Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Parent Pledge - Take it. Trust me. Your Child will Thank you...

As winter sport seasons start to get underway, a repost of an earlier blog.

If your child plays on a sports team, trust me...

1. Try to get the attention of or talk to your kid while they're with their team for a contest.
- This includes from the time you drop them at the school/club/competition until they get back into your car to go home. Even if you've coached them in the past, even if you're a master coach or master former player yourself, there is NOTHING that should ever trump the sacredness of the team, period.
2. Yell or talk to the players/coaches from the opposing team during/after the contest.
- I promise you that if you have done this or do this currently, your son or daughter is embarrassed by your actions. Even if they say the opposite.
3. Cheer at the game as if you’re watching a dogfight.
- Are you kidding me?!
4. Yell out instructions to the team while they’re playing.
- 10 to 1 you are yelling the complete opposite thing the coach is looking for. If you’re not in the huddle, stay out of it.
5. Overreact to officials.
- You can react, sure. You can disagree, absolutely. Don’t make a scene about it. You look like an idiot.
6. Go onto the field of play when they get injured unless or until you’re called out there.
- Might just be a sprained ankle…don’t overreact. Go near the entry point, but wait for the nod from the trainer or coach. Your child is NOT made of glass. They will thank you for not treating them like they are.
7. Do NOT cheer to be the center of attention.
- The contest is on the field/ice/court, it is not in the stands. If you need some competition in your life, join a team, play some darts, run a race. Do not make your child’s game about you.
8. Yell at your kid for every little things he/she does.
- See #4
1. Cheer positively and passionately for your child’s whole team and for great play on both sides.
- Be a great ambassador for sportsmanship and a positive example of human being-ness. Whether you think so or not, you’re child is watching and learning from you!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

From the Roots Up ... Done Right

Some coaches get pulled into their roles because they have a strong sense that coaching is a calling, some because there's just no one else to do the job and still others do it out of a sheer sense of obligation.  I work with coaches of all stripes.  In the case of one Michigan program, the coach is a little bit of a combination of all three of those.

Coach Shannon Zinser, the Varsity Volleyball Coach at Clare High School, accepted the Varsity Volleyball Position last year.  She did this in order to serve her community and try to ensure that her daughter and the rest of the volleyball players' experiences where positive.  Oh, and she'd like to build the program into a winning one if at all possible.

Admittedly and commendably, Shannon doesn't have all the answers on exactly how to do that, so she reached out for help.  It wasn't enough for her to just coach a team as it's been done there in the past.  She is reaching for a much deeper experience for all involved.  In other words, she wanted to grow a program from the roots up.

So she set out to find a way to do that, eagerly finding people who would join her on the mission.  All along the way admitting her shortcomings and knowledge shortfalls while working to overcome them.  She looks for the 'right' people to fill staffing positions and roster spots, just as Herb Brooks did on his mission to shock the world with his 1980 USA Hockey team.  In other words, she's doing it right.

The results this year didn't shock the world, although there were some measurable improvements in overall results.  There is still a long way to go to convince the community and some of the players that this process takes time, but that it will be worth it.  There is also some work to be done to inspire the type of increase in work that needs to be done to improve fundamental skills to reach their big picture goals.   To call on Western Michigan University Football Coach, PJ Fleck's idea about reaching success, it is not a straight line:

Credit: (PJ Fleck)

To do it right, you will get worse, first.  You will see most of your wins behind the scenes.  You will be frustrated and second guessed.  You will have days it doesn't seem worth it.  However, if you stay the course and continue to evolve yourself and inspire your players, their parents and your community, you will find success.  

I commend coaches like Shannon Zinser and her staff that have the gumption to fight the good fight for the right reasons.  Keep moving forward!  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The "Bucks" Will Not Stop Here

They may still be one field away from the BIG GAME when they suit up at Traverse City’s Thirlby Field this coming Saturday against Maple City Glen Lake in the Division 6 Michigan state semi-final, but Pine River High School has been playing on the field of dreams, from a sports culture perspective, all season long.

A few shining examples sent to me from Pine River softball coach, Laura Mumby, points to some of the evidence of that.  Here is a school, literally in the middle of nowhere, alongside US-131 near the small Michigan town of Leroy.  The home of the ‘Bucks’.  A town with one of the best summer time festivals around, but not a whole lot else.  This is the setting you think of when you picture a small town.  LeRoy comes together with the towns of Luther and Tustin to make up the Pine River High School Community. Just like everywhere else, they have good and bad.  This is a quick note to point out and high five some good.

