Tag Archives: High school athletes

The Best Years?

There’s a nugget of life advice often given to high school kids, particularly high school athletes. A nugget that is so off-the-rails I cannot believe it has survived

“These are the best years of your life.”

Best years? Lord, I hope not! The best years of your life in high school? That seems kind of depressing forecast on the power and potential of each young athlete and student.

The BEST years?

No, but they are special years. They are years in which the high school students are afforded unique life opportunities. They are special because the future is a blank and open canvas.

Teenagers, listen up! You may feel a giant load of pressure right now to define your future. The system will tell you that you should have the specifics of life cemented firmly in place by graduation day. WTeenagers, when that day arrives and this pressure mounts, fling off this weighted jacket of the system’s expectations.

The canvas of your future should be painted with your passions and desires and likes and dislikes. 

It’s okay not to know exactly what you want to do with your life when you are 18. It’s okay to say no to the dreams others have for you that aren’t fit for you. It’s okay to try something and fail and then get better for another try.

So why do we so often call these high school years the best? They aren’t. Or they shouldn’t be if you pursue your dreams.

Why do we, as adults, anchor kids down with low expectations? Teenagers grow up. Teenagers have great value even though they often bury or masks their potential. And sometimes, kids just need to get away and find another environment in which to blossom.

There’s an old coach’s saying. “The best thing about a freshman is that he becomes a sophomore.”

I believe in that saying and an expanded version which reads,

“The best thing about teenagers is that they become adults.”

As a coach, as a teacher, or even as a parent, remember those teenagers who are driving you absolutely bat-poop crazy today, have the potential to be awesome and productive citizens in the near or far future. They need dreams, resources, and some adults to believe in them.

Believe in your kids.

See the good in them.

Recognize their potential.

Help them down the path to fulfill their passions.

Make them work to achieve their dreams.

Be there to help them rebound when they fail.  Give them the space to back up, reassess, grow, and attack time after time until the dream is a reality.

Develop in them a strong gluteus maximus rubberi, so they know how to bounce up when life knocks them on their ass.

And please people, stop it with the “best years of your life” advice to teenagers. Teach them to believe in the potential of tomorrow. Teach them to work and to fail and to bounce back.

The high school years are special years. Enjoy every minute and every experience. But graduating high school is not the endgame. Life is the endgame. And, if my math is correct, most of us hope to have much more life to experience after high school.

To each and every teenager I ever had the opportunity to coach, I am proud of the adults you have become or are becoming. Your best years were definitely beyond any of those years you spent on a sports field with me.

Keep the faith in yourself!

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Under Your Skin

(This is my 350th post on The Coach Hays blog since I first started this dog and pony show in 2009. To celebrate, I thought a proper rant would be fitting. Thanks for reading and I hope I can keep going for at least 350 more.)

What makes a good athlete? What makes a team successful?

It’s about commitment. It’s about grinding through the work and the repetition. It’s the footwork drills. It’s the extra swings. It’s taking the shots after practice or perfecting your jump technique.

It’s going beyond what the practice and game plans say you should do. It is going beyond what your supporters say and further than your biggest detractors could ever dream was possible.

It’s the competitor’s mark to be permanently worn under your skin.

It’s a mark you wear with pride. As an individual. As a competitor. As a group. As a team. As a family.

  • Not a hashtag.
  • Not a poster hanging on the wall.
  • Not a program t-shirt.

The mark of a winner is burned on your heart. It seeps into every nook and cranny of your competitor spirit.

You do the work necessary. And then you do it again.

Look in the mirror. What do you see? If you don’t like the results you are reaping, look at what you are sowing.

  • Are you putting in the work? Input = Output.
  • Are you blaming instead of improving?
  • Talking instead of performing?
  • Whining instead of winning?

If you don’t like where you’re at, then take the steps to move forward. Sow the good seed.

Ask yourself, “Am I along for the ride or am I going to put this team on my shoulders and rise to the top?”

Commit. Improve. Do the work.

Hard work is the magic.

Wear the mark of a competitor. Decide if your mark is a temporary tattoo or if is it written in your marrow.

Be dependable. Be consistent. Be a rock.

Wear your commitment under your skin. As I’ve said before, Be Indelible.

Permanent and unshakeable. 

