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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Lucky SportsKids

A couple of weeks ago I went to the All-Star Game with my Dad, who grew up in Pittsburgh, and my two sons, Benji and Bobby. We had a great time going to the Fan Fest, the Home Run Derby and the Game. PNC Park is one of the best new parks and we all had a great few days of baseball and camaraderie across three generations. During the course of the game, and watching some of
the events during the past few weeks, it's become apparent just how lucky we are.

Sitting in front of me during the game was a guy claiming to have come from Alaska just for the all-star spectacle. He'd certainly had a few beers before the game, kept drinking throughout, and was something of a spectacle himself. He had a sign berating Manny Ramirez for not making an appearance in spite getting the most votes of any AL player. He was emotionally moved during the ceremony celebrating Roberto Clemente's life. Through the drinking, sign waving and stammering, he happened to get in a very poignant remark: "You're sooooo lucky! I'm here alone and you got your two boys and your dad too; three generations sitting here! I got no kids of my own, wow, lucky guy!"

He was absolutely right because all the events in our life, big and small, are about sharing with those that we care about. We've talked about how sports help create a bond through generations (SportsKids.com Archive Link) and it is evident everywhere.

Tiger Woods' recent victory at the British Open should be a stark reminder to all of us of how precious and fleeting our special moments are. Most people are familiar with the relationship between Tiger and his dad, Earl. Not only did Earl teach Tiger every aspect of the game, he was also Tiger's role model and best friend. They had the type of relationship that most of us want with our children and parents. After winning the British Open, the first major he won after Earl died of cancer, Tiger couldn't control his emotions: the feelings of happiness and sorrow came pouring out as he hugged his caddy with tears streaming. It was one of the most honest moments we'll ever share.

Many people who don't have kids can't understand the relationship and bond that parents and their children share. I never realized how much my parents cared until I had the perspective of loving my own children. Without this viewpoint, people could misinterpret time spent playing and watching sports with kids as a misguided attempt to live vicariously through them. Whether its ballet, the arts, sports, a spelling bee or an academic decathlon, most parents view these shared interests as time well spent bonding with their kids. While TV shows may try to put a negative spin on a parental involvement, most of us have it well under control and realize that we're having fun and building long lasting memories with our kids. We understand that the odds of winning thelottery are better than our kids becoming professional athletes but it doesn't diminish our enjoyment of being with them.

While there are lots of success stories like Tiger Woods, Mickey Mantle and Bob Feller who had great relationships with their fathers who were influential in teaching them the game, many portray father-son relationship building through sports as being more akin to the fabled story of Todd Marinovich whose father plotted his NFL career from birth. Todd's father Marv, an ex-USC star athlete, NFL lineman and coach, began programming his son and never let him have a Big Mac or watch cartoons. Many may feel that those are good things, but while Marinovich ended up as a first round draft pick of the Raiders, he also became a drug addict and spent time in jail for possession of marijuana. Enjoying being with your children and sharing common interests and experiences should be considered very positive. My friend, Steve, who I coach basketball with, and I often comment how we prefer watching our sons play to attending a Lakers game. It's done for creating a bond - not creating a professional athlete.

Adam Sandler's movie "Click" also talks about the idea that time goes fast and it's important to enjoy the small moments in life with your family; if you go through on "autopilot" then you end up missing the best parts of your life. While it's crucial to maintain a balance and not be either "all work" or "all play", the realization that time doesn't stop should allow us to focus on our family. Shared interests, common goals and playing together, in sports, school, drama or any other endeavor is an important element of building long lasting multi-generational bonds.

Sometimes the events you share with your kids or parents are special, like going to an all-star game in your parent's hometown. Sometimes the events you share are much more trivial, like just playing catch in the park or getting to watch your child doing something that they love. What we need to realize though is that sharing these times, whether special or even trivial, is what brings us all together and makes us lucky. It was truly great to go to Pittsburgh for the all-star game, but that's not what makes us lucky. It's watching a game together, coaching a team, going to a movie or having dinner together that builds the relationships that last a lifetime. We get to do these things nearly everyday and it's important to appreciate those small things because not everybody is so lucky.

