Category Archives: Coaching

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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Sports & Life 2020

Sports are not life.

Sports are not life.

Sports are not life.

Sports are not…

The struggle is real. At least for me. Sports run in the background of my life. Always have. Probably always will. The spread of the SARS-2 coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought the sports world to a screeching halt right at two of the peak times of this sports fan’s life, the NCAA Basketball Tournament and the start of the MLB season. Honestly, I no longer live on the edge of my seat over either these events as I once did but I do enjoy having them available to pay attention to.

The SARS-2 pandemic has also brought together two of my life’s passions, sports and microbiology. Public health and safety have warranted decisions recently that are highly unpopular with the sports side of my psyche. I miss my sports. These same decisions make perfect sense as sound preventative measures with the microbiologist side. Bottom line: People in positions of responsibility were forced to make very difficult decisions in a short amount of time. 

Great leadership is rational in irrational situations. Real life wins out over the sport’s life every time. As it should.

I feel bad for the athletes and coaches who did not see a 2019-2020 dream fulfilled with the magic of a postseason, especially the high school athletes. The only wisdom I can provide as a salve to soothe this unprecedented situation is this somewhat out-of-left-field food analogy.

You were allowed to make this beautiful and delicious multi-layered cake during your regular season. You were able to put various amounts and flavors of icing on your cake during the early postseason. Some of you earned the right to further decorate your frosted cake with awesome plastic cartoon character statues or your favorite candy bits by qualifying for state competition. What you didn’t get—the thing pulled away from you just as it was being handed to you—was a chance to place the “#1” candle of top of your cake for the world to see. For this, I’m sorry. But please don’t forget you made an awesome cake which looks fabulous (Those My Little Pony characters are pure genius!) and that you’ll remember for the rest of your lives.

Congratulations to all!

I know this doesn’t help the sting much but many of us appreciate and respect the work you put into the season. In a global infectious pandemic, like in a team, we are best when we are together. 

Good luck in the future and God bless us all.

And please never forget, sports are not life. Life is life. It’s there for each of us to make better for ourselves and those around us.

Be safe.

Be kind.

Help each other out.

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New Year, New You (Athlete Edition)

The New Year, New You (Athlete Edition) is the final part of a three-part series about improvement as we turn the calendar on a new year and a new decade. It’s short and sweet and to the point. Here are the links to the Coaching Edition and the Sports Parent Edition if you’re interested.

This one is simple. If you want to be better, do the work.

Aspire. Set a goal. Do the work. Fail. Do more work. Achieve. Repeat.

Trust in yourself and in your dreams. If you love a sport, play it until you can’t. Enjoy playing and participating. Please, if you are miserable playing and don’t enjoy any part of a sport, find something else to do with your time that you do enjoy. Don’t play a sport to make somebody else happy.

Learn to derive self-satisfaction and celebrate your accomplishments no matter if you’re all-world or fifth string. You are out there every day. 

Filter out negativity from peers, teammates, and/or adults. You can do this, people!

It’s a new year. It can be a new you if you want it to be.

Find a goal. Find support. Find a way. Find the will to do the work and you’ll find the magic.

Good luck to all athletes in 2020 and beyond.

New year, new you. 

 

 

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New Year, New You (Sports Parent Edition)

Oh, parents, we are ruining youth sports. 

Every level.

Everywhere.

Every day.

The adults are making the players not want to play, coaches to not want to coach, and officials not want to officiate anymore. That’s sad, people. 

I don’t know all the reasons. I don’t know all the justifications behind the behaviors. I just know we adults are strangling youth sports by making them into something they are not…mini professional sports.

Fixing this requires a fresh approach at the grassroots of the youth sports system. Changing parent behavior. 

New year, new sports-parenting outlook.

The Three Breathe Rule.

  1. Breathe in. Tell yourself, “Follow my kids lead.” Breathe out.
  2. Breathe in. Tell yourself, “I can’t want this more than my kid does.” Breathe out.
  3. Breathe in. Tell yourself, “It’s a game.” Breathe out.

Repeat as needed until your focus is back on the important task at hand, being your child’s biggest fan.

The Three Breathe Rules

“Follow my kids lead.” 

