Category: Youth Coaching Blog

Achieving Peak Mental Performance – Factor #7: Let ’em struggle

The Growth Mindset – 7 Key Factors to Achieve Peak Mental Performance​​​​​​​
Factor #7 – Creating the mindset of an expert – by letting ’em struggle
One of my favorite movies is My Cousin Vinny (OK I know I’m dating myself a bit.) Vinny struggles in the courtroom because he has no experience. That is until the topic switches to something that he and his foot-stomping ‘my biological clock is ticking’ fiancé are experts in – cars. Then the entire mood shifts. Vinny’s demeanor changes from someone who is overmatched and overwhelmed to a confident and brash attorney.
Athletes can have the same type of overmatched and overwhelmed feeling in a game since they probably aren’t experts at their sport yet. So how can you help switch their mindset so they feel like they are an expert? This is where I rely on experts such as Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code and Carol Dweck in Mindset. Coyle debunks the 10,000 hour rule myth, citing:
‘The real goal: finding ways to constantly reach past the edge of your current ability.
The real lesson of 10K is not about quantity; it’s about quality. It’s about getting the maximum possible gain in the shortest amount of time — and to get that, you don’t focus on the time, but on the gain. You put your focus on improving the practice, which happens two ways: through better methods or increased intensity.
To be clear:
1. Certain kinds of learning — deep, or deliberate practice — are transformative.
2. That transformation is a construction process.
3. That construction process depends on your intensive reaching and repeating in the sweet spot on the edge of your ability.’
Did you catch that: intensive reaching and repeating in the sweet spot on the edge of your ability.’
Building a mentally strong athlete means you have to let them struggle. Not a struggle of despair and stress of trying to accomplish the impossible, but rather a struggle of trying to accomplish a task that is just out of reach of their current ability. And here is where Dweck’s research ties in – the only way they are going to be able to reach that next level is by problem solving. Trial and error. Failures turned into successes.
So to be a master coach – you have to be constantly evaluating where your team and each athlete is at, and figure out how to stretch them into that ‘sweet spot on the edge of their ability.’ Here a few practical ways some of the coaches I have interviewed do this:
  • Construct developmental stages that kids graduate from.
    • Melody Shuman, founder of a martial arts school called Skillz Connect, identifies 7 or 8 skills appropriate for the age. She uses the Goldilocks concept to define these skills – Not too hot, not too cold, but just the right level that is a slight challenge, but attainable. Then she will focus on one of these in each practice. They have a test at the end of the practice, and if they pass they get their ‘stripe’ for that skill.
    • After they have passed the test for each of the skills, they graduate to the next level. Moving up a level is a big recognition and there is a group celebration.
    • Spend the time listening to 2 great podcasts on this subject:
  • Lee Miller from Elite Hoops Basketball calls it ‘Living by numbers’ – They have created 15 core drills that can be measured numerically. They keep track of the results, then they focus on improvement.
  • Fear of failure- Great analogy – Olaniyi Sobomehin, former Saints’ running back and founder of I’, said his son hates to lose and might quit in the middle of a race. So he used the analogy of how obsessed his son is with Mario Kart to beat a level – when he fails to complete a level – he doesn’t quit, he keeps pushing reset until he eventually will beat the level.  So use this analogy to show your athlete the type of passion you need to accomplish something – quitting is the only way you will fail.
  • Scott Rosberg from Proactive Coaching reinforced that as a coach, be sure to use the words: ‘Look what you’ve become!’ or ‘Look what you were able to figure out’ – instead of taking any credit yourself.
There may be no bigger confidence builder than overcoming an obstacle and solving a problem. So let ’em struggle, then celebrate like crazy when they figure it out.
I hope you have learned as much from this series as I have in doing the research on it. If you missed any of the previous factors check them out here:
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Achieving Peak Mental Performance – Factor #6: Stop Telling Players ‘It’s just a game’

