Category Archives: Rants

Leadership is what leadership does

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership recently with national and world events being what they are. Politics, business, agriculture, science, education, sports, etc. all rely on effective leadership to thrive.

This latest obsession started this summer watching the leadership void we had in the 2016 national election and trying to figure out how we got ourselves so whopper-jawed and off track. It spread to observing coaches like Bill Snyder, Joe Madden, and Bill Belichick and players who are considered team leaders, like LeBron James.

A leader should be judged on what they do, not what they say. Watch the walk, sift through the talk.

Over the years, I’ve tried to study effective leaders (and ineffective leaders) and try to deconstruct how they do what they do and get the results they get. I think it can be distilled down to three things. Knowledge. Quality people. Long-term vision.

Know your organization

This sounds so simple. Yet…

It is often overlooked. A leader should know the goal of the organization. A leader needs to know how the organization is set up and how it operates. The leader needs to understand the structure and dynamics of the entire organization as well as the smaller entities it contains. The leader has to understand the parts of the whole and how they fit the whole part.

Surround yourself with good people who are as smart, or smarter, than you.

It is vital to swallow your ego and bring in people to do the required jobs. Micromanaging is akin to stroking your own ego. Micromanaging and stroking your own ego smother organizations and teams. Bring it quality people and trust them to do the work. If anything, wrap your arms around your team by giving them goals and challenges and watch them grow. If your people grow, your organization grows. If your people grow, you are doing your job.

Make decisions and develop solutions with the long-term wellness or the organization as the top priority. 

It’s often hard to take the long view when most of the attention is on the immediate set of problems. Long-term organizational strength and development are what makes great organizations great. Decisions should be made with the future in mind. A good leader maintains the ability to solve the problems of today with one eye on the future. Respect the rules of the game because they were more than likely put there for a reason. Modify or eliminate the rule parameters which undermine the long-term wellness. Every day, strive to leave the team or organization a little bit better off.

Three simple things.

Three things you must fight through the noise and distractions to stay focused upon.

Three things.

Take care of them and the rest will all fall into place.

As I imagine Forrest Gump sitting on a bench at a bus stop saying,

“Leadership is what leadership does.”

 

V0048366 King George III standing Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org King George III standing, in military uniform; horse in the background. 1804 By: William Beecheyafter: Benjamin SmithPublished: 1 December 1804. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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New Year’s Eve Flashback Post: Being Stupid in 2010

This is one of my all-time favorite stupid-funny posts. One of my former players from 2008 still laughs about this when he sees me. Six New Year’s Eves later and I still am 100% sure of one thing in my life:

Coach Hays is still NOT a  Kenyan marathon runner.

For those who know me, my fits of stupidity will not be anything new to you.  But, I need to relate one final (I hope) Coach Hays stupid moment for 2010. Yesterday, I was running a mile on the treadmill as the weather was kind of nasty outdoors.  I was around the half mile mark when this Achilles’ tendon inflammation problem I have been fighting flares up.  It ticks me off because I hate my “old man” afflictions.

Out of blind, stupid pride, I stop the treadmill, kick off my socks and shoes, and then hit start. No more shoe rubbing against my inflamed Achilles.  I AM GOING TO FINISH THIS RUN. Besides, it’s only a half a mile to go.  It’s not so bad to run barefoot. It’s a little loud on the treadmill, but nobody else is home so it won’t bother anyone.  And you know those Kenyans run barefoot all the time, so it can’t be THAT bad.

With about a quarter mile left, there is a strange feeling beginning in the balls of my feet,  but I keep going.  Only a few more minutes to go.  I can finish this.  I need to finish this.  So I tread forward one step at a time.   Finally, I am done and hit stop with a great sense of accomplishment.

Then it starts, a burning pain in the balls of my feet that increases exponentially.  I can feel the blisters forming on my feet.  Oh, crap!  I’ve done it this time.

Long story short, I am now a little smarter.

I’ve learned some hard lessons with every painful step as my blisters subside.  I have learned the following:

  • Fat, old guys should not run barefoot.  Anywhere.  Anytime.
  • I need to be smarter about working out. Two days off of my feet was not worth the 1/4 mile I ran barefoot.
  • Finally, I am not a Kenyan marathoner

Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve!

Treadmill

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Civil Disobedience

The power of Google tells me today is the anniversary of Louisa May Alcott’s birth 184 years ago on November 29, 1832.

Fantastic.

Really?

No, not really.

I can’t say I’m a fan of Louisa May’s work. I know her work is beloved by generation upon generation of readers and is a staple of the American educational literature canon.

Not for me.

In the 8th-grade, I ventured a few pages into the assigned LITTLE WOMEN and dove headfirst off the LMA train traveling on a steep, narrow mountain pass inhabited by rabid grizzly bears.

