Monday, July 21, 2014

Children learn from internal realization not external force.

Children learn from internal realization not external force. These words when applied to either youth sports or education seem to have lost some of their critical importance to our children’s long term mental and athletic growth.
Children have certain skill sets that are age appropriate and no amount of pushing, yelling, and “coaching” will change that fact. To teach (which is why teachers have masters degrees) and to coach, practically no training except a huge amount of TV or sideline watching.
Last night I was listening to two football coaches talk about how they were going to coach their team going forward. Forget for a minute it was July 20, these kids needed, just like the pros, to “get with program.” They needed more practice, not less. They needed more plays and diagrams instead of allowing them to play and learn at their own pace.
As I listened to their reasoning and implementation of their own self importance on this team, I was struck by the fact that neither coach talked about any age appropriate activities for these children.
What they did want to talk about, and did for a great extent of the time I was listening, was the children’s inability to understand what they were trying to “coach,” that’s right “coach” not teach these children.
Not once in their meeting did they talk about how to teach the kids sportsmanship, togetherness, sharing, or simply to teach the children how to have  more fun playing football, not once.
They had cards written out and figured out how to go over and over the mistakes the kids were making with these cards and to “coach” them to get it right.
They had complex defenses figured out to “adjust” for their kids’ inability to grasp their defensive schemes and to make up for the children’s lack of understanding.
As I studied these guys it occurred to me that neither one had the athletic frame or “gate” to make me think that they had ever played football or even been high school varsity athletes. I am all for parents helping out and coaching. With all the kids playing youth sports today there is certainly a shortage of qualified coaches out there. Only 20% of all youth coaches have formal training.
 Furthermore, both guys were “parroting” statements and ideas I had seen promulgated on NFL and DI pregame and post game football shows. “Let’s go with this defense if they don’t get what we want.” one said. “They have to be able to play this defense. We need to keep going over it until they do it right.” “We will show them the cards with the plays we have written out for them.”
Let me make this clear: only 1% of ALL kids who go to college play at the DI level, and only half of that group play for free. So why on earth would any one coach these kids the same way that the colleges and pros do and not realize that it is extremely difficult for children to understand and play under those conditions.

Let the kids have fun. Give them equal play under the age of 13 so they can get better in a positive atmosphere and learn life skills, athletic development, and the benefits of fair competition and positive stress without having to worry about pleasing adults egos.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Long Term Sub Part 2

This school had adopted block scheduling for their classes on certain days. What this means is the children would have a double session, or two classes of the same class in a row. I noticed that the kids were having a hard time staying focused during the entire hour and fifteen minutes of class.
I called the teacher up and asked her if I could introduce a new concept in class. It’s called “Simon Sez.” She loved it! I believed that the more active the children in the classroom the better they could engage their minds, and thus would be more attentive to learn.
 With all the testing going on even in Physical education class, I thought lets go a different route. I modeled the game for them. I “explained that they would have to earn this “play time.” We did a couple of sessions and immediately the kids were engaged. After a couple of times with me leading it, I asked if anyone would like to try it. Many hands went up in the class.
The kids then took over with me sitting in the back of the class. Some kids took to it quickly. Others struggled, but got the gist of it and learned how to lead. Other kids didn’t want to do it, but once they saw they wouldn’t get mocked and it was all about fun and positive reinforcement (with some competition thrown in for good measure) the paradigm took off. They would correct each other and referee. I would interject if the conflict interrupted the flow, and that only took place a couple of times.
Then it was back to work. Even before we played though, I saw the kids more eager to participate and learn. I certainly could not match my friend’s expertise in Biology, but I could get them excited and interested in learning
I even brought in my daughter to teach two classes. She was a senior in High school and an AP Biology student. As I sat in the back of the class watching her teach I was so proud of her and the class. They worked together. It was awesome.
I was there every day at 7 AM and stayed after school until 330 most every day. If any of the kids wanted to come in to study or get some extra help, I wanted to be there for them
 One of the kids hooked up the computer to the smart board and overhead projector and these kids got a taste of old time music, the blues. A long time ago I was a DJ and wrote songs for a band and helped them get some gigs. I played a lot of classic rock, 60’s, 70’s, and 80s music also. We had fun.
When my six weeks were over, and I can’t thank these two ladies enough for all they did for me and the kids, the teacher sent me an email; Most of the kids had done better grade wise. They improved.
Now I don’t proclaim to be anywhere as good a teacher as she is. She is great, on many levels. But what I did do was create an environment where the kids could be creative and learn by being involved and interacting.
If something is really true, it should be true for all things. Learning in the classroom, the playing field or in life happens more often when everyone is engaged and has the freedom to try, fail, create, share, and learn as a community.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Long Term Sub Part #1