The Growth Mindset – 7 Key Factors to Achieve Peak Mental Performance​​​​​​​
Factor #6 – Why tell your mind ‘This is not important’ – When it really is?!
We’ve established the importance that playing present is a key factor, if not THE key factor in achieving peak mental performance. So of course the million dollar question is- HOW DO YOU PLAY PRESENT? In Factor 4 we talked about effective ways to mentally recover from mistakes, so forgetting about the past is part of it. But what I’ve found is the tougher part to master is not the past, but the future. In any situation where you’re doing something that is important to you – it’s natural for the mind to wonder:
‘What happens if I mess this up and I lose future opportunities to do this thing I love?’ 
One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen coaches and parents do (and I’m sure I’ve done it) is to tell a kid ‘It’s just a game – don’t get stressed or worry about it, it’s just not that important in the big picture.’ That is a lie. If it’s something they’ve been working hard to achieve, then it is important. And realistically – have you ever seen this advice work? Have you ever heard a kid say ‘Oh, OK, thanks coach, you’re right, I don’t care if I win this match, thanks, now I’m relaxed!’ So if it really is important, how do we train our minds to remove the future consequences from our thought process? I’ve asked this question to a lot of really smart people in this field, and here are some actionable steps to help:
  • For pre-game nerves: Don’t deny it or try to squelch it!  Embrace it – be excited that you are having pre-game excitement.  It means that this is important to you.  Your body is responding to make you as sharp as possible by waking up all of these feelings and nerves, and you can tap into that strength. – Coach Kevin Kennedy
  • Lighten the mood:
    • One method is a trigger mechanism – something you have practiced and evaluated what works with each individual – something to get the player to smile.  Maybe it’s slapping your leg.  Maybe it’s a teammate saying ‘Spongebob is ugly’, etc.  – Coach Robert Taylor
    • The Knute Rockne-type speeches by a coach often take the fun out of the game and cause the kids to tighten up – just let them go play and have fun – Coach John Doss
    • Be relaxed as a coach – Avoid phrases like ‘Try harder’ or ‘Run faster’ – these commands often tighten up a player’s muscles and stiffens them instead of loosening them up – Coach Jason Larocque
    • Make sure they know your approval of them is not tied to results but rather effort.  ‘In youth sports you cannot play with a piano on your back’ – Kids can’t play with coaches hounding them about mistakes and taking away their confidence. – Coach/Author Michael Langlois
    • The game/performance is just your showcase to have fun and shows off the hard work you have been putting in – Band Director Cameron Gish
  • Try to get the athlete to see the small picture – don’t get overwhelmed by thinking of the big picture – ask the athlete to think of a small victory they can picture – Coach Stacie Mahoe
  • Change the focus off themselves – It’s not about you – Show up to play for your teammates – Coach Ken Stuursma and Coach Creed Larrucea
The goal is to keep ‘Zooming In.‘ The starting point is a huge picture of all past failures and future consequences. Then, using tools such as the ones listed above, we are helping the athlete narrow that window to a smaller and smaller timeframe, eventually getting into a present mindset. I really like Stacie’s advice above to get the athlete to picture a small victory. Picture this conversation with a softball player worried about a big game:
Player:  I don’t know if I can do this, what if I go 0 for 4?
Coach:  Let’s forget about those next 3 at-bats, just focus on this one. Can you picture yourself driving the ball up the middle?
PlayerI don’t know. I’m so nervous I don’t think I can even swing the bat. What if I strike out looking without even swinging?
CoachHow about this: can you picture yourself taking an ugly hack at just one pitch this at bat? I mean a way uglier swing than those funny videos you girls were watching yesterday on your phone. Even if you totally miss the ball, do you think you can just get the bat off your shoulders and take a hack?
Player (snickering a little because she’s picturing a really ugly swing): I guess I could do that. Why would I want to take an ugly swing?
CoachWell, good point. I’ve seen your swing and it’s so natural and fun to watch. So let’s get one really good swing in this at bat and go from there.
Even if they miss, they have overcome their initial nerves. Then that second swing is going to be easier. Then you can turn the process around and start adding small goals. After they have a good swing at a pitch, ask them if they could picture connecting with a pitch and hitting it hard. And it grows from there…
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Achieving Peak Mental Performance – Factor #5: Keep It Simple Stupid

The Growth Mindset – 7 Key Factors to Achieve Peak Mental Performance​​​​​​​
Factor #5 – Simplify
Joe Daniel from The Football Coaching Podcast has one of my favorite quotes about simplifying:
‘Keep everything simple so that your kids build confidence, confident kids play fast, fast kids win games.’
That says it perfectly. The best way to quiet your mind is to not be thinking about a million things while playing. Here are a few other of my favorites that I’ve learned from great coaching minds:
  • Coach Shane Sams identifies 5 skills for each position – then those are the only skills they teach in practice for the entire year. For younger kids maybe only 3 or 4 skills. Repetitions are key – don’t keep changing things up.
  • ‘If your goal is to freeze an athlete – give them a whole bunch of stuff to think about’ – James Leath, head of leadership at IMG Academy
  • Renowned high school championship basketball coach at Christ Pres Academy in Nashville and former Vanderbilt star Drew Maddux uses the term ‘Boundaried Freedom’ – Create the culture and boundaries – and then give them the freedom to go make plays
I was watching the Golf Channel this week and they discussed how Jack Nicklaus credited much of his success to his ability to play present. The ability to stay in the moment allowed him to pay attention to details that many of his competitors missed – the wind speed and direction, the amount of power he was hitting with that day, and many other things that if he had complicated his mind with too many worries or concerns he would have missed. So Keep It Simple Stupid. You will have more fun and your athletes will go out there and play instead of going out there and thinking.
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Achieving Peak Mental Performance – Factor #4: Our mind is a powerful beast to tame

The Growth Mindset – 7 Key Factors to Achieve Peak Mental Performance​​​​​​​
Factor #4 – Playing present & Mistake recovery
Our mind is a powerful beast to tame. Another powerful lesson I learned from Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis is the concept of the battle going on in your mind between your 2 selfs. In summary – Self 1 is the mind and the loud voice, Self 2 is the body, the quiet doer. Where things get out of whack is when Self 1 starts to overthink the importance of what you are doing. Thoughts about past failures or future consequences of your performance will tighten up an athlete and make it impossible to perform at a high level. We’ll dive into a bunch of great ways to de-emphasize the importance of competitions in Factor #6, but here are a few fundamental ways to keep your mind focused on the present:
  • Tim Corbin, national championship baseball coach at Vanderbilt uses the term ‘Play in the middle.’ He teaches his athletes to not think about the past, not think about the future, but rather to stay in the middle. The only thing you need to focus on is the next play.
  • Ray Lokar, PCA coach and speaker, uses the acronym WIN – Whats Important Now. In high pressure situations – have the kids focus on ONE thing that is important (i.e. hold your follow through) – don’t tell them more than one thing or their head will be swimming with too many concerns.
  • Mistake recovery routine – You will make mistakes. You need to have a predetermined response to what you are going to do about them. Coach John Doss has a goalie that beats himself up after any goal allowed – he tells the kid he can take 3 seconds to be upset, then move on.  He will even count 1,2,3 out loud so the kid remembers. Many athletes have developed physical actions to ‘flush’ mistakes:
    • ​​​​​​​Make a small motion with your hand of you ‘flushing’ that mistake away
    • A double-tap on your chest – 1st tap is me saying ‘my bad,’ 2nd tap is me saying ‘I’m over it and am focused on the next play.’
    • A brush of your shoulder to ‘brush’ away the mistake
Quiet your mind. Gallwey uses the analogy of a cat waiting to pounce on a bird. The cat isn’t thinking about it’s posture, what each leg needs to do when attacking, or what the other cats will think about it if it misses. It simply is thinking about what that bird is going to taste like in it’s mouth.
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Achieving Peak Mental Performance – Factor #3: We become what we think about

