Category Archives: Training

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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Getting Better: Extended Arms Baseball Swing

I’m not actively coaching a team but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped learning as a coach. An athlete and a coach should never stop striving to be better. Getting better every day has been a foundation of my sports philosophy from the time I first learned what a philosophy was. In other words, a long time.

One of the positive side effects of a “Get Better Every Day” philosophy is it often bleeds over into other aspects of life. Family, work, hobbies, etc. all fall under this way of approaching life.

If you’re not getting better, what are you getting?

If you’re not moving forward, you are sliding backward.

Even though I’m not actively coaching, I still try to learn as much as I can about the two things in sports I truly love. Hitting a baseball and blocking in football.

I subscribe to more email coaching newsletters that I’m willing to publicly admit. One of those, though, is a newsletter from Baseball Rebellion. I like their website. I like their approach. I like the scientific slant they use to teach baseball. It’s not overly technical. They use it to explain not overwhelm. Honestly, it’s kind of a baseball nerd’s dream.

This week’s newsletter featured their Ball in Back Arm Drill. The video is below.

We taught, and continue to teach, the importance of a short, powerful swing. Arm extension prior to the bat head driving into the contact zone results in loss of swing power. I have a trusted toolbox of drills to teach a tight front arm angle, fence swings, knee tee, front hand swings, bat throw, a consistent focus on pulling the bat through the zone instead of pushing the bat through the zone, etc. What I don’t have are solid developmental drills to help cure another common technical error in young hitters, the straight extension of the back arm.

Signs of swinging with an extended back arm are:

  1. Slow, wide swing arc.
  2. Swinging “over” the ball.
  3. Majority of contact results in weak ground balls to the opposite field.
  4. Rolling over (where the top hand moves over the bottom hand prior to contact).

These symptoms of extended arms on a swing are probably things you see a lot if you’re coaching or parenting the transition from coach/machine pitch to kid pitch. If so, do the work, find solutions, and put your kids through the drills to break this habit before it affects their ability to hit a baseball as they grow and mature. (And remember that one of the top reasons kids quit playing baseball is the game becomes no longer fun because they can’t hit a baseball.)

I’m going to do some work on the Ball in Back Arm Drill. I’ll do some more reading. I’ll get the trusty old George Brett Lousiville Slugger out of the closet, grab a ball, and see how it works. If it looks promising, I’ll work it into some hitting sessions with several of our older kids who struggle with the extended back arm and then to some youth hitters. I’ll report back my findings at some point.

If you try this drill or have tried this drill, share your experience in the comments or send me a message. And please go check our Baseball Rebellion and Baseball Excellence. Two exceptional resources.

Life (and sport) is an experiment. Get out there and discover!

 

 

 

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Courage to Create

There are so many things one wants to tell young people. The well of advice from us older folks overflows and sometimes floods uncontrollably through and past the minds of our advice-targeted youth. I believe in the power of youth. I believe we can help them achieve great things if we have the discipline to allow them to grow into their potential.

I ran across this quote from Teddy Roosevelt this week in the Brain Pickings post, Theodore Roosevelt on the Cowardice of Cynicism and the Courage to Create Rather Than Criticize. 

The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twister pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt. There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect, than he who either really holds, or feigns to hold, an attitude of sneering disbelief toward all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, comes to second achievement.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat…

The man who does nothing cuts the same sordid figure in the pages of history, whether he be a cynic, or fop, or voluptuary. There is little use for the being whose tepid soul knows nothing of great and generous emotion, of the high pride, the stern belief, the lofty enthusiasm, of the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder.

This piece from President Roosevelt’s 1910 speech is timeless. It’s an important piece for both the young and the old. We need to strive to be the best we can be. We need to strive for greatness instead of limiting achievement with the ceiling of cynicism and status quo.

There is no glory in being the best by trouncing on heads of others.

TR may have said it best, “The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer.”

Stand out by standing up. Be a positive force. Dare to be great and then go be great!

Hard work is the magic.

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The Bubba Conundrum

I’m a big boy. A lineman for life. “Husky” was my Sears Toughskin categorization as a kid. I loved coaching the big boys of the offensive and defensive line in my football coaching days. Loved it.

We called ourselves the “Bubbas”. The running backs/defensive backs were called “Bullets”. The TE/linebacker-types were the “Bricks”. Everybody belonged to a group, everybody in each of those groups trained differently in our strength and conditioning program.

I almost blew a gasket recently when I heard of a coach telling a big boy lineman he wouldn’t be much use to the team next fall unless he got into better shape. First, I hate this approach, especially with a Bubba. It’s tough growing up a big boy in a skinny boy world. When one tells a big boy the above criticism, what he hears is something he’s probably heard over and over in his entire life—that he’s fat, lazy, and/or of little value— instead of hearing that he needs to be in better shape. Second, the above criticism from the coach is delivered with no plan of action.

