Cross Country (XC) season is in full swing and it is great to see the kids battle and compete.  Unlike most other sports XC is both a team and individual sport.  What I love about the sport is that anyone can compete…all you need is a pair of shoes and the heart to compete.   You don’t need the best and most expensive equipment nor the fanciest shoes.  It teaches you how hard work, practice and desire can help you improve and excel…great lessons for school, other sports and life.

The favorite part of each race is watching all the parents and fans cheer for each kid from first to last.  It feels like a very different (and healthier) experience than most other youth sporting events.  Perhaps we can all learn from XC as we watch and support our kids in their other sporting endeavors.

For a link to new races in Colorado, see and

Happy running.


Single Sport Specialization

What does specialization mean? According to Baker, Cobley, and Fraser-Thomas (2009), early specialization means:

(1) Early start age in sport
(2) Early involvement in one sport (as opposed to participating in several sports)
(3) Early involvement in focused, high intensity training
(4) Early involvement in competitive sport

Why do we encourage specialization? This is a great question. Some believe that if a child does something for 10,000 hours they will become elite (thank you Malcolm Gladwell). Others fall into the trap of year round programs that cost thousands because they don’t what their child to fall behind. Still others want “little Johnny” to excel at the sport they didn’t (but could have given the opportunity).

I believe specialization at an early age is crazy. First let’s look at what the medical experts say. According to James Andrews, a renowned orthopedic surgeon, and various other medical studies, specializing at an early age leads to the following:

(1) 50% of the overuse injuries in young athletes come from children that specialize
(2) Athletes that specialized early were 70%-93% more likely yo be injured than those children that played multiple sports
(3) Children that specialized early are at a far greater risk for burnout due to burnout, lack of enjoyment and stress.
(4) Early specialization leads to increased knew pain and increased risk of ACL tears.

If you listen to top tier coaches and elite athletes, the message is the same. Urban Meyer caused a stir when he outlined that 42 of his 47 recruits were multi-sport athletes and only 5 were football only. Other coaches like Pete Carroll and Virginia men’s lacrosse coach, Dom Starsia, ask first what “other sport” a recruit plays. Why– because those kids have shown to be the best college athletes for both coaches. The best quote I have seen is from Changing the Game Project:

To be an elite level player at a college or professional sport, you need a degree of exceptional athleticism. And the best medically, scientifically and psychologically recommended way to develop such all around athleticism is ample free play and multiple sport participation as a child.

All that being said, sport can teach many valuable life lessons for our kids irrespective of whether they play in high school or beyond high school.

(1) They learn how to win and lose gracefully
(2) They learn the value of hard work
(3) They learn team work and what it’s like to be counted on
(4) They learn self reliance
(5) They what it’s like to have a great coach/boss and what its like not to have a great coach/boss

Coaching Tips

I. Important Tips

(1) Kids Need to be Active: Have a practice plan and make sure the kids are moving and not standing in line the entire practice. Regardless of the sport, make sure they are engaged throughout the practice. Skill specific drills should be 10-12 minutes and fast moving. Remember to keep the drills fresh and not to repeat the same ones every practice.

(2) Be a Teacher– Tell the Kids the Point of the Drill: Your kids want to learn the sport and are eager to get better. Make sure you fully explain the drill and how the drill applies to a game and improving their skills. After the drill ask the kids to recall the point of the drill. Reinforcing and communicating with them is the key to successful season.

(3) Kids want to feel successful! You want to build a practice and drills to improve skills and confidence. Remember to provide specific feedback for each kid and focus on well and where they can continue to learn. Keep it positive. You will want to avoid adding pressure and competition until the players have developed the skills, confidence and become proficient in the basics.

(4) Positive Reinforcement: As coaches, we sometimes focus only on pointing out the flaws and what a player needs to work on. While this is important to improving a player, it is also important to chart the positives for ALL your players. To help with this, please consider the following:

(i) Create a chart with each player’s name with
• What to look for in that player and
• Notes and examples of the positive thing you are looking for. Here, please note any specific skill, play or action you want to see.
(ii) Under the notes and examples section, write specific and truthful comments about each player. Try to find 2 to 3 positive comments for each player and consider each aspect of the game—sportsmanship, specific skills, mental aspects, etc…
(iii) As you evaluate these attributes, consider having an assistant coach and even a parent help out with the charting of the positive reinforcement.

