Jeff Farris
Most everyone knows the story of Michael Jordan, the all-star basketball player who led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships. But, his path to the championships wasn't so certain during his sophomore year in high school. That was the year Michael Jordan failed to make his high school team.

When something doesn't work out as planned, there are always three courses of action any player can take. The first course is to do nothing and just hope that things will be different the next time. The second course is to quit and find other things to spend time on. The third course, and the one that Michael Jordan took, is to use the situation as a challenge and work harder.

Each challenge a player faces can only be answered from within. Coaches and parents can give advice, but only the player can determine the course taken. Not everyone who is challenged grows up to be Michael Jordan. And, not all challenges a player faces are in sports. However, every time a player quits when faced with a challenge, there is little hope of future success.

Jeff Farris
There are things that are said among adults that have a common understanding based on shared experiences. However, when coaches try these common expressions on young players, there may be nods of understanding followed by actions of confusion. The following table gives some common coaching expressions that may be confusing or negative with some possible more clear or positive alternatives. Possibly Confusing
  • Hustle!
  • Run!
  • Get them!
  • Catch up and be in position to help out on the play.
  • Win your individual battles.
  • Keep up with the play.
  • The other team will always catch you unless you go faster.
Possibly Confusing
  • We just didn't have any defense today.
  • Don't bunch up!
  • Everybody is responsible for defending against scores.
  • Remember your positions.
  • Stay in your position and let your teammates share the work.
Possibly Confusing
  • Pass!
  • You're not sharing the play.
  • You're being a "hot dog".
  • Keep your head up as you move to see passing opportunities.
  • Play position and remember to pass rather than to try to do everything by yourself.
  • One person can't do it all, it takes a team.
  • If more than one person is covering you, then it means that someone is open. Look for your open teammate.
  • Just because you can move it to the net doesn't make it the best play. Passing gives the team the best chance to score.
Possibly Confusing
  • Quit falling down!
  • Use better stance and balance to avoid falling.
  • You are waiting too long to pass.
Possibly Confusing
  • Shoot!
  • Shoot the ball/puck sooner and let your teammates work together for a possible rebound.
Coaches learn over time the expressions or phrases that work best for a particular age group. Older players often understand with less words. However, when coaches take a few sentences more to educate, they do not leave any doubt about what actions they want changed.
Jeff Farris
Concerns about safety and increased urbanization have led to a larger role for organized sports.  The associated costs with organized sports leave parents feeling the need to get their money's worth.  This desire to gain value can translate into too much emphasis on skills development and wins without leaving kids the necessary time for fun.  To keep things in perspective, parents need to ask themselves what it is they are buying with their organized sports fees. If the goal of youth sports is to build the best kids possible, then parents will want to spend their money in ways that:
  • Keep their child playing for as long as possible.
  • Give their child the most self-confidence.
  • Generate the best long term memories for their child.
  • Do not take away from other more important commitments such as school and family.
  • Help improve their child's abilities to relate well with other kids and adults.
  • Teach their child important life lessons such as teamwork and improvement through practice.
Trying to equate skills and wins with monetary value seems like a simple test.  However, keeping the larger picture in perspective gives kids the best chance at having fun and thus the best chance for a long and successful youth sports experience.
Jeff Farris
Because most coaches don't assign "homework" after practices, players may come to believe that attending and working hard at practices are all it takes to become a great player.  At younger ages, this might be true, but as age increases so does the need for players to take an active interest in their own training and development. Self-imposed homework tasks can include activities to improve skills, as well as activities to improve knowledge.  Players should consider the following activities for their personal practice time:
  • Watching players at older age levels (not just professionals) and learning from their play.
  • Discussing the sport with players who have been playing longer or at more advanced levels.
  • Running and other exercises that help stamina.
  • Doing push-ups and other exercises that improve strength.
  • Sprinting and other exercises that improve speed.
  • Practicing specific skills repetitively to achieve higher performance and consistency.
  • Reading books and other materials to increase game understanding.
  • Using older players, private instructors or camps to assist with skill building.
  • Working with friends to develop skills such as passing.
There are many things players can do to improve themselves and players cannot rely on coaches to give them a precise roadmap for success.
Jeff Farris
One of the secrets to coaching is to praise activities that you want repeated.  Praising is an inexpensive form of reward that is especially effective with young players who are trying to please.  Another level of praise can take the form of certificates that can be handed out after a game or practice to recognize players in a public way for an accomplishment or superior effort. Sports Esteem has developed a set of player certificates which are available for download:
  • General Sports Certificates
  • Hockey Specific Certificates
When using certificates, some things coaches should consider are:
  • Certificates communicate with players directly and parents indirectly about things coaches find valuable to the team.  Sometimes certificates for "best passing" or "best support away from the ball" can help focus a player's attention on needed team skills.
  • Overuse of certificates is probably better than underuse.  Regular awarding of certificates provides a consistent way to communicate to players.
  • Coaches should praise or recognize something in every player.  Less skilled players need encouragement to get to their next level of development even if that level is well below average.
  • Certificates offer good short term goals and rewards for players and help them measure their progress in ways other than just counting wins.
Certificates may not fit with every coaching style.  However, whether delivered on paper or by some other means, praise always helps motivate players.
Jeff Farris
School days, homework, chores and family activities all take their toll on a young person's time.  Add in an active schedule and little time is left for down time when kids can refresh and recharge their emotional batteries.  When this happens, something has to give or kids begin to suffer from burnout.  Parents and kids may not even be aware that burnout is a problem.  Some symptoms of burnout to watch for include:
  1. Moodiness or irritability
  2. Fatigue or difficulty waking up in the morning
  3. Poor performance in sports or school activities
  4. Loss of interest
  5. Lack of emotion after a win or a loss
  6. Loss of appetite
  7. Sadness
  8. Unusual focus on aches and pains
  9. Problems with friends
All of these symptoms are also a part of every childhood.  So, burnout may not always be the cause.  This is one of the many areas where parents are essential to youth sports.  If burnout is the problem, then the answer is to take a vacation or break from a hectic schedule.  Parents should consider limiting their child's activities, providing more unplanned time or simply skipping a practice or game to let a child gain the down time necessary for a balanced life.