Dear Juniors

Dear Juniors,

Graduation Day. A day of celebration and a day to honor the graduating seniors. When I coached high school, it was one of my favorite days. No, it wasn’t because kids I’d been around for four years were finally leaving. It was because the kids I’d been around for four years, kids who came in as immature, raw, smartass freshmen, had accomplished tough things and were now mature, almost fully developed, smartass seniors ready to make their mark upon the world. It was a great honor to be a small part of their journey, so the day was special to a coach.

Today the spotlight is on the seniors. They deserve it.

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Daniel J. McLain (RELEASED)

But I’d like to turn the all-seeing eye on you juniors. In a few short hours, after the final note Pomp and Circumstance fades into the dusk, YOU will be the seniors. Your final journey down High School Lane begins. Like it or not, the next step you take will be as a senior. Father Time has turned the hourglass over and the first grain of your senior year sand has fallen.

My question to you, Dear Junior.

What are you going to do?

It is your time. Time to step up and push the wagon. No more riding along, going where the previous few years’ wagon went. It’s time for you to shine. Time to dig your heels into the ground, roll up your sleeves, and get to work. Every second you wait after the sun sets on this graduation day results in more sand disappearing from your own senior year clock.

Tick, tock…

What are you going to do?

As seniors, you will have expectations. Accept them. Don’t turn your back on them or default these responsibilities to others. Take the challenges head on and with an intent on fulfilling the expectations with your own talents. Be a leader. A good leader. Be someone that the younger kids want to follow. Don’t lead through threat, fear, or intimidation. As the saying goes, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Help the underclassmen and show them the way we do things within our traditions and community. Pick them up; don’t stomp them down. You make yourself better by making those under you better so set a good example. Be a leader.

What are you going to do?

I challenge you to sit down tomorrow morning as you start your last week of class as a junior and write down what you want to accomplish. Academics, activities, sports, work, finances, etc. Make a physical list. Take this list and put it where you can see it when you wake up each morning. Put a copy in your school locker. Remind yourself constantly of your dreams.

Next, make a plan. List the things you need to do each and every day to accomplish your goals. Carry this with you. Make it part of who you are. Do the things on your plan consistently. Make them a habit. Fail. Step back. Strategize. Attack. Succeed. Challenge. Repeat.

Success breed success.

Tell someone else your goals. A friend. A family member. Heck, you can even send your goal(s) to me. Merely having the ingrained thought in your psyche that someone else knows your goal(s) is a powerful motivator. There is power in sharing. You and your buddy are less likely to sleep through summer conditioning if your buddy knows you want to hit opponents like a cannon shot on the football field and you know he wants to rush for 1,000-yards.

Today, speeches will be made wishing the graduating seniors good luck in their future endeavors and celebrating a milestone in their lives. We all wish them well.

But Juniors, come tonight at sunset…

  • Your life will change.
  • You must vacate your seat in the wagon and start pushing it.
  • Your time has come.
  • Make the most of it.
  • Leave your mark.

Juniors, it is your time.

What are you going to do?

My eye is on you and I expect great things from you.

Hard work is the magic.

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Compete-ly Lost

On more than one occasion the past few years, I have heard coaches, parents, and general old-ish folks like me complain about a common youth sports observance.

Why don’t kids seem to compete like they used to?

99% of the answers I soon hear following such a complaint seem to all revolve around a common causative element.

Video games.

I agree with the observance, but not that cause. I don’t see the same competitive drive in many young athletes. When I first began to notice this trend a few years back, I thought it was just grumpy-old-man me trying to compare everything to a gold standard of my selective memory. Then again, maybe the kids don’t seem competitive in comparison to the competitive level of the adults you see around any modern kid sporting event?

I disagree with the 99% of us pointing fingers at video games. Video games IN MODERATION aren’t such bad things. It’s when they take over the majority of free time in a kid’s life that they become a problem. (And that’s total SCREEN TIME, not just video games.)

