Everybody’s Undefeated

This is the time of the year where optimism in high school football rides higher than a Ray Guy punt.

Everybody is undefeated.

Every coach’s scheme is pure gold.

The pads are clean and arranged neatly in a squeaky-clean locker after checkout.

The freshly painted helmets shine like museum pieces, anxiously awaiting their seasonal baptism by that first contact scratch.

Mouthpieces are formed.

The practice fields have fresh lines painted over actual and real grass.

It’s almost time.

Excitement permeates the air while players, parents, and fans dream of the “What If’s”.

What about coaches?

Well, coaches are a different breed, or at least I know I was. These were the most nerve-wrecking days for me of the season. You can have the highest (or lowest) expectations for a group of kids, but you can never be sure of what you are going to get until you strap up the pads and turn it loose.

As a strength and conditioning coach, I worried about everything.

  • Did we develop them enough physically in the offseason?
  • Were they physically in shape and ready to perform?
  • Did we put them to the fire enough to develop their mental and emotional makeup to compete at the level we want to compete at?

As a defensive and offensive line coach, I agonized over the installation and planning schedules.

  • What do we need to learn? And when?
  • Where were my linemen on the developmental scale?
  • What did I need to do to help them get to where they wanted to be and where the team needed them to be?

Tough times.

Exciting times.

Anxious times.

As we put the pedal to the floor and drive toward the 2015 season, we need to temper our “What If” expectations and keep anchored sensibilities.

Be positive, enjoy the ride, and enjoy playing the game or watching your favorite players in action.

Just don’t forget…

Everyone is undefeated right now. In a month, that won’t be true. There will be winning and there will be losing. Either way, life will go on.

Good luck to all players, coaches, and their fans. Football 2015 is just around the corner.

Everybody’s undefeated.

Play hard and have fun.

Hard work is the magic.



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Crank Up the Warm Up

Warm-up. Traditional static stretching.

As a player, I used to hate it. As a coach, I grew to hate it even more. Static stretching.

I don’t like the idea of forcing “cold” muscles to stretch. I know I half-assed static stretching back in the day just as the current generation of players half-ass through their static stretching regimens.

I prefer functional flexibility. I prefer a dynamic type of warm-up routine.


Besides incrementally increasing the range of motion of primary and secondary muscle groups as they are being functionally used, there is another very important benefit to dynamic warm-up, it improves athleticism. An area often overlooked factor by sports coaches at the high school level is the value of athletic development.

I’ve ranted on this subject on many occasions, but it is my belief the number one duty of a high school sports coach is to see the potential in a kid and find a way to help that kid achieve his or her potential. This duty is beyond schemes, strategy, play calling, depth charts, etc.

Developing athletes is job numero uno and when I coached, we found the dynamic warm-up routine to be a great opportunity for us to squeeze the most out of the first ten or fifteen minutes of every workout, every practice, and every contest. We used a total body, functional range of motion series of movements to prepare the muscles, stretch the muscles, and teach the muscles how to move to become a more mobile athlete.

Dynamic Warm-Up

Stretch Runs

  • High Knee
    High Knee Skip
    Carioca with a Twist
    Zig Zag Runs
    Backward Long Stride
    Flip Flop Hops
    Squat Walk
    Kangaroo Hops
    Walking Lunges

Sprints (Start on a verbal or visual signal)

  • 4 – 20-yard sprints (2-right foot start, 2-left foot start)
    4 – 10-yard sprints (2-right foot start, 2-left foot start)
    4 – 5-yard sprints (2-right foot start, 2-left foot start)

How effective was it?

Well, in my nine football seasons and almost as many baseball seasons, we had, at most, five straight-out pulled muscle injuries over the time frame. Several coaches have also used the routine for their basketball programs with similar results.

In short, it works. Kids get better. Kids stay healthier. Kid perform at higher level.

It’s not easy to implement a change in philosophy in sports. Sports people are just as bad, or worse, than the general public when it comes to an aversion to change. Our situation was no different. But with science and research and great, forward-thinking head coaches who took the risk and allowed this dynamic warm-up philosophy, we were able to make this a vital part of our program operations.

