Goals by Age, not by Year.

I get asked about goal setting a lot. Today being New Year's Eve, a day notorious for audacious goal setting, allow me to share how I do goals. Perhaps it may help you like it has helped me.
I do not set goals that start on January 1st. My goals, a.k.a. resolutions, get set on February 12th, the day I entered this world back in 1980. Instead of setting my 2016 goals, I have a list of things I want to accomplish in the 36th year of my life.
Here is what it looks like:
Last December, about 3 months from my birthday in February, I created a note in Evernote titled “Year 35” where I kept track of the things I want to accomplish as a 35-year-old. I started listing things here that would be great to do. They included people I want to meet, places I want to go, things I want to learn, challenges I want to overcome, etc.
On my birthday, I go through the list and make it official. There are always things on there I no longer want to do. I delete those. Things that I cannot accomplish in age 35 I move to another note I created called Next 5 years. The “Next 5 Years” has a bunch of stuff I thought I would want to do one day, but as my life evolves, or better, as my life unfolds I no longer want to do some f the things I once thought wee important or would be fun. I’ll refer to this list when I start creating my Year 36 note (which I created a few days ago).
I refer back to the list “Age 35” at least once a week to see if I made any progress (to date, with two months left, everything on the list is checked off J). When/if I did, I created a bullet underneath that goal. When I accomplished the goal, I check the box and write a little summary about it. These are fun to look back on and reminisce.
Here are a few things from Age 35:
✓Work at IMG Academy
  • Date completed: December 19
  • Hired as a leadership coach
✓Complete 6 classes of MA in Performance Psychology with >3.5 GPA
  • Completed 6 classes with 3.8 GPA
✓Publish 40+ coach notes
  • 41 total notes, and counting. Notes have evolved from long form (1000 words) to less than 500 words per post, 3 days a week.
I am currently working on the Age 36 list. One thing I notice when looking at my pasts list is this: I need to dream bigger. I think we all could dream bigger. What do we have to lose?
Here’s to your best age ever.

3 Reasons to Encourage Playing Multiple Sports

There are lessons learned by playing multiple sports as a child that increase an athlete's ability to perform in other sports. You hear people talk about a "natural athlete", but nature played a small role in the development of that athlete. There is a good chance that athlete has experience challenging his or her mind and body in other sports during youth. Current athletic stars like Russel Wilson and Johnny Manziel were drafted out of high school to play baseball, yet we see them on Sunday's playing football at the highest level. Even coaching great Pete Carroll is an advocate for playing multiple sports as heard on a radio show just a few days ago. [link] Here are 3 Reasons to Encourage Playing Multiple Sports as an adolescent. And before I get asked when I think an athlete should focus on one sport, here is my answer: sophomore or junior year of high school. Then again, no one athlete is like the other, so if I was pressed I would say wait even longer. Childhood only happens once. 

1.Mental Toughness Gained through Adversity

When an athlete goes from being the best on the team in one sport to a role player in another sport, they get to learn how to deal with adversity. Adversity and learning new skills develops mental toughness. When they go back to their primary sport where they are the best, they are a better leader because they had to become a follower. This skill translates very well in the adult world.

2.Physical Maturation of the Whole Body

Parents, your child will have a better chance of playing sports in college if they are an athlete with 10,000 hours of athleticism. College recruiters don’t want someone with only one set of skills. Skills can be taught, but athleticism is earned through years of acceleration, deceleration, rotational power, read and react, and all the other things an athlete learns by participating in multiple sports. There is no single sport that develops all of these skills alone, and therefore no child should only participate in one sport alone.

3.Prevent Burnout

According to Michael Pfahl, executive director of the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, “The number one reason (why they quit) is that it stopped being fun.”  Kids experience burnout in one sport, and with the pressure to always be the best, they end up missing out on childhood. Not only does the athlete get burned out, but the parents exhaust themselves physically and financially unnecessarily.

I have almost 20 years of experience coaching ages 8-21. That means kids I coached in elementary school are now in college or have graduated. Every single one, without exception, played at least three sports in grade school and at least two sports in high school.

