Philosophy and being an Assistant Coach

So I recently wrote something on the mindset necessary for being a new coach or when taking over a position and it got me thinking (yes, that sound you hear is the grinding of unoiled gears in my brain)–it’s not just important to approach being a head coach, principal, or teacher with a good philosophy; it matters for someone coming in as an assistant coach.

I’m a bit of a fish-out-of-water in this way.  I’ve spent the last 23 years as a head coach and club director, so other than working USAV-HP camps, my perspective is mostly from being the head coach.  A big thing for me is that my job isn’t just developing players, it is helping the assistant mature so they can eventually become a head coach (if that’s what they want), ready to deal with the myriad problems they’ll face when they are top coach.  You can  tell that as the person in charge of a program, I know what I want from assistant coaches.  Here’s my wishlist:

  1. Loyalty
  2. Understands position within the team–above the players, below the head coach
  3. Acts professionally
  4. Takes initiative communicating with the head coach and with the athletes
  5. Isn’t a ‘yes man’
  6. Willing to learn (especially younger, new assistants)
  7. Open-minded
  8. Isn’t passive during practices

I think these are all self-explanatory, so I won’t go into them.  After I typed those all out, I thought back to the assistants I’ve had as a high school and college coach.  How have I done selecting assistants who fit those 8?  Let’s see…I’ll list the coaches and put the #s from above that they have.

A: 3, 5, 6, 8   (50%…ugh…)           B: 2, 3, 4, 5, 8  (62.5%)
C: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 (100%!!!)   D: 2, 3, 5, 8 (50%…ugh…)
E: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 (75%)                 F: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 (100%!!!)
G: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 (100%!!!)  H: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 (100%!!!)
I: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (87.5%)           J:  1, 3, 5, 6, 8  (62.5%)

What’s interesting with this Gedankenexperiment is that if we look at the percentages, “A” would be the worst coach, C-F-G-H the best.  The thing is, I don’t value them in that order.  They are all individuals–with ‘A’ and ‘B’, I hold the lack of loyalty against those coaches–failed hirings.  I don’t hold it against ‘D’ as much–because ‘D’ was 22, young, and more immature in the long-term than had been on a resume and in an interview.

It’s great to have these criteria–but in any given year, a specific coach may be more suited to fill the ‘niche’ the team needs better than a superior coach.  Coach ‘E’ helped my team succeed in a way that wouldn’t have happened with coach ‘G’ or ‘H’.  Does that make sense?

As a head coach–what do you value?

As an assistant, think about your team–what niche do you fill?  Do you have the criteria above?  Are you living up to your boss’ expectations?

Ways to Grow the Game

So a little while ago I wrote a blog criticizing some coaches for selfishness and abdicating their responsibility to the sport of volleyball for the sake of personal glory and their pocketbook.  That blog is here.  If you haven’t read it already, you should for context’s sake.

With that taken care of, have you considered purchasing my book “Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball Player”?  It’s 20+ essays on coaching and it’ll cost you less than a fast-food value meal (under $5.00).  You can buy it here.

There are some coaches out there who aren’t high-level/elite but want to ‘grow the game’.  I love that.  One thing I’ve heard though is the question, “What can I do?”  The first step is always the hardest–that’s the unknown, that’s the point you worry about failing.  Take it!!  It’s liberating!   I decided that I could brainstorm a list of things to help people help the sport.

So what can you do to grow the game, to improve the sport?  Tons!  –and sometimes it doesn’t even require you to have great technical knowledge of the sport.

