Tag Archives: hard work is the magic

Feet Feat

In the previous football coaching post, I talked about the important concept of open and closed gates for an offensive and defensive lineman. The ability to use your lineman body type as a tool to your advantage in creating or protecting space on the football field. Football is a game of real estate; it is a fight for space. The offense wants to create space and gain real estate while the defense want to deny advancement. It’s the story of humanity in a simple and physical game, I want that space.

The gates concept relies on footwork. Of all the athletes on a football team, the casual fan would likely rank the lineman as a distant last in regard to who has or needs the best footwork. In reality, it’s the exact opposite. The big boys are the ones who need the best footwork. The lineman needs the footwork of a dancer to go along with the strength and mindset to be successful. 

Where the feet go, the body follows.

When I watch a sporting event, either live or on video, the first thing I’m drawn to is footwork. The feet can tell you volumes. Football, basketball, wrestling, track & field, baseball, volleyball, etc. all movement sports are built on the foundation of the feet. It’s so basic and so logical, coaches often overlook this fundamental factor in building great athletes enamored by speed and strength numbers. 

The football lineman must have good to great footwork to get their job done. Good footwork allows them to close gates to effectively create space or defend space. Don’t believe me yet? Then try this.

Stand straight, looking forward, and with feet shoulder length apart about an arm length and a half from a wall. Take a step with your wall-side foot and reach out and touch the wall with your near hand. Not hard right? As you stand there with your fingertips touching the wall, notice how balanced and strong your lower body feels. You feel strong and stable. You could push a hole in the wall if you felt it was necessary.

Now, stand back in your original position. Anchor your feet in place and reach out to touch the wall. Not so easy, right? Did you feel balanced and strong this time? Nope. You probably felt thankful that the wall was solid and sturdy or you’d be lying on your butt on the floor. 

That’s the importance of good footwork for an athlete. The ability to move with power, quickness, and speed AND retaining the power, quickness, and speed in your new position.

How do you develop good footwork, especially for the Bubba athletes?

For starters, movement skills emphasizing footwork must be a part of everyday training, 365 days a year. Foot ladder drills, agility drills, dot drills, etc. can easily be incorporated into the strength training routines or classes. With something so important to athletic success or failure, why a coach wouldn’t incorporate and emphasize footwork skill development is beyond me.

With the Bubbas, we use the T-board drills to develop the first three steps. The first step is a quick, short (6 inch) angle or stretch step just across the vertical board keeping the hips and shoulders square. It’s important to watch the athletes and make sure the hip follows the foot. Remember, where the foot goes, the body follows.

The second step brings the trail foot level with the lead foot keeping hips and shoulders square to the line of scrimmage then initiating contact with hands. The second step establishes the close gate and brings the lineman’s body to a favorable position with, importantly, the balance and power to get their job done.

Once contact is made the third step is used to establish hip leverage to seal the defender from the hole. The first three steps in a block are critical to an offensive lineman. The higher the level of football, the more important these technical bits become. 

The next steps are used to drive or seal the defender from the attack area of the play design. With our undersized, but athletic, lineman we had in our program, it was absolutely vital we had good footwork to put our bodies in a position of strength versus the defense. We use the board to establish good fundamentals or to re-establish good fundamentals on a daily basis. The teaching progression added bags and holders to the vertical board as an advanced drill. All repetitions are at full speed and each block finished to the coach’s whistle.

Where the feet go, the body follows.

Footwork development is an integral part of any athletic movement program. It takes focus and discipline and repetition. That’s not just what is required of the athlete. The coach must be more focused, more disciplined, and more attuned to the details as they watch each and every repetition. Nothing in this coaching business can be run on autopilot. There’s not a single aspect of sports coaching, especially in youth or high school, where the coach can put on the cruise control. 

Coaching is work.

Hard work.

And, if you’ve hung around here long enough you know…

HARD WORK IS THE MAGIC.

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Gates

As a former offensive and defensive line football coach, one thing I always look for when watching a game or scouting a game is open/closed gates. What is a gate in football? It’s the ability to stay square and create your space in the contact zone called the line of scrimmage. It’s the same concept as the gate on a fence. When a gate is closed, you can’t walk through it. It’s a barrier. When a gate is closed, you have to do something drastic, like climb over, dig under, or ram through it, to get through. An open gate is just the opposite. It’s no longer a barrier but an invitation to come through.

