Monday, December 5, 2011


As coaches, parents and teachers it’s our hope and desire to be a positive influence on the children on our teams and in our classrooms and families. Typically, the rewards we receive for our efforts are consistent and evident. The children in our lives are happy and appreciative. But, how should we feel when these things aren’t so evident? What does it mean when our kids don’t seem to be appreciative or they become critical of us? Have we become bad parents or coaches? NO! Have we lost the ability to influence our athletes and children? NO! Although their appreciation may not always be overtly displayed, the children in our lives are learning from us. They look up to us as role models and they appreciate the things we are teaching them.

Many, many years ago, when I was fresh out of college, I spent a few years teaching physical education before opening my gym. At one of my schools, I had a little girl who loved the activities I planned for the kids, but struggled with her behavior. There was no problem motivating her to participate, but motivating her to follow instructions and treat people right was a challenge. Consequently, she spent a lot of time sitting out of the activities that she loved so much. Her disapproval of this was very evident. As hard as I tried, I just couldn’t find a way to get this seven year old to behave. I thought she must hate my class.

My other school was a magnet school where the students applied to attend and were accepted from all over town. I taught this little girls brother at the magnet school. As open house (meet your teacher night) was winding down at the magnet school, this little girl came bursting through the door of my room (yes, she was running in the hall). Her mother came through the door shortly after her with an apologetic look on her face. “She just wouldn’t leave without coming down here to see you” the Mom said. “She loves your classes and talks about them all the time.”

Prior to this conversation, I didn’t believe I was contributing anything positive in this girl’s life. Apparently, I was wrong. I improved as a teacher and coach that day, because I came to understand that although my effect on the children I teach wasn’t always evident, it did exist. I didn’t need to have positive feedback or reinforcement from my students to know that I was having an effect on them. Sure, it’s nice to hear good comments from our students, their parents and other teachers and coaches, but we must continue the journey whether those are present or not. We must understand that our effect, good or bad, on the children we coach is present whether it is made evident to us or not. So, coaches, parents and teachers, don’t stop believin’ that you make a difference and dedicate every minute of your effort to the goal of making that difference a positive one.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


In past writings, I’ve asked everyone to look for the positive in youth sports. The point being, there is much more positive than negative, although the negative tends to get more attention. I apologize in advance for not following my own advice in this particular post, but there is something that worries me and I haven’t found a way to discuss it without being critical and a bit negative. So, I’ll be quick with it.

In a quest for perfect children, many parents, coaches, and teachers attribute a lack of competence to things outside the child's control, therefore maintaining the child’s belief that they are exceptional no matter how they perform. That's a bunch of gobblety-gook verbage. What I really want to say is we make too many excuses for our children. Do we really want our children to believe they don't make mistakes?

It is extremely important that we acknowledge the things our children and athletes do well. Even when performing poorly, there are things the child is doing well. Enjoy them and celebrate them with your children and athletes. Coaches should explain what was done well and why it was considered good. When it comes to sub-standard performances, be honest, supportive and brief. Mention what part of the performance didn’t quite meet the desired outcome, but quickly change the focus to a solution. It’s as simple as this “Maybe you didn’t catch that fly ball, but don’t worry about it, we’ll work on it at the next practice. Pretty soon, no one will want to hit balls your way.” Or, don’t mention it at all following the game and structure upcoming practices to work on the weak area. Just don’t make excuses! If Sally doesn’t catch a fly ball it’s not because it was a night game and she wasn’t used to the effect of the moon’s gravitational forces on the ball’s flight. Missing the fly ball was due to circumstances under her control. She needs to know that, so she can make improvements, fix the problem and become a better ball player. If she’s told the reasons for missing the ball were outside of her control, she will assume she doesn’t need to change, that next time, she will catch the ball if those outside forces will just get out of her way.

If we always attribute poor performance to things outside the control of the athlete, we are robbing the athlete of some great opportunities. The desire to learn is highly motivational. If mistakes are always blamed on someone or something other than the student, the student will have no reason to learn (they’re already perfect). How can an athlete, student, employee, etc. learn the process of setting proper goals and goal attainment if the reasons for not reaching goals are always blamed on someone else? Sally might say “Why do I need to change my goals or training? If the moon hadn’t been out, I would have caught that ball.”