TLWtattoo

Photo used with permission. #TLW13

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Athletic Alphabet

I don’t like playing freshman on the varsity level in high school. Never have liked it, probably never will like it. It’s personal preference backed up by years of personal observation. I’ve too often seen a developmental flatline in the athletes who played varsity as freshman through the rest of their high school career.

Very few of these kids are better all-around varsity players as seniors than they were when first stepped onto a varsity field as a freshman. Their growth curve as an athlete always seems to stagnate in comparison to their classmates who didn’t start playing varsity until a year or two later.

Why?

I don’t really know for sure.

Maybe it’s mental. Perhaps the athlete consciously or unconsciously feels they have achieved their destination and don’t need to get any better. The “I HAVE ARRIVED” syndrome.

Maybe it’s physical. The athlete was an early-bloomer whose later-developing peers were able to surpass them.

Most likely it is theses athletes don’t ever learn their Athletic Alphabet.

Huh?

The Athletic Alphabet is the collection of basic things an athlete needs to learn in their sport. Technique, playbook, physical tools, intensity, motivation/drive, execution, experience, plus many other things are the collected in the alphabet.

I am a much better developmental coach than I could ever be as a varsity head coach. My strength was in the development of athletes by making the athletes realize they need to get better every day. When the athlete would achieve their goaI, I would pat them on the back and then turn up the pressure with a new, more loftier, goal.

I tried to get them to understand the importance of a step by step approach to being a competitor AND pounding it into their young, teenage heads this step by step approach never stops. There is always someone out there better than you are. Never be satisfied being the best on your team or in your town.

The alphabet analogy came early in my coaching career. We were coming back from a dismal freshman football performance. I was not a happy camper on the bus. I challenged the players to invest in learning the things they needed to learn to play high school football. Learn their job on every play and learn how to do that job correctly with the techniques we developed through effort every day in practice and drills.

I told them their middle school football experience taught them only the letters A, B, and C. They needed to start learning more letters because what the hell could you spell with only an “A”, a “B”, and a “C”?

Cab. That’s it…one word! Cab.

You can’t get very far in life knowing only the word, “cab”, can you?  

Even if that one word or that one thing you can currently do is pretty damn good, it is not nearly good enough. If you learn how to use all 26 letters in the alphabet, though, you can make any word. Armed with the whole A thru Z in your arsenal, you can create eloquent sentences and communicate effectively with others.

As an athlete, you need to learn, develop and master the basics of a sport before you can be highly competitive at that sport. In sports, you need the whole Athletic Alphabet to fill your potential.

Don’t be satisfied.

Don’t settle for someone just giving you a spot on the hill. Strive (and do the requisite work) to be KING OF THE HILL.

There is no such thing as “good enough”.

The ultimate competition is with yourself.

There is only you and your potential.

Never stop getting better.

photo (12)

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Football Is NOT Life: 2015

I wrote the blog post, Football is NOT Life, in 2010. I re-post it every year at the start of the season as a reminder to myself and to you. When first published, I was two years out of my bad breakup with football coaching. The obsession with coaching the sport was waning and life, my real, actual life was beginning to seep back into its position of dominance in my psyche. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never experienced it. Football coaching— coaching, in general—has a tendency to take over the way one thinks.

Everybody wants to win, it is written in the marrow of our bones. However, not everybody can win and we need to remind ourselves there are worse things in life than losing a game of football, no matter how much it hurts.

Respect the kids and respect the coaches. Parents, be your child’s biggest fan, not their biggest critic. Respect the work and effort everyone invests, no matter how disappointing the outcome is. Use games and sports to build character in our young people, not to expose poor character.

Please read this post and think about it.  If it helps, then pass it on to the next person before we adults take all the fun out of this great game.

(originally posted on September 21, 2010)

FOOTBALL IS NOT LIFE 

I know this may sound highly irrational and maybe even a bit hypocritical coming from me, but contrary to what the t-shirts say, FOOTBALL IS NOT LIFE!.

Football is the greatest damn game ever invented, but it is not life.  Football is intensity, competitiveness, sportsmanship, and violence, but it is not life.  Football requires immense strategy and teamwork, but it is not life.  Football provides education, drama, entertainment, and a solidarity which binds communities, campuses and fan bases throughout the nation, but it is not life.  Football is universal, it is played by presidents and paupers, genius, and idiot, big and small, aggressive and passive, rich and poor, but it is not life.  Football should not be all consuming.  Football should not be the top priority.  I know this for a fact, I have tripped and fallen down this hole before (see my story).

