Question: How can I get my 14-year-old to not be so critical?

Question: How can I get my 14-year-old to not be so critical?

Coach, when my 14-year-old son comes home from practice and the only one criticizing him is himself, it is frustrating. As a goalie, he is pretty vocal on the field, except for when he makes mistakes. The angrier he gets at himself, the worse he plays. Is there a technique to somehow curb that anger and frustration so it doesn't mess him up, or does that start to become a maturity thing?

Winning with a Mediocre Team

Winning with a Mediocre Team

To find more success in youth sports, simplify your playbook, increase your ability to connect with children, and practice in-game situations. But whatever you do, don’t assume the child has learned how to listen and respond. We are the adults, and we are their models for how to be. 
Be a great adult. 

Conversation with Coach

Conversation with Coach

Remember, we are in the business of creating adults. In the past week, I have not seen a cone, replaced a cleat, or heard a whistle, but I have had hard conversations with other adults. I can do that in part because the youth coaches I had were my models for communication and I was lucky to have some really great examples. 

How to Connect to Athletes

How to Connect to Athletes

As an older coach, how do you stay relevant to the younger generations? I get this question often. Pop culture is constantly evolving and it can be hard to stay knowledgeable about what is going on. A few years ago I took about 30 minutes to figure out what Pokemon go was all about. When I dropped it in a lesson during class, it was instant street cred!

The Double Defeat

The Double Defeat

When the scoreboard says defeat, and you have given yourself completely to the experience, you can hang your head high knowing you gave your all. 

But if you held back, and you lost, you lost TWICE: A double defeat.

That will for sure keep you up late at night sobbing about your "what if" story.

Attention to Detail

Attention to Detail

Coach, challenge your athletes to set the standard for the team. They will not adhere to seemingly arbitrary rules handed down on a piece of paper or written on a wall. You didn't when you were an athlete and neither will they. However, if you can get them to feel how the expectation will help them, you will see improved compliance. 

What to say on the first day of practice

 What to say on the first day of practice

You know first impressions matter. You want them to respect you. You want them to trust you. You want them to want to come to practice and give everything they have.

Doubt creeps in, bringing along questions you know are ridiculous, but you entertain them anyway.

Take Control of Your Destiny

Take Control of Your Destiny

This is a speech I gave to a championship football team three months before they were champions. It was a room full of young men, but the speech could easily be for either gender.

Your future is being created right now, in this instant. Take ownership of what you can control and be the reason for your success, leaning not on the talent of others, but by the character of your best self.”

The Whisper of Inspiration

“LEATH! LEATH!” I hear my replacement yelling my name. I jog to the sidelines and report to my position coach. He is furious. At 5’9, my defensive back coach played college football at the same position I was just relieved of. I prepare myself for a wicked tongue lashing, but I get nothing.

Kids are not mini-adults

"Get the rebound!”

I scream at these athletes to be more aggressive under the basket, but it seems to fall on deaf ears. I have three of the tallest girls in the league and we are getting outrebounded! I slap my clipboard to get their attention, but it seems nothing is working.

Then, the plastic clipboard shatters into about ten pieces and falls to the court all around me.

I call a timeout. Embarrassed by my actions, I frantically pick up the pieces of my shattered clipboard. My sixth-grade girls basketball team walks toward me with their heads down. It is only the second quarter of the first game of the season.

“Girls, I am so sorry.” “Why do you keep yelling at me?” asks Halie. “I’m not yelling at you, I am trying to get all of you to box out and get the rebound.” I pause for a response. I get nothing but blank stares. The girls look back at me and say nothing. “Okay, a fresh start. No more yelling,” I say. "Let’s just have some fun out there. Randy, get a break and let’s get back to the game.”

The girls say a team break and I can tell immediately I have not only shattered my clipboard, but also their confidence in me as their coach. For the rest of the game, I try to win back their trust but I can see I have a lot of work to do.

