Tag Archives: Coaching Philosophy

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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COACH LANE’S OVERALL PHILOSOPHIES (circa 2000)

Every year about this time, I go to my space in the basement, pull out the tubs and boxes of old football coaching materials, and make an attempt to cull things that no longer justify the space they take up in the house.  

It’s a painful journey at times, like Dante descending into a deeper circle of Hell, but it’s mostly a joyous experience. Almost every piece of paper, from notebooks to scouting reports to journal articles to coaching books, comes with a memory. Some good, some bad.

Yesterday, I sent three full trash bags to their final resting place at the landfill. There is plenty more for another year, but those remaining things have earned a reprieve. Someday it will be condensed to one shelf of books and one Rubbermaid tub, but today is not that day.

There are also things I will never part with. Yesterday, I ran across one of those pieces. It was Page 3 from Coach Paul Lane’s Tiger Football Player Handbook in his first year as Head Football Coach at Clay Center Community High School.

The year was 2000. The kids were ready for a change. The football community was ready f0r a change. Everyone was looking to have fun and enjoy high school football again.

I was lucky enough to be a part of it. And you know what?

It was more than just fun and a return to enjoying the game. IT WAS A BLAST!

Here is Page 3 from that Coach Lane’s first CCCHS Tiger Football Handbook. It had a profound effect on hundreds of young men and one fish-out-of-football-water assistant coach in the year 2000 who was struggling to learn “channeled intensity”.

ENJOY!

COACH LANE’S OVERALL PHILOSOPHIES

There is a fine line between being an “average” football team or being League Champions. To become one of the best, we must be a team of passion, toughness, and togetherness.

THE THREE PILLARS OF A PLAYOFF TEAM ARE:

100% COMMITMENT
FROM 100% OF THE TEAM
100% OF THE TIME

ALWAYS KEEP IN MIND

  • School is a prerequisite to your participation in this sport.
  • Strive to excel in all classes.
  • Good habits are developed by repetition and a desire to get better.
  • The is NO SUBSTITUTE FOR HARD WORK.
  • A solid work ethic is of the utmost importance — on and off the football field.
  • You play on Friday night like you practice during the week.
  • You are expected to give 100% at all times.
  • You EARN THE RIGHT to represent your team under the lights on Friday nights.
  • DISCIPLINE WILL GUIDE YOU THROUGH ADVERSITY.
  • We must do the little things well by focusing on fundamentals.
  • We must be the most physical team on the field.
  • We must stay focused with “channeled intensity”.
  • We must give maximum effort on every down.
  • We must be in great physical condition to ward off mental mistakes when tired.
  • WE MUST BE A FOURTH QUARTER TEAM.
  • When a teammate makes a mistake, be the first one to help him get over it.
  • WORRY ONLY ABOUT THAT WHICH YOU CAN CONTROL.
  • Win the turnover battle and respond aggressively to ANY turnover.
  • Be unselfish in your play.
  • Accentuate the positive — don’t be negative.
  • Don’t get too high over any victory, and don’t get too low over any loss.
  • REPRESENT YOUR SCHOOL WITH PRIDE AT ALL TIMES.
  • BE DIGNIFIED IN EVERYTHING YOU DO.
  • GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE.
  • ACKNOWLEDGE ALL THOSE WHO HELP YOU SUCCEED.
  • NEVER LET THE TEAM OR TEAMMATE DOWN.
  • NEVER WALK AWAY FROM A JOB UNDONE!
  • IT DOESN’T TAKE TALENT TO HUSTLE.

 

coachlanephilosophies_2000

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Your Purpose 4Q

Execution of purpose.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Practice makes perfect.”. Our parents, teachers, coaches, etc. have been telling us this little nugget of wisdom for years upon years, right? Well…it’s about as wrong as me watching the Olympic track & field competition and claiming I’m exercising.

Practice makes perfect ONLY if your practice goal is to be perfect. This means every repetition you perform—and skill development is ALL about repetition—must be done with a drive to improve. A drive to get just a little better each and every time.

We all go through the motions at times in our lives. It’s another slice of human nature. It’s just as easy to coast through practice as both a player and as a coach. This is particularly true as we approach the last third of a sports season and the routine gets…well, routine. As I said in the previous post, time is our biggest enemy. I think we can agree on that, don’t you?

THEN WHY DO WE COACHES WASTE SO MUCH TIME???!!!!

Sorry for shouting, but that wasting practice time thing is a pet peeve of mine. As a player, I hated the standing around doing nothing when there was a whole lot of talk happening and very little action. It drove me nuts back then and still drives me nuts as a 52-year-old.

Have your purpose. Have your plan. But most of all, have the drive and the ability to lead others toward the goal. A coach has to keep a practice session hopping. The average adult attention span (8 seconds) has now dipped below the average attention span of a goldfish (9 seconds). I could infer then that the hormone-driven teenage boy’s attention span would stand to pale in comparison to the goldfish. So if you are going to successfully deal with young athletes, you’d better plan on keeping things short and snappy.