Football can be like a package of Oreos, both need to be consumed in moderation.  You’ve been there, you opened the package of Oreos and left it out on the counter.  Sooner, rather than later, the whole package is gone and you don’t feel so good.  But if you open that package and only take a couple of Oreos and place the package in the cupboard for a later date, they not only taste spectacular, but last and satisfy for days upon days.  Football is not life.  It should be taken in moderation and/or with a tall glass of milk, (preferably 1% or skim).

Football has it’s proper place, it has its proper perspective. Football is not the primary reason for the existence of high schools, colleges, and universities. Yes, football is important.  It is important to compete.  It is important to work hard to be the best coach or player you can be.  It is important to compete with purpose, pride, and passion.

I think Coach Paul Lane said it best with his prioritization of the sport,

“Faith, family, and football is a game we are lucky enough to play.”

Football is important to me.  But football is not life.  Let’s work to keep football in its proper perspective and place. I would hate for you to get a football belly-ache.

Unruh from scoreboard

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Coach Hays Rant: Not A Fan

“I’m not going to play this spring (or winter)(or summer) because I’m gonna lift.”

This phrase, when spoken from a high school athlete makes me cringe. I know what it means, I’ve been there. I used this excuse myself as a senior in high school and didn’t go out for wrestling. Here is the interpretation that enters my brain through the coach translation area of my cerebral cortex when I hear that phrase from a high school kid.

I don’t want to play __________ because I really don’t want to work that hard.

95% of the kids I’ve heard the “I’m going to lift” mantra from fail at this goal miserably. Sure, they show up in the weight room, but very little work gets done.

Rings

I admit I’m not a fan of the recent rise in the high school sport of powerlifting. Sure, it’s all pretty cool, but is it doing justice to our athletes? Are we pushing kids into powerlifting participation (even though it’s not a sanctioned competitive sport by the state athletic association) at the expense of other sports they could, and should, be participating in? Is powerlifting becoming the focus over the actual sports a high school offers?

Truth is you get better at sports by playing sports. The training component is vital, but it is still just a component. Playing multiple sports gives one an edge in physicality, in conditioning, and in competitiveness, which is such an important component, yet so overlooked. Give me eleven young, high school men who know how to compete and I will knock the mother-loving socks off your 300 lb. bench pressers who spend 8 months of their year lifting.

Plate

Explosive power development requires speed, agility, quickness, and strength. That strength is a certain type of strength—an explosive strength derived from a specific technical approach. Like I’ve said many times before, I want to develop bullets rather than bowling balls. Powerlifting as the primary focus does not build athletes. Period.

Moral of the story…play a sport whenever you can. It is the best “big picture” thing you can do. Don’t get stuck on the one particular tree and forget all about the forest.

  • The first step is to compete.
  • The second step is to practice with an approach to improve.
  • The third step is to attack a well-rounded physical training program to develop physically, mentally, and emotionally.
  • The fourth step…enjoy the ride.
  • The fifth step is to repeat steps one through four as often as possible.

Time is precious. Make the most of every tick of the clock and work to be the best you that you can be.

Hard work is the magic.

Rant over. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Apples and Crackers

When it came to coaching football, I was stupid. Seriously, most of the time, I was too oblivious to things going on outside of football while we were supposed to be doing football. Case in point, apples and crackers.

Apples and crackers? What in the heck do they have to do with football? Sit down, get a cool drink, and I’ll tell you.

It started with early season home JV games, you know those late August/early September HOT games. For this particular first home date, we played an area team who would bring both their freshman team and JV team over for a doubleheader. Me, as JV coach, thought (with the football coach’s blinders firmly in place) this would be a perfect opportunity to practice. Since our JV game would be starting a bit later than usual, we could get a full varsity team practice in. So, I made the last-minute, executive decision to practice instead of letting JV kids have some time off after school. Perfect. An extra almost-full practice. Priceless.

Well, maybe not. The first year we did this, we loaded the JV team up after the practice and drove to the stadium. We arrived about halftime of the freshman game. While standing around before warm-ups, a few of the kids talk about how hungry they are and how they had nothing to eat since lunch. Parents with high school boys are well aware of this time warp, which extends the hours between lunch and 6:00 PM into a seemingly 19-day fasting period for these youngsters. Long story short, I knew we would play like dookie and whine like cats in the bathtub if I didn’t find something for them to eat.

