The start-of-season dilemma

**I wrote this Friday, but forgot to post it.  Sue me.

For us, tomorrow is our pre-season scrimmage.  We’ll play an opponent we don’t have to worry about in the post-season (different division)…also because a different local team avoids playing us…a different story.

That means for the past couple days, we’ve been working on more than just fundamentals and team concepts.  We’ve been working on the actual lineup we’re going to go into the regular season with.  There’s a problem with that–one that all coaches in every sport have to deal with.  I’ve got 15 athletes, all of whom started or starred in high school (or last year at LLCC), and I’ve got room for 8-9 in the regular playing rotation.  That means there are multiple athletes who won’t see the court as much as they want.

It’s a scary thing for a coach–I’ve had teams where those non-starters become a massive cancer and destroy a season (2013 was the worst experience ever).  I’ve had teams where the athletes come to me and say “Don’t worry I’m not playing–the goal is to win, Dietz.  Do what’s needed.” (That defined 2012 and 2015 especially, two of the best years in program history.)  You can’t control the attitudes as a coach–they’re going on in the back of a bus, in a dorm or apartment or in social media posts going on from ‘secret’ accounts.  Heck, you can’t control what parents are telling the kids either.

It’s not a fix, but I try and address this during the recruiting process, when they come to campus to register, during the summer, and then again as we start practice AND here in these last days before things ‘get real’.  This is what currently goes in our handbook.

THE ROLE OF THE BENCH

One of the areas a coach has a problem with is the bench and its role.  Volleyball teams put six players on the court at a time, yet there can be more than a dozen players on the roster.  Doing the math, this means there are six or more players on the bench at any one time.  In most cases, you started for your high school team and if you weren’t any good, you would’ve quit volleyball long ago.  That causes a problem: everyone wants to play, but the coach’s job is to put the best possible lineup on the court in order to win.  Thus, we have challenges players AND coaches must both deal with.

The bench is vital throughout the season.  The bench sees playing time in every match.  The bench can alter the tempo and rhythm of a game or permit a hitter to get a quick rest or permit a coach to make an adjustment without using a timeout, so players on the bench MUST be ready to go on a second’s notice and know who they are going in for, where they are on the court, what is going on, and what their responsibilities are.

In summary:
1 – You must challenge the starters every day in practice so THE TEAM is prepared for tough matches, rivals, and ranked teams.

2 – You are ready to enter a game at any instant.  THE TEAM’s long-term success comes from the bench’s ability to perform this critical role.

3 – You must strive to improve yourself.  This challenges your teammates to get better themselves.  This way THE TEAM benefits.

4 – You are not expected to be satisfied with limited playing time—no one ever is.  But you are expected to maintain a ‘professional’ attitude.  Success is not individual.  We win together, we lose together—AS A TEAM.

————-

I can’t ever tell if that covers the issue enough.  I’m not sure what gets through–not from a generation gap or anything like that, but simply because each athlete is different in personality and competitiveness with differing outside forces pressing on them (or supporting them).

What I am sure of though is that teams with depth have an advantage–starters get pushed to hold on to playing time.  There’s a chance of sustaining excellence if there’s an injury to a starter.  A deep bench permits tactical adjustments that are impossible if you’re ‘stuck’ with only 8-9 players available.

 

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30 for 30 (another VB anniversary post)

30 years is a long time…I remember being 15 last week and yesterday I was 30 and now…well, I’m not 30.  Still, I’ve been in love now for 30 years–both with (now) Mrs. Dietz and with volleyball.  Thank goodness Mrs. Dietz puts up with the long-time mistress (volleyball you knuckleheads) like she does!

So I saw an ad on ESPN for their documentary series they started long ago now ’30 for 30′.  It got me thinking.  Then someone in a volleyball forum mentioned the dread ’30 under 30′ award (pretty much guaranteed to kill a career dead–or the nominator’s money back).  And that brings us to…

My list of 30 people in volleyball I love.  They are in no particular order.  There are others.  If you aren’t listed, I still love you.

