unforeseen circumstances, but usually the best time to teach entirely new skills and strategies is during the next practice session, when the players can perform (and make their inevitable mistakes) without the distraction and tensions of the scoreboard.  Players have a difficult time processing entirely new lessons during a game.  When coaches diagram plays on the clipboard during time-outs on television, for example, the X’s and O’s generally reinforce systems that the coach has already taught.

2)  Mistakes unlikely to happen again in the game.  “If you’re not making mistakes,” said UCLA’s legendary basketball coach John Wooden, “then you’re not doing anything.  A doer makes mistakes.”  The coach may feel the immediate urge to correct a player’s mistake during the game, but silence may be the better approach. When the mistake is unlikely to reoccur during the game, immediate correction may distract the player while passions are running high in the heat of the game. 

Everyone would be better off if the coach would jot down the mistake and correct it in the next practice session, when players are more likely to be able to pay full attention.  On a house league team that has few practices, the coach can correct individual players by phone a few hours after the game or the next day while the game is still fresh in everyone’s memory.

3)  Mistakes that may happen again in the game.  If a mistake may reoccur later in the game and thus harm the team’s chances, the mistake may warrant the coach’s immediate correction. If one player’s mistake may happen to the player later in the game but probably not to teammates, call the player aside and offer the correction privately.  Nobody likes to be criticized in front of others, so I would sometimes whisper the correction in the player’s ear.  Nobody else needs to hear.

If the mistake concerns a breakdown in team strategy, address the team as a whole without singling out particular individuals.  “We’re doing something wrong that we need to correct right now. . . .” sounds much better than “Sam, Joe and Bill are doing something wrong. . . .”  The players probably already sense the source of the problem, so the coach can usually get the message across without pointing fingers at a few players who are trying their best. 

“A coach,” said Coach Wooden, “is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”  That says it all.

BOOK REVIEW: Coach Dan on Sportsmanship

I have often said on the air that sportsmanship is one of those essential elements of youth sports that actually has to be consciously taught by parents and coaches to their kids. You can’t just assume that kids know about sportsmanship.

And to that end, as your kids progress in sports and start to get a taste of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, it’s key that Moms and Dads take a few moments to actively teach their kids how to behave — both when they win and when they lose.

To that end, I want to heartily recommend Dan Venezia’s short but powerful book on teaching sportsmanship. Aimed at youngsters under the age of 8, COACH DAN ON SPORTSMANSHIP is the kind of book you can, and should, read to your son or daughter at night, before they go to bed.

Dan’s lessons are solid, to the point, and delivered in an easy manner to digest. It’s the perfect lesson book for kids just starting out in sports. For more information about Dan Venezia and how you can purchase his book, check out his website at www.coachdan.com.

A Salute to Doug Abrams…

I know how many of you enjoy Doug’s columns and insights into the complicated world of sports parenting. A life-long ice hockey enthusiast (he was a goalie in college), and youth hockey coach for more than four decades, Doug has just been selected by USA Hockey as the recipient of their 2013 Excellence in Safety Award, which will be formally presented to Doug this coming June at USA Hockey’s Annual Congress in Colorado Springs, CO.

Let me point out that being tapped for this honor is truly special. The award usually goes to a medical professional including ones from the Mayo Clinic. But Doug is the first attorney to receive this special commendation. For those of you who have read his columns or heard Doug on the radio, you know his legal training comes through, loud and clear. HIs explanations are precise, right on target, and always full of great insight.

Doug, our heartiest congratulations!

LEGAL CONCERNS: What Does Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s Proclamation Regrding Kids with Disabilities being Given More Opportunities to Play HS Sports Really Mean?

If you have a child who has a disability, Secretary Duncan’s edict this past week that student-athletes are to be given every chance to play –  and compete —  on public school teams had to come as welcome news.

As law professor Doug Abrams pointed out on my show, the benefits of playing sports for all kids is particularly meaningful, and even more so for kids who have disabilities. Abrams points out that the American Disabilities Act has been the law of the land for more than 30 years, but Duncan’s announcement this week puts real force into action when it comes to our kids who want to play sports.

The burden now falls upon coaches and athletic directors to make “reasonable accomodations” to assist these disabled athletes. Now, bear in mind that Duncan made it clear that only the best athletes will be selected to make a varsity team, but if an athlete with a disability is clearly one of the better players but just needs some kind of reasonable accomodation, then his or her disability shall not be used to disqualify them.

So, of course, the question is: what constitutes “reasonable accomodation”? As Prof Abrams ackowledges, that is the hard part. For example, if a HS swimmer or sprinter is deaf and can’t hear a starter’s pistol, then using a laser light to start a race is a reasonable accomodation.

But what if a hockey player is deaf and can’t hear a ref’s whistle. If the hockey player rams into an opposing player after play has stopped, is that okay? Was reasonable accomodation done here? Suppose the opposing player is injured from the accidental but late check?

These are the kinds of questions that are going to pop up. I even asked Doug about the Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius, who ran in the London Olympics on two prosthetic legs. He is disabled, yes, but would this give him an unresaonable accomodation if he were running in an American HS track meet?

These kinds of hypotheticals are endless. But the truth is, real life cases are inevitably going to pop up. Of course, in many situations, common sense solutions will be easy. But there will be complicated scenarios, where I assume it will be the insurance carriers who will come in and act as the final arbiter of what is allowed and what isn’t. After all, it will be the insurance company who will have to decide whether these accomodations are safe, not only to the individual athlete but also to those he or she competes with or against.

Interesting developments, to be sure. But let’s not forget that there were initial concerns when Title IX was first passed into law in 1972, and it’s clear today that Title IX was one of the great advances of our society.