Wednesday, January 18, 2012

5 Fundamental Skill Categories for Young Athletes

Welcome back to the 1st and Goals blog site! Our goal is to help in the development of young athletes and youth sports coaches. Although our primary focus is football, the information we provide can be used in all sports. Between our Facebook page,!/pages/1st-and-Goals/349015174536, and this blog, it is our intention to provide information for the physical and mental improvement of both athletes and coaches.

This initial post outlines what we believe to be the 5 fundamental skill categories for young athletes:

  1. Physical--Teaching athletes how to prepare their bodies for competition. Development of speed, power, agility, flexibility and endurance. Off-season/In-season training programs.
  2. Mental--Teaching athletes how to prepare their minds for competition. Development of focus, confidence and motivation. Addressing mental blocks: fear, stress, pressure. Teaching visualization techniques and pre-game routines. Simulating game conditions.
  3. Relational--Teaching athletes how to prepare as a team for competition. Teambuilding activities. Building positive relationships: the art of communication. Setting and achieving goals: individual/team.
  4. Mechanical--Teaching athletes how to use their bodies in competition. Starts with teaching solid fundamentals: blocking, tackling, running, catching, throwing. Footwork, hip rotation, upper body mechanics. Developing drills that are specific to the needs of each position. 
  5. Strategical--Teaching athletes how to think during competition. Knowledge of the game: reading defenses, recognizing fronts, blitzes, formations, coverages, running lanes, etc. This is where you can help athletes attain a higher level of understanding the game: the difference between teaching them how to play football and how to be a football player.
Every other day on Facebook we will cover each of these topics individually, beginning with the development of Physical Skills. Please feel free to ask questions or provide feedback as we discuss these different categories.

Thank You,
Coach Phil


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Building a Winning Culture in Youth Football

My partner in 1st and Goals, Glenn Tobias and I have spent a lot of time discussing what it takes to build a winning culture in sports programs. We have studied organizations and leaders such as Coach K at Duke, Pete Carroll at USC, Nick Saban at Alabama, John Wooden at UCLA and Mack Brown at Texas. Though each has their own distinct coaching style and philosophy, they all built a winning culture within their programs.

Glenn and I have been coaching a high school team that's part of a home-school football league in Virginia and Southern Maryland. And though we have had a good deal of success over the past couple years, we haven't been able to break into the top echelon of the league. Below are some thoughts from Glenn concerning what it takes to develop a true winning culture in our organization. 1st and Goals is creating a program that will help organizations, from administration to parents, build and sustain successful sports programs.

Now is the time, just as we instruct the players, to examine what can be learned from our loss. If failure is, indeed, success turned inside out, then we need to unravel the events and subsequent results leading up to and culminating in today's miserable performance. Although I was not able to participate as a coach this year, I must admit that, as a member of the board of directors, I have to include myself in today's loss. This belongs to all of us.
Phil DuBois has spoken to me about developing a culture in the Kings organization. The question becomes, in my mind anyway, are we willing to do that? Are we willing to invest in developing a vision that will lead the Kings to a different outcome in the future? To that end, let me begin the 'conversation' with a few thoughts. I suspect that several mindsets exist:

1.     "If we just keep playing, we will eventually start to win; number of years equates to success." The problem with this thinking is, if correct, then this only comes to fruition if and when organizations with greater longevity than our own cease to exist so that we become "old enough" to begin winning. We have all met coaches and players who have 20 first years under their belt. They don't learn. They don't progress. But they can certainly brag about how long they've been at it. The problem is they are bragging about perpetual mediocrity. Not much of a legacy or heritage in my book.

2.     "Winning isn't that important; all that matters is 'character' ". The problem inherent with this line of reasoning is that "character" necessarily includes the will to persevere and overcome any obstacle necessary to achieve the goal. We are not teaching the kind of character that we want our young men to have if they can walk away from a performance such as today's and be OK with it. This does not, by the way, equate to helmet throwing fits of anger or other out-of-control behavior; nor does it equate to becoming smack-talking, disrespectful thugs in football uniforms. This is not to what I refer when I say they should not be OK with today's performance. What it does equate to is some deep soul searching by every member of the organization from the board of directors, to the coaching staff to the parents to every last member of the squad. And it equates to a passionate drive to improve year by year or give up and go be better stewards of the precious gift of God that we call time. If the Kings ever play a squad that is truly 8-9 times better than us in every aspect of the game then, and only then, should we walk off the field with our heads held high in a losing contest in which the score reflects that disparity.

