Getting Better Means Attention to Details

Players don’t just get better. They get better at many small things that add up to an overall better player. For example, passing requires getting better at things like vision, timing, balance, speed and decision making. If players improve in all of these areas, then they become better passers.

For players, it is important to understand how very basic things contribute to their performance in a game. From this understanding, players can start working backward to identify and correct the details that lead to overall improvement. Coaches often ask players to do drills or exercises that may seem irrelevant but may be one of the many details players need for improvement.

John Wooden, a former NCAA college coach who won 10 championships in 12 years, put it best in his book “When you see a successful individual, a champion, a ‘winner,’ you can be sure that you are looking at an individual who pays great attention to the perfection of minor details.”

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Hi! Glad to See You!

Over time, coaches build their list of standard phrases they use to talk with players. These phrases become verbal shortcuts that players come to understand mean more than the words themselves. Most phrases deal with game or practice situations, but some concern attitude – either the player’s or the coach’s. One of the best of these is “Hi! Glad to see you.”

Ideally, players would be motivated from within to play their best in practices and games. However, coaches often need to help players tap into inner strength. This help doesn’t have to wait for game or practice time. It can start from the first contact a coach has with a player. While a simple “hello” will suffice, a more enthusiastic greeting gives players a boost even before they start.

Making players feel welcome and wanted gives them a break from other childhood pressures. These feelings also give them encouragement to be there and try their best. Sometimes the most effective coaching techniques are also the simplest.

Improving the Odds for High School Sports

Statistically, the odds of a child playing sports at the high school level are good. A study by the National Federation of State High School Associations reports that over 50% of all kids participate in some form of high school athletics. The following table shows the odds for playing a particular sport.

Sport High School
Participation Rate
All Sports 55%
Football 12%
Baseball 6%
Basketball 7%
Soccer 4%
Hockey .5%

If parents want to give their child an edge for future high school participation, they should start working as soon as possible to accomplish these tasks:

  • Help kids develop a love of the game. Make sure they have fun and look forward to practices and games.
  • Encourage multiple sports to build a well-rounded athlete. Don’t specialize in any one sport too early.
  • Take breaks from playing. Some kids starting high school athletics have been playing organized sports longer than some professional athletes’ careers and they are already burned out.
  • Support team-oriented play. At the high school level, teams can’t win without everyone working together.
  • Demonstrate a healthy life style by providing a good role model and participating in physical activities.
  • Put school first. Athletic participation is often tied to success in the classroom. Emphasizing school success at younger ages gives kids the best foundation to develop throughout high school.

Kids don’t start reaching their potential until they start developing their adult bodies during puberty. Parents who push too hard with too much activity, training or stress, risk burning their child out before they even know what their child’s true potential is. If parents want to see their child have the opportunity to participate in high school athletics, they need to emphasize the mental aspects of sports participation until such time as nature and coaches can do the rest.

What if a Youth Coach Held a Press Conference?

In professional sports, it is common for the head coach to give a press conference after each game to field the “tough” questions and address concerns about the team. In youth sports, there is no need for press conferences. But, if a youth coach did give one after a game, it might go something like this:

Coach: Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to thank each of you for coming. I’ll skip the opening remarks and go straight to the questions.

Reporter: Coach, this game was your third tie in a row. Are you becoming frustrated that your team cannot come out with the win?

Coach: Of course not. When we play to a tie, it means that we were evenly matched and the team had to try its best the entire game. That keeps things exciting. The fact that this was our third tie means that we are in the right league where the teams are fairly evenly matched. Close games are the most fun for the kids and the best at developing their skills. I think it also shows that the draft was fair.

Reporter: At the end of the game, the opposing coach put out his best players and you didn’t. Didn’t you risk losing because of this?

Coach: I didn’t do anything different at the end of the game. I kept rotating my players. It is important that I stick with the things I told the kids and parents at the beginning of the season – everyone gets equal playing time. I won’t go back on that commitment. I think this game demonstrates why this is a great rule. This game gave some of my newer players the chance to play in the last few minutes of a close game and they learned from that.

Reporter: But if you had lost this game, wouldn’t your record have dropped to below .500?

Coach: It would have, but that isn’t the way I measure my performance. I’m here for the kids to have fun, learn and improve skills and build their desire to play again next year. If I accomplish these things, then I have had an awesome season.