A few weeks ago, I heard a sports radio talk show where this subject came up. The guest was a well-known former area collegiate athlete, turned sportscaster, who is also a father of athletes. He may have put his thumb on the competitive fire loss observed all too often.

Volume.

More precisely, volume without meaning. Multiple competitive events crammed into a short period where the outcome and performance take a backseat in the very rear of the station wagon to participation. No, don’t confuse this with my usual ranting and raving about everybody “winning” by simply participating. This concept is different. Much different.

Let’s called this “AAU Syndrome” or “Weekend Warrior Effect”. These are the unintended curse of the modern youth sports movements. Multiple game tournaments played weekend after weekend after weekend after weekend. Tournaments aren’t an all-bad thing. It’s a good way to get a change of scenery and see some new faces playing across from you. But these tournaments have become a business. Name your sport. They are everywhere. A $350 entry fee/four-game guarantee in Town X, followed by $400 entry fee/five-game guarantee in Town Y five days later, and how about a six-team round-robin in Town Z the weekend after for only a $250 entry fee. Kids show up, play a bunch of games, see a bunch of adults yelling and screaming, and then go home.

Maybe, if you’re lucky, a practice or two during the week.

Quantity over quality.

Participate over compete.

So many games stacked back to back, there is no time to teach. No time to improve. Just time to go through the motions.

The kids do not learn to compete. They learn to go through the motions. The system is built to appear as a competitive endeavor. We show up, we feel we’ve accomplished something over the course of the tournament only to realize, half our team can’t tell us anything about Game 3 of 6 we played five hours ago.

AAU Syndrome. Showing up, running up and down the court draining three’s and driving the lane for monster slams. Repeat.

(I know my Jayhawk friends will take offense but I think of Josh Jackson as the poster boy for AAU Syndrome. This kid has tremendous physical basketball talent. He will make buckets of money starting this summer. But despite all his talent and skills, I can count on two fingers the number of times during his one-and-done season where I felt the outcome of his team winning or losing mattered to him.)

What can be done to develop competitors? I have a few suggestions.

  • Lets kids play, not just play organized games and activities.
  • Start building individual competitiveness, then small group competitiveness, and then team competitiveness.
  • Make everything a friendly competition.Friendly doesn’t mean be a jackass. Friendly doesn’t mean you have to win. Remember, competing and winning are two separate things.
  • Workouts, physical skill development, and practices should run a competitive and focused pace. Work hard, have fun.

It takes work to build kids into competitive teenagers. You have to build them from the ground up. You can’t just throw them into the deep end of a high pressure, 4th game of the day contest and expect some innate ancient human gene to kick into overdrive amidst the dozens of shouting adults. It takes work. Competitors are built day by day, trial by trial, and rep by rep until they have a will to be something better.

Good luck, parents, and coaches. If you don’t like the level of competitive fire you see in your young athletes, stop and take a step back. Look in the rear view mirror at the current situation and make some changes. The answer is right there. Like the label says, “OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR”. Start at the beginning, start simple and build a competitor’s foundation.

Tom Osborne used to say that everybody wants to win, the difference is that some are willing to do the work to get there.

Hard work is the magic.

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With Intent to Harm

I need to come clean about something. As an ex-hitter and now as a hitting coach, it is a pet peeve of mine to watch high school hitters float the baseball bat into the contact zone. I hate the slow, looping swing!!!

There, I got it off my chest.

I wish I felt better.

But I don’t.

We talk a lot about violence in sport. Football concussions from helmet to helmet contact, well-aimed elbows on basketball rebounds, take-out baseball slides and using your hockey stick as a weapon are examples of unnecessary violence in sports. I’m baseball, though, there is a situation where I fully condone and even appreciate a healthy touch of violence.

In a baseball swing.

My belief is to hit the baseball as hard as you possibly can every time you swing. My philosophy is to teach short quick swings that generate bat speed and power upon contact.

Is short, hit the baseball hard and good things will happen. A well-struck baseball is much more difficult for the opponent to field than a seven-bouncer in the infield or a lazy pop fly to the outfield. Hard hit baseballs result in more base runners. More base runners translates into more runs, more runs translates into more wins.

