Wednesday, November 19, 2014

151 Years Ago Today...

One hundred and fifty one years ago today, Abraham Lincoln offered up the greatest 272 words in American History. Only 139 days before, the largest battle in the Civil War, and in the history of North American before or since, saw catastrophic losses at the battle of Gettysburg. The final great battle of the war produced 23,043 Union and 28,063 Confederate casualties.  As the two sides rode off after three bombastic days, on July 4, 1863 toward reinforcements and impending encounters, the citizens of Gettysburg, only 2400 strong, had to deal with the aftermath and bury nearly 4 times their town in battlefield dead.

Seems strange to bring up the Battle of Gettysburg in a coaching blog, but some unmistakable coaching moments can be gleaned from this tragic time in American History.

Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart had taken his troops through four major battles in the 16 days prior to Gettysburg, having travelled without proper rations and literally no sleep for his men for two and a half days when they arrived. After being beaten back repeatedly, Stuart’s men were the last to cross back to the Potomac in retreat and were described as in “"wretched condition—completely worn out and broken down.

Out of the Box Thinking:
The Union forces held high ground and waited for an expecting charge from the Confederate Army on the third day of the battle. At 1 p.m. the Confederates let loose an artillery barrage that was meant to soften up the Union’s foothold on the high ground. The Union cannons answered back. After an hour though, the Union guns fell silent and the Confederates took this silence as they had knocked out the North’s artillery options. They had been fooled. The North wanted to lure the South into charging them and was saving ammunition. Only 5,750 Union soldiers defended the onslaught of over 13,000 Rebels but as the Southerners charged, they soon realized they had been duped. Northern canons once again fired and cut through the onslaught, taking out many of the Rebels in the first few minutes of what would now be called, “Pickett’s Charge.”
A good soldier could reload and fire his rifle 2-3 times in a minute so the Union stacked their infantry 4 deep in straight lines to ensure as one infantryman fired we went to the back of the line and reloaded so a continuous spray of fire was slowing the Southern forces.

Humility and Humanity:
General Robert E. Lee, carrying an air of invincibility of both himself and the Army of Northern Virginia into Gettysburg after repeated successful campaigns while heading north,  made some disastrous decisions based on sketchy intelligence, especially on the third day of the battle. Lee met his men on the field, beaten down and surrounded by bodies and carnage as they retreated, telling them, “All this has been my fault.” His men and historians considered this to maybe be Lee’s finest hour, displaying humility and his concern for his men. “He told one of his Generals, “”Upon my shoulders rests the blame.”  Days later, he wrote Confederate President Jefferson Davis and again took responsibility for his army’s defeat saying, “It is my fault. I asked more of these men then I should have.” The Confederate Army would never recover from Gettysburg and had to fight a defensive war the last 21 months before Lee surrendered to General Grant on April 9th in Virginia.

Simple is Better:
President Abraham Lincoln, suffering from the onset of smallpox, stood by attentively as Edward Everett, a popular orator and academic delivered his 2 hour, 13,000+ word speech at the dedication of the National Memorial Cemetery on the Gettysburg battle field. Then, a weak and pale Lincoln removed his trademark stove pipe hat and in 2 minutes, had encapsulated what Everett had spent two hours explaining. The crowd was stunned by its brevity and many in the days immediately after panned it but it stands now as one of the greatest speeches in American history.

Gettysburg is now an American icon. Travel to the town and enjoy lunch at the Blue and Gray Bar and Grill or the Lincoln Diner. You can buy Civil War replicas of uniforms and weapons on the City’s streets but the true history is sadly just a few blocks from downtown, in the National Cemetery that Lincoln dedicated with his Address.

Coaches can look so many places to find inspirations and lessons about how to be better at what we do. They usually come without a big price tag and certainly without body counts. On this day though, President Lincoln, perhaps the greatest “Coach” in our Nation’s history, said it so eloquently:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Monday, October 27, 2014

Civility 269 Years Later...