Long Tern Sub.
Last spring a very good friend of mine had to go into the hospital for surgery. She was going to be out for six weeks. She is a fantastic seventh grade Biology teacher. I was very pleased when she asked me to teach her class while she was away.  When both the teacher and the student learn at the same time, that is when true creative education happens, and I knew this would be the case in this classroom with these students.
 My major degree is in History, with minor degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, as well as a Masters in education. I have always believed that if you can teach, you can teach basic fundamentals, and the joy of learning. When that environment exists, you can teach just about anything. (The same holds true for coaching)
Cursive writing is not a big thing with children these days so I thought I would have them each sign their study “packets.” with their opposite writing hand. We wanted to teach them balance and the importance of the journey. The kids loved the change, and embraced the new learning technique. It was a fun thing to do.
When I was doing just a day long sub I used to tell the kids:” Give me 35 minutes of work and I will reward you with 5 minutes of free time at the end of class. “This paradigm served me well, but as always, there are some things that just do not go as planned and you have to adjust on the fly.
 There was a saying I thought up for the kids and related it to the children at the beginning of my first class.
“I’m a huge believer in choice. I can’t force you to study nor do I want to. But I can and will maintain an atmosphere in this classroom for those children who want to study can do so in peace and quiet. The deck is stacked, the game is rigged. I’m going to win. I’ve seen me do it. It’s not my job to decide when, how, or even if the educational light goes on for you, my goal is to just keep flipping the switch.”
Two weeks into my tenure I noticed that there were children missing classes on Friday and these same children were coming in on Monday tired. I went up to see the Assistant to the Head Master for the Middle School and asked her if she too noticed this phenomenon. (Another great child loving lady who was very thoughtful and helpful to me during this time) She said some of the kids were going to play with their club sports teams over the weekend and that they had seen this happening for a few years now.

I had heard of this happening at many schools I had visited, but this was the first time I had seen it up close. Boy, did the kids look tired, and stressed.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Home School your kids in youth sports Bring the backyard back!

Home school your kids in youth sports.
Frozen Shorts is rolling out another program for kids and families frustrated by their lack of playing time on organized structure teams. We are encouraging children to play pickup games, made up games, and to have fun. Bring the backyard back.
This ever changing world that our children are growing up in is as fast paced as mankind has ever seen. Heck, I can barely turn my cell phone on and off while most people are using their cell phone as an integral part of their lives.
 Ever go out to dinner and see people with their phones on the table or in their hands talking and texting? We don’t allow that in our household. Embrace family, the time together is short, and needs to be nourished so that it will be a bond later on in life
These kids, more than ever, need coping skills that allow them to integrate these changing roles and technology, to their long term future benefit. What better way than for youth sports to be the vehicle to teach, model, and positively reinforce their abilities to handle failure, mistakes, and problems. The life skills that youth sports should be teaching have been swept aside in a large part and been replaced by a business model that features high tech training, lots of elite travel, and of course status.
Children want to play. Do you remember taking your kids to the playground when they were young? Did you notice how little structure there was? Did you see the kids going to their parents for advice? No, they just played. They figured things out on their own. Yes it was sometimes messy and didn’t work out the way we wanted, but the kids learned to cope. They learned on their own how to adjust and cooperate with the other children.
My daughter, when she was 5 years old, would go to a child on the playground she did not know and ask: “Do you want to be my friend?” How cute! Without me or my wife, they would play for an hour. They laughed and had fun.
 It really is that simple. As the world has got more complex and crazy paced we need to allow children to be children and learn at their own pace and style, not some made up metric provided by a youth sports paradigm that rewards children who happen to be a little bit more coordinated or closer to the birthday cutoff date with the label of a great athlete. Truly, it is a head start in a race that doesn’t exist.
But most importantly, we need to give them back their childhood. They are not mini adults or micro professional athletes. The most certainly are not remote controlled robots attached to adult’s personal joy sticks. They are kids and we should embrace that, not take advantage of it.
 I sign most of my books, “Change has started!” Join us; come on in, the water’s fine!

