Category Archives: Coaching

The Favorite Place to Play

Coaches should always have a favorite place to play. This favorite place should trickle down to their entire team and organization. Everyone from the assistants to the players to the support staff should share a passion for this place.
What is the place?
Simple. It’s wherever the next game on the schedule is.
Because that’s what it’s all about. Getting your team ready to play the next game wherever it is.
Any other concerns, worries, or complaints steer the ship off course. There’s already a lot of other stuff to deal with in getting ready to play a game, especially at the high school or youth sports level, to detract from the goal of reaching that favorite place. A coach’s actions and demeanor matter. Negative thoughts spread to teenage athletes before anything can be done to prevent it and affect performance.
There’s a certain special feeling going to a game and seeing the field or the lights or the arena waiting ahead. A favorite kind of place lies ahead.
Anticipation. A touch of nerves. The heart quickens. It’s a special feeling.
So what’s a coach to do?
Put their head down and go to work whether you’re playing on the most pristine of fields or on something barely suitable as a landfill site.
Get ready for the next game, wherever and whenever it is.
Make the places and spaces we inhabit better. Leave a mark. All day, every day.
Isn’t that what life’s all about?
Above all else, enjoy the ride!

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$hit Work

I’ve been a molecular microbiologist for 33+ years. I’m just about as high as I can go on the university’s science technician ladder. Today, I needed to swap out three CO2 gas cylinders for our cell culture incubators. They weren’t completely empty but with the weekend approaching, I felt it wise to replace them before they could run out. The CO2 gas is vital to growing mammalian cells for our experiments. If the CO2 levels run too low, the cells will die. 

We have two fairly important experiments going on. One is a bacterial cell adherence experiment a visiting scientist is working on. Being a visiting scientist, time is limited, so the cells dying at this point would not be good if we want to complete this work. 

The second experiment is a gene-editing experiment I’ve been working on for almost a year. I’m trying to knockout a gene in a cell that’s could be vital for a bacterial pathogen’s entry into the host cell during the infection process. Needless to say, I do not want the CO2 to run out over the weekend and the potential gene-edited cells to die after 12 months of work. 

In short, properly changing the CO2 tanks is important.

The process of changing a gas cylinder is straightforward but it has to be done exactly right without leaks and with the proper gas flow to the incubator. The gas cylinders are stored in a locked cage outside the very north end of the building. One must use a cylinder hand cart to securely transport the empty CO2 cylinder all the way across the facility, swap it out for a full cylinder, and push it all the way back to the lab. Once in the lab, I installed the tank, check for leaks, ensure proper gas flow, and repeat.

On my second trip back to the lab with a full tank, a well-meaning coworker passed me in the hallway. The coworker laughed and said, “Why don’t you get a student worker to do that shit work?” I glared the best Coach Hays glare I could muster and the coworker politely skittered away.

But that question kept rattling in my brain as I went on the last round of drop-off and pick-up. 

$hit work? 

What the hell?

There’s really no such thing, is there?

Every job needs to be done or the system doesn’t function the way it should. The work matters. And if the work matters, it’s important it is done right no matter the size or the perceived importance of the task.

The same is true in coaching sports. The small work is often as important as the perceived important work. Coaching the lower-level or inexperienced athlete is more important for the long-term foundational success of your program than spending the majority of the time coaching the upper-level athlete. 

Just like in the lab, there’s no $hit work in sports coaching. It all matters but the work a coach does with the athletes who need it the most is often the most important thing one can do.

We’ve all heard the old axiom, “we are only as strong as our weakest link”. Those weakest links in our team, program, or organization might be considered the “$hit work”. Nevertheless, like the importance of properly changing the CO2 tanks, coaching up your weakest links makes the chain stronger.

Pay attention to the $hit work.

Do that work with purpose, pride, and passion.

Never forget how important the $hit work really is.

Agriculture in Britain during the First World War: Schoolboys fork out manure from a wheelbarrow onto an allotment during the First World War (via Wikimedia Commons).
Lance Cpl. Eithan Osborne dumps horse manure into a wheelbarrow during the Single Marine Program’s volunteer opportunity (via Wikimedia Commons).

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The Good Steward

The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. –Genesis 2:15

Stewardship. The job of taking care of something. Simple enough word. Simple enough concept. 

The Bible quote from Genesis speaks of stewardship. In the Book of Genesis, right after God creates the heavens and the earth, right after creating the seas, the plants, the animals, and then us humans in his own image, what does He do next?

