Archive for July, 2016

COACHING TIPS: When Coaches Make Mistakes…

 When Coaches Apologize

By Doug Abrams

A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine was the volunteer head coach of a 9-10-year-old youth basketball team in a nearby recreation league. A mutual friend had introduced us months earlier, and I grew impressed with the coach’s values about sportsmanship, equal playing time, and similar matters central to a coach’s healthy relationship with youth leaguers. He had paid attention to nationally prominent youth sports advocates who “get it,” so I knew that his kids were in for an enriching season, win or lose.

In the preseason parents meeting, the coach had promised the families that their sons and daughters would receive equal playing time. He also explained why bench warming was incompatible with an elementary schooler’s need to feel like a part of the team.

By that time, the coach had already been on the sidelines for three years, long enough to begin honing leadership qualities but still early in the learning curve. Some of the team’s parents were also acquaintances of mine, and they gave him high marks for keeping his promises. He was already one of the good ones.

Then temptation reared its head one morning. The coach phoned me a few hours later to say that (as he put it) “I really blew it.” With the score close nearing the half, he played a short bench for the rest of the game. Six or seven team members got all the playing time until the final buzzer, and their teammates warmed the bench.

“I just got caught up in the game,” he explained. “I did something that I promised I would never do.” He knew that many of the parents were upset.


Temptation to cut corners for the sake of the scoreboard can prove a powerful force in youth sports coaching. Expressing solid values is easy in a preseason parents meeting, or from the security of the computer keyboard, because the words are cost-free. (Remember, “talk is cheap.”)

Maintaining solid values can be a lot tougher in the heat of a close game, whatever the kids’ age. I know that translating words into deeds takes fortitude because I have been behind youth hockey benches in plenty of close games. Coaches can easily get “that feeling” once W’s or L’s begin staring them in the face.

Chronic bench warming is bad enough, but a broken promise about equal playing time made matters worse for my friend. Then he did the right thing. He gathered the parents together before the next weekly practice, owned up to his mistake, and said that it would not happen again. The parents accepted the apology, and the team finished the season without further upset.

The Power of Apology

Mistakes happen. This story introduces this week’s column about the “power of apology.” The core proposition is that coaches, like parents, sometimes make mistakes in their relationships with children. Coaches are not perfect. When parents demand perfection, parents expect more from the coach than they expect from themselves.

At one time or another, coaches do or say something that they wish they could take back, but coaches (like parents and even players) may not get chances for do-overs. Coaches may try to do the right thing, but usually the best they can do is try to keep mistakes to the bare minimum.

Some mistakes remain serious. Fortunately most coaching mistakes do not inflict lasting emotional or physical hurt. Bench warming, for example, may prove embarrassing but can be remedied by coaches who realize they have come up short.

The calculus is different, however, when the coach refuses or fails to correct a pattern of misconduct. Or, for example, when the coach’s obviously dangerous drill seriously injures a player. Or when the coach singles out one player for a tongue lashing in front of the team. Depending on the coach’s track record, an apology may not satisfy disgruntled parents, or a board of directors who consider the coach’s suspension or dismissal. Some mistakes are so serious that, as the saying goes, the coach “cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

Sometimes an apology signals a “teaching opportunity.” My friend’s apology worked because his lapse – playing a short bench for most of the game — was isolated, inflicted no lasting hurt, and resulted from a single spur-of the-moment decision born of bad judgment.

Coaches and teachers are familiar with “teaching opportunities,” which enable them to instruct players or students with positive lessons from a negative event. Sometimes the learners include the adults themselves. Whether in the classroom or the playing field, the best coaches and teachers never stop learning. A lesson’s price may be an apology to one or more parents, or sometimes even to all the parents. I think everyone learned something worthwhile from that youth basketball game a few years ago.

Early communication is key. Coaching mistakes are foreseeable, and coaches and parents need to foresee them. Early in the preseason parents meeting, I would candidly tell our team’s parents to expect some coaching mistakes during the season, and not only ones stemming from strategies or tactics. Coaching other people’s impressionable children is serious business, so I promised to make the most serious effort to avoid mistakes.

