Jeff Farris
Youth coaches sometimes joke that the ideal youth team is a team of orphans. Though this approach is one solution to problem parents, there are other more practical solutions. One of the best is regular communication with parents. Everything a coach does with the team is in parental view. In the absence of coaching guidance, parents form and communicate their own opinions of the status of the team and the steps necessary for improvement. Some parents may be objective and knowledgeable about the sport, but if they don't speak up, then the overall team opinion may be shaped by others. For coaches, these parent-to-parent and parent-to-player communications can become distracting to their efforts to make team improvements. Coaches should consider short and regular meetings with all parents to help shape these opinions and give parents better insight into what to watch for in games and practices. In a recent Sports Esteem survey of coaches and parents, over 60% thought that coaches should at least meet occasionally with parents after a game. In these meetings, coaches might cover:
  • Recent team performance giving parents insight into the progress the team is or is not making in various areas.
  • Approaches taken in practices that are attempting to shape game performance.
  • Reemphasis of team goals and objectives.
  • Realistic guidance concerning upcoming game and practice performance.
  • Positive comments concerning every player. Mentioning only a few players may raise more parent concerns.
  • Reminding parents to praise their children's efforts and encourage their kids to have fun and develop a love for the game.
The overall test of a youth coach is whether his players have fun, learn new skills and want to play again next season. Yet, in the emotions of a game or issue, these goals can get lost or seem secondary. Coaches need to have the courage and conviction to keep their parents working toward these goals and this requires regular and consistent communication. The temptation to avoid parental contact only amplifies problems over time and lets small problems become large problems later in the season. Parents help judge the success of coaches, teams and seasons. In the absence of information, their judgments will vary greatly based on their own experiences and knowledge. With information, parents gain better appreciation for the challenges coaches face and continue to learn how they can best support their child's efforts.
Jeff Farris
Fear is a natural instinct that once helped protect humans from being eaten. Though being eaten is no longer a daily problem, fear is still a large part of life. Fear is a combination of thoughts, emotions and physical responses that work together to help alert someone to danger and prepare the body to react. When a person feels fear, additional adrenaline and other chemicals are produced which increase strength and decrease reaction times. At normal levels, fear can be helpful. At excessive levels, the chemicals and emotions triggered by fear can easily cloud judgements, create a feeling of nausea and sickness and actually decrease performance. In athletics, fear is common when players are trying something new, playing in a big game or attending team tryouts. To cope with fear, players can try these techniques:
  • Admit That You Are Afraid - Recognizing that fear is a factor is the first step in correcting it.
  • Learn and Prepare - Nothing minimizes fear more than being over prepared. The higher the confidence level players have in their ability, the less likely they are to become afraid of the outcome.
  • Focus on Positive Images - There are many images that players can visualize when motivating themselves. If the images are positive then the outcomes are more likely to be positive. Michael Jordan often visualized making free throws in his back yard when making high-pressure free throws in games.
  • Listen to Experience - When going into a new situation, seek advice from people who have been there before. Older siblings or players can help less-experienced players better understand the situation.
  • Stay Busy - Withdrawing into oneself provides even more time for negative thoughts. Staying busy with friends and family is an easy way to relax and minimize the opportunity for fear.
