Prospect Communication's Youth Sports Blog - "Taking You Beyond the Game!", features our own articles and commentaries that deal specifically with youth sports. Browse the site to read any articles that may be of interest to your sports organization. The articles are copyrighted to the authors (Michael Langlois & Mary-Louise Langlois) and they may not be reproduced without permission. To inquire about licensing the right to reproduce any of the site's content please contact us at inquiries@prospectcommunications.com

Prospect has a unique and specialized approach to communications skills and issues management geared towards those involved with youth and minor sports. Michael and Mary-Louise's work in this area is ideal for parents and coaches who want to make the most of children's involvement in sports.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Humility is a key ingredient in the overall development of athletes and coaches

One of the important traits I have emphasized frequently over the years in my writing on youth sports is one that I believe is under-valued: humility.  That may seem to be a foreign notion given our modern-day propensity for believing that “success” is driven by positive self-esteem and self-confidence. But humility, to me, remains an essential individual quality—a true virtue, to use an old-fashioned word—in the ongoing and healthy development of young athletes (and people in general).

As important as a healthy ego, good self-image, confidence and self-esteem are (and they surely are), most successful people—business leaders, coaches, athletes…  Continue reading

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

7 traits of highly effective youth sports coaches

Coaching youth sports, whether as a parent, volunteer or paid professional, is a daunting task—but also a wonderful opportunity to influence the lives of young people in such a positive and lasting manner.

While seeking to constantly upgrade one’s skills and experiences is certainly crucial, being a “certified” coach in and of itself is not a guarantee of quality.  Some outstanding youth coaches have no certification at all, but do possess invaluable life experience, intuition and sensitivity.  They are somehow instinctively able to connect with young people to help them achieve their best.

Some “qualified” coaches bring only that to the table:  levels of certification and courses that they “passed”, but seem to bring little else in the way of, say, communication skills or the ability to actually demonstrate what they want from their players.  They too often lack the ability to connect, motivate and inspire.

So here is a short primer of traits, qualities and characteristics that players and parents (or Clubs looking to hire a coach) can look for:
  • Do the coach’s players look forward to the next practice/training session?  Generally speaking, a coach who makes practices and training sessions a great experience engenders in his or her players a desire to want to improve and work hard while training.  They make practice a real challenge but fun at the same time. If your son or daughter jumps out of the car to get to the playing field to train, that’s usually a good sign.
  • Does the coach really know how to communicate with young people?  The ability to listen—really listen—is often the first step in being an effective communicator.  The youth coach who spends at least as much time listening as talking themselves knows they don’t have all the answers. As a result, they are always trying to be better at their job—and better at developing the skills and strengths of their players while also ensuring those players improve in the areas that they might struggle in.
  • The coach who focuses on and rewards behaviour, effort and attitude over outcomes sets themselves apart from the crowd. Too many youth coaches reward an isolated play that helps their team “win” a game, as opposed to a player or players who consistently support teammates or show leadership and team spirit in a variety of subtle ways—ways that only a truly perceptive coach will notice.
  • A good youth coach does not have to yell constantly or berate players during games.  A coach may be a yeller, and that is acceptable if it is understood by all that yelling is their method of instruction—and not intended as heavy-handed public criticism.  But a really good coach prepares their teams thoroughly and, as a result, the players themselves are able to make decisions on their own on the field of play.
  • A really good youth coach not only allows “mistakes”, he/she actually encourages their players to try things in order to improve their skills and become more comfortable on the field/ice/court. A player with a great attitude, spirit and work ethic does not deserve to be put down for a mistake—mental or physical.  Young players with the right attitude will grow through trial and error.  The good coach allows for creativity and experimentation.  The coach who creates fear in their players kills development.
  • The wise youth coach remembers what it was like to be young themselves.  They know that a young boy or girl can’t enjoy a sport (or grow and develop and improve their skills) if they feel as though they have a piano on their back all the time when they are playing in a game—that is, adults who constantly tell them what to do, when to do it, or that they are always somehow doing it “wrong”.
  • If, as a parent, you have identified a youth coach who knows how to inspire youngsters, you have found gold. The youth coach that knows how to connect with and make youngsters not only feel better about themselves but can push and challenge young people in a healthy way will have a lasting—and positive—impact on your child.
There are many more things that could be added to this “list”.  But it’s a start. (When Stephen Covey famously authored a book about the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” in the late 1980s, he would no doubt have acknowledged he was only scratching the surface. There are many other traits he could have added.) Everyone reading this has had their own experiences as a player, parent, coach, volunteer or Club administrator and can add to the list. 

