Tag Archives: Player Development

Dear Juniors

Dear Juniors,

Graduation Day. A day of celebration and a day to honor the graduating seniors. When I coached high school, it was one of my favorite days. No, it wasn’t because kids I’d been around for four years were finally leaving. It was because the kids I’d been around for four years, kids who came in as immature, raw, smartass freshmen, had accomplished tough things and were now mature, almost fully developed, smartass seniors ready to make their mark upon the world. It was a great honor to be a small part of their journey, so the day was special to a coach.

Today the spotlight is on the seniors. They deserve it.

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Daniel J. McLain (RELEASED)

But I’d like to turn the all-seeing eye on you juniors. In a few short hours, after the final note Pomp and Circumstance fades into the dusk, YOU will be the seniors. Your final journey down High School Lane begins. Like it or not, the next step you take will be as a senior. Father Time has turned the hourglass over and the first grain of your senior year sand has fallen.

My question to you, Dear Junior.

What are you going to do?

It is your time. Time to step up and push the wagon. No more riding along, going where the previous few years’ wagon went. It’s time for you to shine. Time to dig your heels into the ground, roll up your sleeves, and get to work. Every second you wait after the sun sets on this graduation day results in more sand disappearing from your own senior year clock.

Tick, tock…

What are you going to do?

As seniors, you will have expectations. Accept them. Don’t turn your back on them or default these responsibilities to others. Take the challenges head on and with an intent on fulfilling the expectations with your own talents. Be a leader. A good leader. Be someone that the younger kids want to follow. Don’t lead through threat, fear, or intimidation. As the saying goes, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Help the underclassmen and show them the way we do things within our traditions and community. Pick them up; don’t stomp them down. You make yourself better by making those under you better so set a good example. Be a leader.

What are you going to do?

I challenge you to sit down tomorrow morning as you start your last week of class as a junior and write down what you want to accomplish. Academics, activities, sports, work, finances, etc. Make a physical list. Take this list and put it where you can see it when you wake up each morning. Put a copy in your school locker. Remind yourself constantly of your dreams.

Next, make a plan. List the things you need to do each and every day to accomplish your goals. Carry this with you. Make it part of who you are. Do the things on your plan consistently. Make them a habit. Fail. Step back. Strategize. Attack. Succeed. Challenge. Repeat.

Success breed success.

Tell someone else your goals. A friend. A family member. Heck, you can even send your goal(s) to me. Merely having the ingrained thought in your psyche that someone else knows your goal(s) is a powerful motivator. There is power in sharing. You and your buddy are less likely to sleep through summer conditioning if your buddy knows you want to hit opponents like a cannon shot on the football field and you know he wants to rush for 1,000-yards.

Today, speeches will be made wishing the graduating seniors good luck in their future endeavors and celebrating a milestone in their lives. We all wish them well.

But Juniors, come tonight at sunset…

  • Your life will change.
  • You must vacate your seat in the wagon and start pushing it.
  • Your time has come.
  • Make the most of it.
  • Leave your mark.

Juniors, it is your time.

What are you going to do?

My eye is on you and I expect great things from you.

Hard work is the magic.

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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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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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Name On The Front

You may or may not have heard, but the Kansas City Royals won the 2015 World Series! They out-hustled, out-worked, out-scouted, out-played the Mets to win four games to one. I was happy. I sat in complete bliss watching the postgame celebration late Sunday night and into early Monday morning.

It was fun.

But, as my head hit the pillow a little after 1:00 AM on Monday, November 2, 2015, my thoughts shifted to the one question. That one question that always haunts a coach, “How do we get better?”

In the Kansas City Royals case, “How do they keep winning into 2016 and beyond?”

If you’re looking for a happy, blue-Kool Aid-infused blog post about how awesome everything is and how we should keep the train on the track as is, I apologize in advance. You are going to be pissed off at old Coach Hays. This is going to be a rant about how we can leverage this current success into a long-term success by focusing on the stale, overused team sports saying about playing for the “name on the front of the jersey”.

The secret to the Royals future success and with the associated continuance of your fandom needs to be grounded in this. We need to be Royals fans. Not just Gordon fans, not just Hosmer fans, not just Cain fans, and not just Perez fans. We need to cheer like crazy for the guys on the roster, the guys who go out and play the games every day. AND we need to avoid falling in love with the individual over the team.

Small market or mega-market, professional sports teams have to be smart about how, when and where they spend money. The mega-markets can afford mistakes on long-term, high dollar contracts. The small markets cannot. They have to be willing to part ways with current players and/or parlay a current start into two or three future stars.

That is what I believe Dayton Moore’s as a general manager lies. Don’t get bogged down in heavy, long-term contracts at the expense of your future. Be consistently great by being an organization consistently evolving.

