Matt Howard and JaJuan Johnson’s Summer Team Fondly Recalled by kentsterling

by Kent Sterling

Back from 2003-2006, there was a summer team filled with unknown kids who just kept winning.  Teams watched them warm up, dismissed them, and then got their asses beat by 25.  They played hard and together, and shot it exceptionally well.

The Spiece Central Stars showed up for practice early, stayed after practice to shoot, and loved each other like brothers.  They traveled for four summers, took on all comers and won 90% of their games.

They had fun during the games and back at the hotels where they ate pizza and watched “Sister Act” over and over again on TBS.  The Stars learned about competing, brotherhood, and killing time.

Hundreds of parents and kids are looking for the right summer basketball team, coach, and experience.  The kids who played for coach Pat Mullin for those four years were lucky enough to find it.  They didn’t all hit the big time like Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson and Butler’s Matt Howard, but all maintained their love for the game through those 300+ games and many practices, and they found friendships that will outlast their knees.

Mullin has coached a lot of summer teams, but calls this one his favorite.  In the video, he talks about these kids who are about to enjoy their final year of college hoops.



Parents – Get Out of Your Kids Way by kentsterling
September 10, 2010, 10:42 am
Filed under: Kent Sterling, Youth Basketball | Tags: , ,

by Kent Sterling

Without a doubt, more burgeoning athletic careers are ruined by parents than any other group of people.  The joy of youth sports is poisoned by parents.  Ask any youth or high school sports coach, “What’s the worst part of coaching kids?”  If every one of them doesn’t reply, “Parents,” I’ll buy you a steak.

Dan Coyle is a really smart guy, and he has devoted a great deal of time and energy to studying excellence is youth sports.  The author of “The Talent Code” also has a blog that discusses kids and how they build skill and pursue excellence.

His latest entry focuses upon prodigies and how their progress toward greatness is either stunted or driven.  The wild card, according to Dan, is parental interaction.  He writes about Michael Phelps in comparison to his two sisters. You should read the entire thing, but here is the excerpt about Phelps and his mom:

A nice case study is found in the story of Debbie Phelps and her three kids – Michael (yes, that Michael Phelps) and his older sisters, Whitney and Hilary.

Growing up in suburban Baltimore, Whitney and Hilary were prodigial swimmers. Whitney was a national champion at 14. According to one of their coaches, Whitney and Hilary possessed more talent than Michael ever had. Debbie was the very image of an involved sports mom – celebrating each of Whitney and Hilary’s successes with great enthusiasm.

Then, as happens with so many, Whitney and Hilary hit the Prodigy Wall. They got really good, but couldn’t get any better. They couldn’t crack through.

Michael comes along. He’s really good — nearly as talented as his sisters. And when Michael was 15, he set a new American record at an out-of-town meet. As Michael traveled back to Baltimore, Mother Debbie did the instinctive thing – she festooned the house with balloons, streamers, and yard signs commemorating his remarkable feat.

But then something unusual happened. A few hours before Michael arrived, Michael’s coach, Bob Bowman, came to the house and removed all the streamers. He popped the balloons. He pulled down the signs. And he threw it all into the trash.

When Debbie Phelps saw what Bowman had done, she was understandably upset – why was he doing this? Didn’t he understand that this was a big moment, a time to celebrate?

Bowman let her protest. Then he told her, “This is a journey of a thousand steps. If we celebrate now, like this, that leaves us nowhere to go.”

Anyone who has raised or is in the process of raising kids with a lofty goal and some talent becomes invested in the kid’s progress toward that goal.  Parents invest time and money in the pursuit of that goal, and so they feel through that investment there is conferred upon them a measure of ownership.  Parents begin calling the shots, building workout schedules, and inevitable coaching inside the car.  From there, the leap of this trek to greatness being more about them than the kid is as sure as it is destructive.

When the parent begins owning the pride in the successes of a son or daughter, the game is over.  The kid no longer feels the struggle is his or hers, and without that ownership, passion wanes.  If you want to find a common denominator among successful kids or adults – look no farther than passion.  It fuels competitiveness and work ethic.  Rob a kid of that by owning the passion yourself, and watch as the kid becomes average.

Bowman is exactly right when he tells Phelps’ mom that it’s about the journey, not the destination.  In the journey to greatness,m there is no destination, just work and diligence.  Parents are right when they recognize that hard work is the route, but if the kid doesn’t have the passion to work hard, it can’t be instilled in them by a parent.

Find a coach who makes the work enjoyable and fruitful, and then get out of the way.  Yes, you pay closer attention to your kid than anyone else does, but that doesn’t make you the right person to critique or extol the work your kid does.  Deny yourself the almost irresistible urge to harangue, help, cajole, aid, or prod you child in the car after games, workouts, and practices.