Every, single, athlete — without exception.

So take it from someone who wants nothing but success for your child – let them play other sports. Let them develop to their full athletic potential and let them experience trying a sport in which they are not a superstar. The lesson they learn from having that experience will benefit them long after they hang up the cleats and tackle being an adult.

Where is the sun?

Take note of the sun.

After a long practice in the heat, we gathered together for a quick talk before I let them go for the day. The team took a knee but failed to make eye contact with me. "Hey, eyes up here," I said with an annoyed voice. Despite my asking, they continued to avert their gaze. I began to get agitated and commanded they make eye contact with me. The team captain stood up, and said, “Coach, it's the sun. It's in our eyes."

We should always have high expectations for our athletes, but we should also create an environment that allows for those expectations to be met.

Bonus: If you are talking to a group of boys and behind you are a group of girls practicing, your boys are not listening.

Teaching the Basketball Shot

I have a fairly simple way to teach a young basketball player how to shoot a basketball. I have coached youth basketball for over 10 years and use this with boys and girls. The secret: simplify. ◆ Show her how to hold the ball, using wide hands and guide the ball with the left, then let her do it. ◆ Show her how to push the ball high, then let her do it against a wall (not a backboard). ◆ Challenge her to hit the same spot on the wall 3 times in a row. ◆ Take her to the backboard. Have her hit a spot on the board 3 times. (Not shooting for the basket, yet) ◆ Once she has hit the spot, tell her to hit the top of that big red square. ◆ She hits the spot, the ball goes in the net, and you have just ingrained in her that if you use the backboard the ball will go in the net. Do happy dance.

Repeat everyday as a warm-up. It looks like this: ◆ 10 shots against the wall, slow and under control. ◆ 10 shots against the backboard, slow and under control. ◆ 5 shots made by hitting the top corner of the square on each side.

Once we do that for a few days, we can move on to shooting the ball from further distances. Take time at the beginning of the season to teach this skill and you will be glad you did. Forget about plays and crazy formations in youth basketball. If my team without a playbook is confident enough to shoot and I spend time teaching how to aggressively rebound I will beat your team with a playbook.

The Simple Playbook

Three things you need to know about the kids in the picture below: 1. We had 1 formation that consisted of 8 plays. 2. This picture was taken after 21-0 in the championship game, making us 8-2. 3. We had a pizza party immediately after the game and I got hugs from all the players.

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My playbook is so small it fits on both sides of a 5x7 card in my back pocket. My other back pocket has a 5x7 card with the roster and notes I wrote myself for the game. I get asked a lot how I organize practice.

The following is specifically for flag-football, but I am positive you can take some ideas and use them in other sports. ◆ Everything is set up beforehand, usually with help from the parents. Parents love to participate and I have found when you include them they are more likely to have your back when a situation occurs. ◆ I ask my athletes to bring their water with them to the field. They can get water anytime they want as long as they are within a few feet of whatever drill they are in. This saves me about 10 minutes every practice. ◆ During warm ups, instead of running a lap or doing sprints, we see how fast we can run from the huddle to the line of scrimmage, run a play for 15 yards, then sprint back to the huddle. They are timed and they want to get faster. We have 8 plays so we do it 8 times. We celebrate shaving seconds off our time. Lining up fast during a game is intimidating to the other team, and parents love it. ◆ Then we move to basic skills. I have drills set up so they develop athletic ability. Catching a ball, running around a cone, decelerating, changing direction, things like that. Spend time teaching kids how to decelerate and change direction. A young athlete who can control their speed is very effective in many sports. ◆ After about 30 minutes of instruction from me and the other coaches, they get about 5 minutes to play around. This gives me and the other coaches time to discuss what we should do with the remainder of practice. This varies because of the number of coaches, the number of athletes there that night, and what part of the season we are currently in. We pull out our cards from the previous game and discuss things that need improvement. ◆ Pre-game is a lot like the first 10-20 minutes of practice. Once the game is on, it’s their show; I am just making sure they are in the right spot. How they perform is totally up to them.