Pay attention to what your child is doing. If they are having a good time and enjoying the sport, let them. If they are not having a good time nor enjoying the sport, let them find one they will enjoy and have a good time playing. The future success we all dream about for our kids will only happen in a positive fashion if the kid develops the internal drive to do the work.

“I can’t want this more than my kid does.”

This is a big one. It’s not about you. Swallow your ego. Place your pride in Johnny someday winning the Super Bowl into a trunk, lock it, and bury it six feet underground. If by chance, Johnny does someday win the Super Bowl, you can dig up that trunk and display your pride for the whole world to see. Until then, don’t add the pressure of ungodly expectations upon your young athlete. 

“It’s a game.”

No need for explanations here. It is what it is. A game. 

These three rules helped me through years of coaching baseball and football and youth basketball. I think they can also help a parent enjoy the youth sports process while their kids enjoy participating in them. At least that’s my hope for the future. I love youth sports. From the playground to the sandlot to the driveway to the local stadiums and fields, sports are great and awesome things. Let’s not ruin them.

If you’re having trouble as a sports parent, I understand. I’ve been a bad and a good sports parent. We’ve all made mistakes. Let’s work in 2020 to make fewer sport-parent mistakes. 

New year, new you. We can do this.

If you missed part one of this series, New Year, New You (Coaching Edition), you can find it here.

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt via Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

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New Year, New You (Coaching Edition)

(Note: This is the 450th post on The Coach Hays blog. You would have thought I’d run out of stupid things to say around post #10, right? Thank you for reading and for your encouragement. As always, feel free to comment or share. Sports are awesome things that provide joy to our lives.)

A new, clean and fresh calendar stares you in the face. So much hope. So much optimism. This version says “2020” and it’s a whole new decade of promise. As a coach, what are you going to do? Do you feel confident in what you’re doing as you look at those blank future pages on the calendar? Are you concerned? 

If you’ve been successful, is what you’ve done good enough for continued success? If you’ve been banging your head against the wall and struggling with your program, are you taking the hard look internally and committing to making changes?

I hope every coach, at every level of a program, takes the time to assess everything you’ve been doing. Weigh every detail for its value and its contribution to making your team and each of your players better every single day of the year.

Former Nebraska coaching legend, Tom Osborne, had a quote about how everybody wants to win, it’s in our human nature. The difference, he said, was in who has the willingness to do the work and dedicate themselves to become better. Everybody wants to win but the difference is in who is willing to do the work. 

Winners do the things losers will not do.

This time of year for football coaches is generally the time of the year to evaluate and learn. There’s the bowl season, the NFL playoffs, the time to read the coaching literature, and there are the coaching clinics.

I used to tell our football players at the beginning of every summer conditioning session that we could stack offensive, defensive, and training manuals and playbooks to fill the entire weight room. There’s so much good information and creativity available to football coaches out there it is mind-boggling. I would tell our kids that what we are doing in our program for that summer and that season is what we believe is the best for them. 

I didn’t tell them the hours spent researching and reading and studying that went into planning a season. The kids don’t need to know that. They don’t really care. All they care about is the hope that the coaching staff is giving them their best shot at being the best athlete they can be. 

Coaches, new year, new you.

Look at everything you are doing, especially at the high school level. Ask yourself if what you are doing is the absolute best that you can do for the particular group of athletes walking through your door in 2020. If you’re doing what you’ve always done, the same way it has always been done because that is what you are comfortable with, you are failing your athletes. One thing that always grated on my nerves was the adherence to the strict legacy of the past. I called it “We do things THIS way because that’s what the Bear (Coach Bear Bryant) said to do.” syndrome.

Don’t get stuck in the coaching rut of rigidly sticking to an offense or defense run by a college program or another highly successful high school program. Remember, YOUR KIDS ARE NOT THEIR KIDS. Colleges recruit specialize talents into their system and most high schools don’t have that luxury. Your kids are the ones who walk through your door every day. 

Take bits and pieces from what you’ve done in the past and combine it with new ideas and concepts to take advantage of the incoming combination of skills and talents. Pay attention to everything at a coaching camp or clinic but pick out the things you feel can work for your program. Understand the fundamentals of what others are doing and avoid trendy sugar coatings. 

