Sport Performance and Mental Skills Resources

 Coaching & Developing Athletes: Transform How You Lead

Coaching & Developing Athletes: Transform How You Lead

Beyond the Diamond
By Dr. Anne Shadle

Coaching Today’s Athletes

A question that seems to be pretty common when presenting on such topics as athlete development, sport psychology, and coaching education is, “What do you think about the ‘everyone gets a trophy’ philosophy?” The short answer is that I do not agree with the “everyone gets a trophy” philosophy. Life requires more than just showing up and then being rewarded.

I see a few problems with this:

1. This philosophy and perspective do not help prepare the next generation of young athletes for the real world. Life is hard! Challenges and failures happen and are a part of life. It is part of the human experience. However, it is how we learn to work through those challenges and failures and continue to move forward in which we hone the skills to be successful in our sport, in jobs, in marriages, and in our families.

2. Giving kids a trophy just for showing up devalues the trophy. Kids are smart. Kids know when the trophy is not necessarily symbolic of their hard work and dedication. Kids know when they are not as good at throwing or catching as their friend. Kids need to know that differences are okay and are part of being on a team. Challenges and failures help us understand what kids need to be taught so that they can experience improvement and success.

As coaches, teachers, and parents, we walk with athletes on their journeys. We have to let young athletes go through their failures, experience hard times, and help them keep moving forward in their life journey in spite of the challenges they face. It is our job as coaches, teachers, and parents to give young athletes the tools, so they can better navigate challenges and manage their life. This is autonomy. Giving young athletes choice, allowing choices, and living with consequences help them learn this process.

Let’s be upfront right now and admit our young athletes have not raised and do not coach themselves. Kids live, learn, experience, and absorb the environment around them. Our young athletes absorb messages from parents, coaches, teachers, and media. Kids consciously and unconsciously begin to shape themselves to fit into their environments.

Researcher and author, Jean Twenge, cites in her book, Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before, that “Young people today have to overcome many difficult challenges. We have such higher expectations for our young kids. ‘Good’ is no longer good enough.”

I think we can all agree that good is no longer good enough. The pressure on young athletes to “brand” themselves comes very early, especially in sport. This, combined with an increasingly competitive and get-ahead sport environment, has led to a darker flip side. This is an environment where coaches, parents, and athletes blame each other for their problems and credit only themselves for their success. Why? Young athletes do not know and have not been taught how to manage all of the external pressure. Many young people today have been taught to put their own needs first and to do what is best for them so that they “feel good.” However, this perspective is not conductive to following social rules nor does it help in supporting the team’s needs over the individuals.

Here is a case study example of an athlete with the “feel good/me first” mentality involving the common conflicting decision to focus on club sports/travel ball instead of high school sports, which many thinks will advance their athletic career faster. In this case study, we have a young athlete who chooses not to play his sport with his friends on his high school team, playing only on a club team. He goes to college, stays two years then transfers to another college because he is not getting the playing time he wants and thinks he deserves. He does not get along well with his teammates and coaches, and he blames them for his failures.

In this example, the young athlete will need a lot of relationship work to get him to be a team player and connect with his teammates. It will also take a lot of re-wiring and a change in perspective to better understand team goals and togetherness. Team relationships and peer connection have not felt natural to him in sport. To be a leader and a good teammate requires the ability to relate and connect to all members of the team. How would you help this young athlete? I believe he would have been better served to learn team building skills and with that, how to build positive relationships earlier in life and in sport.

The next generation of kids are smart kids! We do not give them enough credit with their understanding of the world and of technology unless they need to help us set up our new iPhone. Nevertheless, technology has also been the source of the world moving and advancing very quickly. We adults, parents, and coaches have not had time to reflect on the impact that it has had on the next generation. These kids did not create the iPhone; they have grown up with the iPhone. It is my belief that technology has shifted many of our young athletes from intrinsic motivation to extrinsic motivation.