LITTLE WOMEN was directly responsible for my first, but not my only, academic career emergency. Well, let me back up. LITTLE WOMEN + Ms. Teacher-Who-Did-Not-Care-For-Me-For-Some-Reason almost resulted in this stubborn, young man flunking 8th-grade English class.

I was a struggling reader growing up. I still read pretty slow. If fact, I probably would have completely taken the life path of non-reader if not been fortunate to have adults who helped me trudge along the reading path or have found Jack London’s short story, To Build A Fire, in 6th-grade. I would have given up.

In 8th-grade, said Teacher assigned the entire class LITTLE WOMEN. I read a little bit. I decided it was stupid. I refused to read any more of it. Too many girls, not enough struggle against the elements on the Yukon.

Our school split a grade into the classic 1970’s leveled system. I was the dumbest kid in the smart group. I ain’t lying. Every day, I was scratching and clawing while the others floated casually down the academic river of knowledge sipping fruity drinks and eating exotic cheeses. Frustrating. Character building. I’m sure this contributed to my stubborn streak.

Said Teacher told me to read. I replied in the negative.

Said Teacher called my parents. Said Teacher met with my parents and said I would flunk. I did not care.

Said Teacher compromised with my parents. She would LET me read LITTLE MEN. Mom was happy. Dad was happy. I took one look at the cover illustration, flipped quickly through the pages and gave it back to Said Teacher. I wasn’t falling for that one. The old bait and switch. Listen, I had two ornery older brothers, I knew a con game when I saw one. LITTLE MEN was just LITTLE WOMEN in different clothes. Nice try, LMA. But, nope.

So I didn’t read either of the books. I failed the section. I scrambled the rest of the year to keep my head afloat. And I survived.

Civil disobedience. An important skill to have.

I often wonder if Said Teacher ever looked at me and dreamed I would be both an avid reader and writer of books.

I highly doubt it. She saw a shy, stocky, sports-crazed boy and that is all she allowed herself to see.

But I am a writer and a reader.

And I am damn proud of it.

Sorry, Louisa May and Louisa May fans. Have a great birthday anniversary celebration. Eat, drink, and be merry.

Just don’t expect me to read LITTLE WOMEN.

800px-louisa_may_alcott

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Brand Rant

“Be who you are by branding who you are.”

I am fed up with one particular sports fad. Sick and tired. So over-the-top-angry it has forced me into a grumpy, “get-off-my-lawn” old man rant.

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I turned on NCAA football last Saturday. It was a Big 12 game between Texas and… 

Wait, who was that other team? The game was in Stillwater, Oklahoma so didn’t it have to be the Oklahoma State Cowboys? I couldn’t tell for sure. Eventually, I recognized some familiar OkSt names and, yes, it was Oklahoma State. Besides being orange and black, their uniforms were hardly recognizable as belonging to the Cowboys. They, like the Oregon Ducks, have gone uber crazy with alternate uniforms, helmets, and logos.

A couple of weeks ago they wore this helmet with logo.

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The week after, they wore this helmet with logo.

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In their desire to be different, they lost who they are. In their drive to be hip and cool, they became forgettable. Who they are as a brand is no longer indelible in my psyche.

Sure, in recent history, the Oregon Ducks unis can be considered as flashy. It’s just they have sacrificed a vital part of their identification in order to be whacky with the uniforms. The association with a visual that instantly brings to mind high-powered, high-octane offenses snapping the ball every 12-15 seconds, doesn’t exist for me.

Looks at this:

longhorn

I’m not a huge fan of the Texas Longhorns but when I see their uniform and when I see their helmet and logo, I immediately think about Darrel Royal and the wishbone offense, John Mackovic and the upset of the vaunted Nebraska team in the first Big 12 Championship game, or Vince Young tip-toeing into the end zone to defeat USC in the BCS National Title Game in 2006.

That’s what a brand does. It “brands” your perception of a visual image to an association of  personal memories. That’s NOT what 47 different possible uniform combinations does.

What exactly is a brand and why is it important?

As a follower of marketing expert Seth Godin, I think his basic definition of a brand comes about as close to answering the above question as any other definition I’ve read.

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”

In short, having a recognizable brand pays off for your people for year after year after year.

So, please stop it!

Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Under Armor and all other apparel suppliers, help your clients with their brand, quit pushing sports programs to make your brand their brand. Last spring, I heard K-State color commentator, Stan Weber, say that Company X can’t wait for Bill Snyder to retire so they can roll out a whole line of alternate uniforms.  HEY, COMPANY X…DON”T! In fact, Company X…GO AWAY! Make shoes, sell apparel, get a stable of professional athletes to hawk your wares for you. Just stop this alternate uniform insanity.

Schools and sports programs, develop a brand and associate it with who you are as a program. Follow the lead of classics like:

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chiefslogo

university_of_kansas_jayhawk_logo-svg

Be who you are by branding who you are.

