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 20, 2010

Season’s Greetings to all our visitors

We wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who has visited our Taking You Beyond the Game site since we developed it over the past year.

Since our spring “debut”, we have already had visits from 40 countries — people interested in our original articles and in the issues that we raise that impact youth sports, coaches and our young athletes.

If you’d like to write to us, send a note to michael@prospectcommunications.com

In the meantime, our best wishes to everyone for a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Youth coach faces suspension because of principled stand

There is always an “accuracy” risk in writing or commenting about something without knowing all the facts.

I’m referring, in this instance, to recent published reports about a youth hockey team in Peterborough, Ontario. The reports indicate that a coach pulled his team in the middle of a game. Why? One of his players had been subjected to a racial slur and the other team (and player who is alleged to have made the remark) did not immediately apologize to the player in question.

There seems to be no debate that the remark was indeed made. The offending player/team did apologize afterwards, the player evidently showing genuine remorse.

In the interim, the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, pending an official hearing, has suspended the coach who pulled his team off the ice. The reason? Teams are not allowed, by rule, to pull their teams off the ice during a game—even in a case such as this.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know those involved and did not witness the incident. It’s always possible there are facts or factors that outsiders are simply not aware of.

The hockey authorities in question stand by their decision to suspend the coach, based on longstanding rules and regulations.

But it is difficult not to question an authority structure that suspends a coach, when, by all accounts, that individual is simply standing up for his players, his team, and an question of principle.

Were there other ways to protest the remark? No doubt. And it makes sense to await a thorough investigation to determine exactly what took place and why and whether the “punishment” is fair.

But this just seems to be, on the surface at least, a case where technicalities over-rule common sense. If the coach who was suspended was, in fact, simply protecting his player and his team from abuse and “taking a stand”, is a suspension really fair?

I’m sure more will come from this story, but for now, an indefinite suspension (it could be up to a full year) would seem to be a peculiar decision, since the coach did not initiate the offensive action. (The player who made the remark and his two coaches were suspended for three days and are all back in action already.)

I’m not sure this all sends a very clear—or good—message to our young people.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A testimonial about our articles on Taking You Beyond the Game

We very much appreciate the e-mail comment we received recently from Germany. Those responsible for youth sports activities at a U.S. Army installation in Germany came across our articles and asked for permission to re-print some of them in their newsletter. We are pleased to see our articles utilized in this way.

“Thank you for the fantastic work and education you are doing worldwide for youth sports.”

B. Starr Price
Landstuhl Youth Sports,
U.S. Military Installation,

Thanks to Starr, and to all those who have contacted us expressing appreciation for the articles we have developed over the years. We hope you will continue to visit our site.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Body checking in youth hockey: No right answers?

I must acknowledge that I have been a passionate hockey fan all my life. I love the skill on skates, the vision that good players demonstrate, their ability to think ahead, the artistry and yes, the power that players can exhibit in making moves while making a play or a good, clean hit.

However, like many others, I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the state of the game, including at the youth levels.

The issue of “body checking” at the youth levels has been hotly debated now for many years across Canada. Some believe allowing it at the so-called ‘rep levels’ (very competitive) is a good idea, because it gets players to learn how to “take a check”, and makes it safer for them in the long run.

Others suggest that it takes some of the the skill out of the game (because small players may be fearful), causes unnecessary injuries and actually pushes a lot of talented kids into other sports.

It’s a difficult issue.

When I was a kid fifty years ago “hitting” was barely part of the discussion. I learned to play the game on frozen ponds in the dead (cold) of winter in the small town where I lived. The game was fun and it was largely about skating, competing with friends and staying out on the ice until your feet were so frozen you couldn’t bear it any longer.

Things have changed dramatically, of course, and in many ways for the better, I suppose. Organized competitive hockey has pretty much ended that bygone era. That organized aspect brings many good things for kids and families, but it, not surprisingly, has eventually led to a host of other issues.

I read recently where a young Canadian player was injured in an NCAA college game. A big hit that he took caused a broken neck, and it took some time for the young man’s injuries to stabilize in the hospital afterwards. It was a very sad event, and horribly frightening for any hockey parent to contemplate.

I didn’t see the play so I can’t comment on whether it was a “dirty” hit or not. (The offending player was given a major and a misconduct penalty.) But the point, for me, is that we have reached a stage in hockey, even at the pro levels, where hitting has become too pervasive a part of the game. The NHL, all the way down to youth hockey, is trying, they say, to crack down on “head shots”, for example. This follows a similar focus on “hits from behind”.

But the culture of the sport is a concern. The macho sense that a player must be “tough”—and I acknowledge I like a good clean hit at the pro level— seems to be permeating the sport to a worrisome degree.

This is not entirely new, of course. The actions of the “Broad Street Bullies” (the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1970s), set the game back for years. Young players copied their brawling, fighting style.

But in this day and age it’s about not just fighting, but hitting.

That pressure to “hit hard”, from management, coaches and fans alike, combined with the ever-increasing speed in the game, conspires to make a bad cocktail. Throw in the hard, large equipment that players wear and is it any wonder we have concerns about serious injuries— including life-altering concussions—right across the board in the sport of hockey?

The only way this really gets solved is if certain aspects of the sport are somehow de-emphasized, and that would take a major shift in attitude.

And I don’t think that is forthcoming.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Check out Michael’s podcast interview

Michael Langlois, who has written many of the articles on this site, was interviewed recently by Lisa Cohen, an award-winning parenting author.

Lisa is the co-founder of The Ultimate Sports Parent web site, based in Florida. To read the Ultimate Sport Parent blog click here.

If you would like to hear Lisa's interview with Michael, click on the link below to listen to the podcast (Show #87) entitled “Coach and parent communication to build kids’ confidence” .

In this interview, Michael provides suggestions for youth coaches and how they can communicate more effectively with their young players, to help build the players' confidence.  He also provides some helpful comments directed at the youth soccer coaching community.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Two more of our articles are available at “Suite 101”

Follow the links to read our most recent articles on Suite101.com.

One discusses how NFL star Braylon Edwards and the New York Jets sent a poor message to young people after the player’s recent DUI arrest.

The other article, “What kind of Sport Parent Are You?” raises important issues about parental behaviour at youth sporting events.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Youth coaches setting poor examples for young athletes never seems to stop

Not many days go by without some kind of incident in youth sports that reminds us that, all too often, adults are not modeling strong and positive behaviour for our young people.

A recent case in point: In a youth football league for 12 year-olds in Texas, a recent game saw coaches involved in not only a dispute with one another, but a rather disturbing brawl which was captured on film.

In an ensuing TV news report, a young player from one of the teams suggested that he had been grabbed and thrown by an opposing coach, which allegedly led to a fight between coaches from both teams.

Since that time, the league in question has suspended a number of coaches, but not any players, as their behaviour was not an issue. However, both teams were initially barred from participating in the upcoming playoffs, though that decision may be rescinded.

Regardless of whether it is fair to punish youngsters for the poor behaviour of their parents or coaches (and some will argue that the kids must suffer if only to discourage adults from behaving badly in future), the events tell a sad tale. Why would any adult coach in any way touch or physically handle a young person? Whether the young player is on their team or the opposing side, surely aggressive physical contact is never acceptable.

