Thursday, September 18, 2008
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Playing time is probably the biggest source of frustration and anger among sports parents, which is saying a lot.
An Unarguable Point
Kids love to play. They don’t like to sit on the bench. Moreover, most of the benefits of playing a sport are tied to competing in games. Kids who sit benefit less from sports than kids who play. I don’t see how anyone can argue with this.
Good Coaches Get Kids into Games
It is a tenet of good coaching that you get kids into games! Period. Whether there are any external rules for minimum playing time or not. Whether it is at the high school or highly competitive travel team level or not.
Good coaches get kids into games! They may be creative about how they get kids into games in high-stakes situations, because Double-Goal Coaches® do want to win. But good coaches—Double-Goal Coaches—get kids into games! Have I made myself clear?
The Mad Dogs
A creative idea for getting kids into games came from an Ohio high school basketball coach who took his bottom 8–12 players and termed them the “Mad Dogs.” The Mad Dogs knew they would play the last minute of the first quarter and the first minute of the second quarter in EVERY game, whether preseason or the state title game. This accomplished a number of things:
• Unlike typical bench players, the Mad Dogs worked extremely hard in practice because they wanted to be ready for their moment. This pushed the starters to play harder, which benefited the team on the scoreboard.
• They played all out during their two minutes. They were all over the court and had no hesitation about being highly aggressive. Over time, the coach told me, they became a competitive advantage, with the team being in a better competitive position after the Mad Dogs exited the game than before they entered.
• Some of the Mad Dogs became starters. The self-confidence they developed helped them develop a sense of possibility of themselves as starters! And when an individual latches onto a sense of possibility, watch out!
The Utility of Blowout Games
Good coaches use blowout games to get kids into games, but they do so BEFORE the game becomes a blowout. Good coaches recognize a mismatch coming up and start kids who normally don’t start. If that puts their team in a competitive disadvantage, so much the better for the starters to come into the game behind, having to work hard to catch up. If the blowout is a blowout even with the subs starting, at least the subs know they played when the game was still at stake.
Coaching for Effort
A word about the primacy of effort: If there were only one life lesson from sports it should be that hard work is a key to success. I once coined the “equation,” S=E/T, Success comes from Effort over Time, and drilled it into my players every day. We might not win today, but if we give it our best effort, sooner or later, we’ll be successful.
Good coaches in high-stakes situations should reward effort as much as talent. Tell kids that effort will be rewarded and then reward high-effort players with playing time, independent of ability. The message to a team when a weaker player who gives it her all gets into games on a regular basis is impossible to overstate.
Weaker players realize that they can get into games if they work hard. They don’t have to be as good as the best players on the team, they just have to outwork them! This is incredibly motivating to your weaker players.
And it is a wake-up call for your stronger players who will find their playing time limited if they don't up their effort level.
What’s a Parent To Do?
What is a parent to do when your child does NOT have a good coach who gets kids into games?
1) Check out the ground rules. Are there any playing time rules in this program? If not, go to the leadership of the program to propose this.
2) Check it out with your child. Is your son upset by not playing? Ask him how he feels about this. Whatever you do, don’t exclude him from the process and complain to the coach without consulting your child.
3) Cut out the middleman (that’s you!). Instead of talking to the coach, encourage your child to approach the coach. Parents complaining to coaches about their child’s playing time rarely has good results. On the other hand, coaches almost always respond well to a player who comes to them saying, “Coach, I’d like to play more. What can I do to get more playing time?”
4) Find out your options. Is there another program (perhaps one affiliated with Positive Coaching Alliance) that recognizes the importance of playing time for every athlete? If all else fails, and your kid is still sitting on the bench all the time, vote with your feet. Take your child to a better program.
A Final Thought
Coaches of selective teams where playing time is not guaranteed need to be clear about this. Much negativity results from parents being disappointed when their (perhaps unrealistic)expectations about their child’s playing time are not met.
Coaches, be absolutely clear at the beginning. Tell parents and players what they can expect in terms of playing time before they sign on to the team. If you are not going to get kids in the game unless you are confident they will contribute to a win on the scoreboard, say that at the beginning. It will save you a lot of grief down the road.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Swartz Creek -- Steve Finamore is officially back.
The second-year head coach at Jackson Community College was the most energetic guy in the building at Steve Bell's 2008 Bankhoops mini-camp on Sunday at the Cage in Swartz Creek.
(And, considering Holly's coach, Lance Baylis, was also in the building working a drill station, that's really saying something.)
Amazing, of course, when you consider that the only evidence left of Finamore's recent brush with death is a black neoprene brace on his right knee.
Last November, a few games into his first season at the helm of the fledging hoops program at Jackson, Finamore (pictured left) was struck by a car while walking in downtown Jackson. A driver ran a red light and was hit by a car going through the intersection before smashing into Finamore.