At the ripe age of 13 years old, he sat down, quill to paper and began to write and when he was done a few years later in the last 10 pages of marked journal entries throughout his childhood, George Washington, the Father of our Country, had penned “Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.”

(Note: Capital letters and spelling are taken directly from the text of the book)


Many are dated and to be quite honest, while perhaps relevant at the time, we now look back and giggle:


7th. PUT not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber half Drest.

9th. SPIT not in the Fire, nor Stoop low before it neither Put your Hands into the Flames to warm them, nor Set your Feet upon the Fire especially if there be meat before it.

16th. Do not Puff up the Cheeks, Loll not out the tongue rub the Hands, or beard, thrust out the lips, or bite them or keep the Lips to open or too Close.


Silly perhaps, but Washington’s seeming penchant for premonition when it comes to later day civilization is uncanny. With this blog seeped in youth sports, the following fill the pages of a 13 year olds journal but also, a scene in desperate need at times of some structure and civility.


1st. EVERY Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.


This seems like a no brainer but back in the mid 1700’s, but there was a social heriarchy that we would find distasteful and perhaps offensive today. Washington’s offering refers often to “those of Greater Quality” or “They that are in Dignity” and “Men in Business.” But as you read through this document that was published in 1888 by J.M. Toner M.D. you find that some of these rules hold on to relevance nearly 270 years later and some even speak directly to Coaches and Parents in Youth Sports!


8th.  AT PLAY and at Fire it’s Good manners to give Place to the last Commer, and affect not to Speak Louder than ordenary.


Even in the Pre Revolutionary War times, people were asked to manage their fervor and have a good word for those that enter the arena.


20th. The Gestures of the Body must be Suited to the discourse you are upon.


Not sure if the “finger” had been used at that point or not but…..


22nd. Shew not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.


The cheers of a missed serve or an error can ring in an athlete’s ears from much longer than the game lasts yet the only time we seem to notice that is when it’s OUR athlete.


38th. IN visiting the Sick, do not PRESENTLY play the Physicion if you be not Knowing therein.


In our IMPACT classes that our Coaches have to go through, much is brought up about making diagnosis without any medical training. Just because we have all seen a sprained ankle doesn’t mean we should be allowing kids to “walk it off” or “play through it.” It’s WHY there are Emergency rooms and Orthopedic specialists.


40th. Strive not with your Superiers in argument, but always Submit your Judgement to others with Modesty.


When it comes to our athletes, there is no “your side.” It’s MY side or MY side. We see it in coaches and officials, Parents and Coaches and even athletes and athletes. Taking the word “Superier” out of the equation, know that we all understand you will fight for your athletes, but understand you aren’t always going to be right.


44th. When a man does all he can though it Succeeds not well blame not him that did it.


In a world of win at all costs and “winning is the ONLY thing,”  even back in the 1700’s a pre teen George Washington realized that someone who gives it all should be recognized for that effort.


49. USE no Reproachfull Language against any one neither Curse nor Revile.

88th. BE not tedious in Discourse, make not many regressions, nor repeat often the Same manner of Discourse.


Parents, coaches and yes, even players could take this to note. Too many times things said out of the heat of the moment are too far gone to take back and cost us respect amongst our peers and teammates.


50th. BE not hasty to believe flying Reports to the Disparagement of any.

65th. SPEAK not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest Scoff at none although they give Occasion.

73d. THINK before you Speak pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your Words too hastily but orderly and Distinctly.

79th. BE not apt to relate News if you know not the truth thereof. IN Discoursing of things you Have heard Name not your Author always A Secret Discover not.



Hard to imagine Washington had any idea  250 years after writing this, a wave of social media that was at once instant and unchecked would dictate our days news and events. Only those that have been targets of these kinds of attacks know their pain but in essence, don’t believe everything you see/read/post and think about what you are about to tweet, post or blog.


66th. BE not forward but friendly and Courteous; the first to Salute hear and answer & be not Pensive when it’s time to converse.