He creates the Garden of Eden for Adam. He pulls Adam aside, shows him the place He made for him to live, and says, “cultivate and care for it.”

God tasks Adam with stewardship. God puts his trust in Adam to take care of something special. Think about it. The first thing God tasks us with as humans is to take care of Creation.

Genesis 2:15 is one of the most influential lines in the whole Bible in my opinion. This line is one that drives me in many aspects of my life. Leave things as good as you found them and, if possible, leave things a little better off.

Stewardship is the first job as humans that our Creator gives to us beyond “be fruitful and multiply.” The call to stewardship, though, kind of gets lost in the bit of Genesis that follows about the forbidden fruit. We sometimes need a reminder we are called to be stewards. We are trusted to take care of things.

Our first job from God, taking care of the gifts we’re given, might be our most important job. Yet, do we act as good stewards of our gifts in today’s throw-away culture? 

Have we allowed the things we are trusted with to rot and fall apart instead of maintaining them? It takes dedication, work, and will to be good stewards of what we’re entrusted with.

Globally, nationally, and locally, we are called to take care of the gifts we’re given, Whether it’s oceans, lakes, prairies, communities, libraries, schools, or even parks, those that came before trusted us to do our job as stewards.

Are we up to the task or do we fail at the job we were entrusted to do? Once we neglect our responsibilities as stewards, either individually or collectively, we lose the trust of others. And trust, my friends, is a tough thing to get back.

Stewardship builds community. The ground we all walk on as we go about our daily lives and share with our neighbors is a gift.

We have to take care of the gifts we’re given. We have to be strong enough to take the first step and do the job. We need to be good stewards.

Stewardship takes work. As Sirach says,

“Do not hate hard work; work was assigned by God.” – Sirach 7:15

Be a good steward. Start today with baby steps. Strive daily to make the world and community you live in a little better place.

Photo courtesy of Phil Frigon

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Core Mission

What is the main thing you want to accomplish? That’s your core mission.

As an individual, an organization, or a team you have a core mission.

What is your core mission? What is your objective?

Once defined, ask yourself if you are focused on that core mission. Or are you distracted with the fluff and distractions that are tangents to the objective?

It happens. All the freaking time. We lose our place.

Why?

Because the fluff and the distractions become easier to pursue and provide quick gratification. But fluff and distractions don’t get the job done. The fluff and distractions don’t lead to any satisfaction. They don’t make the team better. They don’t educate kids better. They don’t help a community or society become better.

The things that lie outside the core mission suck energy and joy. They create chaos and anxiety. They keep taking without giving any back.

A lifetime ago when I played baseball, I’d occasionally hit a batting slump. HItting a baseball was my one tool as a one-tool baseball player so if I couldn’t hit the ball, I was pretty worthless to my team. While in a slump, I almost certainly forgot my core mission inside the batter’s box which was to hit the dang baseball. 

Yes, the core mission was so simple. Hit the ball.

During slumps, my mind would race on just about everything except the core mission. I’d think “I can’t fail again.” “What if I leave runners on base?” “Wow, those hot dogs cooking in the concession stand smell really good.”

My focus and energy would be all over the place. Anxiety would go haywire. My hands would sweat. The pitch would come in and the ball looked like a tiny marble while my body felt like it was encased in Jell-O. 

Once I noticed I was paying attention to everything except the core mission of hitting the ball, I could take a few deep breaths, step into the box, and block out everything (including the hot dogs) unrelated to the core mission of putting the bat on the baseball. Like magic, the slump was history.

So if you find yourself or your organization in a slump, lost, confused, floundering, or in a state of chaotic anxiety, step back and refocus on the objective. 

Get back to the core mission. If you don’t even remember what it is, take the time to find out.

Whether you’re hitting a baseball, coaching a sports team, running a business, responsible for public health, operating a school district, or simply wanting to live a more faithful life, remember your core mission. Simplify, take a deep breath, and let the fluff and distractions fade away. 

Get back to doing what you do. Educating kids, playing right guard, getting your team ready for the season, or leading the most awesome nation on the planet, aiming your energy into the direction of the core mission works.

Keep the faith. Keep the eye on the prize. Do the work. Make your thing better and you’ll make everything around you better.

And Lord knows, in the Spring of 2022, we all can use a little less anxiety and better performance from everything around us.