We all understand that youth sports is emotional and often a highly-charged atmosphere. It doesn’t take much to get some people going. If a coach did engage with an opposing young player in this way, it’s not surprising there was a negative reaction from the other bench. That said, for the game to degenerate into fisticuffs will surely—and sadly—lead to long, painful and negative memories for all concerned, most importantly the youngsters who were there simply trying to compete and have fun.

Adults have long created chaos at youth sporting events. This is not new. But the standards of what we consider acceptable behaviour need to be seriously re-visited. Parent coaches are often (not always) an issue, as opposed to a solution. But where do we find enough qualified, trustworthy coaches without their own children involved willing to donate their time to teach youngsters?

Education is part of the answer. Developing specific programs that parents and all coaches are mandated to attend will help. Working harder to make people understand that their negative behaviour is intolerable and socially un-acceptable is part of it as well.

Hopefully, we won’t have to depend on 12 year olds being more mature than their parents and coaches to change attitudes, but if that’s what it takes, then that is part of the solution as well.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Are Youth Sports Coaches building confidence or creating big egos?

One of the biggest challenges facing coaches in youth sports today has to do with the generation of young people they are interacting with. “Me generation” parents have, in some cases, raised youngsters to feel positive about—and believe in— themselves. This is a good thing in many ways, indeed.

What can sometimes happen, unfortunately, is that without guidelines—and consequences for certain attitudes and behaviours—these young people sometimes believe they can do as they wish, and can, in a sense, “do no wrong”. They are not accountable and if anything goes wrong it’s someone else’s fault. In the world of youth sports, this perhaps makes coaching youngsters a tougher job than ever before.

One question to ask is whether or not coaches are coaching this way in response to pressure applied by the parents of the athletes they coach.

Building big egos or positive self-confidence?

With the above reality as a backdrop, whether young “athletes”—while playing for fun or at a more serious, ultra-competitive level—become better athletes, better people and develop strong character has a lot to do with the adults that are around and influence them. Parents, teachers and youth coaches in particular have a deep and lasting impact—an impact that can be positive or negative.

While developing a healthy ego is a good thing for everyone, when one’s ego development conflicts with or overrides the good of others, it’s not necessarily healthy. In youth sports terms, a coach can look to build true self-esteem without creating a selfish, arrogant or “I’m better than” attitude in the young people they work with.

Creating arrogant egos and missed teaching moments

• Too many youth coaches praise athletes when it isn’t really deserved. For example, a lazy player who didn’t work hard and spent the game blaming teammates, but who scored a goal in a hockey or soccer game, is rewarded for the goal, because it helped the team “win”. His/her behaviour is forgotten, only the goal and result is rewarded. This reinforces to the young athlete that the only thing that matters is scoring—not everything else that goes into building a successful team. Unfortunately if the coach is successful in trying to combat this mentality, all too often parents are the ones sending the inappropriate message.

• Allowing a player to exhibit negative behaviours on the field of play without dealing with those behaviours is unhealthy. This is particularly unacceptable if the coach’s reason for not dealing with the behaviour is that the player is more “talented” than others. If “talented” players are allowed to get away with actions that harm the team, everyone suffers—and that young person begins to believe they can behave as they wish, regardless of how this affects others.

• Not working with a player to improve their skills because they are bigger or faster than other players at a certain stage in their development (and they are already good enough to help you “win”) or conversely, ignoring a player because they are deemed “too small” is a disservice and isn’t helping those players. This kind of coach seems to care more about winning, and not about developing all their players to their fullest potential

Building real confidence

Some things to keep in mind:

• Encourage your players to work hard to become as good as they can be but strive to accomplish this in a positive, supportive environment.

• Identify things a player does well and comment on those things, not only on areas for improvement.

• Stress your appreciation for genuine effort rather than outcome.

• Allow your players to make mistakes. This is how they learn. Belittling a youngster publicly because they make an error doesn’t help their learning curve. If anything, for many young athletes it damages their ability to learn and function well the next time.

• Speak privately with players to discuss things they need to work on.

• Coach and parents should have realistic expectations and those expectations should be agreed upon before every new season starts.

• Emphasize the importance of training because good practice habits lead to skill development and positive outcomes—for all players.

• Always remember that young athletes remember positive—or negative—interactions with adults for a long, long time.

Youth sports should be about fun. Everyone says that, but many—coaches, parents, administrators—don’t act this way. There is no question too many athletes nowadays are catered to, allowed to act in ways that should not be accepted, because coaches want to win—when winning should be secondary to helping young boys and girls develop character while learning about the ups and downs of life through sports. Many youngsters (and parents) have a sense of entitlement, because they are constantly rewarded by outcome, rather than by behaviour, attitude and effort.

The coaches who focus on the latter, rather than sheer talent and outcome, are helping to build true character and real confidence, rather than just creating even bigger egos.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New Brunswick incident just the latest example of how we are over-invested parents

Just this past weekend, the Canadian province of New Brunswick, a beautiful part of the Maritimes, hosted a novice girls fastball championship event.

By all accounts it was a wonderful display of volunteerism, as well as youthful zest and talent.

Unfortunately, according to various media reports, it was marred by an incident involving parents. The allegations are that there were actual physical fights that took place, as a result of a play between two young players on opposing teams.

Tempers apparently flared after one player (evidently much bigger than another) appeared to run over another player while rounding a base.

To put things in perspective, the girls in this event were 13 and 14 years of age. I wasn’t there so of course do not have all the details. What seems clear is that there was a collision of sorts, and some parents felt it was “intentional”.

Words were spoken, things escalated, and a number of adults had to be led away from the park area. At the end of the situation, cooler heads finally prevailed, thankfully. But the young girls on both teams were, we are informed, quite distraught at the behaviour of parents.

It’s interesting and perhaps instructive that it wasn’t the young athletes who were in any way involved, other than the initial collision. If it were up to the kids, nothing further would have happened.

Instead, a number of parents, and one of the coaches, ended up being thrown out of the park after a nasty situation.

Thankfully, organizers were levelheaded enough to find a way to restore order, and both teams took a picture together at the end of the game.

We all love our children. Moreover, there’s no question that it can be difficult to control our emotions when we are watching our son or daughter in a competitive situation. We are all “invested” in our own kids and want to support them as best we can.

But surely we need to ask ourselves a simple question: If I act badly toward a coach or fellow parent, what example am I setting for my child? How will I look in their eyes if I find myself in a yelling match with other adults—or worse, a physical altercation?

Many of those youngsters in New Brunswick may never again play in such a prestigious event. For a lot of these young girls, the tournament will be a lifelong memory. The question becomes, what will they remember from what was supposed to be a special day?

Will they remember the competition, the special feeling of being part of a major event? Will they remember all the great plays, the wonderful moments— win or lose?

Or will their lasting memory be of a number of parents yelling, screaming, kicking, throwing punches, and eventually being escorted out of the park by police?

Whether the families went home by car, bus or plane, I’m guessing it was a long, and perhaps quiet—and sad— ride for many, even the “winners”.