Tongue in cheek, I would close this early part of the meeting by inviting advice from any parents willing to acknowledge that they had never regretted something they had said to their child or some decision they had made. Perhaps, I said, these parents could share the secrets of their perfection. I never had any takers.

SPORTS PARENTING: Is It Okay for Our Young Athletes to Fail in Sports?

As many of you know, I was on vacation last week. That break gave me some time to catch up on a lot of email and articles, and during my time off, one parenting column in particular – written by a parenting reporter from CNN, Kelly Wallace —  caught my eye.

The column’s headline was: Why Is it So Hard to Let Our Kids Fail?

Wallace was writing about all different aspects of kids growing up and competing in school, theatre, music, and so on. And competing in sports was most definitely in the mix as well.

She was asking why do so many of us – sports parents included – simply don’t allow our kids to go out, try, compete, and if they fail, well, they’ll simply have to learn and cope with the sometimes harsh realities of life. In many ways, it’s what many of us sports parents went through and experienced when we were growing up.

Her overriding point, of course, is that kids learning what they are NOT good at is just as important as finding out what they DO have talent for, and what activities they enjoy. Those experiences, as one of my WFAN Radio listeners today called: “Those activities that put a smile on your child’s face.”

But as we all know, the problem is that parents today tend to rush in and do whatever they can to insure that their little one DOES succeed in their athletic pursuits, regardless of what kind of implications that kind of parental interference may have.

This is, of course, the essence and core of the meddling sports parent. Perhaps that’s where the problem begins with today’s Mom and Dads, all of whom want their sons and daughters to play sports well and to excel. But when Mom and Dad sense that their kid is struggling, or shows signs of just being average, then Mom and Dad will start to intervene any way they can to make sure their kid improves.

The CNN column by Kelly Wallace suggests that parents take a different approach – that it’s okay if your kid is struggling or not doing well. In effect, that it’s part of the natural process of growing up for a kid to come to grips with the fact that he or she is not going to be a great athlete – and that’s okay. Or if they want to develop their mastery of athletic skills, then it’s up to the youngster – not the parent – to do what it takes to get better.


After all, every Mom and Dad wants their youngster to excel in life, whether it be sports, academics, or in other endeavors. That’s what parents dream about, and hope for. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But when the reality quietly sinks in that my child is not going to be a star athlete, that’s where Moms and Dads often find themselves becoming over-involved. They seem to have the sense that if my kid is underachieving, I need to get them a special skills coach, or a private coach, or get them on a better travel team, then they’ll begin to live up to expectations. In short, more often than not in our competitive youth sports world, this is the typical knee-jerk reaction from the parents.

But are we doing our children a disservice by jumping in and doing these kinds of things? Would they be better off if we simply left them alone, and if they don’t get better in a sport, well, that’s okay. Their world — nor ours — won’t come to an end.

Or, if the kids do want to get better, they will find their own pathway to improve their skills. After all, isn’t that what we did growing up, back in the day before parents were so involved in kids’ sports?

As Kelly Wallace writes:  There is no question that one of the most difficult things about being a parent is letting our children stumble, fail, make mistakes. From her perspective, making mistakes and failing is all part of maturing as kids.

But does that approach work with kids and sports? That is, at some point, especially at the youth level where kids are first learning the basic skills of a sport, they DO need to be coached and taught. I do feel that any youngster just starting out in sports needs the benefit of some solid coaching on the basics, everything from the rules of the game to learning how to develop individual skills that will help their appreciation of the sport.

Yet to me, the key difference is that it’s always much, much better if the youngster comes to the coach or to you, their parent, and asks to help them with their soccer dribbling, or fielding in baseball, or in shooting a basketball. If they have the inherent drive and motivation to come to you to improve their game, then it’s fine for you to help out. Why? Because it’s the CHILD who is showing the desire to get better – NOT the PARENT dictating to the child. And to me, that’s a big difference.

Several of the callers brought up this theme this morning on the radio show, and I couldn’t agree with them more. Too many parents take the attitude with their youngster with: “Hey, don’t you want to get better in sports? Don’t you want to be as good as your friends?” As you might imagine, that kind of negative motivation does not work, and yet too many parents think it’s an appropriate kind of statement.

