Tag Archives: Coaching

Filtering

I listened to former MLB pitcher Mike Boddicker on a Kansas City sports radio this week and he said something that activated my coaching radar. With his years of pitching expertise, the host asked him to theorize why the Kansas City Royal’s young pitchers were struggling so much. Thoughtfully, he responded that perhaps too much information was being fed into their heads. He said with so much to think about swimming in their heads while on the mound, their physical performance suffers.

Bingo! I think Mike Boddicker might be onto something here. I’ve written many times about this before in sports. Most sports are doing things not thinking things. That’s why things like muscle memory and daily practice are so important. When a player is on the field in the action of a game, thinking, in particular overthinking, is bad news.

Professional sports and sports, in general, are becoming more and more data-driven. In my opinion, this is a very good thing. Having the information to make better choices about strategy and resources is never a bad thing. The problem we get into as coaches and as organizations is we fall in love with the data but we fail to implement the filtering of the data to our players or team members. 

Filtering?

It’s when the people at the top end of the organizational ladder analyze all the available data and “filter” the relevant data to the relevant people. In a perfect world, by the time the information gets to the individual player, only the most relevant information that individual needs to do their job is in their head. That player then practices within that context, repeating the action again and again until they improve, and then takes it to the field without having to actively think about it.

You can also think about filtering as an informed simplification. As Detective Joe Friday said, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Filtering is a lesson I learned as a green, somewhat dumb, and often overly-enthusiastic baseball and football coach. The hitters I coached didn’t need to have the dozens and dozens of physical cues involved in a swing swirling in their heads as the pitch was delivered. They needed only to load, step, and swing to attack the baseball. The mind can be a terrible thing when bogged down with too much information.

From experience, I know if I’m in the box thinking about where my feet are, what position my hands are in, if my weight is transferred, and, on top of that, the scouting report on what this pitcher likes to throw 1-2, I’m probably going to be taking a leisurely walk back to the dugout leaving the tying run on second base.

Thinking too much diminishes performance.

Same for football. Fast (quick) explosive high school football is the way we wanted to play the game. It’s the way we developed our players every day with everything we did from warmups to conditioning. We also knew the value of scouting and film study in order to give us the advantage to make up for what we lacked in sheer size and speed. The hours and hours of film breakdown of an opponent was a lot of information. Too much information for your average high school male athlete. Hence, we learned to filter. 

Although we knew as defensive coaches that on third and four in a shotgun spread formation with the back on the left and the right guard, #63, sitting slightly back on his haunches meant they were going to run their bread and butter, QB counter to the left, pushing all that info into a 17-year-old’s head probably meant that the 17-year-old was going to freeze on the field. Coach Dail Smith used to call it, “paralysis by analysis”. Busy minds = Slow feet.

To avoid paralysis by analysis, what do you do? You filter. In the example above, we knew all that information as coaches. Since the QB counter seemed to be one of their bread and butter plays, it was put into the top 6-8 run plays for the scout offense to run all week. We’d teach the linebackers to notice when the guards were sitting back on their haunches and attack. Basically, we take the 4-5 scout details and break them down to one or two for the players, work the recognition and skills repeatedly, and give them the best chance of succeeding during the game. And if we forced the opposing team to go to something other than their bread and butter plays? That was the icing on the cake. 

If you can beat me with your second, third, or fourth-best packages, you deserve to win. If you beat me with your bread and butter packages, I deserve to lose.

Data is cheap in today’s digital world. Programs like HUDL are so freaking awesome and provide so much data to a coach at any level. Sabermetrics and analytics are a sports nerd’s dream. But the downside is the sheer, daunting amount of data we generate. The important work for the modern coach and organization is to sift through the data, decide what’s important and who it’s important to, and then pass it down. A little bit of salt makes the stew better, but a handful of salt ruins it.

Filter the information to your players. Give them the basic knowledge they need without throwing a wrench into the gears of performance. Too much on-field thinking, paralysis by analysis, is a dangerous thing. Prepare your players, practice, and turn them loose to perform. 

Mike Boddicker might be right about what’s wrong with all these talented, young arms in the Royals’ system. Simplify and let the physical talent shine.

Load. Step. Swing.