  1. Learn how to film/edit ‘proper’ highlight and match videos for athletes (shot from angles college coaches prefer to watch).  Help everyone with this–not just your own child.
  2. Learn how to do proper stats.
  3. Get certified as a scorekeeper–jr. high and high school programs are always desperate for volunteers and a lot of colleges will pay scorekeepers (and need willing workers, too!).
  4. Go to a local clinic.  –This helps you network with coaches in your area.  If the clinic becomes something regular, attendance will grow AND you’ll be more likely to get presenters who provide what the attendees are looking for.
  5. Don’t have a local clinic–START THE CLINIC.  Yes, you’ll have to put in the work to start, but this will create the benefits of #4 for everyone else.
  6. Get past the idea of hoarding knowledge away from competitors.  “A rising tide lifts all boats.”  Our personal greatness is reflected in what we do for others–so share what you know!
  7. Teach a class as a volunteer someplace like the YMCA.
  8. Host a Parent/Fan Explanation night where you go over rules and common misconceptions.  Go into strategies and tactics.   You’ll create better fans this way and maybe intrigue someone enough that they go into coaching.
  9. Get your high school athletes involved coaching 8-9yr olds.  It’ll reinforce their own knowledge, but more importantly, you create leadership experiences and an understanding of role-models.  …and you get young kids going “Hey, I WANT to be a volleyball player!”
  10. Become a referee.  There is a critical shortage at the jr. high and high school levels.  There’s a serious shortage of club officials and there’s starting to be a squeeze on college officials, too.  With college at least, I know there are TONS of good officials happy to mentor novices, too!
  11. Start coaching a school team whether doing 6th grade, fresh-soph, or varsity.
  12. If you already coach, can you find ways to increase playing time below the varsity level?  Can you pre-plan it so that more kids get court time, so they stick with the sport?
  13. Are you willing to coach a 12-u or 10-u club team?  A ton of “elite” coaches only want to coach where they’ll be seen/get to talk with NCAA D-1 coaches.  Want to grow the sport–coach the 10s.  (Just remember, you’ll need to coordinate your hair scrunchie with theirs)
  14. Take photographs.  Provide them to newspapers and media.  Get them to the schools/coaches/kids (as permitted by local law, etc) so they can post them and share with friends.  …shoutout here to Dana Hunt, Tammy Wienke, and Vicki Black especially, three parents I’ve had who take tons of great pictures.
  15. Take players to a match from an age above them–take 8yr olds to a high school game, take high schoolers to watch any level of college match.
  16. Coach older kids?  Have them go to a YOUNGER match and cheer for a team!
  17. Have older kids put on a free mini-clinic (1-2 hours) for young kids…whoever shows up, you coach ’em up!
  18. Learn your rules.  The more you know the rules, the better you coach–and the more you can educate others.
  19. Agitate with emails, calls, messages to places like ESPN or NBC-Sports.  It’s kinda embarrassing that volleyball is relegated to ESPN+, but the “College Slip and Slide Championship” will get 30 minutes of air time (and don’t give me crap about bought-time, etc…they treat VB with the same disrespect at…good luck finding anything on VB there most days)
  20. Take things like SafeSport seriously.  Don’t know what it is–find out.  Keep your eyes out for improper behavior.  Volleyball needs to be a safe place for young competitors.
  21. Get involved with Special Olympics.
  22. Don’t like S.O., then consider things like para-volleyball.
  23. Start a club if there isn’t one near you.  Make it affordable.
  24. Live in an area where money is tight?  Consider Starlings Volleyball.
  25. Don’t throw out old gear–see if there are groups who could use a donation!
  26. Don’t throw out old balls, poles, pads, stands, etc.  There are likely places where those would be an upgrade!
  27. Get involved with online coaching forums.  If you have expertise, post and share.  If you aren’t sure–sit back and lurk.  I learn more from “Volleyball Coaches and Trainers” and “Volleyball Teachers and Trainers” (closed groups on Facebook) than I do at the national coaches convention.
  28. This will sound crass, but if all else fails, donate money.  There are a ton of not-for-profit clubs out there looking for help, willing to take sponsors.  For a small club, a $1,000 donation may cut fees for kids by 10% across the board.  That’s huge.
  29. Host a tournament.  USAV doesn’t make this easy with paperwork, but this is a playing opportunity for kids in your area.  Get a school involved with a good concessions stand and they may be happy to run a series of tournaments–they make money and you’re going to give a ton of kids chances to play.
  30. Blog.  It doesn’t have to be high-tech, geeky stuff (Jim Stone just started a new blog that’s on the high end of things, discussing things like deviation from the mean…but it makes you think!!)….sometimes the best advice is from others in your shoes.  Who has the best advice for coaching a 10 yr old?  Someone who’s done it before!  Write about that.  Heck–write about cool volleyball videos you’ve found, players you admire, whatever you like.  If you are passionate–it’ll show through.  That grows the game! (You can throw podcasts and streaming and all that in here as well)
  31. Do a presentation at a clinic/conference.  This forces you to really cut off all the fat from your ideas, distills things to the central meaning.  Go for it!  You’d be surprised who will come to your presentation (scared the crap out of me back in 2012 when I started mine and watched Russ Rose and Karch Kiraly walk in…I kept looking there and Karch-Frickin’-Kiraly is taking notes on what I said…most nervous I’ve been in a volleyball setting in my life).  Be ready for feedback–some good, some not.  Use that to make you a better communicator.
  32. Find ways to showcase the sport.  We host a HS All-Star Game for seniors every November when the season is done.  We take hundreds of pictures–and we get a huge crowd.  It’s one of my favorite days of the fall every year.  Can you host one in your area?
  33. Does your state have a coaches association?  How do you get involved?
  34. Making six-digits from coaching?…have you donated to the AVCA‘s Coaches-4-Coaches scholarship fund to help train young coaches?
  35. Are you involved with the administration of your USAV Region?  Maybe you aren’t the greatest coach–but if you’ve got organization skills, there’s ALWAYS a place for organized people.
  36. Read a book relevant to coaching or learning the game.  Then find someone else who could benefit from it–and gift it to them.  Knowledge should never be squirreled away or kept secret.  Simply ask them to pass it along when done to someone else who can benefit from it.
  37. Take time to get your athletic director involved–make them a fan.  A lot of administrators don’t know much about sports.  Want to grow the game–get the bosses on your side.