Bottom line? Yes, especially when kids are just starting out in sports (up to age 9), it’s perfectly fine to let them explore all sorts of sports, and see which of them appeal to them. And if they enjoy a sport or two, chances are they will want to come back to it, over and over again, and at some point, will come to you for some coaching tips.

That’s the best solution. Because the initiative is coming from your child – not from you the parent.



SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: What’s the Key Ingredient for Young Athletes Today?

 Advice From the Pros to Parents and Coaches

By Doug Abrams

In the Sun Herald late last month, writer Patrick Ochs reported on a talk that former all-star outfielder Darryl Strawberry delivered in Biloxi, Mississippi. Reflecting on his 17 seasons in Major League Baseball, Strawberry spoke about youth league parents who stunt their players’ development by sapping their enthusiasm for the game.

“We need to get back to letting kids have fun and enjoy themselves,” said Strawberry. “Parents need to chill out. Don’t go to games yelling. Let them play.” The eight-time all star does not like what he sees. “Parents today push their kids and before you know it they’re 18, 19 and don’t want to play anymore.”

His solution? “We just have to get back to understanding that the game is fun. . . . It’s fun. Fun. Remember, fun.”

Bjorn Borg

Strawberry is the latest former professional star to talk about fun to youth league parents and coaches. Earlier last month, CNN’s Sophie Eastaugh wrote about an interview that former tennis great Bjorn Borg gave to Open Court’s Pat Cash. “When we’re traveling around Sweden we see all these crazy parents, I mean it’s unbelievable,” said Borg. “[Y]ou can see sometimes the kids don’t want to play. It’s like the parents push them to do something they don’t want to do.”

Borg’s bottom line about youth tennis? “At this age, it has to be fun.”

John Smoltz

In his 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech, pitcher John Smoltz also stressed fun as an emotional foundation of youth sports. At the same time, he warned about physical excesses, including premature specialization in one sport and what he called the “epidemic” of Tommy John surgeries stemming from overuse of youthful pitching arms.

“I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there to understand that this is not normal to have a surgery at fourteen and fifteen years old. That you have time, that baseball’s not a year-round sport. That you have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports,” said the perennial major league all-star who played three sports each year in his youth.

Since his induction in Cooperstown, Smoltz has also emerged as a leading opponent of using radar guns to rate youth league pitchers. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports his advice that by encouraging youngsters to throw as hard as they can too often, this increasingly popular technology can actually damage their arms and their future prospects.

Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr

Two hockey legends also stress fun and decry premature specialization. Wayne Gretzky was a multi-sport athlete in his youth, and in the Globe and Mail he said that he encouraged his five children to have fun with various sports. “Just go out and play,” he told them. “Just enjoy it. . . . Learn what it’s like to be around your teammates – the highs of winning and the lows of losing.”

“The love and passion I had for the game was my key,” says Bobby Orr, who remains thankful that he “never had that taken out of me by my parents or a silly coach.” “I have stacks of clippings that tell of children being berated by an angry parent, humiliated by a frustrated coach,” he told the Boston Herald. “We’re talking about serious hurts, damaging blows, very personal wounds, all knowingly inflicted by adults who ought to know better.”

Orr told the Toronto Star that when parents and coaches stray, the problem “usually takes care of itself. The player will eventually quit hockey; it’s as simple and sad as that.”

Striking a Common Chord

This accumulated wisdom from these and other pros about emotional and physical excesses in youth sports should resonate with parents and coaches. The pros know what they are talking about.

After moving up from rung to rung, the pros have reached the pinnacle of their games and they are looking down from the top. They know what it takes, and they know what wise parenting and wise coaching can mean to the minuscule few youth leaguers who make it big, but even more important to the multitude who do not. These elite athletes speak from the heart because usually they are not talking only about their own children. They are talking about what is best for the millions of American kids who play sports every year.

Virtually all of these athletes strike the same refrain – make the game fun, maintain perspective, don’t burn out the kids, don’t physically overtax their young bodies. If more parents and coaches took this advice, perhaps the percentages of youth leaguers who quit playing by about the age of 13 would fall below the usual range of about 70%.