Here’s a point most people don’t think about, but is the most critical point to be made. By making excuses for poor performance, we rob our children of the opportunity to feel the sense of accomplishment that comes with improving their skills. We take away the joy of becoming a better athlete, student, musician, etc. When Sally catches a fly ball in the next game, it should come with a sense of accomplishment and a celebration. If excuses were made for Sally, she didn’t believe missing the ball was her fault, and therefore, if she improves her skills and makes a catch, she might think “good thing the moon’s not out”, instead of “YES, I did it. If I get under the ball and keep my eyes on it, I can catch it. Just like coach told me.” Her first reaction attributes the catch to the changing of factors outside of her control and therefore, she feels no significant progress was made in her skill level. The second reaction is a celebration of improved skill and progress as an athlete. Both are reactions to her catching the ball, but they are very different due to feedback she received from her previous experiences. This example is a bit of an exaggeration, but it speaks to a by-product of excuses that most of us never think about. If every time a child performs we tell them they are excellent, no matter the outcome, and if we blame an obviously poor outcome on factors outside the control of the child, how will they know when they’ve improved? According to what we tell them, they are always excellent.

We must find and celebrate excellence in our children and we will if we look for it. We must also be real when it comes to performances that are less than expected. There are many great learning opportunities on the road from novice to expert. Learning to celebrate excellence is one of those. So are overcoming obstacles and improving our weak areas. A large part of what our children learn will come from how the adults in their lives react to their performances. Should we show them how to use the situation as an opportunity to improve and celebrate that improvement, or should we make excuses? Can we ask our children to be honest if we, ourselves bend the truth? Don’t fabricate greatness. Greatness will come with time. Success is relative to a person’s current goals and past performances. Focus your attention on success and excellence will follow. Doing so can make every game or performance a positive experience with honest feedback.

We can’t skew the meaning of excellence in our children’s minds. We must keep excellence real. Then, it will have meaning.

Monday, November 21, 2011


It appears that the children in our society are more in danger from predators than many of us would have believed prior to the last few weeks. News of alleged inappropriate behavior toward children from coaches in college football, gymnastics and college basketball brings to the forefront the age-old questions, how do we protect our children from people who want to do them harm? How do we allow our children to reap the benefits provided by all the wonderful adults involved in youth sports while protecting them from that small percent of one percent of coaches with immoral motives?

First and foremost, our children must understand what constitutes inappropriate touching. But, if prevention is our goal (rather than reaction), we must teach our kids to recognize the signs of prepping and baiting used by adults to build relationships with children that may allow future abuse. What seems to be common to all the cases reported is that the children involved were allegedly set up for the abuse over a time frame of months or years.

Unfortunately, the things a coach tries to develop in a good relationship with athletes, trust, confidence, care and concern are the very things a pedophile tries to develop when “setting up” future victims. This forces parents, coaches and administrators to walk a very fine line between protecting our children and falsely accusing good people. But, it should also lead all of us to accept and implement certain guidelines that are set in stone and followed without exception. Doing so will go a long way toward protecting our children from that percent of one percent of coaches who want to do them harm and it will protect the nearly one hundred percent of adults involved in youth sports for the right reasons from being falsely accused of inappropriate behavior.


1. A coach should never be alone with a child, not before practice, not after practice, not during travel.

2. Coaches and athletes should never share hotel rooms when traveling.

3. Coaches should not provide special treatment to one or two athletes compared to the rest of the team. This could be trips to movies or ballgames, gifts, etc.

4. Team sleepovers should be supervised by multiple adults. Use common sense when considering the sex and number of adults supervising this type of activity. Make sure parents are involved.

5. Trust your child’s coach, but not blindly. Trust is something earned, not given. It must be continually earned or it should be taken away.

6. Parents should monitor their child’s relationship with his/her coaches, not in a conspiracy theory, witch-hunt way, but to simply confirm they’ve chosen good people to guide that part of their child’s life.

7. Everyone should report abuse when witnessed. Not hearsay or rumors, but if you witness abuse, REPORT IT!

8. Adults should intervene on behalf of the child when witnessing child abuse (if you can do so safely).

9. Children should understand what constitutes inappropriate touching and know to report it when they see it or experience it.

10. If you are one who is part of that percent of one percent who coach or get involved with youth activities for immoral reasons, please get help.