The proof was in the pudding. We used the first 10-15 minutes of practice to develop better athletes and prepare our bodies for the physical demands we put them through. It was an important factor in developing the “human weapons” we needed to complete.

I coach with the philosophy, “I will put my athletes up against your athletes any day of the week”. We may not always win, but we will leave our mark on the minds and bodies of our opponents every single time we step on a field to compete.

Success starts with the basics

Kids getting better.
Kids getting healthier.
Kids performing at a higher level.

Tigers 2006 runout

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The Jack-In-The-Box

The jack-in-the-box.

You turn the crank slowly. Nothing happens.

You turn slower and slower and slower in anticipation of the freaky clown popping out when the lid springs open. With every turn, your heart beats faster and your eyes get a little wider. The chime rings out the tune one slow note at a time as you get closer and closer to the always surprising endgame and then…



Developing athletes is similar to a jack-in-the-box. The athlete cranks the handle by practicing and training. When the time is right, the breakthrough comes, and the performance “pops” for all to see.

I saw this with several of the baseball kids we coached this summer (I know, I know, I retired. Insert Mrs. Hays laughing). Starting this spring, these particular players worked and worked to become better hitters. We worked with them on staying vertical and using their tall, lanky frames to generate angular force through a short, compact swing.

These players slowly cranked the handle of their athletic jack-in-the-box to get better throughout the season. They put in meaningful time at the batting cages and at practice. Honestly, they hit the crap out of the ball more often than not this summer. Finally, for one of the players, the catch was sprung on the lid and he hit his first home run to seal a victory in our final game of the summer. It was a legit shot that easily cleared the left field fence. I even smiled—during an actual game, if you can believe that.

This is how athletic development works. You work toward a goal. You grind it out day after day to what often seems to no avail. You get frustrated. You despair. Sometimes, you quit. But to those who keep turning that handle on their athletic jack-in-the-box with grit and determination, success will come.

You will improve.

It is inevitable.

So, keep lifting, keep running, keep swinging, and throwing. Practice ball-handling and shooting baskets every day. Continue to work on your technique, your footwork, and your mental game. Just keep cranking and good things will happen.

I’ve said this many times in the past, but one of the most important things a coach or teacher can do is to see the potential in a kid and help them achieve that potential. Teach them to keep working and to keep turning their cranks of improvement until their talent springs forward.

Now, it’s time to shove this old, tired, jack-in-the-box of a coach down, snap the lid shut, and throw him back into the storage closet. I am retiring from active coaching…again.

Maybe (Stop laughing Mrs. Hays.).

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Library Love

Note: As public funding becomes tighter and less reliable, I am concerned about the future of our libraries in communities, universities, and school districts. The library is as important to the health of a community as schools, sports facilities, public service departments, etc. Please support your local libraries with your time, your talent, and your treasure.

Don’t you just love libraries? I know, dumb question coming from a sports geek, but don’t you? I am a fan of the library, especially my local library, the Clay Center (KS) Carnegie Library.

I fondly remember my branch library in my hometown of Kansas City, Kansas. I remember the book smell, the quiet, and not being able to fathom the number of books there must be in the world if we could have this many books in our little library. I was fascinated by the old-school checkout card machine where the librarian would masterfully align and feed the three cards into a slot and the due date was printed on each card. The card stack exited from another slot and the librarian would insert them into the books. It was magic. I was happy I came from a big family so I could watch the librarian run the cards from the giant stack of Hays family books. The sound of that old machine was music to my ears.

As a kid, I was a husky, could-not-sit-still introvert, slow-developing reader of a boy. Without a tremendous amount of help and patience from the adults in my young academic life, I may never have grown up a reader. I always liked the library, though. I liked to graze the shelves looking at the book spines, book covers, and flipping through the pictures. I am a better reader now, but roaming and searching the book stacks is still a favorite activity.

One of the earliest memories of being completely, totally PO’d in life was when I was about six or seven and my onerous older brother told the librarian I probably lied and didn’t read all of the four or five books (a major accomplishment for me at the time) I’d listed on my summer reading program sheet. I remember the sheet vividly, it had a drawing of a genie riding a magic carpet on the top and blank lines for what seems like 50 books. I will never forget the look the librarian gave me when she thought I had cheated. I was so embarrassed and so mad at the possibility of my first real reading success melting right before my eyes, I crumpled into a ball on the library floor and had to be dragged out wailing and screaming.