For those visiting the site for the first time, we have developed a series of original articles that we hope can be beneficial for you or your local sports team or Club.

One of those pieces (see our menu on the right) has to do with Soccer Sideline Etiquette for parents.  We have also included our article on Hockey Rink Etiquette for parents. The simple principles put forward in those articles can be a practical, helpful tool in any sporting situation where parents are “near the action”.

I encourage you to read the articles and spread the word!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Books, seminars and talks that can help youth coaches to communicate, motivate and inspire their players

We continue to receive request for our articles from across Canada, the United States and as far away as the U.K. and Australia. We appreciate the wonderful feedback we have received to our “Taking you Beyond the Game” blog site, and also our many original articles posted here.

We should also draw your attention to our books, specially written for youth coaches. In particular, our very popular “Guide to Better Communication for Minor/Youth Hockey Coaches” which has drawn rave reviews. We also have received tremendous response to “How Well do you Communicate? A Guide to Better Communication with Players and Parents for Youth Soccer Coaches”.

Both of these books provide many useful, practical tips that can make a big difference for individual coaches, and also for the many youth sports Clubs that rely on their coaches to provide instruction, support and motivation for thousands of youngsters.

Visit the information bar on the right hand  this site, to read more about the books and articles we have available.

If you have any questions you’d like to contact us about bringing in Michael as a guest speaker to help educate, motivate and inspire your coaches, contact us at michael@prospectcommunications.com or call (905) 825-8078.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Communication tips for the youth baseball coaches

There was a time, not that many years ago, when baseball was king when it came to kids playing summer sports.

It remains a popular pastime for today’s youth in both Canada and the United States, but for the game to recapture its roots will require more than marketing know-how to draw youngsters back to the diamonds and to become the next generation of “the boys of summer”, in the words of Roger Kahn’s wonderful book about the Brooklyn Dodgers of his 1950s youth.

It will take more and more youth baseball coaches who know how to communicate with youngsters in a way that engenders a love of the game—and not only for the most highly skilled, or the biggest and the fastest.

Communication: How a coach can make a difference

Youth baseball coaches are generally volunteers who give freely of their time, talent and energy. Many are “qualified”; others are simply moms or dads willing to help their local youth baseball Club.

Regardless of one’s level of knowledge or experience, most youth baseball coaches can—and need to—do an even better job of motivating, inspiring and encouraging young ballplayers.

Specific communication approaches that help

I was with someone recently who was recalling an incident in their young life back in the 1950s. They were playing baseball at what would nowadays be considered a very elite, competitive level. They missed a sign while they were up at bat, and the coach came running toward them from the third base coaching box, yelling, “Can’t you do anything right?”.

The young man finished the game, then left the team, hurt and discouraged. The man, now a “senior”  citizen, remembers that incident to this day.

Perhaps sadly, that kind of approach to coaching was commonplace in those days.

  1. The first thing a wise youth coach needs to realize is that they have a significant impact on the young boys and girls they interact with. Those youngsters will remember what they are told and how they are treated for a long time.

  2. Coaches must recognize that and let that knowledge shape their approach in a positive way. I’m not suggesting kids don’t need need discipline, guidelines and agreed-upon expectations but they also need support, positive instruction and step-by-step guidance.

  3. Too many coaches tell their players what they should do, but can’t or don’t show them how to do it. If a coach doesn’t know how to communicate and show what is needed, they should bring in someone with the expertise to demonstrate the skills required.

  4. If a coach is a yeller, make sure the players know that is just part of a personal coaching style, and that  it is in no way personal.

  5. Constantly look to build the confidence in players, not tear that confidence down. A relaxed, confident player will perform more freely and is more likely to achieve what they are capable of on the diamond.

  6. Seek to find out what motivates each youngster you coach. Every young person is different and needs to be dealt with in their own distinctive way. Discipline should be consistent throughout the entire “group”, yet with an eye for the sensitivities of individual youngsters.

  7. If a coach notices personal or team issues between players, don’t ignore the problem. Step in and deal with the issue fairly. Make every effort to bring the parties together through open discussion, tolerance and understanding. Coaches should try to put themselves in the shoes of their young athletes.

  8. Be a good listener. Too many youth coaches have a style they employ for dealing with kids but it often doesn’t include the recognition that good communication is a two-way street. Sometimes a coach can learn a great deal from their young players.

  9. If a coach stresses teamwork but then focuses too much on winning as opposed to sharing playing time, or becomes agitated by “mistakes”, it sends an inconsistent—and negative—message.
Young players often love the game of baseball. That’s part of why they play. How a coach interacts and communicates with those youngsters can engender an even greater appreciation for and love of the great game of baseball, or conversely, can actually kill the love the young players once had.

While it’s important to build a trusting, supportive relationship and to be able to identify and engage with young athletes, coaches should always act like “the adult” in their relationship with youngsters. If coaches themselves adopt immature attitudes, it puts an unfair onus on the young people to become the adults in the relationship.

Remember, what a youth coach says and how they say what they say, on a moment-to-moment basis, often determines the lasting impact that coach will have on the impressionable youngsters they are responsible for.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ronaldo doesn’t meet the standard to be considered a positive role model

Because we live in a media age where images are captured and transported world-wide in seconds, it’s all the more difficult for high-profile politicians, entertainers and athletes to be successfully “on” every minute of the day.

Fair or not, society sometimes places a higher level of behavioral expectation on certain individuals. When they "fail", it gets reported on extensively.  Some of us perhaps expect too much, in terms of what we consider to be appropriate behaviour.

And parents, who should be the real role-models themselves, sometimes expect athletes to do the job for them.

During the current World Cup of soccer, Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo left many observers wondering if his world-class skills were slowly, subtly slipping away. Still a marvelously talented player, Ronaldo could not lift his team past the round of 16.

Of more relevance for me was his behaviour.

According to various accounts, he was sometimes petulant, with disdain directed toward not only probing photographers but his own national team Coach. Commentators invoked memories of his refusal to shake hands after a loss at the 2006 World Cup as further evidence that he lacked the grace we, ideally, would like to see if such a marvelously gifted individual—win or lose.

Now, “star” athletes are often granted far too much leeway from an early age. And this is not a new phenomenon. This has been an issue for generations, where “athletes” receive special, often pampered treatment. If they don’t do well in school, they are nonetheless moved along because they are great athletes. Terrible attitude? Doesn’t matter, they’re great athletes. Break the law in a college town? That’s OK too, as the Coach, administration and local law enforcement are there to cover up any “minor” misdeeds.

So when things don’t go their way, these young people become adults who sometimes (not always) have a tendency to blame others. It’s never their own “fault”, not their responsibility.

Ronaldo may be a swell individual, but as the years go by he more and more, at least publicly, presents as a spoiled brat. On the field is a diver, a complainer, not a true team player and someone who blames others when things don’t go well.

In a sense, this decline in the sporting world has been in evidence for many years. Those who were around in the early 1980s well remember that John McEneroe, a tremendously talented tennis player, set new (and very low) standards in on-court behaviour. His awful outbursts at calls that went against him were actually applauded in some quarters. A minor monetary fine here and there was hardly enough to stem the torrent of abuse he directed at officials. Eventually, the sport was filled with too much of that kind of behaviour. Classy individuals within that sport like Arthur Ashe and Rod Laver must have been aghast at what they were witnessing.