We lost the championship game that year, but judging by that picture, I think they have recovered :)

If. [poem]

In a letter written in 1895 to his son, John, Rudyard Kipling penned a poem that describes what it will take to become a man.  This is one of the poems I encourage my athletes memorize as a unifying theme to a season.

If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Press Break or Cupcakes?

I had evening basketball practice on my birthday last year. The girls showed up ready to work hard as usual and despite being invited out by my friends to celebrate, I was happy to be with the team. We were playing a team that hadn’t lost yet and was notorious for full court press most of the game. Also, I really wanted to teach the pick and roll and would have introduced it if there was time near the end of practice. A few minutes into warm-ups I caught a glimpse of a birthday card the girls were taking turns writing in for me. Their efforts to distract me so I wouldn’t see the card were at the same time futile and adorable. Practice started and after about 30 minutes I gave the girls a quick water break thinking we would get back to practice in a minute or two. Instead, the parents came out with cupcakes, drinks, and balloons. So, instead of installing the press break that night like I had written on the 5x7 card in my back pocket, we ate cupcakes and played about 20 rounds of knockout, a game the girls would play all day every day if I would let them.

February_10__2015_at_0750PM__earlybirthdayparty__bringonthecakeHere is the rub. I am very competitive and I don't like to lose, even though I know it's in our greatest defeats that we learn the most about ourselves. But in my quest to win at all times, I had to remind myself that we could smash teams by double digits, go undefeated, and win whatever mythical championship available to a 6th grade girls basketball team, but one of the things they will remember most is having cupcakes with their coach on his birthday.

It's our responsibility as coaches to do the right thing to get the most out of each person that we have the privilege to coach, as humans first and then as athletes. I did a little more teaching during the game than I normally do, and it worked. We won 34-20.

I had my cake and ate it, too. 

 

 

[ctt title="Press Break or Cupcakes? Coach Note #033 #priorities" tweet="Press Break or Cupcakes? Coach Note #033 #priorities by @jamesleath http://ctt.ec/U8Xdb+ " coverup="U8Xdb"]

Getting the Parents Involved in Practice

Toward the end of every season, I schedule a "kids vs parents" game. A great time to do this is when the team is not doing so well and needs to have some fun, or at the end of the year party. There are many different ways to do this. Here are some tips to make it go smoothly:

For Athletes:2014-11-19_1416369897

  1. The coach is allowed to play for either team and switch as needed.
  2. Make sure everyone gets the ball.
  3. Do your best to get the ball to the kids that don’t play as much.
  4. Let the players design plays but give them a time limit.
  5. Celebrate loudly and often.

For Parents:

  1. For the real athletic parents: tone it down.  No one wins anything regardless of the outcome.
  2. Don’t make it obvious if you are letting a kid get the best of you.
  3. Don’t cheat, even when they do (and they will, and have fun with it!)
  4. Give high-fives generously.
  5. Keep the game close and always give the kids a chance to win (get creative).

Take lots of pictures and try to record some of the game. I run around the field or the court with my iPhone recording during play and share it with parents. Have fun, and good luck!

Learning about your new team

Basketball season is upon us and I am signed up again to coach a young girls basketball team. The subject of “creating culture” has been buzzing as of late, so I thought I would share a couple notes on ways I have found to create a fun and successful culture. Over the next few weeks I will share strategies about setting expectations, handing out rewards for behavior and performance, and how to increase the level of effort your athletes put in at practice and at games. As always, I encourage your feedback and hope you will share with me strategies you have found to be successful.

Learning about your team.

Whether you are a seasoned coach or you just bought your first whistle on the way to practice, getting to know your players should be a very high priority. Don’t rush this experience. It may take 10 minutes; it may take 45 minutes of practice. Either way, let it happen. On the first or second practice, sit the team down in a circle and get to know them. The goal is to learn about your team and the individuals you will be serving over the next few months. The strategy is to ask a few simple questions from which you will be able to gather insight about your athletes. When you ask these questions on the first few days of practice, be warned, they may be shy. The secret is to make them feel like they are in a safe environment. As the coach, you set the tone for the team culture. If they are not ready, smile, let them know you will come back to them, and move to the next one. Have patience. Resist the urge to interrupt or lead them to answer a certain way. They need to know they are safe, then I promise, you won’t be able to keep them quiet!

