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Sacrificing Wins for Skills


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#1 wyatt55

  • 1,246 posts

Posted 07 May 2011 - 12:24 AM

My daughter's 9 year old volleyball team, Over the Top, is being coached by my wife. She played V-ball at Trinity Univ in Texas and had great coaching in Club and High School in St. Louis. I am proud of the way she's teaching these 3rd graders a five man serve-receive and imploring them to get three touches to return the ball, vs. muscleing up and one power-bump back over the net. The girls are learning ball control and passing. However, they've ended up losing some games and matches to teams they shouldn't have if they just pounded the ball back over w one hit like they did in the Fall. She's had some parental grumbling, but she's been steadfast in her commitment to this and it's starting to show returns.

Alright Coaches. Almost all of us (with younger teams especially) have felt the pressure - the pressure to score or win in the face of or at the expense of teamwork or teaching the game. The temptation of running the offense solely through the best hoops player, letting one player dribble through 6 defenders to score a soccer goal, pitching your only ace until his arm falls off.

Share with us your stories of coaches doing this, parental reaction one way or another and hopefully your or others' success stories in teaching the skills and sticking to it.

Edited by wyatt55, 07 May 2011 - 12:25 AM.


#2 LoweTek

  • 783 posts

Posted 07 May 2011 - 06:19 AM

Alright Coaches. Almost all of us (with younger teams especially) have felt the pressure - the pressure to score or win in the face of or at the expense of teamwork or teaching the game. The temptation of running the offense solely through the best hoops player, letting one player dribble through 6 defenders to score a soccer goal, pitching your only ace until his arm falls off.

Share with us your stories of coaches doing this, parental reaction one way or another and hopefully your or others' success stories in teaching the skills and sticking to it.

Interesting. As seen in another thread here, I coach two teams (15U), one of which has achieved milestones such as 10 errors in one inning. Between the two teams, with the season nearly over now, they have won four games. To be fair, there are roster challenges. The high school coach has raided the rec league by "arranging" to have both a 7th grade team and an 8th grade team which plays surrounding towns' 7th and 8th grade teams. While adjacent towns' coaches do not do this, in our town players are subtly discouraged from participation in rec league while playing on these teams. So twofold consequence: we have a lot weak players, not a lot of strong ones and our opponents field a much better caliber of player overall. It is difficult to be competitive.

So we teach. Fundamentals always, repeatedly be it at practice or coaching moments during games. Cutoff drills, outfield route drills, 2B pivot drills, PFP, tagging technique, baserunning, pickoffs; I could go on.

Parents don't complain overtly but we hear grumbling from time to time when for example, we provide concessions to the other team for a lineup shuffle when a player has to leave or gets injured. What is the point of claiming an extra out for two or three passes through their order when you're behind 7-0 and have 8 fielding errors after two innings?

So yeah, in recent weeks there has been noticable improvement, particularly in pickoffs and control of the running game. About a month ago, aggravated by large leads off 2B and 3B steals at will, I taught them how to call a timing play for 2B pickoffs. While some pitchers are better than others, we have gone from a team who opponents knew they run on freely, to having picked off some 6 runners since. All season, we couldn't get them to understand the nuances of the dropped third strike. But on Thursday this past week, one guy remembered that with two away and a runner on 1B, dropped third strike you should go. Catcher got flustered and threw the ball into RF, leaving runners on 2B and 3B. Two doubles later, three runs were scored. Those three runs were the margin of victory over a superior team.

That made two wins for the year.

#3 CPT Neuron


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Posted 07 May 2011 - 08:07 PM

I have come full circle on this over the last 15 years of coaching youth soccer. I started as a "results oriented" coach looking only for the wins and keeping the parents of the kids who played the most and were the naturally better players happy. Now, not so much at all. I now work on simple technical skills and field awareness, breaking the game into its component parts. There are some really excellent resources available from US Youth Soccer and US Soccer Federation that have helped me refine my style and focus accordingly. I have done a ton more coach education to better my own skill set, and overall, I think I am giving each and every player a better experience. Get the technical skills down well and the tactical results will follow. Parents have a hard time getting this concept, but once they see how well their kids can move with the ball at their feet, things seem to be a lot quieter.

