Monthly Archives: November 2013

Nov 14

The Big Problem With Youth Sports

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

What is the big problem that all youth sports teams face?

There’s lots and lots of little problems with youth sports.

There’s the problem of finding qualified coaches. There’s the problem of getting kids into programs. There’s the problem of how much it costs. There’s the problems of keeping kids in the programs.

But I don’t think any of these are the big problem with youth sports.

The big problem is that youth sports is seen as the only avenue for kids and fitness.

There’s tons of youth soccer programs, USA Swimming teams, AAU basketball teams and :Little League. They compete for athletes, money and time. They compete for facilities. Obviously, they are competing against each other.

But what if you looked at all the youth sports programs as one big program? Whose the competition for youth sports and fitness then?

There’s not much. There are some recreation programs. There’s PE classes. But there’s not a grass roots program for kids to get up, move and play.

And I think there needs to be.

Not only for the good of kids. But also for the good of the youth sports programs themselves.

Organized youth sports got started by kids that were playing games in the streets and in parks and at schools wanted to get a little bit more organized. Some adults thought they’d help them out and they created organized youth sports.

But now, there’s few and fewer kids playing sports in the streets, parks and schools. This is a problem for two reasons.

One: There’s fewer kids exercising and becoming healthy. Hence the increase in childhood obesity and obesity related health issues. And I believe that not having kids playing games and sports on their own lowers their performance at school and has long term social ramifications. Like not knowing how to get along with others and not knowing how to work in a team

Two: There’s fewer kids organically becoming athletes and then wishing to join sports teams. And while youth teams are booming, getting the kids to stay on the teams past 13 is becoming more difficult. And the kids joining sports teams aren’t as good as athletes as they used to be. The best may be better because they’ve specialized earlier but the majority are not.

Also, the increase of kids not being active and playing in parks and streets may be a leading cause of the increase of sports injuries.

I really believe that getting ALL kids to be active and playing on their own without adult coaches will be not only better for the kids but also improve youth sports.

The more we can do as teachers, coaches, parents…and citizens to get kids (and adults) outside in the parks and playgrounds the better we will be as a nation.

And the better youth sports programs will be!

What do you think? As a youth sports coach or a coaching parent what do you think are the big problems in youth sports. Or the little ones.

And what can we do as citizens, voters and taxpayers to get more kids out playing?

Nov 13

What Makes a Good Youth Sports Practice?

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

image of coach vince lombardi

A great coach. But how would he have been coaching a U6 soccer team?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes a good workout. I started when I realized that not all workouts are appropriate for everyone.

A professional team’s practice is going to be much different than a high school team’s practice.

An elite level U17 practice is going to be run a lot different than an elite U10 practice (at least it should).

So what are the considerations that coaches in any sport have to take into account when designing an individual practice? And the same question is what are they for a season plan?

Here are some of my thoughts…

1. Age of the athlete: Practices, instruction and conditioning need to be developmentally appropriate.

2. Skill level of the athletes: Consideration of the age is important…but so is the skill level. Less skilled athletes are going to need more rehearsal and progressions to learn skills.

3. Where in the season is the team? Typically, coaches look at four seasons; preseason, early, middle, championship. For a lot of teams and sports there will be an off season as well.

Each season will have it’s own unique goals and format. I found this worked well for even my youngest athletes (6 to 8 year old swimmers). One problem I had with the high school water polo team was that the season was so short (12 weeks). It made it very difficult to get everything in that I wanted.

4. Time: Do you have 60 minutes or three hours? Can the athletes workout on their own at home? How many days a week are practices?

5. Resources: How much equipment do you have? How many assistants do you have? What are the facilities like?

6. What are the biggest needs of the team? Do they need more skills? More conditioning? More mental toughness? This could change practice to practice.

7. Have a plan but be prepared to change it. Or even drop it all together. Sometimes what the coach thinks is going to be a great workout just doesn’t work. Rather than trying to force it to work, be prepared to adjust it.

At the highest levels, this might not be appropriate. There maybe something to be gained by very elite level athletes in any sport in learning to stick with something. But do this infrequently and make sure it is appropriate for the age of the athletes.

8. The actual components of the workout. Typically, for any sport it will consist of at least:

  • Opening instruction: What, how and why
  • Warm-up,
  • Conditioning,
  • Individual skill instruction,
  • Team skill/tactical instruction,
  • Practice of new skills,
  • Review/rehearsal of previously taught skills
  • Closing portion

There are countless ways to break these up. I believe other than the opening, warm-up and closing, you should experiment. Sometimes have conditioning at the end, sometimes at the beginning. There are physiological and psychological reason for varying the format.

9. Head coach/Team Coaches formats. Some teams have long term developments. If this is the case, then the younger, more novice athletes should be learning a structure that is similar to what the elite athletes are doing. However, it still needs to be modified so that it is developmentally appropriate for the athletes.