  1. Jim Stone.  I learned so much about coaching from him.  Even now when I get to talk to him, I learn new pearls of wisdom about the sport–but I also love talking politics or sports with him and I’ll never forget the ’93 loss to Purdue and driving back with him separate and playing ‘Name that Tune’ from Lafayette back to Columbus…the man knows his 70s album rock.  I also learned the importance of finding good restaurants for team meals from him (something Gregg Popovich stole from Jim–and me).
  2. Laura Davis.  Hardest working volleyball player I’ve ever known.
  3. Beth Bushur. Hardest working HS player I coached.  Toughest, too.
  4. Jody Kapper. Best natural leader I’ve coached.  No one crossed her path–not the team and not male athletes either.
  5. Emily Bergfeld.  5’7 middle who wound up playing D-2 ball–they asked her if she was an OH or DS…wouldn’t believe she’d been a middle.  God did not bless Emily with the greatest athletic talent, but the Almighty blessed her with a work ethic and a ‘can do’ spirit.  With Beth, Jody, and the rest of that 2000 team–it is the one squad I’ve had where I could still write the lineup sheet out today. (Serving order: 5-33-17-3-32-26/28)
  6. Toby Harms.  His school always tied his hands in terms of coaching until he lost his job when a co-op was formed.  He coached my kids in club.  I always appreciated he understood why sports were important for more than just the ‘great’ athletes.  He busted his butt as a coach, still does so as a teacher.  I hope students appreciate that.  I do.
  7. Andy Martin.  Our assignor here at LLCC.  Nice guy, understands the spirit of the game.  If it’s a big match, I don’t have to worry–we’re going to have the best available officials.
  8. Ron Riggle.  My AD.  I get the support I need regularly–more than a ton of coaches out there can say.  I love when we have qualified for nationals that he comes along–but only in the role of fan/supporter and to help with logistics.  The shock in 2012 when Kinzie Nielsen challenged him to ping-pong and he accepted and drilled her–awesome.
  9. Carrie Leonard and Gabi Jobst.  I’m cheating, but in VB terms, I have to put them together, the passing duo of outside hitters while I was at Ohio State.  My goodness did they complain about passing stats–but I also suspected (and have found out since) that they loved being held to a high standard.  My love of ‘ball-control’ oriented teams comes from these two.
  10. I mentioned Ron in #8.  I need to mention Matt Hensley here, my A.D. when I was a high school coach.  He stood by me in all circumstances, including when I was let go.  Eventually that became part of the reason he was let go.  I’m in a better place as is he.  He remains the best HS athletic director in Illinois…maybe the U.S.
  11. Jessica Childress.  The first HS kid I coached to go on to play at a NCAA D-1 school.
  12. Tiffany Sunderlin.  My assistant now, but this is for providing me with one of my favorite moments ever–knocking a kid unconscious on match point of our first match of 2015.  I’ve never seen a more perfect connection than that set and she UNLOADED.
  13. Kelly Wajda / Laura Payne / Tiffany.  My alumni who have come back to be assistant coaches.  My goal has always been for the program to be like family–so having alumni return to help gives me that sense–keeps me ‘in touch’ with what players think.
  14. Claire Reinthaler.  She kinda stunk the last match of her freshman season.  When I pulled her, she said to herself she was happy to be out.  Afterwards she told me–and vowed that would never happen again.  As a soph, Claire wound up backing that promise up–Conference Player of the Year, All-American, and setting a record for hitting efficiency by a middle.  Setting a goal, committing to it, succeeding.  Love it.
  15. Kiersten Anderson.  She played for our club for 5 years, insisted she wanted to play D-1 only, but she was told at 5’11 1/2 she was too short.  She wound up with us all-American twice, academic all-American twice, and all-National Tourney twice.  She went on to be NAIA all-American, too.  The funny thing–she never really led us in any one category…other than triple-doubles (kills-digs-assists).  She has an argument for being ‘best ever’ at Lincoln Land, except…
  16. Emily Orrick.  Orrick was two-time all-American, went on to Illinois State where she was two time Missouri Valley Libero of the Year and was an AVCA all-American.  As a libero, she was aced less than 40 times in 1,900 attempts…while running a two-person serve-receive (except for one opponent with a jerk for a coach–Emily ran a one-person against them).  Our rival coaches agree “Emily is the best juco libero of all time.”  If she’d played at a hoity-toity school, you’d know her.
  17. Will Clawson.  An assistant for only one year, he moved with his wife to Springfield to try out college coaching.  It takes a lot in life to pack up and follow a dream to see if it is the right dream.  I didn’t have that courage myself when I was younger–so I have mad respect for anyone who does what he did.