Talk about anything in the car other than the activity your kid just enjoyed.  Force yourself to engage in conversation about anything else – ANYTHING.  I’ve seen dozens of kids leave a gym smiling, only to get to the restaurant where a team is eating with all the life stripped from his psyche.  Something happened in the car to these kids.

Remember that your kid owns the success and failures.  It’s not yours.

Go buy “The Talent Code” by Dan Coyle, and make his website www.thetalentcode.com a regular stop for more secrets in helping your sons and daughters enjoy youth sports and develop a love for the games they play.



Dan Dakich Nails Youth Baseball Fathers and Coaches by kentsterling

by Kent Sterling

Yesterday, as I drove down State Road 37 (the Ruel W. Steele Memorial Highway) toward Bloomington, the Dan Dakich Show on 1070 – The Fan was taking mighty swings against the pretentious mopes who populate youth baseball diamonds throughout central Indiana.

He mentioned the guys who wear the baseball caps and park their sunglasses on top of the visor as particularly loathsome.  Dan is very adept at classifying people very quickly as decent guys or pretentious and foul boobs not worth his time, and with this segment of dads he was 100% right.

Dan also recounted a conversation with another dad that illustrated the difference between the kooks and the dads with a clue.  A guy asked Dan, “With your kid on the field, how can you not scream and yell for his team?”  Dan replied, “With my kid on the field, how can I?”

Holy shit, talk about a moment of clarity.  You want a dose of sanity, go ahead and say something crazy to Dan.

When I coached travel baseball for three years – more a player psychiatrist than a bona fide coach – we came up against teams whose coaches wore uniforms just like the players – right down to the spikes.  It was absurd.  Here are these ten-year-old kids running around trying to play baseball, and full-uniformed and spiked morons running around with those sports Oakleys perched on their visors.

To say these parents took their roles as coaches just a little too seriously is a massive understatement.  I hate that kind of crap, so I went to Target to find Hawaiian shirts on clearance.  They had a rack full of them, so I bought ten.  I passed them out to the coaches at the next tournament as our uniforms.

I would have been happy to wear a tee-shirt and shorts to coach as that probably would have been the furthest from the dopey coaches uniforms so many teams wore, but I was still immature enough to want to overtly rub their noses in their stupidity, and Hawaiian shirts had the best chance of doing it.

There was another message sent by the silly shirts I thought was good for the kids, and that was that we were there to have a good time too.  Baseball is about having fun, and if win or lose, the team enjoys itself, how better to spend a summer weekend.

Dan has a way of cutting through the crap to get to the marrow of an issue, and yesterday he had me rolling at the expense of all those pretentious douchebags out there living their shattered sports dreams through their kids to the point where they dress the part.

He said he tells his wife to watch a specific guy – the one with the youth baseball outfit de jour – and listen to how he’s going to yell at the umpire.  “Come on blue!  You’re squeezing him!” the guy shouts.  Of course he does because he’s playing the part of the knowledgeable fan, and he’s heard other guys say that.

I argued a call once in baseball (in basketball, I was a boob Dan might have made fun of).  The umpire misinterpreted the dropped third strike rule in a situation too complicated to describe here, and the out that would have ended the game was not called.  I went out and explained the rule.  The umpire told me I was wrong, and I walked back to the dugout and told the kids we had lost and to line up and shake hands.  Parents were screaming at me to go back and argue more forcefully.  I said no.  They asked why.  I said, “because it’s recreational league baseball and all that matters are the treats after the game.”

Crazy parents is the worst thing about youth sports for the kids and the coaches.  It’s great for Indianapolis to have a guy on the radio who calls bullshit on idiots.



Youth Sports Success Requires Work and Points of Differentiation by kentsterling

by Kent Sterling

Success is earned by those who do those things others are unwilling to.  That might involve work, investment, creativity, and diligence.  Likely, the cost is a combination of all four.  This is true for success in any endeavor.  Youth sports success is earned in the same way.

Last night, Tom Nordland held a shooting clinic at Perry Meridian High School.  Nordland teaches kids to shoot in the way Tom Emanski teaches baseball players to hit and throw.  His system isn’t widely known, but those who have benefitted from it are all over the country.  The goal isn’t to get rich, but to help instruct kids is what is a bit of a lost art. Continue reading



Advice to Parents From a Kid Regarding Youth Sports by The Truth
May 23, 2010, 2:08 pm
Filed under: Kyle Miller, Uncategorized, Youth Basketball | Tags:

By Kyle Miller

Listening to parent’s debate on how they should conduct themselves in regards to youth sports is hysterical. Half of you say one thing, but act completely different. Maybe not in words, but by body language when you child makes a turnover, misses an open goal, or botches a routine groundball. I played basketball and soccer growing up, but my advice pertains to virtually all parents who have kids that play youth sports.