  • Talk it Over With Parents - Fear is normal and players' parents have had many opportunities to experience fear in their own lives. Parents have the unique advantage of helping players see a broader perspective.
Fear can help players. The fear of being scored against can make the defense try harder to block a shot. The fear of losing can make the offense work harder to score. However, when players keep dwelling on these fears before or after the immediate event, they need to quickly work to regain control of their emotions and stay focused on playing well rather than playing afraid.
Jeff Farris
Coaches can have a big impact on the way players deal with the fears that can arise from sporting competitions. Every competition has an outcome. But, focusing on an outcome before the competition is over means that players are not focused on the immediate challenges of game play. Coaches can improve team performance and increase the chances of a win by keeping their players focused. However, there are five easy ways to help players lose this focus and start focusing on the fear of failure. These include:
  • Make a Game's Outcome Do or Die - Every game is going to have a winner and a loser. If players are thinking about the end of the game, they are not thinking about playing the game.
  • Sharply Punish Failures - When players know that their mistakes will bring about a harsh penalty, their performances will often be motivated by images of failure rather than by images of success. Unfortunately, outcomes often follow these images.
  • Don't Acknowledge Player Concerns - Players know when they are playing in a big game. If coaches don't help shape the way that players think about these games, then players will shape their own thoughts and often with an excessive fear of failure.
  • Overemphasize Opponents - All teams are capable of being beaten. But, some are much more difficult than others. Elevating the stature of opponents can give players additional fears of embarrassment and humiliation beyond the normal fear of defeat.
  • Give Players a Larger Purpose - When audiences for games include more than just family members, it is easy to remind players that they are playing for their school, their organization or for some more significant purpose than the game itself. This takes a player's attention outside the boundaries of the game and into the stands.
Though most coaches have often played in big games, it is easy to forget that most youth players have not. When coaches help keep players focused on the game, they are giving them the best chances of success and the best tools for minimizing fear.
Jeff Farris
Whether parents put pressure on their kids or not, kids will put pressure on themselves. This pressure can lead to fears that if not handled properly will lead to poor performances and potentially a greater fear of failure. Helping young players understand and deal with fear and anxiety assists kids not only in sports but also in all areas of life. Failure and fear do not have to go together. Failure is result of trying something and not succeeding. Fear comes from dreading the consequences of failure. Helping kids separate these concepts assists kids in keeping fear in perspective. Some ways that parents can help kids deal with fear include:
  • Guarantee Love - Make sure that kids know that parental pride comes from the attempt and not from the outcome. If kids know they will have parental support regardless of the outcome, they are more likely to take chances and risk failure.
  • Explain that Failure is a Result of Trying - When kids do not try, they do not fail. If parents are going to encourage their children to try new things, they are also encouraging them to fail. Not all new things will result in first time success.
  • Remind that Failure and Success are not Permanent - Failing or being successful today do not guarantee like outcomes in the future. In fact, many future successes start with today's failures.
Kids are often fearful because they lack experience and dread the unknown of failure. When parents help their kids think through these unknowns, they are equipping them with the understanding to overcome this lack of experience.
Jeff Farris

