Under Your Skin

(This is my 350th post on The Coach Hays blog since I first started this dog and pony show in 2009. To celebrate, I thought a proper rant would be fitting. Thanks for reading and I hope I can keep going for at least 350 more.)

What makes a good athlete? What makes a team successful?

It’s about commitment. It’s about grinding through the work and the repetition. It’s the footwork drills. It’s the extra swings. It’s taking the shots after practice or perfecting your jump technique.

It’s going beyond what the practice and game plans say you should do. It is going beyond what your supporters say and further than your biggest detractors could ever dream was possible.

It’s the competitor’s mark to be permanently worn under your skin.

It’s a mark you wear with pride. As an individual. As a competitor. As a group. As a team. As a family.

  • Not a hashtag.
  • Not a poster hanging on the wall.
  • Not a program t-shirt.

The mark of a winner is burned on your heart. It seeps into every nook and cranny of your competitor spirit.

You do the work necessary. And then you do it again.

Look in the mirror. What do you see? If you don’t like the results you are reaping, look at what you are sowing.

  • Are you putting in the work? Input = Output.
  • Are you blaming instead of improving?
  • Talking instead of performing?
  • Whining instead of winning?

If you don’t like where you’re at, then take the steps to move forward. Sow the good seed.

Ask yourself, “Am I along for the ride or am I going to put this team on my shoulders and rise to the top?”

Commit. Improve. Do the work.

Hard work is the magic.

Wear the mark of a competitor. Decide if your mark is a temporary tattoo or if is it written in your marrow.

Be dependable. Be consistent. Be a rock.

Wear your commitment under your skin. As I’ve said before, Be Indelible.

Permanent and unshakeable. 

TLWtattoo

Photo used with permission. #TLW13

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Bits & Pieces

I was listening to sports radio today and heard a story about Cam Newton, the quarterback of the Carolina Panthers. After hearing the story, I was shocked at my initial reaction. The story was about Cam Newton saying, “I’m an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing they can compare me to.”

Now, now…don’t jump to conclusions. I didn’t think anything negative about the Carolina Panthers QB. I like him and the energy and joy he brings to the game.

What jumped into my 51-and-a-half, grumpy-old-white-guy head was, “That’s right, Cam Newton is black, isn’t he.” What surprised me was that, as a bona fide, 51-and-a-half, grumpy-old-white-guy, I just see Cam Newton as a QB.

Have we progressed to the point where—for most of the NFL football fans in America—race  is beginning to matter less and less? But, race still matters and race should be celebrated instead of targeted with those unfounded stereotypes.

Hopefully, we are getting to the point where, thanks to guys like Marlin Briscoe, James Harris, Doug William, Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon, etc., we can finally bury the belief that it is not “normal” for an African American to play QB.

I wonder if we are re-defining what “normal” means?

What is “normal”, anyway? Is there even a normal in America anymore? Not the “normal” that is built on stereotypes. Maybe normal has become a patchwork of bits and pieces. Maybe normal is made up of many facets that shine from different angles and radiate many colors. Maybe, just maybe, things are changing for the better.

The day when old, grumpy, white guy sees an African American QB as just a QB, it is good news. It is a sign of progress. It’s a better place to be where things like skin color matter less than action and deed.

Bits and pieces bound together to make the world a better place.

We are, in fact, made of bits and pieces of damn good stuff.

We are a patchwork of awesome.

Quilt_weaving_close_up

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2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Crash Course

Bowl Week. It brings a smile to virtually every football fan’s face.  Four, or more, games a day. Teams and bowl games one has rarely heard of before. A football dream (at least to me).

But Bowl Week is more than just non-stop, sports television excitement. It is a chance for a coach to get a crash course in football. During the course of 10-14 days, a coach can watch and study virtually every offensive scheme out there pitted against virtually every defensive scheme in play.

Bowl Week is an excellent opportunity to expand the knowledge base. I don’t quite invest the time, or experience the temporary thumb paralysis from rewinding and rewinding the video with the remote control, as I used to when I was actively coaching, but I still love to watch these college football matchups in order to learn more about the game.

Most of us have heard the old adage, “If you aren’t getting better, you’re falling behind.”. A big chunk of that getting better occurs in the offseason—even for the coach. The players get better by training, by playing other sports, and working toward being better each and every day. Coaches need to do get better in the offseason also. No, take that back. Coaches don’t need to get better in the offseason, coaches must get better in the offseason. After taking a few weeks off at the end of their team’s season, a coach needs to start the process of self-improvement. Bowl Week gives us that opportunity.