  18. Kallie Sinkus.  My assistant for two years–also known as Hannah Werth’s HS setter.  She’s gone on to coach high school, but it really strokes my ego to know she took a ton of our concepts and what I do and implemented them with her team–while having the confidence to put her own spin on it all.  Just as important, she took over a team that had had a jerk for a coach and was down to 14-15 athletes–and now has nearly 60 in the program.
  19. Joe Reuben.  He helped start a club with me.  He coaches the Maccabi Games team for the US (won the gold two years ago, too).  Only in America can the white son of German immigrants from a small town in Iowa become friends with an Indian Jew from London, England.  A gentle soul, he will always go the extra mile to help young people.
  20. Amber Stephens.  She came on to club and learned to coach more even as she had to take on more paperwork duties–an administrative whiz who never tripped up even when she was faced with a series of crises in her personal life–along with managing the multiple sports interests of her children.  Motherhood, career, coaching…it ain’t easy.  I wish more parents appreciated coaches for that.
  21. John Kessel.  Back in 2011 at the AVCA convention, he kindly dumped about 40 links on me to articles on motor development and block/random training.  If the guy in charge of USAV grassroots efforts thinks it’s good, I guess I can go along…we changed a ton of stuff.  We went to Nationals.  We’ve been there 5 of 7 years now…should’ve been 7, but that’s for a future rant, I suspect.
  22. D.C. Koehl.  D.C. was the long-time sports info guru for Ohio State men’s and women’s volleyball.  He singlehandedly did the PR guides and work there for the VB teams–when all anyone else cared about was basketball and football…his knowledge of all things stats and Ohio State sports was incomparable.
  23. Pete Hanson and Tim Embaugh.  Ohio State’s men’s coaches, the guys who coached them to national titles.  They put in 20+ years of hard work and earned their success.  They did it with style and class.  Except Tim…it’s hard to forget him in a white t-shirt over his head working summer camps going, “I am the great Cornholio.”
  24. Linda Grensing.  Weird ties in life.  Her dad was the AD where my dad and step-father went to HS.  Before going to Ohio State, she worked at Iowa State where I assisted after she left.  Linda was always classy and a great role-model.  I don’t think I’ve seen her since her wedding 20 years ago now, but I bet her daughters are turning out the same way as her.
  25. Bobana Marusic.  The only athlete our exercise physiologist, Kelly, could not wear out or break down.  One of the first two (the only two actually) international students I brought in, she was all-conference and -region and academic all-American to boot.  So was Maree.  If all Serbian (and Australian) women are like them, those nations will be in good hands for the foreseeable future.
  26. Jim Hunstein.  With USAV HP, he worked with my daughter and treated her with respect even though she was young and new–much more than she got from other coaches she worked with.  I anjoyed coaching against him, but prefer it now where he’s at a four-year school and we are co-directors of the Bald Guy Coaching Alliance.
  27. Twin City Volleyball.  Mike Deterding and Craig Jones.  They allowed me to coach back in 95-96 when I wasn’t sure how to get back in to coaching after getting married and becoming a dad.  Coaching for them led to the chain of events that brought me to LLCC.
  28. Morgan Hauser.  As a player, she hated me.  We butt heads some–but when she moved to play on, she understood my decisions better.  I hired her as a club coach–she was awesome.  She moved on to do a grad ass’t position and is now in her first year as a college head coach.
  29. Anna Becker.  I loved you standing up for a teammate I was tossing off the team and your comment during our discussion: “I hate that you are rational.  Worse, you’re @#%@#% right.”  You should’ve been all-American and I hate that coaches pulling shenanigans prevented that.
  30. Liang Yao.  Yao was at Ohio State and we’d always room together on roadtrips.  I don’t think Jim Stone ever realized how tired we would be before matches or that after the morning 1-hr practice we were always taking short catnaps.  That’d be because we’d be staying up until 5am watching TBS’ movie marathons like “10 Days of the Duke” or the “Clint Eastwood Weekend.”  I remember a coaches dinner at a Chinese restaurant where Yao did all the ordering–what I hadn’t realized was he’d trained as a youth to be a chef…and didn’t want the kitchen to take shortcuts because the rest of us were Americans.  I haven’t seen Yao since 1994, but a picture of him and me remains in my office.  Good times.