Athletes are asked by their choices in life to be outgoing, be leaders, socially responsible and good communicators. When Parents step in on that role and ask coaches about playing time and issues that most certainly arise anytime young athletes are involved, isn’t that squandering the opportunity for that athlete to grow into this role? Too often Parents will run interference for their athlete and even the best players in our sport head into their college careers unsure of how to approach a Coach and communicate with a team.


82d. UNDERTAKE not what you cannot Perform but be Carefull to keep your Promise.


Commitment is a complaint a lot of coaches talk about with their teams and athletes. Some clubs demand their athletes ONLY do volleyball and no other sports. Some demand complete practice attendance or playing time in tournaments is off the table. It seems that commitment in the world of so many options for our athletes, which we have worked so hard to gain for them the last 50 years, should have a middle ground somewhere.


The last two entries are, 269 years behind us, as revealing rules for athletes, coaches and parents as can be imagined.


109th. LET your Recreations be Manfull not Sinfull.

110th. LABOUR to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire called Conscience.


Washington used these 110 rules as a General, a Father and family member and even as President of the United States, holding his staff and soldiers to the high standards he wrote about years before.


Two hundred and sixty nine years between, Washington’s rules are as important and relevant today as they were in the Colonial times. Coaches, Parents and athletes all can read and heed the rich advice given by our Nation’s first president when it comes to the landscape of Youth Sports. How nice would it be to hear the words “civility” and “decent behavior” mentioned at our next tournament?


Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Fairy Tale at the DMV....

Let’s get this out of the way; this ISN’T a fairy tale.

I was selling my car to a private party last week. We went to the bank, I signed the title in front of the bank’s Notary and the car was no longer mine. I begin to search for a new car.

A few hours later I got a call from the people I had sold it to. They were at the Division of Motor Vehicles and there was a big problem, could I come there. I was actually pretty close so I headed over.

I got to the DMV and was told the relative I had sold my car to earlier owned the car I was selling and that I still owned the car I had sold them from before. I was the only person in the whole scenario without a car and yet I was being told, at the moment, I had TWO!

The phrase “long story, short” would be very appropriate here but futile. It goes something like this: I had bought the car I was selling from a relative and sold my old car to my daughter. Both vehicles were the same year. In addition, both vehicles were being sold to the same last name. Add to that the fact that both parties came into the DMV within a two day period. Now add to that the fact that the vehicle identification number (VIN), by pure chance, had the same last three digits except for the last number which was one number off: 445 and 446. My guess was that the car I was selling was accidentally put into my daughter’s  name and that car had never been put in her name because they put this car in her name instead!

Need a breather?

We started to rationally explain what we thought had happened to the nice lady behind the counter. She listened and kept saying she was sorry, but in order for this sale to go through, she needed this and this and this to happen. Frustration was welling up inside all of us and finally a supervisor came over. We went over everything with him, what we thought had happened. He took the documents we had, went to the backroom and printed out about a dozen more. He came out twice asking who each of us were and how we were in the scenario, who the other relatives were and finally went back to HIS Supervisor’s office..for 25 minutes!

He came out with her and we all girded up for an epic battle. We were ready to go to war right now. Blood pressures were raging, faces started to turn red before he even got up to us and he leaned in and said:

“Wow, did we screw this up!” 

I almost choked on the gum I had just swallowed.

“Yea”, he continued, “I see where we made our mistake, well, a bunch of them actually. I’m really sorry. We’re going to get this fixed right now.”

And they did. All the titles were taken care of, I went from owning two cars to none and everything went to plan.

Why should we have been so surprised? They DID screw up but it was still a shock to the system that they would admit it? Why should that be?

How hard is it for us to say “I don’t know” or “I was wrong,” in modern society anymore? We make excuses, we deflect, we pretend.

In their new book titled, “Think Like a Freak,” authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner devote a whole chapter to the three hardest words in the English language: “I don’t know.”

As coaches, we are EXPECTED to know everything about what we coach…EVERYTHING. We are told to watch one swing of a 10 year old server and then told to “fix her.” We are asked why someone keeps hitting in the net without ever watching that player and comment on what she’s doing wrong. We put together elaborate drills that when they don’t go smoothly, the athletes obviously didn’t do it right!

