Category Archives: Coaching

Shining Eyes

It’s not often a sports-crazed blog writer gets the opportunity to quote a conductor in a post. But what Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, says about defining his job is and how he gauges his successes and failures is important. Very important advice to being an effective leader. It basically is a two-step process.

  • Trust is the first step.
  • Shining eyes are the second.

If you spend time in a leadership role as a coach, teacher, mentor, librarian, or any supervisory position, I hope you can take away something from Zander’s wisdom and experience.

Trust

You have to trust the people you are leading. You trust them not by mere faith alone but through preparation and practice. You need to sell them on your vision. Have a well-designed plan and know what you want to accomplish as the leader. Now, go and get them to believe in your plan and in your philosophy.

“It’s one of the characteristics of a leader that he not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he’s leading to realize whatever he’s dreaming. Imagine if Martin Luther King had said, ‘I have a dream. Of course, I’m not sure they’ll be up to it.” ― Benjamin Zander, Conductor & Teacher

Shining Eyes

This is a product of passion. Humans, especially the teenage humans, have well-honed bullshit meters. They sense if a leader is simply going through the motions. The feel the energy and the passion if the leader radiates energy and passion in front of them. Zander may have put it best when he talks about making that connection as a conductor.

“My job was to awaken possibility in other people. I wanted to know if I was doing it. And you know how you find out? You look at their eyes. If their eyes are shining, you know you are doing it. If their eyes are not shining, you get to ask a question. And the question is this: Who am I being so that my players’ eyes are not shining? “ ― Benjamin Zander

Next time you are in front of a classroom, locker room, huddle, crowd, or even in a one-on-one conference, look at the eyes. Are the eyes shining? If so, congratulations! You have made an important connection as a leader. If not, try to figure out changes you can make in order to light up the eyes. The chance of a dream succeeding often relates directly to the number of shining eyes.

 

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R.I.P. Weighted Bat

Well, the weighted bat thing goes way back. Way back to the ankle weights and wrist weights days. The shorty shorts, the knee-high white tube socks and wide terry cloth head and wristbands days of old. Just as these signs of poor fashion judgment have gone by the wayside, it’s time for the weighted bat as a way of supercharging your bat speed to go away also.

To be more specific, it’s the weighted bat swing training in the cage or in batting practice that needs to go away and not necessarily the heavy bats themselves. A baseball or softball swing is not an equivalent movement to say a squat or a deadlift. The baseball swing is a much more complicated movement, an intricate sequential firing of small and large muscle groups from the trunk to the torso that generates force across a linear and rotational plane. This force culminates at the point where the barrel of the bat makes contact with the baseball and, if all goes right, the ball flies off the bat.

Swinging a heavy bat in bp or in the cage only throws off the balance of muscle coordination a hitter works so hard to develop. Somewhat of a surprise is training with a lighter bat also does significantly increase bat speed. This is a surprise since research supports this methodology in speed training and other similar specific sports skill development. Swinging a bat is a just too much of an intricate physical process.

It takes thousands of correct reps and drills to develop a nice swing. Timing and speed are much more important factors to develop in your swing rather than pure strength. Strength training for a baseball athlete starts with the lower body where explosive strength and flexibility are the keys and moves to the core muscles of the torso. A strong core is essential for any athlete because it acts as a chain to transfer the force generated in the lower body to the upper body. Without a strong core, the energy generated in the load and step portion of the swing is left in the lower body and doesn’t transfer to the bat.

(On a side note, a throwing athlete like a quarterback, a pitcher, or any other baseball position player, should avoid straight military presses or any shoulder weight training which promotes an unbalanced muscle support of the joint. The shoulder joint necessary for overhead throwing motion is susceptible to injury if there is not a balanced training of the muscles surrounding this complex anatomical joint. This subject is a pet peeve of mine in the high school weight rooms where the specific needs of the throwing athlete are often ignored. But THAT is another rant for another day.)

All that negative stuff said, I still like the weighted bat in the on-deck circle for a couple of reasons.