He was on the shelf for several weeks including a stint in the hospital.
But, for Finamore, being away from the gym and unable to coach the Jets added to the pain of recovery.
After working his drill station for two hours, Finamore spoke more than 100 high school students about taking basketball seriously. He spoke with great authority about the game, pacing around the floor almost as if he was searching for a pulpit. His presentation was a cross between a young Billy Graham and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
No one takes basketball more seriously than Finamore, it quickly became clear.
"(Basketball) has to matter to you," said Finamore, a Brooklyn-born former student assistant under Tom Izzo at Michigan State. "You've got to ask yourself, does this matter to me? Do I give a damn? Am I wasting my time? Do I love basketball? It has to matter to you. If it doesn't, you should go play another sport. Don't waste your time; don't waste your parents' money...if you're a serious basketball player, you come here and work your ass off...it's the little things that make you a better player."
He was shooting straight from the hip, as only he can.
"Potential is interesting, it really is," he said. "It's nice to see your name on Mr. Bell's website...but you know what, your performance is more important than that. Don't worry about that stuff. The number one player in Michigan (Trey Ziegler, Mt. Pleasant) is here today. He's a great player; but, he's here working on his game...he's number one, he can't go any higher, right? He could rest on that...but, no, he comes down here and works on his game...and he's going to make someone's day special and they're going to go home and say that they played with the best player in the state.
"Where are the second, third, fourth and fifth best players in the state? They should be here working on their games, too."
He continued his speech, telling the players that coaches will notice them if they pay due diligence to the little things; the things that Bell's camp is known for emphasizing -- defensive positioning, footwork, body control and all the rest.
And, in what must have been the first basketball-related homage to the Wizard of Oz (and "flying monkeys"), Finamore closed out his talk with the famous story of imperfect people searching for something they already had inside.
"They were all looking for something, like you are," he said. "You guys want to go to college. But let me tell you something: they all had it inside them all along...they just needed someone to tell them.
"Be coachable. Take criticism...be a great team player; love the game; respect the game and be a great person on top of all that."
Welcome back, Coach.
On the way back to MAC, we stopped at Richland Lanes for some friendly competition in bowling. It's been almost ten years since the last time I bowled, but I was able to hold my own and finished with the second highest score. Despite my team losing by one point, it was a fun evening and I had the opportunity to get to know the players a little better. I am looking forward to our next "family night" experience.
The failures of the San Diego State football program since 1998 can be blamed on many things: lack of resources and leadership, questionable hiring, recruiting and player commitment.
Each would seem to have at least one thread in common – accountability, or lack thereof. If there aren't enough members of the team taking responsibility for team problems, those problems can and usually do persist.
Which is why head coach Chuck Long has installed “leadership training” for senior players. It involves dividing the Aztecs into six teams of around 15 players, each headed by about three senior leaders. Each player gets a point per week but loses points for negative behaviors, such as being late to meetings or falling behind in the classroom.
“When you have accountability like that within your own team, now they start to do all the right things,” Long said.
Long said it also forces the seniors into “leadership roles and having them take ownership of the team.” If younger players slack off, senior leaders are expected to get after them for hurting their team's point total.
The competition started in the spring and will go through the end of the year. After yesterday's morning practice, the senior leaders held a draft to select this year's newcomers. The winner at the end gets bragging rights.
“It brings accountability on the seniors and the other players,” said starting senior guard Mike Schmidt, who leads one team along with senior defensive lineman Siaosi Fifita and senior cornerback Vonnie Holmes.
“It shows you that if you mess up, your whole team is affected by that. You get guys to look up to the seniors more, and it just brings the team together. It's good times, and it's real competitive.”
Long said the team's accountability is “much higher” than it was his first season in 2006. It's all part of the larger team-building exercises Long has tried since then. Besides accountability, the idea is to build trust and relationships. That first year, the Aztecs played softball together, competed against each other in Olympic-style games and took a trip to the Navy SEAL training base. This year, they opened camp with practices at Camp Pendleton.
