Tag Archives: Coaching Philosophy

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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Imperial March Mode

There are hundreds of different high school offensive and defensive schemes in the football world. I could stack coaching books from floor to ceiling and still probably not have all of them covered. It’s a creative game that has been infused with the intellect and talent of decades upon decades of innovators who changed the game.

Contrary to popular belief, though, scheme really doesn’t matter as much as execution in high school football. Actually, it’s more about how a team executes its scheme than the scheme itself. This, as much as raw talent, is what separates high school football teams.

I was (and still am for the most part) a relatively mild-mannered individual. But when it comes time for the competition, things change. The attitude changes, the approach changes, and my goal is to create chaos. Create chaos by playing in Imperial March mode.

Imperial March mode?

Darth Vader mode.
Dressed in black, take no prisoners mode.
In your face from all directions, steamroller mode.

Play simple. Play fast.
Play hard. Hit harder.
Again and again and again.

Intensity to the umpteenth power.
Control the line of scrimmage by storm and swarm.
The sound of collisions audible from the stands.

An attack force distinguished only by a jersey number and performance.
If we’re the favorite, destroy the opponents hope.
If we’re the underdog, be like David and go after their Goliath.

Get the picture?
Imperial March.
Our empire ALWAYS strikes back.

Now that’s an entry!

 

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The Best Decision I Hated

After high school baseball practice my first spring as a Rule 10 coach in 2000, I dropped off a book to newly promoted head football coach Paul Lane and assistant football coach Matt Brenzikofer as they talked outside Coach Lane’s classroom. The book was COMPLETE CONDITIONING FOR FOOTBALL by Mike Arthur and Brian Bailey. I’d bought the book several years earlier both for personal enjoyment/education and to help a high school kid I knew to get in football shape and to convince him to play the game. 

Out of the blue a few weeks later, Coach Lane and Coach Brenz stop me after baseball practice. I thought he was just going to hand back my book with that “go away, kid” dismissal one would expect from Nick Saban or Jim Harbaugh. As I mentally prepared to take the book back, say as few words as possible, and slink out the door trying to save a little face, Coach asked if I wanted to be a freshman coach and strength & conditioning coordinator.

I froze.

He asked me if I knew what was in the copy of my book he waved in front of me and if I knew how to implement any of it. I nodded yes. He said that I was the guy then. I told him I didn’t know anything about coaching football. He smiled and said something along the lines that I would surprise myself what I knew and how I could teach the game of football.

After a little wrangling at work to rearrange my schedule to a 6:30 AM to 2:45 PM work day, followed by an eat-your-lunch-while-driving-back-for 3:30 practice trip from MHK to CC, I took the job.

Being a Rule 10 baseball and football coach was one of the top 5 greatest decisions I ever made.

After a summer of winging it through a successful inaugural summer conditioning program, August rolled around and time for football. I was assistant freshman coach to Eric Burks and I am very grateful and very lucky to have started coaching football with him. What little football knowledge I had was on the offensive side of the ball, mainly blocking and running the ball. That was what I had my heart set on coaching for the freshman. Coach Burks had spent several years as varsity defensive coordinator and was now down at the freshman level. On our first meeting to plan the freshman program, he asked me what I wanted to coach.

I said “offense” before he even had a chance to finish his sentence. He looked at me. He smiled. He said that he thought he’d like to do offense because it would be invigorating to change sides of the ball. To his credit, he still gave me the choice. Me! The newbie idiot who knew only enough football to fill Coach Burks’s left pocket.

I thought about it.

I remembered the lessons my parents taught me about starting at the bottom of the ladder and working your way up. Keep your head down and your nose to the grindstone. I thought about Coach Burks. He was very excited about being able to dust off his offensive football coaching skills. I admit it now, I was scared. I didn’t know defensive fronts from storm fronts. I didn’t know the first, the second, or the last thing about secondary coverage schemes. Blitzes might have just as well have been spritzes. I was clueless. I was scared to fail.

Even though it went completely against my heart. Even though I knew it would knock me completely out of my comfort zone. Even though I knew I could completely look like a fool in front of my adopted hometown, I made the decision to be the freshman defensive coach.