Monday, June 19, 2006

To Play or Not To Play

Those of us with kids involved in youth sports know how consuming it can be for our families. Weekends are dominated by games and weekdays by practices. The ties that bond us together are often tightened during these activities, but do our kids do too much too soon? When many of us were kids, there were not nearly as many organized activities; now that we have martial arts, religious studies, team and individual sports, family time and, of course, homework. Is there a right time to start to play or not to play? Like many parenting decisions, including those for youth sports, there are no black and white answers. Of the many variables to consider, this month we’ll focus on the potential injury risks.

What is the likelihood of Injury?

A common concern is that younger kids may be more susceptible to severe injuries before they have fully developed. Is there a greater risk of arm damage for kids who start pitching at age of 7 instead of waiting until they are 9? Should kids avoid tackle football until the reach a certain age? Does specialization in an individual sport increase the risk of injury for that child due to overuse and make them more susceptible to continuous motion injuries?

Injuries are certainly a concern for all of us and the risk of injury is considered a growing problem by many experts. According to the “Kids’ Health” supplement in the October 18-20, 2002 weekend edition of USA Today, there are over 3.5 million sports related injuries that require treatment reported each year for kids under 15 years old. Many of these injuries are from playground equipment, bike riding and other activities, but organized youth sports certainly contribute to the total. Fortunately, there are very few deaths, but the information suggests that 40% of all sports related injuries occur in children under 14 years old and more than half of those injuries take place in practices instead of games. In 2002, from information accumulated from the “Connecticut Safe Kids Sports/Recreation Activity Injury Fact Sheet”, here is a breakdown of emergency room treated injuries broken down by activity:

While this data is certainly misleading and flawed because it doesn’t break down the number of participants in each sport, the frequency of the activity or the severity of the injury, it does demonstrate that injuries are something we should pay attention to.

Types of Injuries

In the newsletter published by the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, pediatrician Deiter Lindskog, MD exclaims that the largest increase in youth sports injuries are due to repetitive use. He states “Recent studies estimate that 30 to 50 percent of pediatric sports injuries are caused by overuse, with the frequency of injury equal among boys and girls.” Because they’re still not fully developed, kids are more susceptible to repetitive use problems like stress fractures, caused by use without enough recovery time, growth plate injuries, due to excess strain, and soft tissue damage to muscles, tendons or ligaments.

This would lead to the question of “how much is too much? The research on this isn’t clear at all. With increased specialization where kids participate in only one sport year round, start playing at a younger age and participate in multiple leagues at once, what is clear is that many are crossing that unknown line. In baseball, a study created in 1996 and updated in 2004 by USA Baseball Medical & Safety Advisory Committee Position Statement on Youth Baseball Injuries developed a standard for rest based on pitch counts:

While there is a tremendous amount of flexibility in these recommendations, the main issue is that care should be taken to watch for signs of trouble. There is no evidence to suggest a higher injury rate for Pony League Baseball, which often starts kids pitching at age 7, when compared to Little League Baseball, which often starts kids pitching at age 9.

Studies done with Pop Warner Football players also show that there is a risk of injury, but surprisingly, younger players are less likely to be injured than older players. Supported by studies done by the Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma in New York which completed a study in 71 towns covering 5,000 players, the Pop Warner Website (www.popwarner.com) states that because of the weight restrictions “injuries in youth football are normally mild and older players have a higher injury rate than younger players.”


As people involved in youth sports we need to be aware of safety and injury risks associated with the children we watch. Kids specializing in single sports or playing in multiple leagues have exacerbated the risk of repetitive motion “overuse” injuries. We need to be especially aware for these young athletes and be cognizant of the warning signs. Some things to watch for include pain, changes in gait or other observable behavior, changes in performance and psychological effects. Kids should not be encouraged to play through any real injury because they don’t want to let down their parents or teammates even though they may feel like they can do it.