The world has changed and we will likely never recapture the times when pro athletes like Bart Starr in football, Jean Beliveau in hockey and Joe DiMaggio in baseball set behave in a manner that did indeed meet the “role-model” gold standard. There are athletes nowadays who meet that standard, and they should be applauded.

In fact, it probably behooves those of us who care about the messages young people receive from what would have once upon a time described as sporting “heroes”, to focus more on the “good guys” in sport than the self-centered ones.

As for Ronaldo, we—and our children—can all admire his well-honed talents. However, we don’t have to like the way he all too often acts.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Prospect’s articles around the world

Over the years, many of our original articles have been picked up and posted in many countries and on various web sites around the world—from Ireland, the United States and Canada to New Zealand.
 Here are a few examples (click on the highlighted areas to see the article):
We include this information simply to share with you that we hope the valuable—and very practical—tips we aim to share through our writing on youth sports will be considered by as many Clubs as possible. Children sometimes need to be pushed, always challenged, but also supported and nurtured to ensure that if they love sport, we—parents, coaches and administrators—don’t take that way from them.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Coach with the Right Values

I was recently with a sports industry client in Arizona for a few days. While there, I met with a number of different groups of people, including some professional coaches, as I had been invited to address the subject of communication and how it can play a valuable role in various relationships.

One of the coaches on hand shared some research he did, and in his work cited the views of a well-known high-school coach in Maryland, a former NFL player by the name of Joe Ehrmann.

When I read this reference, the values put forth by this youth coach resonated with me personally because I share—and try to live, though not always successfully—those values. It also stood out because it sounded familiar. Somewhere in my memory bank I knew I’d read about this individual (Ehrmann) before.

I dug through my old paper filing system and discovered an article written back in 2004 by a gentleman by the name of Jeffrey Marx, a Pulitzer prize-winning writer. Marx wrote a book about Ehrmann called “The Season of Life”.

I encourage you to “Google” these names and read what you can about Ehrmann.

While I can’t do justice to his philosophy in a few words, the article I read should be mandatory reading for youth coaches in every sport around the world. In a winning—obsessed culture, this man tries to, as the article says, lead boys to become real men, based on values and principles—not the results of a particular game.

He stresses the importance of relationships, not just on a “team”, but in terms of how the young men he coaches interact with others—members of the opposite sex, parents, family members, the world around them.

He also focuses on how young people are fed into a culture of comparisons and competition, and how this can destroy the concept of humanity.

Again, I don’t want to miss important aspects of his approach to interacting with his players, so I encourage you to check this out for yourself. It’s powerful stuff. You don’t see this approach in youth sports every day.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Contact us regarding our seminars and webinars!

The articles we have developed and posted on this site will hopefully continue to provide useful tips and suggestions for coaches and administrators involved at all levels in youth sports.

For those Clubs operating where we are located, in the greater Toronto area, we continue to conduct workshops for youth coaches on how good communication in coaching can help build character and confidence in young athletes.

A number of Clubs have contacted us in recent weeks about our programs. These Clubs operate in other parts of the country or the United States. For those Clubs who understandably cannot afford to bring us in to conduct workshops in person, we can conduct webinars to cover the important content available in our in-person seminars.

In addition, we can work privately with Club personnel and/or their coaches through the “Skype” service.

If you have any questions at all, contact us at michael@prospectcommunications.com or at (905) 825-8078.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A lesson we can learn from a professional golfer

For some people, golf isn’t a true ‘sport”, though for many the legendary Arnold Palmer put that argument to rest decades ago.

Regardless, a recent act on the course by a professional golfer reminded us that doing the right thing, while exceedingly difficult at times, brings its own rewards.

England’s Brian Davis has never won a PGA Tour event. At the recent tour stop in South Carolina, he was involved in a sudden-death playoff with veteran Jim Furyk. On the first extra hole, Davis apparently, on his backswing, caused a small twig on the ground near his ball to move.

That is, unfortunately and perhaps unfairly, something that calls for a two-stroke penalty.

The thing is, the player pretty much has to “call it” on him or herself.

Davis thought he saw the twig move, so he called over an on-course official and the “slow motion” video replay confirmed what he thought he saw—movement.

He had indeed called a two-stroke penalty against himself, and he lost the tournament as a result—and about $400,000 in possible winnings.

Team sports would be turned upside down if suddenly we had soccer players saying to referees—“don’t call that a penalty—I was diving” or if baseball outfielders admitted they trapped a ball when the umpire ruled that they caught it.

I’m not suggesting a wholesale change in approach- I’m simply calling to mind that there are higher ideals that we can indeed aspire to in sports, even when we—and our own children—play in highly competitive environments

We all want to win and young people should train and work and do all the right things to improve their skills and play hard and well—but at the end of the day, winning isn’t everything.

Davis’ honesty touched the tournament organizers. That doesn’t make up for $400,000—or does it, in a much more important way?

Davis should long be remembered for his rather remarkable honesty. He set the bar too high for most of us, but it’s good to know there is still a bar.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Youth soccer players too often act like the pros

Soccer is a sport that seems to engender on-field reactions that you don’t typically see in other sports.

Diving, for one—though those of us familiar with hockey know it can happen on the ice, too.

But it’s more in the overt demonstrative displays that separate the sport from most others. It was interesting to note in a recent hockey broadcast that the commentators made a point of referencing a very slight gesture by Toronto Maple Leaf forward Phil Kessel. Kessel had passed the puck to a teammate, and when his line-mate also passed the puck rather than take a clear shot on goal, Kessel reacted with a gesture that clearly showed he felt his colleague should have taken a shot instead of passed.

Again, this was a very subtle reaction, not likely picked up by most spectators- only by the TV cameras on the replay.

That kind of action—magnified several times—is, sadly, commonplace in soccer, the “beautiful” game which would be much more beautiful without certain kinds of displays.

This includes:

all-too-frequent arguing by players on-field over virtually every call by the referee

 young players with their hands up in the air disputing those calls

 players overtly showing their displeasure when a teammate makes what they consider to be a bad pass

 the aforementioned intentional diving, trying to deceive the referee

Other than the diving (and even then it is comparably infrequent), you rarely if ever see this kind of bickering between teammates in hockey, where the “code” of in-game behaviour seems quite different.

Visit any local soccer pitch. There are too many young soccer players who yap at the referees, point out their teammates’ errors and sometimes even yell at parents on the sideline.

I’m not sure when all this behaviour started, but youth coaches have a responsibility to not only teach and demonstrate the soccer skills necessary to compete, enjoy and succeed in the sport. They—and we parents—bear a responsibility to teach appropriate on-field behaviour to youngsters who emulate the “pros”—regardless of how poorly the pros act.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Are you an inspirational youth coach? 10 things to consider

Can anything be more important than having been a truly positive life influence on those with whom you interact?

In the context of sports, and particularly in the world of high-pressure youth sports, coaches have an opportunity—virtually every day—to create a lasting memory in the minds of the young athletes they are there to lead and teach.