Listening to star professional athletes talk about nurturing young athletes must resemble listening, say, to a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry talk about what makes high school chemistry classes work. The Laureate may say the same things that the local high school chemistry teacher says. Parents may think that they know better than the teacher, but it is hard for parents to close their ears to someone whose resume includes a Nobel Prize.

Parents and coaches similarly may think that they know better than the array of youth sports reform voices who have been sounding the alarm for the past several years. But it is quite another thing for the adults to close their ears to someone whose resume includes major league stardom and perhaps a Hall of Fame nod.

More youth leaguers would be much better off if more parents and coaches would listen to the wisdom that the pros speak in unison.


Sources: Patrick Ochs, Darryl Strawberry Has the Best Advice For Baseball Parents, Biloxi (Miss.) Sun Herald, June 28, 2016; Sophie Eastaugh, Bjorn Borg Shocked By “Crazy Tennis Parents”, CNN, June 16, 2016; John Smoltz, Hall of Fame Induction Speech, (July 26, 2015); Mike Luck, Smoltz: Radar Guns Not Good For Youth Sports, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Jan. 12, 2016; Eric Duhatschek, The Great One’s Message to Parents: Let Your Kids Have Fun, The Globe and Mail, Sept. 26, 2008, p. A3; Joe Fitzgerald, Adult Egos Stick It to Youth Sports, Boston Herald, Mar. 14, 2012, p. 10; Bobby Orr, Orr: My Story (2013); Stephen Whyno, Hockey According to Bobby Orr, The Canadian Press, Oct. 16, 2013, p. S3; Paul Irish, Orr’s Hockey Message? Have Fun: NHL Legend Says Parental Pressure Can Make Kids Quit, Toronto Star, Oct. 15, 2012, E5.

ABUSIVE COACHES: The Ongoing Issue of Entitlement with Volunteer Coaches

Entitlement is another one of those relatively new concepts in youth sports that really didn’t exist when most of today’s sports parents were growing up. Like the concept of travel teams, or burnout, or repetitive use injuries, coaching entitlement is one of those  issues that has sprung up like an annoying weed in youth sports, and it has unfortunately spread all over the country.

Let me first define what entitlement is. As you might imagine, it comes directly from those parents who are over-involved in their kid’s sports, either as a volunteer coach, or in many cases, as a travel team coach.

The problem is especially evident when a parent feels that since he or she is volunteering their team to work with kids, then there should be sometime “built-in” special side benefits to being a volunteer.

What are the tell-tale signs of Entitlement?

The general philosophy goes something like this:

“If I’m serving as the head coach of this team, and giving of my time and energy without any compensation, then certainly I should be allowed to give my youngster a little break here or there…”

Translation: Since I’m the head coach, my kid is entitled to more playing time than the other kids, or my kid is allowed to play the position he or she wants, or my kid is going to be a team captain, or have their choice of what uniform number they want, or my kid is going to be on the All-Star team.

This is the essence of Entitlement in youth sports. Too many Coaches/Parents feel that, somehow, they – or their kids – are entitled to be treated a little more fairly than the other kids.

Of course, this is NOT the way it’s supposed to be.

It’s as though Parents who volunteer are not aware of the definition of the word Volunteer: which means to give of one’s time FREELY with no expectation of compensation or personal benefit.

But somehow, that simple and clear definition of volunteer coach has been lost in recent years.

Look – if you volunteer, and  you’re giving of your time as a coach, or an assistant coach, you MUST treat all the children in the same way. You CAN NOT show favoritism or nepotism to your own kid. And you certainly can’t give special perks to your son or daughter – just because they are your son or daughter!

Is this pattern now to expected?

The callers on the show this AM all felt that not only is coaching entitlement a continuing issue, but that in many towns, it’s now become a part of life. That is, if your kid plays on a local youth or travel team, all the other parts are now conditioned to assume that the coach is going to play his or her kid more. That this is part of the accepted way of having your kid play for another Mom or Dad.