A good culture is, I think, most coaches' wish.  Creating a good one provides for an interesting journey and is often much harder than anyone can imagine.  At Pine River, they’re winning, and that’s great.  However, the more exciting thing to those that are around the program is that they’re winning by way of inspiration behind the scenes.  That’s more important in the grand scheme of things.  

Last year, Pine River player Tristen Nelson made an impact on little 7 year old Carter Norman while visiting a few lunches and sharing recess with Carter and his friends at their school.  As the Bucks geared up for they’re District final game back on November 4th, Carter geared up to cheer on his favorite player.  His grateful mom, Crista, made sure the world, and Tristen knew and as gracious growing leaders do, Tristen responded in the most heart warming way.  Take a look:

This run means a lot to Tristen, and I'm sure every player on the Bucks' roster.  They've clawed and scratched their way further than almost every other team in the state.  The team has undoubtably been uncomfortable and been made to conquer mountains more times than they can count this season.  I haven't been at one practice, I've never met Tristen or any of his teammates, so I can't know any of the above for certain.  I can, however, look at the pictures below and the raw emotion and sum up what I know to be common of any great journey.


Coach Terry Martin of Pine River Football seems to have built a winning team and solid program, making the playoffs most years and winning a district title a few years back.  The Pine River community is proud of the success of its football team and their advancement through this state tournament, no doubt.  That they also have upstanding players that freely show their humanity and humility as youngsters look on makes the journey not just fun, but important.  They’re playing from a deeper place of meaning and there are many hands on deck to reinforce that important point.  All of that makes this type of journey not just important to one rural Michigan town, but to our society as a whole.

Good luck to the Pine River players, coaches, and community on Saturday.  Continue to be great role models and growing leaders on your journey. Regardless of Saturday, these Bucks will NOT stop here.  They'll continue out into the world as successful young adults, and that's the greatest victory any coach and any community can ever hope to have.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

United we ALL Stand, Divided we ALL get our butts kicked

Riots?! Really? Stop. 
I say this as a person of a minority group who shares a fear of losing rights recently earned, this is not what you do for a result you don't like. It's the very unAmerican behavior that those on the left claimed would happen from Trump supporters if he had lost. I understand your fear, I truly do. I also understand that this nation can and will only come through this stronger than before when everyone finds productive ways to express their despair. 
And for those of you out there who are Trump supporters or Clinton haters that read this....don't just like THIS one because you happen to agree while you read the headline of my 'this is why I despair' share and rolled your eyes! Don't like this one, and then continue to post about 'stop whining!' I remind you that of the people that did vote, (only just over half the population btw) MORE of them voted for HRC. So let's not act like it was a clear sweep of most people. It was a quarter of people in the right states. Calm down. To you I ask that you perhaps have some empathy. And also this: There are many, many groups in the minority who feel as if they've been dismissed and shunned by a nation they love just as much as you. Try to understand their hurt and fear at electing someone who so eagerly stoked the hateful, angry masses who are slow to accept the inevitable changing demographics of OUR nation. 
Bottom line: half of you, find productive ways to help move our country forward in a more positive way; and the other half, please express empathy and understanding to your fellow citizens, regardless of color, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Once again: #unitedweALLstand#dividedweALLgetourbuttskicked

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

I got your back, Ashton

"How much guts it must take for a girl to decide to take the first step inside football's closed society? How much strength of character must it take for a girl to approach a football coach and say, "I want to play on your team"?
How intimidating must it be to step on that practice field the first time and know every eye is on you, waiting for you to fail, wondering if you going to cry?"

This was Charlie Vincent of the Detroit Free Press in a September 8, 1992 column about a female football player from Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest and me, a junior on the Bridgeport High School football team.  This column came about after I reached out to offer her my support and understanding when the superintendent of her school did not allow her to remain on her team.  My experience was much different as I was welcomed with open arms and enjoyed what turned out to be a difficult and incredibly empowering experience.

