Category Archives: Rants

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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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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Gates

As a former offensive and defensive line football coach, one thing I always look for when watching a game or scouting a game is open/closed gates. What is a gate in football? It’s the ability to stay square and create your space in the contact zone called the line of scrimmage. It’s the same concept as the gate on a fence. When a gate is closed, you can’t walk through it. It’s a barrier. When a gate is closed, you have to do something drastic, like climb over, dig under, or ram through it, to get through. An open gate is just the opposite. It’s no longer a barrier but an invitation to come through.

By Calum McRoberts, CC BY-SA 2.0

My football concept of gates on the offensive and defensive line is similar. When an offensive lineman or defensive lineman keep their hips and shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage, their gate is closed. When they turn their hips and shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, they open the gate.

A defensive lineman’s job is simple. They are assigned a piece of real estate, a gap or area, to protect. Nothing gets through. Nothing knocks the DL from their spot. The job is much easier and much more effective when they play with their gate closed. Opening their gate and turning their hips and shoulders open a running lane.

The same is true for an offensive lineman. Their job is to create open real estate and running lanes on a run play. The job is to clear a path by using your closed gate-created space to either drive the defender away from the running lane, like a snow blade on the front of a truck, or shield a lane for the running back to use. 

For pass blocking, the offensive linemen need to provide a protective barrier for the QB in the pocket in order for the QB to feel safe, comfortable, and able to make the throws. Close gates are essential to provide a barrier from the rushing defenders across the line of scrimmage. Closed gates in pass protection reduce the attack alleys of the defense just like a closed gate of a fence makes it harder to enter. Only when a pass rusher breaks the blocker’s hip level does the blocker turn the hips and shoulders to adjust their gate to the threat.

Establishing good technical skills to be an effective offensive and defensive lineman requires excellent footwork, body position, and hand battle skill. Everything a coach should do in practice must be centered around those skills. The footwork is vital. It drives the placement of the hips which drives the placement of the shoulders, which drives the success or failure in a lineman doing their job. (What is good footwork? That, and how to develop good big boy footwork are coming soon in a separate post.)

Practice perfect every rep. 

Practice for perfection when the athletes get tired because physically and mentally tired athletes make mistake because they lose form. 

Practice, practice, and practice to keep the gates closed. 

Close those gates, Bubbas!

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Doesn’t Matter

It doesn’t matter what everybody else thinks.
It’s what you think that matters.

It doesn’t matter what everybody else does.
It’s what you do that matters.

It doesn’t matter what everyone else talks.
It’s the walk you walk that matters.

Be the best you that you can be.
Every day.

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Go!

3,2,1…GO!

It’s time for the high school football season! There’s nothing quite like Friday Night in America.

I’m excited to watch our Clay County teams in action. Go Clay Center Tigers! Go Wakefield Bombers!

I’m also excited for the K-State season and to see what my Kansas City Chiefs can accomplish in what I consider a “do or die” season.

The song that always popped into my head before a Friday night football game as a player and as a coach was Street Fighting Man by The Rolling Stones. Great beat and cadence of what it felt like inside my head before a game.  “Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet boy”

I think I finally found a replacement Friday Night in America song. Go! by the London electronic band, Public Service Broadcasting. It’s a song that hits the perfect pregame mental/emotional notes and, in this 50th anniversary year of the Apollo 11 mission, makes one want almost want to run through a brick wall.

Enjoy your opening week, everyone! I wish you joy and satisfaction this season.

Work hard and have fun!

But never forget…

Football is NOT life; it’s for a lifetime.

Friday Night In America

We did not come here for “spirit” or to be “peppy”, others will come for those.

We did not come here for peace, or love, or joy.

We came here to knock your pride into the dirt.

We came here to steal your dignity.

Friday Night in America.

Tiger Football.

3,2,1…GO!

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If you love it, do it.

Even though I don’t coach high school football anymore, I always get a little excited for the upcoming football season around this time of the summer. It’s a sport I’ve always enjoyed as a player, fan, and especially as a coach.

This is also the time of the summer where I started hearing about the local kids who say they’re not going to play in the fall. On the one hand, it makes me sad. On the other hand, I understand. Time commitment, work, school, and/or issues with the coaching staff are all reasons I’ve heard from kids in the past. I do understand these reasons.

My advice to these kids who are contemplating not playing a sport they’ve played in the past is pretty simple:

If you love playing the sport, play it.

Don’t worry about the details.

Don’t worry about anything.

If you love it, do it.