Creating Tradition

I’ve been here at LLCC now quite a while.  It’s been quite a ride, a lot of work.  Since this is the start of my thirtieth year in volleyball, I’m trying to do a lot of reflective pieces.  This is one of them.  If you’d rather something more modern, consider checking out my book of coaching essays.  It’s under five bucks.  Give up a frappe mochachino latte today and have the book for a lifetime.

This morning I was reading a fluff piece on the upcoming football season and the importance of tradition to the University of Michigan’s football success–no mention of the exorbitant funding given to the program over the past century or that along with the rest of the Big Ten(14), they generally avoid playing less-funded teams who could beat them…wait, this isn’t a polemic against the Big Fourteen(10).  Anyways…

I started thinking about tradition.  What is it, how do you create it, can you create specific elements of it?  Why didn’t it exist before I got here to LLCC?  It turns out, I don’t have the answers to all of those questions, but figured they are all worth discussing because there is a great deal of value in tradition–look at how it works for those big-name college programs, look how it creates pride for those in the Marines or the Army.  Heck, not just the US military, there are military units in Europe that trace their lineage as organizations back more than 500 years!

So, let’s think about the questions.  Think of your answers as I struggle to give you mine!

What is tradition?  It’s defined as “the transmission of values from one generation to the next.”  In terms of coaching, this means what you teach and how it carries over from year to year, how the players become part of it.  The problem at a two-year school is that players arrive and are done playing in the space of about 15 months.  That’s not much time to get ‘buy-in’ from entering players and sophomores often have an eye on four-year schools as soon as they’re done with their second season.

How do you create tradition? I think the biggest requirement is time.  For a program to have tradition, there has to be limited turnover of personnel.  At a two-year school, that’s impossible with the athletes.  That means you need to have coaching/administrative stability.  I’ve been here 14 years.  That makes me the longest-tenured coach in our region.  And the state of Illinois.  Also the Midwest (other than Kirkwood Community College and a couple of schools in MI/OH).  In terms of tenure, I think our region goes something like: 14, 11, 8, 5, 4, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1.  We had a coach just retire after 28 years.  Which schools have the most success? The most ‘tradition’?  Yup–28, 14, 11.

What parts of tradition can you create?  You have no control over time.  That is an endurance contest.  Instead, you can follow up on the military inspiration.  If I mention ‘Green Beret’, an American immediately will see a soldier.  Civil War historians reading ‘damned black hat fellers’ will immediately recognize a reference to the elite Iron Brigade, the greatest brigade to fight against the treasonous states of the South.  Do you have special decorations for your uniforms?–look at the stickers on college football helmets!  Do you have special apparel–perhaps something permitted only for varsity letter-winners and not just anyone part of the program?  What about trinkets?  In the military, this could be shoulder cords, the medals/ribbons on a uniform.

Do you have rites-of-passage…to be clear, I’m not talking hazing!!!…?  With LLCC, we have something called ‘Hell Week’ which is the one week everyone contributes to fund-raising.  It sucks to do, but it brings everyone closer together through the shared sucky experience.  We have a couple drills that players know are good for them as players, but they absolutely despise.  –These are things that can be shared with those who come later.

This summer when a couple of alumni saw current players in yoga pants rather than slacks, they accused me of getting soft on the dress code (I wasn’t)–reminding me with the classic words “When I was here….” and mentioning it to current players as well!  This is a bond I share with all of them coach-to-player, but they also have without me.  They went through it all and came out okay on the other side.

(A little more on this after the next question…)

So why wasn’t there ‘tradition’ before I got here?  First, we’re back to the issue of time.  Before I came to LLCC, there’s no record of a coach being here more than three years.  As I noted above, players are here two years, so that when you switch coaches almost as quickly, there’s no continuity.  There’s no ability to make changes in practice planning, tactics, etc, stick.  New coaches are always adjusting to the school and higher-ups, not just dealing with new athletes and managing stuff in the gym.

That carried over into a different area–one where I think you can make a concrete difference in establishing tradition…even if you aren’t planning to remain long-term with your current school.  Other than the three coaches who came before me, there’s NO record of anyone who coached here…nothing at all.  (I’ll be able to get some of that coming up at our next alumni match–another way to bond/cement tradition).   Not only was there no record of who coached, roster lists and programs only go back to 2002 (again, something I’m working on via our alumni match).

I think stats are important.  They show where the program’s been, where it is, how things change.  Just as important (and practical), having a stat archive allows you as coach to give great tidbits to newspapers/media:

  • Anderson shattered the school triple-double record, breaking it by six before adding two more at the National Tournament.
  • Scott is the only outside hitter in program history to hit over .300 for a season.
  • Jackson’s 64 assists against G.R. broke an 11-yr old record held by Kate Ehrlich in a five-set match against Springfield College.

