WYC 031 Mental Sports Psychology – James Leath talks achieving peak mental performance

What does it take to be a winning youth coach? Listen in as James Leath shares stories and discusses his journey to becoming a successful sports coach.

James is currently getting his masters in mental sports psychology, has coached youth sports for many years, and is a student of all aspects of sports performance.  James started coaching when his 8th grade coach had to leave the team, so James took over and coached his own 8th grade team!  James played college football and played for the Los Angeles Extreme in the XFL.  James is married and works in sales.

Website: jamesleath.com

Twitter: @jamesleath

Listen Now:

Listen in ITunes: Itunes link

Listen in Stitcher: Stitcher link


Coaching/Leadership Quote

  • ‘Spend less time in the strategy books, and more time in how to talk to kids’

My ‘Cringe’ Moment

  • Not being organized
  • When he was just out of college – Not being on time actually got him fired from a coaching job.

Coaching AH-HA Moment


  • Keep it simple; Run less plays.  Learned from a coach that ran only 1 formation – that coach only lost 3 games in 4 years.  When you simplify formations and the kids don’t have to think about where to line up – the kid’s confidence and success skyrockets.
  • ‘If your goal is to freeze an athlete – give them a whole bunch of stuff to think about’  Give them only 2 decisions to make on a play, and you’re OK as long as you only choose 1 of these 2(even if it’s the wrong choice, because we can teach you how to choose better).  I’m only going to be upset if you choose something other than 1 of these 2 choices.

Teaching Children & Keeping it Fun


  • 2 absolute foundational books:
  • Remember to keep the kids accountable – while you love the kids, you are ultimately their mentor and coach, not their peer friend
  • ‘Spend less time in the strategy books, and more time in how to talk to kids’
  • Everything in short bursts – John Wooden would talk in 20 second bursts
  • How to Improve my Youth Practices:
    • Don’t scrimmage very much.  Only the best athletes touch the ball in scrimmages, plus it’s hard to coach in this environment.
    • When teaching  a skill – try to find a way to make the focus the technique, not the result.  So for basketball – teach them against a wall to try to work on form and hit a crack on the wall.  Then add steps that eventually progress into actually shooting at the basket.  This process builds their confidence and makes the focus perfecting their technique.

Coaching Resources

  • Youtube
  • Reach out to your local high school basketball coach
  • The Talent Code‘ by Daniel Coyle

Inspiring Story

  • James and his wife have fostered kids, so some of his athletes have actually stayed with him.  James had one kid who stayed with him for a while in 6th grade – that kid in 11th grade was about to play in state championships and called James up at 11 o’clock at night to talk – very cool.

The One that Got Away

  • Coaching girls basketball – He smacked his plastic clipboard and it shattered in 20 pieces.  He was upset about the girls not getting rebounds – then afterwards he thought about it and he had never spent any time teaching them how to rebound.

Coaching/Leadership Motivation

Parting Advice

  • Pay less attention to strategy and more attention to fundamentals

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