  • Acquire talent.
  • Develop talent.
  • Coach up the talent.
  • Put the talent in a position to win.
  • Deal talent.
  • Repeat.

But, this is tough. It’s tough as a GM to pull the trigger. Okay, you short memory people, remember how ticked off you were last year when they let Billy Butler walk to the A’s. Remember?

The Royals have built an exceptional system under Dayton Moore. It is something I never could or would have believed the Glass family would have committed the resources to a decade ago. They have great scouting on both the talent and game front. They have great assistant coaches and minor league coaches (I forego inclusion of head coach Ned Yost in this list as his greatest asset to the organization is allowing people around him to do their jobs.). They have tapped into Latin America like few other teams did to mine talent.

In short, I trust this management to compete.

Compete.

Is that all we can ask as fans?

Compete, compete, compete, and then, on occasion, tremendous things will happen as fortune smiles on your endeavors and the baseball gods sprinkle your team with greatness—like the 2015 World Championship.

Don’t be mad at either the player or the management for the Gordo’s, the Salvi’s, the Zobrists, the Hosmers and the Cuetos walking out the door. Remember, they are leaving a whole bunch of awesome memories and results in their wake.

The name on the front, people.

The “now’s” instead of the “has been’s”. The “producers” instead of the “washed-ups”.

Go, Royals!

Thank you to everyone in the organization for 2014 and 2015. It’s been an awesome ride as a fan.

Now, let’s go get 2016!

IMG_2673

IMG_2671

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The Work Necessary

The Kansas City Royals are 2015 American League Champions!

The Boys in Blue are in the World Series against the New York Mets!

But a weird thing happened the morning after they won the ALCS over Toronto. Instead of waking up 100% joyful and ready to roll for the Series, I woke up thinking about two plays from ALCS Game 6 and how these two plays spotlight the value of coaches doing the work necessary for their players.

  1. When Alex Rios stole second base against David Price, a left-handed pitcher who allows unbelievably few stolen bases when he is on the mound.
  2. When Lorenzo Cain scored the game-winning run from first base on Eric Hosmer’s double down the right field line.

Both plays, at face value, look totally like big plays made through the exceptional speed and athleticism of those two athletes. But if you look closer, listen to the announcer comments, and the postgame interviews of players and coaches, you begin to see a whole different story.

True, Alex Rios and Lorenzo Cain are two incredibly gifted athletes but that is not what gave them the advantage and confidence to execute those clutch plays on one of the biggest stages of their sport.

What gave both players the edge was the hard work and analysis of the coaches and advanced scouting department.

Yeah. Coaching matters, scouting matters, preparation matters. Hard work IS the magic. Although both plays look to be just a couple of plays of guys running, the amount of time and effort—film study, the scouting report from the scouts following the Blue Jays for the past few months, transfer of that information to the player—are staggering.

Case One – Rios steals second base on a jump he takes off of the first movement home by David Price. Price is difficult to steal on. He’s left handed and although he doesn’t have a great move, he has a quick slide-step delivery which makes it hard for the runner to get an aggressive lead or jump. Scouting appears to have picked up on a tendency for him to sometimes forget about the runner and not give him a “look” when he’s going to pitch the ball to his catcher. For several pitches, he peeks to Rios before delivery to home. On this particular pitch, he doesn’t peek or look to first base and goes straight home, Rios runs on Price’s first movement and is safe with a stolen base–the VERY FIRST stolen base allowed by David Price ALL YEAR. Rios did not end up scoring, but it was a blow to the confidence level of the Blue Jays and added to the pile of things they had to think about.

Scouting, picking up on tendencies, AND being able to relay those details to the player = Makes the game looks easy.

http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/28898650/v525581583

Case Two – Royals third base coach Mike Jirshele and the scouts studied Toronto’s exceptional right fielder, Jose Bautista. They noticed he often fields a ball down the right field line and spins to throw the ball by turning his back toward the infield instead of opening up frontside where he would be able to see the infield all the time. They also noticed he almost always wheels to the blindside and throws the relay to the shortstop positioned around second base.

Coach Jirshele planned on taking advantage of this if, and when, the situation arose. Well, it arose. In fact not only were the players coached this during practices and meetings, but they were given a refresher before game six AND Coach Jirshelle revisited this with Cain and Hosmer BEFORE the inning even started since they were due to bat.

http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/135309324/v525692683

Preparation works.

As a coach, when you watch hours and hours of film or live action, you begin to see patterns. When you rewind and watch a play over and over a dozen times or more, the structure patterns emerge. These patterns become tendencies when put together and analyzed.