  1. Use the weighted bat or “donut” ring it to get loose with a routine of several windmills front and back using both left and right hands, followed by a side to side rotational stretch.
  2. Mental edge. In the research that showed the use of weighted bats to gain bat speed was false, it was also shown the batter perceived his swing was faster. After swinging a heavy bat, the hitter “felt” his swing was faster. Handling a weighted bat in the on-deck circle can trick your brain into thinking your actual bat is as light as a feather and your swing is lightning fast. I don’t know about you, but give me a shot of confidence in the on-deck circle any day.

Hopefully, as with the Bug Squish, we can put the myth of using the weighted or heavy bat to develop bat speed out to pasture. But unlike the Bug Squish, I think there is value to using a weighted bat or a “donut” weight in the on-deck circle.

And to repeat…

One of the best pieces of coaching advice I can offer is this: Do not simply teach sports skills or coach simply because that is the way you were coached. Times change. Do the work. Research and field testing are constantly making improvements to the what we understand about sports science. Technology gives us access to this information like never before.  Ask questions, search the web, watch coaching video, or attend clinics. Do whatever it takes to give your kids the tools they need to succeed. When the players find success, they enjoy the sport. When they enjoy the sport, you can get more out of them.

Everybody wins!

Next R.I.P topic? Swing repetitions! How many swings at a time is effective? How many is too many? The answers may surprise you.

By Ernest Lawrence Thayer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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R.I.P. Bug Squish

Squishing the bug.

Man, we used to teach this back in the day. Why? Lord knows!

Let’s squash the bug squish, once and for all. In 2017 terms and technology, it’s embarrassing to admit I fell under the spell of the bug squish back in the early 2000’s. The Load/Step/Swing philosophy of hitting I teach today used to be Load/Squish/Swing of yesterday. It’s crazy the way these things spread.

I don’t know how it happened, but the bug squish got out there in the world and people kept passing it along as the secret to good hitting. Looking back through the lens of speculation, it was probably a remnant of early video analysis or maybe just observation.

When you watch a good swing in real time, it looks like the back foot “squishes the bug”. It can be misinterpreted as this back foot, combined with the old school maxim of “pushing” off the back foot, made the outward twist of the batter’s heel look like the initiator of a good swing. It doesn’t though. The back foot twists after the swing starts and the movement of the force from the front foot strike to the hip rotation result in the back foot movement.

  • The Bug Squish screws up a proper and smooth weight transfer from the load to the step. It leaves too much weight on the back foot and results in a loss of force. And lost force = lost bat speed = not driving the ball on a line = not getting on base = making a lot of outs = not getting on base = not scoring runs = not winning games = NO FUN.
  • The Bug Squish screws up your balance. A good swing is built on the foundation of balance. Bad balance and you cannot build an effective or consistent swing.
  • The Bug Squish screws with a hitter’s mind. The hitter becomes so focused on what that back foot is doing, they don’t put all their focus on the ball.

No matter what the stance or the style, the best swings in the game all share the common factor of a good and consistent hitting position. Hitting position is the key. A simple lower body movement to get to hitting position only becomes a complex movement with the introduction of gimmick BS like the bug squish.

It’s 2017. It’s time to bury the bug squish for good. It’s time to look past these old sports coaching myths. It’s time to simplify hitting a baseball.

One of the best pieces of coaching advice I can offer is this: Do not simply teach sports skills or coach simply because that is the way you were coached. Times change. Do the work. Research and field testing and forward-thinking coaches are constantly making improvements to the what we understand about sports science. Technology gives us access to this information like never before.  

Ask questions, search the web, watch coaching video, or attend clinics. Do whatever it takes to give your kids the tools they need to succeed.

When the players find success, they enjoy the sport. When they enjoy the sport, you can get more out of them.

Everybody wins! Right, Crime Dog?

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Two-Way Street

The coaching life is funny. It’s a two-way street. A coach has much to offer the players and, if the coach pays attention and nurtures relationships, so much more to gain from the players.

I know the bottom line is wins and losses but that’s really a rather narrow definition. There is much more to it than just that. Granted, if you do the deeper aspects of the profession well, that is, the planning, the implementation, the performance, you usually end up with more tally marks in the W column than in the L column.