We want to help prevent injuries through proper training and conditioning. An effort can be made to have children compete at levels commensurate with their skill so that they don’t overdo it. Furthermore, efforts must be made to teach proper fundamentals for all aspects of the game since mechanical errors are more likely to lead to flaws that can cause injury. Because practice makes permanent, it is crucial to work on these fundamentals even at an early age. As youth sports enthusiasts, we all have an obligation to take care of the kids.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Close Game Lessons

Previously we've discussed how sports teach us valuable life lessons: teamwork, getting along with others, doing your best, and the value of winning and losing. Since the odds of winning the lottery may be better than the chances of becoming a professional athlete, the focus for us and our kids should be on these lessons and also on the character building that can come from participating in close games

While it may be nice to win every game by a huge amount and never have the challenge of a close contest, how kids perform in tight situations can be a great teaching opportunity. Each child can take with them the understanding that every play matters, every team member counts, develop the ability to deal with uncontrollable circumstances, how to maintain focus, and the realization that nothing shows your character more than how you react to pressure and adversity.

Every Play Matters

Before the game starts nobody can tell you the outcome. However, after the game is over, anybody can tell you the pivotal moments that determined the winner and loser. How many of us can replay every shot in a round of golf or each moment of a big game in the ESPN Sports Center highlight reels of our minds? When you add up your score in the clubhouse, all your thoughts turn to those one or two shots, good or bad, that had a major impact on the round. As a player or coach, our goal has to be to understand, in advance, that all the plays are important because any of them can be "the play" that changes the game. The cause and effect nature of sports is such that any spectacular moment can be nullified the next instant by an unforeseen development while even the smallest error may be compounded into a major disaster.

Every Kid Matters

Of course, in life, every kid is important, but what about in sports? The best players on a team will often play the most important positions, handle the ball more and take the most shots, but that doesn't minimize the importance of the other kids on the team. Any kid may be the one that comes to bat in a key situation with the game on the line or have to field the tough play with the winning run on base. A team's success and potential to win a championship is often dependant on the weakest link of the chain. We want to be as inclusive as possible not just for the benefit of the kids who many not be "as good", but it's also for the benefit of everybody on the team. As coaches and parents, we need to make sure that all the members of the team are ready for their opportunity when it arises. As Confucius said: "Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure."

Dealing With Uncontrollable Circumstances

One of the keys to happiness in life is being able to only worry about things that you can control. One of the most unique aspects about sports is that most of what happens is uncontrollable. From an official's calls to the actions of a teammate or even an opponent, the ability for anybody to control the outcome of a game is very limited. Even in individual sports your ability to control the eventual outcome is impacted by bad breaks, officiating and the performances of other competitors. Coach John Wooden emphasizes effort instead of outcome to determine success; his definition is that true success is the "self gratification that comes from knowing that you've done your best to become the best of which you are capable." (SportsKids.com January 2006 Newsletter). In the context of a close game, the play that just ended, regardless of the eventual impact it may have on the game, cannot be changed. Throwing an interception or hitting a home run will obviously change the game, but once it's happened the focus has to be on what comes next.

Maintaining Focus

Some games are more exciting than others and close games can really bring out the best, and worst, in all of us. The problem is that we don't know which games will be close or which plays we may be involved in. So having your "head in the game" is crucial to every player's performance. Regardless of how talented a kid is, there is no reason that they cannot be ready to play and be focused on the game. If their only contribution to the team is focus and helping their teammates focus then they have been a big help to the team. When I coach, I try to teach kids to visualize themselves in difficult situations, including when they're not involved, so that they can plan their reactions and their attention. In a softball game there is someplace to go on every play regardless of where the ball is hit and this concept is crucial to staying focused. If your team is having problems in this area then you can try making up a game, or point system, dependant only on being focused. Making the right mental decisions can gain bonus points. I always try to reward players for effort and non-traditional statistical categories, especially when there are large disparities in talent. The points that you award for being focused can be "cashed in" for prizes that might include anything such as time off from conditioning or an opportunity to earn something that is unique to your team.

