# Monday, February 03, 2014

This February, our American athletes will be thousands of miles away from home in Sochi, competing against the very best of the world. And our kids will watch these men and women on TV in awe, wondering how they got "there."

Of course, these U.S. Olympic participants aren't just lucky or talented. They've learned a lot over the years to be able to make it to the top.

Lessons like the courage it takes to respect an opponent. Taking a "big picture" perspective. How to recover from setbacks.

As parents, these are great lessons for your kids to keep in mind as they're watching the Games.

In honor of these inspiring athletes, Liberty Mutual’s Responsible Sports presents a Winter edition of Life Lessons from Team USA Athletes.


The Responsible Sports team, together with the experts at Positive Coaching Alliance, our youth sport partners, and Liberty Mutual Insurance have spoken with some of America's top winter athletes and coaches about what they learned in play—and how that made a difference in life.

1. Set Goals Together. At the beginning of any season, it's important that both you and your child each write down a separate list of youth sports goals. Then compare lists. Hopefully, there's agreement in important areas. Jim Craig, 1980 Miracle on Ice goaltender, speaks about what he calls a "shared dream": "And you have to understand that if you are going to be successful in life that you can’t do it individually. It’s really collective."

2. The Right Coach Is Important. It may not necessarily be the one who gives the most playing time or wins the most, but the one who teaches your children how to succeed off the field and sustains their love for the game. So take your time choosing your child’s team! Picabo Street, 1998 U.S. Olympic alpine skiing gold medalist, has strong opinions about this because of her four kids: "I will literally skate across town [for the right coach.]"

3. Give Them a Break. There can come a point when a young athlete plays so much that it isn't play for him or her anymore. This is referred to as "burn out." This can happen when an athlete practices too much, plays too many sports, or simply doesn't enjoy the game anymore. Let them leave the game if they don't love it. Sometimes, kids just need a long break to re-fill their Emotional Tanks. Katey Stone, 2014 U.S. Olympic women's ice hockey head coach, states, "Our kids need some time to step away from everything and have a little bit of balance, so they can be better players when they get out there."

4. Respect Your Opponents. Your kids look to you in the stands and will emulate your behaviors. So try to cheer for everybody, even the opponents! Sometimes, for various reasons, it can be difficult to respect the other side. It can take real courage. Jenny Potter, U.S. Olympic women's ice hockey silver medalist, once received a post-game compliment from a Team Canada goaltender, of all people!

Phil Housley, 2002 U.S. Olympic men’s ice hockey silver medalist, points out that a current rival can become a teammate in an instant. “When you're growing up, you might be playing on a certain team within your city league. You might have to move to a different team. And all of the sudden, you meet some new friends, form new teammates, and now, you might be battling the guys that you were originally with.” So you can never be sure who your kids will be playing with next!

5. Be a Supportive Base. Kids need to know that no matter what, win or lose, there is one place where they have unconditional support. It's not necessary to talk about the game at home, unless they want to. And if they do, remember that home should be a place of positivity. Hannah Kearney, 2010 U.S. Olympic mogul skiing gold medalist, remembers coming back to her hometown after not placing in the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, thinking that she had let down 3,200 people. She was wrong. "It made me a lot more comfortable four years later, knowing no matter what happened in Vancouver, I was going to come back home to a community that was going to accept me."

6. Look at the Big Picture. As we mentioned, kids take their cues from you, their parents, and from their coaches. If each game's result is treated as a matter of life and death, that pressure will seep into the fun your kids are having. Results matter, but another way your kids can "win" is with what they learn from playing. Tony Granato, 2014 U.S. Olympic men's ice hockey team assistant coach, says, "If we could just look at it as a game…understand that there's a lot of learning that goes along with it and valuable lessons that will be important later on in life."

What other life lessons have your kids learned from sports? Join us on Facebook to share your thoughts or drop us a line at


Monday, February 03, 2014 10:40:06 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] -
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# Friday, January 03, 2014

By Randy Vogt

What is more important, winning or player development in youth soccer? We asked four very successful coaches in the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA) for their views. Three of the coaches said that player development is more important while one coach said that both are equally important.