Sifting gold in a cabin, 13 Eldorado, Yukon Territory, 1898. (Asahel Curtis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

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The Favorite Place to Play

Coaches should always have a favorite place to play. This favorite place should trickle down to their entire team and organization. Everyone from the assistants to the players to the support staff should share a passion for this place.
What is the place?
Simple. It’s wherever the next game on the schedule is.
Because that’s what it’s all about. Getting your team ready to play the next game wherever it is.
Any other concerns, worries, or complaints steer the ship off course. There’s already a lot of other stuff to deal with in getting ready to play a game, especially at the high school or youth sports level, to detract from the goal of reaching that favorite place. A coach’s actions and demeanor matter. Negative thoughts spread to teenage athletes before anything can be done to prevent it and affect performance.
There’s a certain special feeling going to a game and seeing the field or the lights or the arena waiting ahead. A favorite kind of place lies ahead.
Anticipation. A touch of nerves. The heart quickens. It’s a special feeling.
So what’s a coach to do?
Put their head down and go to work whether you’re playing on the most pristine of fields or on something barely suitable as a landfill site.
Get ready for the next game, wherever and whenever it is.
Make the places and spaces we inhabit better. Leave a mark. All day, every day.
Isn’t that what life’s all about?
Above all else, enjoy the ride!

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$hit Work

I’ve been a molecular microbiologist for 33+ years. I’m just about as high as I can go on the university’s science technician ladder. Today, I needed to swap out three CO2 gas cylinders for our cell culture incubators. They weren’t completely empty but with the weekend approaching, I felt it wise to replace them before they could run out. The CO2 gas is vital to growing mammalian cells for our experiments. If the CO2 levels run too low, the cells will die. 

We have two fairly important experiments going on. One is a bacterial cell adherence experiment a visiting scientist is working on. Being a visiting scientist, time is limited, so the cells dying at this point would not be good if we want to complete this work. 

The second experiment is a gene-editing experiment I’ve been working on for almost a year. I’m trying to knockout a gene in a cell that’s could be vital for a bacterial pathogen’s entry into the host cell during the infection process. Needless to say, I do not want the CO2 to run out over the weekend and the potential gene-edited cells to die after 12 months of work. 

In short, properly changing the CO2 tanks is important.

The process of changing a gas cylinder is straightforward but it has to be done exactly right without leaks and with the proper gas flow to the incubator. The gas cylinders are stored in a locked cage outside the very north end of the building. One must use a cylinder hand cart to securely transport the empty CO2 cylinder all the way across the facility, swap it out for a full cylinder, and push it all the way back to the lab. Once in the lab, I installed the tank, check for leaks, ensure proper gas flow, and repeat.

On my second trip back to the lab with a full tank, a well-meaning coworker passed me in the hallway. The coworker laughed and said, “Why don’t you get a student worker to do that shit work?” I glared the best Coach Hays glare I could muster and the coworker politely skittered away.

But that question kept rattling in my brain as I went on the last round of drop-off and pick-up. 

$hit work? 

What the hell?

There’s really no such thing, is there?

Every job needs to be done or the system doesn’t function the way it should. The work matters. And if the work matters, it’s important it is done right no matter the size or the perceived importance of the task.

The same is true in coaching sports. The small work is often as important as the perceived important work. Coaching the lower-level or inexperienced athlete is more important for the long-term foundational success of your program than spending the majority of the time coaching the upper-level athlete. 

Just like in the lab, there’s no $hit work in sports coaching. It all matters but the work a coach does with the athletes who need it the most is often the most important thing one can do.

We’ve all heard the old axiom, “we are only as strong as our weakest link”. Those weakest links in our team, program, or organization might be considered the “$hit work”. Nevertheless, like the importance of properly changing the CO2 tanks, coaching up your weakest links makes the chain stronger.

Pay attention to the $hit work.

Do that work with purpose, pride, and passion.

Never forget how important the $hit work really is.

Agriculture in Britain during the First World War: Schoolboys fork out manure from a wheelbarrow onto an allotment during the First World War (via Wikimedia Commons).
Lance Cpl. Eithan Osborne dumps horse manure into a wheelbarrow during the Single Marine Program’s volunteer opportunity (via Wikimedia Commons).

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Core Mission

What is the main thing you want to accomplish? That’s your core mission.

As an individual, an organization, or a team you have a core mission.

What is your core mission? What is your objective?

Once defined, ask yourself if you are focused on that core mission. Or are you distracted with the fluff and distractions that are tangents to the objective?

It happens. All the freaking time. We lose our place.

Why?

Because the fluff and the distractions become easier to pursue and provide quick gratification. But fluff and distractions don’t get the job done. The fluff and distractions don’t lead to any satisfaction. They don’t make the team better. They don’t educate kids better. They don’t help a community or society become better.

The things that lie outside the core mission suck energy and joy. They create chaos and anxiety. They keep taking without giving any back.