The young athlete was knocked into a dark pit by someone he probably respects and not given any plan or tools for climbing out. Modern coaches and parents need to be more positive in these situations. Point out to the athletes they’d perform at a higher level if they were in better condition AND then give them a vision of how we’re going to accomplish this. (The WE part of the equation is very important.)

The conditioning requirements for high school football players are different for the Bubbas, the Bricks, and the Bullets. The specific work/recovery demands require specific considerations for each group of players. Even the casual high school football fan realizes the differences in physical demands between an offensive guard and a wide receiver on any given play. The lineman’s job and the wide receiver’s job both use the burst energy supplied by the anaerobic energy systems but in different ways. The lineman is using power over speed. The wide receiver uses the opposite, speed over power. Power/Speed vs. Speed/Power

A high school football play lasts only 5.6 +/- 2.0 seconds according to a study published in 2006. The NFHS play clock is 25 seconds. Adding the variable length of time it takes for the ball to be marked and set before the play clock is started, the total time between plays is about 45 seconds. I know what you’re saying, “This Hays guy is such a geek. I just want to play football and hit people. I don’t care about math or physiological energy systems. Where’s my dang helmet?”

My answer is this, you don’t have to care. Not really. But, as a strength and conditioning coach, I HAVE to care. I HAVE to design training regimens that give you the best chance to perform and “hit people” like a cannon shot each and every play of a four-quarter high school football game. I HAVE to consider these geeky physiological demands in order to give you the power you need.

5.6 +/- 2.0 seconds work followed by 40 seconds rest.

Why share these seemingly trivial numbers? No, I don’t give you these numbers so you know there’s about 40 seconds to run to get a bag of popcorn without missing any action. I emphasize these numbers because everything we need to do to prepare our Bullets, our Bricks, and our Bubbas to perform needs to revolve around this conditioning ratio. About 8 seconds of intense work, followed by 40 seconds rest.

Sprints, lifts, med ball slams, swings, pull-up, sled pulls/drives, agility drills, etc. all should follow fairly close to this timing 75-80% of total training time. The wide receiver’s plan would include a high percentage of the speed-building exercises. The offensive guard’s plan would include a high percentage of the power-building exercises. The remaining 20% or so would be developing general fitness in order to support the basic foundation.

These methodologies are usually sufficient for the high school athlete. If athletes move up to high levels, the college or professional level, the methodologies become even more personalized and intricate.

Bottom line, give your big kids a solid plan. Instead of straight up criticism, give them a goal. Give them the tools they need to attain the goal and give them the support they’ll need along the way. Every football team is built on the backs of the big boys. You better figure out how to deal with them and understand their needs if you want to be successful.

Respect your big boys! #BubbaForLife!

 

 

 

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Lipstick on a Pig

One of my coaches from way back in the day used to have this saying about trying to be too flashy with your game. “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”

Although I’ve never attempted to put any kind of makeup on swine, I understand the basic meaning of this old piece of wisdom. I’ve particularly become well-tuned to the spirit in this saying since I’ve become a sports coach.

To begin with, I think it’s all about being who you are as a coach, a player, or a program. Avoid trying to be something else. Be proud and be the best version of you that you can be. Strive to reflect this in everything you do.

I also think “Lipstick on a pig” means something that should be very important to a coach. The focus on the core goals of the program. As a coach, there is a fundamental need to focus on the important things—those things your program needs to succeed. Outside of this core mission, all else sits on the periphery.

Everything has to have a purpose and a meaning that’s all about the mission. A coach needs to keep everyone in the program riding the purpose and meaning tracks to the goal.

Unfortunately, in today’s environment, there are a host of distractions waiting to put lipstick on your pig. There are well-meaning distractions from parents and fans that pull the coaches and the players away from the goals. There are also the not-so-well-meant distractions by parents and fans which completely derail the program and make achieving any positive steps virtually impossible.

And as coaches, we often distract ourselves. We do things for the sake of doing things. We run schemes and shifts and motions without a hint of the purpose to gain information. We invest time and energy in shiny, new things, that provide little or no value to the goal.

Coaches, take a minute, step back from the program, and have an honest look at it.

  • What kind of distractions keep you from your core mission?  
  • What external distractions suck your time and energy and resources from where they need to be invested?
  • Are you spending more time running outside activities that detract from your program?
  • Is your training program laser-focused? Is every lift, run, jump, throw, sprint, and movement done with a sense of purpose in mind?
  • Is your philosophy consistent with your actions?