By Calum McRoberts, CC BY-SA 2.0

My football concept of gates on the offensive and defensive line is similar. When an offensive lineman or defensive lineman keep their hips and shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage, their gate is closed. When they turn their hips and shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, they open the gate.

A defensive lineman’s job is simple. They are assigned a piece of real estate, a gap or area, to protect. Nothing gets through. Nothing knocks the DL from their spot. The job is much easier and much more effective when they play with their gate closed. Opening their gate and turning their hips and shoulders open a running lane.

The same is true for an offensive lineman. Their job is to create open real estate and running lanes on a run play. The job is to clear a path by using your closed gate-created space to either drive the defender away from the running lane, like a snow blade on the front of a truck, or shield a lane for the running back to use. 

For pass blocking, the offensive linemen need to provide a protective barrier for the QB in the pocket in order for the QB to feel safe, comfortable, and able to make the throws. Close gates are essential to provide a barrier from the rushing defenders across the line of scrimmage. Closed gates in pass protection reduce the attack alleys of the defense just like a closed gate of a fence makes it harder to enter. Only when a pass rusher breaks the blocker’s hip level does the blocker turn the hips and shoulders to adjust their gate to the threat.

Establishing good technical skills to be an effective offensive and defensive lineman requires excellent footwork, body position, and hand battle skill. Everything a coach should do in practice must be centered around those skills. The footwork is vital. It drives the placement of the hips which drives the placement of the shoulders, which drives the success or failure in a lineman doing their job. (What is good footwork? That, and how to develop good big boy footwork are coming soon in a separate post.)

Practice perfect every rep. 

Practice for perfection when the athletes get tired because physically and mentally tired athletes make mistake because they lose form. 

Practice, practice, and practice to keep the gates closed. 

Close those gates, Bubbas!

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Graduation Speech 2018

Thank you, Clay Center Community High School Class of 2018 for the opportunity to be the guest speaker at your graduation ceremony. Here is the transcript of the speech if you or your people are interested. Hopefully, you can look back on it years from now and ask your classmates, “Do you remember that fool who gave our graduation speech? I wonder what he’s doing nowadays.”

I dedicate this speech to all the athletes I’ve had the honor of coaching, especially the ones who’ve struggled to find their place in the world.

Graduation Speech 2018
Otto Unruh Stadium
5-13-18
Mike Hays

Congratulations, Class of 2018! Thank you for this honor to speak today.
Congratulations to the parents and families! Happy Mother’s Day to all!

Today is special. This all around us is special.
This is a special place. It‘s a community where people have supported you through your games, performances, academics, and employment opportunities.

This place is part of who you are. It is part of what you will become.
No matter how far you travel or where your dreams take you, you will take a piece of Clay County with you.
And wherever you go after leaving these seats as graduates, Clay County will always be here for you.

Graduation Advice

Be yourself.
Be the best you that you can be.

Toy Story 2 illustrates a great example of staying true to who you are. Woody has been taken to Big Al’s and is waiting to be sold to a collector. He looks at the faded name of “ANDY” written on the bottom of his boot.
ANDY.
The name that represents belonging to and being a part of.
ANDY.
The name that gives Woody purpose.
What happens to Woody when the Cleaner shows up and wipes those four letters off his boot?
He loses himself. He gives up trying to get back to Andy and the others. Gives up and floats away from all that is important to him. He’s tempted by the TV star life after discovering Jessie, Bullseye, and Stinky Pete.
When the name disappears, so does the very core of who he is.
In the end, it takes a monumental effort by Buzz and all Woody’s friends to bring him back to himself.

What name is written on your foot?
Who or what do you choose to belong to?
What name gives you purpose?
Is it a name that’s written in permanent ink or in pencil?
Is it a name that provides solid footing or is it one that causes you to slip and slide away from who you really are?

Find out who you are and stand behind it.
Let your faith be your compass.
Let your conscience be your map.
Never forget the name you’ve written on your foot.

