Youth Coaching Certification

Youth Coaching Certification

Youth Coaching Certification. The old “sheepskin on the wall”  thing.  You know … that piece of paper that is always framed and inevitably very prominently displayed in someone’s office or place of business because it offers “proof” that the owner of said document has been educated and found to be qualified to offer the product or service that he/she purports to offer.

This is not just an interesting concept.  Oh no.  This is the long-established, highly-proven and accepted manner in which we do business in America.  In the vast majority of transactions, we very simply do not do business without it and may, in fact, not even be ALLOWED to do business.  By law.

Every service we engage or purchase as consumers … from the doctor who gives us medication and performs surgery on our bodies to the dentist who cleans our teeth to the mechanic with all the grease under his fingernails who works on our car … is performed by someone with a license; a certificate. Hell, even the guy behind the counter who fixes your sandwich at lunch; the old tuna on rye, slice of tomato, extra mayo?  Even HE has a BUSINESS license.

I have a degree in exercise science.  Can’t teach without it.  I have multiple certifications in fitness, mental toughness training and psychology.  Can’t work in commercial facilities without them.

Yep, everybody’s got to have licensing and certification.  Why?  Because it PROTECTS  the consumer.

Except, of course, the guy coaching your son or daughter’s baseball or softball or baskeball or soccer or volleyball (etc., etc., etc.) team.

He’s/She’s the guy/gal teaching  (baseball or softball) and all its attendant lessons and rewards.  You know … little things like sportsmanship, fair play, hard work, perseverance, goal setting, teamwork, etc.  That kind of stuff; the good stuff.

Him?  Her?  They doesn’t have to be certified.  Nope.  But hey, it’s okay.  I mean after all, it’s not like he’s important or anything; not like the doctor on the dentist or the auto mechanic or even that guy at the deli with the tuna salad.

After all, no big deal; he’s only working with your CHILDREN.

First and foremost let’s remember that he’s a volunteer.  I mean we’re all actually very grateful (and certainly should be) because in reality neither you nor any of the other parents have the time and somebody’s got to do it.

And well … he at least looks the part (he’s got the right shoes and a cap and he wears a windbreaker and all.  Never mind that he can’t get his tee shirt all the way over his belly or that he turns his back on the kids to grab a smoke once in a while.  After all, he did say he played high school ball somewhere a few years ago.  (In fact I heard him say several times that “he could have gone pro.”)  And the other coach; you know … the one who looks like an “office type?” I think he’s an attorney or a stock broker or something.  I don’t think he knows much about baseball but he certainly seems willing to do the paperwork and make all those annoying phone calls and I’m sure he knows what he’s doing when his son pitches every game and when he comes off the mound he goes to shortstop, and he bats third and made the all star team four years in a row even though he’s hitting like .023.

Oh, and the guy who screams at the kids and got into three fights with the umpires and got tossed out of five games last year?  You know … the one they called the cops on?  Listen, I ran into him at the bar just last week and finally had a chance to talk with him.  He’s really a nice guy.  And I guess he’s right; it is true that the kids need discipline.  I’m not really sure if he knows a lot about dealing with children but he sure is a big fan of the Yankees; says he watches all the games on the television and he sure is showing the kids a lot of great stuff.

Just the other day he told my son to work the count for an outside pitch and then hit it to right in order to move the runner over.  (He told me in private that this is something that the Yankees and other major league players do all the time).  Okay, my son is only nine and I’m not sure if he really understood what the coach was talking about (I’m not sure if I’m even able to understand what he’s talking about) but hey, you have to learn this stuff sometime, right.?

I did think it was a little severe for him to bench my son for three games when he struck out but I guess that’s how you learn.  I’m sure glad we have such a knowledgeable baseball man around to teach our kids.

He told me that even the kids that sit on the bench and don’t play are having a great time because the team is winning.

He said he loves to win and all his buddies at the bar agree with him.

I will tell you in private that I’m not quite sure about this because the kids on the bench actually look … bored; unhappy, disinterested.  But hey, that’s just me.  What do I know?  I was never an athlete; studied accounting in college.

