Tag Archives: Sports

Sports Motivation: The Power of Positive Reinforcement

Motivation plays a huge role in boosting sports performance. Athletes must be motivated to maximize their abilities fully, to achieve their goals, and to perform their best. For coaches, motivation serves as the foundation for all athletic effort and accomplishment.

While there are many ways to motivate athletes, positive reinforcement can be one of the most effective strategies to change and shape behavior. This is especially true for coaches who are enormously influential in the lives of their students, especially the youth.

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Image source: trauma.blog.yorku.ca

Regardless of the sport, coaches have the responsibility to teach the skills of the games and how to effectively execute them. The teaching process, however, must be a systematic method and should not be rushed. Through positive reinforcement, coaches recognize the individual differences of players, whether through thought, feeling, and behavior, and try to adapt by developing a positive interaction with the athlete or the team.

For example, when a player does something right or has improved in performance, a coach can reinforce the behavior by giving the rewards that the player values. But given that each player finds different things rewarding, it is important that a coach knows his players. A coach can ask a player what motivates him or her to excel at the sport.

However, there are limits. A coach need not reward a positive behavior every time because doing so can undermine the effect of the reward. What coaches need to remember is that the best way to shape behavior is to offer no response to undesirable behaviors and to reinforce positively desirable behaviors.

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Coaching Styles: Telling, selling, sharing, and allowing

According to legendary American football coach Mike Singletary, players respond to coaches who really have their best interests at heart. Singletary also tells us that coaching is more than planning or passing on knowledge to players. It also means creating a good learning environment and coaching style conducive for learning.

CoachingImage Source: sircsportresearch.blogspot.com

While taking to heart passion, coaches can adopt four coaching styles depending on a given situation. An autocratic style by “tells” or “sells,” a democratic one “shares” and “allows” players to act based on their own judgement:

Telling: Using this style, the coach is the sole decision-maker. The coach tells the team what to do and how to do it.

Selling: When selling, the coach informs athletes of their exercises and agenda. He decides on what is to be done and he also explains what is required and the objectives of the training. But unlike in telling, this approach encourages the participation of athletes, allowing them to ask questions to clarify any points.

Sharing: Unlike telling and selling, sharing invites ideas and suggestions from the players. Decisions are made based on team consensus.

Allowing: A more laidback approach, allowing requires the coach to outline the training requirements to the athletes and define the training conditions. To better meet their goals, this approach allows players to explore possible solutions and make the final decision for the team.

coaching1Image Source: breakingmuscle.com

Apart from these coaching styles, coaches also need to develop a good relationship with their athletes. No matter how brightly a coach’s ambition burns, player safety, happiness, and welfare should be priority.

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Remembering Football Legend and Sportscaster Frank Gifford

Image source: bbc.co.uk
Image source: bbc.co.uk

American football fans who do not remember Frank Gifford on the football field know him for his running commentaries about the game. After a 12-year career as a running back and wide receiver for the New York Giants, his transition to television on ABC’s “Monday Night Football” gave credibility to sports reporters and commentators—he simply knew what he was talking about.

Inducted into the professional football Hall of Fame in 1977, Gifford was more than a star player and television personality. He played by heart and helped popularize American football, especially among the younger generation.

A legend in his own right, people described Gifford as “the Ultimate Giant.” He was the face of the Giants franchise during its glory years of the ‘50s and ‘60s, which saw the team bagging five Eastern Conference titles and one NFL championship.

Image source: espnfrontrow.com
Image source: espnfrontrow.com

Gifford excelled in sports because he grew competing with his older brother all the time, who was also his only constant friend during his itinerant childhood. Despite his parents’ disapproval over the “hazardous” sport that have injured him several times, he continued his education, armed with a football scholarship, at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

For much of his career, Gifford proved his passion for American football. The field was his home, and the sport was his life blood, a devotion that up to this day, has inspired many generations of athletes across the globe.

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Fairness and Respect: Sportsmanship Matters

When adults teach kids and teenagers about sports for the first time, the value of sportsmanship is inevitably mentioned, possibly combined with lines like “t doesn’t matter who wins or who loses” or “what’s important is that you enjoyed playing.”

