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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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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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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…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Wooden_hourglass_3

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Your Purpose 2Q

“Great dreams aren’t just visions, they are visions coupled to strategies for making them real.” – Astro Teller, X (formerly Google X)

Early in my football coaching career, probably my second or third year, I did one of the most asinine things I ever did as a coach. It was the first week of summer conditioning. A good part of the CCCHS summer conditioning program was my baby. It was a huge responsibility. It was a responsibility I did not take lightly. It was my primary purpose.

I did the work. All year. Researched, read papers, visited K-State Strength Coach Rod Cole, watched videos, etc. ad nauseum to 99.99% of the population. I tried to put together the best program for our kids with the equipment we had or what could be scrounged up or made by the wizard-skills of Coach Lane. It was, a vision coupled with a strategy.

  • Our purpose was to physically hit the opponent like a cannon shot every, single play.
  • Our strategy was to develop the explosive power necessary to generate the force to hit the opponent hard every, single play. In a nutshell, F = ma.

So, the plan was set. We had a good start to the first week. The kids had listened well and picked up on the plan. Sure, there was whining and moaning and even some groaning, but if you’re a coach and you’re not getting some of that appropriately directed complaining, you may reevaluate how you are challenging your kids. I was feeling good. I was riding high.

We show up for the Thursday workout. 6:30 AM. We go through warm-ups. The kids come into the weight room, split off in their Bullets, Bricks, and Bubbas groups, and get to work. Next came the asinine, Coach Hays incident. It started with an innocent tap on my shoulder. I turn and there stands an innocent, young freshman holding a half-inch stack of dot-matrix printer paper and looking down at the ground to avoid all eye contact.

“Yes?” I ask the young man.

He pushes the stack of papers toward me and mutters, “My mom told me I need to do this workout.”

“Oh, really.”

“Yeah, she found it on the internet.”

I nod and take the papers. With the young man still standing there, I take one step forward and ceremoniously drop the internet-found road to athletic glory into the trash receptacle. I then address the bug-eyed, jaw dropped to his navel, freshman.

“Tell your mother where your workout ended up”

He had that distinct look of someone who was about to pee their pants.

“Also, tell her we know what we’re doing. Now go get to work.”

He released a slow sigh of relief, smiled, and joined his workout group. Not a word was heard on that issue again.

Take-home lesson:

  • Have a purpose that is backed up by a solid plan.
  • TRUST the plan.
  • SELL the plan to your people.

Also, don’t be a jackass in the process…unless it’s totally necessary.

Great dreams need a vision.

Plate

Note: That young freshman turned out a pretty damn good athlete in the long run—even without the collective intellect of internet weightlifting workouts. Excellent football player, state-caliber wrestler, all-around good (and ornery) guy, and very successful adult family man/businessman.

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