Habit - A recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition.-- The American Heritage® Dictionary 

Each activity in sports has a correct way to perform and a way that only gets by. Whether throwing a ball, shooting a basket or passing a puck, there are techniques that provide better accuracy, distance and success. Excelling and playing at advanced levels requires the mastery of these better techniques.Replacing old techniques with new ones is not easy. The ability of the human body to walk and move without much thought also makes it difficult to change techniques. 

Many experts estimate that it takes approximately 21 days to break old habits and create new ones. For players, this means that learning new skills may require weeks of consistent thought and effort until these new skills are mastered. Like many things in life, consistency and patience are the keys to success.

Jeff Farris
Coaches are an important influence in a kid's life. Their words always carry more significance to the child hearing them than the to the coach who is saying them. As such, it is easy for coaches to phrase things in ways that are heard as much harsher than was intended. When helping kids develop new skills or when dealing with team selections, coaches should be careful to focus player discussions on tangible behaviors and away from things that have broader personal or family meaning. For example: Personally Focused and Confusing
  • What's wrong with you today?
  • We don't want you on our team.
  • Why can't you play as well as Tommy?
  • How long have you been playing this sport?
  • We are looking for better kids.
  • Why can't you play more like your brother?
  • Did your dad teach you that?
  • Are you this way in school too?
  • Would your mom be proud of this behavior?
  • Don't let this team down.
  • Why can't you be better?
Performance Focused and Better
  • Your effort is not up to your usual level.
  • There were other players who in our judgment made better effort.
  • You will need to move more quickly if you are to have an impact during the play.
  • Let me show you where you need to be when these events happen.
  • We need players with more advanced skills.
  • If you are not feeling well, take a break and try again in a few minutes.
  • We are counting on a good performance from you today.
When coaches are careful to keep discussions focused on behaviors, they are also keeping their players focused on things they can change. When conversations become more personal, it makes it harder for players to equate a simple change of behavior with improved performance. Giving players a clear set of expectations and measurements is the easiest way to get the most from a team.
Jeff Farris
The first few weeks that kids spend playing a new sport often determines how long they will continue. If the first few weeks are fun, then kids will stay with it. If not, kids will quit and find other ways to spend their time. Parents can help get their kids off to a good start by following these simple tips:
  • Get Instruction in Advance - Part of the fun that kids derive from sports comes from the confidence they gain by performing at a level comparable or above that of their friends. A few private lessons before the first practice from a knowledgeable friend or instructor can help kids start with confidence. While parents can sometimes fill this role, kids often listen better to another adult. If possible, parents should get instruction for their child from someone else and then be ready to help out afterwards with additional practice.
  • Attend the First Practices and Games - Parents can show their support for new activities by taking time to attend the first team events. These events provide parents a good chance to watch their kids learning new skills and interacting with friends. If kids don't know many of the other kids and are shy, parents should consider helping their kids get acquainted with the other players.
  • Be Generous with Praise and Encouragement - It is unlikely that the first time kids participate in a new sport that they will excel. Parents may have to be creative in their compliments, but parental praise is an important part of process. Praising a child's effort, listening, participation and outgoing actions are just as valid as praising a child's skill.
  • Don't Give Criticism or Correction - It will be tempting for parents to point out areas of improvement for their child. Especially during the first few weeks, this should be avoided to the extreme. Parents should let the coach work with their child to improve skills. There is plenty of time to fix skill problems if kids enjoy playing.
  • Provide Extra Time Before and After Practices - One of the biggest benefits for kids playing sports is the opportunity to spend more time with friends. Arriving immediately before and leaving right after a practice or game don't give kids time to enjoy this benefit. Parents should be prepared to arrive early and then stay late in order to give their kids the chance for more socialization.
Getting kids started on the right foot in sports is not difficult but may require some patience. At any age, there is always plenty of time for kids to build skills. But, there may not always be plenty of time to build enjoyment. The right parental actions during the critical first few weeks of a new sport can give kids and parents years of great memories.
Jeff Farris
If Your Kid Can Make the Team, Can You?
Given the importance of team chemistry, many select and travel teams are starting to evaluate parents as well as the players when making their decisions for limited team spots. Parents who have demonstrated inappropriate behavior or who have caused problems for coaches or staff often put their kids at a disadvantage. Parents who don't have the right perceptions of select sports can also cause problems for teams. Here is a quick questionnaire that teams can use to evaluate the parents of select or travel players.Instructions: Choose the BEST answer from the list provided. The word "select" can also mean "travel". A hint is provided at the end of the question. 

1. What is the proper role of parents on a select team?
  • Help the coach spot flaws in the team.
  • Help the coach track playing time.
  • Help bring the coach's attention to bad officiating.
  • Provide support and encouragement for their child and team.
If parents provide a supportive and nurturing environment for their kids, coaches will have an easier time focusing on player and team skills. 

2. If a player starts showing signs of burnout on a select team, parents should:
  • Encourage the child to play through the burnout, knowing that it will pass.
  • Encourage the child to skip practices to recover.
  • Encourage the child to skip games to recover.
  • Encourage the child to skip practices and games to recover.
Burnout is a very serious issue. Like an illness, it should be treated immediately with no rush to return the child to a full schedule. 

3. The number one goal of select team participation is to:
  • Have fun.
  • Participate on a winning team.
  • Earn more playing time.
  • Test competitive drive.
If you missed this question, you will need to go back and read all the back posts as punishment. 

4. When it comes to their child playing other sports, parents should:
  • Discourage other sports.
  • Encourage other sports.
  • Remain neutral.
  • Go by the example of other parents.
With the additional dollars and activities of select team participation, it is easy to neglect other activities - especially other sports. Parents should encourage their child to play other sports as way to maintain a balanced life and prevent kids from focusing too early on just one sport. 