Tim Bradbury, the Director of Coaching Instruction for Eastern New York, said, “For the truly devoted coach who can educate the parent group, the answer is that winning is not at all important. Youth players can be convinced to take pride in skills mastered, consecutive passes in a row and moments of individual brilliance being more important than the win or loss. Players quickly realize that learning and how they play is more important than the win.”

Sarah Dwyer-Shick, the Head Coach for the Girls Division of Eastern New York’s ODP-North Program, commented that “if a team plays only opponents they can beat, they may have a winning record but they are not developing. If they play stronger teams, they may not always win but their vision of what is possible is expanded and the desire and motivation to improve as a player and team is fostered. This leads to development and the desire to improve so the next time they play a stronger opponent, they compete better and potentially win.”

“For individual development, take a young player who has only been able to juggle the ball 10 times, the fewest on the team,” Sarah continued. “She works all season and can now get 20 touches consistently. She may still have the lowest number on the team but she has succeeded in beating her previous record or ‘winning’ and that accomplishment must be recognized and the player encouraged to keep challenging herself to get the next ‘win’.”

Chris Lyn was selected in 2012 as the Girls Competitive Coach of the Year in Eastern New York. He has developed top teams in the East Hudson Youth Soccer League, Hudson Valley Youth Soccer League, Westchester Youth Soccer League and the Long Island Junior Soccer League. Chris said that “player development is at the top of the pyramid. Technical ability and tactical awareness are paramount. It’s important to deal with the player as an individual and to emphasize nutrition as well. The main focus is helping players get into college programs.”

Joao de Souza, the Director of Coaching for the Westchester Flames in the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League, commented, “Both player development and winning are important. The most important thing is skills, then mental preparation. The coach needs to understand the player and how that player can help the team win. Unfortunately, focusing only on skills does not solely make the team victorious.”

Bradbury and Dwyer-Shick had very similar ideas on how to get the most out of players.

“All training sessions focus upon individual ball work and age appropriate technical mastery of skill sets that are taught through a series of fun and competitive game-like activities. Through guided discovery and effective questioning, players begin to figure out the game for themselves,” Bradbury said, “Although it takes more time and demands more patience, it creates players who can think for themselves and understand the game. I never use laps, lines, lectures or drills. All players are active in every session so their level of engagement is high.”

“While every coach and team is different, I have found that an environment that is both fun and focused, where the players are encouraged and comfortable trying new things and making mistakes as they learn is the one where the greatest improvement in play and love of the challenge is seen,” Dwyer-Shick stated.

Friday, January 03, 2014 10:57:41 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] -
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# Monday, December 02, 2013

By Mike Woitalla for Soccer America

In the spirit of the holiday season, I give thanks to some of the coaches who have during the last year shared insight I believe valuable to coaches and parents.

“When we coach we’re apt to constantly refer to our experiences as players, and how we were coached. The mistake a lot of coaches make -- especially young coaches I’ve seen -- is thinking, this is the way I was coached, so this is the way I’m going to coach this team. As opposed to looking at your group and thinking, ‘Here’s what we have here. Here’s what’s important to them. How can I draw on those things and try to get out of my preconceived notions?' … I think every team is different. Boys, girls, age levels -- and the coach’s job is -- and that’s what makes it fun -- is trying to figure it out.”
-- Steve Swanson, head coach of the University of Virginia and the USA's 2012 U-20 Women’s World Cup-winning team.

“Sometimes you put your strongest player on the bench just to let others shine. Or you put a right-footed player who can't do anything with his left on the left side and force him to use his left foot. Of course in that game you will probably lose because you don't use your strongest players in their strongest position, but in the end you have a player who used his left foot when he was 12 and 13 and 14, and he can use both feet when he comes into the first team. That's what we have at Ajax and I really stand behind that."
--Dennis Bergkamp.

“Parents are always asking me, ‘Can you watch my boy play? Do you think he can go pro? Do you think he can get a scholarship?’ … They should be more concerned that their children are having fun.”
-- Jorge Campos.

“The parents end up being the first ones the kids talk to when they get into the car. And the parents’ perception of what happened is huge for the kid in the backseat. … You need to be 100 percent supportive of your child when they get into the car. Don’t try to give them an analysis. Just let them talk if they feel like it and hear them.”
-- Jeff Baicher, De Anza Force Director of Coaching.