I had the honor in 2013 to be the keynote speaker at our local Friends of the Library annual meeting. It floored me to be invited to speak as a writer. I talked about libraries, the role of libraries in the 21st century, eBooks and the middle-grade book I wrote called, THE YOUNGER DAYS. Through this wonderful opportunity, I attempted to convey how important lending libraries are to a community, regardless of size.

I believe libraries and museums are the two vital community institutions. No other community institution, be it police, fire, or city hall, reflects a community like the library and the local museum. These two cultural institutions define the collective communities we live in; they tell us:

  1. Who we were as a community – our history and past is defined in the collections.
  2. Who we are now – our present values are defined in the current acquisitions and direction.
  3. Where we need to go – our core community values serve as an anchor for future decision-making.

Libraries are a center of gravity in our communities. The early leaders of our country knew the importance of knowledge to the dream of democracy. In a second floor room of Carpenter Hall in Philadelphia, just a floor above the room where the first treasonous talks between the traitors to the crown took place, Benjamin Franklin started one of our first new world lending libraries.

“It (the library) was Ben Franklin’s idea. At the very beginning comes the idea of learning, of books, of ideas.”                                             -historian David McCullough.

Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie’s personal philosophy revolved around the importance of knowledge to the self-made man, knowledge gained through books. Through his donations and foundation, just under 1700 libraries were started in the United States. The Carnegie Foundation set the standards and groundwork for community lending libraries for the common man. One of the more interesting innovations of the Carnegie Library was the establishment of the open stacks, where patrons could browse the books themselves. Previously, the patron had to rely on a librarian to retrieve a requested book from the stacks located behind the counter. The true library for the common man was established through Andrew Carnegie’s vision and access to knowledge made more accessible than it had ever been.

Libraries serve a major role in our society, below is an ALA list of recommended minimal functions of a library.

  • Collect Circulate
  • Borrow Catalog
  • Provide access to catalogs Provide reference service
  • Offer reader advice Provide access to technology & the Internet
  • Serve children Serve teenagers and young adults
  • Serve adults Provide exhibit space and offer exhibits
  • Provide reading rooms Provide meeting rooms/convene meetings
  • Serve as a community center Serve as a community symbol

As as we dive into the digital age, providing access to technology & the internet jumps out from this list as one of the most important function of a library. Look at these recent numbers from the Institute of Museum and Library Services:

  • 67% of libraries offer access to e-books.
  • 64% are the only source of free Internet access in their communities
  • 169 million people used one of 16,000 public libraries in the study year; 77 million of them used a library computer
  • 86% of public libraries provide free Wi-Fi

With the rise of the digital world, some tend to think the library is a dinosaur. To the contrary, libraries are as important and will be as important as ever in the 21st Century. Libraries will serve will not only to provide access to physical knowledge, but to digital knowledge, as well. Libraries will increasingly by becoming hubs for access and training in digital media and become a major tool in the fight to reduce society’s digital divide.

In their report, Confronting the Future, the ALA defines four major issues on which a library’s staff, a library’s board, and a library’s patrons must find a balance as they move into the digital age.

  • They must find a balance between how much of a physical and how much of a virtual library they want to be.
  • A balance must be found between serving the individual and the community.
  • Develop a philosophy and implement practices that balance being a collections library and a creations library.
  • Finally, a library must find the best fit within their budget, patron needs, and infrastructure to balance their role as a portal for information and/or a site for archived information.

The intersection of all these decisions will determine the sweet spot of a library’s future directions and priorities.

I love libraries. Big libraries, medium-size libraries, school libraries, university libraries, technical libraries, small-town libraries, or a small birdhouse sized wooden box in someone’s front yard to exchange books, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the information, what matters is the content, what matters is the reader.

Update: I have successfully gone over forty years without breaking down in a sobbing mass of goo on the library carpet, but my wife still has to drag me out of the library on occasion.


Levien, Roger E., Confronting the Future: Strategic Visions for the 21st Century Public Library,  ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, Policy Brief No. 4, June 2011.


