Archive for the ‘Good coaches’ Category

b-w-team-huddledI’ve been a part of teams for over 35 years and I know that one of the most important parts of being on a team is showing up. Showing up for off-season lifting and pick-up games, showing up for practices, for film sessions, for team meals, and then for games. The thing is, there is more to it than just showing up… how you show up matters most.

I’ve had the privilege of showing up as a player on elite, winning teams, and I’ve had the challenge of showing up on teams that go winless for an entire season. There is a very real shift in psychology when the excitement and hope of a season fades into the frustrated reality that opponents are going to be tough and the work that lay ahead may not provide the results the team truly desires.

Players want to play and teams play games to win. Period. Putting forth exhausting effort to come up short time and again, starts to weigh on players and ultimately on teams. The psychology of an athlete and a team is challenged at the extremes. The players who experience consistent playing time and winning are challenged to stay focused and humble. The players on teams experiencing losses are challenged to see a point in working hard, they have to navigate personal, ugly emotions that come with sitting on the sideline or losing. They either give up trying or they use a lot of energy to determine ways to keep fighting and to help their teammates do the same. It is much harder to be a part of a team that is in defensive battle mode.

The hardest thing to keep in mind is that true winning (competing well each and every outing) is always possible. It’s a decision to show up well.

This is not an easy decision, however.

The team I am currently coaching is 2 and 9 and facing the back half of a season with the same opponents who have already beat up on us once. We are experiencing the hardest part of being in battle mode.

This is where the true character of these players and the heart of this team will be tested most.

There are countless ways the guys can decide to respond. Countless ways to show up….or not. I’m challenged to help them to dig in and to find value in competing well no matter their record. It’s for pride. It’s for building upon the groundwork we are laying. It’s for sharpening the character tools in their toolboxes as they prepare to go on to college, or jobs where what they’ve learned about competing well will matter.

We need to continue to show up well:

  • Show up early (or at the very least on time)
  • Show up ready (bring all gear necessary)
  • Show up positively (find the good in other players and the fun in the game)
  • Show up focused (leave other thoughts off the field and bring mental focus into the task at hand)
  • Show up ready to work hard (no matter what you are able to do in a day, do your best)
  • Show up ready to learn (see each day as an opportunity to grow as a person and as a team)

Showing up happens on an individual level, but it is layered with an awareness of what showing up means to the team as a whole.

I’d like to say, after all this time on teams, that I’ve perfected the showing up thing. I haven’t. I am equally challenged to show up well and I need reminders to stay the course too. It is a daily decision and I need to come back to the decision each morning because, for me, any time I have the opportunity to be part of  a team I have made the implicit agreement to show up well.

 

Meagan Frank is the author of the Choosing to Grow series, a national speaker, athlete, coach, and mother of three. A 1997 graduate of Colorado College, Meagan was a four-year starter and senior captain on the Division I women’s soccer team and lettered in Division III women’s basketball. She has coached recreational, high school, elite, and college-level teams for both boys and girls.

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Copyright 2016       Meagan Frank   Choosing to Grow         http://www.meaganfrank.com

 

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© Billyfoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Billyfoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos

 

When I asked Dr. Nicole Lavoi , Associate Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports, what aspect of youth sports she would immediately address, she told me, “Mandate equal playing time up to age 14 for all levels of sports. Both at the recreational and competitive levels.”

I thought that was a curious response until I realized that too few youth sports teams implement this policy.

I am continually amazed that the directive to allow equal playing time for EVERY athlete up until age 14 is such a hotly contested idea. Abiding by this policy, and I mean REALLY ABIDING by this policy would solve a number of problems that plague youth sports teams.

“But everyone knows a coach can keep a team from winning by putting in a lesser athlete. Everyone wants to win. Why can’t a coach try to win an important game? The kids all want to win too.” This quote is from a woman who attended a sports class I taught, and at first blush, I agree with her. Coaches should have the right to try to win tough, important games. It is part of the aligning expectations that makes this conversation so difficult for some people.

