Monthly Archives: September 2011

Alignment, Assignment, Attack

Coach Lane taught us an awesome philosophy. He used to preach what he called the three A’s: Alignment, Assignment and Attack. This simple method of teaching, planning and playing the game of football can be used for many, many other disciplines in life or sport.

Alignment – Where you line up. It is the physical position you put yourself in. Starting in the right position, in the right spot or in the right frame of mind increases the chances of success.

Assignment – What you need to do. It is your job, it is what your teammates are depending on you to do. In football and baseball, we called it EVERY MAN, EVERY PLAY. Meaning, know what your job is and consistently get it done.

Attack – How you create chaos. It is a way of living, it is your approach and it is how you compete. Create chaos to cause confusion and confusion slows your opponent down mentally and physically, giving you an edge. An attacking philosophy needs hustle and attitude. We wanted to  intimidate through hustle. Always attacking, always coming, always, always, always…

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The Game Perspective

It’s a game.

It’s a game.

It’s a game.

Truly, it is only a game.   Not that you can’t take the game seriously. Not that you can’t work you buttocks to the bare bone to prepare to compete. Not that you can’t compete with the very marrow of your human existence. All of those things are good. But, in the end, it is only a game.

I am a competitor. I will scrape and scrap for any victory, no matter how insignificant the victory or the competition can be. If there is a contest to be had, my game face sits constantly at the ready. Whether organized sports, recreational sports, family game night or kicking/blocking 32 oz plastic cup field goals through my president’s room door off the living room of the fraternity house, it is game on. But, it always remains a game. No crying, no whining, no takeover of one’s life…It’s a game.

After my eighth grade year, we had a very good summer baseball team. We were too cool for school in the late 1970’s. As recent graduates of Catholic school, we were good and we had uniforms fashioned after the old rainbows style of the Houston Astros, only with a blue spot on the front of jersey instead of a star. Our head coach worked as a salesman for our team sponsor, Spotbilt (hence the blue spot) and with his job it meant he was out of town sometimes for games. When he was gone, our gruff assistant, Ray, would take over. Ray was a much-older brother of one of my teammate friends and a friend of my oldest brother.  He was a mountain of a man, with a hippie inclination, who loved music and sports. He was a great influence on me while I was growing up, needless to say.

One night, right before the championship game of the end of season tournament, Ray said one of the damnedest things I had every heard. His wisdom that night has stuck in a prominent place in my brain all these years. It is the perfect thought for a rant on perspective and sports.

Before our games, our very Catholic head coach would do the very Catholic sports thing of praying for the quick and bloodless domination of our upcoming opponent.  It was always one of those awkward moments in which newly minted teenage boys found difficult to keep from giggling and laughing, but the head coach made us do it with religious purpose and consistency. The championship game rolls around and, lo and behold, the head coach is out of town on a sales trip. We warm up, take pregame infield and meet down the first base line for the usual “biggest game of your life, now let’s pray an Our Father for the complete vanquishing of our opponent” speech our head coach always gave. Coach Ray fills in for the head coach. Ray talks about how much fun it is to play a championship game, how hard we have worked to get here and how we need to go out, relax and have a good time. But, when we all put a hand in the team circle to say the prayer, Ray turns and walks away toward the dugout.

We look in confusion to each other. After a few seconds, one of our real smart asses on the team (one of many smart asses on that team, I assure you.) says, “Hey Ray Ray, aren’t we going to say a prayer?”

Ray stops dead in his 6’ 4” 280 lb. tracks, pauses for a moment of thought, then returns to the team huddle.  The look in Ray’s eyes spelt doom for the young smartass who had the nerve to speak up and say what we were all thinking, but with the “Ray Ray” thrown in. Ray stops, looks each of us squarely in the eye and says,

“Boys, this game tonight is important. This sport of baseball is a great game, it is important. But, if God gives a shit about the outcome of this baseball game, we are all in a hell of a bad way. Now go out and play goddamn baseball while you still can.”

Perspective and sports. Not always an easy marriage. But, it is just a game…

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Puzzle Pieces and Patience

After the first few weeks of the 2011 fall sports season, I imagine some are in panic mode about their favorite teams, whether  it’s a grade school,  middle school, high school, college or professional team. Maybe a poor start or some ugliness on the field/court, but it has not been the start of the season coaches, players and fans dreamed of during the preseason. If this sounds like familiar territory, here is one word of advice: PATIENCE.  Give the coaches and the players a chance to find themselves. Give them a chance to establish their footing in the whirlwind disappointing start to the season.

