Monthly Archives: June 2012

I Don’t Care If You’re Chinese, Japanese Or Turpentine-ese.

It was sophomore football, the entry level rung of athletics at Washington High School. Three feeder junior highs thrown together to meld together as a team in the short pure hell period of three-a-day practices in the sweltering Kansas August heat. In reality, what that entailed was the two poor sophomore football coaches had to try and piece together a starting 11 from a group that came in with three starting quarterbacks, three starting centers, there’s tailbacks, three nose guards.

Well, you get the picture. It was almost like three different teams squabbling every day to be the “one” on the field. To make matters worse, the new head sophomore football coach just happened to be my junior high coach, Coach P. So naturally, every starting position won by an Eisenhower Jr. High player was favoritism and cronyism at it highest.

It was very frustrating and at height of our early season misery, we lost our opening game. The third string QB, a Japanese American kid, lost his temper in practice and stated yelling at the coaches accusing them of discrimination. He said they didn’t like him because he was Japanese. Coach P made us all run and run and run and run for lack of a better spur of the moment solution to that accusation.

Coach P had a temper. Once in Jr. High, he blew up at our lack of focus and execution and kicked us off the practice field. We ran toward the school locker room like convicts on a jailbreak. Our football field was inside the school’s track and when the rambling herd was mere yards away from the track, Coach P screamed, “And don’t you dare step on MY track!”

Forty-some kids in full football gear came to a screeching halt. We froze with fear. What were we supposed to do? Nobody dared look back to Coach P (who was probably back there laughing his ass off at us idiots). Finally, after what seemed an eternity, one of the faster running backs at the front of the group slipped out of his cleats and tip-toed across the track. One by one, we followed suit and when everyone has crossed over and, after Coach P had time to quit laughing enough to yell, he screamed, “I said get off my field!”

Forty-some boys sprinted across campus in stocking feet approaching the locker room at near world record speeds.
Our second game that sophomore year was against Shawnee Mission South at their practice field, which was next door to their expansive district football stadium and track. We fell apart on the first half. Coach P silently walked the team over to the stands of the district football stadium for halftime. The team began to sit on the lower level and Coach goes on a rant. “You don’t deserve to sit on the front row. To the top. Now!”

We marched way up to the cheap seats and sat down. Coach P lets it fly. I don’t remember much of what he said because I avoided potential eye contact by watching normal, happy people walk and jog around the stadium track. Coach pointed to an old man jogging on the track and shouted, “Now there’s somebody who knows the value of hard work. You boys need to take a lesson from him.”

Surprisingly, the old man on the track stopped dead in his tracks, turned around and ran in the opposite direction never passing our section of stands again.

Shortly thereafter, when he’d scared most of the bystanders on the track away, I heard him say something that has stuck with me for years. He talked of teamwork. He talked of common goals and the value of putting the team in front of any individual. His final words were most telling. “Boys, I don’t care if you are Chineese, Japanese or Turpentine-ese, I am going to coach you equally and with all my energy. But, I promise you, I will always start the kids who work the hardest and earn their spots.”

He turned and walked away. We continued to get our butts kicked in the second half, though we did play more like a team. The third string QB quit the next day and with his departure many of our squabbles and internal problems left as well. We probably finished around .500 for the season, I really can’t remember. But I do remember having fun the rest of the season and becoming good friends with former junior high rivals.

I always carried a little bit of Coach P around with me in my coaching career. Coach everyone who walks through your locker room door to the best of your ability, every day. Because…

“I don’t care if you’re Chinese, Japanese or Turpentine-ese…”

I’m going to coach you.

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F=ma

It is that time of the year, when an old, ex-football strength and conditioning coach still becomes obsessed with one thing. Summer conditioning would have started by now and that one thing would be written and saved on the whiteboard. Written down before the Four P’s (Purpose, Pride, Passion, Performance) were given board space or before the Performance Triangle (Nutrition, Hydration and Rest) discussion. That one thing would seep it’s way into everything we did. It would be the one factor driving the whole strength and conditioning program. What is that one thing? Force. Force as represented in the physical formula, Force = mass (m) * acceleration (a).

Everything we did in our program was about playing explosive. We were (and still are) a physical pool of tough, athletic, middle weight wrestler genes. We needed to play offense, defense and special teams with chaotic aggression in order to compete. In order to play in an explosive, aggressive fashion, we first had to generate force. Everything depended on our ability to generate enough force to be able to hit the opponent like a cannon shot and hit like that from play number one until the clock read 00:00. I remember reading many years ago a quote from Mike Arthur, a strength coach at the University of Nebraska.  Coach Arthur said Head Football Coach Tom Osborne wanted the ground-breaking strength program at Nebraska to develop athletes who would hit hard every play. His philosophy was to hit and hit the opponent until their will was broke or until the opponent became overwhelmed physically and everything the strength program did was to that end. I liked that philosophy and immediately adopted it.

