Category Archives: Coaching

“Never be good for any thing.”

What good, Isaac’s mother and the servants wondered, was such a bookish boy? The servants thought he was “silly” and “would never be good for any thing.”

         – from Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d by Mary Losure, 2017, Candlewick Press

Ten years ago, I was getting ready for what would become my final season of coaching football. The reasons why that ended are inconsequential. Things happen. In these ten years, though, I’ve learned a lot of new things and done things I never dreamed possible. One of the highlights has been seeing those young men I had the honor to coach become awesome husbands, fathers, business owners, farmers, teachers, coaches, and citizens.

That is a pretty sweet feeling.

I like the quote above from a great middle-grade nonfiction book called, Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d. As you can see, most of the people in Isaac Newton’s young life, the locals, the servants, and even his own mother, didn’t think he would ever “…be good for any thing.” That’s pretty harsh! It’s extremely harsh when you think that nobody in one of the greatest scientists to ever walk the planet’s young life believed in him. Not one person saw the potential in the young Isaac.

The same happened to many of those young football and baseball players I mentioned above. Some were as ornery as all get-go. Some weren’t the greatest of athletes. Some weren’t even able to spell “honor roll” on the best of days. Some of these kids were told or shown on a daily basis they did not matter. They didn’t fit the mold so they deserved no attention or breaks.

Teachers, parents, and coaches, don’t be the one who tells the kids in your life they “would never be good for any thing.” Find something positive in everyone no matter how deep you have to scrape. See the good through all the bad.

As another season rolls around, coaches from 1st year to 30-year, take a minute to look around at the faces that show up in the locker room. Teachers, as the doors open on another school year, study the faces of the kids you are handed.

  • Make a difference in each of those individuals.
  • Make an impression on them and allow them to make an impression on you.
  • Believe in them even if you are the only adult in their life that does.
  • Let them believe and trust in you.

Cultivate something that will allow you to smile in ten years when those obnoxious, boisterous, and cocky kids grow up and become likable adults against everyone’s expectations.

Take it from an old ball coach, it is well worth it!

Never lose faith in your players, your students, your children. No matter how dark the days seem, grab tightly to that one strand of awesome in them that sometimes only you can see.

Because…if a good-for-nothing kid like that lazy, book-toting Isaac Newton can grow up to be SIR ISAAC NEWTON, then every kid has a chance!

Good luck to all coaches and teachers!

Make the difference in young lives.

Enjoy the ride!

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Getting Better: Extended Arms Baseball Swing

I’m not actively coaching a team but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped learning as a coach. An athlete and a coach should never stop striving to be better. Getting better every day has been a foundation of my sports philosophy from the time I first learned what a philosophy was. In other words, a long time.

One of the positive side effects of a “Get Better Every Day” philosophy is it often bleeds over into other aspects of life. Family, work, hobbies, etc. all fall under this way of approaching life.

If you’re not getting better, what are you getting?

If you’re not moving forward, you are sliding backward.

Even though I’m not actively coaching, I still try to learn as much as I can about the two things in sports I truly love. Hitting a baseball and blocking in football.

I subscribe to more email coaching newsletters that I’m willing to publicly admit. One of those, though, is a newsletter from Baseball Rebellion. I like their website. I like their approach. I like the scientific slant they use to teach baseball. It’s not overly technical. They use it to explain not overwhelm. Honestly, it’s kind of a baseball nerd’s dream.

This week’s newsletter featured their Ball in Back Arm Drill. The video is below.

We taught, and continue to teach, the importance of a short, powerful swing. Arm extension prior to the bat head driving into the contact zone results in loss of swing power. I have a trusted toolbox of drills to teach a tight front arm angle, fence swings, knee tee, front hand swings, bat throw, a consistent focus on pulling the bat through the zone instead of pushing the bat through the zone, etc. What I don’t have are solid developmental drills to help cure another common technical error in young hitters, the straight extension of the back arm.

Signs of swinging with an extended back arm are:

  1. Slow, wide swing arc.
  2. Swinging “over” the ball.
  3. Majority of contact results in weak ground balls to the opposite field.
  4. Rolling over (where the top hand moves over the bottom hand prior to contact).

These symptoms of extended arms on a swing are probably things you see a lot if you’re coaching or parenting the transition from coach/machine pitch to kid pitch. If so, do the work, find solutions, and put your kids through the drills to break this habit before it affects their ability to hit a baseball as they grow and mature. (And remember that one of the top reasons kids quit playing baseball is the game becomes no longer fun because they can’t hit a baseball.)

