Saturday, March 17, 2018

...Tiny keypads...

It's around our sport like oxygen. We talk about it, even yell about it. We use it, forget about it, urge others to find it and at times, say it's too much. The perfect balance may be unattainable, but we continue to search it out.

We are talking about communication. Coach to player, player to player, coach to parent; it never ends. Listen to coaches that are great communicators and you realize just how valuable a tool it can be.
Coaches that are in the ocean of life long learning, how can we as humans not continue to get better communicating with each other? And yet, with the advent of the cell phone, our communication skills have deteriorated as a society. Face to face has been replaced by text to text or e mail. Sticky subjects are handled awkwardly on tiny keypads as recipients read emotion into small letters on the 4" screens in their palms. How is this considered communication?

Watching this video, it's hard not to see how our communication or more importantly, our lack of it, has contributed to some of the ills of society. Recently, England appointed a Minister of Loneliness! Think about this for a second...loneliness has become such a social ill that the English Parliament made an office just for loneliness!

As coaches, how can we get better at this skill? Recently we came across a few resources that might help.

Julian Treasure's TED talk called, "How to speak to that people want to listen."

Along those same lines, check out Celeste Headlee's TED talk entitled, "10 Ways to have a better conversation."

Finally, one of our favorite coaching resources, Simon Sinek put out an article of his own on why leaders should talk LAST!

In the never ending coaching quest to be better tomorrow, can you pick up one communication skill today to get better at? Can we become better at HOW we talk to our team...WHEN we talk to them and even WHAT we talk to them about? Maybe even most importantly, can we become better listeners?

Put out phones down, look our athletes in the eyes and give them the attention they deserve? Nothing drives coaches more insane and annoyed when athletes don't look us in the eye? Turn their heads and look away? Look down or have their attention stolen by the smallest of things? It's maddening.

But are they to blame? Go to dinner and look at the restaurant patrons? How many adults are on their phones while their kids are on theirs or just sitting there? How many times has an athlete of yours wanted to talk to you but you were looking at your missed calls, texts and tweets while they talked to you? Don't they deserve the same consideration you are asking of them?

Friday, February 23, 2018

Four Freshmen...

In this special audio blog, we interviewed four freshmen and asked them questions. What was the best and worst part of their seasons, what surprised them, what would they like to tell their coaches and most importantly, what would they tell NEW freshmen coming into the collegiate volleyball world.

The Region appreciates the time these four young women took for this project and we hope you enjoy this 17 minute accounting of four different freshmen, in four different situations with many of the same thoughts and insights.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

"Day 1, Change The World..."

“You always have a culture so you might as well be intentional with it.” –John O’Sullivan

O’Sullivan is the host of the wonderful podcast “Way of Champions” and he also started a little venture known as “The Change the Game Project” which if you are coaching youth sports and are unaware of this, you are behind. His point is well taken. No matter where we work, train, live, there is a culture. Sometimes great, sometimes toxic.

What is your culture?

In a wonderful new book from Karen Crouse, she investigates why a tiny town in Vermont, “Norwich” has produced 11 Olympic athletes in a population of just under 3,500. That is roughly one Olympian for every 322 people in the town. How is this possible?

Culture seems to be a big part of its success. This is a town that doesn’t cut kids from sports, offers up and encourages kids to try lots of different sports, both winter AND summer. The Parents aren’t overbearing and focused on wins and losses. The allow their kids to be in charge of their own sports experience and let them fail and learn from those experiences. And most times, when Olympic careers are done, athletes come back to Norwich to train the next generation of Olympians because of their fond memories growing up.

The San Antonio Spurs recently came into Phoenix and handed them a lopsided beat down. This statistic was in the Pre Game notes of that game: Since 1997, how many days have the Spurs had a losing record? (20 years by the way)

Giving you a hint, #5 on that list is the Utah Jazz with 1,005 days. Number 4 is the L.A. Lakers at 969, #3 is the Dallas Mavericks with 867 and #2 is the Houston Rockets at 856.

The San Antonio Spurs?
48 days.

Coach Gregg Popovich is one of the subjects of a new book from Daniel Coyle called, “The Culture Code.” Coyle examines the reasons why Popovich has had such a remarkable stability of success the last 20 years. Some will say he’s had superior talent, but other teams have had superior talent and not been as successful as long. What is his secret?

Coyle talks about three big parts of a culture in his book. Boosting safety: are your workers or in our case, athletes feeling safe? Is the environment a good one to learn and flourish or is it filled with negativity, little chance to redeem yourself after a bad play, punishments for mistakes and losses?

