Traits of a Model Youth Sports Parent

During my many years in youth team sports I've come across a majority of parents who care only about their children and have no interest in a team concept approach to coaching. It is always a derivative of "I only care my child's progress."

But what constitutes a model parent, who cares about the program rather than an individual.

Without naming generic traits, I will talk about my dad. My dad had the most positive attitude of any parent whose kids played sports. His first piece of advice when I decided to play little league baseball was always try your hardest and respect your coaches.

He supported me and every member of whatever team I played on. He never spoke disparagingly of coaches and taught all of us to compete and respect opponents. He always said I had to earn playing time and never interfered with the process, because it was about me and not him.

And he never once cared about whether we won or lost. It was about what I learned, always! He believed that skill development and maturity were the most aspects of my sport education.

Correct life lessons. Thanks Dad!


Playing Sports: The Idea or the Reality?

I was talking to a parent recently and she was telling me about her son wanting to join a baseball team. She said he liked the idea of being on a team but she didn't know if her son knew what it took to be a teammate.

It is a great observation. Kids have to be able to handle structured practices, rules, discipline, and have the ability to be responsible, role-playing and caring. Plus they must be coachable and willing to learn.

Not everyone can do that and that is why it is important to identify whether a youth player is a dreamer or really wants to try hard to be an active and positive participant.

Be a Good Role Model

I was with a couple of ex-players from one of my successful high school baseball teams and they were reminiscing about their glory days. What threw me during their conversation was their biggest memory of high school baseball. It wasn't a particular game or an accomplishment during a game, rather it was me having a meltdown in an indoor practice that they remembered.

It reinforced my belief that when you are a coach and players respect and look up to you, you must always act in an exemplary fashion because like or not you are in a position of a role model.

You must leave a positive impression no matter the ages of your players, because they see and hear everything that you do and say. Being physically and/or verbally abusive will make your team believe that is correct coaching behavior and it will repeat itself if they choose to coach, which would be damaging and irresponsible to the next generation of athletes.


How Do You Learn to Coach More Effectively? Watch Bad MLB Teams.

I was told as a young player by my coaches to watch all the good teams like the Yankees, the Cardinals and the Orioles because that's how you learned to play baseball the right way.

But as an adult and as a career coach, what I have found is even more effective is watching bad MLB teams and what they did wrong. I can then make sure at practice the next day that my high school team doesn't repeat the poor execution and mental mistakes that always seem to happen to poorly coached teams or coaches that rely on skill and athleticism and ignore baseball strategy and fundamentals.

I watched a three-game series between two non-contending teams recently and started to take notes about missed cutoff throws, poor baserunning and leads, slow coverage by infielders of bases on steals, lack of discipline at bat in RBI situations and the inability to get a batter out by pitchers ahead in the pitch count. At practice I made sure I went over everything I saw that was executed incorrectly or ignored and did it correctly in detail.

As a coach a lot of good can come from watching bad.


Learning the Correct Hitting Approach from Big Leaguers

I watch a lot of MLB games and really, you can't apply what they do to youth baseball players. They are so physically gifted that they can do things that youth and high school players can't do and probably never will be able to do.

However we as coaches can teach the best players in the big league's mental approach to hitting because every age hitter can do that.

I've watched so many MLB games in my life and I finally realized the best players really don't want to swing at pitches early in the count unless it is in their preferred zone, which means there is a lot of swinging with 2 strikes. Then the foul balls begin and good hitters eventually get a pitch they can handle and hit it square. It takes a lot of discipline and confidence to take that approach, which all great hitters have.

MLB rookies, below average hitters and high school and youth players take the opposite approach for the most part. They are swinging early in the count and when they down in the count are mentally beaten because they expand their strike zone and swing at any pitch close. Smart and good pitchers will never throw strikes to players in this category, and their lack of discipline and fear leads to a lot of outs.

It is up to coaches to make hitters be patient and believe in themselves so they will still hit when behind in the count and not worry or internalize about what might happen. Take pitches confidently, understand hitting situations and visualize success.


The Best Defense Starts with the Core

Whenever athletes start a workout program, experienced coaches or trainers always begin with core exercises to provide a great foundation that will help make the other parts of the body stronger.

We can correlate that with building a sound baseball defensive philosophy.  

The best defenses in baseball start with great up-the-middle play. Whenever possible the best players on any baseball team should be playing the most challenging positions on the field: pitcher, catcher, shortstop, second base, and center field.

And like the core, if you are strong in the middle the other parts of the team will likely be stronger too. The best teams play championship defense.

Teaching Responsibility So Accountability is a Non-Issue

 Diligent coaching starts and ends with teaching players responsibility from a team and individual standpoint. Every player in an athletic program must be taught team philosophy, team strategy, proper interaction with other teammates, respect for the opposing team and roles for each player on the team depending on talent level.

It should be explained to athletes on the first day coaches and players are together that any deviation from the team concept will hurt the performance of the team.