That’s so much better than just listing stat totals, don’t you think?

I’ve taken the time to dig through my stats and then the available NJCAA stats–which only go back to 2002 unfortunately–to create a master list of who played when, how much they played, their yearly totals as well as career totals.  I can tell you that only four players have ever racked up 1,000 digs in a season (Anna Becker, Alicia Rankin, and Emily Orrick twice).  Since no one’s had more than 130 blocks since 2012, it’s looking like Megan Vladic’s career total of 338 is safe.

I just finished doing the same work for LLCC stats at Nationals only.  None of this is useful for evaluating current talent–I know that.  It’s about making sure current players see they are part of a big family, one with tradition.  It’s about recruits knowing that if they come here, they’ll become part of that tradition–that we think they can reach the high standards we strive for.

It’s been a lot of work–but worth it already.  I posted some to social media and have had alumni commenting.  They don’t just comment on the stats, but it brings back memories of specific matches or moments–everything that goes in to tradition.

 

So what have I missed regarding tradition?  Are there other things that coaches can do to instill tradition?  It can’t be microwaved–I’m sure of that.  Thoughts?

 

Leadership

I wrote this for my volleyball team–in its original form.  We’d had some issues of leadership and behavior and I wanted to try and figure out a way without pointing fingers how to improve that ‘culture’–in a way involving self-reflection by the players.  Like most things when dealing with young athletes, whether it worked, if it worked, is unknown.  For general use, I’ve edited some stuff below to make it non-LLCC specific and thus more useful to you, the reader.

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Ultimately, all athletes affect the team and its attitude–either positive or negative.  Obviously positive helps, negative hurts.  But how do you do that? Many times, athletes don’t even think about the extra stuff.  Basically it comes down to types of leadership.  I think everyone knows where they fit in these categories.   It doesn’t matter what you tell me or a teammate–you can fib to pretty much everyone, but not yourself.  You can be a leader, exert an effect, on a team in many different ways, good and bad.   If we fall into a negative type, how do we make it a positive?  Are you capable of the work needed in changing categories, to move towards #4, the ultimate level of player and leader?

Here are the categories as I see them, how we can divide athletes.  Each type can help a team or hurt it.
 
The Categories:

1 – You don’t like speaking out.  You don’t want everyone watching you in a drill.  You want to go about your business.
 
Positive: Every team needs players who understand their role, accepts it, and puts a team’s success above any individual glory.  You are more than willing to work hard and let someone else take the limelight.  Your preference is hard work and the inner knowledge of the success that comes from that.
Negative: You don’t take a stand, are easily swayed by peer pressure.  If people become mean, you will go in to a shell so that you don’t become a potential target for their anger or snarky comments–it’s easier to stand by than stand up to a bully or to hold a teammate accountable.
 
2 – You have no problem speaking out, but do not have the greatest ability/athleticism in the world.  At most, you are a role-player on the team.
 
Positive:  The ability to speak out isn’t limited to just stars.  A willingness to speak based on observations from the sideline is vital.  Just as important, everyone practices.  Holding teammates to a high standard there leads to success in competition.  If needed, you can step forward and provide a spark off the bench emotionally when needed.
Negative: Mouthiness.  If you speak out without thinking, tell people to work hard/be focused, yet you are not, it raises tensions–why should I listen to someone who doesn’t play much, isn’t as good as me, etc.?  Is your outspokenness helping the team or selfishness?
 
3 – You don’t like speaking out, don’t understand how that can be important–your preference is to let your actions speak for you.  You will lead–and it will be by example.
 
Positive: There’s a time for talk, but it’s more important to nail a serve/swing, to pass a perfect ball, to turn a botched ball into a perfect set.  You believe that if you work hard, it will lead others to work hard because hard work leads to success and you can’t get anywhere in life without working for it.
Negative: Actions without words include things like turning away from someone trying to communicate with you, flipping a hand up/waving ‘whatever’,  rolling your eyes.  Even something like looking into the stands rather than to coaches during a timeout can be contagious in a bad way.  Perhaps you stand one step outside the huddle, making sure everyone knows you aren’t part of the conversation or the subject of a coach’s criticism/comments?
 