Note: Although these thoughts are presented in a coach/athlete mode, they can just as easily be applied to many adult/child relationships.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Little Fiction

I've always wanted to write a book, who hasn't.  After a couple years of kicking around several different ideas, I decided to actually do it.  It was fun developing characters and a plot.  Although the book is fiction,I was surprised how often, while writing, I thought of the people I've met and the experiences I've had in nearly forty years of gymnastics.  My original intent was a small little book that we could pass around the family.  Maybe my grandkids would read it some day.  When it was finished, I showed it to one of my gymnasts who is an avid reader.  She liked it and asked me if I was going to publish it.  My first question was "is it any good?"  And, my second was "do you think I should?"  She said "yes", so I did.  (Thank you Megan!)

Here's the description:

When a successful gymnastics coach from Tulsa retires early and moves to a small town in the lake country of northeast Oklahoma, he’s surprised by what he finds there.  Mike Corrigan had planned a semi-retired life at the lake, but those plans and his life will be changed forever by the people of Prairie Falls.  A story about an old passion lost running head-on into a young passion on the threshold of greatness.  This accident, a chance meeting at the local bakery, is the catalyst for the formation of friendships and relationships among the many characters of “The Falls” and its newest citizen.  In this, the first book in THE COACH series, you’ll meet Kathy and Ann, two elderly ladies, the busy-body ambassadors of the town, John McIntosh, a reverend from the local church, sisters Ruth and Gloria, the first who owns the bakery and the second who owns the diner and Sally, the Pollyanna of Prairie Falls, whose love of gymnastics not accidently collides with the retired coach over coffee and a cinnamon roll at the Best of the Morning Bakery.  With unbridled energy, Sally was pursuing what many believed was an impossible dream, until the day she read the sleeve of Mike’s t-shirt.

Written by Mark Folger

You can find it here at

Sunday, September 18, 2011

What's Important in Youth Sports - Part 4 (Concl.)

In part one of this series, I asked readers to make a list of benefits our children derive from participating in youth sports and asked that those lists be prioritized from most important to least important. In part 4, I will touch on the benefits of developing friendships and an active lifestyle. These share the potential of becoming life-long benefits and follow parallel paths in the transition from childhood to adulthood.

There are few things in life more valuable than good friends and good health. You could list these as the two greatest benefits of youth sports participation and would get few arguments against your decision.

If playing sports landed you a friend for life, you are blessed, as is your friend. Time works against our children and decreases the odds of maintaining friendships over the long haul. Mobile families, whether moving across town or out of town, are a detriment to long term friendships. Most youth leagues draw athletes from numerous schools and multiple school districts, another hindrance. With many factors working against the development of life-long friendships, it's rare that those relationships survive. But what a great benefit when they do.

Should developing friendships be a priority in little league? YES! This is an area where parents can play a huge role in the world of youth sports without concern over stepping on the toes of coaches, officials or league administrators. Much can be done outside the competition setting to create opportunities for our children to form relationships with their teammates.

Although the odds are against our child athletes developing long term friendships with their teammates, the good news is that the friendships made never completely go away. They are simply pro-rated by time. A few months ago, I was shopping for an appliance and came across a teammate from my little league baseball team. We had played together from the age of nine to thirteen. Now in our fifties, we stood in the store and talked for nearly half an hour about the good ol' days. Even though that team had completed several undefeated seasons, it wasn't the wins and losses we talked about. We talked about our teammates. Our friendship hadn't gone away, it had merely suffered from a separation due to high school, college, family and careers. It had been pro-rated by the other happenings in our lives.

Does participating in youth sports transfer into an active lifestyle as an adult? I have to admit, I've never looked up statistics on this matter. My gut feeling is that child athletes may be more apt to lead active lives as adults, but this benefit is no guarantee.

Like friendships, there are many variables that affect the transition from childhood into adulthood. The health benefits of an active childhood are quickly lost to a sedentary adult lifestyle. An adult must make the choice to be active. That choice is more easily made by someone who's experienced an enjoyable little league or school athletic career. Lifestyle and friendship development face the same negative influences during the transition to adulthood. Anything that pulls us out of the gym or off the field separates us from a healthy, active life. Adolescence, college, starting a career and starting a family are a few of the pulls that come with maturity.

An active adult will more often than not be healthier than a sedentary adult, but activity is not the only piece of the puzzle. Diet, exercise (what type of activity), stress, daily habits and relationships with family and friends are all pieces of the healthy adult puzzle. We, as adults, should develop systems to help us win the battle for good health just as we develop systems for helping us attain our goals at work, coaching a team, etc.