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#ThatSportsParent

One of the scourges of modern youth sports is out-of-line parents. The headlines are full of incidents involving overzealous parents. Odds are, each of us can pinpoint an incident of ugly parent behavior at a sports event no matter how small a town we live in. It’s threatening the very existence of youth sports and, more importantly, taking the FUN out of the game.

But when is it okay to get involved as a parent?

“So what happens when you’re the parent that yells for your own son (good but not the star) to sit so that a few of the others on the team can get some playing time because you’re up by 10 to a way lesser team? ”

Somebody I respect greatly asked me the above question a few weeks ago. It’s a tough question to answer, but I’ll give it a try. I’ll try to answer from a coach’s perspective and try to wall off my parental perspective because Lord knows, I’ve screwed up many times on that side of this issue. I’ve been there. I’ve felt the parental frustration seep its way into my competitive fire in less than positive ways.

So, here’s my personal philosophy on sports parenting and complaints.

First and foremost, a parent should be their kid’s biggest fan, not be their sports agent. There are truly legitimate situations in which a parent should intervene on behalf of their sports child. Physical, mental, or emotional abuse from either other players or from coaches should be reported immediately. In these situations, the parent needs to be the bulldog, the protector, and jump in and refuse to back down until a resolution is achieved.

But sports parents, listen up…Depth chart and playing time and play calling probably do not fall into this category of necessary parental intervention.

I’ve always felt there are three things every parent needs to do before they get involved. They are not easy to do. A parent needs patience and the ability to wall off emotion in this context.

  1. Observe the situation from an honest viewpoint.
  2. Be honest. This can be soooo hard, especially if you have those visions of your kid being the best thing since sliced bread. Step back and take an honest look at where your kid’s talent falls in respect to the other kids.
  3. Allow your kid to handle the simple situations. Have them find out from the coach or other players where they sit and develop a plan to get better.

My playing time thoughts depend on the level of play. If it’s a varsity high school level of competition, I believe in playing as few, or as many, players as necessary for the situation. We want to be highly competitive at the varsity level. We also want to balance player/program development, situational skills we may need to groom for later use, and get game reps with new plays or skills.

The developmental level of competition, middle school, freshman, junior varsity is where I like to play everyone as equally as possible during a game. Sure, the goal is still to win the contest, but we need EVERYONE in the program learning how to do their job in order to achieve success as a team. The game situation is where we can identify individual or team areas for improvement while gaining experience. The future, both the near future or the far future, carries a higher priority at the developmental level than winning or losing. (The developmental level is where many parents allow the basic purpose to slip away and the emotions to pressurize.)

Finally, there is the private or club sports environment. This area has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade. My only advice right now for parents in these situations is as follows:

If you, as a parent, are unhappy with a club situation, whether playing time, depth chart, game management or practice management, then I suggest talking with your kid about the situation. If it bothers your kid and/or the other kids on the team, then schedule a meeting with the coach.

Schedule this meeting at a neutral emotion time (NOT before, after, or during a game, a practice, or in a public setting.). Meet with the goal being to solve the problem, not create new problems.

If you are unhappy with the outcomes of this meeting, I suggest moving to a new situation for the next season.

If you are unhappy seek a viable alternative or take advantage of alternative solutions that are presented to you. Don’t spread your misery. Sports are too much fun to be blanketed in this negativity.

Sports can teach kids a lot about life. Allow them to learn. Allow them to develop. Allow them to understand being part of the whole is better than trying to be the whole part.

Give them the opportunity.

most-annoying-sports-parents.jpg

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Your Purpose 4Q

Execution of purpose.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Practice makes perfect.”. Our parents, teachers, coaches, etc. have been telling us this little nugget of wisdom for years upon years, right? Well…it’s about as wrong as me watching the Olympic track & field competition and claiming I’m exercising.

Practice makes perfect ONLY if your practice goal is to be perfect. This means every repetition you perform—and skill development is ALL about repetition—must be done with a drive to improve. A drive to get just a little better each and every time.

We all go through the motions at times in our lives. It’s another slice of human nature. It’s just as easy to coast through practice as both a player and as a coach. This is particularly true as we approach the last third of a sports season and the routine gets…well, routine. As I said in the previous post, time is our biggest enemy. I think we can agree on that, don’t you?

THEN WHY DO WE COACHES WASTE SO MUCH TIME???!!!!

Sorry for shouting, but that wasting practice time thing is a pet peeve of mine. As a player, I hated the standing around doing nothing when there was a whole lot of talk happening and very little action. It drove me nuts back then and still drives me nuts as a 52-year-old.

Have your purpose. Have your plan. But most of all, have the drive and the ability to lead others toward the goal. A coach has to keep a practice session hopping. The average adult attention span (8 seconds) has now dipped below the average attention span of a goldfish (9 seconds). I could infer then that the hormone-driven teenage boy’s attention span would stand to pale in comparison to the goldfish. So if you are going to successfully deal with young athletes, you’d better plan on keeping things short and snappy.

