Monday, November 23, 2015

Qualities of a Great Coach: Part 3

Just about anyone who has ever been involved in athletics for any extended period of time has had at least one coach who was highly influential and made a positive difference in their life. As both an athlete and coach of multiple sports, I have been blessed to work with some dynamite coaches who have been instrumental in my own growth and development as a coach, husband and father. The fact of the matter is that coaches are oftentimes the most influential individual in a young person's life. It is a tremendous responsibility and one that I take very seriously. With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to write a series sharing some of the key things I have learned through my own experiences regarding the qualities that great coaches typically possess.

I am absolutely convinced that the best coaches are always great teachers. You can be a former world-class athlete and have all the technical knowledge in the world; however, if you cannot teach someone else how to do what you want them to do, you are not going to be very effective as a coach.  Take a moment and think of how many former superstar athletes have been total busts as coaches. Why do you think this is? If you are a new coach (or even an experienced one), do not make the mistake of thinking your former success as an athlete will automatically make you a great coach. 

The fact of the matter is that performing an athletic skill or playing a sport is an entirely different skill-set than teaching others how to do it. Regardless of how successful you were as an athlete, there is no way around learning how to teach if you want to be a great coach. If you are a coach and have never had any training in how to effectively teach athletic/movement based skills, you might be do I learn this stuff? While there is not a simple and easy answer for this, there are a two specific things you can do to get on the right track.
  1. You must gain a solid understanding of essential motor learning principles as this serves as the foundation for teaching athletic skills and movements effectively. If you were not able to take a college level course in this area,  I recommend at least purchasing a good motor learning textbook and there is a ton of good information on the Internet if you are savvy enough to find stuff from reputable sources. 
  2. You must gain practical experience teaching others. This is best accomplished by learning under an experienced coach who is proven to be a great teacher and who can help guide you through the process. If this is not an option, you will simply have to learn through trial and error. Regardless of the route you take, it is imperative that you learn how to effectively and efficiently break down a particular skill and systematically teach it in a way that results in performance mastery. 
The best illustration I know of when it comes to a coach who was a great teacher is John Wooden. I realize that I keep coming back to him as an example but his coaching/teaching skills were second to none and his coaching record speaks for itself. If you have never done so, I highly recommend reading any one of the great books available on John Wooden's life and coaching background. In doing so, you will get a good glimpse at the masterful teaching skills he demonstrated over the course of his career. With that in mind, it is important for all of us coaches to continually hone our teaching skills in an effort to maximize the overall development of our athletes. In other words, never stop learning and growing. 

Until next time, I wish you all a blessed Thanksgiving Holiday. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Qualities of a Great Coach: Part 2

Just about anyone who has ever been involved in athletics for any extended period of time has had at least one coach who was highly influential and made a positive difference in their life. As both an athlete and coach of multiple sports, I have been blessed to work with some dynamite coaches who have been instrumental in my own growth and development as a coach, husband and father. The fact of the matter is that coaches are oftentimes the most influential individual in a young person's life. It is a tremendous responsibility and one that I take very seriously. With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to write a series sharing some of the key things I have learned through my own experiences regarding the qualities that great coaches typically possess.

Typically, the most successful coaches across all sports are masterful at cultivating a sharp focus on the things that are under each athlete's control.  More specifically, I have found that the best coaches place a continual emphasis on attitude and effort. The fact of the matter is that these two areas are completely under the control of each and every athlete regardless of their talent level or life situation. Teams and individual athletes who truly embrace this principle typically perform very well, oftentimes better than their more naturally talented opponents.

The key to instilling this type of focus on attitude and effort is for you as the coach to define how you measure success. Obviously, winning is the benchmark we all like to use as coaches but there are so many factors outside of our control that make a winning-centered focus problematic.

I think legendary basketball coach, John Wooden, offers a much better option with his definition of success:
"Success is peace of mind that is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you gave your best effort to become the best of which you are capable (Biro, 2001)."
Imagine what this would look like if every individual athlete/team member demonstrated the type of attitude and effort outlined by Coach Wooden. Focusing on the things we CAN control releases us to maximize the unique gifts and talents God has blessed each of us with. The funny thing is that this type of focus almost always results in more winning. The reason why this is so is because the focus is on the daily process that makes an athlete/team great rather than just the outcome of being great. 

Despite the fact that he virtually never talked about winning with any of his teams, Coach Wooden won 664 games (.804 winning %)  including 10 national championship over the course of his NCAA coaching career. The De La Salle HS football team, who won a record 151 games in a row, is another great example of this principle put into practice. Throughout this unbelievable winning streak, the coaching staff maintained a steadfast emphasis on each athlete preparing themselves to the absolute best of their ability rather than a focus on winning more games. Obviously, winning more games was the ultimate result of this focus. 