I was actually a little disappointed because he only had a few minutes to talk.  I ran into him around noon the next day and he said he had to get home so he could get on the phone and “call in” during the “drive time” talk radio sports show.

And then of course there’s the “professional”; the ex-player with the huge resume who works at the academy?  Half the time my kid looks a bit “confused” to tell you the truth and the lessons?  I mean wow; don’t get me wrong.  I know I’m lucky to have him working with my kid and man oh man; he says my son has a lot of “potential”.  I know Bobby is only seven but this guy must know, right?  After all he did play at the highest level.  I never thought I was going to have to take out a second mortgage just to have my kid take baseball hitting lessons but it sure is exciting to have my son working with such a big name.

The travel team?  Man, we’re really excited as a family.  I mean sure, we’re going to have to make some sacrifices with all the tournaments and everything and the travel is going to be expensive and yes, I do know that our daughter is going to have to miss out on a few things this summer but just think; what if he gets a scholarship?  The coach actually told me … in private of course … that he felt my son had a shot if he could just get some extra private lessons in.  I sure don’t mind investing the money now if it can come back to us later like that.

Hello.  Knock.  Knock.  Anybody home?  Is anybody getting this?

Of course, LET ME EMPHATICALLY EMPHATICALLY EMPHATICALLY state that not everyone who coaches youth sports fits any of the “profiles” listed above nor is guilty of (let’s call it:) “malpractice” but instituting certification programs is a must that will not only weed out the majority of the bad apples that are spoiling the barrel but will instantly elevate every aspect of the game.

I will state however … and sadly … that without questions, these issues; coaching and the cost of participation are by far and away the largest issues in our sport.  No other issue comes in even remotely close.

As I mentioned, I have an undergraduate degree in exercise science and also multiple certifications in fitness and mental toughness training.  I am CONSTANTLY working my way through the certification processes in both endeavours in order to better serve my clients with more and better strength and conditioning and mental toughness information.  Recently  I came across an interesting bit from the American Council on Exercise’s Personal Trainer Manual:

QUOTE: “The primary purpose of professional certification programs is to protect the public from harm (e.g., physical, emotional, psychological, financial).

“… the American Council on Exercise credential itself upholds rigorous standards established for assessing an individual’s competence in making safe and effective programming decisions.”

Why is this missing from youth baseball? … or all youth sports for that matter?

Let’s go back to the phrase … “protect the public from HARM (e.g., physical, emotional, psychological, financial).

Harm doesn’t even come close to describing what is happening on some fields with youth baseball.  The word abuse is unfortunately often more appropriate.

The players are being ABUSED PHYSICALLY by poor instruction.  Forget about poor performance; misinformation in a sport as difficult and traumatic as baseball (especially throwing) can easily (and often does) lead to injury.

Thirty percent of high schoolers chosen in the major league draft from 2010-12 had arm surgery; Tommy John surgery specifically; more than double the rate from 2002-09.

As a baseball instructor who works with both mental and physical skills “issues”,  I have had youngsters in my office with MAJOR arm problems.  Two years ago, I had a session with a sixteen year old pitcher  two days before Christmas.  The young man couldn’t raise his arm over his head and hadn’t pitched since September.

He had thrown over 250 innings during the summer.

Holy mackerel!!!

Players … and parents … are particularly abused by coaching information that is NOT “age appropriate”.   Coaches forget (whether intentionally or not) that they are dealing with youngsters and in sports which require no less “developmental” information than is required to go through grades in school.

Players are being ABUSED PHYSICALLY by scheduling;  playing too many games with not enough practice, instruction, or rest time; situations that place an inappropriate work load on young bodies and result in physical injuries and mental and emotional burnout. (See paragraph above).

Oh, and by the way … what is it with the term “elite;” as in the (incredibly overworked phrase …) “elite travel team.”  What separates a player who plays “elite” and one who doesn’t?

It wouldn’t be money, would it?