Can our system include the activities we loved as kids? Yes, particularly if we aren't afraid to play like a child. It may be difficult to find eighteen players for a game of baseball, but it only takes three to play 500. When's the last time you bounced a tennis ball off a wall and fielded it on a short hop? A quarterback, receiver and defender are all you need for a game of one-on-one pass and catch. Be creative, like you were as a kid. Find or make up activities that are fun. If other adults say you’re silly for playing these childish games, ask them to join in. Sometimes, acting childish is a very healthy thing for an adult to do.

What is most important to the development of our children, the gratification of short term benefits or the accumulation of life skills and the long term benefits they create? Here's my list of what I feel are the greatest benefits our children will get from youth sports (in rank order).

NUMBER 1: FRIENDSHIP - Friendships may be hard to maintain over time, but the effort to do so is well spent. Even if a close friendship isn't maintained, do your best to decrease the pro-rata of those friendships over time. Crossing paths with old teammates is always a great time. Create opportunities for child athletes to develop friendships.

NUMBER 2: LEARNING GOOD SPORTSMANSHIP - The only difference between being a good sport and being a good person is the setting. Practicing good sportsmanship will help our children develop into good people.

NUMBER 3: DEVELOPING SELF-DISCIPLINE - Everything we do in life is enhanced as we improve our self-discipline. Self-discipline is a skill. It improves with practice and education. Youth sports are an excellent environment for teaching its concepts. Success, in large part, stems from self-discipline or luck. Which do you want guiding your life?

NUMBER 4: HAVING FUN - Having fun is a great benefit of youth sports. It is the web that connects all the benefits. Having fun can lead to friendships, a desire to return to the activity, great family moments and good sportsmanship, to name a few. The "fun gauge" is one tool coaches and parents can use to monitor their child's sports experience (it is not the only tool).

NUMBER 5: ACHIEVING SUCCESS - Youth sports is a great environment for learning the process of being successful. That process can then be used and improved throughout a lifetime. If this was a list of goals for youth sports, rather than benefits, I would place this one much higher. Any child that participates in a sport year-round should be in a program where a system is in place that teaches "success skills" such as goal setting, training systems, self-discipline, etc.

NUMBER 6: LEARNING THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS - Children in sports have ample opportunities to make decisions. In this setting, good decisions lead to success, celebration and a positive learning experience. What's great about youth sports is that a bad decision comes with minor consequences but still creates an opportunity for a positive learning experience. If we allow our children to experience both sides of the decision maker's coin, they will become more adequately prepared for adulthood (or more importantly, for adolescence).

NUMBER 6.1: LEARNING GOAL SETTING AND GOAL ATTAINMENT SKILLS - Okay, I'm cheating a bit on the prioritization, but I believe goal setting, decision making, training choices, etc. go hand-in-hand.

NUMBER 6.2: DEVELOPING SELF-CONFIDENCE - Self confidence is a by-product of good goals, good training and good decisions. It increases with success. Success is affected by all the above.

NUMBER 7: WINNING - Children benefit by winning. It is a rewarding experience and many times it validates the process used to win. But, winning is an easily manipulated concept and pales in comparison to success based on the attainment of goals.

NUMBER 8: WINNING A LOT OF AWARDS - What is the value of an award? Is there value in something that is taken home and put in a box, a drawer, on a shelf or hung on a bulletin board with dozens of other awards? Is the goal to get as many awards as you can, or is the goal to get the award that signifies you've done something successful? Does giving every child in a competition an award mean every child was successful at that particular competition?

I know I'm in the minority on this issue, but I believe the value of an award increases when fewer awards are given. By giving fewer awards our children won't have boxes or bulletin boards full of ribbons and medals, but the ones they have will be meaningful. Assuming a child's self-esteem is bolstered by receiving an award for last place is a concept that needs to be revisited in our industry. We must think of the long term effect on the child. How long will a child remain in a sport if they are repeatedly asked to stand at the bottom of the awards stand. Our children are smart. They know they are in last place (or near last place). Why do we need to give them an award to commemorate that moment. Give them an award for accomplishing a pre-determined goal or four out of five goals for the competition, whatever, just send them home with an award that means something.

Ask your child to go through all their sports awards and pick out the five that mean the most to them. Watch them go through the elimination process. I'd like to hear what you learn from their endeavor.

NUMBER 9: DEVELOPING A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE - Although participating in youth sports may increase the chances of leading an active life as an adult, I believe that influence is small. If more of us were willing to play like children that might change. Boredom is the biggest enemy of persistent exercise. Instead of choosing a treadmill, how about playing kickball, dodgeball or rolling around on a scooter (like you did in elementary school). When's the last time you chased after a frisbee thrown by a friend across the playground? Youth sports serves as a reminder that being active can and should be fun.