#4 behindthepen


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Posted 09 May 2011 - 11:57 AM

In my experience, unless you are dealing with some kind of "select" team, you're more likely to hear complaining from the parents of kids who are getting benched or hidden somewhere than you are about losing.

This past weekend, I got the best compliment I can imagine getting as a youth coach, from the parents of one my girls hockey players: "That's the way sports is supposed to be." This was a 10 year old team that started the year with about 1/3 of the girls never having played organized hockey before. Right up front, I told them I expected them all to learn how to shoot and score, and that they would all play defense, and with no full-time goalie, they would all play goalie. By the end of the season, we had a kick-ass team, all but one of the girls scored a goal, and every girl played at least one full game at D. The one girl who didn't score found her niche as a goalie, and wound up winning the "Teammate of the year" award.

Last year, my son's baseball team was geared only to win. He missed a couple of practices and a game in the middle of the season because of a conflict with Lacrosse, and after that, he was dropped in the order and never played the infield again. He still talks about that. There were a couple of other kids on the team who played 1 or 2 innings of a 16 game season in the infield, and as a result, will probably never get a shot at making the Majors because they basically wasted a whole season. The team didn't even make the finals.

#5 Heinie Wagner

  • 161 posts

Posted 01 June 2011 - 09:00 AM

Study after study shows that kids would rather play for a losing team where they get more opportunities then for a winning team where they get fewer opportunities, but most youth coaches don't get this.

My 10 year old is at the AAA level in little league. His coach gave a nice speech at the beginning of the year about not playing to win, everyone getting a chance to pitch, yada, yada, yada. I think he got caught up in things as they started off 4-0, really more by chance than anything else, and they are playing all out to win. Same three kids pitch every game, other kids fill in here and there, but not significant innings. They got beat badly 20-8 and still the coach got his "big three" in there pitching.

Luckily, my kid loves the game, and while he's not a particularly good hitter or pitcher at this point, he loves it enough to stick with it and he's one of the biggest and most athletic kids. I can easily see 3-4 of the kids who aren't as into it dropping out of baseball after this season.

As far as my role, I just try to work with him at every opportunity so he can improve and become one of those kids that gets the innings, that gets the better positions on defense and gets to hit higher in the order (and thus more at bats). I agree that at this level, parents are more likely to grumble about their kids opportunities than wins and losses.

This past year on the travel basketball team was similar. A lot of lip service to not caring about winning and while playing time was fairly equal, opportunities were not. As I said, my son is big. He was buried in the low post, their main offense was for the two big guys to clear out to the corners and the guards to dribble hand off to each other and try to beat their defenders off the dribble. Effective against weaker teams, brutal to watch against any team that was good at staying between their man and the hoop. Their zone offense was just as bad, with my son buried at the low post, winning was such a priority that he didn't even get a shot at the high post in their zone offense and sadly teams played a ton of zone.

I was an assistant coach and tried to convince the head guy (older son, board member) to try different offenses, but he did not. His kid, along with several others played the same offenses in CYO.

Luckily, when it comes to basketball, I have some credibility and was able to find my way onto the Travel Basketball board, where I am working to implement club wide guidelines on plays, practice plans etc.

It's amazing to me how if you're not one of the better guys at a really young age, most coaches are just not going to give you opportunities because they are more concerned with winning games than developing players.

As far as parents go, still probably more concern about playing time or really opportunities for their kids, but wins and losses are pretty important too. The kids just want to play, 5 minutes after we lost a game by 20+, you'd have no idea by looking at them whether we won or lost.