  1. What is your name?
    • Have them spell it and ask them what they would like to be called. If you want to shorten it (Jennifer to Jen, Courtney to Court, Shannon to Shay, etc) then ask them. They may like the idea of a different name they are used to, then again, they may not. But ask, first.
  2. What is your athletic experience?
    • If they have played another sport, ask them if they can think of a way the skills they use in that other sport will help them in basketball. If they can make a connection between basketball and another sport they have played then you have begun to build their confidence, especially in an inexperienced player.
  3. What is the one thing, above all else, you want to get better at throughout the season?
    • When they tell you how they want to improve, what they are really giving you is permission to push them in specific areas. One girl wants to get better at free throws because she got fouled a lot last season. Now that she has vocalized it, when you ask her to stay after practice and shoot 20 free throws she is happy to do it. Another girl wants to get better at dribbling, so you have her do some extra dribbling drills for 5 minutes before practice starts and she loves the idea.

What to do while they talk

Write down their answers. You now have three valuable bits of information. One, you know what to call your athlete. Honor the name they give you and use it often. Two, you know what skills each player has and that can give you an understanding of the player. For example, last year I had four athletes who had never played basketball before. However, they had years of soccer experience. I went online and looked for soccer drills I could turn into basketball drills. The girls saw the connection right away and it helped them feel more confident during those drills because they were familiar to them. I even told the girls what I had done and I could tell they appreciated the effort. And three, you know what you can keep them accountable for. When you set up a drill that hits one of the specific goals one of the girls wants to improve upon, spend a little extra time with her. Don’t make it a big deal, just quietly walk up to her…

“Hey, I remember this is one of the things you wanted to improve upon. How do you think you are doing?” Then wait for the response. Be patient.

Those simple, quiet moments you have with an athlete are the moments they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Playing in the Absence of Fear

[ctt title="Playing in the Absence of Fear" tweet="Playing in the Absence of Fear by @jamesleath #youthsports #confidence http://ctt.ec/Vba3H+" coverup="Vba3H"] In 2014, I volunteered as a girls youth basketball coach. Most of my team had never played basketball before, so there was a lot to learn. Some of them were soccer players and also considered leaders on those teams so I knew I wasn't starting completely from scratch.

When they first arrived I could see right away there were confident in their athletic abilities as soccer players, however, with every hopeful sling of the ball towards the hoop I could see that confidence dwindling. Their plan was to throw the ball towards the rim and hope that it would go in. Rarely did that hope come to fruition. This was very discouraging for my girls.

james leath imgTo reverse the trend of decreasing confidence I changed the goal. Instead of shooting to make a basket, they were to find a spot on the wall and hit that 20 times. Then, they were to move on to the backboard to do the same thing. Once they achieved those goals I told them to aim for the top right part of the red square. When the ball went into the basket their eyes lit up (moments I live for as a coach) and suddenly they were not just hoping for the ball to go through the net, they expected the ball to go through the net. (Here is exactly the progression I went through every practice.)

To build on their confidence during a game I would celebrate every shot taken during the game. They needed to know their coach wanted them to shoot. (It helps to teach them to rebound, by the way.) I taught them they were all 50% shooters, meaning if they missed the first then the next one would go in. If they missed the first two shots then they would make the next two. I don’t know if that was true, but I do know that we out-shot the other team every game we played. Early in the season I noticed during the game if any shot did not go in the girl who shot it would look at me. I took this as a way to increase her self-efficacy, applauding the courage to shoot and reminding her of her talent as I yelled, “Fifty percent!”

Faith and fear have one thing in common: they both believe in a future that has not yet happened. With faith, we have confidence in our ability and/or our preparation. Having faith in our future gives us energy and creates excitement for what is coming. With fear, there is an absence of confidence, which is the result of a lack of preparation, or a belief that our preparation was not enough. I have heard my friend Jon Gordon say that many times when he talks to teams.