That trend, of course, is most disturbing. One caller, a physician in his 50s, said that he still recalled with great bitterness when he was told, as a 17-year-old baseball player, by a summer league coach that the coach was going to cut him simply so he could make room for his own son on the team.

The doctor spoke with great emotion as to how hurt he felt by this coaching entitlement. After 30 years, it still bothered him as being cruel and unfair.

Too often youth coaches today forget that the words they use, and the actions they implement, have a very strong, life-long impact on kids. And especially for youngsters just starting out in sports, which is supposed to be all about equality and success based upon meritocracy, this kind of favoritism played by youth coaches is just inexcusable.

Bottom line? If you’re helping out as a coach and your kid is on the team, be doubly sure that no one of the other parents can ever accuse you of giving favors to your own child. You do that just once, and you will run the risk of alienating all of those other parents and their kids.

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Inside the Mysterious World of Baseball Scouting

There was a time in which baseball scouts and associate scouts (aka “bird dogs”) were found everywhere at amateur games. High school games, college, summer leagues, Babe Ruth games, you name it.

If a young man had a big game at the plate or on the mound, chances were good that somebody representing a major league team was there to see it. And then that scout would make a point to come back and watch that player, again and again. Not only to see if that one day’s performance was just a fluke, but whether the kid could perform consistently well. In other words, the scout wanted to see if the youngster were a real prospect – not just a suspect.

But then the scouting landscape changed. Billy Beane become the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. Being a small market team with limited financial resources, Beane searched for another way to find prospects and major league players and bring them to Oakland. Along the way, he discovered the lure of Sabrmetrics and analytics, and before too long, Beane had pretty much scrapped the old method of relying upon scouts in the field and instead invented “laptop” scouting in which high school and college ballplayers were “scouted” by their statistical performances.

If you have ever read the book MONEYBALL by Michael Lewis or seen the movie by the same name, this new approach is dramatically illustrated. Oakland pretty much gave up on most of its scouts, and instead scouted players electronically. And Oakland did, to its credit, have some success.


But as Al Goldis, the legendary baseball scout who was inducted into the Scout’s Hall of Fame a few years ago, points out: “Fans forget that when the Oakland A’s had success during Beane’s tenure, it was because they had three outstanding starting pitchers on their staff. That simple reality was overlooked by the movie, and many people don’t realize how good Oakland’s starting pitching was.”

Good point. And in addition, since those days, Oakland has never really become a major contender since MONEYBALL days. Critics say it’s because other teams have embraced analytics and caught up with Oakland. But as an article in Baseball America pointed out a few years ago, for several years after Beane instituted laptop scouting, the A’s didn’t produce many major league players. In other words, the Moneyball approach to finding players didn’t work well.

This was just one of the inside revelations that Al Goldis presented on the show this morning (you can hear the podcast simply by going to and find the link to Podcasts.)

Al also talked about how important it is for young pitchers to not only have the right mechanics in order to prevent serious arm injury, but also to have a sense of rhythm. That is, pitchers need to be aware of how they feel when performing, and that they need to stay within their personal rhythm. He also strongly advocated that pitchers take at least four months off each year so that their arms can rest and fully heal – even if they are not injured. This is done to prevent injury to young arms.


Goldis made it clear that scouts get their leads on possible prospects from high school coaches, umpires who work the games, and generally word of mouth. He was convinced that if a kid can play and has potential, somebody will notice and word will eventually get to a bird dog or a scout.

That being said, he made it clear that it’s a two-way street. Ballplayers just can’t sit back and wait for scouts to come to them. Young and hungry ballplayers should go to major league websites and see when tryout camps are being held in their area. Or, if the player is out of college, then they should contact some local independent teams, who are always looking for players. Independent professional teams often send its players to contracts with teams that are affiliated with major league teams.

I have known Al Goldis for more than 40 years, and no one is better versed in the art and science of scouting than he is. I could spend hours talking baseball with him. To that end, if you have a youngster who aspires to play pro baseball, let me suggest you pick up a copy of Al’s book, HOW TO MAKE PRO SCOUTS NOTICE YOU, which is considered by many to be the leading guide on the topic. You can buy it either in paperback or as an ebook on Amazon.