Image Source: Sarahsickles.wordpress.com Image Source: Sarahsickles.wordpress.com

But the importance of fair play and respect for contenders can often be neglected, especially when competitiveness settles in and the heat of the moment takes over. These instances can lead players to display poor sporting behaviors like using offensive language and losing self-control.

Throughout history, sports education experts continue to reiterate that athletes should recognize the significance of sportsmanship in both contact and non-contact sports, as having respect for competitors allows athletes to fully mature.

Sportsmanship enables athletes to acknowledge their rivals as a necessary feature of the match, since without them, no game will ever be held. Sportsmanship also teaches athletes that their competitors are the same as their selves—people with dreams, plans, and goals they need to pursue.

Image Source: Wikimedia.org
                         Image Source: Wikimedia.org

Furthermore, when athletes stop seeing rivals as “enemies,” they can easily strive for personal improvement. By respecting competitors, players can just focus on beating their personal best in each game rather than overcoming their opponents. In this case, improvement becomes a major reward, and winning becomes a by-product.

A huge football lover, Will McHale is a strong advocate of sportsmanship. Catch more updates about sports by visiting this Google+ page.

REPOST: The end zone

It’s a well-known fact that many people watch and enjoy football. This article from The Economist discusses the future of American Football and how long its popularity among people will last.

Image Source: theeconomist.com
Image Source: economist.com

BY THE time it is over, more than half a billion chickens will have given their lives so that their wings might be dipped in barbecue sauce. Enough avocados will be eaten, mashed into guacamole, to lay a trail from Seattle to Boston and back, four times. Even those who think sport is silly must pause to acknowledge the Super Bowl. The ten most watched television broadcasts in American history have all been Super Bowls, as have the next ten. By a conservative estimate, 112m Americans watched it last year. The number who will see the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots on February 1st is slightly more than the number who say they attend church once a week. Many churches have given up competing and instead throw Super Bowl parties as a way of expanding the flock.

This year’s contest has many subplots that have required the intervention of politicians. Joe Biden, the vice-president, was asked to comment about the underinflated balls used in the semi-final by the Patriots (“Deflategate”). He revealed that he too prefers a softer ball. Serious people questioned whether it was good politics for Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey and aspiring candidate for the White House, to be photographed hugging the owner of the Dallas Cowboys. All this is frivolous, but it cuts through to voters in a way that budget maths does not.

The mingling of football and politics stretches back to the turn of the century, when Theodore Roosevelt, who worried that a fondness for billiards had made the country’s ruling class soft, brokered a deal to make football safer. The three most recent Republican presidents were all cheerleaders, before that activity came to be considered girlie. Hunter S. Thompson once spent most of an hour talking football with Richard Nixon. “Whatever else might be said about Nixon—and there is still serious doubt in my mind that he could pass for human,” wrote Thompson, “he is a goddam stone fanatic on every facet of pro football.”

Though it may not seem like it, the days of politicians using football to relate to ordinary Americans are numbered. This Super Bowl has an extra edge because it is the first since actuaries for the NFL, which runs the professional game, estimated that a third of ex-pros may eventually suffer brain damage. Put another way, 35 men on the pitch in Phoenix can be expected to endure early-onset Alzheimer’s ordementia pugilistica for the entertainment of everyone else. (The NFL agreed to set up a fund to compensate players with brain injuries in 2013.)

Because football is so widely followed, it is also a starting point for bigger arguments about America. When Ray Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was filmed punching his girlfriend unconscious in a lift, the incident sparked debate about whether football rewards violence; about domestic abuse; about the rewards for inept executives (Roger Goodell, who bungled the NFL’s response, was paid $35m in 2013); and about the oddities of tort law (Mr Rice won millions for wrongful dismissal after the Ravens fired him). The discovery of a manual issued to cheerleaders for the Buffalo Bills, known as the Jills—filled with rules for everything from etiquette (“Do not be overly opinionated”) to advice on how to care for “intimate areas”—prompted a debate about whether cheerleading is demeaning and whether the pompom-wavers should be paid. Some, amazingly, are not.