4 – You are willing and confident to speak out as well as have the ability to have your actions speak loudly.
 
Positive: People traditionally follow individuals if they can ‘talk the talk and walk the walk.’  If you are busting your butt on behalf of the team and its success, you have many ways to positively affect the team’s success and playing ability.  Every great team has 1-2 players in this ‘positive’.  This is not just between teammates, but having the confidence to speak with coaches and voice opinions at the right point in time–but also to accept criticism, maybe even volunteering to the staff to be ‘target’ to take the pressure off of teammates on a given day.
Negative: You coast.  Already good, why work hard?  You may look down on others who do not have your ability–and rather than help them improve, you hold your ability over them.  They get worse rather than get better.  Athletes in this negative often believe they are irreplaceable for a team’s success.  In many sports, when the athlete transfers or is traded, the team ‘inexplicably’ gets better.  As important as the positive side of #4 is for success, the negative is the ultimate team-killer.
  
Think about these.  Where do you fit in?  Where do your teammates fit in?  Do you strongly fit a category–or do you kinda sit on the border between two of the numbers or between a positive/negative?  Be honest–team success comes first from our ability as players and coaches to know ourselves.  Only then can we hammer out and eliminate our weaknesses and amplify our strengths.
 

Another Family Memory (7/25/93)

Recently, I had a friend whose father died.  Having been there with both parents, I’m well aware that there is little that can be said which can offer consolation.  Basically, you can say ‘Sorry’ and offer support.  Little else helps.

It made me think of something though, something that I was told that comes from Australian aboriginal tradition–though my memory plays tricks and it could be African instead.  It is the belief that the departed are not really dead or gone until they are fully forgotten and that as long as at least one story exists and is told (or read…my interpretation), then that person is not really, truly dead.

With that in mind, there’s a woman who deserves remembering.

Julie and I got married on July 24, 1993, a day hotter than all get out in southern Illinois.  The next morning, as per tradition, we gathered at her parents’ house to open wedding gifts.  I only remember two of them–a clock from my friend Jeff who has disappeared off the radar of everyone…and a silver platter.  The platter is the biggie.

It was the gift of a woman who had been dying for months and passed away exactly one month before our wedding, Esther Phelan.

Mr. and Mrs. Phelan had owned the house that became our home in 1970, moving to the smaller house next door and becoming our neighbors.  They were great.  She was a nurse at Mercy Hospital across the street.  On weekends, and later once she retired, if she had cookies, she’d let us have some.  I remember my parents spending time over there just talking to the Phelans in the summer.  I have absolutely no bad memories of the Phelans.  None.

Mr. Phelan (Walt) died in 1989, leaving Mrs. Phelan alone.  By that point, I was ‘grown’ and away from Davenport far more than I was around, but I still made sure to say hi and talk with her whenever I saw her.  My mom and step-father always talked with the Phelans, watched out for her after Mr. Phelan died.

In late 1992, Mrs. Phelan was fighting cancer–it wasn’t a winnable one.  By the time summer, 1993 came around, she was in the hospital and was not going to be able to leave it.  I didn’t realize this at the time–I was in Ohio most of the time and the rest was with Julie as the wedding neared.  I only found something out after she died when my mom called to let me know.  If there was a ‘saving grace’, it was that Mrs. Phelan was 82–it was a full life with grandkids and great-grandkids to boot.

So we are opening gifts and one of the last handed to us is from Mrs. Phelan.  I knew she had died and the gift was shocking and unexpected.  I teared up then and it is hard not to now typing this.  We opened the gift and it was a silver tray, something usable with a dining set.  It was classy or if we try and lighten the mood, “the good stuff”.  Along with it was a note from Mrs. Phelan’s daughter.  We have it somewhere still, even after multiple moves…I just don’t know where.

Her daughter’s note said that even as Mrs. Phelan lay dying in a hospital, she’d seen the days counting to our wedding and knew she wasn’t going to make it, so she made her daughter promise to go and buy a gift, to make it something good, something worthy of a newly-married couple, something good enough for a girl good enough for Jimmy (she is one of the few permitted to call me that).

On her death bed.  She thought of me, thought of my wife.

I thought about that today while reading the news, while looking at Facebook and a dozen different hateful posts, made public for no reason other than stir up anger.  This woman with little time remaining, she thought of me.  I had no idea she’d continued to ask about me all the time or was so happy I was getting married.  Dying–She. Thought. Of. Me.