Players—young and old—have responsibilities to take a lead in their own development, of course, if they are a serious athlete and expect to earn and keep a position on a highly competitive team. But you, as coach, have a huge influence.

Moreover, by your actions and behaviour every day, you determine what your legacy will be in the minds of those you coach.

You need only ask yourself: How do I want to be thought of—and remembered—20 years from now by those I coached?

Here are ten things to consider in determining whether you are the kind of coach and individual your players will look back on with fondness and respect. I believe this applies whether you coach them as 10 year-olds or as they are heading toward a possible future in the sport. Regardless, you should behave in a manner that will see them remember you as an inspiring presence in their lives:

1. Whether a player is a “star” on your team or someone who plays infrequently, does every player know they are important to the team?

2. Do you set joint—and mutual—expectations early on with your players, so there is less chance of misunderstanding later?

3. Are you always the adult in the relationship? Do you consistently model behaviour that you would be proud to see in your players?

4. How often do you say things in the heat of the moment that you can’t take back—and will never be forgotten by the young person you coach?

5. Do you take the time to find out what motivates each of your players, and what makes them love the sport/game they play?

6. Do you yell constantly about mistakes, or instead, create an environment where hard-working players aren’t afraid to try things and make mistakes in order to get better?

7. Do you help to build your players’ confidence, or do you do things to undermine it?
8. How much time do you spend getting to know your players as individuals?

9. Do you always have the answers, or are you open to ideas from your players? Will your players look back and say you were a great listener?

10. Are you consistent in your accountability system and your approach to discipline, or do you have a “star” system? Do certain players not face consequences?

By your actions, you are writing the script today for how those youngsters will remember you years down the road.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Being a flawed sports parent has helped me to help others

One of the reasons that I am comfortable writing on—and hosting seminars—on the subject of youth sports is my own flawed experience as a sports “dad” for the past 25 years.

My mistakes in my interactions with my own children have been frequent, and I acknowledge those failures. My actions and words were sometimes less than what should have been, and on occasion I’ve even slipped into that murky area of being less than proud of my own public behaviour as a dad and an erstwhile recreational youth (in my case, baseball) coach.

I state this not with pride but rather with a great deal of genuine regret and humility. I have always tried to follow some important, timeless values that I hold in my heart and hoped to display to my own kids and any young people I coached. However, “human error” sometimes reared its head and I failed—in thought, words or action.

I hesitate to say I “learned” my lessons, because if I had, I would not still be flawed. But like many others, I constantly try to be better at it, and in recent years have shared my own experiences as part of attempting to help other parents and coaches along the way.

So, when I write about the way things “ought to be” in youth sports, I come from a place filled with my own mistakes.

I have also spent many hours over the past twenty years literally standing back, away from the ice, field and court, to observe the behaviour of coaches, fellow parents and sport administrators around me.

These countless experiences makes my recommendations and suggestions all the more concrete, practical and—hopefully—effective.

Here are five “little” things that can make a big difference for you as a parent:

1. As a parent-spectator, if you know you are prone to falling off the wagon (i.e. yelling at referees, players or other parents, for example) avoid temptation. Sit off to the side, away from others. If there are fellow parents who bring out the worst in you, don’t be unfriendly, but don’t engage them. If you do engage in conversation, do it with people you know who are positive and will help keep you on track.

2. Ask yourself: will I be OK later with what I’m saying or how I’m behaving right now? If my words/actions come back to me later, will I be able to justify or defend my behaviour to myself or to others?

3. If you are upset with or don’t agree with a coach’s decision (who’s starting, playing time, substitution and/or tactical choices) don’t confront the coach right after the game. Give yourself 24 hours to cool down. Generally, things feel better by then. If not, ask for a private meeting where you can discuss your concerns quietly.

4. Make the care ride home with your son or daughter enjoyable. Don’t start berating your son/daughter as soon as they get in the car. If you are annoyed by what happened at the game, discuss other things instead. Young players generally know how they played, and if they weren’t at their best, don’t need to be reminded by their mom or dad.

5. Let your child decide if they even want to talk about the game. If they don’t initiate a conversation about it, great. Focus on other things. If they do, let them speak and air their thoughts without judgment.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Doing the right things when interacting with your players:The “Checklist” for Youth Sports Coaches

Youth sports coaches have a difficult job. They are the key decision-makers. They set examples. Players look to them for leadership. Club administrators – and parents -- look to them to make good choices.

As adults we often speak to our young people about making choices— preferably intelligent, positive choices.

That said, coaches make choices, too. They can choose to be the kind of coach that cares only about “winning”, or a coach that has a deeper—and longer-lasting—impact on the young people they coach and the families whose lives they touch.

Here are some tips to help make the coaching experience better for you—and the young people you interact with:

1) Build confidence in your players

Too often young athletes have their confidence shattered by their coach. Ask anyone in sports, including top professional athletes: when you lose your confidence, performance suffers and it becomes a vicious cycle. As a coach, regardless of whether you are soft-spoken, a yeller or somewhere in between, you must show confidence in your athletes – and constantly build their self-confidence. Wouldn’t you rather be the one coach the player looks back on and says – “That person really believed in me and made a difference in my life…” than the coach who is a negative caricature in the minds of your former players?

2) Identify the real team players on your squad

Coaches so often want to build a team with stars that they neglect to identify the young athletes who will be the glue that keeps a team together, and keeps them successful. There are obviously many attributes of a “team player”, but for starters, look for young people who are good teammates, who support other players, who are unselfish, and treat other players and people with respect. A really good coach would rather ‘lose’ with a bunch of fine young people than ‘win’ with a group of talented prima donnas who care only about themselves and not the team.

3) Communicate regularly -- and honestly

Young players need regular feedback. You should never go weeks or months without providing constructive feedback on their performance. If they are not meeting your expectations, either in terms of performance or attitude, speak with them—privately. That said, the first thing you should do is set mutually understood expectations at the beginning of each season. Meet with the player alone to do this (and with their parents, when age appropriate), away from everyone else.

4) Explain clearly what you want and then demonstrate what you want

I often see coaches demand, yell, threaten. Most coaches are not Tony Dungee (coach of the NFL Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts) who rarely, if ever, speaks above his “normal” voice. Parents and players expect --and accept-- some loudness from a coach. A little loudness may even help sometimes! But be sure to explain clearly what you want to see, then show what you want. Young soccer players need to see what you’re talking about, so if you can’t show/demonstrate what you want, bring in a guest instructor who can.

5) Recognize that every young person/athlete is motivated differently

Not every athlete— or person — responds to the same stimuli. Some athletes are self-driven, some may need a shove in the behind, others need encouragement. Whatever, the key is to find out what is behind every player’s mental door. Speak to the player. Get to know them. Find out what motivates them. Find out what they really love about the sport they play — this will give you a look behind the door. Again if age appropriate, speak with their parents. They may have insight that will help you inspire your young player.

6) Recognize that you have a potentially huge affect on the young people you coach

Parents clearly have a seminal influence on the lives of their children. Particular teachers can have a major impact. But there’s no question youth coaches have a huge affect on many of the young players on their team. What you say, how you say it, how you act and how you treat people does matter -- a lot. Ask yourself: How will I want to be remembered by this group of players, by each individual player, in 20 years?

