Team Management and Culture Resources

 The Risks of Sports Specialization

The Risks of Sports Specialization 

Diamond Doc
By Dr. Marc Richard

Dr. Marc Richard, Orthopedic Surgeon at Duke University and USA Baseball Sport Development Contributor, discusses the risks involved in specializing in only one sport as a youth athlete, including psychological burnout and overuse injuries. 

Marc Richard, MD, is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is an Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Duke University, specializing in elbow, wrist and hand injuries. Dr. Richard’s research evaluates the clinical outcomes of fractures of the upper extremity, with a particular interest in wrist and elbow fractures and improving ways to treat elbow arthritis in young patients. He also has a clinical and research interest in adolescent elbow throwing injuries.

 Why It's Important to Avoid Tension on the Sidelines

Why It's Important to Avoid Tension On The Sidelines

In youth sports

"I joke that when my daughter was playing tennis, I was just a chauffeur taking her to practice. And sometimes, that’s all kids really need you to be,” says Dr. Patrick Cohn, a sports psychologist at Peak Performance Sports. He’s only partially joking…most parents could benefit from decreasing their tension and taking a more passive role when it comes to youth sports. 

"We tell parents that their only goal is to make sure that their kids are having fun. Your job is to support kids when it's appropriate,” Cohn adds. With that in mind, here’s why and how to avoid being tense and distracting on the sidelines.

Sideline Coaching

Your goal as a parent may be to see your child having fun, but research has shown that sideline behavior rarely reflects that goal. "Shouting instructions from the sidelines is a major no-no,” says Cohn. Not just because it’s irritating for the other parents, but because it can actually hurt your child’s performance.” 

“Remember, the coach is there to coach the kids, and having another person shouting can also make them lose focus, get embarrassed, or feel pressure to perform perfectly for the parents shouting instructions all the time,” Cohn adds.

Your ‘Cheering’ Style

Showing up with your face painted in team colors while the other parents are in business casual? Try not to stand out too much. 

"Pay attention to the cues from the other parents. Parents should be cheerleaders, reinforcing when they’re playing well but not overdoing it,” says Cohn. "Depending on the sport, there are different rules of behavior. Golf has quiet clapping, hockey has more yelling.” 

“If you know you have trouble controlling your temper and what you do on the sidelines, I recommend you watch the game from afar where your athlete can’t see you. Watch up on a balcony, or even behind a tree…if you truly want your athlete to have more fun and be more focused, take yourself out of the equation if you know you’re a distraction." 

Handling a Bad Call

Your anger with a bad call in a child’s game may be the same rage you feel on the road, which research had shown is tied to ego defensiveness and a control-oriented mindset. Angry reactions on the sideline often happen because parents make the game about them and take events personally. Even if you think you’re being subtle when you disagree with a ‘bad call,’ your child likely is picking up on it. 

“Your tension is extremely obvious to young athletes, and to yell at people around you is actually disrespectful to your kids,” Cohn says. Instead, let bad calls be a learning opportunity for them. If the umpire makes a call you don’t agree with, that’s OK. 

You won’t agree with every call, and the umpire might even be in the wrong. But if you complain every time you disagree, you’re teaching your child that that behavior is acceptable in life. Keep in mind that your child will have to deal with a teacher or boss who isn’t always fair and can’t always rely on you to ‘fix’ everything.  

Non-Verbal Behaviors

"Kids are easily distracted during games. If you’re arguing on the sidelines with another parent, they’re likely going to notice, be embarrassed, and even alter their performance,” says Cohn. "If I roll my eyes, my daughter can see from 50 yards away.”

“I try to teach athletes to stay focused on the field or court, but that’s hard. Kids pick up on parents’ non-verbal cues. I’ve heard parents tell me that they got up to use the restroom, but their athlete assumed they had gotten up because they were upset with the child’s performance. If a kid is feeling your tension, they tend to start playing safer and more tentatively, in fear of making mistakes." 

Dr. Cohn concludes, "From a long-term perspective, the athlete won’t have as much fun in the sport [if they’re worried about their parents on the sidelines], because they’re so tuned into what they think their parent is feeling during their game, which can lead to them leaving the sport altogether." 

Bottomline: Knowing how to best support your athlete is key in creating a positive sport experience for not only your athlete, but also for their team and the rest of the parents on the sidelines supporting their athletes.

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.

 The Opportunity to Put On a Uniform

The Opportunity to Put On a Uniform 

Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer

Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer discusses why it is important to take pride in putting on a jersey, and the special opportunity to play the game you love. 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.