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GM For a Day: 2021 KC Royals

If I had the honor of being GM of my beloved Kansas City Royals for a day…

Where do I start?

That’s hard because this season (and honestly for the past 30-odd years except for two months at the end of the 2014 season and the entirety of the 2015 season) has been an utter and complete disappointment. I start with a good, long and honest look in the mirror. I take all the excuses we’ve rolled out over the years about small market economics and competitive imbalance and lock them away never to see the light of day.

I realize we must do things differently in Kansas City. The success of 2014 and 2015 balanced on a razor-thin margin of error. We relied on a lights-out bullpen and an offense with just enough firepower to score just enough runs to win games. The 2014-2015 Royals weren’t a fluke or just a team that got lucky; they were a team that was very good at playing a limited game and found a way to keep most games within their margins for success.

I say we have to realize the need to do things differently because it’s so hard to win under the 2014-2015 error margins. It’s, without a doubt, why success has found KC for only two calendar years out of the past 35. Lightning struck and we were able to briefly catch it. You can’t be a competitive program if you build on the foundation of catching lightning.

The first place I’d rebuild in the Royals organization is the developmental side of things. Right now, we have talent up and down the system that we’d acquired through drafting and trading. I know this sounds like a no-brainer but look at history. 35 years of high draft picks and we’ve only had two playoff appearances? I’d say that’s an issue in dire need of addressing.

The Royals have done a decent job in the Dayton Moore Era drafting talent. Their problem has been they’ve done a poor job of developing their talent. Yes, even the 2014-2015 glory boys, Gordon, Moustakas, and Hosmer, never lived up to their potential. For example, you don’t draft a Gold Spike winner to only win Gold Gloves at a different position from where you originally slotted him in. The only players I can think of who really developed were guys who weren’t really big on the organization’s talent ladder focus, Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield. And by many accounts, these two players were highly self-motivated and worked to develop their skills with a chip on their shoulders.

Of my 24 hours as GM for the Day, all 24 would be dedicated to cultivating our developmental program. The whole professional organization needs to be a competitive endeavor all day, every day. One of my sports credos has always been, “In order to be competitive, you have to be competitive.”

It’s easy to say you want to win. Everybody wants to win. It’s human nature. At the upper echelon of a sport, everybody has talent. What sets apart the ones that are competitive versus the ones who wash out often comes down to treating every day as a competitive venture.

Get better. Do the work. Compete. Fail or succeed. Repeat.

The good organizations in professional baseball, especially the organizations that succeed in the “small market” arena, will often develop talent with a competitive edge. Whether a player is a #1 draft pick, a 20th round pick, or a free agent, they are forced into the competitive fire day after day after day. A competitive organization must have this in order to achieve its goals to succeed. 

The second thing I’d do as Royals GM for a Day is…

Hell, there wouldn’t be a second thing. EVERYTHING right now has to be about player development. You can’t worry about guys walking away in free agency at the end of their first contract. You can’t feel sorry for yourself in the economic context of the rest of the league. It’s a great place to play. It’s a great city to live in with one of the best fan bases in any professional sport. As the person in charge, I have to realize this and change my philosophy to fit the reality.

  • Acquire and develop talent.
  • Hire and train coaching within the system toward development. 75% of all resources should be invested in development.
  • Demand competitiveness at all levels.
  • Have talent ready to step up when players walk out the door for bigger paychecks.
  • Constantly analyze why players are developing to their potential and fix the problems early in the process.
  • Keep an open mind without compromising competitiveness.

I always enjoy thinking Royals GM for a Day thoughts. It’s how I like to enjoy being a sports fan who is also a coach. Thinking about how to make things better is always foremost in my mind when I watch a sports event from local T-ball to professional football and baseball on TV. 

Enjoy the rest of the 2021 MLB season! Never forget, at the end of the day, win or lose it’s still baseball. The greatest game on earth.

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The American Game

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. For me, it’s always been a great day. This year is extra special because the team that’s woven into my DNA, the Kansas City Chiefs, is playing for a chance to win their second straight Lombardi Trophy. 

The Super Bowl is a celebration of the game of football. Football has become America’s Game. Rightfully so. 

It’s the perfect modern American Game. 

A contest is scheduled.

Fans, coaches, and players prepare. They can even talk some trash before the game.

The game is played. The teams tried to bash each other’s heads in for four quarters. 