Let me get this straight … the sixteen year old who is 6’2”, 195 lbs, runs the 40 in 4.5, throws 90, and can throw, field, and hit and is playing in a rec league because his parents don’t have the money for travel ball is not “elite?”

Uh …

Children and parents are being ABUSED EMOTIONALLY by a “win above all else” and a “win at all costs” mentality that creates fantasies and expectations that are unrealistic to the point of being ridiculous.

Families are being ABUSED FINANCIALLY by unqualified and dishonest so-called “professionals” who manipulate their customers’ fantasies and expectations in order get them to invest in expensive equipment, lesson programs, travel teams, games, and showcases which they claim will deliver college scholarships and pro contracts when, in reality, all they deliver is dollars into the pockets of the people staging these events.

Most importantly they are being ABUSED by MISINFORMATION; the peddling of fairy tales and outright lies.  When a business … and make no mistake about it … youth sports is a very big business (a multi … ($16.5 according to Time magazone) … billion dollar industry) … is dealing with a customer who doesn’t know anything … and furthermore a customer who is fueled and motivated by the pursuit of a fantasy … you can sell anything.

Who DOESN’T want to hear that your son/daughter is going to “special”; destined to (a – play at the college level (b – hopefully with a scholarship and (c – move on to pro ball.

Remember our youth player who had thrown 250 innings?  I told his father that I was willing to work with his son but I absolutely had to have something written from a doctor before I could proceed.

His father’s reply?  “Don’t worry about it.  He doesn’t need to see a doctor.  He’s okay.  Let’s get going.”

Frankly if my son couldn’t raise his arm over his shoulder after two and half months from PLAYING THE PIANO, I would want to get him to a doctor.

But I guess that’s just me.

Oh, and the best part … there are absolutely no consequences for anyone who works outside of … or violates those guidelines that protect the consumer which is .. (remember) … you and your children.

Let me return to the American Council on Exercise handbook:

“… ACE has developed the ACE Code of Ethics.  This code of conduct serves as a guide for ethical and professional practices for all ACE certified professionals.  This code is enforced through the ACE Professional Practices and Disciplinary Procedures.”

American Council on Exercise certified personal trainers must have a comprehensive understanding of the code and the consequences and public harm that can come from violating each of its principles.”

Again; certification protects the consumer.

We don’t let people work on our houses, our cars, or our bodies without that sheepskin on the wall … and yet we let them work with our children; oftentimes even if they exhibit absolutely no skill or knowledge whatsoever … or worse …  when they display negative or inappropriate attributes … as long as they can successfully dangle that carrot in front of us … and convince us that they are the “gatekeepers” to our dreams of athletic glory.

And, by the way, this process does not have to be hard.  It is not hard.  It’s easy; so easy in fact, that it’s ridiculous.

All youth baseball leagues should make coaching certification mandatory.  Every coach and volunteer should be required to take (and pass) a course on coaching baseball at the youth level.  Repeat: the youth level.

Why the youth level?  Because that is where we are losing the kids.

The course should be taught and administered by a qualified instructor; a professional who has completed his/her own instructional program.  Course curriculum and guidelines should be supplied by the national organizations in charge of youth baseball; Little League, of course, Babe Ruth, American Legion, Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), etc. all based on standards that are appropriate for the levels they oversee; a different set of standards for age groups, for instance for twelve year olds as opposed to fourteen year olds, etc.   Finally, the course itself always should remain current and be based on all the best possible information supplied by top recognized professionals coaches, physicians, and psychologists.

Without such a process the game and, most importantly, its participants will continue to be abused by the format currently in place which is, of course, no format at all.  And finally,

Let’s be clear about a few things:

First and foremost, this is ALL about the players; the kids and the life lessons available in sports.  Exactly one in every 16,000 high school players will make it to the major leagues.  Yes, I did say 16,000. So if you think that there is someone from the front office of the Cubs at one of these games to watch either you as a coach or one of your kids as a player perform … you need to seek professional psychiatric help immediately.

A playing credential or resume does not qualify a person as an instructor or coach any more than a woodpecker is a carpenter or being able to brush your teeth means that you’re a dentist.  They are two different jobs with completely different tasks and skills.  Some of the very best instructors have failed at the game.