“Don’t force them. If they enjoy it, support them. My son doesn’t like soccer. He likes music. Support them in whatever they like.”
-- Claudio Suarez.

“There's got to be a cultural change from parents hovering over the kids and trying to prevent them from making mistakes, wanting to do what they think is best for them by giving them instructions, pointing out obvious solutions that they can see, to help their kids be successful. … It's like giving a child a puzzle and telling them where to put the pieces because you don't want them to make mistakes. When really what children do by trying different pieces of the puzzle, they learn how to put together a puzzle.”
-- Scott Gimple, AYSO Director of Development.

“We all know that in the learning process, missteps or mistakes are the beginning foundation of building the stepping stones of developing.”
-- Dave Chesler, U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Education.

“It’s the technique, the technique, the technique, the technique … I’ve been to so many states here and all the parents are so concerned about is winning, winning, winning. Winning is irrelevant when you’re 11 or 12 years old. It really is it. … At youth tournaments, I look at the technical ability of the players. Whether the team wins or loses -- I don’t care.”
-- Brad Friedel.

“When you’ve raised kids you know you have to be patient and continue to teach them. Some young coaches come in and they’ll explain something once and they’re frustrated that it’s not picked up. Well, if you’ve had kids then you know you’ve probably told them 700 times they have to put their shoes back in their room, and don’t leave them in the living room, before it finally clicks in. That’s parenting and teaching and coaching.”
-- Bob Montgomery, New York Red Bulls' Director of Youth Programs .

“Encourage young players to dribble and take defenders on in appropriate situations, rather than demanding they immediately pass every time they receive the ball -- we have a culture of criticizing kids that 'overdribble' and labeling them as selfish players, yet we bemoan the fact that we aren’t developing creative playmakers and attacking players.”
-- Tim Holt, USL President.

“One, to give the players confidence. Second, not to put them down when they make a mistake. Third, at those ages you don’t coach, you need to teach. And you need to teach in a positive way and encourage players to be creative. Not to be robots, but to be creative. At the youth level, we need to think about our kids first, and put ourselves second.”
-- Hugo Perez, U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Advisor, on being asked for advice for coaches at the youngest ages.

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at

Monday, December 02, 2013 7:52:34 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] -
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# Thursday, November 21, 2013

By Randy Vogt - Ages ago, I was assigned a men’s amateur cup match between two teams who had played one another in a league match the Sunday before. As the league game had just concluded, two players got into a fistfight and they were eventually separated but the ref did not take send off the players for violent conduct. Not surprisingly, that ref did not have a long career.

Perhaps the captain thought he could get away with cursing at me since the previous ref did not follow the rules and he probably thought that I would not do so either. Referees who do not follow the rules make it much harder for the other refs.

If you would like to play with that knee brace, then put on padding so that no hard edges are exposed. “But the other ref let me play without padding last week.”

You’re 6 foot tall and you’re wearing shinguards for a 12-year-old. Put on bigger shin guards so you can play. “But the other ref let me play last week.”

Your team is wearing navy blue shirts and your keeper wants to also wear a navy blue shirt with the only color difference being light blue polka dots in front. But I cannot see any color difference from the side or back of the keeper so he must change his shirt. “But the other refs have been letting him play in that jersey all season.”

I would like my colleagues to take the position if they would do anything different if they had to ref the same two teams the following week. Because other refs will be assigned those teams and their supervision of the match would become more difficult if the previous ref did not follow the rules.

I have been refereeing a futsal league since its inception nearly two decades ago and have noticed an interesting phenomenon. When I referee the same teams every week, the teams eventually adjust and the disciplinary issues settle down. Perhaps a few cards in the first month of the season but just about nothing after that.

When I take over refereeing a division from other refs, there are many more disciplinary issues the first few weeks after I take over. For example, I watched a boys U-18 team easily defeating another opponent before I refereed the next game. The winning team was very loud and I thought they were having fun at the expense of the other team.
Wouldn’t you know that I refereed the same team the next week and one of their players was sent off rather early in the game for abusive language? And when I refereed the team they had easily defeated a couple of weeks later, there was some ill will between teams, partly because the previous ref did not try and control their excessive comments.

