Team Management and Culture Resources

 7 Things to Avoid When Raising Good Decision-Makers

7 Things to Avoid When it Comes to Raising Good Decision-Makers 

In youth sports

Young athletes are faced with a constant barrage of decisions, ranging from when they should take a shot to what sports they ultimately want to play. But logical, careful decision-making isn’t always a skill that comes naturally — it’s often a skill that needs to be nurtured. It can be a challenge for parents and coaches to find a balance between helping athletes develop those decision-making skills through trial and error while also ensuring that athletes find some success along the way.

Dr. Jim Taylor, a sport psychologist and parenting expert, has a unique expertise in helping parents and coaches raise well-rounded athletes who not only excel in sport, but who are able to make rational, well-thought-out decisions from an early age. Here, he talks about the biggest mistakes he sees adults make when it comes to raising a good decision-maker.
Not Understanding Your Role 

In early stages of development, when a child’s executive functioning isn’t entirely developed, it can be a challenge for them to make a rational decision. You need to pay attention to your child’s maturity levels (which can ebb and flow over time) and adjust your role in the decision-making process accordingly.

“The role of the parent in decision-making evolves as your child grows,” Taylor says. “It starts as dictator, where you have all the power; then it goes to governor, where you’re giving them some options to choose from; then to consultant, where they consult you for feedback on good decisions; then you become a sounding board, where you’re just listening to them puzzle through decisions. You’re progressively ceding control.”
Offering Too Much Choice 

“It’s trendy to focus on ownership and agency, letting kids have a sense of control over their lives,” says Taylor. “But they’ll make millions of decisions throughout their lives, they don’t need to make 50 today. It’s exhausting and confusing.”

It’s okay to moderate some of the decisions your athlete needs to make. Taylor adds, “I use the metaphor of forks in the road. Children are constantly faced with forks in the road: it might be just two, it might be ten choices. We need to help our kids learn to recognize the forks in the road, what the options really are and narrow them down.

Research has shown that the more options you’re faced with, the harder it is to make decisions.”
Offering Too Little Choice

On the other side of the spectrum are the parents who don’t offer children any agency, whether it’s choosing their sports for them, laying out clothes to wear, and picking their books to read. Coaches can have the same problem, laying out the game play-by-play and micromanaging athletes until they feel like pawns rather than players.

“Don’t make all of your kid’s decisions,” says Taylor. “Once they become old enough to choose things for themselves, we need to start offering some choices.”
Offering Choices That Don’t Exist

“Often, we make an attempt to give a kid a sense of agency where none exists, with the hope that they will make the ‘right’ decision,” says Taylor. “That’s disingenuous. Don’t offer them decisions in areas where you’re not actually going to honor their choices.”
Saying a Decision is Wrong or Bad

Raising a good decision-maker doesn’t mean raising a child who always makes the right decision, just one who is capable of being decisive, weighing both sides of an argument, and coming to a firm conclusion. If a child chooses soccer when you think he should play baseball, don’t tell him that was the wrong decision.

“Decision-making is a skill, it comes with experience, but it takes confidence. So when you allow a kid to make a decision, it’s not just about that specific decision. It’s about boosting their ability to make a decision later on,” Taylor adds. “You want them to sometimes make bad decisions because that’s how they’ll learn to make good decisions.”
Letting Your Child Avoid Decisions

If you’re the parent or coach of a child who’s obedient to a fault, that may not be an entirely positive thing. “There are some kids who are naturally risk-averse and don’t want to make the wrong decision,” says Taylor. “That fear of failure can be problematic down the road. They start attaching fear to making bad decisions.”

Start pushing the child to make small-scale decisions. Rather than picking your child’s clothes because he or she can’t decide what to wear, Taylor suggests offering two options (the red shirt or the blue shirt). That way, your child is still making a small decision, but it likely won’t be paralyzing.
Not Talking About Decision-Making

Making a choice might seem obvious to you as an adult, but kids need to be taught how to make decisions and that doesn’t come naturally. “Talk through decisions, look at how to list the options, and discuss the costs and benefits of each. Talk about which is the right thing to do. Talk about what is in your kid’s best interest,” says Taylor.

Taylor recommends following up on decisions: have the conversation with your athlete a few weeks after a decision to check in on how that choice looks now. “You can’t go back in time to change that decision, but if you have a period of reflection and talk through it, you might not make the same decision again.”

Remember, you’re a role model for your athlete. Decisions are ultimately made based on core values, and to raise an ethical decision-maker means walking the walk.

“Teach kids to be deliberate about decisions,” Taylor says.

