Category Archives: Sports Culture

What makes a youth sport experience great?

Is it the games? Is it the coach? Is it the referees? Is it the skill development? Is it the snacks? Is it the league standings? What is it? Or is it a combination of alot things? What makes for a great youth sport experience?

I recently had the privilege to attend the Change the Game conference at Boston University and learn from the ideas of some great providers and innovators of youth sport. 

It got me thinking what defines a great youth basketball league/team/academy experience.  I realize this answer is going to vary depending on the lens you are looking through.  Depending on whether you are a participant, a parent, a coach, a coach of an older team hoping this league feeds players into them, or the provider of the program.  Each group has a different desire, a different lens they view the program through.  

Too often programs are created purely with the self-interest of one group and then other groups are convinced that this program is the most beneficial to them. This reality usually is loaded with unintended consequences for the other groups in satisfying the one primary desire of one group (ranging from frustration, slowed development, increased spending, to reduced number of participants continuing).

The answer to this question is not easy and definately doesn’t appear to be universal . However, I believe a great place to start is by looking at the situations you are directly involved and start asking questions:

  • What is important to our target audience? What do they hope to get out of  participating in our program?
  • What is our goal as a program? Does our programs actions and structures build towards that goal, our compete with it?
  • How could we ReDesign our program to better serve our participants and our mission?

I don’t have answers but I am passionate about this and would love to hear others ideas/experiences/opinions.

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What Xavier vs Cincinnati revealed

I found the Xavier vs Cincinnati incident very disturbing but not so much because of the fight itself.  What disturbed me the most was how this fight started and how it was commented on and treated afterwards by some  involved.

This was not  a fight  borne out of  heat-of-battle conflict, it was not a case of a fight emerging from physical contact occuring during the course of a play.  It was pre-calculated and easy to see coming.  This was a fight along the lines of the 1972 Ohio State vs Minnesota brawl instigated on a pre-mediatated cheap shot by Corky Taylor during a dead-ball. 

The fight merely served to shine a glaring light on the real issues that need to be dealt with. The real issue is the actions by those charged with leading college athletics are not always living up to their stated goals and words, leaving players ill equipped to deal with pressures and expectations of being the faces and talent of college athletics. A college athletics landscape that has moved beyond being about spirited competition and school pride to being a high revenue sports entertainment  empire. This belief is evidenced by the following points:

  • This is Tu Holloway’s fourth in year in the Xavier basketball program and Mark Lyon’s third.  It is sad that during this period at Xavier they have learned so well  the many life skills that NCAA and college administrators and coaches espouse that some 20 to 30 minutes after an embarassing incident, after they have had the opportunity to calm down, be talked to by their coaches, teamates and administrators they emerge to a press conference and talk about this being what you get, about being disrespected and zipping people up.  Those comments reveal a total lack of perspective and remorse.  Those comments prove what Mick Cronin spoke so eloquently about during his post-game press conference a lack of appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity they are provided. It also speaks to a disturbing sense of entitlement very well written about in this blog post by Mike Procopio  http://www.hoopconsultants.com/2011/12/my-thoughts-on-ate-xavier-cincinnati-brawl/

The cause of the fight is equally disturbing and has many culpable parties but here a few thought particularly disappointed me.

  • Lyons and Holloway running their mouths to the Cincinnati sideline throughout the game without intervention by Xavier coaches and the game officials.
  • Xaviers starters still be on the floor with the game decided, emotions high and running their mouths.  Come on Coach Mack don’t tell me you were oblivious to the fact your players were trying to show up the other team and that it was getting potential explosive.
  • The adminstrators of college athletics at these universities and conferences for their decisions on the suspensions after the fact.  In my opinion the announced punishments feed into the belief that revenue sports are more important than the mission and integrity of the college and do very little to teach a meaningful lesson to any involved. However,  it does remind us that protecting the future revenue streams by maintaining top basketball talent on the floor is very important to the colleges and conferences.

What I believe needs to be done long-term would need more space than this blog but I believe it starts with meeting the daily defining moments as outlined in this earlier blog post https://1010sport.com/2011/11/09/defining-moment/ .