I’m going to do some work on the Ball in Back Arm Drill. I’ll do some more reading. I’ll get the trusty old George Brett Lousiville Slugger out of the closet, grab a ball, and see how it works. If it looks promising, I’ll work it into some hitting sessions with several of our older kids who struggle with the extended back arm and then to some youth hitters. I’ll report back my findings at some point.

If you try this drill or have tried this drill, share your experience in the comments or send me a message. And please go check our Baseball Rebellion and Baseball Excellence. Two exceptional resources.

Life (and sport) is an experiment. Get out there and discover!

 

 

 

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MLB Unofficial Commissioner 2018

I’ve been lax in my role as MLB Unofficial Commissioner so far in the 2018 season. My Royals are a dumpster fire so I’ve spent too much brain power figuring out their problems. Royals 2018 = Historically bad. The Royals and the Baltimore Orioles did something that’s never been done in the entire history of Major League Baseball. It’s the first time two teams have been below .300 at the Fourth of July point of the season. 

But I still listen to almost every game. They’re my team…for better or worse. 

There are a couple of issues which have been causing a lot of fuss over the past two seasons. The time it takes to play an MLB game and the defensive shift.  There’s been so much fuss, I’ve decided it’s time to step into my Unofficial Comish role and suggest a few changes. 

First, I have to rant against the anti-shifting crowd. Hitters have to adjust. Pitchers have to adjust. Managers, GMs, owners, scouts, and umpires have to adjust. It’s part of the game. Always has been, always will be. Hitters and coaches quit whining and start adjusting.  Common sports sense states if the defense is giving you an open third of the field, take advantage of it. Burn their strategy. Do what it takes to succeed. Be a competitor instead of a whiner. 

Okay, I feel better. Now on to my solution to those two current problems. 

  1. Put in a pitch clock similar to the shot clock in basketball. 30 seconds might be a good place to start and adjustments made until a comfortable length of time is determined.
  2. Each defender must start with both feet in their traditional defensive zone. The defenders can then shift when the windup starts. 

There you go. Simple solutions to complex problems. 

On a side note, with the limits on mound visits this year, why do managers still burn a mound visit to make run-of-the-mill pitching changes? Just stand up at the top of the dugout steps, call time, and point to the bullpen. Save the mound visits for strategy and technical visits. 

Enjoy the rest of the 2018 season! It’s shaping up to be a wild run to a World Series title.

Feel free to discuss or propose your own solution(s). My unofficial office door is always open to ideas.

Take care and “PLAY BALL!”

Unofficial MLB Commissioner is signing off.

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A Beautiful Day of Baseball

May 15, 2018.

Clay Center Community High School hosted a 4A baseball regional in Clay Center for the first time since 2002. That was a long time to wait.

But when I was sitting out there watching the four teams, it was like a slice of baseball heaven.  The crowds were great and supportive. The teams played their hearts out. Watching the three games on the renovated Campbell Field put a smile on this old coach’s face.

Thank you, Clay County for the donations of time, skill, funds, materials, prayers, and the new scoreboard to help make this renovation project possible. It truly is a field of dreams to us old baseball people and something we hope the young baseball people will be able to enjoy for years.

The power of a “for the community by the community” project.

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Good Sports: Wakefield Recreation Association

We have some pretty cool things going on in our region. This post is the first of the Good Sports series, which I hope will become a long-running series highlighting some of these feel-good activities and organizations.

The spotlight today is on the Wakefield Recreation Association (WRA). Wakefield is a small town in Clay County, Kansas. It has a K-12 school, the Kansas Landscape Arboretum, Milford Lake, a plethora of outdoor activities, and great people. My special guest is one of those awesome Wakefield citizens, Ashley Dumler, president of the WRA and a teacher at Wakefield School.

MH: Welcome, Ashley! What is the Wakefield Recreation Association all about?

AD: Our philosophy is entirely based on community involvement. We want young and old and everyone in between participating and not just physically, we want all types of involvement. Our goal is to transform this community into a family.

MH: We know how tight the budgets can be in a small town community. We also know the importance of recreation in the health and wellness of our communities. How does the WRA balance increasing financial demands with limited financial resources?

AD: Another goal is to make this affordable as possible. We’ve dropped our prices to $20 per child for each sport and we lessen the amount by $5 for each additional child of the same family.

MH: How is the WRA organized?

AD: About 6 months ago, it was decided that the city would take over funding and manage the funds of the WRA. They would eliminate the treasurer’s position and have a board of three- A president, vice president, and secretary. Debbie Brown, AnnMarie Striggow, and myself were the only three who applied. I am the president, AnnMarie is Vice President, and Debbie is secretary.