An example of this shift is the focus and perceived importance that young people have about how many followers they have on Instagram. They are concerned – and some, obsessed – with how many likes they get on their photos, as opposed to how many life-giving, deep, meaningful friendships they have. Young people today have issues knowing how to build friendships. I asked a group of 18-year-old college freshmen in one of the classes I teach about their true friendships. I asked if they have a best friend and if they believe they have friends in their life that they can trust. They shared with me how hard it is to build friendships and to know whom they can trust. Most reported not having a best friend they could trust.

Sports give young people the opportunity to build long-lasting friendships. In sports, we see ourselves, friends and teammates experience success and failure. We see the results of working hard and pushing our own limits. In sports and in a team, we see each other’s vulnerability. Through this vulnerability, we have the opportunity to bond, to learn, to grow, to encourage, and to celebrate success together. We also learn how to deal with our own failure, conflict, and frustration, and to help others through theirs.

How can we help answer this challenge to the next generation?

Twenge’s perspective is to ditch the self-esteem movement. From her research, she believes that this can lead to the self-centeredness, self-absorption, and narcissism, which are linked to aggression and poor relationships with others (Twenge, 2014). Based on this research, there should be no more sport trophies for participation; life requires more than just showing up. We should reward performance, effort, and consideration for others, not just participation. Twenge suggests instead that the focus shift from “feeling good” and “take care of yourself” to learning self-control and understanding delayed gratification. Focus on the good behavior and performance skills that lead to success. Kids also need to learn how to control their emotions and reactions through self-regulation - more about this in my next blog post.

Reflection questions:

1. How do you cultivate realistic expectations based on the age and developmental level of the child?

2. How do you as a coach, adult, and parent understand the delicate balance of positive praise and false praise? (Example: I like the way you talked to Robert after he struck out. You did a nice job with that catch; you had your glove in the right position.)

3. In an op-ed piece for The New York Times, Ashley Merryman suggests that there are only three trophies needed in baseball: 1. Best Overall 2. Most Improved 3. Best Sportsmanship. Do you agree? Are there others you would add?

4. How do you model, teach, and reward self-control and hard work?

Dr. Anne Shadle, Ph.D., is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, is a certified consultant in Sport Psychology CC-AASP and is a member of the United States Olympic Committee’s Sport Psychology registry. She also serves on the Athlete Advisory Committee for USA Track and Field (USATF) and currently is the President-appointed committee chair for Psychological Services for USATF. She is heavily involved with coaching education and certification for the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and USATF. Shadle received her Bachelor of Science in Education and Human Sciences from the University of Nebraska, where she also ran track and field. She was a two-time National Champion in the mile and 1500 meter distances before going on to run professionally for Reebok and compete in the 2008 Olympic Trials.



A list of stretches to increase flexibility

Flexibility is key in reducing injuries. The exercises provided can be performed to increase flexibility and prepare the body for play. No equipment is required. Each stretch should be held for a count of 10 before moving to the next stretch.

Arm Circles 1

Arm Circles 2

Arm Swings 1

Arm Swings 2

Reverse Arm Circles 1

Reverse Arm Circles 2

Triceps 1

Triceps 2

Trunk Rotations 1

Trunk Rotations 2

Wrist Extension Stretch

Wrist Flexion Stretch

Calf Stretch

Crossover Hamstring

Figure 4


Hip Flexor

Laying Knee to Chest

Leg Across

Leg Across Stretch

Seated Knee to Chest

Seated Straddle 1

Seated Straddle 2

Seated Straddle 3

Seated Trunk Twist

Side Laying Quad

Squat Groin

Straddle Stretch 1

Straddle Stretch 2

Straddle Stretch 3

 Change-of-Direction Drills

Change-of-Direction Drills

A series of drills to strengthen your players direction skills


A series of dynamic walking and lunge exercise performed over a 10-15-yard grid.

Each exercise should be performed walking out 10-15 yards with a short rest and back to the start line. (See Ballistic Walking exercise pictures for exercise descriptions.)