A lifetime ago when I played baseball, I’d occasionally hit a batting slump. HItting a baseball was my one tool as a one-tool baseball player so if I couldn’t hit the ball, I was pretty worthless to my team. While in a slump, I almost certainly forgot my core mission inside the batter’s box which was to hit the dang baseball. 

Yes, the core mission was so simple. Hit the ball.

During slumps, my mind would race on just about everything except the core mission. I’d think “I can’t fail again.” “What if I leave runners on base?” “Wow, those hot dogs cooking in the concession stand smell really good.”

My focus and energy would be all over the place. Anxiety would go haywire. My hands would sweat. The pitch would come in and the ball looked like a tiny marble while my body felt like it was encased in Jell-O. 

Once I noticed I was paying attention to everything except the core mission of hitting the ball, I could take a few deep breaths, step into the box, and block out everything (including the hot dogs) unrelated to the core mission of putting the bat on the baseball. Like magic, the slump was history.

So if you find yourself or your organization in a slump, lost, confused, floundering, or in a state of chaotic anxiety, step back and refocus on the objective. 

Get back to the core mission. If you don’t even remember what it is, take the time to find out.

Whether you’re hitting a baseball, coaching a sports team, running a business, responsible for public health, operating a school district, or simply wanting to live a more faithful life, remember your core mission. Simplify, take a deep breath, and let the fluff and distractions fade away. 

Get back to doing what you do. Educating kids, playing right guard, getting your team ready for the season, or leading the most awesome nation on the planet, aiming your energy into the direction of the core mission works.

Keep the faith. Keep the eye on the prize. Do the work. Make your thing better and you’ll make everything around you better.

And Lord knows, in the Spring of 2022, we all can use a little less anxiety and better performance from everything around us.

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Creative Autonomy

I recently read a great nonfiction book by Adam Savage called, Every Tool’s a Hammer: Life Is What You Make Of It. He’s one of the guys from the Mythbusters show. The book is a roadmap to making. Better yet, it’s a roadmap of what he’s learned over a decades-long career as a maker. 

One of my favorite parts of the book is when he talks about visiting his friend and movie director Guillermo del Toro on the set of Pacific Rim. Adam was amazed at the scope and depth of the worldbuilding and creation going on with the hundreds of people working on the set. That night at dinner, Adam asked Guillermo how he’s able to manage a large group like that into a cohesive vision. The director replied, “You have to give everyone complete freedom within a narrow bandwidth.”

Adam calls it “creative autonomy”. He expands on the idea in regards to creating successful teams. After you get the team’s buy-in on the larger vision, you need to strictly define their roles in the fulfillment of that vision. Once everyone knows where they’re going, then you need to set them free to do their thing.

Within a good organization, an effective leader lets people do what they do while keeping them anchored to the overarching goal. Creative autonomy may be properly suited to only certain endeavors where creativity reigns but it’s equally important in managing or coaching a sports team. 

Creativity, in the case of the sports team, is talent unleashed. It’s using your tools to solve problems. Just as in making a movie, publishing a book, or designing a factory, the sports organization is a team of specialists with the goal of using their individual tools to successfully achieve or create.

In the two sports I’ve had the opportunity to coach, football and baseball, establishing creative autonomy is vital. Vital not only for ultimate success but vital to have athletes who enjoy participating and enjoy doing the necessary work to be successful. A culture of creative autonomy lets athletes feel part of something, which I believe is one of the major reasons we are drawn to these activities. 

In today’s world of teenagers, making them feel truly part of something is a foundational coaching skill. There are too many other places and activities calling their name and 99% of those are much less demanding activities than sports.

Building a successful program through creative autonomy means work on the coaching end. Take football for example. The offensive and the defensive schemes we implemented had to be simple enough for all our kids to understand but variable enough to give us the tools we needed to face anything an opponent threw at us. We had to not only understand all the facets ourselves as a coaching staff but we had to understand the specific job of each position. Once the specific jobs were defined, then we could break them down into teachable bites for coaching those particular athletes. 

One of the most overlooked coaching skills is the ability to teach a player they need to do this one thing, this is how you do it, and then trust them to do their job. One of the things I feel most proud about from coaching football is the way we played defense. We had more successes than failures and most of those successes were because of creative autonomy. The schemes were simple, yet multiple. The athletes, for the most part, knew their jobs. They were allowed to play with a physical, aggressive style that became our hallmark. Alignment. Assignment. Attack. 

Young coaches getting started or a coach looking to turn around a program, never underestimate the power of creative autonomy. Establishing this culture and philosophy up and down the ladder of your program, from the incoming freshman to the top of the coaching staff, is a huge leap toward excellence. Plus, athletes have more fun and more joy from playing in an environment of creative autonomy. 