MH: With the recent partnership with the Wakefield city government, have you made any changes to the core philosophy of the WRA?

AD: We discussed with the city council what the vision of WRA would look like. We decided that we wanted it to be an association for everyone-not just kids.

MH: Recreation for all! I like that. Can you give some examples of recent or upcoming WRA-sponsored activities?

AD: For adults, we’ve offered Open Gym, a Paint and Sip Night, and we’re getting ready to offer a 30 Day Get Fit for Summer Program. Our kids have been offered a fundamental basketball program, a soccer league, and we’re getting ready to run a baseball and softball fundamentals clinic on Sundays in April. We will be running baseball and softball leagues in the summer as well. Our vision for the fall is a spirit squad and flag football program.

MH: Paint and Sip Night? That sounds intriguing. Tell me more about that!

AD: We hired Gloria Fowles from Clay Center to come down and run two nights where people could paint a flower picture on a canvas and sip their choice of beverage. Our turnout was great. We filled 30 of the 40 spots for the two nights. We can’t wait to hold more events in the future!

MH: As a sports coach, I’m always interested in the fundamental goals of a youth sports programs. What goals do you aim for with the WRA youth sports activities?

AD: When it comes to athletics, our philosophy is to do our best to build players based on fundamentals and not playing games. Parents like games, kids like games, and we understand that, but fundamentals are what build athletes. We want strong capable athletes entering our junior high and high school programs at Wakefield.

MH: How about non-sports activities to build strong minds as well as strong bodies?

AD: For those not wanting to participate athletically, we are also planning to add more events like a book club and a card night. We’d like to launch these in the fall.

MH: Recreation is an important facet of community wellness and economic development. How important of a role has the WRA played in the Wakefield community over the years?

AD: As an alumnus of Wakefield, I can personally say this organization is near and dear to my heart. I grew up participating in the WRA program, and I want my sons to continue this tradition.

MH: I’m all about a  “for the community, by the community.” philosophy in regards to improvements and activities in a small town. The success of these community-driven programs rides on the back of its sponsors, volunteers, and coaches. Who helps lift the WRA’s projects?

AD: I truly believe though “it takes a village” and we as an organization have been so blessed to have our high school and junior high coaches volunteer their time to coach. Who knows better what these kids need to be prepared than the coach who will be coaching them in a few short years? We couldn’t do it without our amazing volunteer coaches.

MH: How can the people of Clay County help the WRA succeed?

AD: We are always open to new ideas and would love to have anyone join us! Our meetings are the third Monday of each month at 6:00 and next month will start being held at the Wakefield City Building. For anyone interested in volunteering for our baseball/softball clinics, please contact me or attend our coaches meeting March 25 at 4:00 at the city building!

MH: For those interested in sponsoring or following WRA activities, how can they contact the WRA?

AD: You can email me at ashley.dumler@kcddesign.com, call me at 785-209-0214, or the city building at 785-461-5886. We also have a Facebook page!

MH: Thank you, Ashley, for filling us in on the good things going on in Wakefield with the Wakefield Recreation Association. You and the WRA are doing things the right way. Best of luck as you grow and serve the community. Enjoy the ride!

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The Bubba Conundrum

I’m a big boy. A lineman for life. “Husky” was my Sears Toughskin categorization as a kid. I loved coaching the big boys of the offensive and defensive line in my football coaching days. Loved it.

We called ourselves the “Bubbas”. The running backs/defensive backs were called “Bullets”. The TE/linebacker-types were the “Bricks”. Everybody belonged to a group, everybody in each of those groups trained differently in our strength and conditioning program.

I almost blew a gasket recently when I heard of a coach telling a big boy lineman he wouldn’t be much use to the team next fall unless he got into better shape. First, I hate this approach, especially with a Bubba. It’s tough growing up a big boy in a skinny boy world. When one tells a big boy the above criticism, what he hears is something he’s probably heard over and over in his entire life—that he’s fat, lazy, and/or of little value— instead of hearing that he needs to be in better shape. Second, the above criticism from the coach is delivered with no plan of action.

The young athlete was knocked into a dark pit by someone he probably respects and not given any plan or tools for climbing out. Modern coaches and parents need to be more positive in these situations. Point out to the athletes they’d perform at a higher level if they were in better condition AND then give them a vision of how we’re going to accomplish this. (The WE part of the equation is very important.)