Graduation Challenge

My challenge to you is something you probably won’t find on any of your graduation cards.
Go out and fail.
Dream big, take calculated risks and fail.
Regroup, and get better. Then try again & again & again until you succeed.

I wish you a lifetime of successes forged in the fire of failures.
I want you to dream big and go make it happen.

As we dive headfirst into the digital age, I challenge you to do great things. And great things take effort.
Do not fail by lack of effort or by not daring to dream.
Believe in yourself.
Believe in your power.

I want you to discover new ways of farming and ranching.
I want you to discover new ways to teach kids.
I want you to bring new products to our everyday lives and new ways of creating art and stories.
I want you to teach us old folks how to use technology without allowing technology to use us.
We need you and we need your talents.

Every Graduation Needs a Mascot

My proposal for your graduation mascot is Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.
Do you remember what Tigger is known for?
Bouncing.
As you turn the tassels today, take a lesson from Tigger and be bouncy!

You were bounced on someone’s knee as a baby.
You bounced off almost everything when you learned to walk and run.
You bounced around on the playground during recess.
You’ve been bounced on your rear end by schoolwork, sports, jobs, relationships, and personal trials.
But, you kept bouncing back and here you sit. Graduates.

Your bouncing days are not over. They’re just beginning.
Life will knock you for a loop over and over again.
Every time you get knocked down, bounce back up.
Sometimes our biggest victories in life are simply getting back up after a fall.
Keep bouncing!
Just like Tigger.

A Graduate Game Plan

Hard work is the magic.
It’s a simple truth.
Everything worth having is worth working for.
Family, career, hobbies—even that truck you can’t peel your eyes away from on the dealership lot—are all worth working for.
Put your signature on your every action.
Show up each and every day ready to do the work.
Attack life with purpose, pride, passion, and persistence.
Hard work is the magic.

Congratulations, Class of 2018!
Take advantage of “today” every day.
Live life to its fullest.
It’s the only one you’re given.

While bouncing along the Hundred Acre Wood, Tigger’s been known to sing,
“The wonderful thing about tiggers is tiggers are wonderful things.”
I say,
“The wonderful thing about Clay Center Tigers is Clay Center Tigers are wonderful things.”

Remember who you are.
Remember where you come from.
Remember where you’re going.
Never forget,
The most wonderful thing about YOU is that YOU are a wonderful thing.

Thank you and good luck!

Bonus! Every good story has a good story. This is what happened (well mostly what happened) the night I told my family at dinner about the invitation to be CCCHS’ graduation speaker.

Me: Mr. Young called today and said the senior class invited me to be their graduation speaker.
(Long dramatic pause while family rolls on the floor in fits of laughter.)
Kid 1: What would you wear?
Me: What?
Kid 2: You know you can’t yell, right?
Me: I don’t yell. I get excited.
(Long dramatic pause #2 while family rolls on the floor in fits of laughter.)
Kid 3: You can’t cuss, either.
Me: @#$%! I know that.
Wife: Are you going to do it?
Me: (Long dramatic pause while I roll on the floor in a fit of hysterical laughter.)
Whole Family: You mean to tell us you can look in those seniors’ eyes and tell them “no”.
Me: But there will be SO MANY people there. And it will be hot. And… And… And…
Wife: Well, are you going to do it?
Me: I told Mr. Young I’d think about it.
(Long dramatic pause #3 while family rolls on the floor in fits of laughter.)

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Courage to Create

There are so many things one wants to tell young people. The well of advice from us older folks overflows and sometimes floods uncontrollably through and past the minds of our advice-targeted youth. I believe in the power of youth. I believe we can help them achieve great things if we have the discipline to allow them to grow into their potential.

I ran across this quote from Teddy Roosevelt this week in the Brain Pickings post, Theodore Roosevelt on the Cowardice of Cynicism and the Courage to Create Rather Than Criticize. 

The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twister pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt. There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect, than he who either really holds, or feigns to hold, an attitude of sneering disbelief toward all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, comes to second achievement.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat…

The man who does nothing cuts the same sordid figure in the pages of history, whether he be a cynic, or fop, or voluptuary. There is little use for the being whose tepid soul knows nothing of great and generous emotion, of the high pride, the stern belief, the lofty enthusiasm, of the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder.