One piece of advice I would tell all parents is to do what ever is in your power to make playing their particular sport enjoyable. That is all parents should be responsible for when it comes to youth sports. As your child ages and develops, pressure builds exponentially from coaches, outsiders, trainers, other parents, and colleges. They certainly don’t need the added pressure to perform well on your behalf, so be supportive and cheer not only for you child, but for his team.

I completely understand as you get older, the seriousness of your sport drastically increases especially when you the enter high school level. Individual workouts with coaches and trainers become a necessity to improve fundamentals and ultimately give your child the edge over other student athletes. Essentially, the game can sometimes feel like a job rather than a sport that your child once enjoyed. If your kid truly loves the game, he will want to schedule individual workouts and will enjoy working on his game. Once your child’s love for the game disappears, he will begin pressing about every missed shot or turnover, and once that happens your child will no longer enjoy the game he used to when he was young.

It took me until my junior year of college to actually regain my love and appreciation for the game of basketball and I must say I missed it. It feels good to play basketball because it’s fun. After all isn’t that why as a kid you started playing the game in the first place?

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Youth Basketball – Teach Kids Toughness; Fundamentals Are for Individual Workouts by kentsterling

by Kent Sterling

Former IU and Bowling Green coach Dan Dakich coaches his son’s sophomore-to-be AAU basketball team, and he was nice enough to allow me to watch a practice the other night in Bloomington.  He has a very talented group of kids who went to work Wednesday night toward the task of getting better.

These kids are at the age where they need to make an internal decision.  They can be good high school players and have a hell of time playing the game for their high school teams, or they can make a commitment to master the details and make a determined effort every possession to play as though they take personally everything they do on the floor.

Deciding to be excellent at something is not easy.  Excellence is a comparative term.  It means you are better than the other guys.  Excellence can happen for one of two reasons – one-in-a-million (or more) physical gifts, or one-in-1,000 athletic gifts, plus a determined work ethic that has them paying a price that others refuse.

Dan knows all about paying the price.  He achieved as a player and coach by paying a price others refused.  Basketball is about the little things – setting good picks, making sharp cuts, being quick to help, being quick to recover, making accurate passes, rebounding with two hands and chinning the ball, moving the ball on time, and constantly competing.

There is no shame in deciding that playing at a high level requires too steep a price, but Dan is giving the kids he coaches a chance to make an informed choice.  He is showing them the path, and as he said in practice, good fundamentals are great, but games are won and lost based upon the determination to win throughout the entire game.

I love practices.  Watching a fresh group of sophomores is incredibly fun.  There is the challenge of finding the players to fall in love with and those in whom you can see character flaws.  You get to try to see those things that maybe the coach doesn’t see.

Just as the kids are challenged to maintain their focus, the coach needs to do exactly the same thing.  I remember watching my first IU basketball practice in 1985.  Bob Knight sat and chatted with Bob Hammel for the first bit.  The assistants ran the kids through drills, and I thought that Knight was passive.  Then, a kid did something without focus or made a bad choice.  Knight was up like a shot, made a correction and went back to his seat with as good a sports journalist as there has ever been.

Dan was much more involved with these kids – as you would guess.  Every time I thought I saw a sloppy screen, cut, or a lapse in defensive intensity, Dan stopped the action and made the correction.  Then he reinforced the need for kids to make it personal as a habit, not as a convenient choice.  The kids responded and changed the way they played until they forgot or decided it was too hard.

Playing basketball with constant conviction isn’t a habit like crystal meth – one hit and your hooked.  It takes hard work by the player and coach.  The coach can’t let the kid get away with a moment of laziness, and the player learns that recovering slowly isn’t an option.  Basketball isn’t about a skill set, it’s about attitude.  Dan didn’t hold Michael Jordan to minus-six points because he was the quickest basketball player in the world.  He was the most tenacious, and he took it personally.

Kids focused on doing the little things and being resolutely tough will win a lot of games.  They are in the right spot all the time, and make their teams behavior and positioning on the floor predictable.  Dan’s team will either make the decision to become that kind of player or they won’t.  The most important thing is that Dan is giving them the ability to make an informed choice.  So many coaches teach physical tools without addressing toughness and behavior, and so many kids never get a chance to find out how tough they can be.

Dan’s players probably wonder why Dan is so demanding during practice.  Their high school coaches probably aren’t nearly so picky.  That’s because Dan knows the only chance any kid has to reach his potential is directly proportionate to their toughness and willingness to do what it takes to win.  Former Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan used to say, “You don’t get paid to play football.  You get paid to win games.”  Kids don’t get a chance to play college basketball because of how they play.  It’s all in how they compete.