Fast Forward 23 years

Ashton Brooks is a senior placekicker on the Midland Dow High School football team in Midland, Michigan.  She's a leading kicker on a team in a league, the Saginaw Valley League, with pretty big schools.  A league that has, over the years, produced countless college stars as well as NFL players. Her achievements are not a small deal.  Last night I came across the story of Ashton not just playing the game, but excelling at it.  How was that excellence received by a cross town rival's fan?  She was compared to a gorilla on Instagram.  Click here for the: USA Today article 

It is insane to me that someone like Ashton, who has done nothing but excel in many areas of her life, would face this type of situation in the year 2016.  It's ludicrous to me that she would be the target of a bully and a racial bully at that.  As a white female I am offended and embarrassed.  I am outraged at the insensitivity.  I am disgusted that this is our climate.  

You out there, who think we've gotten past this.... You, who watches the scene in Remember the Titans where an opposing coach refers to Denzel Washington's character, Coach Boone, as a monkey 

with disgust and thinks, thank goodness we've come so far....To you I remind you that you are wrong and here's Ashton Brooks to prove it.  

Maybe those kids in the Instagram picture didn't fully understand how deep this hurt really goes.  Perhaps they thought it to just be a funny and harmless prodding of their cross town rival.  Well, it is not.  Moreover, this type of comparison is as potentially dangerous as it is hurtful.  In two studies by Phillip Atiba Goff, a UCLA psychologist, disturbing correlations were found by this comparison.  Quoting from a  blog about this topic by Jene`e Desmond-Harris from
"Take two studies that Goff worked on: In one, students who were primed with words associated with cats before seeing a video of police officers beating a man considered the beating unjustified. So did those who were primed with words associated with apes but were told the victim was white. But those who were primed with the ape words and told the victim was black weren’t as sure. The association between ‘black’ and ‘ape’ left our white respondents more open to the possibility that police violence might, in fact, be justified,” Goff said.
"In another study—examining 183 criminal cases in which a defendant was eligible for the death penalty, as well as the language used in Philadelphia Enquirer articles about those cases—“it turned out African Americans had significantly more ape-related images ascribed to them than did whites,” said Goff. Worse: “Among African Americans, the more ape-related images you had in your press coverage, the more likely you were to be put to death.” 
Still thinking it's just harmless, 'politically incorrect banter'?  It might be politically incorrect, but it is NOT harmless.

Speaking of political correctness...For those that claim political correctness has gone too's killing our country...blah blah blah, I say this:  demeaning, degrading, sexist and racist language is not merely being political incorrect, it's hurtful and damaging to the very fabric that makes up our nation of immigrants.  

There are many that came before this young woman that worked hard to leave a legacy of a more tolerant society, from both a feminist and racial equality standpoint.  Ashton's story should have been one of only triumph.  Instead I feel like many have been taken 30 years back in just a few shorts months.  This is not okay.  We are a society of changing demographics with evolving expectations for men and women alike.  The white knuckled hold onto the past by the loud minority who longs for old times simply because they weren't part of the demographic that felt the pain of discrimination must come to an end at some point.  Right?  For this great nation's sake I hope so.  

So now I will look to send this young lady the same message I sent to Susan Stanley, of the Detroit Lutheran Northwest team, when we met all those years ago after she watched me play the Charlotte Orioles.  You're not alone and you're awesome and we will, together, keep working each day to change the hearts and minds of those small people who, out of their fear of change, look to dim some of our brightest stars.  If I get a chance to meet her and cheer her on, I'll simply remind her to keep serving the game with dignity.  I look to do this simply to help heal the wound I can only partially understand.  After all, when in doubt, love (not hate) is always the answer. 

Charlie Vincent's Column:

Monday, October 10, 2016

Climb a Ladder

The lack of women coaching other women is at a critical stage.  There are many many reasons for this, some controllable and others not.  Women who want to be coaches, listen up, this is for you. 

Every once in a while for the past few years, a few articles or studies come out around the same time talking about the lack of women in coaching.  I read most of them, I don't read every single one.  But every time I do, I'm left with the same feeling.  It's a feeling that there's something missing in these statements of outrage.  

Although I agree in part with many of the suspected reasons for the decline, I feel that at least in part some of the onus has to be on us - women in coaching.  As a female coach that fought her way up the ladder for 21 years, I am passionate in my belief that we own some of the blame.  No one will ever be as passionate about this cause than those that it directly affects.  Since that is true, let's just take ownership of the problem so we can fix it. 

I can't tell you how many times I have looked at coaching transaction websites with utter dismay at a hire that was in no way or shape ready for a position.  I know, it sounds caddy, right?  It's not. This is not professional jealousy. The eye roll is all too often prompted by a female coach who seems to have gotten a job that's over her head.  Not just over her head, but WAY over her head, to the point that the end result of the hire is entirely predictable up to the number of years or months she'll hold the job.  It happens and it happens a lot...many times with good intentions of administrators who mandate that either the department or their head coach 'MUST' hire a women.  Cool, but the female coaching soroity would rather those well meaning administrators looked at qualifications first, gender second.   