I can watch the fast-break, spread offenses, flexbone veer offenses, two-back sets, one-back sets, empty sets and full-house sets all run in unique ways. I can learn how teams use motion to give the QB a coverage read. I can study what these QBs are reading and learn to recognize calls and route combinations. A good defensive coach learns to watch offenses, identify what they are doing and why, and then incorporate that knowledge into your own defensive scheme.

One of my favorite things is to study blocking schemes of all the offensive philosophies and schemes. Two of our most successful specialized blocking schemes were the reverse blocking and the screen blocking. Both came directly from watching college bowl games. The reverse blocking scheme was taken from Glen Mason’s Minnesota Golden Gophers team in the 2003 Sun Bowl and the screen blocking, if I remember right, was from a mid-2000’s Jim Tressel Ohio State bowl game.

Bowl Week. Watch your favorite teams play as a fan, but watch as many of the other games with the eye of a coach.

Always get better.

Your players need it.

Your players deserve it.

IMG_2636

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Get a Grip

Have you signed up for the FREE Baseball Excellence Tip of the Week? No? What’s keeping you? If you are a baseball coach, a baseball parent, or a baseball player, regardless of age (the younger your player, the better actually), get over to their website now and sign up HERE. It’s awesome and you will thank old Coach Hays later. They are my go-to source for teaching the game of baseball.

I have become a lover of Monday mornings. Hate me if you please, but want to guess why? Monday morning is when the email Tip of the Week arrives from Baseball Excellence. See, what have I been telling you? Baseball makes life better.

This past Monday’s tip was a topic near and dear to my heart…gripping a baseball bat. It taught me a thing or two and gave me the idea for a series of blog posts on hitting.

Over the past year, I have watched thousands and thousands of swings from T-ball aged kids up through high school. Over the next few months, I am going to attempt to address some of the issues I consistently saw in these swings. We’ll start at the start and focus on gripping the bat.

Grip

First things first. Take your bat and lay the barrel on the ground in front of you and lean the knob against your body. Reach down, grip the bat and lift the barrel up and out to eye-level. Next, bring the barrel of the bat to your back shoulder and look down at your knuckles. The middle knuckles should be pretty close to being aligned with the middle knuckle of top hand being aligned just below the middle knuckle of the bottom hand. This is a proper grip.

The handle of the bat should be gripped where the fingers join the hand and not in the palm. It doesn’t matter if your young player is 8 or 18, teach this and teach this and demand this from day one. A palm-gripped bat is a slow, weak bat. It may work fine in T-ball, it may work fine in coach/machine pitch, and it may get the hitter through their early years of kid-pitch baseball, but it will not work well as they mature. They will struggle to hit the ball as an early teen player and begin to lose interest in the game. I know I’ve said this before, but the numero uno reason kids quit playing baseball as they enter their teenage years is struggling to hit a baseball as pitching gets better. Hitting a baseball is one of the true joys of this great game.

Waggle

Once the proper grip is addressed and practiced over and over with the above grip test drill, the hitter needs to learn to keep this proper grip loose and relaxed. You hit a baseball hard through bat speed, not strength. Bat speed is generated through good mechanics and a short, loose swing. Gripping the bat to tight is a MAJOR problem I see in hitters of all ages. If your hitter has a slow swing that floats through the zone, there is probably a pretty good chance, the hitter has a white-knuckle grip on the bat.

One way to help a hitter keep a loose, relaxed grip on the bat handle is to teach them to waggle, or move, the bat around in their stance. Bat waggles come in all shapes and sizes. It is the one thing every hitter can personalize and develop their own style. Some hitters shake the bat back and forth. Other hitters make small circles. Hall-of-Fame player Cal Ripken, Jr. had the famous clarinet fingers as his waggle. Whatever works to keep the grip on the bat loose and ready to explode.

More on grip and swings in the next post, but for now…some baseball homework!

Homework: Practice grabbing the bat with the proper grip. Get in your batting stance and find a comfortable waggle that allows you to move the bat around while keeping your grip relaxed and loose.

Here are some pictures of my natural bat grip alignments.

Bottom Hand Grip Align

Bottom Hand Grip Alignment

 

Top Hand Grip Align

Top Hand Grip Align

 

Bottom Hand Grip

Bottom Hand Grip (when my top hand is on the bat my bottom thumb rests on the handle.)

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Athletic Alphabet

I don’t like playing freshman on the varsity level in high school. Never have liked it, probably never will like it. It’s personal preference backed up by years of personal observation. I’ve too often seen a developmental flatline in the athletes who played varsity as freshman through the rest of their high school career.