So, that's where my 30+ years of coaching children have left my beliefs about the benefits of youth sports participation. I'm sure if I asked a hundred of you to submit your lists, no two would be the same. Feel free to post comments. I'd love to get some feedback and improve my education through your experiences and thoughts.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What's Important in Youth Sports? Part 3


Awards are plentiful in youth sports as are successful performances. In part one I asked parents and coaches to prioritize a list of benefits our children derive from participating in youth sports. I’ve tried hard not to inject my own beliefs into that process, until now. I believe whole-heartedly that experiencing success is more important than winning awards. I also believe there are ways to make the two congruent.

Why is success more important than awards? First, except for “the biggies” that may go on a mantle or special shelf, awards are temporary. Parents tell me their children have drawers or boxes full of medals and ribbons. The walls of my gym are adorned with years of trophies covered with chalk dust. No one remembers what meets they were from.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Awards are an important part of sports and most times they indicate successful performances. But they are still extrinsic and their effect is short term. Should our children celebrate when they win an award? You bet! They should particularly celebrate the team awards they share with their friends. Friendships are a long term benefit of youth sports participation and being part of a successful team will help friendships develop.

All of us involved in sports should understand that you will not get an award every time you are successful, and not all awards signify success. An average athlete who chooses to compete in a weak league may win a lot of awards. That same athlete, if choosing to compete in a strong league, may win few or no awards. The question we must answer is this, which league is best for developing the child as a whole?

My personal opinion is that choosing to compete in a weaker league simply for the sake of placing higher in the standings is a gamble. Why, because our kids are smart. Most of them will, at some point, see the big picture. At that point, most of what was done to make them feel successful will have been wasted. And even worse, these child athletes will feel as though their parents and coaches, the people they want to please the most, have no confidence in their abilities.

If Susie takes fourth place on the balance beam she may or may not get an award. But, if Susie worked hard all week to improve her cartwheel and then stuck that cartwheel on the beam at the meet, she experienced success. She knows she was successful and she knew it the instant her feet stayed on that beam. She learned something from the process of training that will stick with her. More life skills are developed in the process of training to compete than from the actual competition.

Experiencing success based on goals, whether formal or informal, is a task oriented process. Completing a task or series of tasks is part of that process, along with writing goals and measuring outcomes. The reward for success in this system is learning the process, because that is a life long benefit.

It feels great to win awards. We can all use a little ego bump once in a while. But, how we perform in relationship to our past performance and current goals will provide more meaningful information. We should teach our child athletes to celebrate these successes as much as they celebrate winning a game or placing high in an event. And, we do.

Think about the chronological order of events at a sport competition. When are the awards given? When do athletes receive feedback from their performance, their coaches, their teammates, the crowd and the officials?

Good coaches understand that performance feedback comes first and is controlled by the coach. Sometimes you celebrate. Sometimes you educate. Sometimes you console. Most times you do some of each. I suggest you find something to celebrate and do that first, followed by education or consoling and always finish on a positive note. Feedback concerning the success of a performance will always come before the award for the performance. Because it is more immediate and more closely tied to goals and expectations set by the athlete and coaches, it should create more benefits than the award.

The relationship between awards and task/goal oriented success is not black and white. It is varying shades of grey, based on who’s running the show. If a child is experiencing success based on improvement, progress, goals, what they’re learning AND getting a lot of awards, that’s great. The key is to educate our child athletes about the meaning and value of each. Coaches and parents must first understand that the benefit of winning an award is most often short term, while the benefits derived from being successful in reference to goals, whether formal or informal, are more long term.

How can coaches make pursuing awards and pursuing goals more congruent for our children? Give awards based on attaining goals. The award doesn’t have to be fancy, but should have meaning. If the Panthers spend their weekend winning a basketball tournament and get a trophy for doing so, that’s great. They should celebrate that victory. With every moment that passes, that trophy will have less and less value in terms of motivation and the learning it represents. If at the first practice after the tournament, Johnny gets to stick a big red star on a chart showing that he met his goal of having three steals during the game, and sticks another big red star on a chart for making over fifty percent of his shots during the tournament, his coach has provided an award based on past performance and current goals. This process helps Johnny develop some valuable skills.

Winning awards and experiencing success based on goal attainment are both benefits of participating in sports. Because attaining goals creates more long term benefits than simply winning an award, it will always be placed higher on my list of priorities.