As a hitter or a youth coach, develop a short, compact, and powerful swing from the very first time a bat is picked up. The long, looping swing you often see on the coach/machine pitch circuit will not work as the hitter matures.

Do you know what the number one reason kids cite for quitting the game when they reach high school?
It’s not being able to hit a baseball.

Why can’t they hit a baseball?
I am 99% sure that player who quits has a long, looping, slow swing. They have no violence in their swing. They not only have trouble making contact but there’s no zip on the batted ball.

Hitters of America, I plead with you to work on developing a quick bat. I implore you to take the steps necessary to rid this country of the slow bat epidemic.

Hitting position.
Relaxed body.
Head down.
Load and pull back the rubber band.
Step and swing with intent to harm the baseball. Hitting a baseball is a violent act.

Believe me, there are few things in life more fun and satisfying than launching laser line drives into the gap.
To me, that is what baseball is all about… CRUSHING the baseball. 

 

 

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‘Tis the Season

Is there really any better time for a sports fan than those golden few days of unbridled optimism right BEFORE the season starts? Hope courses through the veins and excitement runs rampant.

Everybody’s undefeated.

Everybody’s in the race.

The championship is still a possibility.

The MLB season starts in less than a week! It’s probably my personal favorite pro season. I’ll subscribe to my MLB At-Bat app this week for my fourth straight year. I can’t wait. For $3.00 a month, I get access to every radio feed for every game on every day of the season. Plus, there’s one free MLB TV game a day and the Gamecast feed for each contest.

Of course, I will follow my favorite team, the Kansas City Royals, faithfully again this year. I will live and die emotionally with the ebbs and flows of the 162-game season. I will try my best to home manage the team and drive them to a return to the playoffs.

I am excited. The 2017 Royals season may be the final season with the core group of players that brought a World Series trophy back to KC. But, I can live with that. That’s the economics of baseball and the economics of a small market fandom.

Baseball, like life, runs in a cycle. Things come around, things go around. Rebuild, succeed, dismantle, repeat. I enjoy the cycle. As a coach, a fan, and a former player, baseball clicks all the right buttons.

Next week, it all starts again.

The 2017 Major League Baseball season.

The Royal will win ANOTHER World Series. Possibly. Maybe. Okay, it’ll be a longshot. But a guy can dream, can’t he?

Hope springs eternal.

Play ball!

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Leadership is what leadership does

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership recently with national and world events being what they are. Politics, business, agriculture, science, education, sports, etc. all rely on effective leadership to thrive.

This latest obsession started this summer watching the leadership void we had in the 2016 national election and trying to figure out how we got ourselves so whopper-jawed and off track. It spread to observing coaches like Bill Snyder, Joe Madden, and Bill Belichick and players who are considered team leaders, like LeBron James.

A leader should be judged on what they do, not what they say. Watch the walk, sift through the talk.

Over the years, I’ve tried to study effective leaders (and ineffective leaders) and try to deconstruct how they do what they do and get the results they get. I think it can be distilled down to three things. Knowledge. Quality people. Long-term vision.

Know your organization

This sounds so simple. Yet…

It is often overlooked. A leader should know the goal of the organization. A leader needs to know how the organization is set up and how it operates. The leader needs to understand the structure and dynamics of the entire organization as well as the smaller entities it contains. The leader has to understand the parts of the whole and how they fit the whole part.

Surround yourself with good people who are as smart, or smarter, than you.

It is vital to swallow your ego and bring in people to do the required jobs. Micromanaging is akin to stroking your own ego. Micromanaging and stroking your own ego smother organizations and teams. Bring it quality people and trust them to do the work. If anything, wrap your arms around your team by giving them goals and challenges and watch them grow. If your people grow, your organization grows. If your people grow, you are doing your job.

Make decisions and develop solutions with the long-term wellness or the organization as the top priority. 