Character Building

When the pressure is on you can really see how the kids have developed and learn a lot about their character as people. In a close game, do they start to drag themselves around the field or are they extra focused and alert? When they make a mistake do they throw their hat and get down or put it behind them and bear down? When a teammate makes an error do they criticize them or show leadership and encourage the team to get the next one? These are character issues that we try to teach our children that will help them throughout their lives. It is in times of stress that a close game brings out that these character traits and where the benefits of youth sports can be the greatest. As coaches and parents, we can emphasize leadership and effort in order to help all these kids become better people.


Close games create unique situations that are great tools for coaches, parents, and players. The lessons we learn about dealing with pressure, character building, focusing, putting our efforts only toward things in our control, and realizing that every kid and every play matters, are important elements of youth sports and of life. So, the next time that you or your team are involved in a close game try to see how everybody reacts and teach these lessons that will help to make all of us better people.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

SportsKids for Life

"Good morning Terry!"

You hear the exclamation from each of the surprisingly cheerful early morning workout crew as they enter the posh Sports Club LA that features a clientele of "A-List" Hollywood celebrities, multi-millionaire business tycoons, and even some regular people. When the doors are unlocked at 5:00 AM, Terry Robinson is there to smile and greet every member just like he has been since the club opened many years ago. He knows everybody by name, most of their families and he can tell you about each of their workouts. While early mornings often attract the most consistent and dedicated health nuts, nobody has anything on Terry who was born exactly 80 years earlier than my son, Benji, on March 9, 1916. Do the math: yep, he's 90!

Today, at the age of 90, Terry Robinson is a Renaissance Man. He's a renowned painter (we have two of his paintings hanging in our house), an historian specializing in physical culture, a Greek Classicist and a teacher. An avid reader who is generally in the middle of at least four books at once, he has learned that sports and learning are an incredible combination that can change your life. He is a walking Encyclopedia, but more importantly, a resource as the health club librarian who is always trying to help others to be better people like his parents did for him. Throughout his life, sports have played a central role and confirmed the life lessons of teamwork, friendship, winning and losing with grace, and always working to do your best.

Becoming a SportsKid

Sports have always played an important role in Terry's life and became a bonding experience with his parents, his four brothers and the children he raised.

Surprisingly, Terry's upbringing nearly a century ago was not too dissimilar to what we attempt to provide for our children. Organized sports and the support of his parents were an important part of his early childhood. Born near the beach in Coney Island, New York, in the pre-Video Game Era, the boys in the neighborhood used to just "play, play, play". Terry's parents encouraged the five boys to play sports and it was a major part of the family bonding.

His father boxed, played ball and was on the NY boxing commission during the glory days of the sport. His mom was a competitive swimmer. Their love of sports rubbed off on Terry and his brothers who all competed in the early days of organized youth sports: the New York Police Athletic Leagues (PAL) where the cops organized leagues, coached the kids, taught life values and competed in every sport for championships throughout the five boroughs. Summers were spent in Citizens Military Training Camps, which were organized by the Army and were the forerunner of modern day Sports Camps. The family was very interested in what each boy did athletically, went out to watch whenever possible, and like the parents of today, they got a good chance to "brag" at the office about their kids.

Sports created tremendous lifelong friendships and family bonds. By high school Terry was recognized as an all-around athlete. In addition to winning a Golden Gloves championship (he still has the ring), Terry participated on the school boxing team, ran the 60 and 220 yard sprints, was part of the city championship 440 yard relay team, the swim team and was the starting tailback on the football team. When he played football nobody used to wear helmets and Terry said he only made the team because it was "before big guys played ball". Encouraged by his football coach, and by the purchase of a "Strength and Health" magazine that he got for a whopping $0.05, Terry Robinson began weight training and his life would be forever changed.

Lifetime of Dedication and Training

There were no fancy machines or steroids in the early days of bodybuilding; just dumbbells and barbells. Yet, that was enough to sculpt a physique. He started out at Bothner's Gym on 42nd Street, the first coed gym in NY. Opened by George Bothner, an undefeated lightweight wrestler, the gym became one of the first "hot spots" in the City. In the many, many years since Terry has hardly missed a workout and his dedication and love of sports has paid off handsomely in every aspect of his life.