The best AAU coaches teach their kids to compete, and Dan’s team learned a lot about doing that Wednesday night.  They walked in the gym as gifted athletes, and they left a step closer to being gifted competitors.  Gifted athletes are everywhere at summer tournaments.  Gritty competitors are few and far between.  Guess which stand out.  Kids from this team will play college basketball, and it will be those for whom the switch flips.



Tips for Youth Sports Parents and Coaches by kentsterling

by Kent Sterling

With the upcoming end of high school basketball tournaments, it will be only a week or two until summer basketball gets started in earnest.  That means two things, the only people watching the games will be the parents of the players, and that most of the coaches will be living out their own dreams while on the bench.

It can mean so much more, but because the parents are more interested in immediate results rather than the overall character and friendship building that can occur.  Parents see the best in their kids, and want to see it over and over again.  If a kid can take the ball to the rack once, he should be able to do it again and again and again.  There are very few parents I’ve known who didn’t tell their kids they don’t shoot enough.  We had a parent who was a great guy and always asked kids in jest, “You know when to shoot the ball?”  He would wait a beat and answer his own question, “When you have the ball.”

Here are five ways for parents to help their kids have a productive and happy summer basketball season (these lessons can be applied to other sports very easily):

5 – Do not talk about basketball in the car after a game.  It’s all you’ll want to talk about, and your wife will want to talk about it.  Your kid might even want to talk about it.  Don’t do it.  Once that door is open, the conversation almost always devolves into a cacophony of coach and teammate bashing.  I have never met a parent who had anything good to say about his kid’s coach – ever.  Now and again there will be some grudging praise, but only after a guilt-producing venting of grievances.  No parent ever believes their kid plays enough.  I know a pair of parents who would gripe about their kid’s minutes after he played 28-of-32 possible minutes.

In the car immediately after a game, emotions are raw and parents feel a need to either defend or advise.  Let the cauldron of your parental pride cool to a simmer before you talk about the game.

4 – Allow kids to find their niche on a team.  There can’t be more than one alpha male on a team, and if your kid is one of ten on a team, he is likely to be one of the 90% who doesn’t always get to take the big shots and handle the ball all the time.  Help the kid improve.  Find him tools.  Don’t be satisfied, but parents are much better at helping a kid by building self-worth than forcing him to work harder so he can be as good as the current stud.

3 – Manage your expectations.  In Indiana this year, there are roughly 2,000 high school senior basketball players.  One of them will be Mr. Basketball, and 12-14 will play on the Indiana All-Stars.  Your kid can be really good, make a gob of friends, have a great time, and learn a lot about himself through the experience of playing basketball without being Mr. Basketball.  If his goal is to be Mr. Basketball, cool, but remember your goal for him is irrelevant.  Your goal in basketball for your son should be the same as your goal for him as a person – to be challenged and productive.  Encourage him to be what he wants to be.

2 – Try to enjoy the games.  This may be impossible.  There are moments of grace and bliss surrounded by nerves and misery, but if you can find a way to let go for a few minutes and allow yourself to enjoy a couple of minutes of your boy’s fun, you and he will be so much better off.   It’s hard – really hard – but basketball is supposed to be fun and you work and sacrifice too much to sit in the bleachers dying with every turnover and missed shot.  To travel on your own nickel to Vegas for a basketball tournament and then wince and moan for five days, you are as big a tool as the rest of us were.

1 – Take the time to get to know the other kids and parents.  The very best thing I got out of my son’s experience in summer basketball (and baseball for that matter) is the friendship with the kids with whom my son played and their parents.  I love going to the Loyola vs. Butler games at Hinkle so I get a chance to talk to the Howards and Hahns.  Every Xavier game on TV, I watch Joe Hughes and think of the earnest 11-year-old who played so hard.  I see Matt Howard’s cheesy mustache and tease him about it.  I remember JaJuan Johnson agreeing to an interview at a summer tournament and being honest with the interviewer.  I sat the whole team down and told them how the media works.  Now, I see JJ so articulate and how he says things that seem complete, but are evasive at the same time.  That makes me proud.  I talk to Kyle Miller, and still hear the love of basketball that fueled a very successful high school career.  John Ashworth, now at IUPUI, used to sit in airport terminals and constantly entertain us with card tricks.  His Dad Bob made us laugh in Vegas by pressing his ear to the slot machine he seemed chained to for four days because he said he could hear a winner before he saw it.

If those friendships are the only thing you and your kid take from youth sports, you are way ahead of the game.  Enjoy the ride.  It ends too soon.

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