Coaching Points That I Hope Can Help, and The Golden Rule
I started this blog for a few reasons. It forced me to put my philosophy out there, and I wanted a place for coaches to be able to come, to maybe find something they could use or thought provoking. I was tired of young coaches with families and limited budgets, having to decide whether to buy something they need or spend the money on an insider video etc, guaranteed to take you to the top. I have written a book and has been published, but I did that for two reasons, 1. I wanted to prove to my former high school teachers that I could do it, and 2. It forced me to put all of my ideas in an organized way. I have been fortunate enough to have repeated viewers to my blog from all 50 states, and 2 foreign countries. I would like to say thank you to all that have retweeted, liked, or followed this blog. It has been a truly humbling experience.
I recently watched an ESPN 30 for 30 on Coach John Calapari. It chronicled his career from start to present. As a UK fan by birth, I really tuned myself in and wanted to learn about the man. I was intrigued by the man who took over a UMAss team that was terrible, and climbed to the top of his conference. How he was once on the outside of coaching after his stint in the NBA. I drew some parallels form his emotions of being a coach. John was an outsider in the A10, and I have always felt like an outsider myself. And after watching I wanted to jot down some instances in coaching that we do not get to here in clinics. This is designed not to brag or be self indulgent, but to find some relation for a coach out there in a tough situation.
In Georgia their are two constants in life, Sunday morning service and Herschel Walker. If you have never been to International City Stadium (now McConnell Talbert) to see Warner Robins vs. Northside game, well I might say you never seen Georgia football. 15k plus fans standing room only. I started my career in coaching as what some might call a “community coach.” We were a team of 20 players playing a 3AAA schedule. Well needless to say my first adventure in coaching was the other direction, but it made me appreciate the profession now. In my first 4 years as an Assistant Coach, I went through as many head coaches. We had to practice on a vacant field adjacent to the football practice field, because the soccer team was considered a better draw. In my first year George Walton kicked a field goal on first down in order to not score another touchdown. We were playing with freshman and sophomores, on a full varsity schedule. Physically and Mentally we were not mature enough for the level of competition we had to compete in. I can tell you that there were times we could not see the light at the end of the tunnel, but you had to stick with it and keep pushing. So as I hit on a few points, my aim is to relate to some coaches in the situation I was once in, and say there is light, and also to help anyone who might be struggling in the profession.
Coaching is a Lonely Profession
Coaching is a lonely profession, and if you are just getting into this area you will find that fast. Even when times are plentiful and everything is going well, when everything is quiet you will find yourself alone. I believe there are two types of alone, the one where we seek solitude and the other is self -solitary confinement. One is refreshing, the other is torture on the mind and body.
I have always been really hard on myself as a coach. My wife says I carry the weight and worry of the world on my shoulders, and no one will ever know. I have learned to hide it well in my years for fear of infecting someone else. I was conditioned to pursue perfection, even though it is not obtainable. Even now over a decade into this profession, I suffer from weeks of insomnia, and extreme worry when this is not achieved. I can easily create the self-solitary confinement for myself. Something as little as sewing grass on a practice field had me on pins and needles.
Being an oddity is already tough, and to be the coach at the non-fashionable program adds a little to it. Not bowing to the old hats who have always kept their thumb on every program, well even tougher. As a young coach, I really was alone, when learning and teaching, I did not have a mentor, and really anyone to call with questions. Our program was alone on an island, with everyone hoping we would fold. A lot of people wanted us to fail. Taking all this into consideration can easily create some serious bouts of Self-Solitary Confinement.
Creating the Monster of Solitary Confinement
The self-inflicted mental pressure is what breaks a tremendous amount of young coaches. It takes away our focus and makes us look for solitude in ourselves. We can easily drown ourselves in self-pity, and feel better about ourselves in a dark quiet room. It is safe, effective, and we can find self-reason. The role of the “victim” is easily played everyday, but taking ownership on the never ending path of perfection, well that is a whole different dump truck load of weight, that must be carried to find success.
As I stated early I was able to make this list for my first job by being a part of the program for a few years. As young as I was then, there is no possible way, I could have made those assessment, just coming off the street and jumping into this profession as easily then. Experience is the greatest teacher, I still believe.
The only stability the players had was myself and another assistant coach. Each year we had to run spring practice while the school was hiring another coach. So as my post as the new HC, I decided that in order to get parents involved, I had to borrow an idea from another local powerhouse, in the form of a Monday Boosters meeting. The idea was to get in front of parents to gain some trust and stability, as well as honor the players each week for their effort and performance.