Part four will cover the benefits of developing friendships and lifelong fitness habits. And, I will post my list.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Part two in this series will focus on the benefits of learning goal setting, goal attainment, self-discipline, decision making skills and the development of self-confidence. I have chosen the topics for part two based on their commonalities and the over-lapping skill sets they share. Developing good goal setting skills and self-discipline can increase goal attainment. Decision making skills, good or bad are the foundation our children will build these skills upon. With success in these areas, self-confidence soars.  Click here to read Part 1.


The Encarta Dictionary defines self-discipline as: the ability to do what is necessary or sensible without needing to be urged by somebody else. A self-disciplined person will choose to do what’s right and act in a way that is congruent with that decision.

The very act of participating in youth sports develops self-discipline and decision making skills, particularly in team sports. If Johnny is on first base and Jimmy hits the ball, Johnny must run or be put out. Johnny has been taught by his coaches that if he’s on first base and the ball is hit on the ground, he should run to second. He has the knowledge and ability he needs to make the right decision.

This is a simple example of learning self-discipline. Johnny had only two choices, run to second base or be put out. For a five year old playing T-ball, this is a good lesson. If Johnny was on second base with no one on first base when the ball is hit on the ground, he would have several options and a more difficult decision to make.

For a child to benefit by learning self-discipline, coaches and parents must allow them to make decisions in situations where they are prepared with proper knowledge and ability. We must gauge the decision the child may be asked to make against their preparation and decide whether to let them make the decision or use the situation as a teachable moment. If a coach is going to make the decision, an explanation as to why they had the child do what they did is a good lesson. This lesson will increase the chance of the child being prepared to make the decision the next time they are in a similar situation.

It’s crucial to understand that self-discipline is not self-taught, only self-administered. Self-discipline is learned, it improves with practice, training, education and experience. All of these can be provided by a child’s parents, coaches and teachers.

Parents and coaches are part of a child’s adult support system that will teach the child right and wrong. If we are to expect our children to make the right decisions, we must educate them as to what is right and wrong. Parents should be diligent in their efforts to choose coaches who teach or at least reinforce the family values being taught at home. Children should be encouraged to consult with people they trust when they aren’t sure what the right decision is in a particular situation.

We cannot expect our children and athletes to be perfect when making decisions. They are going to make mistakes. Youth sports allows children to make decisions, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes in an environment where the consequences are minimal, making it a great opportunity for teaching those skills. No matter the age, our children can be developing their decision making skills. They can learn to gather information, analyze the information and decide what to do next. If the decision doesn’t create the desired result, they can consider why and hopefully use that knowledge to make a different and better choice the next time.


Setting goals is a skill. It’s what I call a crossover skill, one that can be applied to all aspects of your life. An individual who is adept at goal setting can make their life simple, organized and successful. With proper goals we can eliminate a lot of effort toward peripheral, non-essential activities, and we can focus on forward progress and follow a streamlined path to success.

We all set goals. When we go to the grocery store, the goal is to buy food to feed the family. When a coach prepares for the season he sets goals. A coach may set formal goals for the team and use charts and testing to measure completion of the goals. A shopping list is a form of goal setting. When the shopper checks the list before entering the check out lane, they are measuring their success.

Because we all use goals, it makes sense to continually improve our goal setting skills. The goal setting process is really quite simple. Decide what you want to accomplish, write it down, make sure it is measurable, look it over to see if there are some intermediary goals that can be written to help in attaining the original goal (there probably will be). This is followed by training, learning, building or doing whatever is needed before measuring results to see if the goal is accomplished. If the goal is attained, great, write a new goal. If the results don’t match the desired outcome, determine why and write a new goal. This flows in a cycle, write a goal, train, measure the outcome, write a goal, train, measure the outcome. You can read more about this cycle at this link: Progressive Motivation Cycle.

Youth sports are a perfect environment for teaching goal setting skills. It’s easy to write progressive, appropriate, measurable goals in a sports setting. Every drill, every activity, every practice, every game, every season should have goals, some formal with charted results and some “quick-hitters” where recording results aren’t necessary.

A key to success, in most endeavors and particularly in youth sports, is writing appropriate goals. Goals should not be too easy or too hard. They should be progressive, moving from point A to B to C. They need to be easily understood and measurable. For inexperienced athletes, coaches should be heavily involved in the goal setting process. As athletes become more adept at setting goals, the coach will become more of an adviser and a resource for information needed to set appropriate goals.

