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