We lost the game. The year before, the team went 0-10 under a different coach. It looks like I might be headed in the same direction. I kept the post-game talk to about ten seconds then released them to get on the bus.

A friend of mine came to watch me in my first game as a girls basketball coach. On the ride home, it is silent for a few blocks, then she turns the radio down and breaks the silence.

“Why were you so upset?” “I know, I am so embarrassed.” “But what did you want them to do?” “Just get a rebound!” I explain. "I don’t know why it is so hard. They are the tallest girls in the league, and…” “I know,” she interrupts. “Do they know what a rebound is?” “Of course they do!” What a silly question, I think to myself. “So, then what kind of rebound drills have you done at practice?"

There it is. Dang it! She was right. In three weeks of practice, I had not once taught the girls to rebound, much less “box-out” to make it easier to get a rebound. I made the common mistake of believing my girls would just inherently know how to use their height as an advantage. The fundamentals are never too basic to teach. I think of Coach Lombardi when he would start every football season as an NFL coach with a simple sentence as he held up a football: “Gentlemen, this is a football.”

Thanks to youtube, I found some great drills on teaching rebounding. I apologized to the team for my behavior and asked for their forgiveness. They accepted my apology, and and with hard work and determination, we ended up in the championship game losing in triple overtime.

Every season, no matter the level of the sport, a different team shows up. Though the athlete could be coming from the same school as the year before, every season has its own culture and feeling. 6th graders are now 7th graders, juniors are now seniors, so on and so forth. A lot changes in a young athlete’s life between seasons, and as coaches we should not assume fundamentals are as sharp as they were the year before, or that the athletes are coming with prior knowledge. As an adult, I need to be reminded more than taught, and that is also true for my athletes. Repetition breeds mastery, and as coaches we must not forget the importance of the seemingly mundane tasks of practicing the fundamentals. The lesson I learned was to focus on the basics and make it easy to unleash my athletes to reach their highest potential. The next time I coached at that level, I took a very different approach from the very beginning. (Here is a sample of one of the drills I do everyday).

Start your season with a clean slate, and make sure every athlete understands the expectations you have for them and the knowledge to live up those expectations. Good luck, Coach!

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You Hit Like a Girl

You hit like a girl!

I was sitting in the bleachers at my school enjoying a youth football game when I heard those words come from a coach directed at his running back. Apparently, the running back was not being aggressive enough and as a way to motivate, the coach decided to use that sentence.

It wasn't the first time I had heard that sentence. I remember the first time I put on a helmet and was asked to tackle my teammate in a drill. I lined up, barely able to see out of my helmet because it had come down to cover most of my eyes when I heard the whistle blow.

The ball carrier ran towards me and I was terrified. I closed my eyes, opened my arms, and braced for impact. The wind was knocked out of me and I started to cry.

“Get up, Leath,” coach says.

I could barely breathe. My teammate helped me up and the coach walked over to me.

I finally catch my breath only to receive the next devastating blow, one that will hurt me much longer than the previous one.

“You hit like a girl, and now you are crying like one,” he says.
I can’t see through my tears and I try with everything in me to catch my breath.

"Go to the end of the line, and come back when you decide to man up!”

I was nine years old.

It was years before I realized how damaging that can be to a young boy. When a coach tells a young boy in front of his friends he is playing like a girl, that has the power to destroy him.

And more importantly, what does teach him about girls? It took me a long time to answer that question for myself. In that moment, I was taught that girls are physically weak; that crying is an emotion that displays weakness and therefore reserved for girls and that behavior won’t be tolerated.

Children get the foundation of their identity, beliefs, and values from the people they meet on their journey through childhood. Parents get the first shot at passing on their knowledge and experience to their kids, but as they get older, teachers, religious leaders, and coaches gain credibility in the eyes of the student and an identity is formed that will later define who that young person becomes.

So when Cam Newton expresses how it is "funny" that a woman can understand routes in football, he takes all the fall out (and he should have consequences for such an ignorant statement). But we forget that apparently the many men in his life were either silent on negative gender specific stereotypes or a more likely scenario is that those men encouraged male-dominant behavior. Yes, he apologizes, but how unfortunate that he even said it in the first place.