(True story. At the 2008 Kansas State coaching clinic, the keynote speaker was Kansas high school coaching legend, Roger Barta. I was stoked to hear his talk as I’d studied things he did at Smith Center with the belly offense for several years. At every coaching clinic, there’s something you see. The young bucks. The young coaches who strut around the clinic in their matching program gear and throw all the current and trendy buzzwords around in their every conversation. The crowd settles and anticipates the magic bullet of success from Coach Barta, the coach is introduced and walks on stage to an overhead projector and a marker. He begins to outline 36 points of what he considers are key to his success. I still have those notes. In my opinion, Coach Barta’s talk was pure gold. I also have the memory of a high percentage of those young buck coaches either getting up and leaving after a few minutes to hit the lunch buffet line again or are not even paying attention and are talking in small groups in the audience. There was no magic bullet so they quit being interested. They missed a treasure trove of fundamental information on coaching, scheme, program building, and life because it wasn’t trendy or flashy or loaded with bells and whistles. I still wonder, even after all these years, how many of those young bucks are still coaching and if they learned there are no magic coaching bullets or what kind of success they enjoyed in their career.)

Mold and create something that fits your current athletes. You wouldn’t wear Urban Meyer’s suit around as is if he sent you one, would you? No, you’d tailor it to fit yourself properly or else you’ll look silly wearing Urban Meyer’s ill-fitting suit. That’s what coaching is about. Finding the best fit for your current athletes and teaching them to perform it to the best of their abilities. Even your traditional, hang-your-hat on facets of your program can be tailored to the players on your practice field every day.

Don’t be afraid to create.

Be willing to tweak and change.

Do the work. Your athletes deserve it.

Learn and grow. Your athletes deserve it.

Coaching becomes exponentially more enjoyable and interesting that way.

Everybody comes out at least a little bit ahead.

New year. New you.

Good luck coaches in 2020! Have a great year!

 

 

 

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Fun? What do you mean, fun?

There’s been a coaching riddle that has perplexed me since 2002. The concept of “fun” in sports. It started way back when a very talented group of players were underachieving and had fallen into poor practice habits. After a players-only meeting to figure out their ideas to achieve more from practice in order to perform better in games, one of the three things listed was they weren’t having “fun” at practice. More recently, I’ve heard many a player who chose not to go out for a particular sport they’ve participated in previously, give their reasoning as “it’s not fun.”

Over the years, I’ve gone from utter disbelief (What do you want, a cake and a friggin’ party?”) to old man-get-off-my-lawn (It’s this stupid video game generation?”) to finally over the last few years wanting to study and figure out what “fun” actually means to a youth athlete. 

What struck me earlier this year was in order to put my thumb on the problem of fun, I needed to quit looking at the issue from the perspective of a middle-aged, white guy and try to turn back the mental clock to think like a teenage boy. It was scary at times and it was not always family-friendly content, but what I discovered was very telling. I discovered from my experiences as a teenage athlete to my experiences as a sports coach to my ability to empathize with today’s young athletes, a definition of what they mean when they say, “it’s not fun.”

Fun means satisfying.

Fun doesn’t mean clowning around all the time or having no desire to compete like I used to think. Fun means they desire a satisfying participation experience that makes it worth the time they invest when there are a thousand other things they could be doing instead. Fun means a satisfying environment where they feel safe, valued, and among leaders who, first and foremost, want to make them better humans through athletics. 

Sure, nobody likes getting their ass handed to them in a sporting event but I don’t think winning and losing is anything but a small fraction of this new definition of fun. Then again, the environment of competing—the environment of doing things the right way and getting better every day—often depends on having that satisfying environment directed toward daily physical, mental, and emotional improvement.

As we end the fall sports season and transition to the winter sports with an eye toward spring and beyond, coaches (and parents) take a moment to honestly evaluate your program, your young student-athletes, and, in particular, get a gauge on how fun/satisfying their experience is or has been. Throw your ego aside and make the necessary changes. Study other programs. 

Develop a fun/satisfying program. Develop an environment to which young athletes choose to be there rather than doing any of those thousands of other things they could be doing. Develop an environment that respects their decision not to participate but, time and place accordingly, welcome them back into the fold without ramification if they’ve found out they made the wrong initial decision.