Where accountability comes in is when players knowingly or unknowingly break team rules. Young players usually have not been in a true team setting and do not know how to be teammates.

It is up to coaches to find out if players can be great team members or if they are more suited to individual sports such as golf or tennis. Coaches should not accept excuses after explaining and demanding team play. If players are not accountable for their non-team actions, parents should be informed immediately when such behavior is seen or identified.


Diversified Coaches Help Players Self-Correct Technique

One of the most rewarding results as a baseball coach is when players are able to self-correct during games, whether on the mound or in the course of an at-bat. This can only happen with hands-on teaching and constant reminders on what can make the player have success. When players do execute, it tells the coach that the players have listened and have tried to incorporate the techniques that the coach believes will maximize their talent.

Not every coach follows that modus operandi. There are a multitude of system or philosophy-driven coaches. If players don't fit in to a system they will usually underperform or be eliminated from the program. Only teaching one philosophy is a disservice to players, who might not fit in depending on skill and size. With coaches who know how to teach only one system, it is their way or no way.

Coaches who have taught and understand multiple methods to improve player skills are more preferred and appreciated within the coaching profession. It expands their teams' talent base and, as a byproduct, improves their team's chances of winning.

Generally coaches with the most expertise are the most successful. They have other options when some strategies don't work. On the other hand, system coaches get beat when opposing coaches figure out how to attack their system, leaving system coaches without any alternatives.

Coaches who work with each player on their team form relationships and can get players to self-correct if the coach has excelled as a communicator. For example, a pitcher has thrown two balls up and in to a hitter. The coach signals to the pitcher what he is doing incorrectly or yells to him a key from what they have been doing in bullpen sessions to get him back on track, and immediately the pitcher makes a correction. Or after a hitter fouls balls off to the opposite field. If that was perceived to be a problem and the hitter has reverted back to his previous form, one keyword or signal can activate the correct technique within the hitter. The hitter steps out, gets his head together, and executes his right swing.

Watching players adjust during games is one of the most gratifying aspects of coaching. It feels like you are getting your message across and doing your job, making players play at the best of their abilities.

How We Evolve As Youth Baseball Coaches

With the advent of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, businesses get instant feedback. At DNA Sports we have had an extraordinary amount of positive responses plus suggestions of what consumers need or are searching for. It has helped us expand into areas in which we didn't originally specialize when we created our consulting service. We are really appreciative for the public's belief in our conscientiousness. While we certainly do not profess to know everything about baseball, we do have over 30 years of coaching, teaching, and recruiting experience and our material is based on field and never-ending research. When we have questions we ask peers or mentors. We always are testing our findings for functionality and correctness.

We also do not subscribe to one particular system or program. There are several philosophies that have been successful and are proven to be very sound. But we know we are diversified and educated enough to teach the style that best fits the athlete, with the proper communication skills so the athlete understands what we are saying. Plus, we always strive to keep coaches on the path to excellence by stressing what we have found is essential in leading athletes.

Our refusal to subscribe to one particular theory of hitting or pitching is worth mentioning further. In particular, we have come into contact with several private hitting and pitching trainers who teach a one size fits all approach to every athlete they work with.

They read a book, attend a few seminars, and/or watch several training videos from so called gurus in the field and regurgitate these theories like it’s gospel. While certain fundamentals apply across all ages and ability levels, the bottom line is you cannot teach every hitter to swing a bat or pitch a ball the same way.

Like any athlete, we take great pride as coaches to always better ourselves and improve our craft. Our philosophies and teachings are consistently evolving as we seek to understand how we can best meet the unique needs and circumstances of every athlete we come into contact with.

Coaching Discipline Comes in Many Forms

Is discipline necessary or out of place for today's youth athletes? As we have stated before, discipline is absolutely necessary. When kids first start youth programs they are appropriately scared. Usually it is their first experience in organized activities and they don't know what to expect. Coaching discipline is found in many forms: direction, teaching, promoting team bonding, setting team and program goals, and doling out non-demeaning punishment for breaking the team code.

Kids crave direction and leadership from coaches. They look up to coaches immediately, so it is the coaches' responsibility to live up to that trust and show them the way, from the most efficient practice plans, to teaching them how to practice correctly and how to accomplish team and individual goals. Understanding skill techniques, applying them to each player, and making them repeat techniques until they succeed are absolutes for every coach. Kids want to improve and contribute to their team. It keeps them interested in continuing on in their designating sport or activity.

Team bonding is achieved by doing everything as a team—drills, warmups, water-breaks, etc—which helps players understand a “we” mentality. Off the field there should be organized group functions to demonstrate and emphasize togetherness.

Setting team goals should always be stressed. It is about developing the athletes physically and emotionally, not about winning youth games. Coaches must use their imagination and coaching talent to also make every player's personal goal within reach.

Lastly, punishment should be enforced if team rules are broken or ignored. It should be made clear by coaches what team and league rules are before practices begin, and express that any deviations will be dealt with. Youth punishments are usually in the form of running or calisthenics, but if there are serious infractions parents should be immediately notified.