5 tips Nike taught me about coaching your weakest player

Play shortstop, he said. No longer was I hidden in the outfield. Finally. My moment to shine.

Lost in my head, I visualize myself catching a ball. I swing my left arm up and out.


Wait, what? To my amazement a ball landed in my glove. Uncertain of what to do next. I froze. The world went quiet.


The ball fell out of my glove. I look down. The 3rd baseman grabs it. Throws it home. After the runner slides into home plate.

Coach Bushnell yells at me. Unwilling to celebrate my first catch ever.

I,  the weakest player the Angels ever had, am going to share 5 tips I learned, as a member of Nike’s leadership team, to turn your weakest player into a superstar.

Coach Bushnell, I hope you’re paying attention.

1. Recognize a soccer star is made. Not born.

It may be cliche, but research shows it’s true. Allow me to explain.

Did you know, world wide, most elite soccer players are born in the first 3 months of the year, and very few born in the last 3?

Why is that? Are November born kids poor athletes, because Pluto, our ruling planet, turned out not to be a planet after all? Noooo.

In most instances, the birth date cut-off for soccer registration is December 31. At that time, coaches are comparing players born In January to players up to 11 months younger.

It would make sense for coaches to favor the bigger, more mature players. From the very beginning, those born earlier in the year have the advantage of being favored by their coach. They’re likely to receive more attention and feedback. Resulting in a boost to their self-esteem. All of which produces a better athlete.

Still not convinced stars are made? Hold my beer.

Up until 2016, select club teams in the US had a cut-off date of August 1. When you examine the makeup of those teams, no longer was there more elite players with birth months January thru March. Now, the majority have birth months May thru June.

What the... Did you drink my beer? Next one’s on you.

Like adults, kids are quick to believe they’re born with limitations. That no matter how much they practice, they’re incapable of doing something.

As a coach, your biggest hurdle in developing your weakest player, is convincing the child they could be a strong player. Children who doubt their abilities frequently fall behind. Regardless of how good of a coach they have.

2. Communicate high expectations.

To overcome your player’s doubt, let the child know you’re offering constructive feedback, because you have high expectations for them. Tell them you know they’re capable of meeting those expectations. And you’re invested in helping them be their best. Personalize the message for each player.

Doing so builds trust and creates a growth mindset. Stanford University’s center on learning mindsets reports “decades of research show a powerful link between growth mindset and achievement.” When combined with deliberate practice.


3. Practice deliberately.

Deliberate practice is targeted, offers timely feedback, and focuses on execution as much as outcome.

Pick a specific skill for your player to improve upon:

1. Break the skill down into isolated movements.

2. Practice drills to master each movement independently of each other.

3. Finally, perform drills combining all of the movements.

It's just like riding a bike.

When learning to ride, kids 1st learn to pedal with a tricycle.
Next, they advance to a balance bike. To master balance without the distraction of pedaling.
Finally, they quickly transition to a two wheeler to pull it all together.

Choose drills with built-in feedback. Without immediate feedback, the player can’t distinguish good from bad. They will do as they've always done. Further solidifying bad habits.

For instance, with the Zero G Soccer Trainer, if a kick results in the ball going straight up and down the child knows they properly struck the ball.

Timely feedback is critical for identifying and learning from mistakes.

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4. Encourage your player to make mistakes.

Deliberately failing during practice is proven to be more beneficial, than being taught to avoid mistakes. Researchers discovered those who purposely made mistakes while learning were faster and more accurate than those who didn’t

The sweet spot for learning is a 30-40% failure rate. Any less than that, we’re bored.  Any more than that, we’re tempted to quit.

The problem is, like adults, kids fear failure...

5. Only praise hard work and performance. Not one or the other.

To overcome the fear of failure, create a comfortable environment for learning from mistakes.

Instead of praising players for something that comes easy, praise players when they learn from their mistakes. Acknowledge the guts it takes to risk failure. Especially on the soccer field. With their parents and peers watching them.

Praising a child for easily attained accomplishments produces narcissism, and false self-esteem.

Praising a child when they learn from their mistakes encourages the child to continue risking failure, thereby improving their performance. And builds strong self-esteem.


Before you go, I feel the need to inform you I was an absolute rock star on my tee ball team. 


Learn more: How the 0g G Soccer Trainer benefits all of your players