I’ll close with something I often say in the seminars that my wife and business partner Mary-Louise and I conduct for youth sports Clubs: if nothing else, a youth sports coach should never, ever kill the love a youngster has for their chosen sport.

That some coaches do, sadly, is one of the central reasons that so many youngsters leave sport as an activity by the age of 13. And it shouldn’t have to be that way.

Monday, November 25, 2013

“Lifelong Learning” should be more than just a nice phrase

Recently I was chatting with a coach in the youth sports world. He was keen to enhance his communication skills, because he knows instinctively that it will have a significant impact on how good a coach he can become in his chosen field.
I raise this because, many years ago, some wise individual coined the term, “lifelong learning”.  It was a phrase that gained great currency, as it was intended to highlight that people should never stop learning new things.
Of course there were “lifelong learners” long before that term became popular.  But it has provided inspiration for many to look in the mirror and recognize that, sometimes, just doing what one has been doing for years may not be enough.  To read more click here

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Inspirational Coaches

There are so many ways that youth coaches can (and many do) play an inspirational role in the lives of the young people they interact with on a regular basis.  But sadly, some of these coaches, while maybe even being well intentioned, fall short of the ideal by a fair bit. They may over-emphasize winning rather than developing their players as athletes and as people, or they simply miss opportunities to make a positive difference in the lives of young people...Continue reading

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Our interview on “The Ultimate Sports Parent” podcast

Recently, I was invited to appear with host Lisa Cohn on the popular “The Ultimate Sports Parent” podcast. It was an opportunity to chat about topics relating to youth sports coaches, and some of the traits I believe are important for parents to look for in a youth coach for their child.

Here is a link to the accompanying story on their web site.

I’d like to thank Lisa for the opportunity to appear on the program and certainly recommend that parents check out their site if you haven’t already.

I’m also pleased to announce that our eBook for Youth Soccer Coaches, “A Guide to Better Communication for youth Soccer Coaches” is now available on Amazon Kindle.  Here is the link to the book’s preview page on Amazon.

We hope coaches will find the book to be a practical, useful guide!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Incognito NFL suspension: the lies we tell ourselves when we say ‘boys will be boys’

How often do we hear, not only at the professional levels but all the way down to the youth levels in sports that, “what’s said in the dressing room should stay in the dressing room”.

In other words, anyone—adult or youngster—who dares to not conform to hazing, or refuses to tolerate abuse or mistreatment directed their way is not a “man”.  They don’t know how to “take it”.  We are all—parents, coaches, administrators, etc.—supposed to turn our heads and accept inappropriate, cruel or simply unethical and ignorant behaviour because “boys will be boys”.

That’s garbage, plain and simple.  It always has been and still is.

The latest “bullying” story comes to us not from some local amateur team, or a kids’ league, but from the world of professional football.  And my hope is that the incident (or series of incidents) which caused second-year NFL’er Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins to recently leave the squad suddenly will wake people up all across the board.

After bolting the team in a highly distressed state prior to a Thursday evening game the week of October 28, details leaked out that described a series of alleged threatening behaviours on the part of one of Martin’s teammates, Richie Incognito.  While Incognito reportedly denied at first any unacceptable behaviour on his part (and the team initially tried to claim there was no proof of bullying) it was announced on November 4 that the offending player had in fact been suspended indefinitely.

What became clear over time as the investigation continued is that there had been a long pattern of abusive behaviour, including the fact that that Incognito allegedly used racial slurs in certain forms of communication when interacting on social media with Martin.

What we don’t know is whether the use of highly inappropriate racial language was what actually caused the Dolphins to suspend Incognito.