When you read this, I hope you get a sense of how special that sort of person in life is to have around.  Somewhere around you, you have a Mrs. Phelan.  For someone, you ARE Mrs. Phelan.  Take time today to look for the good people.  They are quiet, but they are there.

I hope you remember this story so that Mrs. Phelan’s light , wherever she is, burns brighter now.

In appreciation of the day…

In case you’ve missed it–there’s a lot of negative stuff and hate that goes through social media on the internet.  It’s easier to be negative and see problems that work towards solutions of any sort.    I won’t sit here in a glass house and tell you I am innocent either–I can be negative, I can get discouraged…especially if I am tired.

So I woke up today, had some breakfast, came in to the office early and decided to write this.  It dawns on me now that it is tradition (but happens less often now) at meal time to give thanks–whether that is secular thanks in honor of those gathered or faith-based, dedicating the meal to God, YHWH, Buddha, Allah, or Cthulhu.

I appreciated my day yesterday.

  1. I woke up (being 50+ with a parent who died at 49, this is an immediate, decisive victory)
  2. Line was too long at McD’s, so I went for breakfast to Taco Bell.  Their $1 breakfast scrambler bowl is really good.
  3. Our athletic office was open–got to talk socially with our admin assistant.
  4. The U.S. Marine Corps came and took my volleyball team through their Combat Fitness Test then discussed leadership with them.  I got to see some kids working hard.
  5. Did I mention it was 75 with a cool breeze yesterday–on August 1?  #winning
  6. My assistant bought lunch–went to Cracker Barrell and tried their Country Grilled Chicken House Salad–didn’t expect much, but it was quite tasty.
  7. We only had one IMPACT-test failure.
  8. The gear SNAFU is being straightened out–timely involvement of my AD helped out…always good when an AD will push to get things done ASAP.
  9. First practice was rocky in a rusty, holy-crap-I’m-actually-a-college-athlete sort of way…but saw players trying to change, do what they were asked
  10. We have a new trainer.  She’s on the ball.  That’s awesome as a coach when you don’t have to worry about support staff.  Kelsey has the athletes’ best interests/health at heart
  11. Got to arrange a different exercise-specialist to come do our conditioning today.  I love that someone with a doctorate in this stuff just wants to help for the sake of being a good person.
  12. Got the opportunity and took it to add another play-date to our schedule…a big-time NJCAA D1 school…ain’t the size of the dog, it’s the fight and #WFFNO.
  13. Second practice went all right as well.  Got good questions again.  Still learning!!
  14. Saw a ball cranked about 1,400mph get dug overhand cleanly which led to a crunching kill back the other way.  Best part was that everyone got excited–not by the kill, but BY THE DIG!!!! (That’s like getting excited by a strikeout on a 86mph changeup instead of the 98mph fastball)
  15. Got to distribute anonymous letters from alumni to the athletes.  I don’t know what they will do with them.  I hope they appreciate the effort taken to write them…can’t lie either, I’m really curious what was said.
  16. I had an alum write me a letter in addition–said I deserved one as well.  Caught me by surprise…I don’t like surprises usually but ones from the heart are always good.
  17. Along with the note to be in #16, had a player say how excited they were to have the chance to play in college–and to play here for me.  It wasn’t solicited and it wasn’t a suck-up attempt, just enthusiasm for volleyball and the team.
  18. Ordered pizza and it wound up wayyyyyyy late, so late the driver let me have it for free.
  19. I found the time to do some writing on my next novel project.  If you like good stuff (shamelessssss plug), you should read The Five Days of Osan…get an appreciation for the Korean War.
  20. I got to do some research for my current project–found old pictures of the building the State and War Departments shared back before World War Two.  Found out American Samoa had no cases of the Spanish Flu…and with that, also found an article suggesting it wasn’t the flu, but aspirin poisoning that killed a majority of the victims.
  21. I talked with a couple people on Facebook I haven’t heard from in a while.
  22. I talked on the phone with my friend, Dave.
  23. Since I’m not at home, I got to talk with Julie.
  24. I finished the day playing a new computer game (They are Billions) with no redeeming value other than fun.

Dang–24 good things.  I love the symmetry of that.