(5) Player Motivation: Each coach must be both a teacher and a motivator. I have found one of the most important elements in a successful season is constant communication with your kids and making sure you take the time to speak with each kid. For the younger kids, s trick I have used is to get to eye level with each kid even if this means getting on a knee and providing the feedback and motivation eye to eye. Sounds very basic, but it is very effective in ensuring you engage with each kid. Remember, it is better to say great job playing defense on number 7 rather than great job.

(6) Set Tangible Goals: Like with any team or business, you want to set the goals for the team and have the kids buy in. For a group of 7 year olds playing basketball, they can be as simple as (a) learn how dribble with both hands, (ii) learn how to shoot a layup and (iii) have some fun. Regardless of the age, you need both short and long term goals and frequent feedback and rewards for achieving the goals. Remember to keep it simple and be consistent and constant in your feedback.

How do you set Goals and Decide What to Emphasize: Ask yourself the following questions:

• What are your coaching goals (Be mindful of the age and skill level of your team)?
• What are the important things for you to teach?
• What do you want your players to get out of the experience?
• What does your team need to learn or be really good at to be successful?
• How will you define a successful season or team?
• How do you get your team to buy into the goals?
• How should the goals evolve from year to year?
• Keep the kids in mind. Your kids typically want the following:

o Fun
o Get better individually
o Get better as a team
o Win some games
o Social interaction with the team
o Fun

(7) Constantly Reward Hard Work and Celebrate Small Successes: There are lots of ideas on how to reward, including verbal rewards, stopping practice to provide public acknowledgement, treats/pizza after a game, sportsmanship/hustle medal, etc… Remember if negative feedback is warranted, sandwich that between two positives. For example, “you did a great job on defense stealing the ball, next time keep your head up when you make the pass to a player down the field. Great job staying on your man. Keep it up.”

II. Have a Parent Meeting

This can be as important as the team meeting and following all of the important tips listed above. In you parent meeting, you want to try to accomplish the following:

(1) Ongoing communications to the team and the parents: However you do this; you should be clear and make sure everyone understands the process. Getting this right can make or break a season.

• Will you send emails each week outlining practice times, games, direction?
• Will you be using a website of software platform to do this? Check out Team Snap and Signup Genie for good platforms to schedule things.

(2) Set the expectations for playing time. If the league requires equal playing time, tell the parents. If the league requires you to sit each player for a quarter, tell the parents. Most importantly, tell the parents you are the coach and will treat all o the kids fairly.

(3) Goals for the Team: Let the parents understand your coaching philosophy and what your goals are for the team. In most cases, especially with the younger kids, you may also want to remind parents that the kids are not playing for a college scholarship.

(4) Administrative Stuff: Get a team parent. This will help with organizing snacks, team party, trophies, etc… Having all the parents pitch in will make things go more smoothly for you as a coach.

III. Practice

Have a practice plan for the season and for each practice. You should start each practice with a practice plan—your kids will know when you are not prepared. A sample plan would have the following:

Date Group/Team
Theme Objective

Time Drill/Skill Set up Coaching Points
Warm-up and Stretch
Drill or Activity
Drill or Activity
Drill or Activity
Drill or Activity
Small Sided Game
Warm down

IV. Games
Games can be the most positive part of the season for kids and it can also be the most stressful. Some help keys to success include:
(1) Like with practice, have a game plan.

• What are the goals for the game?
• What do you want to accomplish? We all want to win, but what else constitutes a success?
• Have a plan on who plays when. Trying to do this at game time is almost impossible. In leagues where everyone plays the same, I bring a spreadsheet by quarter/half on who plays when. This solves lots of issues.

(2) You are an example to the kids. If there is a bad call, I encourage you to wait (count to 5) before you make a comment. Remember, making excuses and even worse yelling at a ref, leads to your kids doing the same thing. Ideally, you wait a day and if it still bothers you, then you talk to the league about it.
(3) Only run plays and use concepts you have covered in practice. If you have not covered a full court press or a 2—3 zone in practice, do not try to run it in a game. It will only frustrate you and the players.

(4) Make it fun. Remember, this is not the NFL, NBA or MLB. Our job is to teach and motivate.

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