NFL coach Pete Carroll (2010) believes the greatest detractor from high performance is fear; fear that you are not prepared, fear that you are in over your head, fear that you are not worthy, and ultimately, you are a failure. In my experience coaching I have come to believe you can eliminate that fear, not through arrogance, or just wishing difficulties away, but through hard work and preparation. Your confidence will increase and that makes you a very powerful competitor.

I often share the poem “Thinking” with athletes and coaches I work with as an example of the power of our thoughts. Though Walter Wintle penned it in 1905, I believe it still holds true today:

“If you think you are beaten, you are, If you think you dare not, you don’t. If you like to win, but you think you can’t, It is almost certain you won’t.

If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost. For out in the world we find- Success begins with a fellow’s will. It’s all in the state of MIND.

If you think you’re outclassed, you are, You’ve got to think high to rise, You’ve got to be sure of yourself before You can ever win a prize.

Life’s battles, don’t always go To the stronger or faster man But sooner or later the man who wins Is the man WHO THINKS HE CAN!”

As a youth coach I believe it is my job to model confident behavior for my athletes and coaches. It starts with intelligent preparation and ends not in winning (though that often is a by-product of great preparation) but in performing at the highest ability in which I am capable. My belief about my ability and preparation produces the outcome I think I deserve (Dweck, 2006). Taking responsibility of the things I can control (my attitude, my preparation, my effort, and my behavior) I can develop the confidence I need to perform at my highest ability. The unshakable confidence of our athletic heroes did not come overnight, but was developed through years of learning from trial and error. Reminding an athlete of their hard work and getting them to believe they belong where they are can increase confidence, thereby increasing performance.


 

Carroll, P., & Roth, Y. (2010). Win forever: Live, work, and play like a champion. New York: Portfolio. Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House. Wintle, W. D., (1905). Thinking.

Mental Toughness: Defined.

Every coach wants their athletes to be mentally tough. However, when I ask a coach to define what being mentally tough is, I find most coaches do not have a definition, or their definition has something to do with playing through pain. Although an athlete who can stay focused on their role when uncomfortable because of injury is considered a mentally tough action, is does not define what it means.

My definition of a mentally tough athlete is one who is:

Able to access their talent at the highest level they are capable on a consistent basis regardless of the situation.

Here is how I break that down: 

“Able to access their talent...” You can have all the talent and strength you need to be competitive, but you must be able to unleash all the hours of training you put in to make it to game day. An example of being able to access your talent, despite a tragic situation in one’s personal life is Brett Favre, who played a football game the day after his father passed away. That day he passed for 399 yards and four touchdowns…he was able to access his talent. He was mentally tough.

“...at the highest level...” Whitey Bimstein, a long time boxer and trainer once said, “Show me an undefeated fighter and I'll show a guy who's never fought anybody.” His point was to show that an athlete should seek out the best competition even if that means losing once in a while. As a society, we place too much emphasis on having no losses on our record. Defeat can be the seed of discontent you need to motivate you to improve your game.

“...they are capable…” Your level effort has nothing to do with the competition. There is an old adage: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” You can only control three things as an athlete - your effort, your attitude and your preparation. Get in the habit of always playing at the height of your ability and you will see that ability continue to grow.

“...on a consistent basis…” Anyone can be great in a random chance moment. History is rife with championships being won on the last ditch effort of some one-hit wonder that only has that one situation to their name, then fades shortly after. Today’s headlines are tomorrow’s fish wrappings, so to be great you need to be consistent.

“...regardless of the situation.” A mentally tough athlete treats practice and pre-season competitions with the same intensity as a league or post-season game. In most sports, the next play or the next move is the same no matter if it’s at practice or in the last few minutes of the championship game. The only difference is the audience.

Mental toughness is developed through hard work and dedication. Help your athletes to take ownership of their athletic endeavors by letting them learn from their failures. If you put a pillow under their knee every time they fall, they will never learn the important lesson of learning from mistakes.

Dear Coach, I want to quit.

Hello Coach Leath,  My dad says I can't quit my team, but I don't want to play football anymore. All I do is sit on the bench during the games. What should I do?