The Growth Mindset – 7 Key Factors to Achieve Peak Mental Performance​​​​​​​
Factor #3 – Visualization
Did you see Jay Wright’s reaction after his player hit one of the most memorable shots in NCAA history to win the national championship? He simply nodded his head and proceeded to go shake hands with Roy Williams. How is that possible? One of the players on the high school lacrosse team I help coach made a game-winning goal a few weeks ago in a regular season game and we all jumped around like fools. How did Jay remain so calm? The only possible explanation is that Jay completely buys in to the concept presented in Earl Nightingale’s landmark speech The Strangest Secret: ‘We become what we think aboutPicture yourself in your mind’s eye as having already achieved this goal. See yourself doing the things you’ll be doing when you’ve reached your goal.’ Jay, deep down in his heart, truly believed his team was a national championship team, so why would he act surprised when his team achieved this goal?
The same is true for athletes at all levels. They will become what they think about. If they think they are the 5th best player on the team, that is exactly what they will become. Muhammad Ali said ‘I am the greatest. I said that before I even knew I was.’ So how do we get kids to imagine themselves being successful? The first step is we as coaches and parents have to truly believe they are going to be. Then here are some powerful next steps:
  • From The Inner Game of Tennis – Have them react as if they hit a perfect shot regardless of the result: Tell them you are going to use your phone to take video of their reaction after the next 5 shots. You are not going to video the shot result itself, you will be at an angle that will only record their reaction. And here is the key – regardless of how they hit the shot – you want them to react as if they are Lebron James (or whatever athlete they will identify with for your sport) and they had just hit the perfect shot to beat their opponent. The interesting observation is how successful their shots will be when they are not putting any importance on the actual result of the shot itself.
  • Think about how you frame things: it should be framed as a positive. Don’t say ‘Don’t drop this pass’, instead say: ‘Make a great catch on this pass’
  • Sports psychologist Dr. Lindsey Blom teaches on the power of using analogies: Have kids picture themselves as spaghetti noodles – if the child is nervous they may be stiff like uncooked noodles, but if they are relaxed they are loose like cooked noodles. For younger ages – have the kids physically wiggle around and say they are cooked noodles.
  • Master self-talk and quiet your mind: My good friend Jenn Starkey from MVP Leadership Academy shared a great video with me with 7 confidence hacks – and #’s 6 and 7 are about visualization and mastering self-talk – check it out.
  • Confidence is a choice. My friend Olaniyi Sobomehin, former NFL running back and founder of I’m Not You blog and podcasts – has his kids start each day by looking in the mirror and doing ‘Affirmations’, they call it ‘Prime-time.’ They flex their muscles and tell themselves they are strong, confident, and proud. They also record audio of their affirmations in GarageBand laid on top of their favorite track.
We become what we think about. It’s so powerful. If we can master the images in our head, we truly can accomplish whatever we set our minds to.
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Achieving Peak Mental Performance – Factor #2: We are what we repeatedly do

The Growth Mindset – 7 Key Factors to Achieve Peak Mental Performance​​​​​​​
Factor #2 – We are what we repeatedly do
‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.’ – Pete Carroll in Win Forever
The best way to minimize performance anxiety is practice: For every minute of a presentation, you need 1 hour of preparation – the same is true in sports. One of the best things you can do to prepare your athletes for high-pressure situations is to create practices that build up the confidence of players so when these types of situations occur in games they are experienced and know exactly what they are going to do. So how do you create practices like this? Here are some great guidelines:
  • Lots of small-sided games. Kids need lots of touches, and you get more touches with the ball if you are 3 on 3 vs. 5 on 5 or 11 on 11.
  • Freeplay is huge. No parents or coaches. Try having a silent Saturday – coaches and parents aren’t allowed to say ANYTHING.
  • Task design – from Stuart Armstrong of The Talent Equation and Reed Maltbie from
    • Don’t jump in too early – many people get uncomfortable when they see someone struggling and not being able to get there quite yet- so they either jump in and solve it for them, or they move on. But this never allows the learning to happen. The moment when they are close to figuring it out is actually the sweet spot. So the players shouldn’t think everything is easy and fun – it should be a little frustrating and uncomfortable.
    • Implicit Learning – False praise and spoon-feeding kids actually creates a fixed mindset in them. Create the task, then say very little – and observe their attempt to solve the problem, and observe what choices they make, then allow them through a questioning approach subsequent to the activity to feed back to you what they are experiencing, then allow them to solve problems.
    • Give them a challenge, and see if one of the players can figure it out on their own. If one does – let him/her show the team. If not, give them a hint and let them keep trying.
    • Design your practices like a video game designer: Create ‘levels’ that are within their reach, but it’s a big stretch that might feel just out of their reach. So when they figure something out – ask them ‘are you ready for level 2 now?’
Knowing that you are outworking your competition is a huge confidence-builder – I love the quote in a recent article about Kobe Bryant’s work ethic:
“It’s not so much to do with the competition of the players and all this other stuff,” he said, “because I figured out at an early age, even if I showed them what it is that I do, they wouldn’t do it, just because it’s so boring and so much repetition that it takes a long time to do.”
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Achieving Peak Mental Performance – Factor #1: Focus On The Process, Not The Outcome

