Category Archives: Training

Live As If Your Players Are To Be Answered

I woke up this morning and stumbled bleary-eyed to the computer to check the latest numbers. No, not the 2020 Election numbers, the Kansas high school football playoff scores. 

When I opened up my laptop, my email program greeted me with its usual, “Hello, Hays. Here are your morning distractions!” On top of the inbox was one of my favorite daily emails, the American Football Monthly (AFM) Daily Newsletter. Today’s newsletter was titled, “How To Build A Winner”. I perked up. Everybody wants to win, right? Here’s a football coaching golden ticket!

I opened the email. The first thing to catch my eye was the AFM Daily Quote. In bright red font, it read, 

“Live as if your prayers are to be answered.” -Unknown

Fantastic life advice! One of those inspirational quotes to add to the bulletin board of quotes. Dream. Prepare. Be ready.

It would be nice to end it there but I have to be honest. I was, as I said, bleary-eyed while reading the AFM newsletter. My mind was focused on the “How To Build A Winner” article potential. My mind was on championships, plaques, trophies, being carried off the field by my adoring players…

Okay, okay. Back to reality.

I read the quote as, “Live as if your players are to be answered” instead of, “Live as if your prayers are to be answered.” 

One letter makes a big difference. I laughed off my error and clicked the link for the article. Then it struck me. That mistaken quote might just be the actual key to developing a successful program. That change in one letter can philosophically change an entire program. A coach should live as if their players are to be answered. Everything a coach does, from planning to development to schemes, needs to be done to provide an environment to allow the players to improve and give them a fighting chance to succeed.

No matter what a coach’s coaching style, he or she must have this basic relationship with their athletes. There must exist the understanding that the coach works toward answering their players’ needs. This is the trust that drives successful programs. This is the contract sealed by hard work and preparation to achieve a common goal. 

The players can trust the coach.  The coach can trust the players. It’s a two-way street.

If you want to know what the “How To Be A Winner.” AFM post said, check it out for yourself. I highly recommend signing up for the free daily AFM Newsletter. It’s great football nerd material that’s definitely worth your time.  

If you want a simple philosophy for turning your program around and developing better relationships with your players, then “Live as your players are to be answered.”

Who knows? Maybe your prayers will be answered.

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Walking Through Your Door

In professional football, a team of scouts determines which athletes from a pool of thousands of athletes fit into their team’s systems and they draft them. In college, coaches scour the region and the entire nation to find athletes that fit into their systems. In high school, however, most schools draw student-athletes from a fixed region. 

The smaller the school, the smaller the pool.

“Duh,” you might be saying to me right now. I know it sounds obvious but it means a lot for a high school football coach. It changes the way a high school coach must operate. It means you have to design and run a program with the ability to change as your talent pool changes. And your talent pool will change. 

You have to coach the kids who walk through your door.

Period. End of story.

This is where the work comes in. This is where it’s important to develop multiple packages in your offensive and defensive playbooks. It’s important to have the tools available to fit the pegs of multiple shapes into the proper hole instead of trying to force a square peg to fit into your fixed, round hole.

Coach the kids who walk through your door. Give those kids the best chance they have to compete. It’s not about the coach; it’s about coaching the kids. As I’ve said more than a few times before, the word “coach” is more of a verb than a noun. 

Develop a program and a philosophy with the power to adjust to your current athletes. Put your ego in your back pocket and get to work. Study your incoming athletes. Study high school programs you respect, study college and pro games on TV or in person. Do the work and make the preparations.

Sounds like a lot of work? I’m not going to lie. It is a lot of work. A whole lot of work. But, it’s a good kind of work. Rewarding work. Work that makes a difference in young men’s lives. Work that establishes relationships with your players. That, my coaching friends, is the Golden Ticket of coaching.

Do the work.

Load up your coaching toolbox.

Coach the kids who walk through your door.