3.     "Mindset? What mindset?" There is the mindset that says "Who needs a mindset?" Some of us may represent the Jerry Seinfeld skit in which he depicts guys as "not thinkin' anything". As funny as Jerry's sketch may be, and it is, it's not funny when we're investing the effort and expense into a football season. Everyone needs to be thinking, and they need to be thinking in the same vein. Dick Vermeil, in instructing his coaching staff, said, "Never miss an opportunity to convey our vision and values." Of course, to do that, there needs to be a clearly defined and precisely communicated vision and unmistakable, practicable values.

I recently listened to a leadership seminar on audio CD. During that seminar, a comment was made that I found very challenging. It, at once, both confirmed and challenged many of my paradigms about business. And now I find it challenging my paradigms about football and coaching. While I've often thought about better facilities, equipment, methods, coaching techniques, fundraising, etc etc etc., I am realizing the truth of the comment I heard in this seminar, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." The Kings organization must change its culture in order to make better use of its opportunities. Of course, facilities, equipment, methods, coaching techniques, fundraising, etc are all important. But they are the baseline essentials. No one really succeeds without them. The difference maker is attitude.  And attitude is born of a culture.

Good changes have begun in the Kings organization. The important thing to remember now is that it's ok to take a little time to lick our wounds, get a little recreation and get refreshed. But if we believe that we can wait for next spring to begin thinking about how to get better, I would offer this reminder via the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.

Glenn Tobias
1st and Goals--Developing Tomorrow's Leaders Through Youth Sports

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Unique Approach to Youth Development Through Sports

Through experience and research we have discovered that the lessons are being lost that were once assumed instilled by mere participation in youth sports. We now know that without a deliberate plan and effort, the vast majority of young athletes do not acquire the life lessons so many coaches, parents and administrators assume are being learned.
Our mission at 1st and Goals is to help a wider range of young athletes gain some of the benefits that should be available from the youth sports experience. Through a combination of physical and mental preparation and by merging short-term goals and long-term outcomes, young athletes will acquire the skills needed to flourish on the field, in the classroom, in their communities and in their future chosen professions.
1st and Goals is redefining success by redefining what it means to be an elite athlete and a winning coach. Our philosophy is firmly embedded in our 3 Most Valued Principles (MVP’s): Leadership, Teambuilding and Communication. We are teaching coaches and young athletes how to take ownership of their programs and foster on-field leadership, how to develop a collective belief in the power of a team while maintaining a healthy sense of “self”, and how to build relationships on foundations of trust and mutual respect that will inspire and motivate coaches and players alike.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Coaching Youth Football Players Of a Lesser Talent: Are We Helping or Hurting Their Growth?

They run 8-second 40’s; they can barely do a pushup; they shed tears during conditioning drills; they cringe in fear during full-contact drills; but they show up every day and they give good effort. As coaches, we’ve all had them on our teams and we’ve all had to try to figure out how to work with them. But most coaches make the wrong decisions when it comes to working with athletes who really struggle talent-wise.

The first thing an inexperienced or untrained coach will do is lower expectations and accept less than adequate performances. But when we, as coaches, lower our standards (and more often than not we convince ourselves that we are somehow doing this in the best interests of the kids and the team), we are depriving these kids of the opportunity to learn how to compete with confidence. In fact, we are instilling a false sense of confidence and achievement, we are putting their safety at risk and we are compromising our impact as coaches and teachers.

Is it admirable to teach our kids that it’s okay to perform on a less-than-acceptable level as long as they are giving some effort? Or is it more beneficial to adopt the philosophy that as long as our players are on the field giving effort it’s our responsibility as coaches to ensure that this effort goes to learning the proper physical and mental game skills? Because there’s something more important at stake than just teaching these kids how to block and tackle properly—we are teaching them a process by which they can, far removed from a sports venue, learn to utilize knowledge and skills, a process they can use to achieve positive results in other areas of their lives. And if we leave these kids with the impression that effort trumps performance, we are setting them up for failure.