And at the end of the day, isn’t your athletes enjoying playing sports the ultimate goal?

Happy athletes are more fun to be around every day and get more work done. They just need to know where they’re going, what they need to do to get there and to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.

Teach your athletes; trust your athletes. 

Every Tool s a Hammer  Life Is What You Make It

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GM For a Day: 2021 KC Royals

If I had the honor of being GM of my beloved Kansas City Royals for a day…

Where do I start?

That’s hard because this season (and honestly for the past 30-odd years except for two months at the end of the 2014 season and the entirety of the 2015 season) has been an utter and complete disappointment. I start with a good, long and honest look in the mirror. I take all the excuses we’ve rolled out over the years about small market economics and competitive imbalance and lock them away never to see the light of day.

I realize we must do things differently in Kansas City. The success of 2014 and 2015 balanced on a razor-thin margin of error. We relied on a lights-out bullpen and an offense with just enough firepower to score just enough runs to win games. The 2014-2015 Royals weren’t a fluke or just a team that got lucky; they were a team that was very good at playing a limited game and found a way to keep most games within their margins for success.

I say we have to realize the need to do things differently because it’s so hard to win under the 2014-2015 error margins. It’s, without a doubt, why success has found KC for only two calendar years out of the past 35. Lightning struck and we were able to briefly catch it. You can’t be a competitive program if you build on the foundation of catching lightning.

The first place I’d rebuild in the Royals organization is the developmental side of things. Right now, we have talent up and down the system that we’d acquired through drafting and trading. I know this sounds like a no-brainer but look at history. 35 years of high draft picks and we’ve only had two playoff appearances? I’d say that’s an issue in dire need of addressing.

The Royals have done a decent job in the Dayton Moore Era drafting talent. Their problem has been they’ve done a poor job of developing their talent. Yes, even the 2014-2015 glory boys, Gordon, Moustakas, and Hosmer, never lived up to their potential. For example, you don’t draft a Gold Spike winner to only win Gold Gloves at a different position from where you originally slotted him in. The only players I can think of who really developed were guys who weren’t really big on the organization’s talent ladder focus, Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield. And by many accounts, these two players were highly self-motivated and worked to develop their skills with a chip on their shoulders.

Of my 24 hours as GM for the Day, all 24 would be dedicated to cultivating our developmental program. The whole professional organization needs to be a competitive endeavor all day, every day. One of my sports credos has always been, “In order to be competitive, you have to be competitive.”

It’s easy to say you want to win. Everybody wants to win. It’s human nature. At the upper echelon of a sport, everybody has talent. What sets apart the ones that are competitive versus the ones who wash out often comes down to treating every day as a competitive venture.

Get better. Do the work. Compete. Fail or succeed. Repeat.

The good organizations in professional baseball, especially the organizations that succeed in the “small market” arena, will often develop talent with a competitive edge. Whether a player is a #1 draft pick, a 20th round pick, or a free agent, they are forced into the competitive fire day after day after day. A competitive organization must have this in order to achieve its goals to succeed. 

The second thing I’d do as Royals GM for a Day is…

Hell, there wouldn’t be a second thing. EVERYTHING right now has to be about player development. You can’t worry about guys walking away in free agency at the end of their first contract. You can’t feel sorry for yourself in the economic context of the rest of the league. It’s a great place to play. It’s a great city to live in with one of the best fan bases in any professional sport. As the person in charge, I have to realize this and change my philosophy to fit the reality.

  • Acquire and develop talent.
  • Hire and train coaching within the system toward development. 75% of all resources should be invested in development.
  • Demand competitiveness at all levels.
  • Have talent ready to step up when players walk out the door for bigger paychecks.
  • Constantly analyze why players are developing to their potential and fix the problems early in the process.
  • Keep an open mind without compromising competitiveness.

I always enjoy thinking Royals GM for a Day thoughts. It’s how I like to enjoy being a sports fan who is also a coach. Thinking about how to make things better is always foremost in my mind when I watch a sports event from local T-ball to professional football and baseball on TV. 

Enjoy the rest of the 2021 MLB season! Never forget, at the end of the day, win or lose it’s still baseball. The greatest game on earth.

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Practice Field or Lecture Hall?

When you read the two subjects in the title, what pops into your head? Now hold those images for a few minutes.

