Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 High Fives.....

As we wrap up 2013, the top 10 lists and best of and worst of lists flood TV channels, websites, face book pages, tweets, magazines and newspapers. Our sport has our athletes of the year, teams of the year, etc. But how about we just give a high five to some deserving stories of 2013.

So put your hands up and let’s give a high five to:

 We’ve missed some great accomplishments of both individual players and teams, but take this list for what it’s worth; an exemplary cross section of what makes our sport great.

Best wishes for a safe and Happy New Year from the Az. Region.

Friday, December 6, 2013


With so many people and teams written about over the summer, the Region decided to check back with some of our blogging subjects to see how things turned out for them.

In our Blog entitled “Jess” written about an outside hitter in the small community in south east, Washington, Jess’s season went very well. Her team finished the season as District and League Champions with a 17-0 record and went to the State tournament. Jess’s coach Steph said without a hint of hyperbole, that “She is a joy to coach! She was our strongest outside hitter and usually led the team in kills and digs.” Jess made First Team All League and was in the paper after every game. Coach Steph said, “A quiet but strong leader, she makes the girls around her better in so many ways, but the biggest one is she is good all the way through. She prays with and for her team before every game, grateful for the game and opportunity to play. Love streams from this kid; love of volleyball and her family and her team. As a coach I am grateful to have the chance to know her and coach her. As a mother, I am glad my daughter calls her friend. “

In our blog entitle “Biesh,” Jessie was transitioning to coaching after her collegiate career had ended. She was the C-Team coach for her high school and she proclaims, in her positive style, that it was a great first year. “I learned a lot about coaching that age group and I enjoyed every bit of it! And of course I loved assisting with varsity. It was crazy how much the girls improved and how they ended their season so well.” Biesh said.

But it didn’t start out all rainbows and ponies. “The worst part was probably the first week of coaching the C team. There wasn't any chemistry on the team and half of the girls had no idea what they were doing which made the best part the end of the C team season and seeing how close our team chemistry was and how much each girl had improved.” She also helped the Varsity’s Washing State tournament. “It was a lot of fun and the girls did great.”

Jessie’s future plans are in motion already. “I'm actually moving to Vancouver the beginning of January. My boyfriend of over 3 years is a football player at Portland State and so I'll be about 15 minutes from him. I will be applying into an education program to teach K through 8 after I finish all the prerequisites. I'm honestly so sad that I can't coach next year but my boyfriend and I would love to move back here after we're both done with school and I will definitely want to look into coaching here again. Obviously many things can change, but those are my plans as of now!”

In our blog “Nettie” we followed a young coach trying to change the culture of the same high school that she attended. “This years team was such a great group of girls,” coach Nettie Hawkins proclaimed. “They were very dedicated and focused on personal and team goals and that even though we did only win 3 games they were pleased with the way things went and know what needs to be done In order to get further next year.”

Trying to find that combination that will keep her Port Townsend girls inching closer to a winning culture, Nettie said, “I can't say there were major things that were changed, but the dynamic of the team was changed as my star setter went on exchange in Spain for a year. So with that everyone was getting used the new system and getting used to new hands, they did quite well adjusting. Next year I have eight returning players as well as my setter will be back, so there are big things to come.”

From the blog entitled “Coaching Pirates,” Coach Tera Paulson talked about her struggles with a young team from a tiny town and also trying to turn the corner on a losing culture. Coach Paulson saw her team finish 19-9, a District Championship but fell in the first round of the Regional tournament. “Our girls came absolutely fired up to play in the District championship match. We had a few ups and downs throughout the match, but fought back like we had all season and won the match 3-0. The girls picked up their passing and stayed aggressive at the net and it paid off. It was our schools first District Championship in 18 years!”

Paulson talked about the culture difference from years past. “The girls, for the most part, had confidence in their ability and never gave up. We had a lot of slow starts to matches this year but the team never let that get them down. In the past, the team would have folded and lost quickly, this year the girls fought hard and played point by point. There were numerous matches we would get down by 8-10 to start, only to come back and win the set.” That fighting spirit might be credited to a group to young to understand pressure. “We didn't graduate a single senior so hopefully the future holds more success stories!” Paulson said. “The future holds whatever this group wants it to hold. These girls have the potential to be North Dakota State contenders but we cannot be satisfied with where we are at. Every team in our district, in our region and in the state will spend the next year getting better. We must also spend time in the gym improving our skill and working hard to be able to compete at the highest level in ND. I have no doubts that this team can accomplish great things....and I think I am finally getting them to believe that as well.”