5. Because playing on a select team costs more money, parents should expect:
  • More entertaining games.
  • Faster skills development.
  • Chances for high school and college opportunities.
  • More fun.
Select team participation often costs more than a family vacation. If parents and kids don't have more fun participating than taking those missed vacations, then select sports may not be the best investment of parental dollars. 

6. When compared to kids on recreational teams, players on a select team:
  • Make far fewer mistakes.
  • Make more mistakes.
  • Make the same mistakes.
  • Make different mistakes.
Kids are going to make mistakes at any level. Any time that kids are developing new skills, mistakes should be expected. 

7. Select team success is measured by:
  • Regular season wins.
  • Tournament wins.
  • Both regular season and tournament wins.
  • Fun.
Almost any answer on this quiz with the word fun in it is probably the right one and this one is no exception. Fun is an easy way to measure the overall experience including time with friends, the increased confidence that comes from skills development, the satisfaction of team contributions and the improved quality of family time. 

8. In case of schedule conflicts, parents should give priority to:
  • Games.
  • Practices.
  • Doesn't matter between games and practices.
  • Nothing should conflict with select team participation.
Though games have high energy, practices are where the majority of player skills are developed. 

9. Playing on a select team means that a player's academic performance is:
  • Less important.
  • More important.
  • Not an issue.
  • No change in importance.
If one of the goals of playing select sports is to create the opportunity for post-high school play, then grades become even more important. The competition for college athletic scholarships is so fierce that when players are judged equal in athletic ability, academic performance may become the deciding factor. Colleges look for athletes who can demonstrate the ability handle school work along with athletic participation. 

10. Playing on a select team means that player's conduct is:
  • Less important.
  • More important.
  • Not an issue.
  • No change in importance.
For the same reason that academic success is so important, a player's conduct can quickly become a deciding factor for post-high school sports. If coaches feel that they need to keep an eye on a player's behavior, they are more likely to look for an equally skilled but less difficult alternative. 

11. Team selection by a player and parents should be based on:
  • Last season's win and loss record.
  • Last season's tournament wins.
  • The resumes of the coaching staff.
  • The team's ability to have fun and improve player skills.
Youth team success is often determined by having one or more players who are physically more mature than the others in the league. Trying to judge a coach or team by last year's success seldom works since kids continually move up in age categories and other kids continue to develop physically. 

12. On a select team, parents should expect their child to:
  • Have more playing time than other players.
  • Have less playing time.
  • Have playing time based on the situation and the score.
  • Have equal playing time.
If the purpose of a select team is to develop talent, then all players should receive equal playing time regardless of the game situation. Select teams that do not practice equal playing time do not have player development as their number one goal. 

13. On a select team, parents are expected to:
  • Help out more than on recreational teams.
  • Help out less.
  • Rely more on the coach.
  • Rely more on the team manager.
More practices, games and activities mean more work. If coaches are to have the necessary time for instruction, parents must pick up the extra load. 

14. On a select team, kids should limit:
  • Time with friends.
  • Overnight activities.
  • Trips with family.
  • None of the above.
If kids perceive select sports as a reason for not being able to have fun with friends and family, their motivation to play will suffer. Participation always requires a careful balancing of time among all activities. 

15. When parents pay more money for sports, they should expect their kids to be:
  • More motivated.
  • Less motivated.
  • Show no change in motivation.
  • Rely more on their parents for motivation.
Parent's money is never good motivation as any parent of a college-age child will validate. If kids don't have the right motivation prior to a parent writing a check, it is unlikely they will develop it afterwards.

16. If a child struggles with the competitive level of select sports, parents should:
  • Consider an aggressive approach to private lessons.
  • Stay on the coach to make sure all players get equal playing time.
  • Pressure their child to perform at a higher level.
  • Consider placing their child in a less competitive environment.
One of the main reasons for select sports is to match kids with other kids who have similar skills. If kids are much above or below average, they either won't be challenged or won't be able to develop the necessary confidence. 