1. Academics: maintain academic success in the classroom
2. Appearance: maintain a healthy appearance on and off the court, in the classroom and in the community
3. Individual Development: develop as an individual on the court and off the court.
4. Cohesiveness: become closer as a family off the court to ensure trust on the court.
The last couple weeks we have implemented a few things to help us acheive success in those areas, which includes weekly studyhalls and "Family Night". Along with their normal open gym schedules, we are meeting as a team off of the court two times each week to help us become better students in the classroom and better teammates off the court.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Developing a Work Ethic: "Every morning, the blond-haired boy arose in the predawn darkness to make the half-mile trip out to the barn near his parents' Alpine home. His father always had plenty of strenuous, unglamorous work for him to do.Among the chores included cleaning manure out of the stalls, feeding the cows and horses and hauling hay. They were big jobs for a small boy who was still in elementary school.But Paul Mendenhall always had the utmost confidence in his son, Bronco, who accomplished every task with efficiency and meticulousness."He's been an unusual young man since he was seven or eight years old," Paul says. "He has always been a very hard worker. I'd ask him to do things a grown man would do. He was extremely dependable. He always did it right. In the dead of winter, in two feet of snow, or in the heat of summer. It didn't matter. He never complained."By the time he was in the fifth grade, Bronco was driving a pickup truck around the farm to perform various responsibilities — even though he wasn't tall enough to see over the top of the steering wheel."He'd say, 'Dad, I can't see,'" Paul recalls. "I'd say, 'C'mon, Bronco! Get going! And he'd take off. I didn't dare tell his mom. I could tell him to do anything, and he'd do it. He'd give shots to the horses. If you do it in the wrong spot, it could kill the horse. After I showed him how to do it, I never worried about it with him. Bronco would have to clean the stall and remove the horse manure. Sometimes he'd get down on his hands and knees and pick up pieces one by one. He wanted it to be perfect. It's a silly, little thing, but that carried on to big things. He's never satisfied with anything less than excellence in everything he does."Every day after school, Bronco would go home and return to the barn. Once inside, his eyes would gaze up at a white board filled with a list of chores his dad had scrawled on it. He was charged with major responsibilities related to the family business - caring for and training up to 20 horses that were worth a total of $400,000."My dad simply just expected it to be done, and there was never the thought of, 'I can't do this, I'm too little, I'm not yet old enough.' It was, just go do it," Bronco says. "He would leave sometimes for a week to 10 days at a time when I was in junior high school and I was responsible for running his share of the operation and going to school. I was just a little kid.But I never viewed myself like that because my parents didn't. My intention was always that whenever my parents came back, they would be very impressed. That it might look better than when they left. That was instilled early."
Preparing for a Leadership Role: "On-the job training for this position was, I think, happening since I was just a little boy," he says.He understands the responsibility he has as head coach at BYU: "If you look at the mission statement that we came up with for the football program, I think we're the flagbearer of the institution," he says. "I'm passionate about my faith and I'm passionate about principles of truth and virtue and character. Those things represent BYU and BYU's football program. We're on the front line, representing all of those things. I intend to carry that flag up high, not on the ground. If I do my job right, this place will be one of the most dominant programs in the country, as it once was."His first interviews for the head coaching position didn't go well:"He's a very passionate guy. He didn't look at the big picture in those first interviews," says athletic director Tom Holmoe. "He answered questions as a defensive coordinator, not a head coach. I was confused because he was holding back. He didn't show everything he had. Bronco understands roles. He played the role of the defensive coordinator."
Strong Family Values: While [his parents] are complete opposites, Bronco says, he benefited from their contrasting personalities and interests. "It's amazing. My dad is kind of this rough, gruff business-cowboy. My mom is very gracious. She is so strong in etiquette and manners. She's very sophisticated and involved in art and music and opera and symphony and culture."Between the two, "there weren't many areas in my life where I didn't have real exacting points of reference of how to do it and do it correctly," he says. "Diversity would be a great way to describe the way I was raised."As a young coach, he saw the impact he could have on the lives of his players: "One of the great experiences of my life was seeing young men come out of the ghettos of Chicago and Los Angeles and watching them play at New Mexico," [his father] Paul says. "We had parents come up to us and say, 'I don't know how your son has done it, but he's changed the life of our boy.' That's Bronco's goal, to change lives and help them excel. For him, it's not all about winning football games."Being able to make an impact on young people encouraged Bronco to stick with coaching. "At some point, I had to decide why I was doing this," he says. "The conclusion is, I like to see kids try hard, I like to see them develop. I don't really coach for Saturdays. I coach for the day-to-day of watching them show up and do the best they can. That's what I gain the most satisfaction from. Once I came to that conclusion, I've been at peace with what I'm doing."
On his coaching philosophy:Mendenhall believes in the warrior culture. As the defensive coordinator, he assigns his players to study various types, from Stripling Warriors in the LDS culture; to Samurai and Bushido Warriors in the Japanese culture; to the Maoris in the New Zealand culture.Mendenhall became fascinated with warrior cultures because his father served two missions to New Zealand. "What I've learned through studying these cultures is, there's a tradition that passed on from father to son, generation to generation of how they do things. It's a way of excellence and it's a lifestyle that's all-encompassing. They dedicate and devote their entire being to representing their people."Then, he adds: "Most often, there's a rite of passage that a member of the culture has to pass through to become included in. I really like the idea of investment to become a part of something rather than entitlement."That explains why he fosters a successful walk-on program at BYU. Last season, several non-scholarship players on the Cougar defense ended up starting or seeing significant playing time. In Mendenhall's program, players are judged by how they perform in practice on a daily basis. Entitlement doesn't exist.