Gone are the days of past where a young and perhaps promising coach can get thrown into a head coaching job after her playing career, pat her on the back and let her work her way into the vast knowledge this job requires. The job is too big, it's too visible.  It's a good problem.  That means people - and a lot of them - are paying attention to our women's teams.  But hey, it also means people are paying a lot of attention to our women's teams.  

This is not to say that administrators shouldn't aim to try to find the most qualified females to coach their female teams.  I think they should.  However, there are administrators that have actually admitted to reopening searches after only finding men who were qualified for their coaching opening instead of hiring one of those qualified men.  So what's the problem with that you ask... Why so down on females getting more of an opportunity? 

Two reasons...
#1: The scenerio has played out numerous gets in over their head, they fail, they leave coaching to never re-enter the profession - that school is scarred and is less likely to hire female coaches in the future (even highly qualified ones) and MOST IMPORTANTLY there is one less female building her skill to move forward in the sport.  Perhaps this coach would have been great, we'll never know.

#2: That female fails and confirms some people's suspicions that males are just 'better coaches'.  The female candidate pool has a harder time getting gigs in the future.  Female athletes who played for this very under qualified woman have a bad role model, they themselves don't think for a second about coaching as a career and the pool loses future female coaching candidates.

So why is it worse when a female gets in over her head and fails?  Because as it is well documented, there are fewer. If you count men's and women's teams in Division I, about a quarter of head coaching jobs are held by women.  That 40% number you keep hearing, well that's only talking about coaches of female teams.  Add the 100% of males coaching male teams and you drop the overall number from under half to under a quarter.  The ripples of failure from female coaches are felt more fiercely than if a male coach fails.  Unfair, perhaps, but it's reality.  A seemingly outdated notion, maybe, so let me expand.  There is an unspoken thought amoung many male coaches in the volleyball world, usually expressed with only an eye roll at the story of a woman that failed.  'Of course she failed, she wasn't as qualified or ready as so and so that applied for that job' is what that eyeroll seems to say.  Perhaps it doesn't lower the glass ceiling for other women in coaching, but it does make it a bit harder for us to gain credibility with our male counterparts upon first glance.    Since all coaches, regardless of gender, need assistant jobs to gain expereince and becuase male coaches hold the vast majority of head coaching jobs and therefore are doing the hiring, those eyerolls cannot and should not be ignored.  Credibility in coaching is important for men and women, and I'm asserting that for females the importance of credibility is amplified and harder to come by when time and time again young female coaches get in too far over their head.  Again, is that fair - NO.  Is it reality, as someone who has seen a behind the scenes look at it, I'm here to tell you it is.  Especially in the world of coaching.  
My point? To all aspiring coaches, male and female: be smart, toil, work your way up, take your time to rise to the top, read more, study harder, learn from people before you, be responsible for your own mentorship, become an artist of your craft.  There is no such thing as a super star fast takes hours, a lot of practice, and many failures to build the skill of a master coach. Learn the craft apprenticeship style so your failures aren't so large.  Then, if you ware so fortunate to work with young women, build them day by day into confident women who will not be afraid to stand up to her boss for the raise she deserves or intimidated by the overzealous guy who thinks he can interrupt her every thought.  Like I say to every young athlete I work with in gyms across this country, I need you to be awesome so that you can, in small and large moments, change the world.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

#uracoach when you keep it simple...

‪#‎uracoach‬ when you make complex ideas simple because like Bear Bryant said: it's not what you know, but what they know that counts.

Coaches sometimes get complicated.  Often it happens on accident and because taking complex ideas and making them simple takes a significant amount of skill.  This is a skill coaches get better at as they grow their skills.

Sometimes, though, coaches keep it complicated because they're insecure in what they know and are trying to prove their worth or knowledge to themselves and those around them.  

And sometimes, they just lack the disciplined to iron out their lessons to just the things the players need to know to be successful.  

At any rate, as you grow your skills - remember for the good of your players' development - KEEP IT SIMPLE ALWAYS.  Find new ways to keep it simple.  Find fun ways to keep it simple.  And then, end practice by keeping it simple! 

Happy Coaching!