Category Archives: Training

An Oft Forgotten Aspect of Coaching

Yesterday I met with a football coach friend to show him a defensive line drill progression for the three-man sled from back in the day. The Quick Draw/Lockout Drill is a good drill that covers defensive line fundamentals from the ground up in 7-10 minutes of practice time. That’s a good thing because, as you’ve heard me rant about before, time is the currency of coaching. Time is valuable and shouldn’t be wasted with frivolity—unless that frivolity has a purpose, like a fun competition.

After I finished showing the coach the drill and talked about some other aspects of coaching the defensive line, I checked the list I had in my jean pocket. Surprisingly, I covered everything on my list. Even at 55 years of age and ten seasons out of football, I still had it.

Or so I thought.

An hour or so later back at home, I retrieved the list from my jeans pocket before throwing them in the dirty clothes basket. I sat down on the bed and read the list while my ego soared with my second old man memory victory of the day. (You people know, right? That situation where you get “notified” that the stuff you forget to take out of your pockets ended up lining the inside of the washing machine with annoying shreds of wet paper.) I folded the list with a satisfied smile and was placing it on the table when it hit me. In my coaching session, I forgot the single most important aspect of coaching sports drills.

Paying attention.

Specifically, paying attention to the form of each and every kid on each and every drill. Good stances, ball reaction, hand positioning, foot placement, arm lockout, hip into their gap, etc. My balloon of coaching pride burst. I had taught the basic steps of the drill to my friend but failed to include the most important piece of information to ensure success. Paying attention.

Paying attention and correcting is at the very heart of coaching a sport. Why do we practice and do drills? To get better, right? If I’m not paying attention to each and every kid on each and every rep with the sole mission to make that kid just a little bit better, then I’ve failed as a coach. Sure, I still have the title and the team shirt and my name in the game program, but if I’m not making my players better every single day with every single repetition, I am not coaching.

And if I’m not coaching a drill with the intent and purpose to get better…

I AM WASTING TIME!!!

Youth and high school sports are played by youth and teenagers. Youth and teenagers, as a general rule, do a pretty crappy job of squeezing the best out of every practice repetition. Given the opportunity, they will slack off. I was like that as a kid and I bet most of you were/are the same. Very few have the innate discipline to perform ten repetitions of a drill with the focus of improvement on each rep. That’s why they need coaches. To teach, push, and correct technique and skill. It’s the very heart and soul of what we do. 

And what did I say about time in the opening paragraph? Time is valuable. Practice time, preparation time, and game time are all fleeting and can’t be wasted. They are too valuable to waste talking to other coaches, worrying about the next thing on the to-do list, or just mentally relaxing while the players go through the motions.

I publicly apologize to my coaching friend. I let him down by leaving out the most important aspect of the drill, “Watch every defensive lineman like a hawk with every snap of the drill.”

Coaching is teaching.

Coaching is providing the environment for constant improvement.

Purpose. Pride. Passion. Performance.

Push them to get better one step at a time.

Every player gets better.

Every day.

By Snyder, Frank R. Flickr: Miami U. Libraries – Digital Collections [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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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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A 2019 Pocket Blessing

Numbers 6:22-26

The LORD said to Moses:
Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: This is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them:
The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!

Keep this verse from Numbers in your pocket, wallet, or purse throughout the new year, just like a poem on Poem In Your Pocket Day. Let it put a smile of your face and a spring in your step at times of greatest need. It’s a blessing of hope. It’s a blessing of support. It’s a promise from the Lord there will always be someone to have your back.

Have a prosperous 2019! Dream and let it fly.

Keep swinging even if you’ve just struck out four times in a row.

You can’t get a hit if you don’t swing.

 

 

 

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Quality is Job 1

Remember that advertisement by one of the major car manufacturing companies? It was an effective ad campaign for a corporation but plays an even more important role in coaching. In fact, it’s probably written at the top of page one of the Coaching Manual.

Quality.

It has to be at the forefront of everything you do as a program. Whether you’re talking football, baseball, basketball, softball, volleyball, etc. One of the major roles of a coach is to make sure things in the program are set up right, prepared right, and performed right.

As they say, the devil’s in the details. It’s up to the coach to make sure those details are done and done right. Who else is going to do it?

Since it’s football season and I’m an old line coach, I’ll go there. On the offensive and defensive line every detail counts. The footwork, the hip position, the hand position, are as important as the assignment and the alignment. The attention to these details from day one, workout one, practice one, game one to the end of the season is often the defining factor between a successful and a struggling program.

The quality of your position group should be a source of pride for any position coach in football. Win the game or lose the game, the position coach should walk off the field feeling he did the best he could preparing his players to play. That same coach should also make a promise to those same players to study the film and do the work necessary to improve. That’s what I mean by quality control.

When I left football coaching almost ten years ago, I thought the digital revolution would drastically lead to an improvement in the quality control department. And then when software, like HUDL, entered the scene, I have to admit I was a little jealous of the possibilities at the hands of the high school football coaches.

A funny thing has happened though, the exponential improvement in digital tools has not resulted in a parallel improvement in quality control. Technology is a tool. A tool is something you use to make things better. Each rep of each play of the game film should be viewed through a quality control lens. Every position on every play should be evaluated on the execution of the details. The details of why one play worked and why another failed. Break it down, plan the improvements, and then go out and teach them. That again. is what I mean by quality control.

Coaches, Quality is Job 1.

Your job is quality.

Don’t forget this.

Quality control. Every day, every play.

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