#6 twothousandone

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Posted 13 June 2011 - 11:25 AM

but she's been steadfast in her commitment to this and it's starting to show returns

I suspect that says it all. If teams can stay together for more than one season, practice and age make it pretty clear your wife's team will be as good as any before long.

Leagues clearly indicate the priorities with their rules -- "everyone plays equal time" is very different than "everyone must play at least one quarter from start to finish," or "everyone must play at least two innings." By being less specific, the former (hopefully) puts it on the coach to measure and make sure it is pretty much equal. In those leagues where equal time is the goal, no one really seems to complain when, late in a close game, the coach adjusts to go for the win. Because, it seems to me, as long as a kid has a chance to play, winning is better than losing.

In baseball, I'm still in coach pitch leagues, where everyone is in the batting order, but only 10 play the field. I move everyone to each position as best I can, with the only concession coming depending on who is at first base -- if the 1B can catch, I put guys who can throw in the infield. If s/he can't catch, I put the poorer throwers in the infield - prevents injury, and gives the "better" fielders a chance to make plays -- which is needed to help keep their attention. It was a genius move on my part, until late in the season we had a mis-match -- the kid at first couldn't catch, but vacations said I had to put some decent throwers in the IF. Turns out, even for a kid who doesn't catch well, when the choice is catch it or get hit in the face, catch it is pretty appealing. He got two put outs in his time at 1B. That may be my new strategy.

But, as a spectator for basketball, two good players with three who need instruction doesn't help those three much, unless the coach can set up a play or two and force the better kids to stick to their roles. Which can be tough -- it is easiest when the coaches kid is among the best AND the coach leans on him/her to play their roles as defined. That's a little rare, though.

#7 wyatt55

  • 1,246 posts

Posted 15 June 2011 - 10:45 PM

Same three kids pitch every game, other kids fill in here and there, but not significant innings. They got beat badly 20-8 and still the coach got his "big three" in there pitching.


He will regret this. In Tournament play with inning restrictions, injuries and vacations, guys who can't find the zone that day, etc. you'll likely need to have at least one or two other guys who can at least get the ball over the plate.

And what a missed opportunity - blowout loss, give another kid a shot.

#8 SoxFanSince57


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Posted 17 June 2011 - 05:25 PM

My daughter's 9 year old volleyball team, Over the Top, is being coached by my wife. She played V-ball at Trinity Univ in Texas and had great coaching in Club and High School in St. Louis. I am proud of the way she's teaching these 3rd graders a five man serve-receive and imploring them to get three touches to return the ball, vs. muscleing up and one power-bump back over the net. The girls are learning ball control and passing. However, they've ended up losing some games and matches to teams they shouldn't have if they just pounded the ball back over w one hit like they did in the Fall. She's had some parental grumbling, but she's been steadfast in her commitment to this and it's starting to show returns.

Alright Coaches. Almost all of us (with younger teams especially) have felt the pressure - the pressure to score or win in the face of or at the expense of teamwork or teaching the game. The temptation of running the offense solely through the best hoops player, letting one player dribble through 6 defenders to score a soccer goal, pitching your only ace until his arm falls off.

Share with us your stories of coaches doing this, parental reaction one way or another and hopefully your or others' success stories in teaching the skills and sticking to it.


In my experience, it all starts with the how well the coaches lay out the values, codes of conduct, mission...etc at the beginning of the season. Set expectations, communicate your goals/philosophy and unsure that parents, assistant coaches and the players all "sign up" / "sign on" to your vision. Every stakeholder needs to know what you plan to do BEFORE the first practice.

There are many ways to arrive at this. The best of course is a bottom-up process of talking to everyone and getting their views on the table. Write every view on a black board/easel. People tend to "accept" decisions more readily IF they have had a chance to voice their opinions. Even if their view/idea is not accepted, they will cause less raucous/discord during the season if they feel they have been able to participate in the direction of the team.