10. I believe practice sessions should be written down, though I wasn’t always the best at this. I did have my general season outline written down and I always knew week to week what we would be doing. Some of my best practices were written down, but sometimes they would come to me on the fly.

So there you have it. An outline of how a practice should go. What sport and group do you coach? Am I missing anything? Let me know.

Coach Ron Usher coached age-group, high school and college swimming for over 30 years. He’s studied the art and science of coaching, teaching and working with kids.

Nov 12

How Important Is Winning for Successful Athletes?

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

Space Warriors or Youth Athletes, there’s a lot of similarities between the two.

Have you seen Ender’s Game? I read the book a long time ago. I liked it but didn’t think it would hold up, especially as a movie. But I was wrong…it was well done. And one of my major problems with the book (or how I remembered it) was handled.

Ender is picked to lead our space war force against an alien force. He is selected because he always thinks tactically. And he always wins.

Which gets to my next point.

In “Tactics” by Edward de Bono, he looks at tactics and different ways of accomplishing a goal. It’s a very interesting look at tactics and what it takes to be successful. It’s deep and a little slow and he uses sources from over twenty years ago, but so far it’s interesting.

In the book, he quotes numerous successful people from various walks of life. And they all said how important it was to lose.

Let me repeat that. Losing was the most important part of their success.

By learning how to lose, why they lost, what mistakes they made and how to avoid them they learned how to win.

This got me thinking about how we approach youth sports. (It also got me rethinking my approach to this Internet business…but that’s another story.)

I’m imagining the stereotypical coach after a loss. Yelling, angry and upset. He (or she) accuses the team of being lazy, not following directions and not wanting it enough. Think of Mike Singletary talking about how he wants “winners”.

This behavior by coaches doesn’t work for a lot of reasons. It scares the kids, intimidates them and makes them play cautious. Whatever sport you’re playing that is not good.

But from a tactical side, it’s a mistake too.

So coaches (and parents) here’s five tips on how to tactically approach losing with your team…and yourself. I’m trying to follow it myself.

1. What did you do the week before the contest? Did you do enough of it? What would you add or take away to get the team to play better.

2. What specifically happened at the game? Was it a tactical loss? Perhaps they weren’t physically as gifted. What about psychologically? Did they believe in their effort and their ability to win?

3. Have each team member assess their performance individually and as a team. This could be done at a team meeting…or even written down. Discuss it with them and find at least two individual and two team changes that can be implemented.

4. Remind the team, yourself, and parents that winning isn’t the most important thing in youth sports. What is important is learning life skills such as resiliency, teamwork, hard work and sportsmanship.

5. Find other ways to measure success than just the score. Find ways to measure individual performance and team performance. Work on improving those skills in practice and in games.

Winning is always going to be more fun than losing. But losing is a part of life and sports. Teaching your athletes how to deal with defeat could be one of the greatest skills you teach them.

Coach Ron Usher has coached youth athletes from five to college. Currently, he is writing his thoughts, ideas, experiences and knowledge for others to learn from. Or disagree with.

Nov 08

NFL Bullying and What It Means for Youth Sports and Coaching

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

All over the sports talk radio and the news is the story about the Miami Dolphins and the bullying that seems was part of the general NFL culture.

I don’t know what went on and the story is actually a little weird. I am sure there are going to be repercussions for the individuals, the teams, the coaches and the entire NFL league.

But that’s not what interests me.

What I’m very curious about is the mentality that goes into something like this. Does anyone in their right mind think that bullying, picking on, being mean, ridiculing, ostracizing, and scaring a teammate is going to improve the play of that person?

And do they think that it would improve the play of the team?

At any level of sports, be it professional football or peewee soccer, if an athlete is not secure in their emotional state, they will not play well.

They will not learn. They will not improve.They won’t have fun.

For a professional athlete, not having fun might not be that important.

But for a kid it’s critical. Feeling that you’re wanted and safe is one of the most desired traits of a child. And probably an adult as well.

Besides the immediate effects, think of the long term effects of bullying would have on an athlete.

Coaches, parents, league administrators at every level of youth sports and even kids need to be aware of how important treating their teammates with respect is. Kids need to be taught how to treat others.

Sports is a great venue for teaching respect. Athletes have to work together as a team. They deal in physical space with real risks and challenges. They have common goals and common obstacles. This makes the athletic field a unique opportunity for kids to work together as a team.

What do you think? Has your kid been bullied or picked on while on a youth sports team? If you’re a coach what do you do to prevent bullying?

Nov 07

Athletic Skills for Old Guys

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

Let’s get going Coach!

How far can an old guy whose not in particularly great shape and was never a superstar athlete take his skills?

We are about to find out.

Why? Well, I figure if I can improve my athletic skills then anyone can. Specifically, kids who are young, inexperienced and just not that good.