Coaches, in short, take a look at everything you do and identify where you’re wearing out that container of lipstick. Find out where you’re taking care of things not associated with your core goal. Everything needs to have a purpose. If it doesn’t, get rid of it. Those things are not worth the expenditure of effort and energy.

Never lose sight of the prize. Keep your focus, your performance, and your program on task. Don’t allow distractions to derail you from the track of success.

Putting lipstick on your pig may make for a fancy pig, but after everything is said and done, that pig is still a pig.

Develop a goal.

Develop a plan.

Do the work.

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Jump Higher?

Whether sports or academics or work or just being a good American citizen, we eventually come to obstacles standing in the way of our goals. When these challenges appear and make our path difficult, how do we react?

Do we lower the bar to make things “easy”?

Or do we work to jump higher?

Look around at America in 2018. We are adjusting bars lower and lower when we should be working in every facet to jump higher. We’ve forgotten something very important. The value of failure. Maybe even worse, we’ve developed a systemic fear of failure.

Why in this day of age is failure still considered such a negative result? Why is the connotation with failing the equivalent of bulldozing our garbage into a big hole in the ground at the landfill and covering it up?

Does failure = forgotten?

No!

Failure means you’re learning. Trying something hard and failing is a vital part of the development process. Everybody fails when you try to take your game to a higher level.

Everybody needs to lose every once in a while.

  • First, so that you learn that you don’t like failing.
  • Second, so you realize it takes work from you to overcome the hurdles in your life.  

The Fail Cycle. I am a believer in it.

Challenge. Attempt. Fail. Regroup.Train. Succeed. Repeat.

Look around, though. Take a good look at our expectations, especially those on our young people. Instead of rising to our challenges, aren’t we continually lowering the bar to decrease the possibility of failure? These kids are the ones we are going to need to fix the messes we are currently piling up. Their future will require great resolve and skill to successfully navigate the hurdles of the future. Our kids need us to buck up and help them develop this resolve and skill.

Why aren’t we teaching ourselves or our kids to jump higher?

Shouldn’t we be developing the mental, physical, and emotional muscle to reach the bar instead of lowering it? I’m not saying we need to go “Bear Bryant Junction Boys” off-the-deep-end, but we do need to quit lowering expectations. We need to figure out better ways to train them to jump higher.

I was watching Alabama’s championship game with Georgia when this thought first popped into my head. What about Nick Saban’s successful program results in consistently high performance? Maybe they cheat? Maybe they have some sort of unfair advantage? I don’t know.

But I do know one thing from studying highly and consistently successful teams. It’s about organizational expectations. The most successful organizations have developed a culture based on forcing their players (and coaches) to jump higher instead of lowering bars. The “next man up” better be ready to go or the guy behind him gets his chance. 

Keep your bars raised high and realistic. Establish a leveled-goal system. Work to attain a goal and then step up to the next level.

Jump higher!

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Shining Eyes

It’s not often a sports-crazed blog writer gets the opportunity to quote a conductor in a post. But what Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, says about defining his job is and how he gauges his successes and failures is important. Very important advice to being an effective leader. It basically is a two-step process.

  • Trust is the first step.
  • Shining eyes are the second.

If you spend time in a leadership role as a coach, teacher, mentor, librarian, or any supervisory position, I hope you can take away something from Zander’s wisdom and experience.

Trust

You have to trust the people you are leading. You trust them not by mere faith alone but through preparation and practice. You need to sell them on your vision. Have a well-designed plan and know what you want to accomplish as the leader. Now, go and get them to believe in your plan and in your philosophy.

“It’s one of the characteristics of a leader that he not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he’s leading to realize whatever he’s dreaming. Imagine if Martin Luther King had said, ‘I have a dream. Of course, I’m not sure they’ll be up to it.” ― Benjamin Zander, Conductor & Teacher

Shining Eyes

This is a product of passion. Humans, especially the teenage humans, have well-honed bullshit meters. They sense if a leader is simply going through the motions. The feel the energy and the passion if the leader radiates energy and passion in front of them. Zander may have put it best when he talks about making that connection as a conductor.

“My job was to awaken possibility in other people. I wanted to know if I was doing it. And you know how you find out? You look at their eyes. If their eyes are shining, you know you are doing it. If their eyes are not shining, you get to ask a question. And the question is this: Who am I being so that my players’ eyes are not shining? “ ― Benjamin Zander

Next time you are in front of a classroom, locker room, huddle, crowd, or even in a one-on-one conference, look at the eyes. Are the eyes shining? If so, congratulations! You have made an important connection as a leader. If not, try to figure out changes you can make in order to light up the eyes. The chance of a dream succeeding often relates directly to the number of shining eyes.

 

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