Category Archives: Rants

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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Dear Juniors, Part II: The Oreo Lesson

Rising Seniors. You guys like the sound of that?

Seniors. Not Juniors anymore. (There’s a whole new bunch of those annoying !@#$%’s coming up also.)

Halfway through the summer and now your orbit is heading back toward the school year. And fall sports.

Time for something new to think about. Time for a lesson from…Oreos!

What’s that, you ask. Oreos? Yes, my young friends. Oreos.

The King of Cookies (Store-bought. Mrs. Hays is still the Queen of Cookies).

The Sultan of Sweets.

The Mayor of Milk Dunk.

Oreos. 

Why Oreos, you ask. Well, there’s a life lesson to be learned from the thin chocolate cookies sandwiching the cream filling.

Oreos, as previously mentioned, are at the top of the heap for sweet snack foods. They had it all. For year upon year upon year, they ruled. Then a few years back, they started experimenting with all kinds of crazy-ass new flavors. None, save the vanilla, even hold a candle to the original.

Now, it seems, they are approaching sanity’s precipice at 150 MPH in a hijacked ice cream truck. Oreo has spent so much time and effort lately trying to be everything to everyone.

In the process, it lost a bit of who it was.

Rising Seniors, pay heed!

The Oreo Lesson.

  • Know who you are.
  • Be who you are.
  • Don’t try to be all things to all people.
  • Be the best you that you can be.

Just don’t eat a whole package of Oreos with a tall glass of milk in one sitting. (From experience, that’s not who ANYBODY needs to be.)

 

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Sports Fields

There’s something special about a sports field. I could go Wide World of Sports and talk about the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” types of activities which occur on a sports field but it goes beyond that.

It’s something visceral.

It’s something old and ancient.

It’s about community and people coming together.

The “Friday Night in America” feeling.

There’s something special in the field I played little league baseball on and the fields where we practiced baseball and football. All those other fields where we’d show up on a hot summer morning or a fall/winter Saturday to play pickup games.

I will always be tied to those fields as much as I am tied to the house I was born and grew up in. They are as much a part of me as my school or my church.

Now, I am old.

I live in an entirely different place than where I grew up. Worlds away, it often seems.

But there are still sports fields.

And they still grab ahold of me.

They grab me and anchor me to the essence of what my adopted hometown means.

A football stadium that oozes the history of this town through the memories of sons, fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers who played there. A stadium built of limestone quarried on a farm just outside town and hauled stone by stone to be placed by local workers during the depression.

A baseball field with more frustrating problems than solutions. But a field getting a little bit better every day thanks to the generous and caring individuals and businesses in town. A field of remembrance as well as a field to play ball on.

Those are the two places in Clay Center, Kansas that pull me into their strong orbit. Places I’ve grown to care deeply about. Places to appreciate every single thing done to preserve and improve upon them. From the city and the baseball field renovation project to the school district’s improvement projects on Otto Unruh Stadium (especially the masonry restoration done by Jan Kissinger’s company and crew), I, for one, am grateful.

Community

Connections

Competition

That’s what sports fields do.

That’s why they are special places.

 

 

 

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Sports Jaded

I feel like going full-out Charlie-Brown-getting-the-football-pulled-out-from-under-him screaming rage right now.

AAARRRGGGHHHH!!!!!!!!

I am so disappointed in myself.

I can’t believe I’ve come to this point with sports.

I can’t believe I’ve become so jaded.

What happened?

Today, my son sent a text message informing me Bob Stoops was stepping down as the head football coach at Oklahoma.

My immediate reaction is what worried me. My first, second, third, fourth, and probably fifth thoughts all revolved around some form of the question. “What did he do?”

You see? Jaded.

When did I start looking at the dark side first? Have I just seen so many wrongs in the sports business that I cannot, or will not, even look for the positive first?

Apologies to Coach Stoops. 18 years at the University of Oklahoma after digging the Sooner Schooner out of the muck pit it was in for almost a decade. After a national title, three more appearances in the title game, consistently performing at ridiculously high expectations from the fan base each and every season, you deserve to go out on your own terms. Even if there are some sinister reasons for the retirement, I should not immediately go to that dark place.

You don’t deserve a schmuck like me automatically think the worst of you.

I’m going to make a concerted effort to start thinking sports-positive again. Life is too short, as are the seasons of sport. That way, if something like a negative reason for Coach Stoop’s sudden retirement eventually comes to light, I am forced by the facts to lean toward a  jaded way of thought.

Think positive, Hays.