Parents have expectations, athletes have expectations and coaches have expectations. Until we align the varied perspectives we will continue to see frustration, bitterness and anger associated with youth sports.Because the one common denominator for the three groups is winning, decisions to keep lesser athletes on the bench seems justified. After all, everyone who has gathered has come with the hope of winning the game.

Coaches deserve a chance to coach a team to a big victory, and that should be one of the things they want. It’s part of what the parents want too. They want their children to experience the high of winning, they want their children to have success, and they want their children to be treated fairly. Athletes want to win too. More than that though, and echoed over and over in conversations I had in living rooms across this country, kids want to play.

We need to seek wins, but we need to seek wins without sacrificing kids along the way.

During one of my research huddles, Tony said something that has stuck with me. “The best coaches get the most out of their worst players. Anyone can coach the best kids–only a good coach can improve the worst kid too.”

Why do we need to care about the lesser athletes? What do they have to offer the team in the final minutes of a game? They have their own lessons to learn right?: “Tough love is better.” “Life is tough.””Not everyone is a winner. They will learn the harsh realities of the world eventually, why not now?”

The harsh lessons learned are inevitable, but let the game be the teacher. Let them learn lessons because they made the bad play and lost the game. Let them learn the lesson that they need to pick up a teammate who has made a mistake and learn to encourage someone who is down. Those are the lessons we need to be teaching children. The last lesson we need to teach them is that they are not worthy.

The damage that is done to children under the age of 14 who find themselves sitting on the bench is not worth one more win on the stat sheet.

The cognitive development of children needs to be a part of coaching decisions. Period.

Before adolescence, children are primarily concrete thinkers. For children, the world is more black and white than grey and fuscia. They cannot conceptualize the world in abstract thinking, and they are working to develop a sense of self at the same time.

Without telling a child on the bench they are a less-than, they immediately know they are a less-than. They know it to their core, and it becomes a part of who they are. They don’t understand the abstract concepts of “sacrificing for the team” or “it’s the role you have to play right now.” Too many kids internalize this message and make a decision right then and there about who they are going to be. Or even more tragically, who they will never be. “I am not good enough.” “I am a bad athlete.” “I don’t measure up.”

This fixed mindset is more detrimental than a win is beneficial.    ****read that last sentence again**** A fixed mindset is more detrimental than a win is beneficial.

One could argue, “The non-athletes need to figure out early enough that they are non-athletes and move on to something that better suits them.”

WHAT?!? No one is a fixed athlete, and to do anything that might convince a child, ANY child, that he/she is a non-athlete before their bodies have even grown any real muscle is deplorable.

We need to decide that  youth sports is about teaching. Coaches can take control of how lessons are taught, but the best teachers are the ones who worry about whether every kid in their class learned something worth carrying with them.

What do you think? Should youth teams have bench players?

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Copyright 2013  Meagan Frank                                      Choosing to Grow

Spring soccer started a couple weeks ago.

In our house it looks like chaos…pretty much from start to finish. Both the girls are playing and, in what seems like a purposeful punishment for our family, their practices are scheduled on the same days…at the same time…and of course at two different places.

I’ve made it work (even without my second driver). I get our oldest son set up with carpools for wherever he needs to go, and then the girls and I start running.

I drop off Middle Sprout and peel out of the parking lot as soon as I see her coach step out of his car.  Little Sprout and I arrive late to her practice (doing what we can not to disrupt things) and then I assist with the drills before we leave a few minutes early to go back and pick up her big sister. (who is usually waiting for me to arrive… with her coach)

I think after the craze of yesterday, Little Sprout finally understands why I was not able to take on the responsibility of head coach for her team this year. Six-year-olds need a coach who is there before they are and who can stay after they’ve gone.

The thing is, it took a while for another parent to step up and take on the role of coach for this little U-6 team. I felt badly that I couldn’t volunteer…but it’s clear why.

The man who eventually volunteered did so reluctantly. He admits he doesn’t know much about soccer and that he has not worked much with kids this age.  The thing is…he’s perfect for them without trying. He is kind, patient…and learning.

The girls LOVE him…and they are starting to love “soccer”!

I put parentheses around “soccer” because what is happening for this young developing team of athletes is not soccer the way that I know it…and it shouldn’t be.