(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In his book, "Preventive Officiating," he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at

Thursday, November 21, 2013 7:03:21 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] -
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# Monday, November 18, 2013

Every weekend, the staff hits the streets looking to tell the story of each of our member clubs. We visit soccer fields in towns across Long Island, watching kids of all ages and ability levels play organized games that do so much to promote the positive influence of sport. But then on Saturday we saw something different.

We were actually looking for another field when we stumbled upon Lenox Elementary School in Baldwin. Nearly every inch of playground was covered by three fields, filled with kids putting the finishing touches on the day’s games. The final whistles blew, the kids shook hands, and then…..nobody left.

For many families on soccer weekends, the game ends, kids line up to shake hands, they may get a snack from the team mom, coach tells them when practice is, and everyone heads off to their cars. But when these games ended, a good portion of the kids stayed on the field with their friends, many continuing to play soccer. Some passed, some played keep away, some juggled, but even as all around them adults started dismantling portable goals, the kids played on.

As we watched this take place, it became clear that this is what we should all be striving for, to instill in youngsters across Long Island a true love of the game. Not the actual 60 or 90-minute organized game itself, but the love of the game that leads a kid to go looking for a ball long after the final whistle blows; to still be on the field after the goals have been dismantled.

The Baldwin Eagles Soccer Club has clearly done this. We may or may not have seen the next Lionel Messi on Saturday, or even the next star ODP or high school player. But we may have seen the future of soccer; the kids who will grow up to be adults and teach their own kids the love of the game that they unknowingly showed on a Saturday at Lenox Elementary School.

Monday, November 18, 2013 9:17:08 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] -
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# Tuesday, November 12, 2013

By Mike Woitalla for Soccer America

Dennis Bergkamp scored 37 goals in 79 appearances for the Netherlands and won titles with Ajax Amsterdam, Inter Milan and Arsenal, where he lifted three EPL and four FA Cup crowns.

Upon retirement in 2006 he helped coach his son’s team in England before moving back to Amsterdam, where he coached U-12s and U-18s and managed the Ajax youth program before becoming assistant coach to the first team.

When he first started coaching kids, Bergkamp had to learn to be patient, he told The Guardian’s Amy Lawrence in a recent interview.

"I struggled a bit," he said. "You look at a player and think, 'Why can't you control that ball?' But you have to take a few steps back.

"There are times not to coach. You have to be balanced to know that. The urge is to step in and show how good you are as a coach and show you know everything and you can tell them.

“Sometimes it is better to let them make a mistake. Sometimes they learn more from that than being told what to do."

Bergkamp, a product of Ajax’s youth program, compares the coaching of his youth to what he sees today:

"If I look at my coaches in the youth at Ajax, with all due respect they were two elderly men who would stand at the side of the pitch, shouting a few things. So in a way you create your own career, you create your own development, and that helps you later on. Whereas now there are a lot of coaches, everyone has got their badge, they all think they are Mourinho or Wenger, even with the 12- to 13-year-olds.

"They know exactly what to do, what kind of exercises they have to do with the kids, and in a way they don't have to think for themselves any more. It is all done for them. It's a problem because they don't think for themselves.

“If they get a new situation, they look to someone as if to say, 'What do I have to do now?' I believe that is over-coaching. It's too much. Let them have their freedom. You have to create the environment where they can be unique and not a clone."

Bergkamp also provided examples of how coaching to win games is a detriment to long-term player development:

"You have to win these games, so the coach is going to manage to win the game instead of developing the player. In my opinion it should be totally the opposite.

“Sometimes you put your strongest player on the bench just to let others shine. Or you put a right-footed player who can't do anything with his left on the left side and force him to use his left foot. Of course in that game you will probably lose because you don't use your strongest players in their strongest position, but in the end you have a player who used his left foot when he was 12 and 13 and 14, and he can use both feet when he comes into the first team. That's what we have at Ajax and I really stand behind that."

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at

Tuesday, November 12, 2013 6:35:33 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] -
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# Wednesday, November 06, 2013

By April Heinrichs for Soccer America

Why do we want to teach youth national team players to "embrace failure?"

The starting point is that players (and parents) need to be reminded that failure is part of learning. If you take a quiz in math and pass with a 100 percent, great, but it really only means you know how to solve the questions asked. You’re ready to take a more difficult test.