The Growth Mindset – 7 Key Factors to Achieve Peak Mental Performance​​​​​​​
Factor #1 – Focus on the Process, not the Outcome
There are so many beautiful aspects of playing, coaching, and watching sports. The training, the teamwork, the thrill of a hard-fought victory. There are also many heartbreaks of tough losses, frustrations over bad calls or poor sportsmanship, and disappointments when situations out of your control go awry. The one ingredient I have seen in wise coaches, parents, and players who successfully handle the highs and lows of team sports is they have learned to:
COMPETE as “if to win” not “for the win”
Having this mindset takes the pressure off winning. You don’t have to live and die by the results of each shot, or lose your mind and scream at the ref when he makes a bad call. Those things do not impact your goals for the game – which should not be tied to the final scoreboard. This is easier said than done. Here are some wise practices to get in this mindset:
  • Set a few mini-goals within the game and emphasize those instead of the winning. Celebrate the little steps, don’t go overboard on celebrating wins/losses.
  • Set goals for your kids to try a new move during a game that you have been working on in practice. Willie Cromack during his interview shared with me one of my new favorite quotes for a coach to use: ‘Who is going to be brave enough to try this new move during the game this week?’
  • Have an intentional plan to not pull players immediately after they make a mistake in a game – you want to teach your players to play aggressive and loose, not in fear.
  • Set very clear expectations to your players on how you want them to play the game. Coach John Doss tells his team: ‘Make the right lacrosse play, we’re not worried about the results.’
  • Author Al Ainsworth shared with me a good analogy – in singing: you can’t hold back – ‘Make big fat ugly mistakes’
​​​​​​​When Lebron James was struggling with free throws a few years ago- he went to a shooting coach, and the coach asked him what he was thinking about when he went to the line. Lebron said he was thinking about making it. The coach said- ‘Don’t think about making it, think about your process.’
Next week we’ll dive into how great coaches like Pete Carroll know that practicing pressure situations is the best way to prepare for them in games.

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The Growth Mindset – Achieving Peak Mental Performance – New 7 Week Series

The Growth Mindset – Achieving Peak Mental Performance
In the past 5 days we have witnessed 2 of the biggest extremes in mental performance you will ever see in sports.
Situation #1:
picture courtesy of Newsweek
They call him Big Smooth. He just hit one of the most clutch shots in NCAA basketball history. It’s the shot we all practiced and imagined when shooting in the driveways as kids. I think it’s safe to say he achieved peak mental performance.
Situation #2:
picture courtesy of ESPN
They call him the Big Easy. He just had the highest score on Hole #1 in the 80 year Masters history. The newsworthy part of the story was that he 6-putted from 3 feet away. It is painful to watch, for those of us old enough to remember it brought back memories of Greg Norman’s collapse at the same golf course.
So what allowed one athlete to achieve peak mental performance while the other struggled to perform at all? This is a fascinating and complicated question. In this new series we’ll look at 7 key factors that allow athletes to achieve peak performance. The key resources this information is drawn from will be many great coaches interviewed on the WYC podcast, and 2 must-read books whose philosophies are interwoven throughout all 7 factors:
Mindset – by Carol Dweck
Positive Coaching Alliance cover picture 51m5-B0GaXL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_ 41pSrBzymCL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_
I have learned a great deal from incredible coaches on this subject over the past several years and look forward to sharing it over the next 7 weeks. Next week we’ll get things started taking about how to focus on the process, not the outcome.
Here’s a preview of the content:
  1. Focus on the process, not the outcome Link
  2. Practice is the best preparation Link
  3. Imagery & Self-talk – Link
  4. ‘Play present’ & Mistake-recovery routines – Link
  5. SIMPLIFY! – Link
  6. How do you de-emphasize the importance of the moment? – Link
  7. Developmental stages & celebrations – Link
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3 Things I Learn From Sports-Talk Radio & What I’m Doing About It (You Should Too!)