During this time it was my job to meet with the Monday evening football boosters. I had to present the offensive, defensive, special teams, and scout team player of the week, a t-shirt, as well as go over the opponents film, and diagram how we were going to attack it. After a loss, this was not always the most pleasant time, after a Monday practice. Sometimes this was like standing before a firing squad, and dodging bullets. Enter one of my Dad’s famous quotes: “Son what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” I mean, I had to explain how we were going to block inside zone, and what triangle reads were, and why this week maybe better match-ups. How I was going to find a way to block a defensive end on a full ride to Troy State, while my kid was just a freshman struggling in Math. Or the coach who had won 10 state championships in the last 30 years, was in my conference (and we face them this week). There were several evenings as a young coach I would ask myself, “why do I have to do this meeting?” Oh Yea…It was my idea! It became a way to show progress, and to clear up any communication for the up coming week. As hard as it was some weeks to walk through those doors, it was beneficial for the program. The parents would bring finger foods, and the kids were represented. It was also a time I could explain why we were attacking these opponents the way we were. I know that a large percentage of parents are not masters of X’s and O’s, but It was a way for me to give that to them. I cannot lie and tell you that some nights you could here crickets chirp after a loss, but this meetings real focus was on the kids, and recognizing them with the t-shirts, showed progress.
As I said in the opening paragraph, I was conditioned to reach perfection, knowing it was never fully obtainable. My father was the 4th and youngest child born in the coal mining camps of SE Kentucky. He made success on work ethic, and pure pursuit. He left home at 18 as a high school graduate, with 18 dollars and a greyhound bus ticket to Louisville, Ky, because he wanted to work above ground for the rest of his life. He had a drive to provide and make something of himself, when most said he wouldn’t. So when his kids came along, he was sure to instill that “good is not good enough,” and “you can always do better.” These were not mere saying at the dinner table, it was a way of life.
How do I rebound in times of good or bad, even when my performance is being questioned? Do you pack up and go into self-solitary confinement, or do you keep going and striving for perfection. I can say the toughest battles as a coach are the mental, not the physical ones.
Assessment, Overall Goals, Check Points and Time
When I took my first head coaching job, I did not allow the newspaper to do an article. The only head lines the school had concerning football for the past 4 seasons, was replacing the football coach who had just got their 11 months earlier. The last thing the program needed was one more article and a bunch of propaganda about how this time was going to be different. I could not promise instant success, but I could promise a process.
Prior to becoming a head coach, my job as the Assistant Coach included, interviewing coaches, mowing the practice field, running spring practice, installing schemes for the newly hired head coach (until he could be there), recruiting players, scheduling scrimmages, etc. Many of the coaches came in with a new approach to the same old dance. The story line of : I got a new scheme, new shirts, new uniforms and so on. After the season was over, they would be gone, and the vicious cycle would start all over. While all these guys are great people, they missed the idea of substance, in some instances we were trying to win a game of “pin the tail on the donkey.” Trying to build anything blindfolded is almost impossible. The same cycle produced the same results. They failed to assess the “investment” they just bought into.
In order to properly set up a plan of improvement, I believe that you must set up 3 essential goals: Assessment, Overall Goals, and Check Points.
Assessment is probably one of the greatest qualities a coach can possess. When you are coming into coaching assessment is the gauge where you can measure what you have to work with. This is players, equipment, administrators, and every other facet in regards to your program. The assessment will allow you to set goals, timelines, check points and see progress, for your program and for your mental stability. So many coaches can wonder if you skip this step when coming into this professions, mainly due to receiving the position. This is just as important as a head coach as well as an assistant coach. Assessment can come in the form of film study, commitment, and daily position drills. We have to give tests each day. I knew in my initial assessment, the team needed stability, a locker room, a brand, a system, a place to play, lines on practice field, better non-conference games, added support, a weight program, and structure. This was my list and not in that order. This allowed me to at least project a future, that previous coaches skipped. In the project management world, this is completed several times before any labor is made in the project. You have to foresee and forecast.
From a players standpoint, we had very few lineman, but the ones I had were very good, and the backbone of our team. Several of my former basketball players had decided to come play for me, and I had a smart kid (a converted quard/middle linebacker) to play quarterback, and also an outstanding punter/kicker. We had one upper class running back, and one as a freshmen. I knew in my initial assessment that we would be out numbered most nights 2:1 in the teams we faced, so finding something where we could compete and show progress was key to my approach.
Overall goals can be made in many forms. Of course everyone’s first goal is to win, but that is as vague as someone saying I want to be a millionaire. How do you get to winning? What is needed to develop in order to get to be a contender? Do you need new equipment, weights, etc.? This is a step that is directly a product of your initial assessment. Your able to answer these only after you assess your program.
I knew in my program we needed skill development and weight room time. We did not have weight room as a class, because of this rigorous college prep tracts the students were on, so it all had to be after school. In skill development I visited a 5AAAAA school (Warner Robins Demons and the Northside Eagles) in our area that allowed me to use their Parisi speed school manual. We started using bounding and stride rate and stride length. We had to get stronger and faster. I never liked 2- a day practices at all, and always felt like the second practice was a waste, so I had to install mini camps. These camps were done at night on Fridays, where I could work on each third of the game individually. I also wanted a sand pit, and had to raise money for it. I knew we would be facing teams that had more players than us, so I asked a local team who had won multiple state and national titles, what the one thing they could not do without, and they all said the sand pit. Their explanation is they won a lot of games in the 4th quarter, and it was all because of their conditioning. All of their drills were done in this sand pit. See players cannot cheat conditioning in the sand, and it takes half the time it does on grass to get the results, plus it is low impact. All of this was essential before we ever picked up a ball.