Should our children’s school teachers accept below-average performances in the classroom when our children are struggling with the lessons being taught? Should the teachers just label them “bad students”, accept their C’s and D’s and move them on to the next grade level? Should they say, “it’s okay Jimmy, your answers aren’t quite right, but I can see you’re trying, and that’s all that really matters?” Would we, as parents, accept this philosophy? Is this in the best interests of our kids?

When our kids grow up and enter the workplace, should we expect their employers to accept sub-par performances on the premise that at least they are showing up on time and putting forth some effort? Would you expect to keep your job if you performed at a less than acceptable level? As an employer, would you want to hire such an individual? And would you want to work for a company that espouses such a philosophy? Most people, young athletes or otherwise, who are given low expectations tend to perform at that level.

The process of teaching fundamental skills and a solid work ethic has to start somewhere. And what better venue than youth sports? But it has to begin with good coaches. As coaches, we cannot lower expectations and we must not accept less than adequate performances when teaching proper skills becomes an inconvenience or because it’s affecting the flow of practice. We cannot move onto more complex activities with these kids if they haven’t learned the basics just because we have a schedule to keep. It is our responsibility to take the time to ensure that every player on the team understands and can execute the fundamental techniques of the game—even if this means taking the less talented players aside and working with them until we are confident they can perform at an adequate level. To do otherwise would be putting them in harm’s way. And to do otherwise would be cheating these kids out of the opportunity to learn important life skills. It may very well be that one of the things they learn is that their primary skills do not lie in sports at all. That’s perfectly ok, because what we teach on the field just might help them develop skills in those things that they do well. But we cannot know this unless we, as coaches, have earnestly provided them every opportunity to succeed. In fact, accepting less than adequate results from the less talented players is the biggest tragedy of all, because these are the kids who comprise the largest percentage of those who quit youth sports by age 14. And what have they learned from us?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Coaching Young Athletes--by Guest Writer Chuck Willig

I am always interested to see how coaches coach. I have been exposed to the high school coaching scene for over 25 years and I have to say I've met some outstanding coaches. I have also seen a lot of coaches who have donated their time to coaching our young athletes in youth programs. There are some good one's there too. I do however, see a lot of coaches who are under trained and lack the resources and support in their efforts to handle today's athletes. We need to educate ourselves constantly. We, as coaches, never stop learning. This is critical if we are to impact our kids for their future. That is the primary task a coach has in his duties. Building good men and future leaders.

The one area that I think needs focus is that of dealing with different personalities, ages, social and economic backgrounds, and learning curves. We tend to focus on the sport we are coaching and sometimes forget that the true nature of youth sports is teaching Character, Leadership, and Team concepts. The teaching of these elements combined with the competitive nature of sports can offer valuable life lessons. These lessons can be used not only for the individual success of the athlete but the future leadership roles that society desperately needs.

Understanding how kids think and react to societal pressures and role models is a good beginning. What are the societal goals that kids are influenced by? Well, simply put society puts a huge emphasis on "How much money, popularity, athletic accomplishment, bling, and sex" they have as a measuring stick to their success. This is an enormous factor as to how kids see their standing in the social world. Just look around at what the images of success are on t.v., movies, and media, that these kids see everyday. The "good guy" stories are hard to find. The extravagant and the negative stories are everywhere.

My take is this...The better athlete a kid is the more responsibility he has to be Empathetic to those who don't have the God given abilities that they have been blessed with. This means that these athletes must be thankful for the gifts they have been given and act like Champions in their social lives. They often have the strength and popularity to be stuck up, self centered, and even dismissive of those with less. They should be compelled to lend their status toward helping others. The strengthening of the TEAM occurs when the weakest links are built up and feel integrated into the "group". Everyone on the team gains a sense of responsibility to something outside of themselves.

Kids want to feel like they belong to something socially. When the less talented kids feel like they are an important part of a team they tend to raise their expectations of themselves. They tend to fear failure less when the more gifted kids act caringly about them. When the more gifted kids see this it usually inspires them to higher aspirations. This "Empathetic" relationship can spurn great synergy. Everyone is working for everyone else. The goal is a sense of undying responsibility to each other.

So, in a quick overview. Create an environment of respect between your players. Make it clear that the no one athlete is worth more to the team than another. This takes discipline from the coaches. Coaches need to recognize if they are facilitating a double standard. It's easy for coaches to get caught up in promoting or protecting the needs and behavior of the "stars". We must be aware that "Star" athletes can win games for sure but an overindulgence in coddling them creates a less cohesive team. Great Teams win Championships when facing teams with comparable athletes.