Inside those doors is the Packer locker room - Picture of Lambeau Field,  Green Bay - Tripadvisor

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New Year, New You (Athlete Edition)

The New Year, New You (Athlete Edition) is the final part of a three-part series about improvement as we turn the calendar on a new year and a new decade. It’s short and sweet and to the point. Here are the links to the Coaching Edition and the Sports Parent Edition if you’re interested.

This one is simple. If you want to be better, do the work.

Aspire. Set a goal. Do the work. Fail. Do more work. Achieve. Repeat.

Trust in yourself and in your dreams. If you love a sport, play it until you can’t. Enjoy playing and participating. Please, if you are miserable playing and don’t enjoy any part of a sport, find something else to do with your time that you do enjoy. Don’t play a sport to make somebody else happy.

Learn to derive self-satisfaction and celebrate your accomplishments no matter if you’re all-world or fifth string. You are out there every day. 

Filter out negativity from peers, teammates, and/or adults. You can do this, people!

It’s a new year. It can be a new you if you want it to be.

Find a goal. Find support. Find a way. Find the will to do the work and you’ll find the magic.

Good luck to all athletes in 2020 and beyond.

New year, new you. 

 

 

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New Year, New You (Sports Parent Edition)

Oh, parents, we are ruining youth sports. 

Every level.

Everywhere.

Every day.

The adults are making the players not want to play, coaches to not want to coach, and officials not want to officiate anymore. That’s sad, people. 

I don’t know all the reasons. I don’t know all the justifications behind the behaviors. I just know we adults are strangling youth sports by making them into something they are not…mini professional sports.

Fixing this requires a fresh approach at the grassroots of the youth sports system. Changing parent behavior. 

New year, new sports-parenting outlook.

The Three Breathe Rule.

  1. Breathe in. Tell yourself, “Follow my kids lead.” Breathe out.
  2. Breathe in. Tell yourself, “I can’t want this more than my kid does.” Breathe out.
  3. Breathe in. Tell yourself, “It’s a game.” Breathe out.

Repeat as needed until your focus is back on the important task at hand, being your child’s biggest fan.

The Three Breathe Rules

“Follow my kids lead.” 

Pay attention to what your child is doing. If they are having a good time and enjoying the sport, let them. If they are not having a good time nor enjoying the sport, let them find one they will enjoy and have a good time playing. The future success we all dream about for our kids will only happen in a positive fashion if the kid develops the internal drive to do the work.

“I can’t want this more than my kid does.”

This is a big one. It’s not about you. Swallow your ego. Place your pride in Johnny someday winning the Super Bowl into a trunk, lock it, and bury it six feet underground. If by chance, Johnny does someday win the Super Bowl, you can dig up that trunk and display your pride for the whole world to see. Until then, don’t add the pressure of ungodly expectations upon your young athlete. 

“It’s a game.”

No need for explanations here. It is what it is. A game. 

These three rules helped me through years of coaching baseball and football and youth basketball. I think they can also help a parent enjoy the youth sports process while their kids enjoy participating in them. At least that’s my hope for the future. I love youth sports. From the playground to the sandlot to the driveway to the local stadiums and fields, sports are great and awesome things. Let’s not ruin them.

If you’re having trouble as a sports parent, I understand. I’ve been a bad and a good sports parent. We’ve all made mistakes. Let’s work in 2020 to make fewer sport-parent mistakes. 

New year, new you. We can do this.

If you missed part one of this series, New Year, New You (Coaching Edition), you can find it here.

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt via Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

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New Year, New You (Coaching Edition)

(Note: This is the 450th post on The Coach Hays blog. You would have thought I’d run out of stupid things to say around post #10, right? Thank you for reading and for your encouragement. As always, feel free to comment or share. Sports are awesome things that provide joy to our lives.)

A new, clean and fresh calendar stares you in the face. So much hope. So much optimism. This version says “2020” and it’s a whole new decade of promise. As a coach, what are you going to do? Do you feel confident in what you’re doing as you look at those blank future pages on the calendar? Are you concerned? 