Every season, every week, every day, every minute, every second need someone driving the bus in the right direction and at the right speed. THAT is another one of those unique characteristics of good coaches.

I am a firm believer in coaching fundamentals and drilling fundamentals. A technically sound player is a player you can depend on and build a team upon. There’s only one way to develop a technically sound player and that’s by working toward the goal of perfection with practice and repetition

In fact, you can even sneak this work in where the players don’t even realize they are working. During football practice, we used to do a 15-minute session at the start of practice with the kickers, long snappers, holders, and returners working on their skills. A good portion of the QBs, running backs, and receivers would be a part of this but very few linemen which left a big (both in sheer numbers and sheer size) part of the team watching.

Nobody likes to stand around and watch kickers kick, so we started this game where the linemen did a one-on-one pass drill. Coach Lane and I would be the quarterbacks, each with a line of lineman with us. The first guy in line would jump out and play defense and the second guy would be the receiver and run a pass route. The fifteen minutes would fly by. The Bubbas would really get into the competition, trying to score a reception on the offensive side or getting an interception or a pass breakup on the defensive end.

It was fun! The linemen would get the rare chance to touch the football, they would get a chance to talk trash and prove their skills in front of everyone. I also had fun slinging footballs in my best Kenny Stabler imitation.

But while all this was going on, nobody ever realized they were actually working. They worked on their footwork, they worked on their hand-fighting skills, and they learned how to establish leverage. I think anyone would agree those are all skills important to being a lineman. Also, they probably ran the equivalent of around a dozen or so sprints without complaint or without notice. In contrast, when we lined them up after practice to run a dozen sprints for conditioning, you should have heard the groaning and whining.

Bottom line: Execute your purpose and DON’T WASTE TIME.

In particular, don’t waste practice time. Maximize your purpose in your practice. Every single thing you do should be done for the purpose of getting better. There is no standing still in life or in sports. You are either getting better or going backward.

By the way, it’s too bad no video record exists of the quarterbacking skills of Coach Lane and myself. It was glorious. Not shabby for a couple offensive line coaches. Don’t laugh, I still have the sore arm to prove it…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There wasn’t a whole lot of executed purpose this night, but the picture with the Lane Brothers is one of my favorites and one of the few “action” shots I have.

Final Note: The “Your Purpose?” blog post began as a rant that grew and grew until it was beyond the scope of one post. It became a four post rant. Yowzers! But I’ve seen this problem of lack of purpose derail many teams and programs. Teams that I played on, teams I’ve coached, teams I’ve observed and teams I’ve been a fan of. It bugs the hell out of me, both in my own failures and observed failures. It seems so simple. It seems as simple as wearing pants before going out of the house. You wear pants when you leave the house, don’t you? Then why go “pantless” when you approach coaching?

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Your Purpose 3Q

Time.

We all fight it. We all struggle with it. It’s always moving and there never seems to be enough of it.

Double this sentiment for a sports coach. Time is our biggest enemy. Wasted time is a coach’s biggest regret. That is why we have to build a purpose of time into our greater purpose.

Okay, let’s say we want to win the football game against our rival next Friday night. We need to purpose our time properly. We need to develop a strategy that helps us achieve the vision. We watch scout film, both on our rivals past few games to determine how they approach a game and, just as important, our recent games to evaluate our mistakes. We need to organize and execute the practice preparation to get ready for the contest.  As you can see, every second matters.

Success is no accident or random occurrence.

Time is valuable. It is valuable to everyone. That is something I think we, as coaches, often fail miserably at. Kids have more legitimate time constraints now more than at any other time I can ever remember. Family responsibilities, church obligations, school obligations, extracurricular activities, work, hobbies, multiple sports commitments that demand time, especially in the summer.

As an effective leader working under today’s time constraints, you need to make the most of the time that you ask your players to commit. If you are going to ask them to come for summer conditioning every day at 6:30 AM, you damn well better send them home at 7:45-8:00 AM exhausted and drained so they feel like getting up a 6:30 AM was not a waste of their time. That responsibility is part of the unwritten trust contract I always felt was so important to establish between coach and player. We, as coaches, should be able to look the players in the eye after every practice or workout and say, “Today, I did not waste your time.”

Be able to fulfill that promise with a solid purpose of time day after day after day and you will have a team who will follow you to the ends of the earth. A team who will jump into the fire with you and compete with every fiber of their being. A team who will believe in your purpose and wrap themselves heart and soul with it. A team with complete trust in you as a coach; a trust that weaves its way through every member of the team.

  • THAT is the point of critical mass.
  • THAT is when the fun starts.
  • THAT is the magic of sports.

And it all starts with TIME.

Wooden_hourglass_3

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Your Purpose 2Q

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes?” I ask the young man.

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

“Oh, really.”

“Yeah, she found it on the internet.”

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

“Tell your mother where your workout ended up”

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

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

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

Take-home lesson:

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

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

Great dreams need a vision.

Plate

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

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