This piece from President Roosevelt’s 1910 speech is timeless. It’s an important piece for both the young and the old. We need to strive to be the best we can be. We need to strive for greatness instead of limiting achievement with the ceiling of cynicism and status quo.

There is no glory in being the best by trouncing on heads of others.

TR may have said it best, “The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer.”

Stand out by standing up. Be a positive force. Dare to be great and then go be great!

Hard work is the magic.

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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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Getting Technical

I read an article about a 6’ 8” college basketball player who decided this spring to switch and play football at the same college. The football coaches were working to refine his big man basketball skills toward the goal of being an offensive tackle. It was a very interesting article and kind of reinforced my belief there are certain common physical movements which exist between sports.

The head football coach made a comment that the staff didn’t mind working with such a green athletes because many of their actual football recruits also show up with no, or very little, fundamental technical skill from the high school level. I about choked. It made me mad at first, but then I remembered how many times over the past five or so years I’ve noticed this lack of fundamentals in action at high school football games I’ve watched.

How can this be? Is teaching solid technical proficiency becoming a lost coaching art?

Fundamental technique is the building block on which winning programs are built. In baseball and football coaching, everything, for me, revolved around developing solid technical skills. Being sound technical offensive and defensive linemen allowed us to overcome a general lack of size, speed, and athleticism in order to compete almost every time we stepped on the field.

Years ago, one rival baseball coach asked me once how it was that our kids all seemed to be able to drive the ball on the line to all fields. I told him the truth. I told him we teach front-hand hitting technique and every, single thing we do in practice, in the cage and on the field is geared toward developing a consistent technical swing. He looked at me like I was nuts, shook his head and laughed as he walked back to his dugout.

At football coaching clinics, I always got a kick out of the “progressive” coaches who talked nothing but schemes and theories while laughing behind the old, highly successful coaches who talked about fundamentals and drills and perfection. Simple science.

By Snyder, Frank R. Flickr: Miami U. Libraries - Digital Collections [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Snyder, Frank R. Flickr: Miami U. Libraries – Digital Collections [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps it is too simple for some to understand.

It is not magic.

It is not simply innate ability.

It is hard work. And teaching. And holding the line. And being strict. And demanding. And sometimes being completely unlikeable to the players.

It is pushing to get better every day.

Technique matters. It’s not sexy or shiny or going to make a big splash, but…

Technique matters.

It gives you an advantage. Good fundamental technique and good preparation give the advantage of an extra step. In sports, even at the lowly high school level, this single step can be the difference between winning and losing. Being fundamentally sound gives your team the edge over an opponent of equal or lesser quality and levels the playing field somewhat against a superior opponent.

Make the commitment. Get technical and get better.

By Royalbroil (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Royalbroil (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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It’s Only JV

I left the house with purpose of mind. As soon as the local high school baseball practice was over, I’d jump on the field, rake the pitcher’s mound, rake the batter’s box, drag the field for tomorrow’s home JV baseball game, and get home in time to eat dinner with my wife. Thirty minutes…tops. Life has been a little crazy lately so I thought nobody would really mind if we just did the basic field prep work and went home. I told myself it was only a JV game. Get the field playable and forget all the bells and whistles of a normal varsity home game.

We finished the mound. We finished the batter’s box. I ran the finish drag around with the mower while RC hand-watered the pitcher’s mound and batter’s box. Well, it was only a JV game. 90-minutes later, I am raking the limestone track around the backstop with the new sprinkler laying down a fine spray of water on the dry-as-a-bone dirt and I pause to look at my watch. 90-minutes. Yeah, I missed dinner with my poor wife.

I continued to rake until everything was in its pre-game place.

I know it’s only JV game, but there is no “only”.

Every game matters. Every game is important.

A game deserves the very best of what we can give.

Every play, every pitch, every possession.

Life is like a JV game. It’s not often in the spotlight. It is not all glory. It is work. It is getting better every minute of every day. It is giving your best even though the crowd is small and nobody seems to really be paying attention.

This environment is where you get better. Get better at your game, your art, your career, your very human-ness.

Put your time in. Do your very best. And then wake up and do your very best tomorrow.

Hard work is the magic.

IMG_2900

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