  • Sports are awesome.
  • More good than bad.
  • More right than wrong.
  • No reason to be grumpy, old man out of the gate.
  • No need to be sports jaded. 

Positive first. Always.

By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Damon J. Moritz. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Dear Juniors

Dear Juniors,

Graduation Day. A day of celebration and a day to honor the graduating seniors. When I coached high school, it was one of my favorite days. No, it wasn’t because kids I’d been around for four years were finally leaving. It was because the kids I’d been around for four years, kids who came in as immature, raw, smartass freshmen, had accomplished tough things and were now mature, almost fully developed, smartass seniors ready to make their mark upon the world. It was a great honor to be a small part of their journey, so the day was special to a coach.

Today the spotlight is on the seniors. They deserve it.

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Daniel J. McLain (RELEASED)

But I’d like to turn the all-seeing eye on you juniors. In a few short hours, after the final note Pomp and Circumstance fades into the dusk, YOU will be the seniors. Your final journey down High School Lane begins. Like it or not, the next step you take will be as a senior. Father Time has turned the hourglass over and the first grain of your senior year sand has fallen.

My question to you, Dear Junior.

What are you going to do?

It is your time. Time to step up and push the wagon. No more riding along, going where the previous few years’ wagon went. It’s time for you to shine. Time to dig your heels into the ground, roll up your sleeves, and get to work. Every second you wait after the sun sets on this graduation day results in more sand disappearing from your own senior year clock.

Tick, tock…

What are you going to do?

As seniors, you will have expectations. Accept them. Don’t turn your back on them or default these responsibilities to others. Take the challenges head on and with an intent on fulfilling the expectations with your own talents. Be a leader. A good leader. Be someone that the younger kids want to follow. Don’t lead through threat, fear, or intimidation. As the saying goes, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Help the underclassmen and show them the way we do things within our traditions and community. Pick them up; don’t stomp them down. You make yourself better by making those under you better so set a good example. Be a leader.

What are you going to do?

I challenge you to sit down tomorrow morning as you start your last week of class as a junior and write down what you want to accomplish. Academics, activities, sports, work, finances, etc. Make a physical list. Take this list and put it where you can see it when you wake up each morning. Put a copy in your school locker. Remind yourself constantly of your dreams.

Next, make a plan. List the things you need to do each and every day to accomplish your goals. Carry this with you. Make it part of who you are. Do the things on your plan consistently. Make them a habit. Fail. Step back. Strategize. Attack. Succeed. Challenge. Repeat.

Success breed success.

Tell someone else your goals. A friend. A family member. Heck, you can even send your goal(s) to me. Merely having the ingrained thought in your psyche that someone else knows your goal(s) is a powerful motivator. There is power in sharing. You and your buddy are less likely to sleep through summer conditioning if your buddy knows you want to hit opponents like a cannon shot on the football field and you know he wants to rush for 1,000-yards.

Today, speeches will be made wishing the graduating seniors good luck in their future endeavors and celebrating a milestone in their lives. We all wish them well.

But Juniors, come tonight at sunset…

  • Your life will change.
  • You must vacate your seat in the wagon and start pushing it.
  • Your time has come.
  • Make the most of it.
  • Leave your mark.

Juniors, it is your time.

What are you going to do?

My eye is on you and I expect great things from you.

Hard work is the magic.

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Compete-ly Lost

On more than one occasion the past few years, I have heard coaches, parents, and general old-ish folks like me complain about a common youth sports observance.

Why don’t kids seem to compete like they used to?

99% of the answers I soon hear following such a complaint seem to all revolve around a common causative element.

Video games.

I agree with the observance, but not that cause. I don’t see the same competitive drive in many young athletes. When I first began to notice this trend a few years back, I thought it was just grumpy-old-man me trying to compare everything to a gold standard of my selective memory. Then again, maybe the kids don’t seem competitive in comparison to the competitive level of the adults you see around any modern kid sporting event?

I disagree with the 99% of us pointing fingers at video games. Video games IN MODERATION aren’t such bad things. It’s when they take over the majority of free time in a kid’s life that they become a problem. (And that’s total SCREEN TIME, not just video games.)

A few weeks ago, I heard a sports radio talk show where this subject came up. The guest was a well-known former area collegiate athlete, turned sportscaster, who is also a father of athletes. He may have put his thumb on the competitive fire loss observed all too often.

Volume.

More precisely, volume without meaning. Multiple competitive events crammed into a short period where the outcome and performance take a backseat in the very rear of the station wagon to participation. No, don’t confuse this with my usual ranting and raving about everybody “winning” by simply participating. This concept is different. Much different.