Many of the charges thrown at football are bogus. The link between the sport and violence off the pitch is spurious: violent crime has been declining since the early 1990s, since when football has become even more popular. The notion that the sport is racist because the players risking injury are mostly black and the fans mostly white ignores the fact that the game is the only one followed with equal fanaticism by black and white America, or the possibility that adoring a player of a different race might be a more powerful force for good than any number of affirmative-action initiatives. As for the Jills, some of their manual is practical and, in parts—“never use words/ phrases such as: like, I seen it, you’s guys, dude, them guys, pee and ain’t”—interchangeable with The Economist’s rules for its journalists.

Crunch time

The maiming of so many of football’s professional players is different, because it is an objection to the game itself. The NFL players’ union says that the average length of a professional career is just under three and a half years. Watching a big hit on a player now comes with the same twinge of guilt as watching clips of Muhammad Ali being pummelled. Though high-school players are less likely to suffer brain damage, some school teams were forced to end their seasons early last year because so many children had been injured. Almost half of parents say they would not allow their sons to play the game, a feeling shared by Barack Obama. Nor is it easy to see how the rules could be changed to reduce the risk of brain damage in the professional game to an acceptable level.

Yet the sport will not continue to be both as popular as it is now and as dangerous. Those who dismiss football-bashers like Malcolm Gladwell, who compared the sport to dog-fighting in the New Yorker, as elitist east-coast types should remember that football began as a form of organised riot on the campuses of elitist east-coast colleges. Changes in taste can trickle down as well as bubble up. During the second half of the 20th century boxing went from being a sport watched together by fathers and sons to something that dwells among the hookers and slot machines of Nevada. Hollywood’s output of Westerns peaked in the late 1960s, after which the appeal of spending a couple of hours watching tight-lipped gunslingers in pursuit of an ethnic minority waned. Football will go the same way.

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REPOST: The Renaissance Of Baseball’s Ivy League Control Pitchers

Many coaches and baseball scouts are seeing the need for control pitchers in their team. This article from Forbes discusses the renaissance of Ivy League baseball control pitchers.

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In an era when Major League Baseball scouts have become increasingly obsessed with radar guns and pitching velocity, a pair of Ivy League control pitchers — Kyle Hendricks and Chris Young — have emerged as two of the game’s top hurlers despite throwing fastballs that often top out below 90 miles per hour.  Think that’s a fluke?  Two more Ivy League finesse pitchers, Matthew Bowman andBrent Suter, are experiencing similar success in the high-level minor leagues.

Over the past two months, Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks has quickly emerged as the poster boy for the renaissance of the Ivy League control pitcher — smart, crafty, and in control.   In his first seven Major League starts, Hendricks has posted a record of five wins and one loss, with a minuscule 1.48 Earned Run Average.  Hendricks has only allowed more than one earned run once in his Major League career — in his big-league debut at Cincinnati on July 10.  Since that date, he’s been as stingy with runs as any hurler in the game.

Make no doubt, Kyle Hendricks’s fastball does not light up the radar gun.  By Major League standards, it is not even likely to be described as “fast.”  According to ESPN , Hendricks’s average fastball travels at just 87.2 miles per year.  But his ability to mix his pitches and throw strikes has led to great success.

An economics major at Dartmouth College, Hendricks ranked 11th on Dartmouth’s win list before he was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the eighth round of the 2011 Major League Baseball draft. Last season at Double-A ball (two levels below the Major Leagues), Hendricks earned the Cubs honor of Minor League Pitcher of the Year, posting a 10-3 record and a 1.85 E.R.A.  He has since continued similar mastery at both Triple-A and in the big leagues.

Yet, Hendricks is not the only Ivy League pitcher who is turning heads on the mound this season.

Enter Chris Young — a six-foot-10 veteran pitcher who played for both the Princeton Tigers baseball and basketball teams back in 1999.