Be the kind of coach that will make people remember you fondly, as a positive inspiration in their life, as someone who made a real difference, whether they go on in the sporting field or not. Your players will remember you for a long, long time. What do you want their memory of you to be?

7) Don’t hide your head in the sand. Make yourself aware of personality conflicts on your team, and work to resolve them

Many youth coaches don’t want to know if there are conflicts on their young team. Worse, if they do know there are issues, they don’t know how to deal with the situation effectively. Just like adults, we can’t expect young people, particularly young people competing against one another for playing time and recognition, etc. to always like each other, or to get along. But you can make it a point to hear, watch and see what’s going on. And you, as the team leader, can engender a sense of camaraderie, togetherness, and foster the notion of respect for each other on and off the field of play. Insist on it.

8) Keep your players’ egos in check

Some coaches may not think that this is an issue in youth sports, but in this day and age, it is. Young people see “the pros” showboating, trash-talking and generally acting in a manner that most parents would not approve of. Even the great soccer-star Zidane, in some people’s minds, may well have set a poor example in this regard in the final of the 2006 World Cup. (Zidane at least was, in his own mind, defending his family’s honour when he was involved in the controversial ‘head-butting’ incident, after an opposing player evidently made several classless on-field remarks.)

While we all want our kids to have healthy self-esteem and a good sense of self-worth, too much “attitude” can lead to an over-developed sense of self-importance. As coach, you have the opportunity—and the responsibility—to see that your players don’t fall into this pattern. If you don’t deal with it, you will generally see a negative impact on the players, your team, and your efforts to build a tight-knit group.

9) Listen to your players. Don’t assume you have all the answers

We adults often think we have the answers, because we have “life experience”. This life experience can lead to wisdom. It can also lead to rigid thinking that hasn’t changed in decades. This certainly applies to coaching. Coaches who say, “this is the way it was in my day”, or think because they played the game at a high level that they know everything there is to know, may be doing their players a disservice. The way things were done in “your day” may not have been the best way. Much like parenting, why would we want to repeat the mistakes made by our own parents? I work professionally with many young athletes and I often hear of their frustration with coaches who just won’t listen, won’t take input from those who are actually on the field, playing the game NOW. Hearing is a sense. Listening is a skill. Develop that skill— especially when it comes to relating to your players.

One other thing on this subject: As I mentioned earlier, take the time to find out what each player really loves about a particular sport. Sometimes a coach will be with a young person for an entire season and will never bother to find out that the player loves a certain aspect of the sport. Find out. Then build on that to help them become an even better all-around player.

10) Model real leadership. Don’t talk “we” and act “me”. If you talk about leadership but don’t live it, your players will tune you out.

Leadership is easy to talk – and write about— and much harder to show. But as a youth sports coach, you have a wonderful opportunity to model positive leadership. How you speak with your players, the way you instruct, how you handle situations when players make mistakes and how you communicate with players on a daily basis are all vitally important examples of your leadership style. You are showing by your own actual behavioral example what you believe is the “right” way for an adult in a position of authority to handle themselves. You should always have handy a mental checklist, a self-monitoring system that makes you ask yourself, “will I feel badly tomorrow about what I am about to say or do right now?”

We all make mistakes, and if you make one, be strong enough to acknowledge that you let a player down and then apologize to them. The willingness to do that will set a tremendous example as well.

11) Be consistent in your discipline and expectations, regardless of whether it’s your “stars” or those who play less often.

Young people generally recognize pretty quickly when a coach says one thing, then does something different. While you should aim to get to know all of your players as individuals, and know what motivates them and react accordingly, you should establish firm team expectations – and stick with them. Suppose “star” players miss practice regularly, or don’t work hard in drills, or put down their teammates (or act out in games against opponents or referees). Do you ignore this behavior because you “need” that player to “win”? The players should know what your rules, guidelines and expectations are, and realize there will be consequences— regardless of who breaks the rules.

12) The Golden Rule: Monitor how your players treat one another

For some coaches, this notion is somehow totally unimportant. It should be important to you. If you have certain players putting down others on a young team, it’s toxic and spreads. Don’t be lulled into thinking it doesn’t matter. It does. The world is still full of “Eddie Haskell” (a famous teenage character from the classic ‘Leave It To Beaver’ television program) types— kids who are nice to the coach or certain adults, but are jerks to teammates or others they don’t like.

If you see inappropriate behavior of any kind, deal with it firmly. The old adage “boys will be boys” doesn’t cut it—in male or female youth sports. Talk to the instigator/s privately and make it clear you will not tolerate that behavior on your team, full stop.

13) Be respectful of parents

Youth coaches (sometimes understandably) tend to look at parents as necessary evils. We parents can be a pain, no question. Coaches don’t want to “deal” with parents, and delegate an assistant coach or team manager to handle all interpersonal situations. You may be saying to yourself, “Hey, I’m a volunteer, I already give up lots of my time…” which is a fair point if you don’t have a son or daughter on your team. But parents do deserve to know how their son or daughter is doing, why they are playing a lot or a little, and if there are things they could be doing to make the overall soccer experience for their child a better one. Ideally, set aside a night every few weeks to have telephone appointments to discuss progress, privately, calmly and away from the field.

14) Always be open to new players, but be loyal to dedicated returning players

Just because a player made an “all-star” or “rep” team at the age of 10 shouldn’t give them an automatic renewal license for all long as they want to stay on a team. This can lead to a sense of entitlement that is not healthy. A young athlete should have to constantly enhance their skills, work diligently, attend practices, volunteer time, and maintain a positive attitude. If you have a real team player on your hands, keep them. If a new player comes by who may have a little more talent—be open but also keep your eyes open. Too often coaches are willing to sacrifice a solid but unspectacular player for an incoming “star”, but remember—the star may bring some baggage, so do your homework.

15) Ask yourself: Are you being the adult in the relationship with your player/players?

In my advisory work with young athletes, I regularly see situations (albeit from the perspective of the young athlete) where it strikes me that the player has to assume the role of the adult in the coach-player relationship. The coach doesn’t have a true open door policy, may be a ‘talker’ but not an effective communicator, may be a de-motivator, etc. When issues arise, there is silence, not an effort to resolve things and so feelings fester and simmer. This forces the young person to plan a strategy to deal effectively with the situation. I often will recommend that the young person initiate a private tete-a-tete, since the coach seems uninterested or unwilling to address an obvious problem. The meeting doesn’t always solve the issue, but at least there is an attempt at open communication.

As the coach, you be the adult. You are the adult, so accept the responsibility. Set a high standard in terms of your performance and behavior expectations of the young athletes (but understand they are young and will make mistakes), and in return do the same to and for yourself.

16) Recognize that every player on your team must not only feel they are an important part of your team/success, they must know it. That comes from you.

I quite often will hear a professional coach say things such as, “As a coach, I try to make everyone on the team feel important”. Well, that’s all very nice. All your players should feel important. But your job is not to make them feel important, it is to make them know and fully understand that they really are important. In any team sport, not even the greatest players of their generation— Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Jim Brown, Michael Jordan. Pele —could win a game, much less a championship, on their own. Every player on their squad likely contributed something significant at some point that changed the outcome of a particular game or season. Your players, especially the ones who perhaps play less than the others, need to know clearly they are an invaluable part of any success your team has. And you need to make this understood to all your players, especially those who think they are the straw that stirs the drink.