Once you generate your mission/team goals/values/conduct...you need to get each of the stakeholders to sign on the dotted line. Their signature says that they understand how the team will be run (even if they may disagree with aspects of it) and it says that they will abide by the terms. It is a contract and something you always can go back to when parents, assistant coaches or players take objection. Also, get those who clearly adopt your terms to help you hold others to their pledge/commitment. (A couple of parents in the stands that are willing to self-police other parents during the games will keep you, your assistants and especially the kids focused on playing the game and having fun.)

Coaches who don't formally or informally do this at the beginning of the season often find themselves swimming in a sea of discontent later. Start the process with the assistant coaches and get that published. Then use the "coaches promises" as a way to discuss with the players how they want to be treated (playing time, treatment by coaches, teaching, field conduct etc...). Then comes the parents. Show them the coaches values/philosophy and the consensus you have reached with their children. I have found that working your way up to the parents helps keep those who want you to play Junior every minute and who want you to place winning above teaching or child development at bay. It is tougher for those who want to win at all costs to assert themselves if they understand how the coaches want to approach the season and how the children want the coaches to approach them. When you want to broach those key issues of playing time and "3 touches" make sure you have one of the parents on board and ask him/her first.

Edited by SoxFanSince57, 17 June 2011 - 05:52 PM.


#9 Finn's Dad

  • 74 posts

Posted 09 October 2011 - 06:44 PM

I want to share an experience that I had two years ago while coaching high school track and field. It was our school's first year and I was in charge of coaching both the boys and girls hurdlers, sprints, and relays. Our sprints and relays were competitive but our hurdlers were not. It was my first experience working from the ground up with a program, so that was a new challenge and I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately, the season went very differently between the boys and the girls.

First the failure story: For the boys, I initially had to recruit hurdlers and the head coach assisted with this. We targeted primarily kids that were decent athletes, but not stellar enough to make a difference in sprints. We decided on four boys - three juniors and one freshman (we did not have a senior class that first season). Initially, their interest was great and they stayed late to work on technique, but the hurdle height made it incredibly hard for them (the tallest was 5' 8" and the high hurdle height is 39"), and if they made a mistake in the race it usually resulted in falling down or having their technique thrown off completely. I worked slowly with them and set what I believed were easily obtainable goals - initially, their lowest-level goal was to break 20 seconds in the 110m hurdles, and I hoped by the end of the year I would have one under 18. Two months into the season (mid-May), they all were in the low-20's, had a defeated attitude, and laughed when they crossed the finish line last in every meet. For me, it was embarrassing. I thought it reflected poorly on my coaching skills because I couldn't get them to progress. I didn't hear grumbling from the parents, but I certainly heard it from the boys head coach. Granted, we competed in the toughest conference in the state, but it still bothered me that they weren't progressing. I reacted by taking two other students, told them that they had an opportunity to run varsity hurdles if they progressed quickly, and immediately put them to work. I hoped it would light a fire under the other kids' butts. Instead, those two new kids ended up running under 20 seconds in their first race and one went on to get to low-18's. Suddenly, we had a couple hurdlers that weren't finishing last in every race. The second season, none of those first four hurdlers returned to hurdles and only one of the two new kids at the end returned. He's run under 17 seconds now, but has some commitment problems with practice that is holding him back. I recruited additional hurdlers at the beginning of the second season and was more patient with them, especially now that I had a competitive base in my returning hurdler and we were in a less competitive conference. Second season was much better with some amazing individual results in the high and intermediate hurdle races, but overall I'd still look at it as a failure based on the struggles with maintaining the patience in the first season.