Tired of Sports Radio? Frustrated with the lack of positive messages for youth sports?  CHOOSE to do something about it. 
Image – Is there an alternative to sports talk radio? pictured: iTunes Sports Podcasts
I listen to a fair amount of sports radio, and most of the time afterwards I have learned:
  • The __________ (fill in name of your local professional sports teams) are run by morons
  • Professional athletes get in a lot of trouble, particularly after midnight
  • There are plenty of male clinics to help you with any bedroom performance issues you are having
I wrote a few months ago about 4 books that have changed my life, click here to see that post. Today I want to share a few podcasts that constantly change and improve me. I have found podcasts to be a much more productive use of my time vs. sports talk radio. Some of these podcasts I share have huge audiences, and others are new and up-and-upcoming. I have gotten to know all of these hosts – And I’m asking you to not just read this email, but to TAKE ACTION on it. It says in James in the Bible:
      ‘Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth’
So I am asking you to check out these podcasts – and if you believe in them and their message – help get the word out and keep them going by writing a review. Stop complaining about what’s happening in youth sports…and do something about it.  iTunes reviews can be a bit tricky to enter, so I made some easy-to-follow instructions with screenshots- get them here.
  1. The Hardwood Hustle podcast – Alan Stein and Adam Bradley
  2. The Football Coaching podcast – Joe Daniel
  3. The Sports Parenting podcast – Janis Meredith
  4. Teamsnap Youth Sports podcast – Emily Cohen
  5. 100% Athlete podcast – Reed Maltbie and colleagues
  6. Mind over Sport podcast – Warren Nye
  7. Athlete on Fire podcast – Scott Jones
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More Than Words- Fill Your Mind With Positivity Part 4 of 4

Coaches often use inspirational words and quotes to motivate their teams. Coaching, like life, is a rollercoaster ride full of peaks and valleys, and it is important to fill your mind with positivity to help you persevere through the valleys. So over the next 4 weeks I’ll share the words of coaches who have motivated me over the past 2 years while sharing their wisdom on the WYC podcast. I hope they motivate you as much as they have me!
Let’s overload Twitter with positivity this week! Pick out your favorite 1 or 2 quotes and share it by clicking on the ‘Click to tweet’ link.
Chris Stricker: ‘As a coach – you can’t be pulling the wagon by yourself.  If your best players are pulling the wagon – everyone is going to on board.’   Click to Tweet  Podcast episode
Jill Kochanek: ‘The perfect time to build confidence is in practice’  Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Steve Boyle: ‘It’s perfectly OK to let kids know that winning is an expected outcome of competition.  The problem becomes when we focus too much on the value of the win as opposed to the value of the experience.’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Warren Nye: ‘Success is a peace of mind, which is a direct result of self satisfaction, in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.’ – John Wooden   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Valeri Garcia: ‘Stop trying to coach at a pre-college level – coach them at the level that they are right now.’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Drew Maddux: ‘We were running the program with a fear-based approach instead of a freedom-based approach. – Boundaried Freedom – Create the culture and boundaries – and then give them the freedom to go make plays’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Creed Larrucea: ‘Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out’ – John Wooden   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Reed Maltbie: ‘Words echo – the words you use when coaching kids matter – be careful choosing what words you use. What’s your echo – coach beyond the game’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Willie Cromrack: ‘Who is going to be brave enough to try this new move during the game this week?’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Melody Shuman: ‘Have every student become a better version of themselves’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Jason Hahnstadt on running sprints: ‘Raise your hand when you are committing to your teammates that this will be your best effort.’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Adam Bradley: ‘The drug of choice amongst the youth of today is popularity’ – Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Stuart Armstrong: ‘Task Design is critical – because many people get uncomfortable when they see someone struggling and not being able to get there quite yet- so they either jump in and solve it for them, or they move on. But this never allows the learning to happen. The moment when they are close to figuring it out is actually the sweet spot.’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Robert Murphy: ‘Wrestling at young ages without training is like human cock-fighting. It’s child abuse.’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
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More Than Words- Fill Your Mind With Positivity Part 3 of 4

Coaches often use inspirational words and quotes to motivate their teams. Coaching, like life, is a rollercoaster ride full of peaks and valleys, and it is important to fill your mind with positivity to help you persevere through the valleys. So over the next 4 weeks I’ll share the words of coaches who have motivated me over the past 2 years while sharing their wisdom on the WYC podcast. I hope they motivate you as much as they have me!
Let’s overload Twitter with positivity this week! Pick out your favorite 1 or 2 quotes and share it by clicking on the ‘Click to tweet’ link.
Dr. Michael Phillips: ‘The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you figure out why’ – attributed to Mark Twain   Click to Tweet  Podcast episode
Dr. Michael Cathey: ‘Talk TO your players, not AT them’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
John O’Sullivan: ‘When you are coaching sports – you don’t coach a sport, you coach a child’ – Dr. Martin Toms   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Cameron Gish: ‘When you encounter adversity, your character is revealed in how you respond’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Joe Daniel: ‘Keep everything simple so that your kids build confidence, confident kids play fast, fast kids win games’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Mark Linden: ‘Kids don’t sign up to practice baseball, they sign up to play baseball.’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
JJ Lawson: ‘Attitude reflects leadership’ Click to Tweet  & ‘We don’t teach our offensive linemen to block – we teach them to hit.’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Kevin Kennedy: ‘For pre-game nerves: Don’t deny it or try to squelch it!  Embrace it – be excited that you are having pre-game excitement.  It means that this is important to you.’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Rich Clayton: ‘In coaching, people will only listen to you, because they truly believe that you can make them better’ – Bill Bellichick when someone asked him ‘Why would a coach making $12 million a year listen to someone making $100k a year?’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Stacie Mahoe: ‘Leadership is action not position’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Jenn Starkey: ‘If you can’t explain it to a 6 year-old, you don’t understand it yourself’ – Albert Einstein   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
John Doss: ‘Make the right lacrosse play, we’re not worried about the results’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Al Ainsworth: ‘Don’t’ hold back – We want big fat ugly mistakes’  Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
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More Than Words- Fill Your Mind With Positivity Part 2 of 4