Reporter: At the beginning of the game, your team got ahead but you seemed to change things up and that gave the other team a chance to tie the score. In hindsight, don’t you wish you hadn’t made those changes?

Coach: At that point in the game, I told the players that I wanted to see them share play and try to use their teammates more to score points. They are still learning and don’t always understand what this means in game situations. I’m very pleased that by the end they seemed to be learning how to work together better and I’m hopeful that they can keep working on this. If we had been way behind, I would have still asked them to work together better.

Reporter: Your very best player sat out the entire last period. Didn’t you shortchange the team by not playing your best player?

Coach: The player you are referring to came off limping. I’m not a doctor or a trainer and couldn’t judge the severity of the injury. These kids only get one body and there is no reason to risk it for one game.

Reporter: There was a bad call late in the game that let the other team score. You just stood there and didn’t say anything. Don’t you owe it to the team to defend them?

Coach: The fact is that I didn’t have the view of the play the referee did and can’t judge the decision. But, even if it were a bad call, the referee is just a kid learning skills like my players. Players and referees don’t learn any faster by yelling at them. I did talk with the referee later to get the official explanation, but yelling at the time of the call would only have given my players an excuse for being scored against. There were twenty things the players could have done before then that would have prevented the need for that referee’s call.

Reporter: With your lack of wins, there are some grumblings that parents are not getting their money’s worth. What do you intend to do to fix this?

Coach: I hope parents are not so shortsighted that they lose focus on the long-term goals of youth sports. Chances are that none of the kids on this team, in this league or even in this city will make money playing sports. However, there are potentially a large number business, community and family leaders in this group of kids and it is my hope that their participation in youth sports makes them better at these endeavors. The old adage that losing only teaches someone how to lose doesn’t apply only to games. It applies to all areas of life such as learning, sportsmanship, friendship, teamwork and self-discipline to name a few. If kids lose in these areas but win games, then parents have been shortchanged. However, if a child wins in these areas but loses games, who cares? If I can help kids have fun and assist their parents to teach them life lessons, then parents are more than getting their money’s worth.

Reporter: You mentioned the draft a while ago; do you think you could have done a better job drafting players to make sure you had a winning record?

Coach: These kids, though they may be the same age, can be almost six years different in physical maturity. If the purpose of the draft were to get kids all on one team who are maturing faster, then I guess you can say that I could have drafted better. But, the purpose of the draft was to make sure that the teams are evenly matched to make the games the most fun for all kids and not just to enable the bigger kids to beat up on the smaller kids.

Reporter: I have never heard such fan noise at a game. How big a factor were the parents in today’s game?

Coach: Well, that is something I need to address with the parents directly. I do appreciate their support and cheering. But, too many times during the game, the players were looking at their parents and listening to them when they should have been looking for and listening to their teammates. Too much cheering just distracts the kids from what they should be doing.

Reporter: There is speculation in some areas that you are taking favors from parents in return for better treatment of their child. Do you want to comment?

Coach: Because I play each player an equal amount and give players a chance to play the positions they want, it is very hard for me to play favorites. I am, however, a volunteer and hope the other parents appreciate the time I spend preparing for and conducting practices and games. I always appreciate a thank you in any form it is provided. But, thank yous are not why I coach and they don’t affect the way I treat the kids.

Reporter: There is a rumor going around that you don’t want to travel to the national tournament if the team wins the regional tournament. Any truth here?

Coach: That actually isn’t a rumor, it is a fact. Not all of the parents on this team can easily afford, in money or time, the costs of attending the national tournament. If I thought they could and everyone agreed that the trip to nationals was for fun and a vacation and that winning would not become the prime consideration, then a national tournament could be a great experience for the players. There is plenty of competition for us here locally without traveling.

Reporter: Have you given any thought to how you intend to keep this team together next year?

Coach: I don’t plan to. I’ll be coaching my child, but the rest of the team will come through a fair draft. I personally like the fact that my child will be playing with different players, making new friends and learning new things. I always have icebreakers early in the season that help everyone get acquainted so after a few weeks, it seems like the team has been together for a long time. If I get players who have played for me before, I’ll expect them to mentor the other players and help everyone get along and work together.

Coach: That’s all the time I have, so until the next game remember to practice in life what we practice in sports.