(Simon Sinek has a TED talk on this phenomenon that every coach should watch)

The second part of a strong culture is getting vulnerable and staying vulnerable: can you as a leader let your team know that you aren’t perfect, you make mistakes and pass that vulnerability onto them? The connection at that point is substantial.

The third trait Coyle talks about is seeking, finding and sharing resonant stories: Can you and your athletes share stories about your season that can build culture? A good win or even a bad loss might put a point home. Is there a catch phrase or a sport quote you and your team use to help define your team’s culture and ideals?

One senior at a DI school this year was talking about her team’s culture. She talked about the coaches yelling, negativity and hurtful sarcasm in practices, the one mistake in a match that would get a player pulled, the way the 'star' players were treated and given special treatment, including not practicing if they “didn’t feel like it.” Her senior season was everything she had hoped it wouldn’t be as the team with promise and hope floundered and spiraled into a losing and toxic season. To make matters worse, the standout that was given special treatment left the program right after.

“We can all celebrate ‘culture’ as a cornerstone of success. Not everyone can identify nor instill a successful culture. It’s hard. You never arrive. It’s something that you work at every day.”

Those thoughts are from current Arkansas Head Coach Jason Watson who recalled his inaugural practice at ASU when he was first given the job 10 years ago. “We had to change the culture right away. A better culture would permit us to recruit the type of athletes we wanted to coach. Macey Gardner, Whitney Follette and Bree Bailey for example don’t come to ASU if we had the same culture we had in 2008. arena The whiteboard at ASU was without its wheels when I arrived for our first practice. The graduating seniors had ‘stolen’ them. I wanted the wheels back and asked the team to find them. One player said, ‘The Seniors have them’. ‘Great,’ I said, ‘Go get the wheels from them or spend every day running every set of stairs in Wells Fargo arena until they are back on my whiteboard.” One of the underclassmen got them back within 24 hours. That was a pretty sure sign that the culture was a mess. Of course some of the returning athletes, who may have been victimized by the outgoing senior class, felt it was their turn to ‘pay it forward’ to the underclassmen and even the coaching staff.” Watson’s solution: “Day 1 - Change the World. Day 2 - see Day 1.”

When was the last time you held a mirror up to your coaching culture? What about you as a Club Director? What is the culture of your club? As O’Sullivan points out, if it’s there already, why shouldn’t we be intentional about it? What do you like about your culture? What don’t you like? Maybe more importantly, ask your athletes and maybe even parents the same question. Is it too late to change this season?

“Your culture is something that you always work on.” Watson says. “I think we all recognize that. Also, I think coaches should take some time to examine and reflect on where they are at as a coach and what they can change. You also have to have the courage to change; the courage to get in front of your team, be vulnerable, and admit the need to change. I think that’s what happened on our program’s turnaround. Perhaps it was the next evolution of our culture or me as a coach. Perhaps losing sucks and why not make this change. Perhaps the athletes we coach today wish for a partnership/collaboration relationship with their coach. Perhaps I’m afraid of being one of those coaches that can’t change; that are resistant to change and therefore get spit out of the coaching profession and end up working at Dick’s Sporting Goods.”

Perhaps, since it's there already…it’s worth a look.

Monday, February 12, 2018

"That restless spark..."

It started as many rabbit holes do. A coaching article, a book, a podcast and then a casual mention of something you hadn’t heard before so you write it down, make a note. A rabbit hole is born.

But this one was different. This one was a story we all should know. How it missed many of us is a mystery, moreover a crime. People like this should never be found in a rabbit hole. They should be found in history books and talks with Fathers of courage and integrity to their sons and daughters. How had this been missed?

His name was Janusz Korczak. (Ya Noosh  Kor shack) 

He was born in Poland in 1878 or '79 and was named Henryk Goldszmit. His father, a prominent Jewish lawyer in Warsaw, Henryk grew up in a house of privilege and spent hours a day using his imagination to entertain himself. Henryk’s parents kept him away from the ‘poor’ children of Warsaw as they were ‘dirty and unkempt,’ not to be part of his life. But he played with the school janitor’s son and spent time with ‘those’ children, finding them entertaining. His Father didn’t understand how his son could play with blocks for hours at a time or entertain himself with his own stories conjured up in his 6 year old head.