Coaches often use inspirational words and quotes to motivate their teams. Coaching, like life, is a rollercoaster ride full of peaks and valleys, and it is important to fill your mind with positivity to help you persevere through the valleys. So over the next 4 weeks I’ll share the words of coaches who have motivated me over the past 2 years while sharing their wisdom on the WYC podcast. I hope they motivate you as much as they have me!
Let’s overload Twitter with positivity this week! Pick out your favorite 1 or 2 quotes and share it by clicking on the ‘Click to tweet’ link.
Dave Westwood and Rich Czeslawksi: ‘A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say ‘we did it ourselves’– Lao Tzu  Click to Tweet  Podcast episode
Clint Schumacher: ‘Put aside your positional authority to demand, and think about your relational credibility to expect’ – from 2 Timothy in the Bible  Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Randy Montgomery: ‘When asked about how he handled a player: ‘You don’t handle people, you work with people’’ Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Rich Czeslawski: ‘It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts’ – John Wooden   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Mike Frederick: ‘The reason I coach is to make each player feel valued – from the top player on the roster to the bottom’  Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Robert Taylor: ‘At the youth level of sports – you don’t want more reps- you want better reps.’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Scott Jones: ‘I don’t even count reps until I’m burnt out, then I’ll do 20 more’ – Muhammad Ali   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Amanda Kephart: ‘Coaching is a great opportunity to allow the child to practice being what they want to be, not what their classmates think they are’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
James Leath: ‘If your goal is to freeze an athlete – give them a whole bunch of stuff to think about’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Niyi Sobo: ‘Leaders are stubborn on vision but flexible on details and approach’ – Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Caz McCaslin: ‘Billy Graham on sports: ‘It’s the last thing left where there is immediate discipline for wrongdoing’   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Brian Brunkow: ‘We run a forward-looking operation’ – Chip Kelly after tough loss   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Ray Lokar – ‘When you take the time to teach your boys, there’s an implied confidence that you believe they can achieve, and that’s praise in itself’ – Coach John Wooden   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
Emily Cohen: ‘Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming’ – John Wooden   Click to Tweet   Podcast episode
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More than Words, Who can you inspire this week? Part 1 of 4

Coaches often use inspirational words and quotes to motivate their teams. Coaching, like life, is a rollercoaster ride full of peaks and valleys, and it is important to fill your mind with positivity to help you persevere through the valleys. So over the next 4 weeks I’ll share the words of coaches who have motivated me over the past 2 years while sharing their wisdom on the WYC podcast. I hope they motivate you as much as they have me!
Let’s overload Twitter with positivity! Pick out your favorite 1 or 2 quotes and share it by clicking on the ‘Click to tweet’ link.
Diane Renzi: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are’ – Theodore Roosevelt  Click to Tweet
Luke Dunnuck : ‘Focus on the process not the outcome’ – Butler coach Brad Stevens  Click to Tweet
Todd Grosse: ‘Iron sharpens iron as one man sharpens another’ – Proverbs 27:17 Click to Tweet
Ken Stuursma: ‘Other than Dad, the best thing you can be called is Coach’  Click to Tweet
Damien Wong-Ken: ‘Life as a Vapor – Life Is Short. Eternity Is Long. Live Like It’ – John Piper  Click to Tweet
Dr. Lindsey Blom: ‘Catch them Being Good’ – Tony DiCicco  Click to Tweet
Rob Jones: ‘Good, better, best. Never let it rest, until your good is better, and your better is best.’  Click to Tweet
Lance Akridge, Dr. Michael Phillips, and Drew Maddux: ‘The Enemy to Great is Good’ – Jim Collins in Good to great  Click to Tweet
Kent Julian: ‘What you believe in is evidenced by how you live not by what you say’  Click to Tweet
Brent Kreid: ‘You’re the leader, but it’s not about you’  Click to Tweet
Brian Beaman: ‘I’m not trying to raise great kids, I’m trying to raise great adults’  Click to Tweet
Alan Stein: ‘Always, always, always – do what is in the best interest of the player’  Click to Tweet
Shane Sams: ‘Don’t just tell me about problems. Tell me about some solutions’  Click to Tweet
Michael Langlois: ‘In youth sports you cannot play with a piano on your back’  Click to Tweet
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Did I really just do that? – Being a great gameday coach Part 8 of 8

Being a coach is such an amazing opportunity to be engaged with and influence young people. Billy Graham once said:
‘A coach will influence more people in 1 year than most people will in a lifetime’
Yet it’s so easy to get caught up in the moment and lose perspective when in the heat of the moment of the game. In the podcast interviews I do with coaches, I always ask about their biggest ‘cringe’ moment from their coaching experiences – and the vast majority of answers I get involve their behavior towards officials, other coaches, or parents.  The reason we regret these type of actions so much is that we know there are a bunch of little eyes watching us, and those kids will emulate what they see. You can give all the speeches you want to the kids about character and integrity, but what really will influence their behavior is how you behave. Here are a few simple things to focus on to make sure you are acting like the type of person you want the kids to emulate:
  • Be present. In practices and games. This starts as soon as warmups begin. Turn off your cell phone. This isn’t time to chat with the parents or referees or former players, that can happen afterwards, you need to be focused if you want the the kids to be focused.
  • Do you yell at the referees or your players?  Then don’t be surprised when the kids you coach yell at their teammates and/or referees.
  • Recognize greatness – on both teams.  Tell a kid from the other team ‘nice shot’ when he goes by your bench. This is contagious.
  • Be excited to be there, have passion for the game, relax and enjoy the experience.
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It’s Not About You – Being a great gameday coach Part 7 of 8