On a flat smooth surface, measure out and mark a 10-yard grid. As fast as possible, move up and down the grid using the four standard footwork patterns. Remember, decelerate in the shortest possible distance, always with quiet feet. Up and Back = 1 repetition: Rest 1 minute between sets.

• Sprint - Sprint x 2
• Sprint - Backpedal x 2
• Backpedal - Backpedal x 2
• Shuffle - Shuffle x 2

5-10-5 DRILL

Out and back to cone 1 = 1 repetition

Pattern: Starting at cone # 1, sprint out and around cone # 2; sprint out and around cone # 3; sprint out and up to cone # 4; touch cone # 4 and repeat pattern back to cone # 1.

• Sprint - Sprint 1-2 sets x 2reps
• Sprint - Backpedal 1-2 sets x 2reps
• Shuffle - Shuffle 1-2 sets x 2reps

Rest 1 minute between sets.


Pattern: From cone # 1, sprint out and around each cone, to cone # 7 (equals 1 repetition).

Rest 30-45 seconds at cone # 7 and repeat the pattern back to cone # 1.

• Sprint - Sprint 1-2 sets x 2reps
• Sprint - Backpedal 1-2 sets x 2reps
• Shuffle - Shuffle 1-2 sets x 2reps

Rest 1 minute between sets.


• Always face the same direction.
• Try not to look for the cone when backpedaling; use your peripheral vision as much as possible and change direction as soon as you see the cone.
• Use a three-step change of direction: Plant / Transfer / Accelerate.

You can change the size of the grid for variation.


Pattern: Sprint to 1st cone / back to start, sprint to 2nd cone / back to start, sprint to 3rd cone / back to start = 60 yards total.

• Sprint - Sprint x 1rep
• Sprint - Backpedal x 1rep
• Shuffle - Shuffle x 1rep

Repeat entire program 2 times.

Rest 1 minute between sets.

 It Starts with an Athlete

It Starts with an Athlete

By Dr. Peter Gorman

As another year of amateur baseball slowly comes to a close, it is a time for rest, and it is time for reflection. The big wins, the heartbreaking losses and all the games in between….one common goal will exist amongst all players preparing for next year, the desire to improve.

Before we can begin mapping out the upcoming off-season training schedule it’s important to recognize where you were, where you are and where you’re going; physically, mentally and yes, in terms of skill. In considering our approach to performance we will discuss first and foremost, and that process starts with the athlete, not the ballplayer, the athlete.

Have you ever heard the following?

• He’s not seeing the ball well.
• You’re starting your swing late.
• He has more range to his left than his right.
• I got a bad jump.

There were moments of failure over the course of the season that didn’t originate from a lack of skill, but rather because there were inefficiencies in our ability to recognize, process and react to given situations? Baseball requires all position players, to be able and agile in all directions for effective play. Baseball requires all pitchers to have optimal balance, timing and coordination, to ensure the effortless release of the ball. Baseball requires all batters to have exceptional eye for detail, and speed of processing so that even the fastest pitch…remains hittable.

To reach this type of optimal performance, every player must be evaluated for strengths and more importantly, every player needs to be evaluated for weaknesses. You are only as strong as your weakest link. To help every player achieve their type of ability, we are creating both subjective and objective development protocols so that asymmetries can be identified and eliminated. By combining subjective tests with objective measures, we can cover all the basics of athletic movement and paint a very precise picture of who you are and what you need to do to improve as you train. Of course, all players will also train their own sport-specific movements, but whether you are an outfielder, pitcher, or a shortstop, you will have the solid foundation needed to one-day reach your potential.

As the National Governing Body of the sport, USA Baseball is focused on understanding the health of our participants across the nation. With the use of equipment such as OptoJump, GYKO, WITTY, and more we can now detect movement efficiency to a millisecond of accuracy, both on and off the field. By precisely understanding movement, asymmetries can be identified and eliminated so that injuries can be prevented, compensations can be eliminated, and the mentorship of our game’s great trainers and coaches will be delivered to a more able generation of athletes. We’re committed to working with other organizations across the amateur game who’ll follow our lead in first identifying the gaps in an athletes’ potential, and then provide the curriculum necessary to foster longer, healthier careers.