“Whatever you value, you’ll make decisions that align with that. If you value winning at all costs, you might take performance-enhancing drugs. If you value sportsmanship, you won’t. And those values may transfer to your kids,” says Taylor. “Instilling healthy, positive values in kids is the foundation for making those good decisions.”

And while it can be maddening waiting for a child to make a decision when you’re trying to tick an item off of your to-do list, remember that you’re not trying to raise someone who can make abrupt decisions. You’re trying to raise a child who can make measured, carefully considered decisions.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 Coaching Philosophy

Coaching Philosophy

Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer

Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer discusses how what you should emphasize when building your coaching philosophy, and what your purpose should be as the leader of the team. To have your questions answered by Michael Cuddyer, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Michael Cuddyer is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development blog, and is a 15-year MLB veteran and two-time All-Star, spending his career playing for the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and the New York Mets. A member of the USA Baseball 18U National Team in 1996 and 1997, Cuddyer was then named the 1997 Virginia Player of the Year, Gatorade National Player of the Year, and was a member of USA Today’s All-Star team. He was selected ninth overall in the 1997 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.

 Unifying Leadership

Unifying Leadership

FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster

In the coming weeks and months, teams for all sports and all seasons will begin to take shape.  Experienced upperclassmen will return to college campuses and high school grounds just as wide-eyed newcomers will have no idea what they are in for.  At some schools, veteran players will “welcome” their younger teammates to the club by having them carry equipment bags, pick up garbage, and fill water jugs, along with other forms of initiation, in the name of tradition and paying dues.

Meanwhile, at hopefully many, many more schools, the old will genuinely welcome the new, in the real meaning of the word. 

Back in May, right in the midst of a run to the Stanley Cup Finals, Boston Bruins team captain Zdeno Chara was asked about how his team has blended so well. His answer went viral. 

“No matter if someone is 18 or 40, somebody who has 1,000 games or playing their first game, we treat each other with respect and the same way as everybody else in the locker room. I didn’t like the separation inside of the team between younger players and older players, players who have accomplished something, players who are just coming into the league.  I don’t like to use the word rookie. They are our teammates… Once you’re a team, you’re a team, regardless of the age or accomplishments.”

In a sport with arguably more tradition than all others combined, the captain for one of the NHL’s best teams actively chooses to make his teammates feel, well, like a part of the team.

The best teams in sport aren’t always the most talented, but rather the clubs who collectively work together better than the rest as a cohesive unit, with everyone pulling the rope in the same direction.  Of course, success requires talent. But as history has taught us, success goes beyond talent. Much of this true sense of team is built from a culture whose foundation is set by leaders like Chara with the goal to unify. The toxic sense of selfish individuality that permeates through bad teams is developed in a very similar manner of including… by excluding. 

There is a very simple and incredibly impactful way to create a positive environment amongst old and new: sweep the sheds. 

In the book Legacy, author James Kerr gives an inside look at the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team who just happens to be one of the most successful sports teams in the history of sports who, at the time of publishing, held a winning percentage of .770. How this club has been able to enjoy so much sustained success is more impressive than their record itself; they attribute their success as much to their culture as they do their talent. 

Part of that culture includes the mantra of sweeping the sheds, where all members of the All Blacks live the tradition that no individual is bigger than the team or those who came before them when it comes to doing their job, both on and off the field. They take as much pride in keeping their locker room clean (sweeping their shed) as they do competing against opposing world powers in rugby.
No one is too good to do something.  When the biggest star or the most experienced veteran are themselves doing the most remedial tasks, like carrying equipment, like picking up trash, like filling water jugs, the newcomers can’t help but notice and will tend to quickly fall in line themselves, just as the All Blacks have done over time.  They are leading by doing the things that no one wants to do, which, ironically, makes everyone else WANT to do them.  This type of leadership bonds and team and its players far better than any words possibly could.

At one point or another, every single player was a rookie. Every single student-athlete was once a freshman. Every single star was the new guy way back when.  For some, it’s an easy transition. For others, it’s an overwhelming one. They ALL want to be a part of the team, sooner rather than later. That team is a simple, conscious decision; an intentional decision made by its leaders, choosing to create that team by unifying one another; new, old, and everyone in between.
Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.

 El Juego Libre

El Juego Libre 

USA Baseball 

El juego libre, o el juego deliberado, supone las actividades de desarrollo físico que son intrínsecamente motivadoras, que proveen gratificación inmediata y que son diseñadas específicamente para maximizar el placer. Las actividades del juego deliberado ocurren típicamente entre los 6 y los 14 años e incluyen juegos clásicos del vecindario como el béisbol de jardín trasero y el basquetbol de calle.  Estos juegos normalmente consisten en equipos pequeños con reglas flexibles y definidos por los pares.