Good coaches want to develop independent athletes who know what they want to accomplish in their sport. Coaches who succeed at this create the hazard of losing touch with the athlete’s goals. As athletes become more skilled at setting goals and, therefore more independent in the goal setting process, it becomes imperative that goals are written and understood by the athlete, coach and parent. Athletes will attain goals most consistently when all involved understand the desired outcome of training.

Goal attainment (or not) will be based largely on the training process. Coaches should have systems in place that provide a streamlined path toward the athlete’s goals. These systems should focus on forward progress and help avoid time spent on unnecessary tasks. Although individualization is a must for good coaching, a coach shouldn’t reinvent the wheel each time a new goal is written. With experience and time, a coach or organization will meet new goals with methods, processes and systems already in place, decreasing the randomness of training and increasing the chances of goal attainment.

There is a process for being successful. Proper goal setting and good training systems are the major players in this process. These can be learned and practiced in a sport setting and carried over to the real world for a lifetime of success.


Developing the skills mentioned above create obvious benefits. It’s essential to understand that these skills improve with practice and thought. The education never stops. The less obvious benefit of learning these skills and the most exciting to watch in children is an increase in self-confidence.

It’s hard to measure self-confidence in an objective way, but you can see it when you watch children play and compete. Real, genuine self-confidence comes from making good decisions and attaining goals on a regular basis. These things create success and success increases confidence.

"One important key to success is self-confidence.
An important key to self-confidence is preparation."
-Arthur Ashe

Thursday, February 17, 2011


As many of us near our state, regional and national championships, I felt compelled to reprint my first post from nearly a year ago.  Although it's simple and short, I feel it's my best.

While much discussion and printed material concerned with youth sports focuses on negative issues and circumstances, let us not forget what’s good in the world of youth sports. As is usually the case in life, good things evolve from the involvement of good people. Caring, enthusiastic, and energetic people are abundant on the fields, courts and in the gyms of our children. Look around and you’ll see them.

You may have to look hard at first because the negative influences tend to be more visible. But, keep looking and you’ll soon realize that the good is the majority, an overwhelming majority. Watch the coaches, parents, and officials. Do you see the smiles, the support, and the caring attitude that so many bring to the sports setting? Can you see past the frustrated and the overzealous? If you can, you’ll find the role models that make children’s sports such a fantastic learning experience.

Look at yourself. Take some time to consider your actions and the behaviors you model for the children in your life. When others look for the good in youth sports will they find you? If you’re dedicated to youth sports enough to have found this blog, I’m guessing the answer to that question is yes.

I’m excited to be blogging on the topic of youth sports. I don’t consider myself to be an expert, but I do consider myself to be experienced. I’ve had some great achievements and I’ve made plenty of mistakes. After thirty plus years of coaching, I have some definite thoughts about what’s right with youth sports, why we love sports and how we can help our kids love them too.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What's Important in Youth Sports? Part 1

What benefits do we as coaches and parents want our children to derive from participation in youth sports? What would the following list look like if you prioritized it from most important to least important? Give it some thought and give it a try. Really, take a few minutes to give each line some thought, decide if it is more or less important than the others and make a list.

Having fun
Learning goal setting and goal attainment skills
Developing self-discipline
Learning the decision making process
Developing friendships
Achieving success
Winning a lot of awards
Learning good sportsmanship
Developing self confidence
Developing a healthy lifestyle
Choose 2 or 3 of your own and insert them wherever you’d like

This is the first part of a four part series on these topics.


How important is winning? If the goal in sports is to score more points than the other team, shouldn’t athletes and coaches focus on achieving that goal? Is it wrong to try your best to win a game or competition? Winning a game is an appropriate goal if a child plays within the rules of the game and the guidelines of good sportsmanship. Since the nature of sports is to win the competition by scoring more (or less) points, children should be encouraged to give their best effort toward that endeavor.

Before going further into this discussion, we must first distinguish between being a winner, winning a competition and being successful. The team that scores the most points in a game wins the game. In that instance the players on that team are the winners. Being a winner is defined as somebody or something that wins a competition or somebody or something that is or seems likely to become very successful or popular. By definition, an athlete can be a winner without winning the competition. It’s no wonder parents and coaches are often confused or misguided about how to use these terms. This confusion can be detrimental to children and greatly decrease the benefits of participating in youth sports.

The best advice for adults is to “tell it like it is.” If Suzy’s team scored more goals than Sally’s team, Suzy can be told that her team won the game. Sally can be told that her team lost. Sally is not going to suffer permanent psychological damage from hearing this. In actuality, she will be more psychologically balanced by understanding the win/loss dichotomy.