Compete and enjoy the process.

Don’t let others, including the adults, bring you down.

Play for the joy of playing. Find that joy you once experienced and find a way to live within that joy. Use it to fuel your performance. Use it to put on the blinders and play with the spirit of the game despite whatever crap swirls around you.

To all you young athletes on the fence about participating in a sport, this advice is for you. Like I’ve said many times, there’s no “I” in team, but there’s sure as hell is a “ME”.  Take care of your business, do your job, and don’t worry about the things you can’t control.

See? It’s pretty simple.

If you love playing a game, play it.

Play the game you love until somebody tells you that you can’t play anymore.

Good luck! Whatever your decision is, do it with confidence, do it with thought, and, most of all, do it with no regrets.

By The Library of Congress – Instilling love of the game early? https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51223119

 

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Competing: Part Three

Six Competitive Environment Necessities 

Establishing a culture of compete is the foundation for developing a successful program. You are dead in the water without this, especially if you can’t roll out superior athletes for each and every contest. Kids want to be part of something good. It’s a coach’s job to provide an atmosphere and environment of good.

1. I know this may sound simplistic but…

It’s more about ‘How are you doing?’s and ‘Hello’s than it is about Xs and Os.

2. Accountability

There must be an atmosphere where everyone from the head coach to the assistant coaches to the individual classes to the position groups to the managers to the kids holds one another accountable. On and off the field of play.

3. Trust

Before you drive a kid to get better, he or she must trust you have their best interest at heart. TRUST (in all caps)

4. Relationships

A coach can’t effectively yell at a kid they haven’t developed a relationship with. As one of my favorite coaching resources, Baseball Excellence, touts, “Don’t screech if you don’t teach.”

5. Humility

If you think you know everything, you know nothing. Check your ego at the door and do the work to improve yourself as a coach. And never be too proud to admit to your players you’re wrong or made a mistake. They know when you’re feeding them a line of bull because a bullshit meter is one of the greatest teenage powers.

6. Direction

There is great satisfaction in being part of a group working toward a common goal. HINT: The correct common goal is not “Winning”. The common goal that works for the long term is to do your job to the best of your ability every play, every day.

 

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Competing: Part Two

“Winning is not a sometime thing: it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do the right thing once in a while; you do things right all the time. Winning is a habit.”  -Vince Lombardi

 

This quote from Coach Vince Lombardi sat at the top of every Clay Center Community High School summer conditioning, winter conditioning, and baseball offseason workout sheet I put into the world. You want to know what sits at the core of my parenting, coaching, working, writing, and life philosophies? It’s pretty much all in that quote (Plus, I’d add “smile and try to be nice” in there somewhere).

If you’re a regular reader of The Coach Hays blog, you might wonder what sort of burr attached itself to Hays’ backside to get him so worked up about competing and winning and losing. I owe you at least that since you’re taking a few minutes of your valuable time to read this.

Here’s the deal. A week or so, I ran into a young man who is going to be a freshman next year. I asked him if he was excited about summer conditioning and being a part of the high school program. He said he was but that he was very nervous. I told him that was okay. It’s good to be nervous because it means you care enough to want to do a good job. He looked at me sideways and provided the classic and wise response of a rising eighth grader, “Whatever…”

I ignored the lack of enthusiasm in his response and continued on to ask how many in his class were going to play. He paused, counted the fingers on one hand and deftly moved to count the fingers on the other. Half expecting either the right shoe or the left to be shed next, he answered, “I think there’s only going to be about six.”

“SIX!” I responded.

He answered in the affirmative, although taking a step away from me slightly shocked at the intensity in my response.

I took a few deep breaths and asked him why so few.

For the record, I can live with just about any excuse for not wanting to play a sport or participate in an activity. Everyone has their own interests, likes, and dislikes. Football, especially, is not for everyone. I’m honestly and truthfully a supporter of kids doing what they enjoy. If there are only six kids who want to do the work and enjoy playing the game the right way, so be it. But this excuse I heard sucked the life out of me.

“They don’t want to lose.”

It made my coaching heart hurt to hear this.

What was left out of the youth sports experience for these kids? Did they not experience or learn the joy of sports lies in the joy of competing? Where is the system did they not learn that failure is part of becoming a “winner”.

I thought of all the things I’d do if I were their coach. I thought of the quote from Vince Lombardi for the first time in several years. I thought of the years coaching and the fun we had competing and preparing. I thought of all those football and baseball games where we went into the contest knowing we always had a chance for success because we prepared the best we could.

