Abusive Coaching by James Leath

Our voice as “Coach” stays with our athletes long after they hand in their jersey for the last time. Our words echo inside their brains, the good and the bad. For example, I remember when my high school volleyball coach spent over an hour with me after practice preparing me for a job interview and sharing tips on how to dress and what to say. I also remember when my eighth-grade baseball coach yelled at me from the dugout to “just throw fu$&%ing strikes” when I struggled to get the ball over the plate.

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How to Connect to Athletes by James Leath

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!

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How to Communicate to Youth Sport Athletes by James Leath

Kids are not mini-adults. Let me repeat, kids are not mini adults. They don’t have years of experience on how to deal with emotions and how to behave. It is your job and the job of the other adults in their lives to teach them the strategies they need to deal with these new emotions and how to act. You are there to teach them. Remember: Your behaviors are louder than your words. 

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Take Your Glasses Off by James Leath

Today is the first day of spring. I love spring. The weather gets warmer, the sun gets brighter, and the playing fields get louder. Here are a few tips I teach new coaches on how to increase communication with athletes. These tips will help get your message across to your athletes. And remember, if they keep doing the drill wrong, it means you are doing a poor job of explaining it.

1. Take off your glasses.

In college, I worked at an elementary school as a yard duty teacher. There was an autistic student who was notorious for being a troublemaker on the playground. He once told me I was the only teacher he would listen to. When I asked him why, he pointed at the hand on my side holding my sunglasses. He said, “Because when you talk to me to take your sunglasses off so I can see your eyes - you’re the only teacher who can see me.”

2. Take note of the sun.

After a long practice in the heat, my team took a knee but wouldn’t look at me. I began to get agitated and raised my voice. One of my athletes stood up and said, “Coach, I want to look at you, but right next to your head is the sun and we are staring directly into it.” Whoops, my bad. Bonus: try to have a wall behind you so there is less activity to distract them. If you are talking to a group of young men and behind you is a group of young women, your team is not listening to you. Set your team up for success, not failure.

3. Take a knee.

All day long children are literally looking up to their parents and teachers. Taking a knee or bending over to get on their level will allow them to make a better connection with you. Most likely you will be the only adult all day who met eye to eye with them, and kids remember that stuff because it is human nature to remember how a person made you feel over remembering what a person said.

4. Take a breath.

Kids are not mini-adults. I repeat, kids are NOT mini-adults. They don’t have the years of experience you have learning about emotions and how to control them appropriately. It is your job and the job of other adults who influence them to teach them the strategies they need to deal with these new emotions and how to act. You are there to teach them. Remember: Your behavior is louder than your words.

5. Take two minutes or less.

How many times did your focus waiver when reading this note? Remember that the next time you get mad at your athlete for not paying attention. We live in a world full of distractions. Focus takes energy and lots of practice. Coach Wooden rarely spoke to a player for more than 30 seconds and more typically for only five to seven seconds. His strategy was to teach, show, then have them do it, not give a 5-minute lecture on the history of that drill.

I hope these help you as much as they have helped me over the years.

The Art of the Post Game Conversation by James Leath

I have coached youth sports since I was in high school. I am now in my mid-thirties. If there is one thing that has not changed, it is the child's dread of the car ride home. One thing almost every athlete had in common was how much they looked forward to hanging out with their friends before and after a game. The team would lose, the child is bummed, but then the excitement comes back when the post-game snack arrives. "Are we going to pizza?" "Can I go to Joey's house?" I find it amusing how some parents actually get upset when their child doesn't take a loss as hard as the parent thinks they should. Most parents seem to take the loss worse than the kids.

As your athlete gets older, the competition becomes better, and the stakes get higher. Losing means close to nothing to most 5th and 6th graders, but as you move into middle school and high school the losses sting a little more. Some teams/coaches/parents put much more pressure on their athletes to win.

If you find your athlete in the dumps because of a defeat, here are some tips on what to say on the way home that will help your athlete cope.

On the way home: shut up. Trust me, I am saving you from a fight with your kid. There will come an age (usually around middle school) that your athlete will be aware of a poor performance. We learned a few years ago during the Super Bowl not to talk to an athlete right after the game (see Richard Sherman's post game interview). The emotions are still too high. Wait until they engage you in a conversation. It may take a few games, but eventually, they will open up and want to talk…as long as they know you will not lecture them. Otherwise, you will just be another source of frustration for them.


Validate their feelings. It’s okay to be upset - it means they care. Anger, frustration, annoyance and fear are common responses to losing. Express empathy and be happy your child is experiencing a little difficulty in their world. They won’t break; they are much stronger than you give them credit for.

Lastly, if it’s a short conversation, let it be short. Just know the best thing for them right now is to figure out this new emotion. You have had 20-plus years to learn how to deal with loss. This is new to them. Trying to force a lesson after a loss is the absolute wrong time to try and be Parent of the Year. It’s counter-productive and will most likely end in an unnecessary fight.

The Importance of Self Talk by James Leath

Would you let someone say to your face the same things you say to your mirror?Unknown
Why is it that the world can look at a woman and see how beautiful she is but that same woman constantly reminds herself of how ugly and fat she is?
Many people forget how important self talk is. You can try to ignore your thoughts and the scripts that play over and over but you won’t last long. What we think about and how we think about it dictates the way we perceive the world, and therefore how we feel about things. It is all connected.
Let’s take obesity, for example. Are you overweight? Really? I am not talking about the I-wish-I-could-drop-5-pounds-before-bikini-season overweight. I am talking about the I-am-going-to-literally-die-if-I-don’t-drop-80-pounds overweight.
If the latter is you, then do something about it! You look at yourself in the mirror, you see all the fat, and then what do you say? If you are like most people, you are disgusted. You feel like a failure to let yourself get this big. Well, honestly, that is a start. At least you are seeing yourself as what you are.
Now try this. Look at yourself in the mirror and see what you can be. It will be hard at first. You have been talking trash to your body for years so your thoughts are conditioned to go negative. Did you go to the gym yesterday? Great, that is the right direction. Did you go to bed without eating that piece of pie you normally do? There is another win.
Take a moment to look into the mirror, commit to another day of healthy nutrition and a workout, then take a step. You have to commit everyday.When you catch yourself punching you in the face with self degrading words, stop. Realize it is a big part of how you got there in the first place, then replace it with something positive. I am not advocating old school positive thought theology, but the studies are clear that positive people are just more pleasant to be around! And, you’ll find it is a lot easier to like yourself if you are not always beating yourself up!
Here’s what you can do to start: Look for foods that are not processed. Look at your schedule and put you on it. Label it like my best man used to label his workout sessions: “Obesity Reduction Session.” it’s funny, but 3 months and 50 pounds later, it was no longer a joke.
  • "The way we communicate with others and ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives." -Tony Robbins
  • "As he thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains." -James Allen
  • We must "be" before we can "do" and we can "do" only to the extent that we "are," and what we "are" depends upon what we “think” - Charles Haanel, The Master Key System

What do you say to yourself that beats you up?