The thing to ask though is, as coaches, have we gathered enough information to make those determinations? As a new coach, do you have information to help you make the decisions you need to make? Are you basing your middle blocker on the fact that she’s the tallest person on the team and the libero because she’s the shortest? When the drill isn’t going as well as you envisioned, is it the athletes or is it something you hadn’t thought about that’s making the drill lag?

We are human. We make mistakes. We don’t always know the answers and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

That isn’t an excuse for not continuing to find the answers: coaching clinics, reading books and articles, watching video, analyzing statistics. We owe that to our athletes, our sport and ourselves.

Next time a drill you concocted isn’t working, pull the team together and admit, “Yea, that one is a clunker. Let’s do this instead.” It’s not a sign of weakness but athletes will understand better that it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them when a role model or coach admits it as well.

While younger players should have a chance to play all positions, as they get older and are put into specific positions,  use their athletic skills and positive to help choose their place on the floor. Height is helpful but not always the best predictor. What other drills, games and skills can you observe and evaluate to help you put your players in their best position(s) to succeed.

I don’t know. I made a mistake. They aren’t the vocabulary pariahs they have been made out to be.

They are a sign of being human….

Friday, August 29, 2014


When you drive into Holyoke, Massachusetts, you are greeted with this sign: “Holyoke, the birthplace of volleyball.”

How can you not want to stop?

Holyoke is buttressed against the Connecticut river next to Springfield, Mass; the home to the Basketball Hall of Fame, a free standing building with three floors of inductees, interactive exhibits and memorabilia for the old and young fan alike. In the middle is a court with 8 baskets and from the moment the doors open, the courts are filled with kids, parents and grandparents shooting hoops. Exiting through the busy gift shop you feel like you have a better grasp of the sport and the people who made it great.

The Volleyball Hall is, much like our sport, in modest surroundings. It is being temporarily housed in the green belt of the Holyoke Heritage State Park. The Volleyball Hall shares a building, fittingly, with the Children’s Museum off of Dwight Street next to a canal that was once used to haul lumber and cotton. 

When you enter you are greeted with huge pictures of Karch and Flo Hymen on the front windows. You walk into the foyer and see the flags of the world above you and two glass cases celebrating the women in our sport and the Collegiate champions of the past decades. The three dollar entry fee seemed like a steal for a volleyball fan. Upon entering, the one level one room space is packed with exhibits and in looking around in offices and storage, one would think the need to find bigger quarters is upon them faster then they may have thought.

There is a half a volleyball court with a net against the wall for photo opportunities and a Gold Medal visitors can have their picture taken with. On the left of the entry is all the inductees’ plaques. You can see our history in these inductees, since the Hall was founded in 1978, there are over 120 and their stories and contributions fill the air and trickle over into the other exhibits.  The inductees are listed in four categories: players, coaches, officials and leaders. 

William G. Morgan was the first inductee since he invented the sport in 1895 IN Holyoke and he has an entire section of photos and memorabilia given to that historic moment. Reading the early rules of the game called Mintonette is funny when you look at where the game is today.

There are several beach volleyball exhibits and pictures but something that could catch the eye was this exhibit: The spectacle of beach volleyball that we know today, started with a kiss 57 years ago.

While there are several Americans inducted into the Hall, it is very much an international offering. Signed volleyballs from historic matches in college and the Olympics are around the room and a small gift shop, with just a few shirts and trinkets are there for modest prices as you leave. 

If you are a volleyball fan you will enjoy your time at the Hall. If you are a fanatic you will revel in the history and memorabilia throughout the room.  It’s well work the time and the three dollars and hey, help them out with a donation as you leave or click on their website and donate at

Oh yea, the kiss! Almost forgot…

On the beaches of Santa Monica August 10-11th of 1957, the game of beach volleyball became big time. The top two players at that time, Gene Selznick and Bernie Holtzman saw that they needed to promote their sport in order to see the sport AND the prize money and participation grow. The game itself had very few big hitters or blockers like today, so points were long and drawn out, pass after pass after pass. The two knew they needed something.