(OK, I also hope to lose weight, get in better shape, and win some match-ups at my weekend basketball game.)

Here’s a bit of my history as an old guy athlete…

I’m about 5’9”…and 225 lbs. About two months ago, I stopped eating fast food, sodas, energy drinks and wheat and I’ve lost about 15 lbs. Of course, I still like my steak and baked potato (tonight’s dinner!) and I will have ice cream and a beer.

I’m fairly active in my job…I figure I walk about three miles a day. I belong to a gym but don’t go. In the mornings I stretch or do body weight exercises three to four times a week. I get a weekend hike in and one or two nights of basketball. I was an above average athlete but not great. And I’m fairly injury free. Dealing with some plantar fasciitis but it only flares up if I start running more than three miles a day.

Two things really got me started on this. One, I’m always interested in what other coaches and especially youth coaches are doing. And one of my favorites is Lee Taft. He’s always got great things to say about youth fitness and conditioning. I highly recommend you check out his website and Youtube videos.

A lot of the information in my products I got from Lee. And I’m always learning more. One of his books is on dribbling a basketball. And I suck at dribbling a basketball. It drives me nuts. So I’m going to be purchasing the video and see if I can get any better.

The other night in basketball, I was playing a guy and I couldn’t loose him. I kept trying to cut and turn and twist and do everything I could to get open. And nothing worked. And I figured I was faster and quicker. And I still couldn’t get open.

So I noticed that Lee has another book on moving specifically for basketball. Just watching the Youtube video, I could see that I’m doing a lot of things wrong.

And so, I’m putting everything out there and going to start working on my dribbling and my moves. I’m also going to start running more consistently…getting up to two to three miles three times a week. And adding two strength workouts at the gym.

I hope to get some statistics about my speed and initial starting point.

Who knows, maybe I’ll inspire a whole bunch of old guys to take it up a notch or two!

Nov 06

Crossfit for Kids…is it safe and is it appropriate for sports performance?

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

The form is good, but are his joints ready?

Crossfit is one of the hot fitness trends for 2012 and 2013. There’s some good points about it for adults…and some serious risks and considerations.

But what about for kids? And specifically, what about for youth athletes?

I’m going to assume that the Crossfit trainers who are working with kids aren’t going to push them as hard as they do adults. That would be crazy to encourage kids to work hard enough to vomit.

I’m also going to assume that they are teaching the correct movements. Learning how to lift weights and do a variety of bodyweight exercises from push-ups to pull-ups is good for almost everyone.

One of the good things about Cross-fit is that teamwork and encouragement is an integral part of the culture. That is very appropriate for kids of all ages and fitness.

And because Crossfit combines cardiovascular and aerobic exercises with strength exercises it is very good for weight loss and general fitness.

However, for elite athletes who are playing at a high level for competition, it would be appropriate for general preparation but not for specific skills. Elite athletes need more specific work on speed, agility, strength, endurance and injury prevention. Depending what their sport and what their specific areas of concern are would determine what exercises are appropriate, beneficial and optimal.

Many of the Crossfit exercises might be inappropriate for kids. They tend to throw and push weights for endurance…and speed. For instance, they will do timed Olympic lifts. I don’t think this is particularly healthy for anyone with a muscular or joint injury (which may include almost everyone). It certainly would hurt my shoulders and put me out of commission for a long time.

Because children’s bones, tendons, and ligaments aren’t fully developed it could be a big problem. As a swim coach, I found that about 20% of my athletes tended to have some sort of shoulder problem.

And of those 20% about a quarter would have fairly serious rotator cuff injuries. Crossfit type exercises and workouts would definitely not be recommended for those kids.

So if you’re looking to have your child do Crossfit, be careful of the reasons why and like all sports and teams observe the coaches and the training. Make sure that they always have the kids health as the first priority.

Athletic Skills for Kids believes that all kids are athletes and should be athletes for life. Ron Usher is the host of the blog and examines youth sports, youth fitness, and coaching.

Would you like to be a guest blogger? Send me a message and let me know!


Nov 05

Teaching Kids to Throw

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

image of kid throwing football

Notice the elbow is the same height as the shoulder

I’ve been playing football with my eight year old son. Recently, he’s been on quite a football kick. I’m not sure if it’s because I watch it on TV, he’s playing it at school or because we were at a field and he saw the high school kids with their cool uniforms.

Either way, we’ve been throwing the football around a lot. Now, he’s a pretty good athlete. He’s tall and coordinated. He’s awesome at soccer.

But I’m shocked at how poorly he throws. And it’s not the spiral of the football. That takes a long time to learn. It’s his throwing mechanics.

On the good side, he does have the opposite leg forward. And he’s learning how to skip step forward to get more power into the throw which is good.