A fair question to ask is: would the team have reacted if they had not discovered proof of racially inappropriate comments?  Clearly, such actions are suspension- worthy in any walk of life, but the follow-up question is:  why did the behaviour need to get to that level before the Dolphins acted?

Surely no one, absolutely no one in this day and age would, could or should tolerate racial (or other) discrimination of any kind. But there are all kinds of behaviours, comments and actions that don’t include that awful language or type of attitude that are nonetheless despicable and worthy of not only scrutiny but of a swift and decisive response.

Bullying, as we have written many times before in this space—whether in Grade 4 or in the NFL—is indefensible and should not be tolerated.  Full stop. 

This behaviour is learned somewhere.  It is encouraged somewhere. It grows and spreads like a disease if parents and adults (who, sadly, are often at the root of how this hateful behaviour develops) don’t deal with it at the early ages.

The world is full of “real men”, to use that expression, in the world of athletics and all other walks of life, who would never and have never stooped to behaving like an entitled, ignorant cement-head with no sense of values and no moral compass.

Yet the sports world seems to somehow still embrace this age-old, archaic attitude of “what goes on the in dressing room should stay there”.  Really?  What is being hidden there that others should not hear or see?  Why can’t it be exposed?

Of course there are all kinds of good, positive characteristics that should be associated with being part of a team.  Helping a teammate when they are down, assisting them when they have personal troubles, embracing their differences when it comes to what we may feel is “the norm”. Just being a considerate, thoughtful, supportive colleague in a team environment. That’s all good.

Athletics can indeed teach us many good things.  Sports can help build character. But when I see a story like this, it just reminds me, and should remind us all, that we have a long way to go.  Society has evolved over the last hundred or more years.  Thoughtful, determined, courageous people have fought for equal rights—in every sense—for all, regardless of colour, religion or ethnicity.  We don’t accept bigotry.  We don’t allow harassment or hatred to be shown toward “groups” that had been considered minorities or unfairly isolated decades ago, whether it be women, those with physical or mental challenges, or individuals with a “different” sexual orientation than the majority.

Yet on this question of bullying—which is often rooted in group think and the worst kind of human attitudes and behaviour, including in the world of youth, collegiate and professional sports—most of us are silent.

The Dolphins have a major issue on their hands, and a simple suspension won’t rid that team of the toxicity that reportedly surrounds it.  But my guess is they are not the only professional sports team that has similar problems. It took a courageous young athlete to finally say, essentially, “I’ve had enough” to wake the sports world up.

But will people really wake up?

I have little doubt there many NFL’ers who are thinking—if not outright saying—that Martin should just toughen up, that if he can’t take it, he should do something else for a living.

And if that is really what other players think, if that is really the attitude they have and thus the example they are setting for our young people (prospective athletes or not) we have an even deeper societal problem than I suspect.  Those individuals need only look in the mirror if someone they love ever faces abuse or bullying for any reason, because their attitude has delivered the biggest, most damaging—and most toxic—message possible.

Because if that is indeed the prevailing view, how long will it take society to turn this ship around? I cringe at the answer.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Important communications tips for Youth soccer coaches!

Here at "Taking You Beyond the Game" we continue to develop and provide a series of original articles on the importance of communication between youth sports coaches, parents and their players.  In fact, for many years now we have conducted seminars for youth sports Clubs on the topic, “How you can build Confidence and Character in young players through better Communication”. 

These seminars have always been tremendously well received (a number of testimonials are available on our Prospect Communications Inc.  website) in all cases, perhaps because they provide an honest—but positive—approach to working through some of the issues that youth coaches and parents face on a daily basis.

This has led us to develop an eBook called, simply, “A Guide to Effective Communication for Youth Soccer coaches”.  The book provides a series of common-sense, practical tips and suggestions to enhance relationships but most importantly, to help build the confidence (and therefore the skills!) of developing young players.

For now, the book is only available on iPads (Apple iBooks/iTunes), but we hope to have it on other platforms very soon.  If you are interested in checking out the book’s preview page, click here (Canada).  If you are in the United States, this is the iTunes link.  Readers in the U.K. can click here.

The response we have received so far has been overwhelmingly positive.  We hope you will agree that this book delivers value for coaches and parents and as a result (and most importantly) for young players.