A coaching warning, though. Providing this type of environment takes work and effort every single day. It takes connecting with the athletes on more than just a sports performance level. It requires an energy level above and beyond the call of duty. You check your adult problems and adult ego/arrogance at the door when you walk into the locker room. You make a difference one kid, one day, one drill, one game, one play, and one season at a time through consistency and direction. Competing satisfies an inherent human trait. Tap into it with everything you do as a coach.

Provide a satisfying experience and young athletes will follow you to the ends of the earth. And it will be fun.

Finally, as so eloquently stated in Field of Dreams,

“If you build it, they will come.” 

 

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Feet Feat

In the previous football coaching post, I talked about the important concept of open and closed gates for an offensive and defensive lineman. The ability to use your lineman body type as a tool to your advantage in creating or protecting space on the football field. Football is a game of real estate; it is a fight for space. The offense wants to create space and gain real estate while the defense want to deny advancement. It’s the story of humanity in a simple and physical game, I want that space.

The gates concept relies on footwork. Of all the athletes on a football team, the casual fan would likely rank the lineman as a distant last in regard to who has or needs the best footwork. In reality, it’s the exact opposite. The big boys are the ones who need the best footwork. The lineman needs the footwork of a dancer to go along with the strength and mindset to be successful. 

Where the feet go, the body follows.

When I watch a sporting event, either live or on video, the first thing I’m drawn to is footwork. The feet can tell you volumes. Football, basketball, wrestling, track & field, baseball, volleyball, etc. all movement sports are built on the foundation of the feet. It’s so basic and so logical, coaches often overlook this fundamental factor in building great athletes enamored by speed and strength numbers. 

The football lineman must have good to great footwork to get their job done. Good footwork allows them to close gates to effectively create space or defend space. Don’t believe me yet? Then try this.

Stand straight, looking forward, and with feet shoulder length apart about an arm length and a half from a wall. Take a step with your wall-side foot and reach out and touch the wall with your near hand. Not hard right? As you stand there with your fingertips touching the wall, notice how balanced and strong your lower body feels. You feel strong and stable. You could push a hole in the wall if you felt it was necessary.

Now, stand back in your original position. Anchor your feet in place and reach out to touch the wall. Not so easy, right? Did you feel balanced and strong this time? Nope. You probably felt thankful that the wall was solid and sturdy or you’d be lying on your butt on the floor. 

That’s the importance of good footwork for an athlete. The ability to move with power, quickness, and speed AND retaining the power, quickness, and speed in your new position.

How do you develop good footwork, especially for the Bubba athletes?

For starters, movement skills emphasizing footwork must be a part of everyday training, 365 days a year. Foot ladder drills, agility drills, dot drills, etc. can easily be incorporated into the strength training routines or classes. With something so important to athletic success or failure, why a coach wouldn’t incorporate and emphasize footwork skill development is beyond me.

With the Bubbas, we use the T-board drills to develop the first three steps. The first step is a quick, short (6 inch) angle or stretch step just across the vertical board keeping the hips and shoulders square. It’s important to watch the athletes and make sure the hip follows the foot. Remember, where the foot goes, the body follows.

The second step brings the trail foot level with the lead foot keeping hips and shoulders square to the line of scrimmage then initiating contact with hands. The second step establishes the close gate and brings the lineman’s body to a favorable position with, importantly, the balance and power to get their job done.

Once contact is made the third step is used to establish hip leverage to seal the defender from the hole. The first three steps in a block are critical to an offensive lineman. The higher the level of football, the more important these technical bits become. 

The next steps are used to drive or seal the defender from the attack area of the play design. With our undersized, but athletic, lineman we had in our program, it was absolutely vital we had good footwork to put our bodies in a position of strength versus the defense. We use the board to establish good fundamentals or to re-establish good fundamentals on a daily basis. The teaching progression added bags and holders to the vertical board as an advanced drill. All repetitions are at full speed and each block finished to the coach’s whistle.

Where the feet go, the body follows.

Footwork development is an integral part of any athletic movement program. It takes focus and discipline and repetition. That’s not just what is required of the athlete. The coach must be more focused, more disciplined, and more attuned to the details as they watch each and every repetition. Nothing in this coaching business can be run on autopilot. There’s not a single aspect of sports coaching, especially in youth or high school, where the coach can put on the cruise control. 

Coaching is work.

Hard work.

And, if you’ve hung around here long enough you know…

HARD WORK IS THE MAGIC.

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