Somewhere along the line, did these kids miss playing in such an environment? If so, I don’t know where or when or who. It doesn’t matter. There are no fingers that need to be pointed. All that matters is these situations is that it can be changed in an instant. A coach or a parent or a program director can change the philosophy from a pure win/lose focus to one where the focus in on getting better every day by being challenged every day.

Failure is all part of the process of achieving success. Dream big, fail, regroup, work, and try again. Repeat until you succeed and then dream bigger.

My hope and my expectation are that these dozen or so young athletes will eventually change their mind and continue to participate in football next fall. My advice to them is to give it a try and get past the fear of the unknown that comes with a big life change from middle school to high school.

Coaches, parents, and athletes. It’s up to you to make things better.

Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing.

You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do the right thing once in a while; you do things right all the time.

Winning is a habit.

Develop good habits and good things will happen. Keep the focus on improvement, not W’s and L’s. In the end, if you learn just this one thing from sports, you will be a winner…no matter what your won-loss record was.

Hard work is the magic.

 

 

 

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Competing: Part One

Something’s been bugging me lately. On the surface, it’s sports related. Scratch the surface, though, and it seeps into many problematic areas of American life in 2019. Sports, academics, parenting, politics, etc.

Competing.

  • Trying hard things.
  • Challenging yourself and accepting being challenged.
  • Winning.
  • Losing.
  • More important, winning and losing with class and respect for the opponent.

I’m calling this post “Competing: Part One” because I foresee several posts on this subject. I think I have things to say, things to work out, things to question, and things to learn. To kick off this exploratory project of the problem of competing, here is a post I wrote in 2013.

When Everyone Wins, Nobody Wins

There’s a trend in amateur sports which threatens a healthy future and perhaps even their survival as we know them. This disturbing trend is the misconception that competing means winning.

Behind this philosophy, we are eroding the joy in competing. We are smashing the inherent joy of working hard for a goal, by lowering the bar to give everybody the “win”. We continually are diluting the competitive structure to allow the most winners. Let’s hand out a ribbon to everybody, whether they earned it or deserved it. That’s unhealthy.

ribbons

One of my favorite movies is THE INCREDIBLES. One of the best lines in the movie is when the antagonist, Syndrome, tells Mr. Incredible he is creating superpower technology he’ll eventually sell to normal people. Syndrome says, “When everyone’s super, no one will be.”

Is that where we are going? Are we headed in the direction where only winning matters, so we need to make sure we create a system where everyone wins? That, my friends, is not a system which promotes the values and life lessons intended by sport. Teamwork flies out the door and the disciplined and dedicated approach to self-improvement soon follows. The reward for preparation is severely discounted. Using failure, or the potential of failure, to drive a desire to improve is swept under the rug.

Honestly, most of the true innate joy in sports is in competing. The joy of competing is in the working of one’s tail off to get better day after day in practice. The joy is in the going out on the field to give every last milligram of fight and intensity to compete with purpose, pride, and passion, win or lose. That’s what competing is.

Wins and losses will fall where they may, the competitive effort awards the athlete to a higher degree than any medal or trophy or ribbon. In fact, as much can be learned about oneself from a defeat as from a victory. Three of the most talked about football games in our tenure (even years after the games were played) were against 4A state powerhouse Holton Wildcats. These three games were massive, epic battles, games which felt like two rams rearing back and hammering horns together for four quarters.

These boys, now men, still talk about those games with a gleam in their eye. Do you know the common factor in those three Holton games? We lost. We played out heart out, we fought against the odds, we ignored the preconceived notion we were underdogs and vastly over-matched. We still lost. We ENJOYED those games enough to remember every detail ten years later, despite the final score.

THAT is what I am afraid to lose as we slide down the gravel slope to the pit where competing = winning.

In fact, I felt we found out more about who we were as human beings in how we responded to a defeat. We found out so much about ourselves as players and coaches by how we picked ourselves up from the muck of failure and worked to become something better. And for us adults, who’ve survived our share of hardships in life, isn’t that a great lesson for young athletes to learn?

Athletes remember the competition. The defeats and the victories often fade over time, but that feeling of having competed to the maximum of one’s abilities leaves a trail of satisfaction and has staying power.

As parents, coaches, and administrators let’s turn the tide, let’s once again turn our focus to the promotion of competition, instead of a focus on winning. We don’t need to eliminate losing. We don’t need to a ribbon or a trophy to be a winner.

We need the joy of competing to the best of our ability to make us winners.

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