With the visual of 20+ angry mothers confronting me about not allowing their fine sons to eat before playing a JV football game, I scoot over to Coach Lane, explain the problem, and we coaches pool what little coaching cash we have for him to run to the store. He asked me what in the hell he should get for them. I went blank and when my brain kicked into gear, I blurted out the first two food items which entered my mind. Apples and crackers.

photo (14)

Ten minutes later, after we are completely dressed out and the freshman game is about at the end of the third quarter, Coach Lane returns with four giant bags of Jonathan apples (my personal favorite) and four boxes of Zesta saltine crackers.

That night, the boys ate like kings. I’ve never seen young men enjoy a meal of two completely ridiculous “power” foods like those boys did that night. I was fortunate to grab two apples for my own dinner without losing a limb in the process. Those apples and those crackers disappeared in about two minutes. Smiles all around and life was good.

Game On!

Apples and crackers became a tradition for the first home JV game for the next several years. It was like a team banquet or something for these kids. Some still talk about it. The majority of the time, stupidity fades faster than a shot from a Roman candle. But, sometimes, there is a rare occasion where stupidity sticks and enjoys a long life. The incident of the apples and crackers was one of these rare events.

Live well, boys! Celebrate the start of the 2014 football season with an apple and a few saltine crackers.

Enjoy the snack with the zeal of youth.

Enjoy it for your football memories.

Most importantly, enjoy it for Friday Night in America.

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When Everyone Wins, Nobody Wins.

There’s a trend in amateur sports which threatens a healthy future and perhaps even their survival as we know them. This disturbing trend is the misconception that competing means winning.

Behind this philosophy, we are eroding the joy in competing. We are smashing the inherent joy of working hard for a goal, by lowering the bar to give everybody the “win”. We continually are diluting the competitive structure to allow the most winners. Let’s hand out a ribbon to everybody, whether they earned it or deserved it. That’s unhealthy.

ribbons

One of my favorite movies is THE INCREDIBLES. One of the best lines in the movie is when the antagonist, Syndrome, tells Mr. Incredible he is creating superpower technology he’ll eventually sell to normal people. Syndrome says, “When everyone’s super, no one will be.”

Is that where we are going? Are we headed in the direction where only winning matters, so we need to make sure we create a system where everyone wins? That, my friends, is not a system which promotes the values and life lessons intended by sport. Teamwork flies out the door and the disciplined and dedicated approach to self-improvement soon follows. The reward for preparation is severely discounted. Using failure, or the potential of failure, to drive a desire to improve is swept under the rug.

Honestly, most of the true innate joy in sports is in competing. The joy of competing is in the working of one’s tail off to get better day after day in practice. The joy is in the going out on the field to give every last milligram of fight and intensity to compete with purpose, pride, and passion, win or lose. That’s what competing is.

Wins and losses will fall where they may, the competitive effort awards the athlete to a higher degree than any medal or trophy or ribbon. In fact, as much can be learned about oneself from a defeat as from a victory. Three of the most talked about football games in our tenure (even years after the games were played) were against 4A state powerhouse Holton Wildcats. These three games were massive, epic battles, games which felt like two rams rearing back and hammering horns together for four quarters.

These boys, now men, still talk about those games with a gleam in their eye. Do you know the common factor in those three Holton games? We lost. We played out heart out, we fought against the odds, we ignored the preconceived notion we were underdogs and vastly over-matched. We still lost. We ENJOYED those games enough to remember every detail ten years later, despite the final score.

THAT is what I am afraid to lose as we slide down the gravel slope to the pit where competing = winning.

In fact, I felt we found out more about who we were as human beings in how we responded to a defeat. We found out so much about ourselves as players and coaches by how we picked ourselves up from the muck of failure and worked to become something better. And for us adults, who’ve survived our share of hardships in life, isn’t that a great lesson for young athletes to learn?

Athletes remember the competition. The defeats and the victories often fade over time, but that feeling of having competed to the maximum of one’s abilities leaves a trail of satisfaction and has staying power.

As parents, coaches, and administrators let’s turn the tide, let’s once again turn our focus to the promotion of competition, instead of a focus on winning. We don’t need to eliminate losing. We don’t need to a ribbon or a trophy to be a winner.

We need the joy of competing to the best of our ability to make us winners.

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