A great coach will take Newton’s terrible choice of words and use it as a teachable moment for young boys to learn that young girls grow up into strong women and the world needs both strong men and strong women, working together.

I think a great myth in America is that sports build character. This is false.

[ctt title="Sports do not build character unless a coach intentionally teaches it and models it." tweet="Sports do not build character unless a coach intentionally teaches it and models it. @jamesleath https://ctt.ec/9d460+" coverup="9d460"]

Respect for women is learned when men model that behavior to the young boys who want to be just like their coach. As coaches, we have been given a transformational voice that, if used intentionally, can help create a future where we don’t repeat our mistakes. It is an honor to have that voice, and we should all be reminded that we will be held accountable for our actions for every athlete who has us listed in their phone as “Coach.”

  No written word, nor spoken plea
  Can teach the kids what they should be.
  Not all the books on all the shelves   It's what the teachers are themselves.
               
            -Ronald Gallimore, quoted by John Wooden
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Are You Brave? Empowering a Child to Find Courage

With juice and a donut in hand, Cameron and I are sitting on a park bench outside the gym where we just finished playing our second basketball game of the season. "Cameron, why don’t you shoot the ball during the game?” I ask. “Last year, my coach told me I wasn’t allowed to shoot.”

“Hmmm.” I pause. Take a bite of my blueberry donut and fight the urge to ask who her coach was so I can have a few words with that man or woman, but I snap back to the present and focus on the magnitude of this moment in this 10-year-old’s life.

“Well, you are my center… and the tallest girl on the team. What happens when you shoot?” “I miss…a lot.” She looks down at her feet, embarrassed by her performance. “So, what if I told you on this team, you are allowed to shoot, and miss?” “Seriously?” Her face lights up. “Cameron, do you want to get better?” “Yes.” “Do you want to help your team be successful?” She nods. “Then from now on, you are allowed to shoot.” She smiles, then looks away, contemplating her fate. “And if I miss…” “I don’t care if you miss, Cameron. I just want you to be brave. If you see the shot, take the shot. If someone is in your face, then pass to your teammate.” Cameron looks out to the field. I can tell I have sparked something in her. There is a competitor in there and I need to draw it out.

“Are you brave?” “Yes, coach, I am brave.” She straightens her back. I can feel the energy shift. “I know you are. These girls look up to you. I want you to know you can be brave during the game and at practice. These girls look up to you, and I trust you.” We clink our juice boxes, she leans over to give me a hug. The smile on her face in that moment is worth every minute I spent volunteering to coach that team that season.

The next week, Cameron takes her shot in the first 45-seconds of the game. It misses the rim completely and the other team gets the rebound. The team sprints to the other side of the court to set up for defense. Before Cameron can turn around, I am already on my feet. “Good job, Cameron. I see you. Do it again.” She smiles, gives me a thumbs up, hustles to the other side of the court.

We won the game, 32-14. Cameron had 12 points.

We didn’t win every game that year, but a child felt loved and gained confidence in herself. That is why we coach.

[ctt title="Empowering a Child to Be Brave" tweet="Empowering a Child to Be Brave by @jamesleath https://ctt.ec/g4C1_+" coverup="g4C1_"]

Recommended Reading:

  • Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead http://amzn.to/2gnncKJ

As for you, my fine friend, you are a victim of disorganized thinking. You are under the unfortunate delusion that simply because you run away from danger, you have no courage. You are confusing courage with wisdom. Back where I come from, we have men who are called heroes. Once a year, they take their fortitude out of mothballs and parade it down the main street of the city, and they have no more courage than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a medal. Therefore, for Meritorious Conduct, Extraordinary Valor, Conspicuous Bravery against the Wicked Witches, I award you the triple cross. You are now a member of the legion of Courage.”

-The Lion formerly known as "Cowardly"

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