Terry became one of the first competitive body builders. In 1940 he competed in the first major Mr. America contest held in Madison Square Garden; he won the "Small Man Division" and finishing 5th overall. He came back stronger and repeated his Small Man title in 1941, finishing sixth overall. In 1942, he enlisted in the Army and was sent to the South Pacific as a Combat Instructor. Before he left for active duty he was put on the cover of "Strength and Health", the same magazine that had originally helped to inspire his love for fitness.

In 1948, he entered one last competition and won Mr. New York (pictures included). His long career as a personal trainer, gym manager, gym owner, Army instructor, chiropractor, and kinesiologist was all initially inspired by his parent's encouragement of his love of sports. He's had so many highlights including being one of the founders of Muscle Beach in Venice; the workout Mecca that was eventually made famous by Lou Ferigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He became a personal trainer hired by Hollywood studios whipping into shape such celebrities as Clark Gable, Anthony Hopkins, George C. Scott, Robert Taylor, Cole Porter, Ozzie Nelson, Tyrone Power, Ricardo Montalban, the great Mario Lanza and countless others. Through it all, he never missed his workouts, is always available for others and has maintained his sense of quiet dignity and optimism that have become his trademarks.


Through sports and working in gyms during the years, Terry considers himself to be a lucky man because of all the people he's met and become friendly with. As a philosopher, he says: "Where does man's glory begin and end? My glory is that I've had so many friends that I've met through sports." For the young kids, he offers some simple advice: "Listen to your coach!" The key to "success in sports and in life is teamwork" and the life lessons that can be learned simply by playing. Through sports, you learn about competition and life: "You win some and you lose some. You go with the tide of life and learn how to be a good winner and a good loser".

To the consummate teacher and role model, thanks for the lessons and have a "good morning Terry".

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Value of Losing

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Steelers who won the Super Bowl and became champions of the world for a record tying 5th time.

It must have been great to hoist the Lombardi Trophy as the hapless Seahawks looked on in defeat. What a bunch of losers falling flat on their face like a baby first learning to walk. Of course, they did finish 2nd best - ahead of the other 30 losing teams that didn't even win their conference. While some may consider the NFC champs to have had a successful season, Tom Seaver once wrote: "there are only two places an athlete can finish - first place and no place". How about Vince Lombardi who said: "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser". Even in the world sports, where it really is about winning, or in life, this can't be the way we think. As a looking glass into real life, when 31 NFL teams, representing the best players in the world, are all looking up at the Champion Steelers, we all need to find and understand the value of losing.

Everybody Loses

While being a loser requires that you lose, the corollary that losing makes you a loser is certainly false. Vince Lombardi is known as one of the greatest and most intense coaches in history. Of course, most of us know Coach Lombardi's famous quote: "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing". While he always put that kind of emphasis on winning, most of us don't know that he also said: "If you can't accept losing, you can't win." While we all like to win much more than we like to lose, in order to play and be a part of something greater, we have to be willing to take the risk that we might lose. It has to be accepted that losing is a natural a part of participating and of winning.

Why It’s Okay to Lose

While not necessarily intuitive, there are many reasons why we can feel good about losing and I want to focus on two of these: the first and most obvious reason to lose is because it will help us to win; the second reason to lose is that it helps us to win in life.

Losing creates opportunity. Every loss has more lessons about what a team or individual can do to improve than any win. Losing also provides more motivation. Winning tends to cause people to overlook errors in judgment and fundaments that only losing can reveal. It's through the process that individuals and teams can discern areas to work on through practice to improve. Maybe even more important is that losing forces people to recognize that they want to win. The motivation provided by losing is a key to helping teams work harder in practice to improve and to play harder to win. Coach John Wooden's Pyramid of Success (January, 2006) emphasizes that success isn't winning or losing, but the self satisfaction derived from doing your best to be the best of which you are capable. Both winning and losing should inspire an individual to improve and to maximize their potential. By using losses in this way, we can motivate ourselves and others.