If you’ve been successful, is what you’ve done good enough for continued success? If you’ve been banging your head against the wall and struggling with your program, are you taking the hard look internally and committing to making changes?

I hope every coach, at every level of a program, takes the time to assess everything you’ve been doing. Weigh every detail for its value and its contribution to making your team and each of your players better every single day of the year.

Former Nebraska coaching legend, Tom Osborne, had a quote about how everybody wants to win, it’s in our human nature. The difference, he said, was in who has the willingness to do the work and dedicate themselves to become better. Everybody wants to win but the difference is in who is willing to do the work. 

Winners do the things losers will not do.

This time of year for football coaches is generally the time of the year to evaluate and learn. There’s the bowl season, the NFL playoffs, the time to read the coaching literature, and there are the coaching clinics.

I used to tell our football players at the beginning of every summer conditioning session that we could stack offensive, defensive, and training manuals and playbooks to fill the entire weight room. There’s so much good information and creativity available to football coaches out there it is mind-boggling. I would tell our kids that what we are doing in our program for that summer and that season is what we believe is the best for them. 

I didn’t tell them the hours spent researching and reading and studying that went into planning a season. The kids don’t need to know that. They don’t really care. All they care about is the hope that the coaching staff is giving them their best shot at being the best athlete they can be. 

Coaches, new year, new you.

Look at everything you are doing, especially at the high school level. Ask yourself if what you are doing is the absolute best that you can do for the particular group of athletes walking through your door in 2020. If you’re doing what you’ve always done, the same way it has always been done because that is what you are comfortable with, you are failing your athletes. One thing that always grated on my nerves was the adherence to the strict legacy of the past. I called it “We do things THIS way because that’s what the Bear (Coach Bear Bryant) said to do.” syndrome.

Don’t get stuck in the coaching rut of rigidly sticking to an offense or defense run by a college program or another highly successful high school program. Remember, YOUR KIDS ARE NOT THEIR KIDS. Colleges recruit specialize talents into their system and most high schools don’t have that luxury. Your kids are the ones who walk through your door every day. 

Take bits and pieces from what you’ve done in the past and combine it with new ideas and concepts to take advantage of the incoming combination of skills and talents. Pay attention to everything at a coaching camp or clinic but pick out the things you feel can work for your program. Understand the fundamentals of what others are doing and avoid trendy sugar coatings. 

(True story. At the 2008 Kansas State coaching clinic, the keynote speaker was Kansas high school coaching legend, Roger Barta. I was stoked to hear his talk as I’d studied things he did at Smith Center with the belly offense for several years. At every coaching clinic, there’s something you see. The young bucks. The young coaches who strut around the clinic in their matching program gear and throw all the current and trendy buzzwords around in their every conversation. The crowd settles and anticipates the magic bullet of success from Coach Barta, the coach is introduced and walks on stage to an overhead projector and a marker. He begins to outline 36 points of what he considers are key to his success. I still have those notes. In my opinion, Coach Barta’s talk was pure gold. I also have the memory of a high percentage of those young buck coaches either getting up and leaving after a few minutes to hit the lunch buffet line again or are not even paying attention and are talking in small groups in the audience. There was no magic bullet so they quit being interested. They missed a treasure trove of fundamental information on coaching, scheme, program building, and life because it wasn’t trendy or flashy or loaded with bells and whistles. I still wonder, even after all these years, how many of those young bucks are still coaching and if they learned there are no magic coaching bullets or what kind of success they enjoyed in their career.)

Mold and create something that fits your current athletes. You wouldn’t wear Urban Meyer’s suit around as is if he sent you one, would you? No, you’d tailor it to fit yourself properly or else you’ll look silly wearing Urban Meyer’s ill-fitting suit. That’s what coaching is about. Finding the best fit for your current athletes and teaching them to perform it to the best of their abilities. Even your traditional, hang-your-hat on facets of your program can be tailored to the players on your practice field every day.