One side wins. One side loses. 

At the end of the game, we shake hands, go our separate ways, and then get ready for the next game. It’s play the game, enjoy it, and get back to work. 

See what I mean? It truly is America’s Game. 

A lesson staring us in the face about what we need to do as a nation, as the United States of America, moving forward into 2021 and beyond.

It’s easy to get sidelined by things outside of our control. It’s easy to become caught in a loop of emotion and lost in confusion. It’s easy to lose sight of what’s vital and important. 

Enjoy the Super Bowl today!

Cheer and scream for our team. Eat, drink, and be merry. Most importantly, be safe and be true. 

When the game is over, shake hands, and wish your opponent well. Then wake up tomorrow and get back to the business of being a good American. We need teamwork to put the greatest nation on Earth back on the right track. We need each other.

America’s Game is asking for you to chip in. 

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Live As If Your Players Are To Be Answered

I woke up this morning and stumbled bleary-eyed to the computer to check the latest numbers. No, not the 2020 Election numbers, the Kansas high school football playoff scores. 

When I opened up my laptop, my email program greeted me with its usual, “Hello, Hays. Here are your morning distractions!” On top of the inbox was one of my favorite daily emails, the American Football Monthly (AFM) Daily Newsletter. Today’s newsletter was titled, “How To Build A Winner”. I perked up. Everybody wants to win, right? Here’s a football coaching golden ticket!

I opened the email. The first thing to catch my eye was the AFM Daily Quote. In bright red font, it read, 

“Live as if your prayers are to be answered.” -Unknown

Fantastic life advice! One of those inspirational quotes to add to the bulletin board of quotes. Dream. Prepare. Be ready.

It would be nice to end it there but I have to be honest. I was, as I said, bleary-eyed while reading the AFM newsletter. My mind was focused on the “How To Build A Winner” article potential. My mind was on championships, plaques, trophies, being carried off the field by my adoring players…

Okay, okay. Back to reality.

I read the quote as, “Live as if your players are to be answered” instead of, “Live as if your prayers are to be answered.” 

One letter makes a big difference. I laughed off my error and clicked the link for the article. Then it struck me. That mistaken quote might just be the actual key to developing a successful program. That change in one letter can philosophically change an entire program. A coach should live as if their players are to be answered. Everything a coach does, from planning to development to schemes, needs to be done to provide an environment to allow the players to improve and give them a fighting chance to succeed.

No matter what a coach’s coaching style, he or she must have this basic relationship with their athletes. There must exist the understanding that the coach works toward answering their players’ needs. This is the trust that drives successful programs. This is the contract sealed by hard work and preparation to achieve a common goal. 

The players can trust the coach.  The coach can trust the players. It’s a two-way street.

If you want to know what the “How To Be A Winner.” AFM post said, check it out for yourself. I highly recommend signing up for the free daily AFM Newsletter. It’s great football nerd material that’s definitely worth your time.  

If you want a simple philosophy for turning your program around and developing better relationships with your players, then “Live as your players are to be answered.”

Who knows? Maybe your prayers will be answered.

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Walking Through Your Door

In professional football, a team of scouts determines which athletes from a pool of thousands of athletes fit into their team’s systems and they draft them. In college, coaches scour the region and the entire nation to find athletes that fit into their systems. In high school, however, most schools draw student-athletes from a fixed region. 

The smaller the school, the smaller the pool.

“Duh,” you might be saying to me right now. I know it sounds obvious but it means a lot for a high school football coach. It changes the way a high school coach must operate. It means you have to design and run a program with the ability to change as your talent pool changes. And your talent pool will change. 

You have to coach the kids who walk through your door.

Period. End of story.

This is where the work comes in. This is where it’s important to develop multiple packages in your offensive and defensive playbooks. It’s important to have the tools available to fit the pegs of multiple shapes into the proper hole instead of trying to force a square peg to fit into your fixed, round hole.

Coach the kids who walk through your door. Give those kids the best chance they have to compete. It’s not about the coach; it’s about coaching the kids. As I’ve said more than a few times before, the word “coach” is more of a verb than a noun. 

Develop a program and a philosophy with the power to adjust to your current athletes. Put your ego in your back pocket and get to work. Study your incoming athletes. Study high school programs you respect, study college and pro games on TV or in person. Do the work and make the preparations.