Monday, June 23, 2014

U.S. versus Portugal

Extra Time:
The U.S. soccer team played a great game on Sunday versus Portugal. The young team started out a little tentative but soon where playing with, and sometimes outplaying their foes. They were ahead in the last 30 seconds of extra time in the game but were tied on a fantastic crossing play by Portugal. But should it have happened?
At the end of regulation time the U.S. purposely stalled for a substitution. It took over a minute for them to complete their change. The referee had signaled that there would be 4 minutes of extra time right before the end of regulation. But because the U.S purposely stalled, he added another minute to the time. The events in that extra added minute cost the U.S. a victory.
The player that was substituted for looked like he stopped limping right after he got to the sideline. No one talked about this time honored tradition of poor sportsmanship from any team leading in a game.
 A couple of other players on both teams were flopping around like they had been shot after they got hit during the contest, only to pop right up and continue on as soon as play resumed. One guy got elbowed in the side of the jaw, but held his face like he had been smashed full frontal force. No one commented on what kind of example this behavior was modeling for the children watching the game on television. 99.9% of the children watching this game saw a behavior from some of the top soccer players in the world to emulate that belied everything we at Frozen Shorts teach on a daily basis.
 Win at all costs, is the new motto. Rationalize and justify entitlement, in whatever form you want. Here’s the catch! But they didn’t win. Over and over I see this form of competition flawed by a concept that everyone should look at it and question. Because you see, not only is the win tainted, if it happens, but in this case, it cost the team a victory. The long term effects on the children, coaches, and parents’ watching the game is huge. Klinsmann says he wants to change the culture. Well why not start here, with sportsmanship as a key component and life lesson of sports.
Ironically, though, after getting blasted by a kicked ball not one player went down in a heap.
After the game was over, interviews took place. No one talked about the fact that the U.S. by stalling affected the outcome of the game.
 But I wish, just one person on the team, or even the coach, would say to the public this: Look we tried a tactic and it backfired. It is a poor example for the kids, parents, coaches and youth sports organizations in general. As a team we vow to never do it again. Even though other teams may employ this tactic, we see the growth of soccer in the U.S, and playing the game with class and sportsmanship the right way to model behavior for the children playing soccer in the U.S. and around the world.
 One interviewer asked the coach if he seconded guessed himself, once again, just like the normally great Bob Costas did in his interview with the owner of the winning horse at the Belmont, a reporter tried to make themselves part of the story with a negative twist that only took away from the  event.
As usual I have some thoughts on how to fix this problem. First, when a player goes down, one camera should follow that player for the next couple of minutes. When he jumps back up the commentators should be instructed by FIFA to talk about what a poor example this is setting for the kids who play soccer, and youth sports.
Next, when a player is hurt, or goes down in a heap, simply stop the clock. That’s right. Stop it and focus on the player. See him look around to see if he got the call. Show the replay and describe what really happened. There are some times when a player is truly injured and he should get top notch medical attention.
Next have on the fly substitution. It is so blatantly obvious that when the team is ahead they both substitute the farthest guy away from the bench, and have him walk so slowly across the field that you would think he needs assistance, all the while knowing the cameras are on him and he can get individual face time. Have a box between the benches on the field and have the player exiting the field step into the box before the replacement comes in.

Yes I know neither of these ideas will be implemented, but then again, the idea is there.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Klinsmann part 2