Your Friend,

Chris, 11


Dear Chris,

Congratulations on making the football team. Believe it or not, the first year I tried out for football I did not make the team. I remember how sad I was when the coach read off the names of the kids who would be playing that year. I tried out the next year and sat on the bench during most of the games, only playing a few plays. But I knew I would not play in the games. The other players were bigger and better than I was, so why would coach put me in?

So, instead of complaining about playing time, I decided to make practice my games. Every Tuesday and Thursday I would prepare for practice as if I was going to be playing a game. I went all out on the scout team, knowing that the harder I was to block in practice, the better my team would do in the game. When they did well in the game, I took pride in knowing I helped them prepare.

Practice was hard, Chris. I got knocked down, a lot. I was scared, but I tried not to let the other players know how scared I was. Some of the players hit really hard and the noise alone made me want to quit.

After a few weeks I got better and was less afraid. I made some friends on the team and started to have fun. I still got knocked down, and I wasn't very good, but I realized what a privilege it was to be on the team. I promised myself I would finish the season and then decide if I wanted to play again.

Also, I thought I was letting my dad down by not starting. When I told him I was embarrassed because I sat the bench, he told me he was proud that I made the team, and that he loved to watch me go all out in practice. That helped a lot knowing that my dad just loved to watch me practice.

The next year, you know what? I was one of the best players on the team. I was voted team captain and rarely came out of the game. I am not saying this will happen for you, but I am telling you that in order to be good at something, you have to be okay with being bad at it first. Then you get better. Always aim to get better, no matter what you do in life.

I want to encourage you to finish the season. You don't have to play next year, but you should follow through with your commitment and try to have as much fun while you are there. Please don’t quit.

Stay Curious,

Coach Leath

Intentional Growth

Too many people think the number of books on one's shelves equals the amount of knowledge in one's head. However, this is rarely the case. When meeting someone for the first time I often ask what they have recently read. This is typically a great conversation starter. In addition, what people read can tell you an awful lot about who they are and what they believe. More often than not, unfortunately, if they have read a book in the last year, I find that most people cannot tell you the main parts of the book, and some struggle to give you the thesis. What is the point in spending hours in a book if you cannot use the knowledge inside it?

[ctt title="A Reading List for Coaches" tweet="A Reading List for Coaches by @jamesleath http://ctt.ec/cQe3f+" coverup="cQe3f"]

Read deep, then wide. I want to encourage you to read deeply. Too many people brag about reading a bunch of books then fail to remember enough about them to actually make good use of the knowledge they gained. Also, the more you know about a subject, the slower you have to read the best books. That sounds counter-intuitive, but I notice many authors simply regurgitate what authors before them have said. However, if you are diligent, you will come across that one insight that gives you the clarity you need to take action. You may have read that text 10 times before, but as time passes we evolve and learn; a passage that you didn't understand ten years ago could be the one thing that saves your life today.

Learn the thing, then do the thing. It is not enough to know a thing; you must do the thing you know. Years ago I ran across a book called "How to Read a Book" (1940) by Mortimer J. Adler. If you are like me, you were never really taught how to drink deeply from a good book. I highly recommend it as a place to start on how to read a book. Not all books require the same amount of energy to read, and Adler's book gives you a frame of reference to use when selecting a book to read.

Don't let your biases keep you from a great book. I have never played tennis in my life. Yet, the best book I have ever read on the mental aspect of athletics is called The Inner Game of Tennis (1974). Last week I started reading a book called "The Blessings of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children" (2001) by Dr. Wendy Mogul. I am a Christian man with a Christian family. She is a Jewish woman raising a Jewish family with years of experience doing psychotherapy with children and families. Her book is filled with great tips on how to help a child learn to be resilient and also how to raise a Jewish family. If I were to let my beliefs forbid me from learning from her on the basis of having different beliefs I would have missed out on some incredible writing and insights I will share with you in later Coach Notes, since resilience is the secret ingredient to mental toughness. Another example is Muhammad Ali, one of America's greatest fighters, who converted to Sunni Islam in 1975. His autobiography, "The Soul of a Butterfly," is a beautiful story about life after boxing and his ideas on topics like moral courage and loving God. We can't let our biases or prejudices keep us from becoming the best [fill in the blank] we can be.