Finally, in our blog entitled “The Competitive Cauldron…Jersey Style” we talked to Coach Colleen Henry about the character cauldron she created from scratch. She said her results were mixed. “We did it 2 more times after the original.” She noted. “I think it helped some people come out of their shell and to admit weaknesses. I did notice quiet girls speaking up more and some more supportive actions. However, I don't think anyone made drastic changes. Kids on the bottom stayed on the bottom, and the ones on top stayed on the top. Only movement was a place or two in the middle. I also noticed warped perspectives. For example, two kids are friends, and they rank their friend higher than most of the team in a category. Or someone they don't get along with is ranked low in a category whereas most scored the person as higher. I think that I would not make mandatory scores, for example 1, 1.5, 2, etc. and have them put a decimal if needed, because I think there was a perception that we were better in some categories than we actually were. I thought our team was weak on communication this year. I would say 75% of team was very quiet on the floor. However, one of those quiet girls would score a 3 and think she was doing ok, when in reality she should have been a 1.3. The girls said they found it hard to give 0s. A lot of the team was so similar that they found it hard to differentiate between the middle numbers so I think going forward having more variety in score would help. I would say it helped in small ways, but with adjustments, and if I did it more frequently, or it counted towards play time, I would see more use and improvement.”

The Region would like to thank these coaches and players for letting us tell you their stories. It’s greatly appreciated.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Being the Echo....

In the past week, we have seen a few examples of Coaching Ethics being toyed with in an effort to gain a competitive edge.

The NBA’s Brookyn Nets coach Jason Kidd told one of his players, “hit me” while holding a drink and when the player bumped into Kidd, he spilled it onto the court. The delay in cleaning it up gave the coach a chance to talk to his team about a last shot in the game where he was down two with no time outs and 8.3 seconds on the clock.

In the perfect-world scenario, the Nets missed the last shot and lost the game but Kidd, who denied any wrong doing right after the game, was fined $50,000 by the NBA and two days later admitted he did it. “It’s about trying to win…” Kidd said.

In the Thanksgiving night football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin stepped into the path of Raven’s kickoff returner Jacoby Jones, perhaps slowing him down enough to be caught from behind. Tomlin was seen smiling on the sidelines after the play but did admit he was wrong for being on the field and said he would take the consequences. The NFL is currently reviewing the play.

In the perfect-world scenario, the Steelers lost the game anyway.

Coaching young athletes, who will see these instances of coaches being ethically bereft, might call them “competitors” who will do anything to win. The question is where do you draw the line?

  • Baseball players that use steroids and PED’s?
  • Cyclists who oxygenate their blood and use enhancements?
  • Gymnasts who lie about their age to gain an advantage with the flexibility that comes with youth?
The one thing that all of these situations have in common is that they are against the rules. Rules put in place to keep playing fields even for all. And when one person breaks the rule, another thinks they might have to in order to stay competitive. But a clear choice is made. Kidd knew his antics were against the rules and if Tomlin’s position on the field was purposeful, he did too. So do the baseball players and cyclists and gymnasts. They are knowingly breaking the rules for an advantage.

This isn’t new to sports and, let’s be honest, will never stop. As long as someone can gain an advantage over another, rules will be bent to the point of breaking, and yes, they will be broken.

But coaching young athletes, we need to keep things in perspective. First, kids are way smarter than we think and they see things we don’t think they see and they pick up signals constantly.

When you tell a player she’ll run laps if she confesses to a net violation in a match, what are you really telling that player? Touch calls in volleyball are the equivalent of Truth or Dare. Some players may feel the need to say yes, I touched that ball, but know the wrath of their coach isn’t worth it.

Take it a step farther: some coaches demand that kind of honesty in practice because this is your team and you shouldn’t deceive your team but once we are in a match, don’t say anything. The rationale from one coach was, “The officials are the professionals and they should catch it.”

Some of our athletes are as young as 9 and 10 and 11 and we are asking them to start their athletic careers, and for a lot of them, their first interactions with the world outside of school, by lying and hiding the truth at the expense of winning.

“Life is an echo. What you send out comes back. What you sow, you reap. What you give, you get. What you see in others exists in you. Remember, life is an echo. It always gets back to you. So give goodness.”

We may not want to admit it, but we are role models. How we act, what we say, how we say it are all gauged and recorded by our athletes. Asking them to lie or cheat will create the next generation of coaches that are straddling the line of competitor and cheat.

We are, truly, the echo.