Category Archives: Training

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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R.I.P. Weighted Bat

Well, the weighted bat thing goes way back. Way back to the ankle weights and wrist weights days. The shorty shorts, the knee-high white tube socks and wide terry cloth head and wristbands days of old. Just as these signs of poor fashion judgment have gone by the wayside, it’s time for the weighted bat as a way of supercharging your bat speed to go away also.

To be more specific, it’s the weighted bat swing training in the cage or in batting practice that needs to go away and not necessarily the heavy bats themselves. A baseball or softball swing is not an equivalent movement to say a squat or a deadlift. The baseball swing is a much more complicated movement, an intricate sequential firing of small and large muscle groups from the trunk to the torso that generates force across a linear and rotational plane. This force culminates at the point where the barrel of the bat makes contact with the baseball and, if all goes right, the ball flies off the bat.

Swinging a heavy bat in bp or in the cage only throws off the balance of muscle coordination a hitter works so hard to develop. Somewhat of a surprise is training with a lighter bat also does significantly increase bat speed. This is a surprise since research supports this methodology in speed training and other similar specific sports skill development. Swinging a bat is a just too much of an intricate physical process.

It takes thousands of correct reps and drills to develop a nice swing. Timing and speed are much more important factors to develop in your swing rather than pure strength. Strength training for a baseball athlete starts with the lower body where explosive strength and flexibility are the keys and moves to the core muscles of the torso. A strong core is essential for any athlete because it acts as a chain to transfer the force generated in the lower body to the upper body. Without a strong core, the energy generated in the load and step portion of the swing is left in the lower body and doesn’t transfer to the bat.

(On a side note, a throwing athlete like a quarterback, a pitcher, or any other baseball position player, should avoid straight military presses or any shoulder weight training which promotes an unbalanced muscle support of the joint. The shoulder joint necessary for overhead throwing motion is susceptible to injury if there is not a balanced training of the muscles surrounding this complex anatomical joint. This subject is a pet peeve of mine in the high school weight rooms where the specific needs of the throwing athlete are often ignored. But THAT is another rant for another day.)

All that negative stuff said, I still like the weighted bat in the on-deck circle for a couple of reasons.

  1. Use the weighted bat or “donut” ring it to get loose with a routine of several windmills front and back using both left and right hands, followed by a side to side rotational stretch.
  2. Mental edge. In the research that showed the use of weighted bats to gain bat speed was false, it was also shown the batter perceived his swing was faster. After swinging a heavy bat, the hitter “felt” his swing was faster. Handling a weighted bat in the on-deck circle can trick your brain into thinking your actual bat is as light as a feather and your swing is lightning fast. I don’t know about you, but give me a shot of confidence in the on-deck circle any day.

Hopefully, as with the Bug Squish, we can put the myth of using the weighted or heavy bat to develop bat speed out to pasture. But unlike the Bug Squish, I think there is value to using a weighted bat or a “donut” weight in the on-deck circle.

And to repeat…

One of the best pieces of coaching advice I can offer is this: Do not simply teach sports skills or coach simply because that is the way you were coached. Times change. Do the work. Research and field testing are constantly making improvements to the what we understand about sports science. Technology gives us access to this information like never before.  Ask questions, search the web, watch coaching video, or attend clinics. Do whatever it takes to give your kids the tools they need to succeed. When the players find success, they enjoy the sport. When they enjoy the sport, you can get more out of them.

Everybody wins!

Next R.I.P topic? Swing repetitions! How many swings at a time is effective? How many is too many? The answers may surprise you.

By Ernest Lawrence Thayer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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R.I.P. Bug Squish

Squishing the bug.

Man, we used to teach this back in the day. Why? Lord knows!

Let’s squash the bug squish, once and for all. In 2017 terms and technology, it’s embarrassing to admit I fell under the spell of the bug squish back in the early 2000’s. The Load/Step/Swing philosophy of hitting I teach today used to be Load/Squish/Swing of yesterday. It’s crazy the way these things spread.

I don’t know how it happened, but the bug squish got out there in the world and people kept passing it along as the secret to good hitting. Looking back through the lens of speculation, it was probably a remnant of early video analysis or maybe just observation.

When you watch a good swing in real time, it looks like the back foot “squishes the bug”. It can be misinterpreted as this back foot, combined with the old school maxim of “pushing” off the back foot, made the outward twist of the batter’s heel look like the initiator of a good swing. It doesn’t though. The back foot twists after the swing starts and the movement of the force from the front foot strike to the hip rotation result in the back foot movement.

  • The Bug Squish screws up a proper and smooth weight transfer from the load to the step. It leaves too much weight on the back foot and results in a loss of force. And lost force = lost bat speed = not driving the ball on a line = not getting on base = making a lot of outs = not getting on base = not scoring runs = not winning games = NO FUN.
  • The Bug Squish screws up your balance. A good swing is built on the foundation of balance. Bad balance and you cannot build an effective or consistent swing.
  • The Bug Squish screws with a hitter’s mind. The hitter becomes so focused on what that back foot is doing, they don’t put all their focus on the ball.

No matter what the stance or the style, the best swings in the game all share the common factor of a good and consistent hitting position. Hitting position is the key. A simple lower body movement to get to hitting position only becomes a complex movement with the introduction of gimmick BS like the bug squish.

It’s 2017. It’s time to bury the bug squish for good. It’s time to look past these old sports coaching myths. It’s time to simplify hitting a baseball.

One of the best pieces of coaching advice I can offer is this: Do not simply teach sports skills or coach simply because that is the way you were coached. Times change. Do the work. Research and field testing and forward-thinking coaches are constantly making improvements to the what we understand about sports science. Technology gives us access to this information like never before.  

Ask questions, search the web, watch coaching video, or attend clinics. Do whatever it takes to give your kids the tools they need to succeed.

When the players find success, they enjoy the sport. When they enjoy the sport, you can get more out of them.

Everybody wins! Right, Crime Dog?

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Never Satisfied

The internal drive. That intrinsic motor that fuels your efforts.

It’s a blessing and a curse. A means of frustration and a means of fulfillment. It’s about never stopping your development and attacking life with the purpose of getting better every day.

Never stopping.
Never resting.
Only looking back to get better at moving forward.

It’s what a coach does. It’s what a player does. It’s what a parent does, a teacher does, a writer does, a “fill-in-the-blank-on-whatever-kind-of-person-you-are” does.

Or should do.

The greatest enemy of progress is not your opponent. Nor your talent. Nor your situation.

Your greatest enemy is complacency.

The biggest mistake you can make is thinking you are totally, completely, and absolutely 100% ready to roll. Resting on your laurels is a sham. I’ve seen many coaches and players fall victim to this.

I’ve done it more than I’d like to admit myself. It’s hard to admit or accept when your efforts aren’t cutting the muster. But you have to fight through complacency. The best person to motivate an improvement is you.

It’s been said, “You are only as good as your last game.” Meaning that you are only as good as your previous effort.
This is misleading.

You are only as good as you dare to be tomorrow.

If you didn’t push yourself today, resolve to do so tomorrow.

Never quit striving to be better.
Never settle.
Never be satisfied.

That, my friends, is a winner’s heart.

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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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