If you think you can play sports without making mistakes along the road, you set yourself up for a perfect storm of emotions and disappointments. Fear of failure -- or avoiding failure -- is a sure step toward stunting one’s growth.

If you fail at something in life, the key is to pick yourself up, learn from it and move on.

Failure is part of life and certainly part of sport. Embracing failure as part of learning something new is to know that whatever caused you to fail is your feedback.

This is why we believe it’s important for players to be good self-evaluators and become students of the game. They have to be able to answer “why” and “what." Why did I succeed? Why did I fail? What do I need to do to improve?

“Fits of Failure” are critical for success in taking on something new.

Take, for example, learning how to drive a long ball with the instep or being converted from a forward to a defender. If you try but fail, keep trying.

If you try but fail and quit easily, you will not improve. You may need a partner -- aka coach -- to provide feedback and input to improve, and then you need some time to repeat the technique or tactic over and over again until you see improvement.

It really is that simple: You need the desire to improve, the time spent learning/growing/failing/improving, combined with feedback from a coach, and then the repetitions and perseverance toward steps of success.

My father use to say, “The word can’t should be removed from the dictionary. It’s the most negative and self-defeating word and message out there.”

That doesn’t mean one succeeds at everything one tries. I certainly will never be 6 feet tall, but I can certainly find another way to reach that object.

Failure is critical for an athlete’s success. Here is a great quote from Michael Jordan, who was cut from his 8th grade basketball team:

“I’ve missed more than 900 shots in my career. I’ve lost more than 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning last shot and I missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I have succeeded!”

As U.S. Soccer’s Technical Director and U-18 national team coach, I’m always watching and evaluating players to assess their threshold to endure failure.

I’m looking for which players fail and yet keep going; for which players fail and can laugh at themselves; for which players fail, go away, work on it and come back better.

If I see a player who lacks the ability to embrace fits of failure, I worry about her long-term potential in the U.S. women’s national team program.

We fail all the darn time -- we have to in order to improve. Now that I think of it, and after more than 25 years in our program, embracing failure on a daily basis is one of our secret ingredients!

Give yourself permission to try something over and over again, fail over and over again, and see the steps to improvement until you can do it. Enjoy the journey as well!

(April Heinrichs, as a player, captained the USA to the 1991 Women’s World Cup title and scored 36 goals in 46 U.S. appearances. She won three NCAA titles at the University of North Carolina. Her tenure as the U.S. women’s national team coach in 2000-2004 included a gold medal win at the 2004 Olympic Games. Before that she served as Tony DiCicco’s assistant when the USA won the 1996 Olympic gold medal. She has been U.S. Soccer’s Technical Director since 2011 and is coach of the U-18 national team.)

Wednesday, November 06, 2013 6:29:33 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] -
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# Friday, November 01, 2013

By Mike Woitalla for Soccer America

There are numerous scenarios that make parents want to question their children’s coach:

“Why doesn’t Johnny get to play forward? … Why aren’t we winning? … Why doesn’t Sally get more playing time … Why do you do this or that in practice? …”

Each question deserves an answer and it shouldn’t be too difficult for a coach to explain his or her point of view. Preemptive communication from the coach can decrease the need for parents’ to seek out one-on-ones with the coach.

“It’s like school,” says longtime youth coach John O’Sullivan, the author of “Changing the Game.” “If the teachers never had parent-teacher conferences and didn’t send progress reports home, as a parent you’d be calling all the time asking, ‘What’s going on?’”

But regardless of how efficient coaches may be at communicating, parents will always have questions and some will get upset for one reason or another.

“No. 1, I think it’s very important that parents always remember their focus is on one player out of 16 whereas the coach’s focus is on 16 players,” O’Sullivan says. “So your kid is getting a 16th of the attention while you’re focused on one.

“Always remember the coach is trying to balance the need of 16 players. I think a lot of parents forget that, and you get the call, ‘You promised that Johnny would play 30 minutes a game and he only played 27 and a half.’

“No. 2, don’t come at it from a point of confrontation. Come from the point of ‘How can I help this situation? … I just want to help my son or my daughter improve and I want to help you help them, so what do you see with my son and my daughter that will help them get more playing time?'"