One of the things I despised as a player was the standing around at practice. I can still feel the twinges of boredom when I think about standing in the outfield for what seemed like hour after hour waiting and waiting and waiting for a ball to be hit during batting practice. My mind would wander. I’d end up watching the cars drive by or the kids playing in the adjacent park or simply drift off into a daydream. This boredom phenomenon almost drove this borderline ADHD kid away from sports and haunted me all the way through the end of my active playing days in college. 

When I fell into the opportunity to coach later in life, I never forgot that feeling. One of the first conversations I had with Coach Rex Carlson back in 1999 at my Clay Center Community High School Rule 10 coaching interview was just about this topic.  Practice planning and organization to minimize standing around time needed to be an essential part of our program philosophy. 

This philosophy went to an even higher degree of importance when I had the honor to coach football and be the strength & conditioning coach under Coach Paul Lane at CCCHS. We needed to keep kids engaged and working to get better in everything we did. It took great planning and preparation each and every day. That’s where the magic of coaching lies.

Talk it. Walk it. Rep it. 

Sports are an active thing, not a passive thing. I don’t know if I’ve ever met an athlete who played because they like to listen to the adults talk about playing. Athletes like to move and perform. That’s where the joy resides in sport.

As the adults in the mix, we often forget this. Coaches become so obsessed with the schematic and philosophical side of the game, they often forget the performance side of the equations. And as already mentioned, athletes are 95% performance and maybe 5% on the schematic/philosophy side. Coaches get so caught up in what they do, they don’t realize their practice field has turned into a lecture hall. 

Recall those mental images I asked to think of in the opening? Which is more appealing to you? Which sounds like more fun to a young athlete? Where would you rather be on a beautiful spring or fall afternoon?

Time is the biggest enemy for a coach and his program. A coach can’t afford to waste time by spending it as a 2-hour lecture session on a sports field. Yet, many of us do. Day after day after day. 

Here’s a challenge to coaches. At a future practice, give an assistant or a trusted student manager two stopwatches. Tag one “Red” and the other “Green”. Track non-active practice time with the Red watch and active practice time with the Green watch. At the end of practice, record the total time in each mode. For a better representative sample, do this for several practices. Once you have the data, you can make an honest assessment of your practice and adjust accordingly. 

Coaches, never forget that it’s about building an environment conducive to giving kids the best opportunity for success and engagement. 

Are you building a practice field or a lecture hall?

Talk it. Walk it. Rep it. Rep it. Rep it. And then rep it some more.

Ole Marius Skytterholm Ringstad/NTNU / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

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Shut Up & Dribble?

‘Shut up and dribble.’

Damn, I hate this so much. When I hear a politician, a businessman, an administrator, or a franchise owner use this phrase, they immediately get kicked off my team. I will never vote for, or support, someone who believes that the athlete’s worth is only measured on a single layer without consideration of who they are as human beings.

Shut up and dribble?

Stop, just stop.

Whenever this term or a similar one is used, it shows the speaker’s true self. It shows that they define others, especially those they consider below them, as mere material goods rather than complete human beings. ‘Shut up and dribble’ means they think the athlete voicing their opinion is nothing more than a servant who doesn’t deserve a voice—an individual whose only place and worth in society are to provide their singular performance as entertainment. 

An athlete is so much more than their performance or their athletic ability. They are human beings, with intellect and ideas and consciousness. In fact, the athlete may even have a more broad intellectual experience to draw upon than many of our political, business, or administrative leaders. Think about that next time you hear one of these fools tell athletes to stay in their space.

Shut up and dribble.

The term attempts to dehumanize those with different viewpoints and philosophies. Instead of attacking or debating on an intellectual level, the user of this term dismisses the opposing ideas by attempting to degrade the individual. Everything contrary to my beliefs is not necessarily wrong. It’s not ‘FAKE NEWS!’, it’s just different.

Different is not all that bad. In fact, different makes life more interesting. 

One of the joys of coaching was getting to know athletes beyond the field of play. I learned as much about life from simply talking to the athletes about school, family, work, books, movies, etc. than they ever learned from me about football or baseball. That’s why it chaps my ass whenever I hear athletes being tagged with ‘Shut up and dribble’. It’s an attempt to define us as dumb jocks and that is as far from the truth as you can get. We may not be upper-level intellectuals but we are all much more than the athletic abilities we possess.

People are different. People are much more than the single-layer you notice.

Athletes are different. Athletes are much more than the single-layer you notice.

Think about how many of the problems we have created in modern America are grounded in the ‘Shut up and dribble’ philosophy of trying to blanket stereotype and generalize human beings. It’s time for ‘Shut up and dribble’ people to shut up themselves.

Nobody cares what you think IF you don’t care what we think.

 

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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 (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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