At the age of 11, his father fell ill and was sent to psychiatric hospital where he would die just 6 years later. (For the rest of his life, Henryk would be affected by this- even to the point of not having his own children because the idea of psychiatric illnesses being inherited was the practice of the time) Without his Father, his family’s financial situation soured and he was soon living in the neighborhoods his Parents had once told him to avoid.

He earned money tutoring children and began to write. In one literary contest he put his pen name as Janusz Korczak after a character in another Polish children’s novel. He began to write a column on children’s well being for Polish newspapers at the same time he was going to school and earning a Pediatrics degree. Doctor Korczak began working in Warsaw at a children’s hospital and wrote a book, “Child in the Drawing Room” that gained literary recognition.

In 1912, he teamed up with a woman who would be his partner for life, Stefania Wilczynska. Not a partner in a marriage or relationship sense, but in the care of children as Korczak opened up an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw: Dom Sierot with Stefania as his assistant. In this home, Korczak put to test his ideas of child rearing and treating them as children, not mini adults. In his book, “How to Love a Child,” Korczak wrote “One of the worst blunders is to think that pedagogy is the science of the child…when it is the science of men”

He arranged for the children of the orphanage to write and publish their own newspaper. They had their own court system and a parliamentary system of government. “Korczak was convinced that if you treat children as respectable people, they themselves will be full of respect for others,” according to scholar Phillip Veerman. (Details of life in the orphanage can be seen in the video, "The Last Korczak Boy.")

Veerman quotes one child who lived in the orphanage. “It is important to note that independent thinking was not stifled in Dom Sierot. Children’s questions were not swept under the rug but were answered. Considering the period when oppression existed in the home, as well as in the country at large, it was quite an accomplishment. The seed of independent thinking planted in Dom Sierot remained with me.”

World War I saw Korczak serve Poland as an army medic but he came back to Warsaw after the war. In 1923, he wrote what would become his most prized literary accomplishment, a book called, “King Matt the First.” It was as widely read in Poland as “Alice in Wonderland” was in the U.S. He continued to write other children’s books and had a weekly radio show on the care and understanding of children. But in 1939, things began to come apart as World War II began.

Korczak enlisted in the Polish army but was denied because of his age. A year later 138,000 Jews of Warsaw, including his orphanage was forced to move from its house into the Warsaw ghetto, a place where the Nazis had detained the Jews to better manage them. It was a place of poverty and hunger. As Korczak and Stefania marched the children to their new home, a guard grabbed a wagon of potatoes. Korczak demanded the guard release them as they belonged to the children. In the dispute, the guard asked Korczak if he was Jewish to which he replied he was, but was not wearing the mandatory arm band required of all Jews in Warsaw at the time. Korczak said, “There are human laws which are transitory, and higher laws which are eternal . . .” He was seized, beaten and jailed by the guards. He spent a month in prison but used the time after his release to regale his children with stories of his imprisonment and his inmates.

Despite the means to, Korczak continued to live at the new house with his children. He became a bit of a social pariah as he was constantly asking the wealthy friends and associates he knew for money to feed his children, all the while taking on more orphans as the war continued producing them. He wrote of the time, “That restless spark which is Earth is again in ferment. Disorder, disquiet, negative emotions predominate, reign. Miserable, painful, impure is their life over there. Its disorders upset the current of time and of impressions. . . . "

He was also offered more than once chances to have papers forged so he could escape to the other side of Warsaw for safety. He asked about his children, 179 at the time. When it was clear they all could not be relocated with him, Korczak refused the offer.

Korczak’s fame as a writer and pediatrician was minimalized by the war and by 1942, as the Warsaw ghetto was being emptied, it became clear that the Nazis would be coming for he, Stefania and his children soon. While some concentration camps were work camps, Treblinka II was an extermination camp. Prisoners were killed with poison gas and their bodies buried in mass graves. Korczak knew his fate and the fate of his children. Again he was offered chances to come over to the Ayran side of Warsaw but refused. Not without his children

On August 6, 1942, the SS came for Korczak, Stefania, 11 other staff and 192 orphaned children. He wrote in his book, “Ghetto Diaries,” the following: “It is a difficult thing to be born and to learn to live. Ahead of me is a much easier task: to die. After death, it may be difficult again, but I am not bothering about that. The last year, month or hour I should like to die consciously, in possession of my faculties. I don't know what I should say to the children by way of farewell. I should want to make clear to them only this- that the road is theirs to choose…freely.”