17. If kids want to stop playing after parents have paid for a season, parents should:
  • Remind them how much participation cost.
  • Remind them of how much other teammates are depending on them.
  • Try to find out why the sport is no longer fun.
  • Let them quit.
There are many reasons that kids may want to quit and parents should investigate to see what the underlying problem is. Simply quitting may not provide a solution. 

18. Success of a select team is different from success on a recreational team because:
  • Everyone is at a higher skill level.
  • Coaches are often paid.
  • Teams travel.
  • There is no difference.
If select teams are successful, then kids improve as players and people and want to play again next year. These are the same goals for recreational teams. 

19. A good select team should win:
  • Almost all of their games.
  • 50% of their games.
  • Doesn't matter how many wins.
  • Doesn't matter as long as the team wins tournaments.
If teams are playing at the right level, they should win about half of their games. Too many or too few wins are a good indication that the team is not playing at the right competitive level. 

20. The primary reason to travel to games is:
  • To create good memories for kids.
  • To test the team against teams from across the nation.
  • Showcase team and coaching talent outside the local area.
  • Get kids ready for careers in professional sports where travel is required.
Although it may be necessary to travel to find competitive games, the overall goal is to create memories. The vast majority of select team players will not get the opportunity to play sports for college or professional teams. Although parents may feel their child is the exception, statistics are against it. If kids don't have good memories to show for their time in select sports, then they are likely to have nothing to show for their time in select sports.�
Jeff Farris
In 1996 at the age of 20, Tiger Woods started playing professional golf and began a new chapter in his then 18 year run in the public eye. At the age of two, Tiger appeared on The Mike Douglas Show along with comedian Bob Hope in a demonstration of putting skills. At age 5, he appeared on the television show That's Incredible. Tiger shot his first hole-in-one at age 6. At age 8, he won his first junior world championship. From the first time Tiger Woods saw his dad play golf, Tiger had a passion for the game. His entire youth focused on mastering the game both physically and mentally. For parents who want big things for their child, Tiger's success provides some great lessons.

1. Expose your child to many opportunities.

Tiger's dad, Earl Woods, played baseball for Kansas State University and at one point probably had dreams that his son would follow in his footsteps. When Earl starting playing golf at the age of 42, he developed a strong love of the game and spent many hours practicing. Earl shared this love of golf with his son and gave Tiger the opportunity to develop his own passion.

Not all kids will share their parent's enthusiasm for a particular activity. But, if parents don't share these activities with their children, kids may not know these opportunities exist. Exposing kids to a wide variety of activities and sports is the best way to help kids identify their own passions.

2. Foster your child's love of the game.

As a child, Tiger could not get enough of golf. He loved practicing and pushed himself to improve his game and his scores. His parents spent many hours taking Tiger to practice and providing him the resources to improve.

When a child shows expertise in a sport, it is easy to believe that the parents must have played a strong role in pushing their child to excel. When parents are the driving force behind a child's success, children quit at the first chance they get. When kids are the driving force behind their own success, then their success continues long past the time they can get beyond their parents' influence.

3. Don't hold children to adult standards too early.

Even as a child, Tiger was extremely competitive and constantly pushed himself to break par on a course even though he lacked the physical development required to do so. His dad came up with a "Tiger Par" which was always a few strokes higher than actual par. "Tiger Par" gave Tiger a chance to gain confidence and measure himself by his own standards of improvement rather than by standards designed for adults.

Kids need to gain confidence in their ability to play sports. Children's perceived sense of skill often determines how hard they work to improve. Like adults, kids invest time where they gain the greatest sense of accomplishment and recognition.

4. Don't push them too fast.

At 12 years old, Tiger was invited to play the blue tees (the ones farthest from the hole) at a tournament in order to compete for the overall tournament championship. Tiger refused saying that there would plenty of time to compete later. Tiger stayed in his own age bracket. Tiger always pushed himself to compete but was content to let his game develop before making the jump to the next level of play.