Force was developed by incorporating explosive power development into everything we did. Warm-up was dynamic, speed work, footwork and foot placement was practiced and perfected every day. The lifts were done in explosive fashion with generating weight velocity being more important than the amount of weight. I would rather see an athlete push press 150 lbs. in a fraction of a second than see an athlete take 5 seconds to push press 200 lbs. overhead. The lifting cadence was always 2 counts on the negative portion of the lift, followed by a rapid 1-count explosive positive part to drive the weight through the full range of motion rapidly.

We also created an environment to promote the development of force. We worked fast, hard and aggressive getting as much done in a 40 minute workout as was humanly possible. In the summer program, I now will admit, I drove the kids like dogs. The workouts were brutal and intense, we blasted loud music and certain coaches shouted and pushed and squeezed every ounce of energy the kids had.  Every day. It was so much fun. We had a “Stand Tall” rule. If a coach caught an athlete bending over, sitting down, leaning or relaxing in any way, shape or form they would have ten push-ups to do.

F=ma. If you want to generate force and you have a limited mass, then you better damn well be able to move that mass rapidly toward a target. But, it does not happen on its own or by accident, the only place one can wake up with explosive force is in a comic book. Force must be developed in every aspect of a program; it is an attitude. It is a way of life.

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The Last One Consumption Psychology

One cookie left in the package on the counter. I’ve passed it thirty or forty times and it’s still there. It’s been there for several hours sitting in the wide open waiting to be eaten; the package emptied and tossed into the trash can in an act of finality. But, instead nobody touches it.

What is it about the “last” that forces us to avoid eating the last one? What forces us to sip no more than half of the minute remnants from the milk container because we know in theory that we can sip half as we approach infinity and there will always be a theoretical half remaining?

Boys are the worse. Growing up in a house of five boys, I lived this phenomenon on a daily basis. Our house was strewn with bread sacks with one piece of bread left, boxes of Stover’s candies with one piece left (99.99% of the time a piece of some crappy fruit creme chocolate with the investigational thumb poke through the bottom), a half dozen crumbs-on-the-bottom bags of chips in the cabinet and a fridge stocked with a collection of Kool-Aid, juice, milk, tea…etc. containers with microscopic amounts of liquid product staining their bottom side.

Is it the psychology of not wanting the label of being the greedy S.O.B. who ate THE LAST ONE? Do we not want the to accept the responsibility when The Mom throws a holy hell outrage about who ate the last one and didn’t write the need for a replacement on the grocery list? Do we not want to accept the responsibility as the final consumer, with the inherited duties of clean-up and disposal? Or perhaps, it it just plain laziness?

Many questions but few answers.

I just don’t know. But, I am going to sit here and keep an eye on that one cookie for awhile while I try to figure it out.

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“But church had a different kind of math.” -Jack Gantos, Dead End In Norvelt

Sublime. The word I’ll use to describe this excerpt from the 2012 Newberry Medal winning book by Jack Gantos, DEAD END IN NORVELT.  This short excerpt explains to perfection how I feel in church and why I have always felt more comfortable sitting in the back. The excerpt assigns words to my feelings about church and finally provides the perfect answer to the oft-asked question to why I attend church. For me, church has always “had a different kind of math” and that, my friends, is the sublime.

-excerpt from DEAD END IN NORVELT by Jack Gantos, Chapter 13, page 182

“But the best part of sitting in the back was that my mind could wander aimlessly, because church was so dreamy. Real life was lived like doing a math problem: one and one always equaled two. But church had a different kind of math. You could never be sure what anything added up to, which meant that what was in your imagination while sitting in a pew was just as important as what the preacher was saying-maybe even more important. It’s like when you read a book and you know that the words are important, but the images blossoming in your imagination are even more important because its’s  your mind that allows the words to come to life.”

I have read 3 of the last 4 Newberry Medal winners, with GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman (2009) and  MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool (2011) being the other two.  There is a reason these books win awards; they are magnificent stories masterfully executed.  These books, on first read, were so intimidating for me as a writer that my first impulse was to run up the white flag, throw in the towel, and give up even trying to write.  But as I read, re-read, then re-re-read these books their craft and skill emerged, serving as a model for what can be and for what standard of writing I should shoot for.

Note: Chapter 8 of DEAD END IN NORVELT, where Jack visits Mrs. Dubicki’s house to see if she is alive or dead, while wearing his Grim Reaper Halloween costume as a disguise, is one of the funniest things I have read, it is spit milk through your nose funny. Read this book!

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