We can also use these lessons to improve other aspects of our life because losing is as much a part of every day life as it is a natural experience of playing sports. As parents, we make such an effort to help our kids feel better and to not let them experience failures. Ultimately, by not acknowledging their shortcomings, mistakes and losses, we don't allow them to live up to their potential. Failing is natural and it creates motivation. Without failing, kids may not see the need to work harder to improve. Telling kids that they have a "good eye" when the pitch is over the backstop, or saying "nice try" after a mistake may seem encouraging. However, we should also understand that it can be fine to let them know that a mistake has been made. When an error is made we can acknowledge it and then work to learn from the mistake and ultimately to improve.

By continuing to tell kids that they're always doing great sends a message that they don't need to work as hard. Kids are smart and they realize when they're good or bad. Sometimes they need to be protected but other times we need to also be honest if we want them to succeed in life. The idea that a person just needs to do their best isn't always true - sometimes they need to do even better. I heard of story of an employee who responded to a new work assignment for a project that needed to be done by a deadline with: "I'll do my best". Well, in this case, it just needed to get done and failing to finish it, even if that was their "best effort", was simply unacceptable. Sometimes, a person's best is not enough and you need to "get it done". This is one of the lessons that you can learn by losing because it is part of life.


Bud Wilkerson, the famous Okalahoma Sooners football coach who led his team on a 47 game winning streak, noted that the only way you could meet somebody that never lost meant that you had to find somebody that never played the game. While nobody wants to lose, we can use losing to motivate and improve. We can also extrapolate the lessons of losing to the greater life lessons so that we can all become the best of which we are capable. Losing is part of everything we do and has tremendous value. Mistakes are a natural part of participating so we shouldn't be afraid of acknowledging our errors and using them to improve. Our goal, in youth sports and in life, has to be to see the value of losing and use it to become better athletes, parents and people.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Each new year I always like thinking about goals and success. While all of us want to be successful, most people differ on what constitutes being a success. It's especially important when working with kids to help them define for them what their goals for success should be. When your child comes home with an "B+" on their math test, are we happy or do we ask them why they didn't get an "A"? As we've discussed, statistically none of our kids are going to be professional athletes, let alone the next Michael Jordan, Nolan Ryan or Peyton Manning, but can they still be successful in sports? In school, in sports and in life, each of us can be a huge success if we are working with the right definition. Therefore, this month we'll define success, look at Coach John Wooden's "Pyramid of Success" and apply these lessons to our kids.

Definition of Success

Coach John Wooden is the benchmark against which all other coaches are measured and judged. After all, he led UCLA to 10 NCAA basketball championships in 12 years and was elected to the College Basketball Hall of Fame as both a coach and a player. At 95 years of age, Coach Wooden is still vibrant and very giving of his time; he signs autographs at every UCLA home game which is equally thrilling for the kids, their parents and their grandparents. Yet, in spite of all his unbreakable records, John Wooden would be appalled by the statement that he is a measuring stick that others use to judge their own success.

Coach Wooden's definition: "Success is peace of mind that is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you gave your best effort to become the best of which you are capable". This is a completely different measure of success than most people and it means that success actually comes from within. If you do your best to be your best, then you should feel good about yourself and that "success" should give you peace of mind. This is very simple, profound and elegant. If we measure success only against "the best" then we are all destined to fail. For example, if you consider financial success to be something of importance, then Warren Buffett would be a failure compared to Bill Gates, but successful compared to everyone else in the world. Is Warren Buffett a failure? He might be under John Wooden's definition while any one of us may be far more successful than Buffet based on our effort.

What Coach Wooden teaches us is that all of us can be successful by putting in the effort to be the best of which we are capable. If we always do our best, but we never put in the time practicing and preparing to be our best then we haven't succeeded. Regardless of the outcome of any activity, if a person puts in the effort then they should feel the self-satisfaction that only comes from that realization that they have done their personal best. Coach Wooden never talked about winning any game. Instead, he stressed personal effort and achievement. The key is that you never compare yourself to others, but instead strive to reach your own standards of competency. Only in this way can every person, whether a star UCLA player like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or the last player on the bench, be a contributor to the team and a huge success.