Every season, every week, every day, every minute, every second need someone driving the bus in the right direction and at the right speed. THAT is another one of those unique characteristics of good coaches.

I am a firm believer in coaching fundamentals and drilling fundamentals. A technically sound player is a player you can depend on and build a team upon. There’s only one way to develop a technically sound player and that’s by working toward the goal of perfection with practice and repetition

In fact, you can even sneak this work in where the players don’t even realize they are working. During football practice, we used to do a 15-minute session at the start of practice with the kickers, long snappers, holders, and returners working on their skills. A good portion of the QBs, running backs, and receivers would be a part of this but very few linemen which left a big (both in sheer numbers and sheer size) part of the team watching.

Nobody likes to stand around and watch kickers kick, so we started this game where the linemen did a one-on-one pass drill. Coach Lane and I would be the quarterbacks, each with a line of lineman with us. The first guy in line would jump out and play defense and the second guy would be the receiver and run a pass route. The fifteen minutes would fly by. The Bubbas would really get into the competition, trying to score a reception on the offensive side or getting an interception or a pass breakup on the defensive end.

It was fun! The linemen would get the rare chance to touch the football, they would get a chance to talk trash and prove their skills in front of everyone. I also had fun slinging footballs in my best Kenny Stabler imitation.

But while all this was going on, nobody ever realized they were actually working. They worked on their footwork, they worked on their hand-fighting skills, and they learned how to establish leverage. I think anyone would agree those are all skills important to being a lineman. Also, they probably ran the equivalent of around a dozen or so sprints without complaint or without notice. In contrast, when we lined them up after practice to run a dozen sprints for conditioning, you should have heard the groaning and whining.

Bottom line: Execute your purpose and DON’T WASTE TIME.

In particular, don’t waste practice time. Maximize your purpose in your practice. Every single thing you do should be done for the purpose of getting better. There is no standing still in life or in sports. You are either getting better or going backward.

By the way, it’s too bad no video record exists of the quarterbacking skills of Coach Lane and myself. It was glorious. Not shabby for a couple offensive line coaches. Don’t laugh, I still have the sore arm to prove it…

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There wasn’t a whole lot of executed purpose this night, but the picture with the Lane Brothers is one of my favorites and one of the few “action” shots I have.

Final Note: The “Your Purpose?” blog post began as a rant that grew and grew until it was beyond the scope of one post. It became a four post rant. Yowzers! But I’ve seen this problem of lack of purpose derail many teams and programs. Teams that I played on, teams I’ve coached, teams I’ve observed and teams I’ve been a fan of. It bugs the hell out of me, both in my own failures and observed failures. It seems so simple. It seems as simple as wearing pants before going out of the house. You wear pants when you leave the house, don’t you? Then why go “pantless” when you approach coaching?

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Your Purpose 3Q

Time.

We all fight it. We all struggle with it. It’s always moving and there never seems to be enough of it.

Double this sentiment for a sports coach. Time is our biggest enemy. Wasted time is a coach’s biggest regret. That is why we have to build a purpose of time into our greater purpose.

Okay, let’s say we want to win the football game against our rival next Friday night. We need to purpose our time properly. We need to develop a strategy that helps us achieve the vision. We watch scout film, both on our rivals past few games to determine how they approach a game and, just as important, our recent games to evaluate our mistakes. We need to organize and execute the practice preparation to get ready for the contest.  As you can see, every second matters.

Success is no accident or random occurrence.

Time is valuable. It is valuable to everyone. That is something I think we, as coaches, often fail miserably at. Kids have more legitimate time constraints now more than at any other time I can ever remember. Family responsibilities, church obligations, school obligations, extracurricular activities, work, hobbies, multiple sports commitments that demand time, especially in the summer.

As an effective leader working under today’s time constraints, you need to make the most of the time that you ask your players to commit. If you are going to ask them to come for summer conditioning every day at 6:30 AM, you damn well better send them home at 7:45-8:00 AM exhausted and drained so they feel like getting up a 6:30 AM was not a waste of their time. That responsibility is part of the unwritten trust contract I always felt was so important to establish between coach and player. We, as coaches, should be able to look the players in the eye after every practice or workout and say, “Today, I did not waste your time.”

Be able to fulfill that promise with a solid purpose of time day after day after day and you will have a team who will follow you to the ends of the earth. A team who will jump into the fire with you and compete with every fiber of their being. A team who will believe in your purpose and wrap themselves heart and soul with it. A team with complete trust in you as a coach; a trust that weaves its way through every member of the team.

  • THAT is the point of critical mass.
  • THAT is when the fun starts.
  • THAT is the magic of sports.

And it all starts with TIME.

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