Learning is a choice

Learning is a choice, made by the learner not the teacher. Therefore,  a teacher should focus on what motivates others to learn; identify what sparks a learners curiosity rather than focusing on telling them what you already know.

It is easy to get the highly motivated player, the player who wants the same things you want to learn what you are teaching; but what about the majority of the players  you coach who aren’t this way how do you get them to learn?

Great coaches like great salespeople understand people don’t buy based on what you know; they buy based on what it can do for them.   Coaching success requires getting players to align their individual  interests with the vision you have set for the team and the players role on it.

Today’s player needs to believe before they will follow. This may be different from when todays coaches were players; they might have followed a coach before they believed. This shift is why generally today in coaching threats don’t work for long, and punishment doesn’t lead to buy-in. A relationship based on trust, transperency, open communications, and void of hidden agendas is vital to coaching success.  This type of relationship  enables a coach to identify what  motivates an individual  player and allows a player to  learn how, not told, to be successful within the framework of a team. 

Coaches and players need to stop making asssumptions about what the other is thinking and wants.  A coach needs to move out of dictating and demanding and move into the realm of dialoguing and discussing.  Please hear me I am not saying  a coach relinquish their voice in determining and upholding  the standards, philosophy, and values of their team.  What I am saying that a coach needs to understand the success of  the values, philosophy, standards they set  is depenendent on those charged with carrying them out.  It is dependent players learning and fully  buying into the vision and plan. The quickest and most effective path to that end  is to help players discover the benefit of adhering to it; and this requires a true relationship with players.  You can’t hold a player to a standard that they haven’t agreed to be held to.

Two final thoughts:

  •  No matter how talented a coach is and no matter how gifted a player or a team might be a coach can never push them into achieving their full potential.  The sad truth is that some players and some teams never achieve their full potential because they never discover what would motivate them to align their interests with what is needed to be the best they can be.
  • The best way to ensure someone believes is to let their buy-in be their decision.  The best way for a coach to do this is to engage in effective question and listening with their players.  If you have questions on how to go about this let me know and I would be happy to discuss this approach with you.

What’s your perspective on Sport? Here’s mine.

Sport has the potential to develop character as well as reveal it.

A major focus of amateur sport should be on developing character rather than preventing it from being revealed. Adhering to this focus requires us to re-evaluate our perspective on success in sport.  I believe too often we allow the attainment of percieved worldly success; wins, championships, postional titles to hide the process used in their achievement.  The ends justifying the means seems too easy and contrite.  I believe the viewpoint of too many in sport is the end is all that matters as long as we can keep the means hidden.

Please hear me,  I am not saying there is anything wrong with pursuing and setting as goals wins, championships and titles. I am saying we need to constantly evaluate and take personal accountabilty of the path we choose to take in pursuing those goals.

It is time to recapture the right perspective on sport, where how you live daily on the journey is more important than reaching the destination.   To refocus our perspective.  To understand  and live out that it is acceptable and may be long-term beneficial to come up short trying to attain the public symbols of success; if we are meeting  the standards of character on the journey we are still successful.  A purpose of  sports is  to be a vehicle to teach life lessons, to use sport as a tool and metaphor to develop character and  reinforce healthy societal values.  Unfortunately, too many of us have to come to view and place the value of sport in obtaining wins, championships, and positional titles and fame.

Redefining the perspective on success in  sport is not going to be easy. It is going to take courage.  It is going to take a willingness to change;  a willingness by people to risk losing some revenue and/or some positional status. But most importantly it is going to take personal accountability. It is going to take all of us involved in sport in any fashion at any level, to be courageous enough to daily do the right things.  To be courageous enough to speak up;  to stand against the wrong pressures;  to walk away from the temptations and trappings;  to risk our own positions or career paths to do the right thing.