KEEP EMOTIONS IN CHECK.Tim Carter, the Director at Shattuck-Saint Mary’s, says there have to be rules about when it’s appropriate for parents to approach the coaches because sports brings out such strong emotions. Carter is one who feels postgame is not the time:

“It’s not the moment to go to the coach after the game. You may be too upset about something that happened or didn’t happen.”

O’Sullivan agrees, “Let your emotions cool. Let the coach’s emotions cool. I think 24 hours is very fair as a general rule.”

Michigan Wolves-Hawks SC Boys Director Brian Doyle also advocates the 24-hour rule:

“We don’t want parents to call anybody for 24 hours. Let a day go by and if you still fell strongly, call.”

But So Cal Blues director Tad Bobak, one of the nation’s most experienced and successful youth coaches, is flexible when it comes to postgame.

“If they come to me right after a game and in my heart I feel it’s an inappropriate time, I’ll say, ‘Mrs. Smith, I’ll meet with you later in the week,’” says Bobak. “If I feel the appropriate time is right then and there, I’ll do it right then and there.

“Some coaches have a 24-hour rule, but if I sense it’s sort of a minor question that they want to have answered, and it’s not very controversial or long, I’ll do it. If I feel it’s going to be heavier, I’ll say let’s meet later in the week. I try not to put myself in a box. I use the key words, ‘appropriate time,’ but I’m always open to communication.”

De Anza Force Director of Coaching Jeff Baicher also believes that a postgame chat can be OK at times.

“There’s nothing wrong with parents talking to a coach after a game,” he says. “The two issues are, one, that it can be too emotional right after a game. There’s something to be said for a cooling-off period. You might want to sit on that one. … The other is that the coach may have to run off to another game.”

ENCOURAGE PLAYER RESPONSIBILITY. Carter believes that it’s important for coaches to encourage players to do the asking:

“I think we have to make kids more responsible, and to go to the coach and ask, ‘Can I talk to you?’ I also understand that kids may go back to the parent and that I may need to have a follow-up discussion.”

PARENT-TO-PARENT. One reason Carter stresses that coaches should be open to fielding questions from parents is that frustrated parents are likely to air their displeasure to each other.

“Parent-to-parent communicate gets so ratcheted up,” he says. “And it can escalate problems. If you have an issue, go talk to that coach or the director. Don’t go ratcheting it up between parents. Boiling-over emotion is not helping the situation.”

THE RIDE HOME. I have asked many of coaches -- besides those interviewed for this article -- about what they wish from parents. I’d say that if coaches had a magic wand, they would use it to rein in how frustrated parents communicate with their children -- especially on the ride home from a game.

They’d eliminate bad-mouthing the coach in front of the kids. Among the ways in which this disrupts the coach-player dynamic is it enables players to blame their lack of playing time on the coach.

If your child is bummed that he didn’t play much in the game, don’t console him by disparaging the coach. U.S. U-20 national team coach Tab Ramos has run the NJSA 04 youth club for a decade. He recommends a response like this: “You tried as hard as you can. Maybe if you keep trying hard, the next time you’re going to play more and impress the coach.”

Baicher believes ride-home discussions can cause all sorts of problems, even affecting the mood and attitude the player has at the next practice: “She’s an emotional wreck and we’re wondering, ‘What’s going on?’"

Says Baicher, “The parents end up being the first ones the kids talk to when they get into the car. And the parents’ perception of what happened is huge for the kid in the backseat.

“We’ve been trying to educate parents on, ‘You know what? You need to be 100 percent supportive of your child when they get into the car. Don’t try to give them an analysis. Just let them talk if they feel like it and hear them.’”

Friday, November 01, 2013 7:28:02 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] -
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# Thursday, October 24, 2013

By Mike Woitalla for Soccer America 

I suspected this many times as a coach and spectator, but it comes through even more clearly when I referee: Coaches can destroy their teams with the way they shout from the sidelines.

When you’re reffing, you see up-close the children’s faces after they get screamed at. It’s a sad sight.

In my most recent example, a 10-year-old team had so much bad luck I had to restrain myself from consoling the kids (not part of the ref’s job description). While going down 1-0, they hit the post three times and all the while they’re getting reprimanded by screams from their coaches. (I’m using the plural because this team -- like many I’ve seen -- had two coaches doing minute-by-minute sideline screaming.)