 How to Welcome New Teammates

How to Welcome New Teammates 

In youth sports 

Being the new athlete on a team can be one of the scariest experiences for a young athlete, and as a coach, you have the power to improve – or worsen – the situation. While you’re likely busy running practices and preparing for competition, taking time to help new athletes assimilate onto your team can shape an athlete’s entire sporting experience. Dr. Tasha Belix, a registered psychologist, shares best practices on how coaches can prepare themselves and their team for new members.
Prepare for a New Athlete

Whether it’s before the season starts or before the first practice, start a conversation with your new athlete by asking a few questions to get to know them better. That preparation can help you determine the best way to make sure the ‘new kid’ is seamlessly integrated onto the team.

If an athlete is shy and would prefer not to be put on the spot at the first practice, try assigning them one or two ‘buddies’ to help show them the ropes. For more outgoing athletes, encourage them to lead one of the simpler drills and do a more traditional ‘getting-to-know-you’ introduction.

Belix suggests that there’s no right way to introduce every athlete, and the more tailored you can make that first meeting, the better the athlete will feel afterwards.

Make a Team Plan

“Let your team know a new person is coming before they show up, if possible,” says Belix. “Don’t always rely on the same person to step up and help the new athlete through the first practice.”

Encourage your entire team to take on a leadership role and take the opportunity to ‘buddy’ up with their new teammate. It will help your team get to know the new player on their own and relieve the stress on the newcomer to initiate every conversation.
Keep an Eye on the New Kid

While you should let the new athlete integrate into the team naturally, you should also be on the lookout for bad behavior from your players.

“If you see the new athlete being treated poorly, of course you need to act on that,” says Belix. This means acting as early as possible versus waiting for a situation to become more dire – bullying can be subtle. “Trust your gut. You may need to have a chat with athletes and hold them accountable.”
Check-in After Practice

Try to make time for a quick one-on-one with the new athlete after practice, without singling him out. “Have a quick conversation about how the practice went, if they are feeling comfortable, if they need anything, or if they have any questions or concerns,” Belix says.
Often, after the initial introduction, a coach assumes that a new athlete is integrating fine, but this check-in process can help an athlete feel heard. Belix adds that if the new athlete is chatting with their teammates, postpone talking with them versus interrupting.
As a coach, it can be hard to step back and let the new athlete on the team integrate on their own terms, but it’s necessary. Remember that “some kids are less social than others and that’s fine,” says Belix.

“Don’t necessarily assume that an athlete isn’t fitting in if they’re not immediately making friends. Pushing a new athlete will likely just make them feel uncomfortable – give those athletes space if they seem to be happy otherwise.”

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.

 The Power of One Play

The Power of One Play 

FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster

The final score read 16-1.  The Red Sox win over the Yankees put them just one victory away from advancing to the ALCS in last year’s playoffs. Boston collected 18 hits for the game, including four from second baseman Brock Holt, who hit for the first cycle in postseason history.

But it was a single, non-descript, non-scoring play in the top of the 3rd inning that changed the whole complexion of the game, and in turn, the series. As the Sox lead 1-0, left fielder Andrew Benintendi stepped to the plate with Mookie Betts on first base and nobody out when he blooped a single towards the left field line. Such a soft and shallow hit generally wouldn’t allow a runner on first to advance beyond second base.  When he realized Andrew McCutchen was in no position to throw him out, Betts saw a window of opportunity to go from first to third and challenged the Yankees’ left fielder to make a play on him. 

The safe play in this situation- especially with nobody out- would have been for Betts to hold at second, which would have kept Benintendi at first with the meat of the order coming up. But the Red Sox did not get to where there were by playing it safe; they continued playing the same aggressive style of baseball that got them into the postseason in the first place. 

The result: Betts slid safely into third well ahead of the throw, and Benintendi alertly took second base without breaking stride and without being contested when he read the play in front of him. Not only did the aggressive play put two runners in scoring position, it also eliminated a potential double play, and perhaps most importantly, it set the tone for the game that would shellshock the Yankees. 

Both Betts and Benintendi would score in the inning, and while the Yankees minimized the damage and hit in the bottom half only down 3-0, it was a clear swing of momentum that anyone watching the game could feel. The flood gates would open in the 4th when the Red Sox essentially put the game away with a seven-run rally to jump out to a 10-0 lead.  Game.  Set.  Match.  

As we move into the final few weeks of the Major League Baseball season with a World Series crown on the line, just a single play can change everything. That play may happen on the very first pitch of the game, or sometime in the innings that follow with something that may not even appear in the box score, like an outfielder throwing the ball to the right base. Or an infielder making a diving play on a hit to save a run. Or runners taking the extra base. 

When players are made aware of how much momentum can impact our game, along with the types of plays that can create those swings in their favor, all of a sudden they will take the field looking to change their own games with a newfound attention to details to do things right. There is a microscope that comes over the game in October, one where almost every pitch can be dissected ad nauseum.  Perhaps this year’s champion will be able to look back on its run and point to a single play that made that run possible. THAT… is the power of a single play. 

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.