It’s good that their coach doesn’t see what I see when I watch the girls try to kick… or dribble… or shoot. I see areas that I would love to correct and it takes every bone in my body not to point out when they do it “wrong”. He is working to learn names, understand the drill description in the association practice plan, and then it looks like herding cats to run them through the important games of tag, or red light/ green light. He lets them choose games and in doing so…they are a part of the process.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a blogpost about The Need for Creative Athletes. In the post, I challenged youth coaches to allow for creativity in their practice plans. My daughter’s coach may not be planning it…but it is great that it is naturally happening anyway.

I recently read an awesome article entitled, The Courage to be Patient. It is a directive to youth soccer coaches, and it highlights the discipline it takes to truly adopt the best way to develop young athletes.

I’ve decided: allowing creativity is harder… the more experienced you are.

A friend of mine, who is the head coach for her daughter’s soccer team sent me a message about what she did to create a space of expressive and creative freedom for her players. I take to heart this decision because I know my friend well.  She is arguably one of the most intense competitors I have ever been around.  She and I were college teammates, and I know firsthand her intelligence of the game, her competitive edge, and her impressive work ethic.  Here is what she did:

Each player received a name tag that said “Meagan’s choice” for the practice. I warmed them up for a couple of minutes (only because it was cold and I didn’t want them to get hurt). From that point, the girls had control of the practice. Each player could turn in their sticker and then choose whatever game they wanted to play. They could repeat a game if they wanted…so we played sharks and minnows a couple of times. Or they could choose a game. Obviously, they call choose to play “soccer” games such as Clean Up Your Own Backyard (which I call poop in the yard…they laugh), Number Soccer, etc.  

What I’ve started to learn about the developing athlete, is that my daughter’s reluctant coach is providing an environment that is perfect for the needs of the kids at this age. Young kids need space to run in chaos.  They learn about collisions…and how to avoid them next time. They learn the ways that make it easier for them to keep the ball on their feet…because they don’t want to lose the game. They learn that laughter is part of sport. My friend had to make a conscious decision to have some courageous patience…but the players on her team will be better off for it.

It is counter-intuitive to allow creative chaos. Every one of us would rather have control…the thing is, kids need a chance to have some control too…and that feels a bit chaotic for us adults.

To learn about Meagan’s current book project make sure to visit her website:  www.meaganfrank.com.

                               

Copyright 2012        Meagan Frank                                      Choosing to Grow

There are too many indications that we are a society in crisis.

It’s evident in media coverage and popular television shows.

In-fighting among our leaders runs rampant. The obesity rate continues to climb for all of us. Young men are perfectly satisfied  with mediocrity and feel no sense of drive to even move out of their parents’ homes. Young women lack confidence in their own abilities, and/or character, and follow media examples to defer to what they can offer sexually or how best they can engage in dramatic displays of dysfunctional relationship.

What does this have to do with how we coach young athletes?

IT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH HOW WE SHOULD CHANGE OUR APPROACH TO KIDS!

The best estimate that I could find for participation in organized youth sports activities in the United States is 30- 40 million children.

That is where we need to go to start building creative, energetic, enthusiastic, well-rounded people who are going to make a positive difference in the world.

Analysts and commentators talk regularly about a seeming lack of leadership.  I contend that there can be no leaders without the freedom to create. Secondly, leaders come from a place of inspiration, and if we squash the efforts of the fledgling leader to explore opportunities for themselves…we will continue to spiral as time goes on.

That’s what’s missing in youth sports, you know. Kids have lost the freedom to be creative, to think for themselves, to make mistakes and find a way to fix the problems all on their own. We are killing kids’ desires to lead.

Dr. Vicki Harber, a Professor in the Faculty of Physical Education & Recreation at the University of Alberta and a member of the Canadian Sport for Life Leadership Team, wrote an article entitled Physical Literacy for Confident, Creative, Healthy Children. In it she discusses the very tragic reality of today’s modern child.