Turns out, it was the best decision I’ve ever hated in my life.

I hit the books. I knew I couldn’t fall flat on my face. I couldn’t risk being the sore thumb which stood out on the stellar coaching staff Coach Lane put together. I didn’t want to embarrass my family or let down the high standards of the CCCHS community. Most of all, I did not want to let Coach Lane down. I knew he took a giant risk hiring me. I also assumed he took quite a bit of crap from the above high-standard, CCCHS community about hiring a nobody with no experience.

I studied defense. I read articles. I watched film. I asked questions. I tried to soak up everything I could from the other members of the staff. Slowly but surely, I fell head over heels for defensive football. And you know what else I discovered? That part of being a defensive coach is…studying the different offenses! Kaboom!

The strategy. The fundamental techniques. The intensity. The contact. The physicality. The schemes.

It was like a door to a new world was opened. I crawled through the dark, wardrobe door and found a football utopia. Defense. I learned the defensive fronts and gaps. I learned the linebacker techniques and schemes. I even learned about three-deep zones, squats & halves, bracket, zone over, zone blitz, and man coverages. I was like a kid in the candy store.

Defense.

I found my football groove.

Found my groove by being shoved out of my comfort zone.

Found my groove by doing the job I was given instead of doing everyone else’s job.

Found my groove through discipline and knowledge.

I found my football groove seventeen years ago through the best decision I ever hated making.

Do the work. Do your job. Every man, every play.

Even for the coaches.

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Leaders

An often overlooked fundamental of good organizations is leadership. By overlooked, I don’t mean ignored. We have leadership out the ying yang in our society. Presidents, governors, mayors, superintendents, principals, head coaches, captains, student councils, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. We have leadership coming out of our ears, but still, often experience poor leadership.

How does this happen? We spend so many resources and time and effort in order to set up our leadership structures. It should work, right? It should be easy, right? All the proper offices are set, the job descriptions were written, the people hired and trained, the team roster set and fully prepared, so why does the system fail?

Leadership void is how I always referred to it. But I was never really able to figure out a logical explanation to why this happens and/or how this happens. Until now. In the “Leaders are made, not born.” listing of the Ideas for Work blog post from altMBA.

Here’s the quote:

Leaders are made, not born.
Leadership is for other people, it seems. Leadership is for someone who has unusual amounts of courage, insight or perhaps arrogance.
Except that’s not true. That’s a myth perpetuated by folks who’d rather have you comply with their instructions.
Leadership, as we have seen over and over again, is reserved for people who care. Who care enough to see, to connect, to make change happen.
As our economy shifts to one based on connection, not industry, there are more slots reserved for those that seek to make change happen, who will stand up and say, “follow me.”
Your organization (big or small) needs more leaders like this. Are you open to making that difference?

Reading this was an “Aha!” moment for this old coach. It gave words and meaning to the random thoughts on developing leaders I’ve struggled with for years.

Leadership is reserved for people who care.

Wow. So simple. So “slap you in the face I’ve been standing right here in front of you all this time!” As I say to my people when they lose something and it’s sitting out in plain sight. If it was a snake, it would have bit you.

Leadership is reserved for people who care.

The trick as a coach is to identify who these players are in your program and provide them with enough space and safety to become the leader their deep investment in the program deserves. That means not going with players for leadership roles merely based on their age (seniors only), their position (QBs, catchers, point guards), or their popularity. Leadership is about caring for the program. Leadership is about showing up every day to make the organization one cares about a little better off than the previous day.

That type of leadership works. That type of leadership is work. It’s not easy. Especially with high school kids. Caring for something can’t mark you for an attack. Caring cannot be something that earns ridicule.

It’s okay to care.

It’s okay to want something to be better.

It’s okay to care enough you piss people off.

The first step to effective leadership is to care about the organization and its well-being. If you’re in a leadership role, closely examine how you care for the organization you lead. Do you need to make changes? Do you need to swallow your own ego and arrogance to show your people your care? The job of a coach is to allow this to happen. Sow the seeds of emotional, physical, and mental investment early and often. It’s an integral part of team-building as we talked about in the post, Culture.