Early that morning, the SS gave Korczak and his children 15 minutes to gather their belongings. He came outside and his children lined up in rows of four. He walked to the front of the line and clasped the hands of the two middle children, Stefania a row behind him They began to march toward the train station. The children sang songs and marched with their heads up. The procession through the Warsaw streets was of great concern to the rest of the ghetto. If they had Korczak, then no one was safe. One witness wrote, “I remember seeing Janusz Korczak walking with the children and many other people. There were many Germans around them. When I came home and saw my dear parents, I started crying because I knew this would probably be the end for all of us.”

Four by four, they arrived on the train platform. A guard passed a note along to Korczak as they waited. He recognized Janusz as the author of his favorite children’s book growing up. He had permission for Korczak to return home but not the children. He refused to leave their side, saying, “You do not leave a sick child in the night, and you do not leave children at a time like this.”

In author Joshua Perle’s eyewitness account, he wrote, “A miracle occurred, two hundred pure souls, condemned to death, did not weep. Not one of them ran away. None tried to hide. Like stricken swallows they clung to their teacher and mentor, to their father and brother, Janusz Korczak.”

Days before his march, Korczak wrote in his diary, “The spirit feels a longing inside the narrow cage of the body. Man feels and ponders death as though it were the end, when in fact death is merely the continuation of life, it is another life. You may not believe in the existence of the soul, yet you must acknowledge that your body will live on as green grass, as a cloud. For you are, after all, water and dust.”

Some may ask why this rabbit hole has found its way into a coaching blog. The idea of integrity and courage that persisted throughout his life and trials are plainly evident. But the way in which Korczak treated his orphans calls to us how we should, perhaps, be coaching. The idea of giving children the freedom to learn, the idea of not treating children as mini adults on the playing and training field; these were the essence of how Korczak related to young people.

In 1959, The United Nations General Assembly created a Declaration of Children’s Rights, many of them taken from the pages of Korczak’s writings. Those include, “The child has the right to respect, The child has the right to optimal conditions in which to grow and develop, The child has the right to live in the present, The child has a right to make mistakes, The child has the right to fail, The child has the right to be taken seriously and The child has the right to be appreciated for what he/she is.”

Simply put, if we ever get away from these tenets, we should turn in our whistles. We are done.

Perhaps the best explanation is the rabbit hole itself. In our never ending search to be better coaches, better parents and sons and daughters, we find these rabbit holes. Do they lead us to a fifteen minute gallery of social media tweets or of someone who we can look up to, that changed lives, which lived for others.

Unlike Janusz Korczak, that choice is ours.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

"Oblique Strategies..."

Start with this TED talk from Tim Harford from a few years ago in London entitled, “How Messy Problems Can Inspire Creativity.”

And so the scavenger hunt began. At the 11:40 mark, Harford talks about a name that many fans of Rock n Roll have come across: Brian Eno. He has recorded such artists as David Bowie, Robert Fripp, DEVO, U2 and Coldplay in addition to his own musical offerings. But in this TED talk, Harford talks about something that has probably eluded most of us: “Oblique Strategies.”

Eno with the help of a friend and teacher Peter Schmidt who was working on something similar himself, combined their resources and created a box of cards designed to take an artist out of their funk and make them try something different.

In a 1980 radio interview, Eno said of their collaboration, “The first Oblique Strategy said ‘Honour thy error as a hidden intention.’ And, in fact, Peter's first Oblique Strategy - done quite independently and before either of us had become conscious that the other was doing that - was ...I think it was ‘Was it really a mistake?’ which was, of course, much the same kind of message. Well, I collected about fifteen or twenty of these and then I put them onto cards. At the same time, Peter had been keeping a little book of messages to himself as regards painting, and he'd kept those in a notebook. We were both very surprised to find the other not only using a similar system but also many of the messages being absolutely overlapping, you know...there was a complete correspondence between the messages. So subsequently we decided to try to work out a way of making that available to other people, which we did; we published them as a pack of cards, and they're now used by quite a lot of different people, I think.”

The deck of 135 cards had instructions like, “Back up a few steps, what else could you have done?” and “Just carry on.” These may seem like small ideas but when working with musicians who have been in a studio for days and weeks, sometimes small ideas can be the most disruptive and useful in the name of creativity.

In one of Rock’s greatest songs, Heroes by David Bowie, Eno was said to have used these cards to help created the sounds on the song that even today are hard to replicate. At one point, according to producer Tony Visconti, the suggestion was made to put a microphone in the middle of the studio and the end of the studio in addition to the one in front of Bowie. As the song culminates, you’ll hear Bowie screaming the last verse which was needed for the farthest mic to pick up. This was something that pulled the ensemble out of the norm and helps give the song the idea that, as was discussed before the song was recorded, the work would be around much longer than the people singing it.