Through this series of work, we aim to help you prepare your athletes for success whether they be big league players or big-league citizens. We’re committed across the entire spectrum of human performance and we believe in the athlete in all of us.

Dr. Peter Gorman is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is widely referred to as the developer of heart rate monitor technology and owns seven major patents in the United States and Canada. He was named President of Microgate USA in 2010 and became an adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport Chiropractic College in 2012. He later joined CourtSense, developing innovative and logical progression that helps athletes attain symmetry and better coordination. Dr. Gorman has previous experience working with the United States Military, as well as sports leagues and franchises around the world including those associated with Major League Baseball, FIFA, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and the United States Olympic Committee.

 Developmental Model of Sport Participation

Developmental Model of Sport Participation

Quality Coaching Framework

A complementary model to LTAD is the developmental model of sport participation (DMSP), a model that breaks athlete development into three stages. The DMSP is grounded in the belief that, due to the unique demands of each sport and wide variance in individual athlete development profiles, no specified ages or lengths of time can be associated with each of its three phases.

1. Sampling phase. Athletes take part in multiple sport activities and develop all-around foundational movement skills in an environment characterized by fun and enjoyment. Participation in this phase should not be restricted by skill level, because the goal is to maximize participation and expose athletes to the sport.
2. Specializing phase. Athletes begin to focus on fewer sports, possibly favoring one in particular as training demands increase. Participation opportunities may decrease at this phase, and athletes are typically grouped by skill level.
3. Investment phase. Athletes commit to achieving a high level of performance in a specific sport. This phase of athlete sport participation is typically limited to a small group of athletes who are identified as showing promise for high-level performance.

The DMSP phases are intended to provide a general framework for considering how athletes are developing and the type of coach they need as they move through the different phases.

Two points of emphasis in DMSP have important implications for coaching: unstructured play and sport diversification. Although it is clear that a high amount of focused, deliberate practice is needed to become a skilled athlete, research shows that expert athletes grow up in environments that allow for frequent play. Deliberate practice is challenging and requires intense focus. If coaches fail to counterbalance such focused practice with opportunities for free play, they place their athletes at increased risk of emotional and physical burnout and overuse injuries. Free play activities are organized and led by the athletes themselves to maximize enjoyment and intrinsic motivation. The most beneficial balance between deliberate practice and informal, unstructured free play will vary based on performance level, the point in the competition season and the particular makeup of the team. Coaches who most adeptly provide the proper mix of deliberate practice and free play do the best job of fostering their athletes’ talent development (see figure 4.3).

The DMSP also addresses the issue of early sport specialization by encouraging sport diversification, or sampling. Early sport diversification has proven to lead to longer, more successful involvement in sport. Early sport specialization generally fails to help athletes achieve their best performances later in their career, which is the goal of LTAD.

Considerable evidence shows that high-performance athletes sample many different sports, as opposed to specializing in just one sport at an early age. Most college and Olympic athletes in the United States played multiple sports until high school, and college coaches typically prefer recruiting multisport athletes. Sport sampling is also one of the key recommendations of the International Olympic Committee consensus statement on athlete development. Due to the unique competition demands of each sport, there is no common age recommendation for when athletes may need to transition from sport sampling to sport specialization. In sports such as gymnastics, where elite-level performance is commonly achieved at a young age, LTAD timelines obviously require some modification.

Takeaway: A coach’s foremost duty is to serve athletes’ best interests, doing so in an ethical manner. The Four C’s provide a useful set of comprehensive athlete-centered outcomes around which coaches can both plan and assess their success. The USOC’s Ethics Code for Coaches offers coaches a sound, values-based reference to guide their actions.