But his arm mechanics drive me nuts. And I think he’s fairly typical of kids these day. I don’t see a lot of kids throwing much on the playgrounds at school.

I think one of the problems is that he is concerned with accuracy. So he throws a soft wimpy ball so that it can get to his target.

The problem with this technique is that motor learning tells us we have to learn to throw hard before we learn to throw accurate.

So if you’re a coach, parent or teacher start having the kids throw for distance as soon as they are warmed up.

The second major problem and related to the first, is he throws with a dropped elbow. The ball is about at his eye level and his elbow is at his ribs. This prevents him from being able to use:

1. His body and body rotation,

2. The whip like motion of his shoulder, arm and wrist.

The elbow needs to be at least as high as the shoulder and then the ball needs to be higher than the head.

One reason the ball is in front of his eyes is because of the natural tenancy to throw it like shooting a dart; you want to line everything up with your eyes. But this is not good technique. Like many things, it makes sense but it doesn’t work!

We’ve been working on it, though it hasn’t come easy for him. When he gets his arm up his throws are much better, further and faster. But he still keeps the arm down too much.

We will try some other techniques to see if we can improve it. We are going out this afternoon to throw the ball around a bit. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Athletic Skills for Kids is written by Coach Ron Usher. Coach Usher’s goal is to help develop the athletic skills for kids and have them be athletes for life.

Nov 04

Handstand Push-ups for Fun and Strength for Youth Athletes

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

Handstands are a pretty impressive feat. I was never able to do them well. At my best I could use the wall and do about twenty handstand push-ups.

I remember one friend in high school who walked 440 yards around the track on his hands. That was very impressive.

At an elementary school assembly, I met a 27 year old gentleman who joined a Chinese Circus at the age of 22. He was able to balance on one hand, do multiple handstand push-ups as well as a variety of other tricks. He said the way to get better was to do them all the time for a little bit.

I think handstand push-ups are great exercise for kids. It will build up their shoulders (critical for swimmers and baseball players) as well as their chest, back and core. It also might improve their balance which could aide in a host of other sport activities.

I used to have my swimmers and divers do them to practice their entry form into the water.

image of kids doing handstands

Handstands and handstand push-ups an excellent way to build strength and confidence for young athletes.

This article has one progression idea for learning them. It’s not a great article but it might get you started.

I’ve started adding them to my fitness routine in the morning and taking it slow. Kids should be able to improve a bit faster.

Here are a few tips which might help you teach your kid or your team how to do them.

1. Do a few every day and don’t do them till failure.

2. Start with raised legs about two feet up. Use a wall or steps to get the elevation. I’m using my bed and stairs for now.

3. Besides holding the position, do some small push-up motions as well. Going all the way down to the chest or chin might be too much. But getting some elbow bend and then extension is doable for almost everyone.

4. When using the wall begin by facing the wall and walking your hands closer to the wall. When you’re able to get your hands about a foot away from the wall and hold it, then it is time to face away from the wall.

5. Facing into the wall pose may take partner assistance. Bend at the waist, lift one leg up and then kick the other one up to get next to the wall.

6. Keep the body rigid when vertical. Tighten the stomach, chest, hips and glutes (butt muscles) to maintain a firm body.

7. One final trip; practice bailing out of the handstand by putting the weight on one hand and rotating the body at least 90 degrees. The problem with falling is if you fall backwards. This way you will learn to fall forward and land on your feet.

Ok, let’s get those kids into doing some handstand push-ups! Send me some pics

Nov 02

Changing Format for Athletic Skills for Kids

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

I’ve been writing this blog for kids, fitness and anything else that seemed relevant for a while now.

It started out as AthleticSkillsforSoccer and recently I changed it to AthleticSkillsforKids.

There’s almost 250 articles about kids, exercises, sports, physical education, overweight kids, drills and skills. The majority deal with soccer but most of the discussion would hold true for every kid.

There’s a lot of good information and ideas here but it’s become a little overwhelming to keep organized. And I don’t think I’m showcasing my skills as an expert in kids, coaching, fitness and physical education very well.

So I’ve decided to start a new blog. This blog is CoachRonUsher. Coach Ron Usher will focus mostly on children’s fitness, health, physical education, and teaching.

Athletic Skills for Kids is going to stay focused on sports and coaching. It’s going to branch out from mostly soccer to other sports as well. While every sport has a lot of common issues, there are individual sport concerns that should be addressed. For instance, the running for baseball is different than the running for soccer which is different than the running for basketball.

There’s a lot of good resources out there to help parents, coaches and kids improve their performance and have fun. I will be researching these sources and bringing them to you.

I hope you check out the new blog frequently. I’ve been updating each one daily. I will continue to do so for a few weeks. Eventually, I want to write more books and articles so my blogging will be cut back.

As always, I love your feedback. I look forward to hearing from you,

Coach Ron Usher and Athletic Skills for Kids.