There is a simple beauty to the coaching life that often gets neglected by the parent and fan base and increasingly seen neglected in the coaching profession itself. The simple beauty of a two-way street. A simple thing that gets overlooked in the emotion of competition.

Coaching is teaching.

Every good coach I know is a good teacher. All the information and details and strategies and plans are nothing without the ability to successfully pass the information to the players.

Coaching is relationships.

Relationships are the foundation of the two-way streets. If a coach expects the players to follow, the kids need to know the coach has their best interest in mind and they’re not just pawns in the coach’s game. There is also an added bonus to developing open and honest relationships with kids—it gives back a lifetime of joy.

Coaching is passing down knowledge.

Just because I know something does not mean the kids know it too. I may be the Einstein of high school football but that knowledge is nothing if it stays locked inside my head.

Coaching is passing down a love of a game.

Why coach if you are not passionate about the game? Why accept this huge responsibility without having the drive to do the work to make kids better people and players at little or no extrinsic value?

Coaching is bringing together individuals to make one team.

One of the absolute joys of coaching is taking individuals from different backgrounds, with different personalities, and displaying different skill levels and provide the environment in which they can unite under one common goal. That’s when the magic happens.

Coaching is a verb, not just a noun.

A lot of people have the title of coach. A lot of people wear this title proudly. Sometimes with too much pride. Coaching is action, not a title. Do the work.

Coaching, like life, is about give and take. Take the time to give to each player who walks through the door.

Build a solid two-way coaching street.

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Imperial March Mode

There are hundreds of different high school offensive and defensive schemes in the football world. I could stack coaching books from floor to ceiling and still probably not have all of them covered. It’s a creative game that has been infused with the intellect and talent of decades upon decades of innovators who changed the game.

Contrary to popular belief, though, scheme really doesn’t matter as much as execution in high school football. Actually, it’s more about how a team executes its scheme than the scheme itself. This, as much as raw talent, is what separates high school football teams.

I was (and still am for the most part) a relatively mild-mannered individual. But when it comes time for the competition, things change. The attitude changes, the approach changes, and my goal is to create chaos. Create chaos by playing in Imperial March mode.

Imperial March mode?

Darth Vader mode.
Dressed in black, take no prisoners mode.
In your face from all directions, steamroller mode.

Play simple. Play fast.
Play hard. Hit harder.
Again and again and again.

Intensity to the umpteenth power.
Control the line of scrimmage by storm and swarm.
The sound of collisions audible from the stands.

An attack force distinguished only by a jersey number and performance.
If we’re the favorite, destroy the opponents hope.
If we’re the underdog, be like David and go after their Goliath.

Get the picture?
Imperial March.
Our empire ALWAYS strikes back.

Now that’s an entry!

 

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Never Satisfied

The internal drive. That intrinsic motor that fuels your efforts.

It’s a blessing and a curse. A means of frustration and a means of fulfillment. It’s about never stopping your development and attacking life with the purpose of getting better every day.

Never stopping.
Never resting.
Only looking back to get better at moving forward.

It’s what a coach does. It’s what a player does. It’s what a parent does, a teacher does, a writer does, a “fill-in-the-blank-on-whatever-kind-of-person-you-are” does.

Or should do.

The greatest enemy of progress is not your opponent. Nor your talent. Nor your situation.

Your greatest enemy is complacency.

The biggest mistake you can make is thinking you are totally, completely, and absolutely 100% ready to roll. Resting on your laurels is a sham. I’ve seen many coaches and players fall victim to this.

I’ve done it more than I’d like to admit myself. It’s hard to admit or accept when your efforts aren’t cutting the muster. But you have to fight through complacency. The best person to motivate an improvement is you.

It’s been said, “You are only as good as your last game.” Meaning that you are only as good as your previous effort.
This is misleading.

You are only as good as you dare to be tomorrow.

If you didn’t push yourself today, resolve to do so tomorrow.

Never quit striving to be better.
Never settle.
Never be satisfied.

That, my friends, is a winner’s heart.