Enter a friend of theirs, promoter Jack Backer who had discovered and was promoting a blonde bombshell  of an actress named Greta Thyssen and asked her to come to the tournament to be the Queen of the beach and give a kiss to the winners. 

Selznick and Holtzman continued to build the model for what would become the AVP later on. They enlisted volunteers to work the tournament; they put up a sound system and an announcer who would break up long rallies with announcements and anecdotes about the players on the other 26 teams in the tournament, anecdotes supplied by Holtzman. The tournament was a rousing success and in the end, Greta Thyssen gave a kiss to the champions, Selznick and Holtzman that was covered by newspapers and magazines alike. Beach volleyball was born.

You can find this and many more stories of the pioneers and the best our sport has to offer at the Hall. Check out their website or plan a trip to visit. Chances are you won’t be disappointed.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Reaching for walls.....

Fort Pulaski sits quietly now on Cockspur Island surrounded on the north and south by the Savannah River across from Tybee Island. If Georgia was a profile of Homer Simpson, Fort Pulaski is the belly button.  Rebuilt three times, it stood as is, being built in 1829 at a cost of $1 million using 25 million bricks and taking 18 years to finish.

Two weeks after South Carolina had seceded from the Union starting the Civil War in late 1860, the Georgia militia was ordered to seize Fort Pulaski and it became part of the confederacy once Georgia seceded on January 19, 1861. President Abraham Lincoln ordered blockades of the southern ports and by the end of the year, with economic woes confronting them, the Confederates receded and gave up some strategic points of which to launch an attack on the Fort.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee, knowing an attack was inevitable, wasn’t concerned however; walls nearly 8 feet thick of solid brick with massive masonry piers was only part of the Fort’s defense. One U.S. Official speaking of its impervious  reputation said, “You might as well bombard the Rocky Mountains!”  It was a mile away from the closest attack point, Tybee Island. And since Union guns could only muster rounds that could travel 700 yards, Lee told the Fort’s commander, Colonel Charles H. Olmstead that the Union guns could, “make it pretty warm for you here with shells, but they cannot breach your walls at that distance.”

What Lee didn’t know was that the Union had experimented with a new weapon: a rifled canon that used grooves on the inside of the canon barrel that caused the bullet shaped shell to spiral, gathering both distance and accuracy. The new rifled canons had a range of almost 8,500 yards. A new science was about to make a difference.

On April 10 of 1862, responding to Olmstead’s rebuttal of surrender began an assault on the fort. Shells from the rifled canons slammed into the walls of the fort shaking the landmark’s foundation. Shell after shell slammed into the Pulaski’s eastern facade, putting chunks and finally holes into the thought to be impenetrable fortress.  One shell went through a hole in the wall and skated across the Fort’s infield and settled just feet from the powder room where all the rest of the ammunition was stored. Had the shell gone a few more feet, the fort would have been leveled by its own firepower.

Col. Olmstead surrendered in 30 hours and the world was stunned at how quickly Fort Pulaski had been taken down. A new technology had seen to it’s demise and ushered in a new wave of artillery that is still used today.

Fort Pulaski sits as a National Monument today but it’s also a historic fable of overconfidence and hubris. It’s also a lesson in how new technology, when embraced, can make a difference.

The good folks at the Olympic training helm are constantly working on how to do things better: teaching our athletes from the mental, optical, physical and even emotional points of view. We, as coaches, need to embrace changes as they happen. A PowerPoint entitled ‘Debunking the Myths of Volleyball” has taken science and shown that some of what we have taught our entire coaching lives, is wrong. Are we as coaches willing to accept the fact that we didn’t know then what we know now and we have to change the way we train? At the very least, are you familiar with the science of Motor LearningTheory

Imagine an Audio Visual teacher in high school that started in the 1980’s and NOT keeping up with technology. They are threading the film strips and the reel to reel tapes while you are downloading the entire text book on a phone the size of the box of red pens on her desk.