17) Are there consequences to your expectations or are they just idle threats?

In short, we don’t need to be a psychologist to understand that if your leadership, rules and expectations are to have any impact, you must be consistent not only in outlining but also in acting upon your expectations. It is imperative that you demonstrate that there are clear consequences. Anything short of real consequences and these smart young people will call your bluff and tune you out—to your face, or behind your back.

18) If you cannot provide certain expertise find it for your team.

In this day and age, coaches should be humble enough to recognize they don’t know everything. Fitness and nutrition are important, so if this is not an area you have knowledge about, bring in people who do to share information with your athletes. As a coach, if you have no legitimate expertise as a keeper/goalie coach, for example, in sports such as soccer or hockey, seek out someone who can provide it. Misinformation or poor instruction are probably worse in these instances than no information or instruction at all. Many a young goalie has been harmed mentally and emotionally by a coach who simply does not know what they are talking about.


Michael Langlois, founder of Prospect Communications Inc., is a frequent guest speaker to youth sports organizations. He is the father of four sons and has been involved in youth sports for well over 20 years. He is a recognized expert in the field of communications and issues management. Michael also acts as a private advisor to a wide range of clients in the sports field, including various Associations, elite athletes and National Hockey League coaches. He has written articles and books on youth sports for many years, including, “How Well Do You Communicate? A Guide to Better Communication with Players and Parents for Youth Soccer Coaches”. Prospect’s web site is located at http://www.prospectcommunications.com/

Building Your Minor/Youth Hockey Team With Real Team Players

Spring, 2010

 15 traits — good and bad —
that coaches should identify when looking for a true team player in youth sports

So you’re the coach of a very high-level and competitive youth hockey team.

You want your players to love the game, have fun and hopefully achieve some “success”.

For you, success means far more than wins and losses. Oh, you want to win. Any competitive person — young or old, coach, player or parent — wants to win, even in so-called “youth” sports.

But beyond that, you really do aspire to help build character in the young people in your care, build a team that plays hard and tough but fair.

So what are you looking for as you build this competitive young hockey team?

Players with talent, to be sure.

Young athletes with a passion for the sport, absolutely.

But if you really want to have a “successful” team of young players, based on the above criteria, you will need to find true ‘team’ players.

Again, what are you looking for? What is a true ‘team’ player in youth sports?

True team players may not always be the most talented or naturally gifted players, but they make your team better by their sheer presence. The poor team player has an attitude that can spread like a disease, and over time can kill the harmony and chemistry that is often critically important in helping you attain the positive goals you have set out for your young squad.

Here are some qualities, attributes, characteristics and/or behaviour patterns you will — and won’t— want to have on your team

 1) Positive attitude

 It’s an easy term to throw out there, but more than ever, in a generation filled with bulging egos and self-interest, a positive attitude — toward others and your team— is critically important in choosing an athlete for a high-level team.

What are tell-tale signs of a good — or bad — attitude in a young athlete? 
  • Does the player listen, or does he slough off input from coaches?
  • Does the player have a strong work ethic all over the ice, including in his own zone?
  • Does he/she have the ability to self-reflect, to really look at themselves in the mirror and see when they are not performing the way they should?
  • Does the player work out on their own, beyond regular practices?
  • Does the individual accept constructive criticism?
  • Does the player work on their shortcomings, or only focus on the things they like to do or are good at?
As a coach, you can fill in the blanks with many other attributes relating to the importance of attitude.

In short, you want the player who will play a role when needed, accept the non-glory jobs, play (as much as is reasonable to expect of a young athlete) for the team more than simply for goals and assists — or their own egos.

2) Work ethic

The willingness to work hard, really hard, to improve your skills is vital.

Wayne Gretzky was a hockey phenom with wonderful instincts and vision, but worked and worked to get better every day. Terry O’Reilley had a tremendous career with the Boston Bruins, but most observers will suggest he would never have made it to the NHL without a remarkable work ethic. He needed to work on his skating,, for example — and he did. He knew that he would stand out only through a real work ethic, and he set a very high bar, by all accounts.

Does being a diligent worker make you a great team player? Not necessarily, if you don’t associate with and respect your fellow players.

But the vast majority of young athletes who work hard do so because they love the sport, truly want to be the best they can be, and by extension are great influences on their team.

Being a good teammate and team player is not necessarily being the most ‘popular’, but it can include setting important examples, especially in terms of work ethic.

3) A player who shows respect for the coach and their teammates

No player, from the youngest “house league” player to the star NHL’er, will always agree with their coach.

Whether the issue is playing time, method of instruction, discipline, whatever, there will always be the possibility of disagreement.

But the team player will recognize that the coach may see the ‘big picture’ and will follow the coach’s plan for the team. This player doesn’t freelance and simply do his or her own thing.

The team player will do his or her best to adopt the strategic recommendations of the coach, and respect the coach’s philosophy — assuming, of course, the youth coach is of strong character with solid values.

(On this point, parents have every right to disagree with a coach, but those disagreements should be discussed privately, away from other players and parents.

If the conflicts cannot be resolved, the parents have the option of raising legitimate issues or concerns with a “higher authority” or seeking an alternate program for their son or daughter.)

Assuming good will on everyone’s part, the player with the team uppermost in mind will respect not only his coach, but also his or her fellow players. That final point should not be undervalued. A player who respects their teammates is worth their weight in gold.

This doesn’t mean there won’t be joking, camaraderie and even some healthy competition and occasional words of criticism.

But if the basis of the relationship is genuine respect, then the relationship can build and flourish.

4) Negative body language

Visit any hockey arena, and you will see young players, very young players, demonstrate negative body language that must have been learned by example: an example set by watching older players on TV, or in their own homes.

Some specific examples of this behaviour?

Players shoot the evil eye at teammates when that other player is thought to have made a mistake; they throw their hands up in the air whenever an officials’ call goes against them or their team (it seems to be human nature to disagree with calls by referees on occasion, but when a player reacts repeatedly, it is a problem); they won’t look their coach in the eye, talk back or simply tune their coach out. All these can be small but important signs that this particular player will let you — and the team— down at crunch time.

5) The selfish player

Selfish play doesn’t only show itself when a player won’t “pass the puck”. That does happen, and can pose a problem, of course, if a young player repeatedly refuses to look for the open man when the opportunity calls for it.

But selfish play shows itself in a variety of ways, and youth coaches need to be on guard. The player who incessantly harps at game officials is not a team player, because he/she is only hurting their team by complaining constantly to officials who, being human, may take out their own frustration against your team.

The player who constantly throws his hands up in the air when a call goes against him is being selfish.

Again, the example is often set at the pro levels. When Tie Domi hit Scott Niedermeyer with a violent elbow to the head — for no apparent reason— at the end of a critical NHL playoff game a few years ago, many believe the thoughtless act wrecked any chances his team, the Maple Leafs, had of upsetting the favored New Jersey Devils. Domi was suspended for the senseless act, and rather than focus on a great game the Leafs had just played in victory, the media and the hockey world focused solely on Domi’s actions. A thoughtless, selfish play hurt his team, badly.