First and foremost, allow people to care.

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Culture

I ran across this list, 17 Ideas for the modern world of work from altMBA, and it has me thinking. Dangerous, I know. But it’s summertime and my head is less likely to explode sitting on the back patio listening to the birds chirping. I’ve read this list several times. I know it’s targeted to the business world, but I see many parallels to the sports coaching world. One thing on the list caught my eye from the very first time I read it; it is the idea of culture. Here’s the quote from the altMBA list:

Culture defeats everything.
We accept the culture as something fixed, immutable, impervious to our efforts to change it.
And because it feels so permanent, we also begin to ignore it. A bit like gravity.
But culture is the deal maker, the deal breaker, the energy that changes everything.
Do culture on purpose. It’s worth it.

Out of the list of ideas, I like this one the most. Culture is a game changer. In sports, we call it things like team chemistry, coaching philosophy, captain’s councils and the like. What these really do is to establish the culture of a team. Whether you’re coaching T-ball or kid’s tennis or club basketball or small town high school football, you must establish a culture of success. I guarantee there is not a highly successful program out there which doesn’t have a well-established “winning” culture.

As coaches, we were more than likely players at one stage in our life. When deciding what type of culture you want in your program, I always like to start looking forward by looking back.

First, what program culture would I have liked playing in? Recall the good and the bad from my experiences. Incorporate the good but also use the bad as well. Design your team culture to best avoid the things you considered pitfalls from your experiences. Do not repeat crap! 

Second, look back on what worked and what didn’t work in your previous campaign. Does something need to change? Do we need to adjust what we did in the past with what we think the future holds? Ask yourself the hard question and delve deep to find the answers. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, think everything is peachy perfect. Even an undefeated, state title team has issues. Be honest and be better. Most importantly, make the changes!

Next, look forward.

What is your dream as a coach? What’s holding you back from these dreams? One of my favorite little life snippets is, “Dream it & go do it”. Take the first step on your dreams. It’s like writing a story, or a blog post rant; it’s all a blank page until you start laying the words down one by one. Build the dream. Brick by brick.

What are your players dreams? Ha! I got you there, didn’t I? How many of us coaches ask players for input on their culture? Kids in this 21st-century world are smart. They may seem to care more about snaps and contacts and followers, but they are smart. Include them. Include their dreams. Sure the team is run by one voice or a few voices, yours as the coach and the voices of the coaching staff, but doesn’t that ONE VOICE sound a whole lot sweeter when it rings of many? The culture needs to reflect the team with all its inherent roles and positions included. The team becomes the culture, the culture becomes the team.

Take a hard look at your personnel for the coming season. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. If you think one kid would be better playing a different role on the team, sell it to them. That’s right, you have to be part salesman to be a coach. Not only do you have to inspire team members, you have to convince them to do things they don’t often like to do. Getting the pieces to fit, sometimes takes a bit of maneuvering and wiggling and not hammering. Sell it. And sell it within the scope of the culture you are creating.

Success begets success. Perhaps the hardest part of this team culture idea is the passing down of its principles and customs to the next generation of players. I’ve struggled in the past both with highly talented upperclassmen caring for what comes after them and incoming newbies who know all and believe they have “arrived”. It’s hard to convince 17-18 year-olds they will carry their home pride with them when they move to the next step in life. It’s hard to fully convince kids of any age to buy in and fully invest their physical, intellectual, and emotional self into something where there’s a chance one might fail. Peer to peer influence is so much more effective in establishing this facet of culture. Failure is an option. Never accept failure. Fail and regroup and come back stronger as an individual and as a team. Keep swinging, as the baseball coach in me likes to say.

I do like this idea of culture. It rings true and plays a huge part in the success of an organization. If you are a coach or a player, think about these things on the altMBA list. Let them rattle around in your head a bit. See what develops and then get busy.

I will continue to ponder the list, for sure. (You should hear the rattling in my head right now.)

Until next time.

Now, go get yourself some culture.

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