¿Por qué promover el juego libre?

El juego libre ofrece muchos beneficios. Estos beneficios incluyen:

 Facilitar una pasión y un amor por el juego a través de la exploración del juego.
 Permitir una motivación intrínseca para el éxito.
 Promover el desarrollo como atleta entero.
 Estimular el desarrollo del cerebro a través de aumentar la resolución creativa de problemas, los procesos de pensamiento, la adaptación y la resolución de conflictos.
 Fomentar el desarrollo social a través de la creación de reglas y del trabajo en equipo.
 Aumentar la autonomía, la motivación y el placer.

¿Cómo pueden promover los entrenadores el juego libre?

Los entrenadores desempeñan un papel importante en la promoción del juego libre.

 Permitir que los jugadores resuelvan sus propios problemas y trabajen juntos en equipo para resolver los conflictos.
 Dar a los jugadores acceso al equipo, y permitir que los jugadores determinen cuál juego van a jugar.
 Dedicar cierta parte del entrenamiento para que los jugadores puedan participar en el juego libre.
 Animar a los jugadores a participar en el juego libre en casa.
 Permitir que los jugadores participen en actividades de juego libre antes de los partidos.

¿Cuándo debe ocurrir el juego libre?

El juego libre puede ocurrir en cualquier momento, sea en los entrenamientos, antes de los partidos o en casa. Los entrenadores pueden planear para que los jugadores participen en el juego libre antes de, durante o después de los entrenamientos como parte del plan completo de entrenamiento. Antes de los partidos, los entrenadores pueden animar a los jugadores a empezar el calentamiento con el juego libre, o pueden permitir que los jugadores se mantengan relajados antes del partido a través de participar en actividades de juego libre. Los  jugadores pueden participar en el juego libre en cualquier momento cuando están en casa.

Recomendación de USA Baseball

USA Baseball recomienda que se permita que los jugadores participen en actividades de juego libre durante los últimos 10 minutos del entrenamiento para promover el placer y el aprendizaje del juego.

Ejemplos de actividades de juego libre
 El béisbol de jardín trasero
 Pepper
 Wall Ball
 Stick Ball
 Sock Ball
 Pickle
 Wiffle Ball
 Vitilla
 Kickball

 Blending the Old With the New

Blending the Old With The New

FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster

The baseball industry is in a very interesting place right now. The lens through which players, coaches, and fans now see the game has probably changed more in the last five years than it had in the previous 50. 

In 2015, Major League Baseball integrated Statcast in all 30 if its ballparks, opening up a completely new way to analytically think about the game through this state-of-the art tracking system that collected baseball data was never previously recorded, let alone even thought about. As such, launch angle, exit velocity, and route efficiency were born.  And thanks to a few other devices, spin rate, pitch axis, and attack angle came to life soon thereafter.

These technologies have significantly changed the way many coaches coach, many players train, and in turn, the way many teams play.  Pitchers are throwing harder than ever, where the offensive approach of working counts to get into a team’s bullpen is a thing of the past. Hitters are elevating the ball at a rate that we’ve never seen before, while swinging and missing at a frequency that would drive a little league coach nuts. 

Some argue that Statcast has had a negative impact on the game with a focus on these new metrics rather than the game itself, but that view is short-sighted. For years, coaches have used radar guns and stopwatches as a means to evaluate players. Measurables are not new by any means; there are just far more of them now thanks to the technologies that have developed in recent years.  

Old school coaches often lament at the new technology and those who extensively employ it, sarcastically questioning how players ever managed to get better without every single part of a hitter’s swing or pitcher’s delivery being tracked like it is now. The new school regime of coaches often mock the time-tested coaches and their approach to development by discounting anything that has been done forever, foolishly asserting that the game has passed those others by.

There has never been a bigger disconnect within the game between the old and the new than there is now. But, just like with everything else in life, there needs to be balance.  Discarding something that is productive just because it is “old school” is just as naïve as implementing something new solely because it’s new. Experience can be one of the game’s best teachers. And today’s technologies and analytics can make that experience that much more valuable.

Two years ago at the ABCA National Convention in Dallas, Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch took to the stage and told the group of more than 6,000 baseball coaches in attendance, “if you still coach the same way you did five years ago, someone in your league has passed you by.” But that doesn’t mean you throw away everything you knew and everything you did a short time ago. It simply means you grow and continue to learn the game in an effort to get better.  That growth isn’t new school, and it isn’t old school. It’s the best of both schools. 

Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.