The Leafs lost the series.

6) The blame game

Perhaps it is a reflection of the way some professional athletes act out, or maybe it is that too many of us as parents have gone overboard in ‘supporting’ our own kids. Whatever, far too many young athletes simply look to blame others when things go wrong.

Rather than look at their own performance, they pick at teammates, blame others for goals that are scored, and generally fail to recognize their own errors while focusing on the ‘mistakes’ of others.

This attitude can spread like wildfire, and is highly toxic.

 7) “I’m better than you”

Everyone is, of course, entitled to their own opinion. Listen in the stands at any hockey rink at youth games and you’ll hear plenty of opinions, on a range of subjects.

Opinions become an issue, however, when parents start thinking their kid is better than everyone else’s.

And when the young players themselves act as though they are better than their teammates — either in the actual things the say, the tone they adopt when interacting with fellow players, coaches, or the way they exclude certain teammates on or off the ice, it is a major problem.

Young players who think they’re great, and that others are the problem, create an environment for failure, on many levels.

8) “I’ll play anywhere, coach”

Most every coach loves the player who is versatile, can play different positions and accepts tough roles.

Often, part of being a good team player is being the kind of player that a coach can count on to embrace sometimes low-profile but difficult assignments.

We’ve all heard the expression, “Take one for the team”.

The real team player takes that phrase to heart.

 9) Humility

Genuine humility is difficult to find, at any age. We are all taught a kind of superficial, false modesty at a very young age, and that is socially encouraged, to a certain extent.

And human nature being what it is, we all have pride. That’s OK.

But developing a truly humble attitude is a wonderful trait in a young athlete. To take pride in working toward or achieving a goal is probably a healthy thing.

But reminding him or her self that few if any athletes accomplish things totally on their own is a good thing for young athletes. You usually need helpful and supportive parents, excellent coaches, teammates who also strive to be better, as part of one’s support system.

Even world class athletes in “individual”, non-team sports such as gymnastics, figure-skating and swimming need the support of others to attain great things, whether that support is financial, emotional or otherwise.

Goodness knows the professional sports world often seems to be filled with individuals who think primarily of themselves. The youth sports world — and your team— can always do with some humility.

10) Picking up and supporting a fellow player when they are down

The player you are looking for can identify when a teammate is struggling, needs a pat on the back, and a shot of confidence.

This is tough to expect when players are really young, but by the time a young person is 12 or 13, it is something that you can look for.

I remember a few years ago that I asked one of my clients, an NHL player, a question that I sensed he had never been asked before. I asked him if he could identify one player in his pro career who he thought of as a truly excellent teammate and team player, specifically someone who didn’t blame others and supported his own teammates when they were down, etc..

 He named James Patrick, the long time defenseman, who has had a quiet but lengthy and distinguished career in the NHL before announcing his retirement before the start of the 2005-’06 NHL season.

That has always stayed with me.

As a youth hockey coach, you want to find as many James Patrick-type players as possible!

 11) Helping other/younger players

This does not necessarily apply until older ages when say, a 13 or 14 year old is playing with older athletes, but it can be a very important attribute in an “older” youth player.

The great teammate senses when a younger player is struggling, uncomfortable or anxious. He/she will spend some time with the younger player, talk with them, help them to understand that they are an important part of the team, and generally include them in activities on and off the ice.

I remember many years ago, when I was coaching a youth baseball team. One of my four sons was on the team. (Yes, I was one of those coaches with a son on their team!). There was quite an age spread on this particular team, 13 to 16.

During one game, I came down very hard on my son (who was 13 at the time), in a way that I likely would not have with any other player. I unloaded. He accepted it and but was hurt and upset and quietly went to seek a quiet space in the corner of the dugout.

One of his teammates, a 16 year-old catcher and true team leader, quietly went over, knelt down in front of my son, took him gently by the shoulders and just spoke with him privately.

That response lifted my son’s spirits and made him feel much, much better, and also showed the quality of character of this young person.

That day, a 16-year old did a lot more for my son’s growth and development than I did.

He also reinforced for me what a true team player is, at any level of sport.

 12) Showing genuine happiness when others succeed

This is hard for most of us as adults, so it is quite an expectation for us to have of a young athlete.

This is especially difficult during the tryout process, when players are obviously competing for positions on the team.

But once the final squad is selected, it is important that players support one another in good times and bad.

It can be particularly challenging to find joy in the success of your teammates, but if you can, it is a wonderful gift to share.

The coach who identifies a lot of players who can do this will have a strong team, on and off the ice.

 13) A focus on fitness

There is more to being a good hockey player than scoring goals. There is no question that if a young person wants to be an elite athlete, they need to get into outstanding physical condition.

Is your potential player willing to do additional training on their own and with teammates? Young players who make this kind of commitment demonstrate they have a genuine desire to succeed.

By being in great condition, a young player won’t let themself down, and they won’t let their team down, either.

 14) Welcoming “new” players to the team

There is often an awkward transition period for any athlete, but perhaps especially young athletes, when a player changes teams or joins a new team.

The young player may not know many of his/her fellow players and teammates, and there may be a period of discomfort.

The team player will welcome newcomers to the team, answer their questions, share experiences and generally offer a genuine and warm welcome, both on and off the ice.

 15) The follower

Not every person — or athlete— is a leader, so it is certainly not reasonable to expect that every young player will be a leader.

Our course, one thing to be aware of as a youth coach is the young player who is not only not a leader, but is a follower— and someone who follows the wrong kind of example.

That kind of follower is the one that easily falls in with negative peer influences, displays immature judgments or inappropriate outbursts with coaches, fellow players or officials, for example.

One player with a negative attitude can carry other players who fall into the ‘follower’ category with them, and that can seriously impede team harmony.

Final thoughts

There are, of course, other attributes as a coach that you will have taken note of over the years in building a youth team. But these 15 things give a coach some points to seriously consider, as they go about building a real “team” in youth sports.

A final thought: Too many teams are kept together from year to year in youth sports, because of a variety of factors, with no room for “new blood”.

This can be troubling for a couple of reasons. By almost automatically keeping the same players year after year, regardless of attitude or work ethic, players and their parents develop a sense of entitlement that they, without question, deserve to be on a particular team.

 Also, a youth coach, in adopting this restrictive approach, may miss some players who would be excellent additions to their squad, and be real team players.

Unfortunately, the “tryout” process is often way too short. The longer a coach can carry on their tryout process, the better they will be able to identify the traits, qualities and characteristics that will help them locate these sometimes hidden gems.

And a team player is just that: a gem.

Michael Langlois, founder of Prospect Communications Inc., is the author of the book, “How Well Do You Communicate? A Guide to Better Communication with Players and Parents for Minor (Youth) Soccer Coaches”. Prospect’s web site is located at http://www.prospectcommunications.com/. This article is copyrighted to the author and may not be reproduced without obtaining written permission. To inquire about licensing the right to reproduce any of the enclosed content email: inquiries@prospectcommunications.com