90+% of all problems in youth sports could be eliminated if coaches(and parents) could remember, and act on, this one point:
‘It’s not about you. Or your win/loss record.’
Individuals>’The program’
Yes, that’s right, I said it: Individuals>’The program.’ Coaches often misuse this concept. Team sports are awesome and powerful opportunities to learn about sacrifice, playing for someone other than yourself, and the whole ‘play for the name on the front of the jersey not the name on the back’ concept. But remember that is all from the player’s perspective. This is where coaches can lose perspective and confuse this. The best way to picture this is to ask this question:
‘If I could sacrifice the self-confidence and wellbeing of one of the players on my team so that the team could win a championship, would I do it?’
I think most would answer with an emphatic ‘No!’ Yet so many of the decisions around playing time, rewards/recognition, and who coaches focus their attention on is doing just this – tearing down the self-confidence of the children they coach. I’m not an advocate for equal playing time or ‘everybody gets a trophy’ – kids who work harder in the offseason absolutely deserve to play more than kids who don’t. But from a coach’s perspective – all decisions and actions need to factor in ALL the players on the team. It can be small things – Coach Drew Maddux, multi-time state champion at CPA in Nashville, TN – makes sure he talks to each player on his team and calls each one by name at every practice. And he doesn’t do cuts, so this can be 30+ kids at practice.
John Wooden often referred to his college coach at Purdue, Piggy Lambert, who when asked whether he had a successful season said:
‘Ask me in 20 years and we’ll see how successful these boys are. Then I’ll be able to tell you if I succeeded as a coach.’ 
Listen, I’m as competitive as the next guy, probably more so, but when I coach it’s not about me. My friend Alan Stein shared with his #1 rule to remember when coaching:
‘Always, always, always – do what is in the best interest of the player’
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Drop the mic- Pre-game,Halftime,Post-game Talks – Being a great gameday coach Part 6 of 8

We’ve all seen movies with powerful emotional pre-game, halftime, or post-game speeches given by the coach that inspired their team to play over their head and beat a Goliath-type opponent. So it’s easy to think this is what we should emulate to get our team fired up. Is this what the best coaches do? In my experience and observations, it is not. In fact, having done some of this early in my coaching days, it accomplishes just the opposite- it tightens the players up. Dave Cisar from Winning Youth Football discusses this in his book, stating:
‘I don’t go for much of the rah-rah stuff, and most of the very successful coaches I studied didn’t either’ 
Alan Stein from the Hardwood Hustle podcast had a recent episode where he discussed the 3 things to focus on in any pre-game, halftime, or post-game talk:
  1. Be concise, no fluff
  2. Be intentional and purposeful with your words
  3. Be honest
Check out this podcast episode, really good info:
A practical application that works well:
  • State your 2 or 3 goals for the game
  • Remind specific players/groups of a particular focus for having success in that game. ‘Offensive line remember to communicate as this coach loves to move around his defensive linemen to try to confuse you’
  • Have the players fist-bump their teammates and tell each other they believe in them and are playing for them, not themselves
  • Be extremely brief. Remember post-game is typically not a good time to teach. Kids minds are tired and they usually know what they did wrong or right. And usually when you go back and watch film you’re not as bad as you think in a loss, and you’re not as good as you think in a win.  Use gamefilm to truly analyze your performance and then make improvements in the next practice.
  • Let 1 or 2 teammates recognize each other and acknowledge someone who they saw give extraordinary effort or teamwork
  • Then… drop the mic. Let the kids go be kids.
I’ve heard differing opinions on whether to review how you did accomplishing your goals during your post-game talk. I do not. I do this at the start of my next practice. It is a great way to set the tone for your practice after you have had a chance to review the game on film. Then you can begin the practice by celebrating successes and talking about how you are going to fix shortcomings.
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Are you ready for this? – Being a great gameday coach Part 5 of 8

When I think back on my first few years coaching I realize that gamedays were not enjoyable, they were stressful. Why was this? The main reason was that I did not do a good job of doing as the boy scouts do:

‘Be Prepared’

This lack of preparation led to unease of what I would do if unexpected scenarios arose. And more importantly – it took away from my enjoyment of the game and my ability to help the players enjoy the game. Gameday is the time for players to enjoy the fruits of their labor, to showcase everything they have been working hard on in practice. By not adequately preparing, I was robbing the kids of my full engagement and enjoyment of the day.

Here are a few tips on things to prepare in advance of gameday to allow you to feel relaxed because you are ready for pretty much any scenario:

  • What is we’re up by a bunch – who do I want to get some extra playing time to? What if we’re down by a bunch – same question.
  • What is our plan if our base 1 or 2 plays are not working?
  • What if the referees make several costly big calls against you (they will!)?
  • You need a back-up plan for every player on the team- what if we lose our starting point guard or quarterback? You need to act calmly and prepared for every scenario – your team will respond in accordance with how you respond.
  • What if one of my coaches or I get sick or have an emergency? Who will take on that coach’s responsibilities?
  • Have backup equipment (i.e. mouthpieces, jerseys, etc.)
  • Bring a copy of league rules. And know them.