The Pyramid of Success

If the apex of the pyramid is "success", how do we get there? Coach Wooden constructed a roadmap for us to follow that he called the "Pyramid of Success". Like a true building, each of the 15 blocks supports those above it. You can't reach your own personal success without accomplishing each of the blocks below and understanding the relationship of each to all the other blocks. Coach Wooden's 15 blocks are:

1.Industriousness - A cornerstone of the pyramid is the willingness to work hard for your goals.

2.Friendship - Part of the foundation is the mutual respect and self esteem derived from being and having friends.

3.Loyalty - A component of self esteem and a key element of turning individuals into a team.

4.Cooperation - In order for any group to reach its potential, it is imperative to cooperate.

5.Enthusiasm - The second cornerstone requires that you like what you're doing because it will allow an individual to put forth complete effort.

6.Self-Control - Emotional maturity allows for discipline and consistency in key activities.

7.Alertness - Being alert is important to personal achievement because it allows us to see weaknesses, learn and improve.

8.Initiative - This block is to help alleviate the fear of failure by overcoming inertia and taking the action to "make things happen".

9.Intentness - The ability to finish what you start and remain intent on accomplishing the goal.

10.Condition - The physical, emotional and personal morality that is required to make your best effort.

11.Skill - The very center of the pyramid deals with having the ability and actual skill needed to do all aspects of the job properly.

12.Team Spirit - Being the ultimate team player is not just the willingness, but the eagerness to sacrifice personally for the benefit of the team.

13.Poise - Requires the understanding and self-confidence to realize that you are only trying to accomplish and meet your own expectations.

14.Confidence - Believe in yourself and others will believe in you. Requires total preparation and is a result of learning all the other blocks.

15.Competitive Greatness - The ability to be your best when it is needed. This means that you don't run from a challenge, but are instead drawn to it.

Making Kids Successful

Kids like what they're good at and often won't even try things that they're not good at. This is the corollary to Coach Wooden's definition of success and deals with the expectations of others instead of understanding the goals for each individual for achievement. As soon as a kid compares themselves to a peer, or even worse, a sibling, they are destined to move away from the goal of "peace of mind that is a direct result of self satisfaction in knowing they gave their best effort to become the best of which they are capable".

Therefore, when our kids come home with a "B+" the most important question is how they feel about that grade. Did they do their best to be prepared for the exam? Is this the best result that they're capable of achieving? If so, then they should be rewarded and feel good and especially to be satisfied with their own satisfaction and peace of mind. If they didn't prepare at all for the test and got a "B+" then they should not be satisfied with their effort and we shouldn't be as a parents.

This is also true in sports. Not every player will be the best in the league or even the best on their team. However, if they put forth their best effort, play and practice with enthusiasm and put their team first, that's a great outcome - regardless of if they win or lose any game or how well they played.

By re-defining the way we all view success, each of us can head into the new year with a different approach to the goals and resolutions that we set. Furthermore, as we talk to our kids about what they would like to accomplish this year, and in life, the focus should be on each child obtaining the peace of mind that can only come from the self-satisfaction derived by doing their best to be the very best that they are capable of.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Concept of Perfection

The Dodgers had a breakfast a couple of weeks ago to tell their story about off-season moves and the team they’ll put on the field for 2005. I was there to listen to the new owner, Frank McCourt, the general manager, Paul DePodesta, Hall of Famer, Tommy Lasorda, and the Dodgers’ manager, Jim Tracy. They told a good story about the Dodgers and what their plans are, but the most interesting aspect to me was something that was said and its application to teaching kids about sports and ultimately, life.