The conditioning requirements for high school football players are different for the Bubbas, the Bricks, and the Bullets. The specific work/recovery demands require specific considerations for each group of players. Even the casual high school football fan realizes the differences in physical demands between an offensive guard and a wide receiver on any given play. The lineman’s job and the wide receiver’s job both use the burst energy supplied by the anaerobic energy systems but in different ways. The lineman is using power over speed. The wide receiver uses the opposite, speed over power. Power/Speed vs. Speed/Power

A high school football play lasts only 5.6 +/- 2.0 seconds according to a study published in 2006. The NFHS play clock is 25 seconds. Adding the variable length of time it takes for the ball to be marked and set before the play clock is started, the total time between plays is about 45 seconds. I know what you’re saying, “This Hays guy is such a geek. I just want to play football and hit people. I don’t care about math or physiological energy systems. Where’s my dang helmet?”

My answer is this, you don’t have to care. Not really. But, as a strength and conditioning coach, I HAVE to care. I HAVE to design training regimens that give you the best chance to perform and “hit people” like a cannon shot each and every play of a four-quarter high school football game. I HAVE to consider these geeky physiological demands in order to give you the power you need.

5.6 +/- 2.0 seconds work followed by 40 seconds rest.

Why share these seemingly trivial numbers? No, I don’t give you these numbers so you know there’s about 40 seconds to run to get a bag of popcorn without missing any action. I emphasize these numbers because everything we need to do to prepare our Bullets, our Bricks, and our Bubbas to perform needs to revolve around this conditioning ratio. About 8 seconds of intense work, followed by 40 seconds rest.

Sprints, lifts, med ball slams, swings, pull-up, sled pulls/drives, agility drills, etc. all should follow fairly close to this timing 75-80% of total training time. The wide receiver’s plan would include a high percentage of the speed-building exercises. The offensive guard’s plan would include a high percentage of the power-building exercises. The remaining 20% or so would be developing general fitness in order to support the basic foundation.

These methodologies are usually sufficient for the high school athlete. If athletes move up to high levels, the college or professional level, the methodologies become even more personalized and intricate.

Bottom line, give your big kids a solid plan. Instead of straight up criticism, give them a goal. Give them the tools they need to attain the goal and give them the support they’ll need along the way. Every football team is built on the backs of the big boys. You better figure out how to deal with them and understand their needs if you want to be successful.

Respect your big boys! #BubbaForLife!

 

 

 

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Lipstick on a Pig

One of my coaches from way back in the day used to have this saying about trying to be too flashy with your game. “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”

Although I’ve never attempted to put any kind of makeup on swine, I understand the basic meaning of this old piece of wisdom. I’ve particularly become well-tuned to the spirit in this saying since I’ve become a sports coach.

To begin with, I think it’s all about being who you are as a coach, a player, or a program. Avoid trying to be something else. Be proud and be the best version of you that you can be. Strive to reflect this in everything you do.

I also think “Lipstick on a pig” means something that should be very important to a coach. The focus on the core goals of the program. As a coach, there is a fundamental need to focus on the important things—those things your program needs to succeed. Outside of this core mission, all else sits on the periphery.

Everything has to have a purpose and a meaning that’s all about the mission. A coach needs to keep everyone in the program riding the purpose and meaning tracks to the goal.

Unfortunately, in today’s environment, there are a host of distractions waiting to put lipstick on your pig. There are well-meaning distractions from parents and fans that pull the coaches and the players away from the goals. There are also the not-so-well-meant distractions by parents and fans which completely derail the program and make achieving any positive steps virtually impossible.

And as coaches, we often distract ourselves. We do things for the sake of doing things. We run schemes and shifts and motions without a hint of the purpose to gain information. We invest time and energy in shiny, new things, that provide little or no value to the goal.

Coaches, take a minute, step back from the program, and have an honest look at it.

  • What kind of distractions keep you from your core mission?  
  • What external distractions suck your time and energy and resources from where they need to be invested?
  • Are you spending more time running outside activities that detract from your program?
  • Is your training program laser-focused? Is every lift, run, jump, throw, sprint, and movement done with a sense of purpose in mind?
  • Is your philosophy consistent with your actions?

Coaches, in short, take a look at everything you do and identify where you’re wearing out that container of lipstick. Find out where you’re taking care of things not associated with your core goal. Everything needs to have a purpose. If it doesn’t, get rid of it. Those things are not worth the expenditure of effort and energy.

Never lose sight of the prize. Keep your focus, your performance, and your program on task. Don’t allow distractions to derail you from the track of success.

Putting lipstick on your pig may make for a fancy pig, but after everything is said and done, that pig is still a pig.

Develop a goal.

Develop a plan.

Do the work.

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