Embracing Tradition: Mendenhall has also embraced the Cougars' rich tradition, inviting former star players back to campus to address the team. He expects his current players to understand, and uphold, this legacy.Former BYU star and NFL Hall-of-Famer Steve Young dropped in one afternoon after practice recently. He is impressed with Mendenhall's approach. "Everyone knows Bronco's a great motivator and he's a fine coach," Young says. "Really, it's about getting wins. The foundation is here, the facilities are here. Recruiting looks like it's going well. Bronco can do the job. Everybody expects significant improvement. He's taken the challenge. He's changed the logo back to the old logo to say, 'I know what the expectations are. Why hide it? We're not going to run from it.' I like that."Not long ago, Duane Busby, BYU's director of football operations, was rummaging through a pile of items in his office when he found a highlight film from the 1996 season, when the Cougars posted a 14-1 record, won the Cotton Bowl and finished with a No. 5 national ranking. The highlight film was only three or four minutes long, but Busby figured Mendenhall might be interested in seeing it, so he put it on a DVD and placed it on the coach's desk."The next day, he took our staff into the team room and called the players in to watch it," Busby says. "He told them, 'I can't get these images out of my mind. This is what we need to be.' Then he showed them the highlights. It struck an emotional chord in him. He has a passion to return BYU to greatness."
Coaching with Passion and Energy: Members of Mendenhall's staff say he's working with a sense of urgency, but in a very deliberate, organized fashion. He routinely hands out copies of inspirational books for them to read. Assistant coaches praise him for his willingness to listen to their ideas and to learn. They say that under his direction, they feel a stronger sense of ownership in the program."He's passionate about what he's doing," Busby says. "That passion is evidenced by everything he does. His passion burns brighter than anyone I've been around."Mendenhall has sought out LaVell Edwards, the Father of BYU Football, the man who built the program and the tradition from practically nothing, to mine nuggets of wisdom and advice. Their first meeting, which was scheduled to last 30 minutes, ended up going for three hours. They've met several times since.Busby, who was hired by Edwards in 1996, has an analogy for what Mendenhall has been doing in his first few months on the job. "BYU football was a machine, like a giant wheel that rolled along under LaVell," he explains. "It's taken a few bad years to stop the momentum of the wheel. It takes a lot of energy to get it spinning again."The last couple of years, watching a BYU practice was like watching two different teams, the offense and the defense. They each had different standards, which created friction among the players.
Building Unity and a Common Mindset: was one of Mendenhall's first priorities."We won't have two separate teams, like it's kind of been," says middle linebacker Cameron Jensen. "We'll have that one team that's focused and dedicated to playing and working as hard as it can, which should be BYU football."Meanwhile, Mendenhall has labored diligently to change attitudes among players who have endured three straight losing seasons. "The most important thing is attitude," Holmoe says. "You can get used to losing."
Maintaining a Balance with Family: His three sons have provided a much-needed sense of balance, Holly says, particularly when things don't go well at work. "He's a perfectionist. When things go wrong, it frustrates him. The kids help with that. They're good for him. It helps him remember that it's not the end of the world to lose a football game."The Mendenhalls spend a lot of their time together outdoors, including activities like swimming, riding bikes and riding horses. Sometimes, on Sundays when the weather is pleasant, Bronco walks with the older boys to church. As they walk, he tells them stories. "These are stories off the top of his head with good morals," Holly says. "He's a creative person. I want him to write children's books. I tell him, 'We could make a million dollars if you were a children's author.'"While he's comfortable speaking in front of crowds large and small, Bronco is a private person, Holly says, and not one inclined to engage in small talk. "People who know him know he just likes to hang out. We'll go to a restaurant and people try to talk to him. He can be abrupt when people invade his personal space. A lot of people don't relate to Bronco. He's not going to be your best friend."If Bronco wasn't a football coach, Holly says, he could be good at anything. "He has excellent leadership skills, he's honest, committed, loyal. A good guy who does the right thing," she says. "He's a deep thinker, articulate and eloquent. He's doesn't prepare for talks. He just speaks from his heart. He's very spiritual, very intelligent."Speaking of that softer side, Holly reveals that her husband is something of a romantic. "He writes me great love letters. He's so creative, very good with words," she says. "For my birthday or anniversary, he'll leave cards in the shower and in the fridge. He's very thoughtful. He's gifted in the way he uses words. I'm amazed all the time."