Let’s called this “AAU Syndrome” or “Weekend Warrior Effect”. These are the unintended curse of the modern youth sports movements. Multiple game tournaments played weekend after weekend after weekend after weekend. Tournaments aren’t an all-bad thing. It’s a good way to get a change of scenery and see some new faces playing across from you. But these tournaments have become a business. Name your sport. They are everywhere. A $350 entry fee/four-game guarantee in Town X, followed by $400 entry fee/five-game guarantee in Town Y five days later, and how about a six-team round-robin in Town Z the weekend after for only a $250 entry fee. Kids show up, play a bunch of games, see a bunch of adults yelling and screaming, and then go home.

Maybe, if you’re lucky, a practice or two during the week.

Quantity over quality.

Participate over compete.

So many games stacked back to back, there is no time to teach. No time to improve. Just time to go through the motions.

The kids do not learn to compete. They learn to go through the motions. The system is built to appear as a competitive endeavor. We show up, we feel we’ve accomplished something over the course of the tournament only to realize, half our team can’t tell us anything about Game 3 of 6 we played five hours ago.

AAU Syndrome. Showing up, running up and down the court draining three’s and driving the lane for monster slams. Repeat.

(I know my Jayhawk friends will take offense but I think of Josh Jackson as the poster boy for AAU Syndrome. This kid has tremendous physical basketball talent. He will make buckets of money starting this summer. But despite all his talent and skills, I can count on two fingers the number of times during his one-and-done season where I felt the outcome of his team winning or losing mattered to him.)

What can be done to develop competitors? I have a few suggestions.

  • Lets kids play, not just play organized games and activities.
  • Start building individual competitiveness, then small group competitiveness, and then team competitiveness.
  • Make everything a friendly competition.Friendly doesn’t mean be a jackass. Friendly doesn’t mean you have to win. Remember, competing and winning are two separate things.
  • Workouts, physical skill development, and practices should run a competitive and focused pace. Work hard, have fun.

It takes work to build kids into competitive teenagers. You have to build them from the ground up. You can’t just throw them into the deep end of a high pressure, 4th game of the day contest and expect some innate ancient human gene to kick into overdrive amidst the dozens of shouting adults. It takes work. Competitors are built day by day, trial by trial, and rep by rep until they have a will to be something better.

Good luck, parents, and coaches. If you don’t like the level of competitive fire you see in your young athletes, stop and take a step back. Look in the rear view mirror at the current situation and make some changes. The answer is right there. Like the label says, “OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR”. Start at the beginning, start simple and build a competitor’s foundation.

Tom Osborne used to say that everybody wants to win, the difference is that some are willing to do the work to get there.

Hard work is the magic.

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With Intent to Harm

I need to come clean about something. As an ex-hitter and now as a hitting coach, it is a pet peeve of mine to watch high school hitters float the baseball bat into the contact zone. I hate the slow, looping swing!!!

There, I got it off my chest.

I wish I felt better.

But I don’t.

We talk a lot about violence in sport. Football concussions from helmet to helmet contact, well-aimed elbows on basketball rebounds, take-out baseball slides and using your hockey stick as a weapon are examples of unnecessary violence in sports. I’m baseball, though, there is a situation where I fully condone and even appreciate a healthy touch of violence.

In a baseball swing.

My belief is to hit the baseball as hard as you possibly can every time you swing. My philosophy is to teach short quick swings that generate bat speed and power upon contact.

Is short, hit the baseball hard and good things will happen. A well-struck baseball is much more difficult for the opponent to field than a seven-bouncer in the infield or a lazy pop fly to the outfield. Hard hit baseballs result in more base runners. More base runners translates into more runs, more runs translates into more wins.

As a hitter or a youth coach, develop a short, compact, and powerful swing from the very first time a bat is picked up. The long, looping swing you often see on the coach/machine pitch circuit will not work as the hitter matures.

Do you know what the number one reason kids cite for quitting the game when they reach high school?
It’s not being able to hit a baseball.

Why can’t they hit a baseball?
I am 99% sure that player who quits has a long, looping, slow swing. They have no violence in their swing. They not only have trouble making contact but there’s no zip on the batted ball.

Hitters of America, I plead with you to work on developing a quick bat. I implore you to take the steps necessary to rid this country of the slow bat epidemic.

Hitting position.
Relaxed body.
Head down.
Load and pull back the rubber band.
Step and swing with intent to harm the baseball. Hitting a baseball is a violent act.

Believe me, there are few things in life more fun and satisfying than launching laser line drives into the gap.
To me, that is what baseball is all about… CRUSHING the baseball. 

 

 

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