In this game in which they dominated but got very unlucky, they collapsed and went down 4-1 by halftime -- despite being the more talented team. The game also marked the fifth time this year, in games from U-14 to U-9, that I saw a goal scored because a key defender was distracted -- looking to the sidelines -- by the coach's instructions.

And it wasn’t just the coaches. Screams came from the parents’ sidelines. I heard them all so the players’ must have as well. And I wish I was making this up, but these are real examples:

“We need a new defense!”

“If you’re not going to pass, then at least take a shot!”

The latter after a 10-year-old took the ball in his own half, smoothly faked out three players, but before shooting had the ball poked away. His efforts may not have produced a goal, but the dribbling was fabulous and he won a corner kick.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the coaches’ screaming creates an environment that emboldens parents to yell -- and even creates discord among the players. The coach constantly "instructs" and berates the players, the parents follow suit, and the players start believing that when something goes wrong the suitable reaction is to place blame.

It’s hard for me to believe that the boy who yelled at a teammate, “What are you doing!?” wasn’t inspired because the exact phrase had come from the sidelines earlier in the game.

When we coach, we have a very strong desire to help our kids succeed. With good intentions, we want to aid or correct right away. But most people -- big or small -- who get hammered right after they make a mistake experience a giant loss in confidence. Not productive during a competition.
My recommendations for youth coaches:

* Referee some games -- to get an up-close look -- and watch how the children react to getting screamed at. Decide for yourself if it brings out the best in them.

* Do not prowl the sidelines. Watch from a chair. Nervous energy makes one want to stand and pace, but the children notice how unnerved you are and it doesn’t instill confidence. (Further Reading: Claudio Reyna: 'Coaches should sit down')

* When you spot the mistake or bad decision -- and that urge hits to address it with a scream from the sidelines -- instead of yelling, jot it down in a notebook as something you’ll bring up in an unemotional way at halftime or at a future practice.

* If you have a really hard time suppressing the desire to articulate your frustration, chat with your assistant coach.

* Consider the probability that what’s going wrong in the game might be your fault.

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at

Thursday, October 24, 2013 9:58:44 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] -
LIJSoccer Blog | motivation | officiating | Soccer America | soccer moms | youth soccer | soccer coaches
# Wednesday, October 23, 2013

An astounding 20 to 30 million kids play sport each year, but according to the experts at Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), a surprising 70% of kids drop out of sports by age 13. (source: Michigan State University’s Institute for the Study of Youth Sports). When kids are asked why they drop out, they say it wasn’t fun anymore, there was too much pressure to win, they didn’t get any playing time, they didn’t enjoy playing the sport anymore, they felt sports took up too much time, or they felt like they did not have a positive relationship with the coach. Many of these issues seem very ‘solvable’ to the team here at Responsible Sports. So we turned to the experts at PCA along with our national youth sport partners to create a checklist.

Ways To Help Prevent Sports Dropout.
Reason #1: Too Much Pressure To Win

We sometimes don’t realize how much pressure our kids feel, especially in the context of sports. We might say we don’t care if our child wins or loses, but our body language gives away our disappointment when they lose. PCA Chief Impact Officer Tina Syer often relays her own story: her collegiate field hockey players noticed that she would rub her forehead when a play didn’t go correctly or the opposition scored. So, yes, it happens to the best of us! Oftentimes when we interview professional athletes about their youth sports experience, they tell us about how their parents really didn’t follow the win and loss record – and perhaps their parents’ ability to focus beyond the scoreboard helped their kids stay in sports. (Hear the stories from athletes like USA Water Polo goalie Tumua Anae, USA Wrestling National Team member Adeline Gray and USA Volleyball National Team middle blocker Christa Harmotto to see what we mean.) When we as coaches and youth sport parents practice a Mastery Approach -- attending less to the scoreboard and more to learning, effort and bouncing back from mistakes -- we not only focus our athletes but we also focus ourselves and hopefully eliminate this ‘pressure to win’ on our kids.