A Chinese proverb states, “A wise man adapts himself to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it.” As more and more information becomes available, are you, as a coach, embracing those ideas that are credible and easily adaptable to your team?

Take a history lesson. Embrace change. It can make a difference.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


In his remarkable TED talk called “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe,” Simon Sinek calls us to the attention of what kind of leaders are willing to sacrifice for the good of the unit/team/business.

Sinek points out it’s not just because they are better people but that if the environment is right, everyone can become this kind of leader; an environment of “deep trust and cooperation.” But these are feelings and not instructions.  He points out that going back to the earliest part of our civilization, with the dangers of weather and elements and  animals, they created a ‘circle of safety’ and built a tribe and it’s in that safety we felt a sense of trust and cooperation.

In a way, it’s the same thing in a team’s locker room.  Coaches have to make our athletes feel “safe” in order for them to trust us as coaches. As Sinek eloquently puts it, “When a Leader makes the choice to put the safety and the lives of the people inside the organization first, to sacrifice their comforts and sacrifice their tangible results so that the people remain and feel safe and feel like they belong, remarkable things happen.”

 We have to make them know, not just think but KNOW, that we want what’s best for them; as athletes and more importantly as people. As SInek points out, the variables outside the tribe can’t always be contained but the “conditions inside the organization, that’s where leadership matters because it’s the LEADER who sets the tone.”

Sinek points out that “If the conditions are wrong we are forced to expend our own time and energy to protect ourselves from each other and that inherently weakens the organization.”

Sound familiar?

Do we as coaches communicate at a high enough level with our athletes to make them feel safe and give them a sense of belonging? In some of the Region’s preseason Parent presentations, we ask the athletes to tell everyone what it is about Youth sports that disturbs them the most; about parents, coaches, officials, etc. Their number one answer about coaches is, “the coach doesn’t tell me anything when I get subbed out. What I did wrong or why? Why I’m not playing?”

How can an athlete feel safe if they aren’t given the most basic answers to being an athlete?

Men’s National Team Assistant Coach Andrea Becker, in a blog here a few months back, talked about making sure athletes feel safe. “They’re all athletes. They all want to be great and they all have different issues that they work through. So what I try to do is work with that person individually and figures out what’s best for them in that moment whether it’s the National Team level or the College level or even high school level. It’s just about figuring out what that person needs in a given moment of time and doing what helps meet those needs.”

She also mentioned substitutions as being a fragile element into athletes feeling safe. “What you might do is sacrifice a point in the short term to get what you want out of the athlete longer. Most coaches won’t make that sacrifice because they are so focused on the outcome: they want to win NOW. When you don’t fear losing you’re able to make decisions that are long term decisions instead of reactions in a moment. And that allows you to stay with kids and they’re not going to always be at their best and they are going to have an off day and it’s hard to build trust and confidence in them. You sometimes have to stick with them so they know in the end that you believe in them, and that’s important.” 

Joe Ehrmann is a former NFL football player and the author of “InSideOut Coaching: How sports can Transform Lives.” He talks about Coaches on two sides of a road. One is the Transactional Coach: the self centered coach, ego driven who uses intrinsic values to guide his coaching style and philosophy. The other is the Transformational Coach: the coach who is egoless, who works for others and is a mentor, using those principles to guide his coaching style and philosophy.

If athletes think you are coaching them in a Transactional way v. a Transformational way, how will you be perceived, not only by them, but by Parents and your peers? Can anyone feel safe in an environment where YOU, the coach, puts himself first?

Sinek asks the question that those CEO’s that are laying off people, those managers that are downsizing, would they react differently if those were their children? We do everything we can, (sometimes too much) to make sure our children are successful and are able to thrive in the world ahead. That is what Parents do.

So imagine that one player that gives you attitude at practice, the one that mopes on the sideline after getting taken out of the front row or the player that just seems disinterested at practice anymore. Would you, if they were YOUR child, just ignore them? Tell your assistant coach that kid is too much drama and I’ve taken too much time on them already?