We need to listen to this!  We need to be willing to let go and let kids be who they are meant to be. Our job as parents and coaches is not to mold children like piles of clay into a pre-determined statue. Instead our job is to celebrate the innate abilities that these kids already have and encourage them to explore their potential all on their own.

How do we do that when our youth development has become so structured and programmed?  Kids don’t have the opportunities, or the time, to go out on the playground and imaginatively play. They want to be with their friends who are signed up for teams and activities, so they sign up too.  The problem is, when they get there, the structure remains adult-driven, and what the kids really NEED is lost in the programming.

So build it in…

As coaches of youth teams, how is creative play built in to your practice plan? Schools have recess, choice time, and movement exercises where the kids can form some autonomy.

Why can’t we do that for the sports teams?

Let kids be a part of the practice plan.  Ask them what they want to do, and don’t get annoyed that all they want to do is play games.  All they SHOULD be doing, at most youth levels, is playing games.

Kids are crying out for help. They are dropping out of youth sports at an alarming rate. They are giving up on activity altogether because it was never fun from the start. Be challenged by this. At whatever level you participate: as a parent, as a coach, as an administrator…take a good hard look at how creativity is built into the sports experience and how creative leadership is celebrated for all of the kids who participate.

If we are dissatisfied with where things are, we need to be working to make it better. It’s a matter of principle:

“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

Thomas Jefferson

Our kids deserve more from us. They deserve a chance to be kids…to develop passions…to be celebrated not for doing things just like everyone else, but instead for coming up with a new idea.  Let’s bring that to the sporting arenas!

I know I’ll revisit this topic, and any thoughts on the subject are welcome. The dialogue is necessary, and I hope you’ll engage with comments and suggestions.

For more information on Meagan Frank or her current book project: Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It you can visit her website:  www.meaganfrank.com

2012 Copyright   Meagan Frank                                                Choosing to Grow

Coach Steve Wills, Woodbury Hockey Peewee B2 Royal Head Coach

The story I am about to tell you is not a story you will find in national media. It’s not the kind of story that gets attention from the loudest tv or radio hosts. This is the kind of quiet story that reminds me why I’m glad our kids play team sports.  It’s why we encourage them to fight through those tougher moments, and it gives us all hope that it won’t take much to make youth sports exactly what all our kids need.

On January 15, 2012, two Peewee B2 teams faced off for third place of a tournament in Hermantown, Minnesota. The teams represented Woodbury (a bustling suburb of the twin cities-with over 62,000 residents) and Brainerd (a small northern Minnesota town- population 13,590)

Anyone who has watched much hockey history in Minnesota, knows that there is often no love lost between the city teams and the teams from up north. What happened in Hermantown should be a reminder to all of us that doing the right thing is easier than we think.

The story started even before the two teams took the ice. Just after dryland warm-up, and as the boys headed into their locker room to get ready, Coach Steve Wills, first-year head coach of the Woodbury squad, noticed a lone gentleman sitting in the stands.

Wills could see that the 74-year-old man was wearing a hat with military insignia, but he couldn’t read the specifics. James A. Hodge, a third class petty officer from the USS Chivo from 1955-1958, was wearing the 50th anniversary hat for his three years of service aboard a naval submarine.

Wills thought to himself, “I cannot just walk by this guy” without doing something. So, he followed the boys into the locker room and then asked them, “Hey guys, did anyone notice that gentleman sitting in the stands?”

A couple of the boys nodded that they had, but they hadn’t noticed what their coach had.

Steven Tharalson remembers, “Coach Wills told us there was a veteran out there and we should all go up and thank him and shake his hand.”

So they did.

The boys filed back out of the room, one by one, and headed over toward Mr. Hodge.

As they lined up thanking him, and shaking his hand, an idea popped into the head of one of the boys.

Max Gates, an older player on the team, shook the man’s hand and then stood waiting for his teammates.  He thought it would be nice to salute him too.

“I just thought it would be kinda cool,” Max said.

So with the confidence that comes when a team agrees to do something as a group, the boys all turned and saluted the gentleman for his service.