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The Best Decision I Hated

After high school baseball practice my first spring as a Rule 10 coach in 2000, I dropped off a book to newly promoted head football coach Paul Lane and assistant football coach Matt Brenzikofer as they talked outside Coach Lane’s classroom. The book was COMPLETE CONDITIONING FOR FOOTBALL by Mike Arthur and Brian Bailey. I’d bought the book several years earlier both for personal enjoyment/education and to help a high school kid I knew to get in football shape and to convince him to play the game. 

Out of the blue a few weeks later, Coach Lane and Coach Brenz stop me after baseball practice. I thought he was just going to hand back my book with that “go away, kid” dismissal one would expect from Nick Saban or Jim Harbaugh. As I mentally prepared to take the book back, say as few words as possible, and slink out the door trying to save a little face, Coach asked if I wanted to be a freshman coach and strength & conditioning coordinator.

I froze.

He asked me if I knew what was in the copy of my book he waved in front of me and if I knew how to implement any of it. I nodded yes. He said that I was the guy then. I told him I didn’t know anything about coaching football. He smiled and said something along the lines that I would surprise myself what I knew and how I could teach the game of football.

After a little wrangling at work to rearrange my schedule to a 6:30 AM to 2:45 PM work day, followed by an eat-your-lunch-while-driving-back-for 3:30 practice trip from MHK to CC, I took the job.

Being a Rule 10 baseball and football coach was one of the top 5 greatest decisions I ever made.

After a summer of winging it through a successful inaugural summer conditioning program, August rolled around and time for football. I was assistant freshman coach to Eric Burks and I am very grateful and very lucky to have started coaching football with him. What little football knowledge I had was on the offensive side of the ball, mainly blocking and running the ball. That was what I had my heart set on coaching for the freshman. Coach Burks had spent several years as varsity defensive coordinator and was now down at the freshman level. On our first meeting to plan the freshman program, he asked me what I wanted to coach.

I said “offense” before he even had a chance to finish his sentence. He looked at me. He smiled. He said that he thought he’d like to do offense because it would be invigorating to change sides of the ball. To his credit, he still gave me the choice. Me! The newbie idiot who knew only enough football to fill Coach Burks’s left pocket.

I thought about it.

I remembered the lessons my parents taught me about starting at the bottom of the ladder and working your way up. Keep your head down and your nose to the grindstone. I thought about Coach Burks. He was very excited about being able to dust off his offensive football coaching skills. I admit it now, I was scared. I didn’t know defensive fronts from storm fronts. I didn’t know the first, the second, or the last thing about secondary coverage schemes. Blitzes might have just as well have been spritzes. I was clueless. I was scared to fail.

Even though it went completely against my heart. Even though I knew it would knock me completely out of my comfort zone. Even though I knew I could completely look like a fool in front of my adopted hometown, I made the decision to be the freshman defensive coach.

Turns out, it was the best decision I’ve ever hated in my life.

I hit the books. I knew I couldn’t fall flat on my face. I couldn’t risk being the sore thumb which stood out on the stellar coaching staff Coach Lane put together. I didn’t want to embarrass my family or let down the high standards of the CCCHS community. Most of all, I did not want to let Coach Lane down. I knew he took a giant risk hiring me. I also assumed he took quite a bit of crap from the above high-standard, CCCHS community about hiring a nobody with no experience.

I studied defense. I read articles. I watched film. I asked questions. I tried to soak up everything I could from the other members of the staff. Slowly but surely, I fell head over heels for defensive football. And you know what else I discovered? That part of being a defensive coach is…studying the different offenses! Kaboom!

The strategy. The fundamental techniques. The intensity. The contact. The physicality. The schemes.

It was like a door to a new world was opened. I crawled through the dark, wardrobe door and found a football utopia. Defense. I learned the defensive fronts and gaps. I learned the linebacker techniques and schemes. I even learned about three-deep zones, squats & halves, bracket, zone over, zone blitz, and man coverages. I was like a kid in the candy store.

Defense.

I found my football groove.

Found my groove by being shoved out of my comfort zone.

Found my groove by doing the job I was given instead of doing everyone else’s job.

Found my groove through discipline and knowledge.

I found my football groove seventeen years ago through the best decision I ever hated making.

Do the work. Do your job. Every man, every play.

Even for the coaches.

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