Doing the right thing is not someone else responsiblity.  It is not at a level above us. It is not something we have to wait for permission to do; and it may not be popular to all involved at the time. But it is what we all need to do.  Understand none of us willl ever be perfect we will all make mistakes on our journeys, but we need to and can  be a part of creating a sports system that helps us work through our errors rather than feeding a system that trys to cover them up.

Devotion: A coaching mantra

Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community, devote yourself to a purpose or a passion.

Morrie Schwartz 
Tuesdays With Morrie

Coaching provides a great opportunity to live out this mantra.  Love the people and players you work with.  Improve your communty; coaches are fortunate enough to be in a position to impact this.  Be passionate about the opportunities you have; if you aren’t you are probably trying to live someone else’s passion.

Coaches have an unique opportunity to work with young people in a forum that they are truly interested in and desire to excel in.  This opportunity creates a responsibility.  A responsiblity to best serve your athletes in the sport and use the sport to prepare them for their opportunities outside of sport. Coaches need to help players learn to be  devoted to more than themselves and the simple accolades available in sport.  A coach should be devoted to the following goals along with devoted to winning games.  I also think winning comes easier when the following goals are achieved by coaches.

  • Help players identify their gifts and find their passions. 
  • Provide them experiences in which they can benefit others and their community, so that they may see the benefits of living life well.  
  • Help them identify ways in which their unique giftings can be applied withn a team so that they may discover how these gifts can be applied to the larger world around them outside of sport.

 As coaches we need to help players improve their performance and use the on court performance to help them learn how to improve their performance off of it. There is no greater reward for a coach than seeing their devotion displayed through others finding their passion and sharing it

Simple is not inferior

Everything should be made as simple as possible, and no simpler.

— Albert Einstein

As coaches the simpler we can make things the easier it is for players to understand the priority.  Too often we think that effective equals complex, that simple equals inferior.  Yet so much evidence points to the opposite.  The success and the relentless pursuit of simple by Google serves as a prime example in the business world.  The benefit of the pursuit of simple is also applicable in athletics, the most successful coaches are the ones who make the game simplest for their athletes and teams.

The challenge for coaches is to seek out honest feedback on the simplicity of their teaching. As coaches it is hard to identify our own weakness in keeping our teaching simple and most effective without outside feedback. Yes it takes courage to invite someone in to evaluate our teaching and help us to be our best, but isn’t this what we are trying to do for our players.  Also, this process doesn’t have to be a painful experience either. An effective coach of coaches understands  the best approach is to ask questions that lead to self-awareness as that is the quickest path to lasting and effective change in behaviors.

Common pitfalls that lead to complexity in our coaching can be:

  • A coaches own lack of clarity on what are those truly vital priorities to success in their system.  Due to uncertainty or not having spent the time to ask themselves the question
  • Falling back on doing things that were done to us and teach the way we were taught
  • Feeling the pressure to make things more complex to justify their position

Know your strengths

Golf is a great test of one’s ability to focus on their strengths, as there are no reactions to opponents, it is you and you alone deciding the shot  you are going to attempt.  During a recent round I found myself again trying to hit a shot that I see many good players hit when facing the shot I was. I knew that was not the best shot for me as I am better at hitting a high flop shot than I am at hitting a bump and run into the side of the bank.  Yet I had this internal debate going in my head that if I play against conventional wisdom (which is playing to my strength) am I somehow lesser of a player.  Unfortunately, I displayed some mental weakness and attempted the conventionally wise shot and wound up making bogey, I should have played to my strengths. 

This experience got me thinking how this relates to coaching. As a coach am I trying to get a player to play like someone else or am I trying to help them become the best player they can be based on their unique giftings?  This is not to say that we don’t teach players fundamental skills, but as coaches we should not stifle creativity to do things a little differntly as that leads to innovation.  The game of basketball would look differently if Whitey Skoog, John Miller Cooper, or Ken Sailors  had not been allowed to take a jump shot as up to then it was believed that a set shot was most effective.

Good coaches don’t try to create cookie cutter players, they help players realize their strengths and how to maximize them within the team and the game.

Good coaches develop players to their fullest potential, not trying to force them mirror someone elses path to their fullest potnential.