37 possibilities.  What have I missed?  Has to be countless other ways. Please put other ideas into the comments section here on the blog–that way other coaches can see them, too.

If you got this far and liked it, don’t forget to click on ‘FOLLOW‘ so you can get notified as posts are added.   Thank ye.

An Open Post to High-Level Women’s VB Coaches on Responsibility

Dear Women’s Coaches,

You know who you are and whether this is addressed to you.  You continue to fail to fulfill your responsibilities to the sport of volleyball.  The job of elite coaches is not to remain on an island, to merely win matches or maximize your program’s budget or your personal salary.  If you occupy a prestigious position, you have a much greater responsibility–and I believe at least 90% of you are failing to meet your responsibilities.

  • You have a responsibility to grow the game.
  • You have a responsibility to help other coaches whether they are novices coaching 12u teams; club programs with prospective elite athletes; or your peers who may even be competitors within your conference or region.
  • You have a responsibility to look out for the long-term health of your athletes.
  • You have a responsibility to insure the long-term mental health of your staff and athletes.

Growing the game is not just about appearing on ESPN or winning titles, having your players make Olympic squads.  Growing the game is not about holding huge camps and charging massive amounts of money to fund ‘volunteer’ coaches nor is it the ‘personal attention’ small camps you run where the only attendees are recruits you are interested in.  This is not selfless, this is selfish.

Growing the game is about reaching out to Boys and Girls clubs to show kids the power of team sports, the fun and CHALLENGE of volleyball.  It’s about Starlings volleyball clubs.  It’s about doing this for the sake of the game, not mandated community service.  You should grow the game because you are at the top of the game in America, the coaches people are supposed to respect and emulate, the people with the greatest reach and ability to drive volleyball’s popularity further.  Charging hundreds for camps limits the reach of the sport–makes it elitist, following the sad path baseball, softball, tennis, and golf have already tread.  We need camps for those who do not have money, who do not have access to quality equipment, those who are not 6’2 or taller.  Growing the game is working with the 5’1 kid with limited ability but passion for the sport–that’s the person who will eventually be your official or become a high school coach.