After arm injuries forced Chris Young to miss all of the 2013 season, the Princeton alumnus is arguably having the best year of his career at the age of 35.  With a 12-6 record and a 3.69 E.R.A, Young is mastering opposing batters through his strong command of the strike zone and his ability to effectively change speeds.  Early in his career, Chris Young threw a fastball that occasionally hit 90 miles per hour.  This year, his success has come despite barely hitting “85″ on the gun.

Image Source: forbes.com
A much younger Chris Young, throwing for the San Diego Padres | Image Source: forbes.com

Behind Hendricks and Young on the list of promising Ivy League control pitchers are at least two others.

Down on the New York Mets farm, most scout are all hollering about Noah Syndergaard and his hard fastball.  However, statistically speaking, Syndergaard has not been the top performing Mets minor league prospect.  That honor actually goes to Matthew Bowman — a 23 year old Princeton graduate who was selected by the Mets in the thirteenth round of the 2012 draft and has quickly moved his way up through the minor leagues.  Like Hendricks, Bowman was a student of economics, who actually completed his degree in the off-seasons after signing his first big-league contract.

For his minor league career, Bowman has a 21-14 record and just a 2.87 E.R.A.  Bowman is currently pitching in Triple-A — the highest minor league level below the Major Leagues.  Pitching in a home ballpark in Las Vegas known for high altitude and cheap home runs,  Bowman has allowed just 1.74 earned runs per game over the course of his first five starts — an exceptional statistical line anywhere, and nearly three runs per game better than the Mets more well-known pitching prospect, Syndergaard.

Bowman does throw a bit harder than Young and Hendricks, so some baseball purists would argue whether it is fair to call him a control pitcher.  Rumor has it that he can occasionally throw near 95 miles per hour on a radar gun.  But much like Hendricks and Young, it is not Bowman’s fastball speed that makes him successful.  More impressive is his just 65 walks in 282 minor league innings.

Finally, further down in the minor leagues at Double-A is former Harvard University finesse pitcher Brent Suter.  Like the three other Ivy League pitchers mentioned, Suter is  turning heads for the Milwaukee Brewers this season with a broad repertoire of off-speed pitchers that he can throw for strikes.  Arguably cut from the same mold as Young and Hendricks Suter got off to a great start this year with an E.R.A. locked at 2.55 on June 1.

As of late, Suter has struggled.  But he is a lefty, meaning that perhaps the Brewers organization will cut him a little bit more slack to develop.

It’s difficult to predict with any certainty the ultimate career trajectories of Hendricks, Young, Bowman and Suter.  However this much seems certain: in a sport where so many scouts have turned to fastball speed as the proxy for pitching success, a hard, crisp fastball is not the only way to earn wins on the mound.

For each of  these four former Ivy League pitchers, their success has called into doubt the longstanding mantra of baseball scouts that the secret to Big League success is all in the radar gun.  None of these four pitchers have achieved their level of success through throwing hard fastballs.  Rather, each has achieved success through finesse and precision, much like some of Major League Baseball’s greatest hurlers before then, a la Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina.

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Promoting sportsmanship and American culture

 

Image Source: sarahsickles.wordpress.com

As someone who has grown up watching America’s favorite pastime and who has been playing American football in his college days, Will McHale has a lot to share about American culture and the value of sportsmanship. This is why he has worked with the United States Embassy in France to promote some of the best that America has to offer.

He could regale people with his tales of the last baseball game played at Tiger Stadium 13 years ago and he can tell them about the time when Detroit’s Robert Fick belted a grand slam for the final home run, the final hit at the 87-year-old ballpark.

Image Source: home.messiah.edu

Coming from a family who worked in Major League Baseball for over a century also had its perks: there were times when he enjoyed hanging out in major league dugouts as a kid. Given these experiences, he was able to share some of the highlights of American culture, especially those that were related to how much Americans loved their sporting events and their great athletes.

While baseball has been a long-time passion of his, the sport that McHale excelled in turned out to be American Football. He played for the Ivy League in his college days and he now plays as linebacker and helps as the assistant coach for La Courneuve Flash in Paris.

Image Source: dearchurchfamily.blogspot.com

For more information on Will McHale, visit his LinkedIn page.