Don’t be afraid to create.

Be willing to tweak and change.

Do the work. Your athletes deserve it.

Learn and grow. Your athletes deserve it.

Coaching becomes exponentially more enjoyable and interesting that way.

Everybody comes out at least a little bit ahead.

New year. New you.

Good luck coaches in 2020! Have a great year!

 

 

 

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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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All the answers

I was probably a nightmare of a kid to coach. No, I wasn’t a behavior problem. No, I wasn’t an attendance problem. No, I wasn’t a bad influence. In short, I was not in any way, shape, or form Kelly Leak from the Bad News Bears. My problem was that I wanted to have a sense as to why we were doing the things we did.

Why did we have to stand around for 2/3 of practice instead of doing something?

Why did we do basketball shooting drills where almost all the shots we practiced were shots we would never shoot in a game?

Why didn’t we occasionally pass when we had a speed advantage and the defense stacking 9 in the box against our wishbone offense?

Why?

Why?

Why?

Of course, I never said these things to my coaches. I just thought about them. And if I couldn’t work out an answer, my interest and enthusiasm waned. I turned into a sports zombie merely going through the motions on a day to day basis.

I learned a good lesson from these experiences. Experiences that I incorporated years later from day one in my accidental coaching career. That lesson?

If you want everybody on the same page, everybody needs to know what page it is and what’s on that page.

I probably learned this from my earliest football experiences. I was fortunate to play CYO football for Don Stump, whose son was in my grade at Christ The King school. Mr. Stump worked as an administrator at the local community college at the time but had a long career teaching and coaching high school football. Dave Palcher, the assistant coach, was our line coach. Both men told us what we were doing and why we were doing it in a simple and clear manner. Mr. Palcher was especially good with us linemen. Using only an ancient, stuffed, probably about fifth hand blocking dummy, he taught us the importance of why we need to put our foot here and our helmet there and keep the feet moving each and every practice. The basics taught in those blocking and tackling drills still live in my head today. Those “why”s and “how”s still survive in my head today and were a part of every practice I coached.

The bottom line is: Players (and fellow coaches!) are more locked in when they know the basic information of why you’re doing what you are doing. Locked in players (and coaches!) buy into their roles and take more pride in their jobs.

Today, probably more than ever, kids crave answers. In sports, they want to know if the things you are asking them to do matter. No, you don’t have to justify everything you do as a coach but you do need to communicate the reasoning behind your choices. The players need to know you’re not wasting their time. Time is precious even to a teenager. 

A coach doesn’t need the perfect answer during a timeout with 1:30 left on the clock and your defense trying to protect a four-point lead against an opponent with all the momentum on their side. During that timeout, the coach must provide an answer. The players need it. They need an answer they can grab ahold of and rally behind. As I said, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be logical, presented with complete confidence, and be something besides, “TRY HARDER!!!!”

Want to be a more effective coach?

Share information.

Put everyone on the same page. And keep them there.

Respect the players in your program enough to allow them into the hive mind.

Maybe most important, know why you are doing what you do. Everything you do must have a purpose. Don’t do something just because a book, video, or that college coaching camp you went to last year told you to. Do everything with a purpose for your players and your program.

You should know and be able to communicate that purpose within the organization.

If you can’t write down a specific purpose or goal of everything you do on and off the field, either do the research to figure out why or toss it. Don’t just tell your noseguard he has A-gap. Tell your noseguard he has to get his hip into A-gap and lockout square not allowing a single, double, or triple-team block to move you out of that gap YOU OWN.

Players in your program might not be Rhodes Scholars, but they aren’t stupid. Trust them and they’ll trust you. Before they buy into what you are trying to do, they need to know what they’re buying. Knowledge is power—and powerful.

Never forget, if you want everybody on the same page, everybody needs to know what page it is and what’s on that page.

 

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