Winning is fun. Winning with character is a great example. We need to "build men for others". We need to see the big picture and understand our responsibility to the future of our charges. Make an example of "bad behavior" when it shows up. Consistency is the key to changing behavior. Don't just say it, DO IT." The more consistently you address certain behavior with consistent consequences the faster the behavior changes. You all are charged with a huge responsibility. Don't shy away. Your commitment is invaluable to the future generations of our kids. Remember, most coaches spend more time with their players than any other individual in their lives. Read more, watch more videos, go to more clinics, listen to other coaches, seek out help.
You are a Coach. Love it!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Can We Really Impact Lives?

Can success in youth sports equate to success in adult life? Perhaps. Can winning a game teach a young athlete how to win in the working world? Possibly. Can teaching skills that lead to success in sports be utilized by athletes to achieve more in other aspects of their lives? Definitely! Can showing athletes that winning is an outcome of physical and mental preparation translate into success as an adult? Absolutely!

I was reading an article from a Seattle, WA newspaper. A local high school football coach was being interviewed about his coaching philosophy. The coach's name is Ray Robinson, a former professional football player. Here's one of the questions he was asked: Besides your experience in the NFL, what do you bring to your players at Lake Washington?. And here, in part, is Coach Robinson's answer:

I think of myself as their "Life Coach."... When people ask me if I'm a teacher, I tell them that I have the biggest classroom in the school with 80 kids. That's what I love about coaching at the high school level, the chance to show kids how to be men and do the right thing. I always encourage my players to keep things out in the open and talk about any problems and not bottle up their feelings so we can work on getting past their troubles or transgressions. To be honest, helping players deal with off field issues interests me more than the football stuff. This summer we are taking our kids to camp at Camp Casey on Whidbey Island. We are hopeful that they will bond together. I'll be speaking to them about my own life which was both tragic and funny. I hope they can learn to be good teammates who grow together.

Follow this link to the Seattle readers blog to see the entire interview:

Ray Robinson is a perfect example of how we can impact the lives of young athletes, even if we only have them for one short season. We can teach them not only the fundamentals of a sport, but begin to give them insight into the long-term value of concepts such as Leadership, Teambuilding and Communication. And as Coach Robinson says "I care about these kids and I think that will eventually translate into wins on the football field." If we prepare young athletes, both physically and mentally, how to play the game, how to be a good teammate and what it means to be a leader, the wins will take care of themselves--and the young athletes we work with will develop skills that they can use to achieve more in their off-field lives.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why Should We Learn Leadership Skills?

I am going to tell you a story about the value of Leadership and Communication when you're building and sustaining a team (as told to me by a friend). The team he's helping out with is struggling--they don't seem to have a clear mission. The staff, he says, is dysfunctional, and the players are confused about their roles. As a result, team morale has dropped to a dangerous low.

My friend was asked to attend a meeting to discuss these issues and to help come up with some solutions to their problems. Though my friend was an assistant on the team, and technically part of the staff, he was rarely asked to be part of these meetings. But yet these meetings typically involved discussing the performance of the group of players that my friend was charged with helping. He often wonders why his opinion doesn't seem to have much value to the rest of the staff. Especially when part of their meetings were directly related to the players he worked with.

I told my friend that Leadership is practiced from two perspective: from a power of authority (position power) and from the power of a "touch" (personal power), and that he was entangled in the former. Some think that, by virtue of their title, they have to be right, and the opinions of others are inconsequential. This type of leadership damages the team because leadership cannot be asserted under such circumstances. Personal power, on the other hand, is built on trust and credibility. This type of leader is perceptive, and both appreciates and values the input of those around him.

Through bad leadership comes bad communication. As my friend mentioned earlier, the staff, in the eyes of the team, has become dysfunctional. There are no clear lines of communication, and the team is confused about their roles and unclear about what it is they're trying to accomplish.

Now, lest you think that this story has no value beyond a field or court, I should tell you that this is not a youth sports story. My friend is an adult, and the situation he described to me came from an experience he had in his workplace. The staff are his supervisors and the players are a group of people he manages. Leadership, Communication and Teambuilding--these concepts have value and can help us succeed in all stages of our lives.