Songs where the remake is better than the original

So I participate in a couple coaching forums and then lurk (mostly–I post at a rate of once/month or so as jimdietz on it) in the volleyball equivalent of the Mos Eisley Cantina: VolleytalkVolleytalk has a ton of good stuff, but enough other commentary to make the Mos Eisley comparison reasonable.  There’s a section there that has nothing to do with volleyball and I’ll skim it (mainly the threads on movies and video games).  One caught my eye today while I was procrastinating–great covers of songs.

I didn’t read the thread–just the thread title.  It became an excuse to avoid work.  I seem to write that a lot while blogging.  Don’t worry, I actually get stuff done.  The ability to delay work to the last possible minute is a skill I honed long, long ago.  So I was thinking–and thinking causes blogging: Can I come up with a significant number of cover songs better than the original? Well, Jim, I  accept your challenge, sir!  And off we go…:

***

“Respect” by Aretha Franklin: If there’s a singer that represents Motown, it’s going to be Franklin or Diana Ross.  Franklin takes a song done by Otis Redding and turns it in to one of empowerment for women and black women specifically.  More than 50 years old, it remains easy-to-listen-to, something you can sing with, and its message is just as valid.

“I Heard It through the Grapevine”: The funny thing is, this was ‘coopted’ by a male artist (Marvin Gaye) from a female-led group (Gladys Knight and the Pips).  It also winds up being done by Creedence Clearwater Revival in a great version–but Gaye’s is the best (even though I love CCR).

“I Love Rock ‘n Roll”:  Joan Jett takes a mid-70s song and turns it on its ear, making the woman the aggressive partner in starting a relationship and ogling a guy.  Way better.  The other thing–there are few female voices who have been consistently great in rock and roll–Jett is one of them.  Think about it–how many great female rock vocalists can you name?  If you get past 10, you’re stretching credibility.

“Me and Bobby McGee”: You likely didn’t realize this was a remake.  The weird thing is the original was done by Roger Miller, Mr. King of the Road.  I get his is the original, but it’s just…off.  It’s below since everyone knows the wailing classic version with Janis Joplin’s vocals.

“Hurt”: This is the best remake ever and I’m glad other people realize this.  A comment I saw observed that the original band, Nine Inch Nails, doesn’t play this any more–the NIN lead singer apparently says Johnny Cash’s version is too good and is the way the song should have been made.  For me, I’ve loved the song since I had a former student (Dallas Schumacher) point it out to me several years ago.  I think you can make a good argument that Johnny Cash is a more lasting and iconic voice of American music than Elvis Presley.


“Sea of Love”: Led Zepplin picked up a bad reputation for ripping off other peoples’ songs, but then Robert Plant and a one-off band put together a cover-album including “Rockin’ at Midnight” and this.

“Just a Gigolo”: Big Band guy Louis Primo did this originally along with another that became popular as a remake (“Jump, Jive, and Wail”), but D.L. Roth, well, he pushes this to the limit–right where this song belongs.

VAN HALEN:  Well, if we’re going to talk great remakes, it’s time to bring in Van Halen.  They hit the mark with multiple songs in their early days: “Dancing in the Streets,” “Pretty Woman,” “You Really Got Me Now,” and then messed around with “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

And just think–the “Pretty Woman” video was banned from TV for being too risqué….there are days I wonder if the 80s were too prudish and others where I wonder if those weren’t the good old days of decency.

“Love Hurts”:  Honestly, I had had no idea the Nazareth version was a remake.  Then I had no idea it was an Everly Brothers song.  That set the bar pretty low for being better, but Nazareth knocks it out of the park–let’s you know that now you’re messin’ with a sonofabitch, too.

 

I wanted to list this, but then listening to the Gloria Jones version over and over, I decided the Soft Cell remake is simply different, not better.  I think that’s because when I hear Jones’ version, I’m hearing the “Beta-version” of what Tina Turner does with “Proud Mary” later on in the decade.

“Tainted Love”

Also close were the remakes of  “Killing Me Softly”.  Roberta Flack’s is well known, but the Fugees’ version is better still, but I just couldn’t put it in the list above since both versions are so much better than the original.  The Fugees’ version:

“Got My Mind Set on You”: George Harrison did this as part of an effort to pay back taxes.  It’s not that his remake is far superior, it’s that I get a chance to put in a link to a great parody video, Weird Al’s “This Song is Just Six Words Long”:

And since I’ve got videos for odd reasons, this Gary Jules version is better than the Tears for Fears original, but it always reminds me of my favorite video game, the Gears of War series.