Interestingly, you can even find an example of this principle at work in the win-at-all-costs world of professional sports. The New England Patriots have undoubtedly been the most successful professional football team in the NFL since 2001 winning four Super Bowls during this period of time. The Patriots simple team motto, "Do your job," is an excellent example of maintaining a focus on factors under each athletes control and the process of becoming successful instead of the outcome. All "Deflategate" jokes aside, it is clear that the Patriots players have done a great job in taking this motto to heart as the results speak for themselves. 

Image Credit:
Ultimately, we can only do our very best with the gifts and talents God has blessed us with. It is a choice we can all make and it under our control each and every day. It is our job as coaches to help our athletes understand this principle and embrace it. In closing, one of my favorite Bible verses offers this great word of encouragement for us all:

"Whatever may be your task, work at it heartily from the soul, as something done for the Lord and not for men" ~ Colossians 3:23

Biro, B.D. (2001). Beyond success: The 15 secrets to effective leadership and life based on legendary coach John Wooden's pyramid of success. New York: Berkley.

Qualities of a Great Coach: Part 1

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Qualities of a Great Coach: Part 1

Just about anyone who has ever been involved in athletics for any extended period of time has had at least one coach who was highly influential and made a positive difference in their life. As both an athlete and coach of multiple sports, I have been blessed to work with some dynamite coaches who have been instrumental in my own growth and development as a coach, husband and father. The fact of the matter is that coaches are oftentimes the most influential individual in a young person's life. It is a tremendous responsibility and one that I take very seriously. With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to write a series sharing some of the key things I have learned through my own experiences regarding the qualities that great coaches typically possess.

The first, and most important quality in my opinion, is love. I have yet to meet an exceptional coach who does not genuinely love and care about the athletes under their leadership. The love I am talking about is similar to the love a parent has for their child. Coaches who have this kind of love for their athletes truly desire what is best for each individual and care about their overall development as a person. There is nothing wrong with desiring to win and building the best team/athlete possible; however, focusing solely on competitive success is limited in its ability to help athletes reach their maximum potential. 

More than ever before, athletes need to know that you care about them for more than just winning and building your own personal resume. This is critical in building the kind of trust and commitment needed for reaching competitive greatness. If an athlete feels that they are simply a tool for you to reach your own goals and dreams, they will never commit and put forth the effort that they would for a coach who genuinely loves them and cares about their well-being beyond their respective sport. 

In my own experience, the more I have focused on building positive relationships with my athletes and simply loving them, the more success they have achieved. I am absolutely convinced that athletes will "run through a brick wall" for you if they know you really love them and desire what is best for them as an athlete and person. If you are unsure of what it really means to love your athletes, I believe the Bible offers the best explanation possible: 

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." ~ 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8

Loving your athletes (or people in general) is not merely a feeling, it is action and something you can choose to do each and every day. Legendary basketball coach, John Wooden, exemplified this well when he told his new players each year..."I will love you all the same, but I won't like you all the same." I challenge you as coach to reflect on where you are at in this specific area. Do you genuinely love the athletes under your leadership? If so, do they know it? If not, what can you do TODAY to change this?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Learning How to Correctly Teach the Olympic Lifts

Due to my recent move from Texas to California, it has been awhile since my last blog post as I have been dealing with all the stuff that surrounds a big move from one state to another. Now that we are pretty much settled in, I am looking forward to getting my blog back up and running. For those of you who have read my blog in the past, you will notice a shift in focus to more athletic coaching related topics. Shortly after moving, I was offered a unique opportunity at a large public high school to become the head strength and conditioning coach along with a full-time teaching position. I am excited for the opportunity to be able to focus most of my time on the coaching side of things now and look forward to sharing some of my thoughts through this blog. With that being said, I thought it would be good to start things off my providing some useful resources for any coach seeking to learn how to teach the Olympic weightlifting movements correctly.

As most coaches would agree, the Olympic weightlifting movements can be quite effective for developing the type of strength and power that transfers well to improved sport performance; however, this effectiveness is dependent on the movements being TAUGHT and PERFORMED correctly. If proper technique is taught and reinforced daily, the Olympic lifts and their derivatives are a safe and highly efficient means for building many of the physical qualities we desire in our athletes such as strength, power, mobility and kinesthetic awareness. 