To this day, the Oblique Strategies cards are for sale but the printings are rare and many of the older printings are considered collectors items. They are still used in recording studios today.

Ask a room full of coaches what offense they will run this season and most, without having even seen their teams play in meaningful competition yet, will tell you a 5-1 or a 6-2. Safe, traditional, non messy...

What if you have three amazing setters, all good servers? Are you willing to sit maybe the underclassman of the three, keeping a true weapon off the floor because of the 6-2 you have traditionally run? Could you run a 6-3 offense? Could you get all three of those good players on the floor in a set?

You have a very physical and strong middle but she’s slow. She doesn’t close a block very well and her transition is too slow to run a fast attack in the middle. Do you continue with your customary ineffective double block on the outside in those three rotations or is there an outside the box option?  Can you teach those wing blockers to single block and use your middle to cover the tip and be in transition before the ball gets to the setter, using her more advantageously?

We get stuck in traditional ideas and methods and when those don’t work, we usually only have one other trick up our sleeve despite the plentiful options afforded us by the rules of our sport. There are six rotations on your side of the net. What can you do, in each of those rotations, to score points and gain side outs? If you are really good in rotation 3 in serve receive, could you get away with just two passers? If your serve receive is not so good in ro 5, might you need 4 passers, or maybe even 5?

Oblique strategies, while used mostly for music and art, is a life preserver of how we as coaches can get out of our traditional oceans. Why do you have to run a 5-1 or a 6-2? If your team is young and inexperienced, why not a 6-6 where everybody plays every position? Why pigeon hole your players at an early age? Maybe your tallest girl which is most probably your middle has the best hands on the team, but if she never gets a chance to set, how will you ever know?

There is no “right way” to run your offense or your defense, it’s what works for YOU! Your strengths highlighted, your weaknesses limited, and let the ball fly.

If you have a job other than coaching that sometimes requires a catalyst, an awkward stranger or as Harford calls it, a mess, you can get Oblique Strategies on your phone. The app is available free for iPhone download and android.

In the Oblique Strategies world, the mess becomes a work of art. Rolling Stone voted “Heroes” one of the greatest songs in Rock n Roll history.  If you haven’t listened lately, listen to the mess…it's a classic.

Let go of tradition and give “Oblique Strategies” a test. Your athletes and perhaps your team’s performance might be playing a different tune right before your ears….

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

"Failure is required!"

A lot of coaching clinics ask the question of coaches, "What percent of volleyball is mental?" and follow that up with, "So how much do you teach on the mental side?" 

Traci Statler has made a career out of answering that question and making this statement: "Mental health impacts everything. If your mental health isn't functioning where it needs to be, then your performance isn't going to be where it needs to be."

She is a professor at Cal State Fullerton and has worked with USA Volleyball's athletes in the past few years. Her resume' which you can see here is impressive and her talk with us highlights how connected she is to today's athlete and her willingness to help today's coaches. 

In this hour long interview, Traci shares with us her knowledge on working with "this generation," how to handle certain issues like kids that don't work hard, lack confidence or are in slumps and other issues that might affect their performance.

Sometimes she will surprise you! 
She tells us that we can't inspire our athletes.
She tells us that being an athlete at an elite level isn't very mentally healthy.
And she tells us that if we want to get better at sports psyche...start "digging deep."

Enjoy this hour with Sports Psychologist Traci Statler as she answers your questions, confirms what you may already be thinking and takes us into a world we all should know more about

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

"We have this paradox..."

Dr A. Mark Williams is the Professor and Chair of Health, Kinesiology and Recreation at the University of Utah and is one of the preeminent Sports science minds in the world.

He is currently the editor in chief of the Journal of Sports Sciences and the executive editor for Human Movement Science. He is a frequent guest on podcasts and the sport science lecture circuit and is often cited in books and articles spanning all levels of sports science.

Williams' path of knowledge and science of sport has travelled through the University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores University, Florida State University, the University of Sydney and the Brunel University London before coming to rest in Utah. 

Dr. Williams was kind enough to give the Arizona Region a few minutes of his valuable time to offer up his research on practice management, blocked v. random training and along the way answer several questions from coaches across the country.While predominantly a soccer and rugby researcher, his knowledge of all sports science makes this a value for any coach wanting to get better.