It’s often hard to take the long view when most of the attention is on the immediate set of problems. Long-term organizational strength and development are what makes great organizations great. Decisions should be made with the future in mind. A good leader maintains the ability to solve the problems of today with one eye on the future. Respect the rules of the game because they were more than likely put there for a reason. Modify or eliminate the rule parameters which undermine the long-term wellness. Every day, strive to leave the team or organization a little bit better off.

Three simple things.

Three things you must fight through the noise and distractions to stay focused upon.

Three things.

Take care of them and the rest will all fall into place.

As I imagine Forrest Gump sitting on a bench at a bus stop saying,

“Leadership is what leadership does.”

 

V0048366 King George III standing Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org King George III standing, in military uniform; horse in the background. 1804 By: William Beecheyafter: Benjamin SmithPublished: 1 December 1804. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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#MeReadBook: JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF RILEY’S MINE

I was a slow reader and struggled as a kid. In 6th grade, I went down to the reading help session in one of the school’s storerooms. A parent volunteer gave me a mimeographed copy of “To Build a Fire” by Jack London to read. I sat down at a folding table placed between walls of textbooks boxes and ran my finger over the first line “Day had broken cold and grey, exceedingly cold and grey…”. Everything in the room disappeared. I found myself in the Yukon looking over the shoulder of the “new-comer” in his struggle for survival. I was transformed. The locked door to the world of books was kicked open and snapped off its hinges. Life would never be the same again.

JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF THE RILEY’S MINE by Caroline Starr Rose has the power to be that type of a transformative book for middle-grade readers, particularly among young readers who might struggle to find their bookish “sweet spot”. Plenty of action and adventure are woven into the history of the Klondike Gold Rush. I enjoyed the ride with Jasper and his older brother, Mel, through the trials and tribulations as they escape from their abusive father with dreams of gold driving them forward. Rose draws the reader in and sends them up treacherous mountain passes, down the icy water of a raging river, and into the gold fields, where danger and deceit lurk at each turn. Jasper’s fantastic story is enough to give each reader their own case of gold fever.

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I received an advanced reader copy from the author for the purpose of an honest review and, honestly, I highly recommend this book!

Check out more about #MeReadBook.

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Too Young

Two Sunday mornings the past six months and two times the news of a shocking death of a promising, young baseball player. On September 25, 2016, young pitching phenom Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins died in a high-speed boat accident. Today, the news of Kansas City pitcher Yordana Ventura’s death in a car accident in the Dominican Republic.

It’s tough when these young and talented athletes die before their time. It’s especially rough when one of the deceased in from your team. Ventura was a Kansas City Royal. He was an extremely talented young pitcher who was just beginning to mature and settle in as a top-notch major league pitcher. He will be truly missed by all of us in the Royals Nation.

These deaths always bring back a wave of my memories of the other young athletes whose early and untimely deaths still weigh heavily on me. Thurmon Munson, captain and catcher of the hated New York Yankees.  Young Oscar Taveras of the St. Louis Cardinals. Roberto Clemente who died in a plane crash delivering humanitarian aid to Puerto Rico. Derrick Thomas of the Kansas City Chiefs, Pat Tillman of the Arizona Cardinals, Len Bias of Boston Celtics. The list of those we lost early is long and heartbreaking.

Every untimely athlete’s death leads me one particular death that still makes me sad today. The death of Joe Delaney on June 29, 1983. Joe Delaney was a running back who, in his first two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, looked like he was the long-awaited savior to a fan base who had waited a decade for a spark of hope. He was personable, he seemed to be a great kid and a great teammate, and he was an incredible talent at running back.

The news of his death that summer day was like a shot to the chest. I was just out of high school and I broke into tears. It was more than just hearing that one of your sports heroes had passed away, though. It was hearing your sports hero died while attempting a rescue of three boys drowning in a pond—even if he didn’t know how to swim himself.  Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star wrote a great remembrance of Joe Delaney a couple of years ago. It is worth a few minutes to read and remember.

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My condolences and prayers go out to the family of Yordana Ventura and to his Royals family.  We will remember him for his smile and his enthusiasm for the game. He will always return to our thoughts when we think about the 2015 World Series Title.

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