Sounds like a lot of work? I’m not going to lie. It is a lot of work. A whole lot of work. But, it’s a good kind of work. Rewarding work. Work that makes a difference in young men’s lives. Work that establishes relationships with your players. That, my coaching friends, is the Golden Ticket of coaching.

Do the work.

Load up your coaching toolbox.

Coach the kids who walk through your door.

Inside those doors is the Packer locker room - Picture of Lambeau Field,  Green Bay - Tripadvisor

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The Ball Will Find You

There’s this weird and strange thing in sports. I’ve witnessed it as a player, a coach, and as a fan. I saw it quite often while coaching baseball and football, especially at the JV level. You put a player into the game at a critical junction for any number of good reasons like an injury substitution, playing time, or just a hunch. Inevitably, the ball will be hit in their direction, they’ll get targeted as a defensive back against the opponent’s best receiver, or the ball will find it’s way into their hands for the last second do-or-die shot. This scenario seems to play out with great frequency. The ball will find you.

From the highest office in the land to the lowest levels of sports, it’s important to put the people in place to get the job done. If you don’t, errors occur, mistakes are made, and systems devolve into chaos. But why? 

Because the ball will always find you. 

The negative results we often see are an effect caused by incompetence in addressing each and every situation. In short, like the third-string, sophomore right fielder seeing his first varsity action in the late innings of a state playoff game, people get put into situations that are over their heads. They neither have the tools or the experience to react with competence. 

Personally and professionally, I’m a firm believer in the old adage, “You are only as strong as your weakest link”. Weak links are holes in the ship and the holes are always most vulnerable, especially in a crisis. Holes sink ships. Weak links sink organizations, teams, and systems.

This is why when it’s time for you to make a decision, cast a vote, or trust someone with a job, you need to consider if that person is up for the job. Who’s going to get the job done and who’s going to be the weak link in a system? Who’s going to be the one who, as President Theodore Roosevelt most aptly said, will “Speak softly and carry a big stick” and who’s going to be as we said back in the day, “All blow and no show.”

The choice is up to you. 

But always remember that whomever you support, honestly evaluate whether they are capable of performing the required duties in a responsible manner. 

Because they will be tested. They need to be ready to up their game and be prepared to take on the tasks at hand. 

The ball always finds them. 

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Shut Up & Dribble?

‘Shut up and dribble.’

Damn, I hate this so much. When I hear a politician, a businessman, an administrator, or a franchise owner use this phrase, they immediately get kicked off my team. I will never vote for, or support, someone who believes that the athlete’s worth is only measured on a single layer without consideration of who they are as human beings.

Shut up and dribble?

Stop, just stop.

Whenever this term or a similar one is used, it shows the speaker’s true self. It shows that they define others, especially those they consider below them, as mere material goods rather than complete human beings. ‘Shut up and dribble’ means they think the athlete voicing their opinion is nothing more than a servant who doesn’t deserve a voice—an individual whose only place and worth in society are to provide their singular performance as entertainment. 

An athlete is so much more than their performance or their athletic ability. They are human beings, with intellect and ideas and consciousness. In fact, the athlete may even have a more broad intellectual experience to draw upon than many of our political, business, or administrative leaders. Think about that next time you hear one of these fools tell athletes to stay in their space.

Shut up and dribble.

The term attempts to dehumanize those with different viewpoints and philosophies. Instead of attacking or debating on an intellectual level, the user of this term dismisses the opposing ideas by attempting to degrade the individual. Everything contrary to my beliefs is not necessarily wrong. It’s not ‘FAKE NEWS!’, it’s just different.

Different is not all that bad. In fact, different makes life more interesting. 

One of the joys of coaching was getting to know athletes beyond the field of play. I learned as much about life from simply talking to the athletes about school, family, work, books, movies, etc. than they ever learned from me about football or baseball. That’s why it chaps my ass whenever I hear athletes being tagged with ‘Shut up and dribble’. It’s an attempt to define us as dumb jocks and that is as far from the truth as you can get. We may not be upper-level intellectuals but we are all much more than the athletic abilities we possess.

People are different. People are much more than the single-layer you notice.

Athletes are different. Athletes are much more than the single-layer you notice.

Think about how many of the problems we have created in modern America are grounded in the ‘Shut up and dribble’ philosophy of trying to blanket stereotype and generalize human beings. It’s time for ‘Shut up and dribble’ people to shut up themselves.

Nobody cares what you think IF you don’t care what we think.

 

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