A few books I have learned from. Below is a list of books I love organized by the year they came out. It is not a complete list, just a few titles I really enjoy. If you ever borrow a book from me, you will see passages underlined and tons of notes in the margins. Sometimes I'll reread a book and see the note I wrote myself and laugh as it reminds me how naive and ignorant I was the last time I read that passage. I encourage you to write in your books. Grab a post-it note and jot down some thoughts. Have a conversation with the author; question them; disagree with them…it's okay to have an opinion, and it is also okay to change your mind on a subject when new information is acquired. Whatever you do, don't miss out on the wonderful things waiting for you in a good book.

(List originally written Sep 17, 2015. See Reading Archive for updated lists)

On Leadership Development:

Legacy James Kerr (2013)

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win Jocko Willink (2015)

On the Mental Game

As a Man Thinketh, James Allen (1903)

The Inner Game of Tennis, W. Timothy Gallwey (1974)

The Triathlete’s Guide to Mental Training, Jim Taylor Ph.D. and Terri Schneider (2005)

The Way of the Champion: Lessons from Sun Tzu's The art of War and other Tao Wisdom for Sports & life, Dr. Jerry Lynch (2006)

Mindset: The New Rules of Success, Carol Dweck (2006)

On Coaching

When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, David Maraniss (1999)

Do You Love Football, Jon Gruden (2003)

Win Forever: Live, Work, and Play Like a Champion, Pete Carroll (2010)

InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives,  Joe Ehrmann (2011)

Coaching with Heart: Taoist Wisdom to Inspire, Empower, and Lead in Sports & Life, Dr. Jerry Lynch (2013)

On Personal Development

Pushing to the Front, Orison Swett Mardon (1911)

The Greatest Salesman in World, Og Mandino, (1968)

Thinking Body, Dancing Mind: Taosports for Extraordinary Performance in Athletics, Business, and Life, Dr. Jerry Lynch (1992)

Unlimited Power: The New Science Of Personal Achievement, Anthony Robbins (1986)

In Pursuit of Excellence: How to Win in Sport and Life, Terry Orlick (2008)

On Youth Sports

The Blessings of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children, Wendy Mogul, Ph.D. (2001)

Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood, Richard Marx (2003)

Training Camp, Jon Gordon (2009)

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough (2012)

Changing the Game: The Parent's Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes, and Giving Youth Sports Back to our Kids, John O’Sullivan (2014)

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The Difference Between Winning and Losing

“You got it. Winning and losing is not in your control,” I explain. “Instead of concerning yourself with the score, be a competitor. Who is coming in first during the sprints? Beat them. Who stays after practice to catch a few more throws? Catch more. A competitor does not worry about the scoreboard or stats or social media fans. A competitor shows up to be the best they can be and their hunger for improvement is never satiated. 

Not everyone gets a trophy

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“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.”Cowardly-Lions-medal

The lion showed courage without expecting a medal. Was he scared? YES! Remember when he jumped out the window, and scared himself by grabbing his own tail? He overcame those fears. He and his team came together and completed their task of killing the Wicked Witch.

Over the last few weeks there has been much discussion about youth athletes receiving trophies for participation. The conversation caught fire when Pittsburgh Steeler’s Linebacker James Harrison took away trophies awarded to his sons for participating in a camp that was just a few days long.  [Here is the link] Unfortunately, as most controversial news stories go, few people actually read the article and instead run their mouth (and their keyboard) without knowledge of the facts.

Here is what he actually wrote:

“I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…’cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #Harrisonfamilyvalues”

There is a very important word he used that I feel is a huge problem in sports and in our society in general: entitled. Entitlement is the opposite of gratefulness. If the two dispositions were a road, Entitlement Avenue leads to a dead end, while Gratitude Boulevard takes you straight to the freeway. The Cowardly Lion was grateful for his medal, but did not expect it. He then displayed it with great pride, the way a humble, victorious individual should.