Watching the Yankee game does not qualify a person as an instructor or coach. In the first place you are not dealing with a 28-year-old multimillionaire but children with a vast range of strength and coordination levels which are, in fact, constantly evolving and changing. In the second place, the game strategy that you find so fascinating; that you ramble on about and call in to talk radio and discuss with your buddies at the bar, is infinitely less relevant to these kids than how to learn and perform the skills necessary to play the game.

You are not competing against Aaron Boone and the Yankees.  In fact, truth be known; you shouldn’t be coaching at all.  You should TEACH.

Hitting a baseball is the single most difficult thing to do in all of sports.  Throwing and pitching is the single most traumatic act to one’s body performed in all of sports.  What qualifies one to teach youngsters is one’s ability to teach those fundamental skills: throwing, catching, and fielding … not to mention teamwork, goal-setting, hard work to children.  No one cares if you know nine different bunt defenses.

I heard a story once about Larry Walker which, whether it’s true or not, it still is a great story. According to the story, Larry Walker was really a hockey player who was athletic enough to be offered a chance to play baseball.  In his first game, he was on first base and the batter behind him hit a single.  The coach yelled for Walker to “run to third” whereby Walker ran directly across the pitcher’s mound and straight for third base. Larry Walker turned out to be a perennial all star, one of the best outfielders and hitters of his generation.

Having administrative, organizational, and management skills does not qualify a person to teach or coach.  It is absolutely true that these are imperative skills required by both teams and leagues but they don’t necessarily translate to being able to teach the game and its skills to children. Just because you are the office manager at work, and nobody else on the team or in the league wants to do the god- awful paper work and make the phone calls, does not mean that you should coach a team.

Being connected does not qualify you to instruct or coach a team.  Baseball, especially at the youth level has too often become a “good old boys club” where teams are awarded players, players are placed on all-star teams, and offered other special privileges all based on “who you know” rather than “how you perform.”

I advocate a certification process that begins with the acknowledgement of the following issues:

First and foremost, baseball is a kid’s game.  Probably a minimum of 85% of the participants in baseball are kids 12/13 and under.

Baseball is an incredibly difficult game.  Physical professor Robert Adair wrote in his book The Physics of Baseball that “hitting a baseball is so difficult that if you did not see it done, you would think it is impossible.”

The clowns in the stands, who call in to talk radio and bitch about how poorly their favorite major league player is performing couldn’t play catch with these guys.  Don’t abuse one of the children when he doesn’t perform.  Realize that he’s not TRYING to make a mistake.  Show him or her how to do it right. And you see, therein is the “rub” because they don’t know how to do it right themselves.

Baseball is a failure game.  Great hitters fail 7 out of 10 times.  Moreover, as opposed to some of the other sports, when you fail you are completely isolated.  Everyone sees you strike out or drop the ground ball.  Worst of all, it may be several innings, even whole games, days before you get a chance to redeem yourself.  In basketball, you take a shot, miss, run down the court, play defense, come back and take another shot.  Not baseball.

Players must be taught the process of preparation and adjustment.  They must be taught that there IS NO FAILURE. There is only “information”.  There are only “mistakes” and “adjustment”.  “Preparation” and “performance”

At the college and professional levels, easily 90% of the time is spent in preparation and adjustment and 10% or less is spent on game performance.

Baseball is a mental game.  Everyone involved in the upper levels acknowledges this as gospel.  It is the principle around which the game is built; workouts, practices, games … everything … and yet, this basic fundamental principle is virtually never mentioned … let alone taught at the youth level.

How can you as a coach or instructor honestly advertise you or your program is preparing a student athlete for the next level(s) if you are not instructing them in this, the single most important aspect of the game? You can’t.

Baseball is best taught and played within the parameters of correct and proper mechanics rather than simply sheer athleticism.  Baseball is a game of physics; a game not just of strength, speed, and size but, more importantly, a game of mechanics; of appropriately engineered lines, a game involving balance, leverage points, and sequencing.