Check points can be assembled to show progress. They are much like progress reports we give students. It can also allow you to show the public progress, and allow you to adjust your timeline, or to assess damage control. One thing I learned being a PM over 250 employees, from different backgrounds, habits, personalities, languages, learning abilities, is that nothing goes as planned. There are always issues, and being great at recognizing problem areas, and being able to quickly resolving them leads to success. Being able to adjust as progress goes, allows you to stay on Time.
In my first years with the program equipment was an issue. The kids took their stuff home everyday, and had to carry travel bags to and from home. I hated this, and with a struggling budget, I knew there had to be a remedy. In this locker room we created an equipment cage, and my wife washed the clothes every night at our house.We needed a locker room. We were able to take the top storage over the gym and construct a locker room. I created some blueprints, worked up a material list, and presented it. It got approved. Myself and 2 other parents built 40 lockers after practice and on weekends. My wife chipped in and painted the lockers. Now this place was top storage in Georgia with no A/C, but it was something the kids never had, and it showed progress. It also gave the kids a place to call home, and allowed for organization. The coaches also had an office for the first time in our time there, it made us like the other programs. It allowed for less talk about what other teams had, and more focus on where we were going.
It would have been easy to say well, I can’t……..and finish that sentence for whatever we did not have that other programs might. It was easy for myself, parents, and boosters, to find excuses by looking over the fence at their neighbors yard. We were surrounded by schools with numerous state championships, and teams playing on ESPN. In order to combat this, I had to find a way to show progress. I had to quickly find a way to put these into a timeline. A way to see visual progress for the program, and myself. I need to see progress to stay away from the lure of “instant coffee.” It had to be built their was no magic wand. The timeline gave me direction.
Find a Hobby and a Few Friends who “don’t talk shop”
In many instances early on, I absolutely thought football 24/7. Especially when you are building a program, but the mind needs some time to recharge. Your mental health, that in turn drives your physical health is essential for your success. Fast forward to our technological abilities today, and it can be very hard to disconnect from the “job,” but if you want longevity you better learn to recharge sometimes.
During the off season, I like to fish, although I really did not pick this hobby up until recently. I like to get in my kayak, and leave the cell phone behind for a few hours, to discover, reflect, gather my thoughts, enjoy nature, and communicate with my family and make memories.
Also find friends who “don’t talk shop.” If you are constantly around these people, it will make you irritable, aggravated, and less appreciative of each other. Find some friends who likes to talk about your other interest in life, it will be a great release for your mental and physical health. It will also make you feel less under the microscope we all live in as coaches.
Negativity, You cannot please the public. It is impossible.
Many coaches entering the profession for the first time are often hit with disheartening struggles that are unlike the picture we had painted in our mind. New coaches must learn that all players do not have the same motivation and drive that you might of had as a player. The players motivation may take a little more than what you were expecting. Players will not always agree with you, just because you have the title of coach.
The most important is, just because your a coach does nothing to help your public opinion. If you are in this for accolades from the public, then you will be out before the ink is dry on our contract. All of these mentioned above are just a few of the misconceptions you may enter this profession with.
As I have said before my first year in coaching we were playing George Walton, and they kicked a field goal on first down to keep from scoring another touchdown. As gracious as that was, it was the first and only time I have ever seen that happen. More importantly it was not something you can call time out, and fix. It was a mentally deflating as was physically. They were a straight T team, that had a machine, consequently the very next year they were running the TFS Air Raid system. Our kids were playing to 100 percent of their ability, we were just not mature enough to compete at that level just yet. Still the public does not always see it that way. It made you feel as if you were the only person on an island standing on that sideline. It was an experience that allows me to handle negativity today, and allows me to remain positive despite the “fox hole” I might be in.
I could tell countless stories we faced building that program, Getting a weight-lighting class in PE, a locker room built so kids did not have to take their equipment home everyday, bus drivers, unreal instant expectations, absolutely no budget money, and a dwindling student body and support, trying to fill a coaching staff, and listening to everyone in public examine your every move. I am sure that their are coaches who can relate to this at every level of competition, but really all of these problems can seem insurmountable, but must be kept into perspective. Insert another one of my father’s quotes: “Can’t Never Could.”
I could literally go on and on about the instances that happened in my first few years, but all of this really put things into perspective for me. I could not quit because the players did not. I could not run somewhere else, I had to stay right there. I learned that it was more about the players than the plays and schemes. Most importantly it taught me how to treat people. Serve those around you, empower them, nurture them, be a shoulder to lean on, find progress, and find the light in every situation. This profession is the most rewarding, and I have made more friends from former players, than in any other way in my life. All of this is completely worth it, if you treat the process the same as we are told to treat people. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” The Bible.