Miller, Elizabeth R., Exploring the role of the 21st century library in the age of e-books and online content. Knight Blog, February 25, 2012.


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Be Indelible

I used to confuse the word indelible with the word inedible. So when I’d see a permanent marker with “Indelible Ink” printed on it, I’d think, “No $#@!, Sherlock! Who would want to eat a Sharpie anyway?”

Now I’m slightly smarter…well, enough smarter to know that inedible and indelible are completely different things. Indelible means to make a lasting mark—it means that something will not be forgotten or removed.

I like that.


I want to coach and develop indelible athletes.

I want to produce indelible writing.

I want to make an indelible impact on my communities.

I want to be indelible.

MarkerParticipate or Compete?
As an athlete, or as part of any organization, which are you choosing to be?

The participant shows up most of the time and, more often than not, jumps into the wagon to go for the ride.

The competitor is the one who pulls the wagon and makes everyone around them better. The competitor is the very definition of indelible. The competitor is never satisfied with their current efforts and performances. A competitor does the things the participator refuses to do.

What does a competitor do? Well, in high school sports, in my opinion, the competitor is the athlete who puts in the extra offseason work to improve at least 4 or 5 days a week.

  • Baseball – 50 throws & catches, 50 swings, 50 ground balls/pop-ups.
  • Football – Explosive power development, 25 starts and footwork reps, routes, and throws.
  • Basketball – 250+ shots a day, ball-handling skills, explosive power development.
  • Tennis, golf, volleyball, etc. – All need skills reps

All In
I am a firm believer in playing multiple sports and being involved in multiple activities, hobbies, etc. But, the work and the commitment to all these activities requires a monumental effort. The key is to, as the wonderful Mrs. Hays often says about life and work and parenting, “Be present.” Pay attention to the needs of the situation staring you in the face. Focus 100% on the task at hand and not 60% with the other 40% worrying about the next activity on you agenda.

Be Present = Go All In

Whatever you do in life, go all in. Jump into the fray feet first with a fully-focused effort. Don’t straddle the border with one foot in and one foot out. Hit the accelerator and give your drive and desire full throttle to make your world a better place.

That is the very meaning of indelible.

Go all in.

Compete, don’t just participate.

Leave a lasting mark.

Be Indelible

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Herding Cats

Sometimes coaching high school kids feels akin to an attempt at wrangling a dozen cats out the backyard gate while avoiding a fully-functioning sprinkler head. In other words…utter chaos.

But a team needs and each individual kid needs direction–they need to know where they are supposed to go and some idea of how to get there. One of the knocks from I hear way too often from coaches is today’s kids don’t care, they don’t “buy” into what the coach is selling.

The truth is, today’s kids are probably brighter and sharper and have an increased problem-solving capacity than we ever did. They want to know what you are asking them to do, why you are asking them to do it, and where is it going to take them. Kids today have very well-honed bullshit meters.

They are skeptical and need to be convinced the plan and vision you present to them is the real deal. Where us grumpy, old folks used to accept what we were given and did what we were told, these kids want to know the bigger picture and see what is beyond blind acceptance. And they have the collective power of the internet and social media for information.

One of the first coaching lessons I learned from Paul Lane in football and Rex Carlson in baseball was to be upfront and be honest. These two fine coaches taught me the athletes cannot read my mind and need to be told and shown what I need them to do. Tell the kids what we are going to do, why we are going to do it, and how it will make them better as an individual and as a team.

Another knock against the kids is they just don’t get it. “They spend too much time sitting in front of their video games or have their faces glued to their phones.” You all know the attitude. The grumpy old man, stay-off-my-lawn you juvenile, drug addicted, delinquent” attitude we often have toward the habits of youth.

Kids today want a vision. They want (and desperately need) someone to recognize their potential and help them map out a path to achieve it. I’ve said this a hundred times, but everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to be a success. They just need the plan and the guidance.

That’s what the successful coach is able to do.

Dream the plan.
Devise the plan.
Sell the plan.
Implement the plan.

And then drive the individual and the team in the right direction and never let them take their eyes off the prize.

Just like successfully herding a dozen of the cutest, most well-behaved cats out of the back yard, your athletes will eventually find their goal—but you’ll always end up worn to a frazzle and sporting a few fresh scratches.