Building a team is a little like making a homemade puzzle.  The coach envisions the team he wants to build from the players he has available. He creates the best picture he can using all the players on the team.  The vision is done and it looks promising. Now it’s time to take the jigsaw to it and cut it into pieces.  A very talented, very experienced team cuts into big easy-to-fit pieces, like a Mickey Mouse preschool board puzzle.  As the raw talent and experience level decreases, though, the pieces become increasingly complex in shape and number.

But, this is not going to be a calm, relaxing Sunday afternoon leisurely putting the puzzle back together. Practice starts and all the puzzle pieces are placed on one of those electric football fields from the kick butt sports game of the 1970’s. The switch is turned on, the board vibrates and all the pieces move around the field.  The team cut into the big, easy-to-fit pieces slides into its place in the big picture easier and faster to make the complete team everyone envisioned.  A team ready to roll. The other teams, the ones with complex shapes and many pieces take more time to aggregate into that team everyone dreams about. They need to put in the work and focus harder on coming together. Unfortunately, sometimes it never really comes together into a picture full of grace and beauty.
If your team puzzle picture never really comes together, don’t be discouraged, don’t raise Cain, don’t fly off the handle, just stay patient and enjoy the parts which are good. Never forget, that although the team did not have the season people dreamed of, those are still some pretty damn important player pieces out there working their tails off.

Finally, remember that in sports, as in life, it is not how you start, but how you finish and compete that is important.

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Bubba Lineman Tribute:The School of Block

The School of Block

There is Honor on the line.

There is Glory in the trenches.

Honor in the protection of what’s ours and in the destruction of what’s theirs.

Honor in the 50-79 numbers, invisible to all but the coaches and the blood relation.

Honor in aggressively getting in the defender’s way. Line it up, tear them down, repeat.

Glory in a facemask decorated in turf and mud.  Hands bruised. Fingers battered. Knuckles bloodied.

Glory in watching the backside of your running back move down the field.

Glory in crushing the will of the opponent.

The School of Block

Coach Hays, September 2010

I love blocking. When most football fans watch the pretty boys (the QB/RB/Receivers), I watch the line. Every play, whether in person at a game or watching one on TV, I watch the line play first and foremost. I played the line, I coached the line and, my favorite story, PLATTE RIVER by Rich Bass, is about a lineman. I guess I just view life through the lens of a lineman.

The SCHOOL OF BLOCK is my tribute to the boys in the trenches. It is my interpretation of what it means to be a lineman and my attempt to represent the feel of being a lineman. As football coaches, we know the vital importance of winning the game at the line of scrimmage. As fan, I hope this inspires you to watch the line play more often and come to appreciate the Bubbas.

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A Simple Coaching Secret

Psst.
Hey.
Hey you.
Yeah, you.
Do you wanna know a coaching secret?
It’s simple. It’s effective. It’s free. It’s easy and it can change the attitude of your team or organization.  I use it all the time but never realized the power of this secret to transform attitudes until late this summer, when I did a couple guest gigs at several high school conditioning sessions.
What is this secret bit of magic? It’s the word “We”.
I told you it was simple. “We” transforms. “We” unites. “We” ingrains common purpose. “We” trains together to achieve goals. “We” suggests a collective, a common thread within a group and a team. Humans are hard wired for small group functionality. We are small group hunter-gatherers from way back in the day. Our drive and ability to work in groups for a common goal have been part of our machinery since the first human stood up on two feet and walked around. We want to work together, but this unity has to be built and nurtured.
Common purpose, common goals, common challenges and common suffering all unite young people to work together. Doesn’t matter how different they are from each other, it doesn’t matter where they come from or where they are planning to go, they can unite under the umbrella of “we”.
For example, instead of saying, “Today, you guys are running six Terrible 20’s”, say, “Today, we are running six Terrible 20’s.”  The “We” example means we are in this thing together, common purpose to work our asses off because we need to get better.  Both examples have me, the coach, telling the players to go out and run something very, very physically demanding. But, there is a huge shift in attitude from the individual players training, to one with emphasis on the collective good of the group working to prepare themselves.
A simple word can make a huge difference in the approach and philosophy of an organization or team. Successful  teams and organizations unite to work toward achieving a common goal. You can’t force unity, it has to happen, it has to be forged through time and common purpose. Team unity happens every day, but not by isolated, contrived team building activities. Kids have well honed BS meters, it is their superpower. They can sniff out the attempts to force unity and then they will resist. This important use of semantics can make a difference when used every day. “We” can get it done .
Don’t believe a simple word, like “We” can have such a dramatic affect? Try it out. Go out next practice or team meeting and throw it out there. Let it rip and see what happens.

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