USA Volleyball’s John Kessel makes a great point on the topic. “I think that you can identify how good a coach is by how he or she teaches the weakest player, the most challenging player. Anyone can coach the kid who comes early, stays late, trains extra and loves the game. What we do to make practice and training safe for ALL players matters, for after all leaders eat last.”

We want what’s best for our athletes and as Sinek says, “When we feel safe inside the organization we will naturally combine our talents and strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities.”

High school season approaches. Boy’s club season approaches. City and Rec programs, middle school programs are ahead. If you are coaching, how can you make your team feel safe?

What do you have to do to create that sense of trust and cooperation?

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Lamar Experiment...

In a tiny Midwestern town called Lamar, Missouri, a wonderful experiment took place.

Lamar is 45 minutes south of Joplin, the city that was leveled by tornados just a few years ago. It’s a small town with one main road, one Mexican restaurant, one Chinese restaurant, a McDonalds, a Denny’s and a local barbecue place called Tractors.

It’s a place of southern accents and where people use the phrase, “We’re getting some weather” in place of “It’s raining.” The local furniture factory moved out two years ago taking most of the town’s jobs with it. Lamar is trying to rebound. They take great pride in their local High School football program that is a perennial State Champion. They hunt and fish and fix things around the house themselves.

It’s also the birth place of Harry S Truman.

None of this has to do with the experiment that took place in the Lamar H.S. gym.

The first morning of camp, the high school varsity and JV players were encouraged to warm up. They grabbed their friend, stood on one side of the net and began throwing and tossing and bouncing and finally peppering to each other. The energy was low, the voices hushed and mumbled. It was a chore, and the net was treated as if it were radioactive.

Later that night, a middle school camp came into the gym. Girls as tall as a haystack and some so thin you were afraid a tough serve might snap their arms, the girls ranged in age from 8-14.  Some had never been coached before; they were just trying the sport on. In Lamar, very, very few girls can play just one sport; too many sports and too few girls. Coaches share athletes like neighbors share a cup of sugar.

As the middle school girls started flooding in they started throwing the ball over the net trying to pass and serve and hit. They broke off and played two on two and three on three and one of the courts became six on six in less than 5 minutes.

This was all done BEFORE their clinic started and BEFORE a coach had said anything to them.

The gym was loud, the voices laughing and screaming and had a blind man walked in, he would have thought he had crashed a birthday party. It was the soundtrack of kids having fun.

The next morning, the older girls lazily oozed back in. They fitted themselves in shoes and knee pads and ankle and knee braces and began the drudgery of warming up. This time though, their coach stopped them cold. They were encouraged to grab a partner, or two, or three, or even four. Stop being afraid of the net, use it! Then the word was uttered that changed the gym’s mojo…


Confused glances shot around the group. They slowly backed up and grabbed a ball and waited for someone to yell, “Just kidding! Pepper!!!”

But it never came.

Two girls started a rousing one on one game, pass-set and roll shots back and forth in a confined space near the antennae. Beside them was a two on two game with one setter dipping under the net to set both sides, a game that started as a cooperative effort but quickly turned into a game of torture the setter as the action got faster.

A three on three game started on the other court and soon melded into a 6 on 6 game featuring a few girls on the same court that weren’t facebook friends! Imagine that!

The cacophony was the polar opposite of the lifeless gravedigger’s cricket chirp the morning before. The girls came out of their warm up sweating and smiling and laughing and ready for a long day of camp.

What did this show? The girls on the older court had been coached, for years in both school and club ball. They were told how to warm up, what to do, what the coaches wanted which was regimented and structured and controlled.

The middle schoolers were for the most part too young for coaches yet and did what kids do…play.

We continue, as coaches, to suck the fun out of our game. We talk collectively about how more touches are good but then limit the opportunities for more in something as simple as just playing as a warm up. Queens, speedball, dog house, mini tournaments, 10’ tournaments: they are fun because they are play.

If you ask your athletes which they would rather do, pepper or play, what do you think the answer will be? What would YOUR answer be?