Reason #2: Sports Is Taking Up Too Much Time
One of the areas that Responsible Coaches and Responsible Sport Parents worry about is the pressure to specialize. An outgrowth from that specialization is that kids are spending more and more time in sports – extra practices during the week, multiple teams (house team and travel teams), and in some case individual training efforts. It can all be a bit much for kids. USA Hockey’s Ken Martel oftentimes tells parents, “I love pizza. But if I had pizza every day, for lunch and dinner, I might get sick of it. Sure, your kids love hockey. But too much hockey can destroy that love.” One of the ways we can help keep kids in sports is to give them some time away from the sport they love – either by playing another sport, or using the time to pursue other interests.

Reason #3: I’m Not Enjoying The Sport Anymore
PCA Founder and Chief Executive Officer Jim Thompson helps coaches understand that practice – even more than games – can be the space where coaches have the greatest impact on kids. “Responsible Coaches can leverage ‘teachable moments’ that happen at nearly every practice to really impart the life lessons that sports can uniquely teach,” says Thompson.

But just because we’re trying to teach skills and share life lessons doesn’t mean that practice has to be too serious. In the past, coaches lined up players and drilled a skill. While the kid at the front of the line, handling the ball and shooting on goal was thrilled, the other 18 in line were bored! Today, Responsible Coaches break down drills into smaller groups, introduce non-traditional games to teach skills (we just witnessed USA Hockey National Team members John Carlson and Phil Kessel playing soccer on the ice – yes soccer – as a way to teach great skate skills), and create small three-on-three game competitions using newly learned techniques. When practice is fun, Responsible Sport Parents notice that kids come home energized and excited, regardless of the current win-loss record or their playing status.

Reason #4: Don’t Have A Positive Relationship With the Coach
We know better than most: it is HARD to be a youth sport coach! But while we know it’s a very tough job, it’s also a really important job—and we are so thankful that so many of you take on this role in your communities. When kids say they don’t have a positive relationship with their coach, it doesn’t always mean they have a horror-story, yelling and screaming coach (although those exist out there – and no wonder kids don’t want to be around that!) But sometimes kids’ challenges with their coaches come down to how they receive criticism. Kids are sensitive and oftentimes only hear the negative (don’t we all fall into that trap sometimes?). Tools that PCA emphasizes, such as Criticism Sandwiches, You’re The Kind Of Kid Statements, If-Then Statements and Asking For Permission First are all great for instructing and providing feedback to kids in a way that leaves them feeling positive about themselves and their coach.

Reason #5: It’s Not Fun Anymore
In the end, the number 1 reason kids don’t continue with sports is that it’s simply not fun anymore. PCA Lead Trainer Eric Eisendrath reminds parents: “Kids’ goals for playing sports are oftentimes to spend time with their friends, have something to do after school, or just simply to have fun. Not to get the scholarship or to break the state record.” Responsible Sport Parents kick off the season by having a conversation with their kids about their goals for the season, and then work hard to make sure those goals stay at the forefront of their approach to the season. If your child wants to play sports to have fun with her friends, let’s make sure she gets that chance. (A commercial on TV of a team full of smiling kids heading off to a restaurant after losing the Championship reminds us that the ‘fun’ in sports can sometimes be more about the post-game outing than the game itself.) And Responsible Coaches know that having fun at practice – and incorporating fun into learning – is the key to success.

We know we can’t stop every kid from dropping out – the fact is, sports isn’t for every kid. (And that’s okay!) But we do think Responsible Coaches and Responsible Sport Parents can help make youth sports more positive for kids, creating an environment for kids to learn, grow, flourish and have fun. USA Hockey National Team member and NHL Colorado Avalanche Paul Stastny became a star hockey player late in his career. USA Volleyball Men’s National Team player Rich Lambourne didn’t even start playing volleyball until high school. Both are great examples of how environments where kids keep playing can generate surprising results. And even here in the Responsible Sports office, many of us kept playing sports well into college – sometimes on club and intramural teams – simply because we loved to play and were encouraged throughout our youth to keep playing. We hope we can give our kids that same gift – the gift of sports!

What are some other ways we as Responsible Coaches and Responsible Sport Parents can help change the environment of youth sports to encourage kids to continue to play? How can we help reverse the trend of kids dropping out by age 13?

In an effort to benefit millions of youth athletes, parents and coaches, this article is among a series created exclusively for partners in the Liberty Mutual Responsible Sports Program powered by Positive Coaching Alliance.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 7:12:55 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] -
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