Very few of these kids are better all-around varsity players as seniors than they were when first stepped onto a varsity field as a freshman. Their growth curve as an athlete always seems to stagnate in comparison to their classmates who didn’t start playing varsity until a year or two later.

Why?

I don’t really know for sure.

Maybe it’s mental. Perhaps the athlete consciously or unconsciously feels they have achieved their destination and don’t need to get any better. The “I HAVE ARRIVED” syndrome.

Maybe it’s physical. The athlete was an early-bloomer whose later-developing peers were able to surpass them.

Most likely it is theses athletes don’t ever learn their Athletic Alphabet.

Huh?

The Athletic Alphabet is the collection of basic things an athlete needs to learn in their sport. Technique, playbook, physical tools, intensity, motivation/drive, execution, experience, plus many other things are the collected in the alphabet.

I am a much better developmental coach than I could ever be as a varsity head coach. My strength was in the development of athletes by making the athletes realize they need to get better every day. When the athlete would achieve their goaI, I would pat them on the back and then turn up the pressure with a new, more loftier, goal.

I tried to get them to understand the importance of a step by step approach to being a competitor AND pounding it into their young, teenage heads this step by step approach never stops. There is always someone out there better than you are. Never be satisfied being the best on your team or in your town.

The alphabet analogy came early in my coaching career. We were coming back from a dismal freshman football performance. I was not a happy camper on the bus. I challenged the players to invest in learning the things they needed to learn to play high school football. Learn their job on every play and learn how to do that job correctly with the techniques we developed through effort every day in practice and drills.

I told them their middle school football experience taught them only the letters A, B, and C. They needed to start learning more letters because what the hell could you spell with only an “A”, a “B”, and a “C”?

Cab. That’s it…one word! Cab.

You can’t get very far in life knowing only the word, “cab”, can you?  

Even if that one word or that one thing you can currently do is pretty damn good, it is not nearly good enough. If you learn how to use all 26 letters in the alphabet, though, you can make any word. Armed with the whole A thru Z in your arsenal, you can create eloquent sentences and communicate effectively with others.

As an athlete, you need to learn, develop and master the basics of a sport before you can be highly competitive at that sport. In sports, you need the whole Athletic Alphabet to fill your potential.

Don’t be satisfied.

Don’t settle for someone just giving you a spot on the hill. Strive (and do the requisite work) to be KING OF THE HILL.

There is no such thing as “good enough”.

The ultimate competition is with yourself.

There is only you and your potential.

Never stop getting better.

photo (12)

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Over. Done With. Gone.

Logically, our high school football season would end either when we lost our playoff game or we failed to make the playoffs. Makes sense, right?

Game over, mope around a couple of days, check in equipment, and say those awful goodbyes to senior young men who will never play organized football again. Over. Done with. Gone.

But that’s never the way it happened. Never.

Sure, we’d do all the stuff listed above. Plus, we’d have the requisite end-of-the-season banquet where I’d have to fake-smile my way through the whole ordeal because all I could think about were my failures as a coach that season (Although the player-produced highlight videos were always cool, no matter how few highlights we may have actually produced on the field that year.).

Even then, the season was never really over for me until the last game, the 4A state championship, was played. Somebody in 4A was still playing AND it wasn’t me. That was tough to let go. People still playing when I was not ready to be done. 

Until the point of the finality of nobody else playing, I was mired in the reality of our failure. I slept poorly, I worked poorly, and if you take a vote, I was probably a pretty crappy person to be around. The majority of my waking thoughts dwelt on what we did wrong and what we needed to do to get better.

Once the state title was safely in the books, I relaxed. I started to think optimistically about next year. I started to prepare winter, spring, and summer weight workouts with a hopeful smile on my face.

Did I say I relaxed? Well, apparently, when I relaxed at the end of the season, so did my immune system. About every year, come late November, I would get a God-awful, upper respiratory infection which made my life miserable right up to Christmas. I spent a month every postseason hacking and coughing my way through life. So much for optimism?

Coaching is a weird thing. It gets in your head and worms its way into the marrow of your bones. There are bad things I really don’t miss in the least of which I could rant for hours upon. But the good things and great memories far outweighed the bad and I miss those things dearly. These good things are the things which keep people coaching sports year after year.

Not money, not glory, not the fancy headsets, but the pure joy of competing and coaching young people.

But…as the great Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

Putting football things on the shelf.

The pain of letting a season go. The pain of telling those seniors goodbye.

The bumps from slipping back into a normal family life.

Is everyone finally done playing?

Game over. Back to life.

Over. Done with. Gone.

photo (2)

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