Woodbury Peewee B2 Royal

Coaches from left– Jim Hanson, Jeff Heinrich, Steve Wills and Brian Nerison
Standing players from left– Tanner Nerison, Nathan Julius, Andrew Pape, Jared Hanke, Steven Tharalson
Kneeling players from left- Logan Davis, Justin Hanson, David Heinrich, Thomas Young, Jayce Schorn-Pedro, Brody Wills, Alex Samuelson
Laying from left- Chase Wills and Max Gates
*not pictured: Sean Wood

When asked why it wasn’t hard to pay tribute to a stranger, Alex Samuelson said, “It’s really nice that man served and fought for our freedom.”

The seemingly small moment of gratitude and honor was a private one among the players and Mr. Hodge, but thankfully it didn’t stay that way.

What the boys could not have known, and what Coach Wills didn’t know either, was that Mr. Hodge was not only the grandfather of a player on the Brainerd team…he was also the father of the opposing head coach.

The story could have been that Coach Hodge learned of the tribute and sent a letter of gratitude, but there was something more to this story. There was that game to play, after all.

Tournament games for a trophy are too often the stage for less than desirable behavior from players, coaches and/or parents.

What Coach Hodge noticed was that this game felt different. There was really something special about this Woodbury team.

Teaching instruction before a drill

“I was listening to their coach, and it was all positive. He pushed them, but the way those kids responded to him… they played so hard the whole game,” Hodge said. He was impressed by the effort of the Woodbury boys, by the class they showed playing the game, and he appreciated the personality of the opposing bench.

“Teams take on the personality of their coach,” he explained, and it was refreshing to see such a vivid example of sportsmanship.

The Brainerd team won the game 4-0, but Coach Hodge admits that they would not win every contest against that Woodbury team.

Unknowingly, the Woodbury boys were going to have a chance to shake hands with another member of the Hodge family… while going through the handshake line.

“Every boy made eye contact with me, and told me good game,” said Hodge. He was impressed too, by the fact that the Woodbury boys took a respectful knee and clapped for the Brainerd team while they received their awards. There is an unwritten rule that such sportsmanship should exist, but, too often, teams forget to be that respectful of their opponents.

It was only after the game that Coach Hodge learned about the pre-game tribute to his father, and he just knew he had to do something to point out the positive things going on for the Woodbury Peewee B2 team.

“We (coaches) work really hard to win, but all the other things we do are more important,” Hodge said.

Coach Hodge sent out letters to local media outlets, and the link to his original letter is here.

A scene like this does not just happen. It is a combination of the right coaches, the right players, and the right kind of guiding parents who all come together at the right place… at the right time.

It took the extra effort of Coach Wills to pay tribute to a military vet he didn’t know.  It took extra effort for the son of that man, Coach Hodge, to then pay tribute to the team that behaved the way teams should behave. Both of these men go above and beyond the x’s and o’s.

Coach Hodge told me he coaches, “to influence kids to be better kids.” And Coach Wills echoed that sentiment almost exactly when he said, “I just enjoy finding out what makes these kids tick and trying to make them better young men; not just better hockey players.”

It was a chance collision of these two good coaches that made this story possible.

After I read the letter,  I too was compelled to do something in honor of all that is right about these teams. I had a chance to observe a recent practice, and afterward the boys were gracious enough to answer some of my questions. I asked them what makes Coach Wills a good coach.

Brody Wills, one of Coach Wills’ sons, told me, “He knows what each one of us can do and he expects from us all that we can do.”

Other answers varied, like, “He teaches us.” “We have fun.” “He doesn’t yell.” “He’s really nice.” and “He knows what to talk about.” But what I heard several times can be summed up in what Logan Davis said. “When we mess up a drill,” he told me, ” he teaches us and encourages us to get it right.”

It is, after all, about doing things right. Coach Wills shared with me the mantra he has for his boys. He regularly instructs them to, “do the next right thing.” It is completely apparent that Coach Wills doesn’t just coach that…he lives it.

Meagan Frank is a freelance writer and author living in Woodbury, MN. She is currently working on a book about youth sports, and you can learn more about her and the book project at her website:  www.meaganfrank.com.

Copyright 2012    Choosing to Grow                              Meagan Frank