As with any teaching situation, it is critical to remember that athletes will typically mimic what they see the teacher/coach demonstrate in terms of movement technique. If the demonstration is incorrect during the learning process, athletes are not going to magically figure it out and perform the movement correctly. For this reason, it is vital that the coach in charge of introducing new movements in a strength program is proficient in teaching the technical components of the Olympic lifts correctly in a group setting or have someone that is capable of doing so.  

First and foremost, I recommend that any coach seeking to teach the Olympic lifts take the Level 1 Sports Performance course offered by USA Weightlifting (the national governing body for weightlifting in the U.S.). The purpose of the course, as stated on the USAW website, is "to take all participants through complete technical progressions of the Snatch, Clean & Jerk, and all associated movements including Power Snatch, Power Clean, Power Jerk, Squat variations, and pulling progressions." This course typically includes a significant hands-on component which is essential for any coach wanting to learn how to teach these movements correctly. For more detailed information on this course, visit the following link: 

If taking this course is not a feasible option, my next recommendation would be to find an experienced weightlifting coach in your area whom you could spend some time with learning the lifts and how to teach the technical components correctly. Learning under an experienced coach is actually the best route one could take but may not be realistic for every individual.  A directory of all the weightlifting clubs and coaches throughout the United States can be viewed on the USAW website at the following link: 

Finally, if neither of the above mentioned options are possible for your situation, I recommend at least purchasing a good instructional video that will teach you the step-by-step progressions for learning and teaching the lifts. The following video is an excellent alternative: 

Although it does take some time to learn the technical components of the weightlifting movements and implement them into a strength and conditioning program, the payoff is well worth it for maximizing the performance of your athletes. 

CJ Del Balso - MS, CSCS, USAW National Coach 
Twitter: @cjdelbalso 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Key Ingredient For Change

This post comes at a bitter sweet time in which I am preparing to leave the position I have served in over the past four years to move my family out to Southern California. The time I have spent at Prince of Peace Christian School has been truly special and I appreciate the privilege of working alongside such a dynamite group of people. As I work through this process of transitioning out of my current position, I have been doing a great deal of reflection over my past twelve years in education.

In working with hundreds of different teachers over the years, there is one specific thing that I have found to be true. In my experience, teachers who are continuously learning, growing and seeking to innovate in the classroom have one particular thing in common...they genuinely desire to do what is BEST for kids. In saying this, I fully realize that the tough circumstances of life oftentimes prevent us from doing some of the things we would truly like to do. Regardless, I have found that teachers who have this motivation to do what is best for kids somehow find a way to accomplish amazing things in the classroom. I can recall many examples of teachers who have blown me away with their commitment to professional learning/growth (on their own time) and the continuous application of innovative ideas in spite of some very difficult circumstances.

With this in mind, there are three questions that I believe every educator should ask themselves...

Are the instructional methods I use the really best way to help kids learn and master what I am trying to teach or merely the method that I think is best and/or am most comfortable utilizing? 

Are my assessment methods really the best away to assess learning or simply the most convenient/easiest method? 

If I am not engaging in regular professional learning on my own, is it because I do not have the time or that I do not want to make the time a priority? 

Although these questions can be quite humbling for any of us to consider, honestly reflecting on them can help us identify what our true motivations are for why we do what we do as educators. I encourage you to take some time to carefully consider these questions. At the end of the day, if what we are doing is not what is best for kids, we must ask ourselves why we are doing it in the first place.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Part 4: Developing Responsible Technology Users

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Dan Callahan:

In my previous post, we discussed the importance of developing information literacy among children. Equally vital in today's society is digital citizenship. More simply, our children must know how to use digital resources in a responsible, appropriate and ethical manner.  In my opinion, the most important place for children to learn proper digital citizenship is in the home. The problem is that many parents are uneducated in this area themselves. As discussed in the first post of this series, the example set by parents and other adults of influence in a child's life will make more of an impact than anything else and this issue of digital citizenship is no exception.

While it may not be realistic for all parents to become experts on digital citizenship, it is possible to develop a basic understanding of the most important issues including Internet etiquette, respect of others' intellectual property and safety. Common Sense Media and the National Cyber Security Alliance have put together some excellent resources for families that can be accessed at the following links:

Common Sense Media: Connecting Families

Raising Digital Citizens

Within this area of digital citizenship, I want to specifically focus on the use of social media for the remainder of this post. Social media has become a mainstay in our society and it is more important than ever that our children learn how to use social media tools safely and responsibly. While kids are very comfortable using popular social media tools such as Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat etc..., very few ever receive guidance from parents in the area of social media use. In my experience, most parents take a very hands off approach in this area and let the kids figure it out on their own or worse, attempt to prevent them from using social media altogether. In this era where social media is an integral part of our daily lives, this simply cannot be. If parents do not teach children how to use social media safely and responsibly, they will probably learn from somewhere else and it is unlikely to be safe and responsible use that they learn.