  • Tendencies allow a coach to focus preparation.
  • Tendencies allow a coach to focus teaching.
  • Tendencies allow a coach to give his players an edge.

The word “Coach” must be used as a verb, rather than just as a noun. 

As a coach, do the work necessary to put your team in a position to succeed.

Hard work is the magic.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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Going Pro

I’ve had a lot of my athletes go pro. Seriously, look it up. It’s absolutely true.

It’s just that none of them have gone pro playing sports.

They are professionals, nonetheless.

  • Farmers
  • Ranchers
  • Teachers
  • Soldiers
  • Engineers
  • Park rangers
  • Firemen
  • Pilots
  • EMT’s
  • Doctors
  • Coaches
  • Landscapers
  • Linemen
  • Mechanics
  • Recreation specialists
  • Nurses
  • Construction workers
  • Fence builders
  • Bankers
  • Salesmen
  • Laborers
  • Entrepreneurs

And the list goes on and on.

They are successes in their own stories.  They make me proud to have been their coach. No win, no matter how big it seemed at the time, matches the joy of observing these young men as husbands, fathers, and fine adult citizens.

I’ve coached kids who were (are) borderline brilliant. I’ve coached kids who had many adults in their teenage lives who thought they were borderline criminals. Except for a few rare outliers, I liked them all. Except for a few outliers, I believed in them and believed ALL of them would grow up (eventually) to become fine adults. They have.

Sports are great. Enjoy them while you still have the opportunity to participate. Compete within yourself to be the best you that you can be. But, please, please, please, never forget sports are a first step in your developing life, not the last step.

It gets better from here. I know this may be hard to believe, but it’s true.

Trust me on this one, kids.

800px-NFL_Draft_2010_stage_at_Radio_City_Music_Hall
mockdraft

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The Depths

Depth is underrated. The value of having quality people in your program is fairly obvious—you need good players to succeed. The number ones on the depth chart are important, but as a coach or leader of a program, one cannot ignore the value of depth and numbers.

Depth in the kids who fill the backup role and must step in when called upon when the starter goes down. Depth in the kids who stand on the sidelines on game night, seemingly for the sole purpose as a show of force in uniform.

Depth is more important than that.

Depth makes a program successful.

A program needs the kids on the third and fourth string—the kids on the low end of the depth totem pole— to make everyone better. These players are the ones who make a program stronger and a lot more fun to be a part of. The “filler” players are the ones who push the kids above them on the depth chart to get better. The challenge, the competition, and the friendly rivalry are the “magic” which makes a team shine.

I used to enjoy working with the football scout team kids in practice. It wasn’t easy for these kids to learn the opponent’s offense and defense on the fly. It was a daily struggle for them to stir up within themselves the intensity and effort to give the first and second string players a quality look in our preparations. We called ourselves the “Black Dogs”. We took pride in what we did. We learned a lot of football running all those opponents schemes and plays.

I’d challenge them to push the other players as much as possible, even if it got a little chippy at times. Honestly, I didn’t mind an occasional scuffle or melee as these mostly occurred when the third string player made a first string player look bad on a play. Oddly enough, after these incidents, the starter usually attacked their practice with renewed effort.

Everybody gets better.

Every day.

You build successful programs from the ground up. You recruit quality depth. You plant the seed of possibility within these kids when they show up at your door. You cultivate their talent with as much, or more, effort as is put into developing your number ones. You give them a sense of importance and value. Everybody sees the intricately carved and beautifully decorated top of the totem pole, but people rarely pay attention to the bottom of the totem pole, which provides the foundation. If the foundation is weak and gives way, the whole thing falls apart.

It takes a special relationship between coaches and these kids on the lower half of the depth chart. A coach needs to make these kids feel like they are an important part of the program and demand effort from them every single practice, workout, and game. These kids don’t get much attention and the attention they get is mostly negative. A classmate poking fun at them for “riding the pine”. A parent chiding them for not being a starter. It’s a tough life for a Black Dog. That’s why a coach needs to be there to encourage and develop them as players.

Every day.

Everyone gets better.

I salute the Black Dogs of the world. I salute the kids who practice hard and work to make themselves and the team better on a daily basis. Without you, a team has no depth. Without you, a team has no foundation. Without you, a program crumbles.

Have patience. Keep working hard. Make your position a better place. And never forget the light at the end of the tunnel. Your time will come.

Next time you see the players at the lower end of the depth chart, give them a high five. Pat them on the back in appreciation for their efforts and cheer them on. THEY are the keys to a successful program. As the old saying goes, “A chain is as strong as its weakest link.”

A program is built from the ground up. Talent is forged from upward pressure and challenge from below.

Everyone contributes. Every day.

CC@Abilene2009

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