Don’t be the coach who is scrambling to figure out his starting line-up 5 minutes before the game. Be prepared. Then when scenarios occur that are beyond what you prepared for – THEY WILL- just relax, smile, and calmly make adjustments to your plan. Prepare to enjoy gameday.

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The best playbook ever – Being a great gameday coach Part 4 of 8

The search for the perfect playbook for their team consumes many coaches’ focus and energy. The irony is, the great coaches I have observed consistently have playbooks than can be boiled down in 2 simple ways:
1 – They have 2 or 3 base plays and a few variations off of these
​2 – They don’t change much throughout the season
Do you know what the best playbook is for your team? It’s probably the one you have right now, but probably should have less plays. Keep it simple. One of the best football minds I know is Joe Daniel, he shared this with me:
‘Simplify so kids build confidence-confident kids play fast-fast kids win games.’
During every season most likely there will be a game, or a stretch of games, where it feels like your playbook is not working. Here are a few Do’s and Dont’s to consider when evaluating how to fix it:

– Do this: Spend time perfecting your base plays in practice the next week.  Re-visit the fundamentals of what makes the base plays work and analyze any shortcomings.  Lots of reps vs. air with attention to the ‘little things’ that make your system work
– Do this: Seek input from an expert. Show video of a couple plays to your local high school coach and ask for his advice.
 Don’t do this: Panic/over-react. Think your system is flawed, scrap the whole thing, and implement a whole new system.
– Don’t do this: Think you need more plays to ‘trick’ the other team.  Often if things aren’t working you have too many plays.  And sometimes the other team is just really good.
Keeping things simple and sticking with a consistent plan allows you to focus on what the great coaches focus on: teaching kids to be great at fundamentals and to play games freely without overthinking complicated systems.
Next week we’ll look into gameday scenarios to be prepared for.
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Nice guys don’t finish last, lazy coaches do

Why do most parents end up coaching one of their kid’s teams?  Is it to fulfill their lifelong dreams that they are the next John Wooden?  Is it so they can make their kid the starting quarterback or shortstop? (There will be parents on 99.9% of teams that accuse you of this.)

The reason most parents start coaching is to prevent their child from playing for a bad coach.  A yeller.  A win-at-all-costs coach.  An unorganized time-waster.  Someone who takes the fun out of learning and playing a sport.  That’s why I started coaching.

So since I have the right motives everything will just go great, right?  The parents and kids will see that I am a ‘fun’ coach and love being on this team, right?  No one will care if we get pummeled in most games because we are playing for the right reasons, right?

Don’t make the mistake that I did my first few years of coaching – indirectly teaching your kids that nice guys finish last.  That was a lazy coaching philosophy.  I didn’t do my homework and prepare our team.  I didn’t realize it, but I was teaching the kids that being average was OK.

What I eventually did was research the most effective ways to teach the kids to be excellent.  To be great.  To be awesome.  Preparing a team to win and being a win-at-all-costs coach are two very different things.   A wise coach taught me: “Learn to compete ‘as if to win’, not ‘for the win.’  You can’t control the way the ball bounces or referees’ calls, so winning is not the only objective.  But you can control whether or not you have done everything possible to prepare your team for greatness.

I Corinthians 9:24

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it.


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Tough loss and a hug

After a really tough loss ended a deep playoff run, our team had our post-game chat. And then something really memorable happened.

Sure, we encouraged the kids in the post-game wrap up. We celebrated all the things we did well.  We broke out one last time in our team chant.

And then something unexpected happened.

One of our players, who was young, small, and not a star on the team- came up and hugged me and started crying a little (I’m sure he would never admit it.)  Then he took a few steps, and came back and hugged me again.

Wow was that powerful. Instantaneously that small gesture had make me forget about the toughest loss of my coaching career.

When the whistle blew to end the game, I had countless doubts running through my head.  Did we prepare the team the proper way?  Should I have called a different play?  What went wrong?

But that hug erased all the doubts and questions.  As a team and as coaches – we had stuck to our mission, worked endlessly to be great, and done it the right way.  Were we perfect?  No.  But that young man told me, without using any words, that the road to greatness is awesome and this was truly a season and experience he loved.

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Emotional Playing-Time Decisions – Be Wise in How you Communicate

One mistake I made on a team I coached was how I handled a highly emotional situation.  One of our players made it very obvious he really wanted to play a certain position.  After evaluating the players, our coaching staff determined the line-up that made the most sense for the team.  This player was not initially going to start at the position he wanted.  Not getting to play the position you want or think you deserve is something that happens all of the time in sports, but the wise coaches deal with it in a way that can help diffuse the situation.  I was not wise with this young man.

I showed up for practice, called our team together, and announced all the positions in front of the whole team.  This boy was very upset and it was very visible.

I could have saved that player a lot of embarrassment, and the team a very awkward situation, if I had handled it differently.

What I should have done was pull this player aside before practice and  had a one-on-one discussion.  There is no point in embarrassing him in front of the whole team with a surprise.  This would also allow me to explain to him that he was going to get a chance to play that position, he just wasn’t going to start the first game there.  It would also have allowed for him to express any disagreement or concerns with the decision in a much more comfortable setting.  Communicating with more sensitivity would have greatly diffused what turned into a pretty ugly situation.

Building up the self-esteem of these young boys and girls is the most important aspect of youth coaching, and this requires wisdom.  Having wisdom in the area of communication with players means taking into consideration the right way of presenting disappointing news, and utilizing this as a teaching moment.

James 3: 17-18 – But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

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