The keys to the kingdom.

“Cats on Beach” by haitham alfalah – haitham alfalah. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cats_on_Beach.JPG#/media/File:Cats_on_Beach.JPG

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Load. Step. Swing

The title is absolutely correct;. “Load (Period) Step (Period) Swing (Period)”

It’s not “Load, step, swing” or what I see way too much from young players, “loadstepswing”.

A good and consistent baseball swing consists of three distinct and separate parts.

  1. The load.
  2. The stride.
  3. The swing.


Why is “Load. Step. Swing.” so important? Because it’s vital to develop solid fundamentals in young hitters so they will be fundamentally solid older hitters. Fundamentally solid older hitters are able to enjoy success against better quality pitching as they mature and enjoy playing the game longer.

Do you know why most kids quit playing the game of baseball? They say the game is not fun for them. The game is no longer fun for them because they usually struggle to hit the baseball at the advanced level. Hitting a baseball is fun. Period. Ask any kid, they’ll back me up at an almost 100% clip.

Here is the simple method I used to instruct hitters. I use this same basic philosophy to help hitters from preschool kids up to the collegiate level. It works, It’s basic. It makes hitters able to hit laser shots from the left field line to the right field line. And when one hits the ball hard, good things happen.

Get Bouncy

Athletes move on the balls of their feet, not flat-footed or with weight on the heels. Relax the body and get bouncy to be a better athlete.

Hitter’s Rhythm

Stand up. Go ahead, get off your rump and stand with feet comfortably about shoulder width apart. Now get bouncy off the balls of your feet. Feels good, right? Next, rock side to side. When one heel comes off the ground the weight shifts to the other heel on the ground. Do you know what this is? It’s your body’s natural, relaxed motion of hitting a baseball. It is hitter’s rhythm.

Hitters should naturally rock with this rhythm almost unconsciously, even when just standing around. (It’s how we find each other in the crowd…look for the guys rocking back and forth in hitter’s rhythm).


When weight rocks to back foot, the hands load to the back shoulder and lock into place.  It’s like shooting a rubber band at your sister. Be honest, do you take that big, thick, Sunday morning paper rubber band and only pull it back an inch before firing it in the direction of their beloved sister? Heck no! You pull that rubber band back as far as you can so you can fire it at that beloved sibling with explosive speed and power. Same for loading up in your swing. When a hitter loads, the rubber band has been pulled and now you are ready to release that locked and loaded power onto the ball.


The step, or stride, will vary between hitters depending on where the hitter is comfortable in their stance. If the hitter likes a narrow stance and longer stride is usually more natural. If the hitter likes a wide stance, then the stride is usually short. If I see a kid having problems controlling the stride or being consistent with their stride, the I’ll put them in a wide stance and have them just pick up their front foot and post it down right where it was. The whole purpose of the step is to shift the energy from the load into the barrel during the swing.

I like to teach hitters to “stick” the ball of the front foot into the ground with the outside of the foot pointed toward the pitcher. The hitter needs to post the front leg to stop the forward body momentum shift so the hitter doesn’t slide through the front hip and waste all that loaded up power. A solid step movement should be relaxed, quiet and stick the perfect hitting position. (see Hitting Position for an explanation on the importance of starting a swing from a consistent hitting position.)


You’ve loaded, you’ve stepped, and now you are in perfect hitting position. What’s next?

Simple, it’s a swing.

Take your front hand (the bottom hand) and pull the knob toward the ball in a quick, compact, powerful swing. By developing a consistent hitting position, a hitting only needs to learn the one swing which is directed toward the pitched ball. The swing needs to start from the back shoulder and go directly to the ball, no matter where it is pitched. Inside, outside, high, low, or right down the middle. A hitter with a good fundamental swing can hit any of these pitches with power to all fields and makes for a dangerous hitter who is very difficult to pitch to and defend.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Sounds like something we all want, right?

So, repeat after me.




Say these three words hundreds and hundreds of times in your head and out loud. It is the rhythm of a hitter. It is the rhythm of baseball.

Three separate words, not one.

Three separate parts, not one.

Load. Step. Swing

Hitting a baseball is one of the great things in life.

Enjoy life!

Happy Hitting!


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