After the presentation was finished, people from the crowd were allowed to ask questions. One guy asked about Milton Bradley and the Dodgers’ thoughts on the negative example that he sets as a role model for high school and younger ballplayers. You may remember, Mr. Bradley has not always been a shining example of good sportsmanship and is currently undergoing anger management counseling as a result. To a person, each of the four Dodgers representatives, while acknowledging that there had been problems, defended Milton Bradley as a great guy who is often misunderstood; as a member of the Dodgers family, he deserves a second chance and that everybody really does like him as a person.

The Concept of Perfection
To me the most interesting comments came from Jim Tracy. Not only did the Dodgers’ manager say that Bradley is somebody he loves working with, he said he is an ever better player to manage because he is a “perfectionist”. I’m paraphrasing, but Tracy basically said that he loves Milton’s attitude because he never thinks he should make an out when he’s at the plate and he doesn’t feel like there is ever a ball he can’t catch in the outfield. He expects and demands that he will be “perfect” every pitch, every out, every inning, of every game. After the meeting, I talked to Jim Tracy about this idea of “perfect” as it applies to kids.

What we talked about was perfection: how is it good for a ballplayer, especially a child, to expect to be perfect? More so in baseball, where failure is the expected norm; failing 7 out of 10 times makes you a star. Everybody swings and misses. The best players in the world regularly walk in runs, and errors are made almost every game. Why is perfect the right goal? Jim Tracy had to leave before we had a chance to finish the conversation, but it did get me thinking about the goals and attitude we should teach our SportsKids.

The Right Attitude – It’s about Control
Why would anybody ever tell there kids to be perfect? Michael Jordan once said: “I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Babe Ruth had the record for strike outs in a career until his record was broken by another Hall of Fame member of the 500 HR club, Reggie Jackson. Nobody is perfect!
If you can’t be perfect, what is the right goal? In his fantastic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey talks about being “response-able” for your actions. In sports and in life there are so many things that are completely out of our control, but we individually have the ability to choose our responses to each situation – positive and negative. In essence, you can’t control the actions of anybody else or the results; only yourself. Consequently, the focus has to be on what you can control.

Surprisingly, my 5 and 6 year old basketball team that I coach had the answers. Since I was thinking about Milton Bradley and perfection, I decided to ask some of the kids their thoughts on the subject. First, each of them is afraid of different things playing sports. Some didn’t want to miss a shot, get a rebound off their head, make a bad pass or lose the game. So we talked about Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Kobe Bryant and others and how they made mistakes too. It became very liberating for them to realize that they didn’t need to do everything perfect to be a good basketball player.

The more we talked, the better the kids started to feel about themselves. Realizing that you don’t have to be perfect is a good thing, but does that conflict with what Jim Tracy said was so great about Milton Bradley: expecting to get a hit every time at bat and to catch every fly ball? Not necessarily if the focus shifts from being perfect to doing what you can control. While my older teams that I coach focused on the “results” of actions, it was again the 5 and 6 year old kids who did a great job in helping me understand what elements of a game can be controlled:

1. Fundamentals – there is no reason that every kid can’t learn to do things the right way. If the coach can teach a kid to perform with proper fundamentals the results will follow. The emphasis here has to be on first, the coach learning the right things to teach, and then, insisting that the kids do it correctly. Remember: Practice makes Permanent!
2. Focus – Every kid can think and have their head in the game. Even the kid who can’t make a basket can be in the right place all the time.
3. Hustle – Do your best and put out the most effort that you can on every play. Every coach should be working on kids to hustle, play hard and put out effort – not on results.
4. Teamwork – This plays into focus as well, but working with your teammates is something that every player can do, control, and excel at.
5. Sportsmanship – There is never any reason to not be a good sport. This year, I’ve seen far too many kids saying “bad game” instead of congratulating the other team on their effort. Be a good sport – always!

Measuring Your Results
At the end of each game, ask the kids to evaluate their individual and team performance. You’d be surprised at their own understanding of how they did. Don’t spend time on performance measurement, but on the non scorebook things that the kids can control. We can’t control the results of our actions, but if we work on everything we can control, we won’t be perfect, but we will be the best we can be.

Ken Kaiserman,

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