Success story: On the girls side, the head coach took a different approach. He put less pressure on me to produce results and said off the bat that it would be a learning experience, and we would be building for the future. As a result, the girls we recruited for the hurdles were all underclassmen - I had four freshman and a 7th grader as the main hurdlers, although a couple sophomores and juniors tried it out just to see if they liked it. Slowly, the girls got more and more competitive, but never near the "stud" level of our conference that first year. The dividends paid off the second year, and I had all of my girls return along with a few new runners. The second season, the girls team was more competitive in major meets than the boys team and the emphasis was definitely on winning, but because they had the basics down in low-pressure situations and also had run in major meets without the stress in their first year, they produced much better results in year two. I had one runner qualify for finals in our state section meet (finishing in the top 6 out of 30-ish runners), three runners beat the previous school record.... It was a delight.

In hindsight, the first season was a definite learning experience and when combined with the second season it shows how much of a difference that added pressure impacted the kids. I learned to keep it fun, keep it relaxed, and truly celebrate the small accomplishments, knowing that bigger and better things are possible in the future.

#10 ivanvamp


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  • 4,624 posts

Posted 17 October 2011 - 03:53 PM

My daughter's 9 year old volleyball team, Over the Top, is being coached by my wife. She played V-ball at Trinity Univ in Texas and had great coaching in Club and High School in St. Louis. I am proud of the way she's teaching these 3rd graders a five man serve-receive and imploring them to get three touches to return the ball, vs. muscleing up and one power-bump back over the net. The girls are learning ball control and passing. However, they've ended up losing some games and matches to teams they shouldn't have if they just pounded the ball back over w one hit like they did in the Fall. She's had some parental grumbling, but she's been steadfast in her commitment to this and it's starting to show returns.

Alright Coaches. Almost all of us (with younger teams especially) have felt the pressure - the pressure to score or win in the face of or at the expense of teamwork or teaching the game. The temptation of running the offense solely through the best hoops player, letting one player dribble through 6 defenders to score a soccer goal, pitching your only ace until his arm falls off.

Share with us your stories of coaches doing this, parental reaction one way or another and hopefully your or others' success stories in teaching the skills and sticking to it.


I know your original post was a while ago, but I just noticed it. I have coached youth baseball, basketball, and soccer, at both rec and competitive/travel levels, from ages 7-12. At this level, there is no doubt that the most important thing - if you care about the kids at all - is skill and, yes, character development. I cannot stand how little league coaches encourage 10-11 year olds to throw curveballs. I know they do it because it works - not many kids at that level can hit a good curve, but my goodness, they are not looking out for the best interest of the kids.

I tell my parents at the start of every season (currently I'm doing U10 soccer) what my goals are: skill and character development, and to give them a fun enough experience that they'll want to come back for another season.

I have never had a bad reaction from a parent because I am consistent in my approach and I let them know up front what the expectations are. In comp divisions, it doesn't mean giving the kids equal playing time, and it is okay to play for a win. But I never play for a win at the expense of player development.

#11 wyatt55

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Posted 19 April 2012 - 11:58 PM

Been a long time away from this thread but I want to bump it with something.

I am coaching my daughter's 10 year old modified kid pitch softball team this year. Little pitching, a couple girls new to the sport, new rules. We knew it was going to be a challenge this year (after a very successful - skills and w/l record last year). The girls have been improving slowly all season, tho we were 0-5 going into tonight. Some hard work and a couple breaks and they won their first game, 8-5. Sonic for everyone tonight.

But that's not the reason I am posting. While brushing up on girls softball pitching mechanics pre-season, I came across the following 5 part YouTube video. It is the adidas futures camp welcome speech delivered by UCLA coach Sue Enquist in 2009. It is possibly the best encapsulated coaching philosophy and life skills session I've seen. Everything from self esteem (important for boys but especially for girls), respecting the sport, focus on what happens inside the lines, mental part of the game and positivity, many different body types and skills can be valuable, etc. just great stuff.

I've used a lot of this bit by bit all year. Some of great coaching is cheating off the smart kids. "no barfing!". I love it. watch this whole thing, even in small doses but watch it. Absolute gold in here. I've even used the "two claps!" to great effect when I need the girls to focus on me.

Enjoy.


http://m.youtube.com...h?v=BxhWot7QHc8