 The coach has said that wants players on his team that will do whatever it takes to get in better shape, play at a higher level against better talent, I agree with that.
He also states that this program of player first will then make the team better. I disagree. Now at some level I understand that I am splitting hairs. But it is very important to understand the confusing message being sent to young players and coaches around the United States. It is akin to the message of “we play our best players.’ No, you play the players who are playing the best.
In this same context the coach is saying that by having the individual get better the team will benefit, and at some level this is true. However it misses the big picture, and actually the picture that 99.9% of kids playing soccer should see as well as their coaches and parents. It is still a team game. And any successful team will subjugate the individual talent and statistics, and sacrifice the individual’s goal for the long term benefit of the team.
If you don’t believe me, I check out the San Antonio Spurs and their run to the NBA championship. Their stars play less minutes, accrue less individual stats than players in their same position on contending or NON CONTENDING teams, and their unselfish passing is incredible. That dedication to passing and sacrificing individual stats is an integral part of their success. They even take less money to play in San Antonio to be around other players and a coach who subscribe to the team first mantra, and to be in a place that helps them have an excellent chance to win.
At Frozen Shorts we constantly talk about if the team plays better, the individual will get better. It is stated that it takes a whole village to raise a child. We say it takes a whole village modeling behavior in the long term best interest of the child to raise children in a community.
Now on the world stage it may very well be that the great players elevate their game to an amazingly high level during a game. But, that is for a much chosen few. That talent cannot be bought, and it comes at quite a price as you can see from listening and watching athletes talk and play.
With no players ranked in the top 100 in the world, the U.S. is ripe for the very kind of thing we love, the underdog.
It is this dynamic, all across the sports world that actually fuels the inner team competition so vital for long term athletic development of our young athletes.
But I also believe strongly that the coach has set this team up so that just the opposite can happen. Players unexpectedly could rise up in what could be a one bracket only tournament for the U.S. squad. But it is my contention, just as we see in the World Series, The Super bowl, or even the Stanley Cup playoffs, is the rise of a certain individual who sparks a team’s success.
This individual did not suddenly get better. What he did get was a chance, once again proving our belief at Frozen Shorts, that  a coach, a team, an organization has to keep running players out on the field, court,  or rink, to find out who is going to be able to play their best when their time arrives. And they cannot do that if they have been sitting on the bench all year.
This belief in true competition, not another form of entitlement, is what has been missing in youth and high school sports for years, and I truly hope that Mr. Klinsmann and his squad bring it to the forefront whether on purpose or by accident for all to see.
Let the players have fun and teach them to play together and the resulting journey, and what is learned along that journey will enlighten and or surprise you.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Klinsmann and the journey

 Interesting debate going on after the national soccer team’s coach made the statement that “we can’t win the world cup.”  Some people seem to be quite offended by this statement. Others have seen this and questioned whether this is “UN American.” Others state that it is a tactical maneuver by the coach.
Let’s take a look at what he said before he said what he said. (Whoa) He stated that they team would have to play “seven games of their lives” to have chance to win the cup. Interesting to say the least. If you read the whole article from the New York Times a different picture emerges.
While some people say that you should never tell your team they can’t win, or state it publicly. You are admitting defeat before you even start. Maybe, maybe not. There are times as a coach; you know your team is not going to e in contention for a championship season. How do you address that paradigm?
Do you practice with your team each day trying to win something that day? Do you try to get better yourself? Do you try and make the team better. Have you ever played against a team knowing they were better and that you really had no chance at victory? Did that knowledge make you fold up your tent and quit? Did it make you try harder? Even though, at the end of the day, and you lost, didn’t the fact that you persevered, and put forth your best effort, teach you and your teammates a life lesson? Did you get better?
When my college team played in a particular championship playoff game we got beat 12-1. With 10 minutes to go in the game we still had not scored. I pulled the goalie when we got a power play. I knew we couldn’t win, my team knew, the refs knew, hell everybody knew, but that did not stop us from trying our hardest.
Never once in the 21 years as a head coach in college hockey, did I ever say to my team we had to win, or we couldn’t win. We never discussed winning. It is a result at the end of a journey, a hoped for destination.
Oh sure I have played and coached some games where a team just gave up. The score got lopsided and you could see the emotion and passion leave one or BOTH teams. It happens.
But if you look more closely and listen to what this man has to say, he is making a point, I believe, that has a direct bearing on our children and what we teach at Frozen Shorts every day.
 It is about the journey. You can’t always win. You want to test someone’s character? Put them in what appears to be a very difficult situation and see how they react. If they react well, just imagine how well they would react when things got better, when their base for handling adversity is much higher.
I believe what the coach is saying is that we put too much emphasis on scores of game. Since no one really knows how to win a game, he is saying that the only thing you can control is getting better, and that takes time and may or may not be judged by the final score in a game. He is not saying that you shouldn’t try your hardest.  But what he is also saying is a statement on US soccer in general. You should compete, and compete hard, no matter what the situation is, and the adversity that follows.
There are no genetic differences between athletes here in the USA, Europe, and South America.

Think about it.