The fact of the matter is that we as parents must take the lead and teach our children how to use social media safely and responsibly. We cannot allow our personal feelings toward social media diminish the need to model appropriate and productive use. Rather than avoiding or preventing the use of social media, we must come alongside our children and guide them. While there is no single correct way to handle this issue, the following action steps are ones that I have found to be particularly helpful:
  1. Know what social media tools your children use - This one might seem obvious but many parents have no idea what social media services their children use. The easiest way to find out is check their mobile devices on a regular basis. The frequency in which you check a child's device may vary depending on the age and maturity level of the child; however, you as the parent have every right to know what social media services your children are using. 
  2. Become familiar with the safety and privacy features available within each social media service your child uses - Each social media service typically provides their own unique safety and privacy features. Take advantage of these features as you deem appropriate. 
  3. Establish clear boundaries and expectations - Social media is no different from anything else in a child's life. It is healthy for you as the parent to set clear boundaries and expectations regarding how it is used along with consistent consequences for misuse. 
  4. ALWAYS model safe and responsible social media use - Connect with your children on some of the social media services they use and model the behaviors you expect. The importance of this cannot be overstated. It is imperative that children see the adult role models in their life using social media tools safely, responsibly and productively. The example you set as the parent will have a far greater impact than any other factor mentioned. 
The following are some helpful social media resources for parents:

15 Sites and Apps Kids Are Heading to Beyond Facebook

Top Social Networks & Apps Your Kids Use

A Parents' Guide to Protecting Kids' Privacy on Social Media

It is my sincere hope that this series has been helpful in equipping you with some of the basic knowledge and resources necessary to better prepare your children in becoming responsible technology users. Please feel free to comment with any questions or ideas for further discussion. 

Part 1: Leading By Example

Part 2: Setting Clear Rules & Boundaries
Part 3: Information Literacy

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Part 3: Developing Responsible Technology Users

"Information Literacy" is a common buzzword/phrase that is becoming increasingly more common in the world of education and something I believe is especially important for parents to consider in their effort to develop responsible users of technology. Before moving forward, it is necessary to recognize what this term actually means. I like the definition communicated through Wesleyan University which states: "Information literacy involves recognizing when information is needed and being able to efficiently locate, accurately evaluate, effectively use, and clearly communicate information in various formats." With this basic understanding of information literacy, parents can better evaluate whether these skills are being encouraged and developed in both school and at home. More importantly, parents must ask themselves: "Are we doing anything to help our children develop solid information literacy skills?"

In today's world where digital literacy is an essential skill, it is imperative that parents take an active role in helping their children develop the skills they need to be successful. To simplify things even further, I believe it is especially important that children develop the following skills:

  1. The ability to locate information
  2. The ability to analyze and evaluate the quality/credibility of information
  3. The ability to organize information
  4. The ability to share information
For help in learning how to better find information on the web, check out this 8-part series I created for students at our school:

Google Search Tips and Tricks

Not only is it important that children can find the information they need, they must also be able to analyze and evaluate the quality/credibility of that information. With the amount of information out there, this can be a very daunting task but it is important that parents at least have a basic understanding of how to evaluate information found on the Internet. The following resources are helpful in getting started:

Common Sense Media Tip Sheet on Research and Evaluation

Evaluating Web Information via UNC Asheville

How To Do Research via The Kentucky Virtual Library (great resource for younger kids)

Once a child has located quality information, it is important to have a place to organize and share that information. Social bookmarking tools such as Diigo are a great tool for this exact purpose. Diigo is a free cloud-based service that allows you to bookmark and annotate any resource found on the web and categorize it with specific tags for easy organization and future reference. Anything bookmarked within Diigo can also be shared with others publicly through groups. Group members can also add their own resources to the group making this a powerful collaborative research tool. For more information on Diigo, check out this brief intro video:

Diigo Intro

Collectively, these specific information literacy skills are critically important for success in today's information-rich world. Parents simply cannot afford to take a hands-off approach with these skills and assume they are being learned at school. If you are a parent (or educator), take the time to learn some of these basic skills so you can help guide your children more effectively in locating, evaluating, organizing and sharing the immense amount of information available through the web. 

In the next post, we will discuss the importance of digital citizenship and how we can better develop children who are good digital citizens on the web. If you missed Parts 1 and 2 of this series, you can check them out through the following links:

Part 1
Part 2