According to the definitions presented above, it’s possible that Suzy could be told she’s a winner because her team scored more goals than the other team, and Sally could be told she’s a winner because she blocked six shots on goal and refrained from turning cartwheels while the play was at the other end of the field. Assuming these were previously discussed goals.

Coaches and parents should be cautious when telling an athlete they lost the game, but they are a winner. Explaining how Sally was successful in attaining her goals even though her team lost the game would be a better choice of terms. Keep in mind that long term goals should be based on the desires of the athlete and short term training goals should be set by coaches. In order to provide the best feedback, parents need to be aware of the goals.

By helping our athletes understand winning, losing and being successful by using terminology that isn’t confusing, we will allow ourselves to do a couple more great things. First, we can keep score at little league games!!!  I’ve never understood why we tell our children the goal is to make as many baskets as possible in the given amount of time and then we tell them we aren’t going to count how many baskets they make. Talk about confusing. Second, when our children understand winning, losing and being successful, we will have more opportunities to teach good sportsmanship. The difference between being a good person and being a good sport is only the setting. By teaching good sportsmanship, we are teaching good people skills.

Having Fun

Yes, this is the most important goal in youth sports participation, but is it the greatest benefit? That’s for you to decide. I look at it this way. The benefit of having fun is short term unless coupled with something that is long term, such as developing friendships or a desire to return to the activity.

The value of having fun decreases if taken in the context of the moment. In this case, once a child changes activities, the fun is gone. No matter how much fun I was having playing sports as a child, when I was called in for dinner and saw spinach waiting on the table, fun was no longer a thought.

There’s nothing wrong with participating for the fun of the moment and youth sports, when done right, will create a lot of fun. That in itself is worth the effort to play. In reality, fun most often leads to friendships and a desire to return to the activity.

Coaches, parents and league administrators should keep in mind that each child will have their own idea of what’s fun. What’s fun for one child may not be considered as fun for another child. What’s fun one day may not be as fun the next day. Winning can be fun. Running, jumping, throwing, catching and kicking can all be fun. Sitting on the bench and talking to your best friend can be fun. If we recognize where our children’s joy comes from, we can do a better job of increasing that joy and attaching fun to long term benefits.

Learning Good Sportsmanship

I’ve chosen winning, having fun and learning good sportsmanship for the first part of this series because they are very much intertwined. Good sportsmanship leads to more fun. Bad sportsmanship leads to less fun. Winning with good sportsmanship is a great thing. Losing with good sportsmanship can also be a great thing. Winning without having fun or winning combined with poor sportsmanship eliminates the benefits that should be created through youth sports.

The key to having fun in youth sports and properly managing winning and losing lies in how people react to the game or competition. These reactions, from players, coaches, parents and officials are called sportsmanship. If a person’s reactions are positive and good, they are a good sport.

How do children learn good sportsmanship? From the people they watch in sports settings. What’s the difference between being a good sport and being a good person? The answer is the setting. A good person in a sports setting is a good sport. When it comes to learning good sportsmanship, who has the most influence on our children? Our potential to influence children is a combination of admiration, respect and time. If our children admire athletes they see on TV, the way those athletes behave will influence our children’s sportsmanship. The same is true for the people our children respect. This could be coaches, teachers, family members or friends. And, time plays a role in a person’s potential influence on children.

Fortunately, parents have the tools to control most of the factors influencing their child’s sportsmanship education. A parent can add commentary to end zone celebrations seen on TV. A discussion about the difference between Barry Sanders respectfully handing the ball to the official following touchdowns and Terrell Owens pulling a Sharpie from his sock to autograph the ball may keep a child from making a poor choice in their next game.

Our children spend a lot of time with teachers and coaches. Parents can, and should play an active role in choosing these people. If your sports league doesn’t allow you to choose your child’s coaches, choose another league. Sports skills, scores and trophies aren’t nearly as important as the role models your child will be following. If you’re not allowed to choose your coach, you should at least have the opportunity to get to know the assigned coach before committing to a team.

Children’s respect for others will be based on what they’ve been taught is important. Children should have a strong sense of family values, what’s right, what’s wrong, etc. before becoming involved in sports. It’s important that parents seek role models who reinforce the lessons being taught at home.

Part 2: The benefits of learning goal setting and goal attainment skills
Developing self-discipline
Learning the decision making process
Developing self-confidence