Sound complicated?  Sound like rocket science?  It’s not.  At all.  It’s hard to do but not to understand or explain.  It is, in fact, actually very simple and can very easily be learned and taught.  Yet we extol lower level coaches who win simply by recruiting the best athletes and filling out lineup cards with their names.

This philosophy robs two kinds of players of success (1 – the under developed player who is willing to learn and do the work.  He simply never gets a chance to play and develop and (2 – the gifted athlete who is taught that his athleticism will carry him through … until he runs into a stone wall at the upper levels where he has to be MORE than a good athlete.  He has to be a baseball player.

Baseball is best learned through the learning and execution of “short drills” that break the whole skill down to its appropriate parts. Players equipped with this knowledge not only perform better they learn to THINK better. Most importantly, when they make a mistake they don’t judge or condemn themselves as players; they learn to “fix the PART.”

A simple rule: break it down, slow it down, do it correctly, do it correctly repeatedly.

This “approach” is best psychologically as well.  A player learns NOT to think in terms of success or failure but PREPARE … PERFORM …  ADJUST.  Rinse and repeat.

There is no failure;  just information and adjustment.

When you take a skill; even one as difficult as those involved in baseball and do them correctly repeatedly they become … correct HABITS.  When you add rhythm to those correct habits they become correct “game level” skills.

There has to be an acknowledgement of the need for competitive balance on teams and in leagues.  No one has any fun on both sides when one team wins all the time and another gets mercied all the time.

Emphasis; particularly at the youth level; must be on appropriate skill education and development rather than on competition and winning games.

Baseball and baseball abilities, skills and talent are based on development and projection and must therefore, be taught at in a manner that is both age and skill level appropriate.

There are a million stories of players who somehow stayed with the game in the face of rejection and failure and yet became great players.  Becoming “good” at something (let alone becoming “great”) does not occur in an instant.  It’s a process.  Not a sprint.  It’s a marathon.   That little kid who is too small, too skinny, too fat, too slow, and can’t walk and chew gum at the same time but will take 200 swings a day is going to succeed.  Brett Butler, one of the greatest leadoff hitters of all time never started on his high school team.  Eric Bedard, the Pittsburgh Pirates opening day starter was 5’4” tall as a senior in high school and, just for fun … accompanied a friend to a tryout at Norwalk Community College in Norwalk, Ct.  Ben Sheets hardly pitched in high school but ended up beating the Cubans for the gold medal in the 2000 Olympics.  My friend Steve Springer has become a teaching icon by telling how he was LESS than five feet tall as a freshman in high school but made it to the big leagues as a player and a coach through talent and a LOT of sweat equity.

The word “better” may be the best word in the English language and certainly the best word in baseball. Baseball is ENTIRELY about DEVELOPMENT; about getting better; particularly at age levels where the strength and coordination of the players is changing dramatically from year to year. Furthermore, recognize that success in baseball, like every area of life, is based on two things; talent … yes; but more importantly, the PASSION required to do the work to become successful.  Oftentimes youth baseball discards the youngster who possesses the passion but may not have developed physically.  Yet.

Coaches and instructors must learn appropriate “child … and parent” psychology and how to handle both; particularly in respect to “correct expectations”.

The game should be fun and, hopefully, as the players develop, they learn that the MOST fun lies in the process of “getting better”.  It’s fun to “persevere”, fun to set and work toward goals, fun to be part of a team; all great life lessons and skills.

These lessons in “life skills” are the bottom line in all youth sports.

Of the 15,999 high school players who do not make it to the major leagues, I assume ALL of them will need these skills as adults.  They may not become major league baseball players but they will most definitely grow up into productive citizens; fathers, mothers, husbands, wives.

Let’s not throw these lessons away.

The process works when we (together) work the process.

“If you are struggling with a performance issue that just isn’t responding to more instruction and hard work, then call me now and let’s fix it. I’ve got a systematic process that takes care of any interference you have to your ultimate performance potential that you have seen short bursts of…and want to see it show up consistently! Call me or email me right now while you’re thinking of it!”


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