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The world has plenty of mediocre individuals. What we need are some formerly cowardly but now Courageous Lions who are not afraid to take on a challenge and risk not winning anything.


11148406_1639991789553824_5307889208447184630_nJames Leath is a sport psychology consultant and college professor. He has been coaching and teaching for over 15 years. His website, jamesleath.com, is used to educate athletes, coaches, and parents in sport psychology and personal development. He is currently working on a graduate degree in Performance Psychology. James travels all over the US speaking to teams and organizations but always looks forward to returning to his home in San Luis Obispo, CA to join his bride and two dogs on a hike in the hills. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter @jamesleath or you can sign up for his weekly Coach Note by clicking here

5 Ways to Increase Coach-to-Athlete Communication

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As we get older in life we do not need to be taught as often as we need to be reminded. With football season starting I thought it might be a good idea to repost an article I wrote a few months ago about 5 Ways to Increase Communication to an Athlete. These 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.

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.

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. This article (2004) written in 2004 is about how Coach John Wooden coached. It is a revision of original research done on Wooden in 1976. What they found was 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.

What are some other communication tips I should include next time I write about communicating to athletes?

Top 10 reasons why kids quit organized youth sports

The Youth Sports Institute at Michigan State, in a survey of 10,000 kids nationwide, listed the top ten reasons why kids quit organized youth sports:

1. They lost interest 2. They were not having fun 3. It required too much time 4. The coach played favorites 5. The coach was a poor teacher 6. They got tired of playing 7. Too much emphasis on winning 8. They wanted to participate in other non-sport activities 9. They needed more time to study 10. There was too much pressure

Here are 5 tips for helping keep your kids active in sports:

  1. Cheer for the athletes, not the team. It is okay to appreciate talent from the other team. When a coach told his athletes’ parents to root for the other team at a football game in Texas a few years ago, it literally changed the lives of the players on that team. Here is a link to that story.
  2. Treat them as a student, then an athlete. An athlete is a child first, then a student, then an athlete. The smarter your child is, the more options they have when they get older. Keep in mind their 6th-grade club soccer participation trophy won’t land them a job after college.
  3. Encourage them to try another sport: Athletes who play other sports have the advantage over single-sport players through the overall development of their body. Skills from one sport will enhance play in another sport. A soccer player brings great footwork to the basketball court; the tennis player brings great hand-eye coordination to the batter’s box, and wrestling teaches a football player balance.
  4. Beware of signs of burnout. Does your child even want to play that sport anymore? Who is more excited about the weekend tournament? If it’s you, save yourself thousands of dollars and countless travel miles and instead take your kid for some ice cream.
  5. Let them play. I say this all the time, let your kid organize a game and stay out of it. This helps them build social skills and learn lessons they will use all their life. The kids don’t need us; we need them. Without them, we are just old people with a bag of cones and a whistle.

James Leath is a youth sports psychology consultant with over 15 years experience coaching young athletes. He writes a weekly note to athletes, coaches and parents on subjects that pertain to sports psychology, youth sports, and personal development. He is currently finishing his masters in Performance Psychology and lives in San Luis Obispo, CA. You can sign-up for his weekly note here, find him on twitter at @jamesleath, or visit his website jamesleath.com.

When you’re up against a trouble [poem]

When you’re up against a trouble,
Meet it squarely, face to face;
Lift your chin and set your shoulders,
Plant your feet and take a brace.
When it’s vain to try to dodge it,
Do the best that you can do;
You may fail, but you may conquer,
See it through!

Black may be the clouds about you
And your future may seem grim,
But don’t let your nerve desert you;
Keep yourself in fighting trim.
If the worst is bound to happen,
Spite of all that you can do,
Running from it will not save you,
See it through!

Even hope may seem but futile,
When with troubles you’re beset,
But remember you are facing
Just what other men have met.
You may fail, but fall still fighting;
Don’t give up, whate’er you do;
Eyes front, head high to the finish.
See it through!

Edgar Albert Guest 1881–1959