It is tempting for parents and coaches to encourage kids to move up to the next age or skill level so they can develop more quickly. Yet by moving too quickly, kids often fail to gain the confidence that comes from being one of the better players in a group. Though playing select or travel sports may have certain bragging rights, playing with confidence will have a better impact on a child's success over the long term.

5. Let coaches do their job.

At the age of four, Tiger's parents sought out help from a local golf pro who helped Tiger develop his game. Since then, Tiger has always relied on coaches to improve his game. Tiger's parents kept working with Tiger to develop his character and mental toughness but stepped aside to let the pro develop Tiger's golf skills.

Watching, playing and teaching athletic activities all require very different skills. Just because some can play well doesn't mean they can teach well. Parents need to seek out instructors and coaches for their child who are good at teaching young players and then let these instructors do their job.

6. Don't shirk your own responsibilities.

In his first Master's Tournament as a professional, Tiger's first nine holes were close to a disaster. The reporters were already starting to write off his chances for a victory. But, Tiger demonstrated a mental toughness that not only let him fix his game but also gave him the ability to rally. He became the youngest player ever to win the Master's, breaking the course record in the process.

Tiger's success does not come just from his skills, but also from his ability to stay focused and not become distracted by previous efforts or outside events. Though coaches certainly helped Tiger with the skills he needs, Tiger credits his parents with giving him the character and self-discipline needed to apply those skills. Letting kids get by with things because of their athletic accomplishments fails to give them the non-physical conditioning they will need in difficult situations.

7. Don't focus on mistakes.

While learning his game, Tiger missed thousands of shots. But he doesn't dwell on those shots. When Tiger was 6, he competed in his first international tournament. Tiger's first shot off the tee went straight down the middle. When his dad asked him later on what he was thinking, Tiger replied "Where I wanted the ball to go." He went on to finish eighth in the tournament, beaten only by 10 year olds.

In any sporting game, even at the professional levels, athletes make mistakes. They miss balls, drop catches, fall and fail to make passes. The more players concentrate on avoiding mistakes, the less likely they are to concentrate on having successes. Helping kids visualize success by not dwelling on mistakes is an important lesson parents can teach their children.

8. Keep the relationship healthy.

After the win at the Master's tournament, Tiger, like he almost always does, headed straight for his mom and dad and gave them big hugs. They had all sacrificed for this moment and it had paid off. Behind this victory was almost twenty years of working together to facilitate Tiger's dream of becoming a great golfer.

The road to any life success is a long one. One good game or one bad game matters very little in the overall scheme of things. Parents need to keep things in perspective and not let their own embarrassment or emotions get the better of them too many times. Parents who let their relationship with their child become affected by a sports performance will either see their kids quit playing early or see them hug someone else first after their big moment.

Tiger's Parents Made it Happen

It is a common myth that Tiger Woods' parents, especially his dad, pushed golf on Tiger. The reality is that Tiger Woods was born to play golf the same way Mozart was born to write music. Tiger Woods' parents didn't push golf on Tiger but they did help him navigate the challenges along the way. Tiger may have been born with the skills, but his parents helped match him with the opportunities, the instructors and the life-lessons he needed to apply those skills in a successful way.

Not every child is a born golfer or even a born athlete. Most kids playing sports today will find their life passion somewhere other than sports. For parents who want the best for their child, the approach that Tiger Woods' parents used is a good road map to help those dreams become reality.
Jeff Farris
Good communication is not only critical among players, it is also critical between players and coaches. Players need to be able to talk with coaches to get the information and education they need. Many times communication from coaches can be confusing or incomplete. Players should feel comfortable talking and working with coaches to fill in the missing pieces.

For some players, talking with coaches can be intimidating. A coach's age, experience and authority may leave some players tongue-tied. One way to get past this is to make a habit of asking the coach at least one question during each practice. The first few questions may be difficult, but after a few times it gets easier and players can start gaining more knowledge from their coaches.