You have a responsibility to help coaches get better.  It is disgusting to see the condescension you show towards others who are not D-1 coaches or have no High Performance experience.  I have watched you end conversations immediately as soon as you find out the other person has no athletes you can recruit, you stop answering their questions or give flippant answers.  This is unacceptable and you should be ashamed.  Those novice coaches want to get better–and they face challenges with that age group you have no idea about and may not even be able to handle yourself if roles were switched!  I know multiple stories of contemptuous attitudes when asked questions like “Why do you prefer swing blocking to standard blocking?”  You were asked an honest question because that other coach considered yours an expert opinion–if you truly want respect, you’ll give it back (actually, you’ll give it first if you’re actually a great coach).

You have a responsibility to help other coaches.  Few of us have full-time staffs to work with us, the ability to dedicate hours to thinking/working on volleyball.  Few have access to the video and computer data available to crunch numbers and bring our understanding of statistics to a par with the metrics of baseball and basketball–in ways all coaches can benefit from.  You have these things–full time assistant coaches, administrative personnel, the works, and yet–prying information from a collegiate  D1 or D2 coach is more difficult than breaking into Fort Knox.

You have a responsibility to your athletes to look out for their long-term health.  The rate of joint surgeries on women (in the US) in their 40s and 50s is skyrocketing and they almost all have one thing in common–they played a high-level sport at the collegiate and/or pro level.  This is on you.  I accept we know more now about training and therapy, but it is unacceptable to overuse athlete bodies for the sake of the scoreboard.  If an athlete is hit by a hard-driven ball in the head, you don’t leave them in the game–you remove them and put them through a concussion checklist.  Surgery rates on young athletes have already skyrocketed–this is on you as well, demanding young people specialize, give up multiple sports, practice four days/week, play every weekend.  Young people need rest.  If young people are sore–it is YOUR responsibility to sit them, not to say ‘Play through it’.  Playing through minor injuries or through exhaustion leads to major injuries, but those don’t effect your bottom line, so why worry–there’s another elite kid out there waiting to step in.

You have a responsibility, too, to your athletes’ mental health.  Are you giving them time off?  Are you forcing them to make volleyball their top priority?  That should never be the case.  It should always go Family -> School -> Volleyball.  Confusing their priorities causes unnecessary stress and anxiety.  How many athletes are transferring?  How many from ‘elite’ clubs are quitting, choosing not to play in college because you’ve made life miserable for them?  Do you get embarrassed telling kids they need to skip Homecoming or Prom to show their commitment to the sport? (Sadly, no.) This is not about mental toughness–this is mental/emotional abuse.  It’s unacceptable.  You are the person families chose to look out for their child who may be far, far from them at college.  Act like a trustworthy person.  Be a role-model.  For the good of our society, it is better to have 12 average players who are all academic all-Americans than a team of Olympic-caliber players who cannot spell their names and are kept eligible through creative, shall we say, means.  If you’re going to make hard, tough demands someplace–make it the classroom.

And your assistants?  Goodness, by mid-spring they will be dealing with illness and exhaustion, forced to fly across the country to all the various qualifiers, pre-qualifiers, jamborees, and whatnot–inevitably to watch the same kids over and over, simply so that prospective athlete sees your program there, so that your OPPONENTS see you there.  Have you ever considered your assistants want quality of life?  There is more to life than volleyball.  There are lazy days at home binging Netflix, there’s something in the old days we called ‘dating’ which leads to things like marriage and families.  Are marriages and families healthy when one of the spouses is away so much for a job?  Look at the coaches out there–how many have had marriages and relationships destroyed by the demands placed on them by the head coach–whether overt or implicit?  How many have never married because of coaching?  How many are afraid to get married because they think you’ll take it out on them–that they must fear for their job security in terms of potential relationships.

I’m sorry I have to write this, sorry for more than one reason.

I’m sorry because I can think of nothing else that can ‘move the dial’ in any fashion.  I’m one of those coaches you ignore (and freely admit this).  You don’t return emails or phone calls, but you will soon enough since I have a 2021 6′ setter who led the nation in assists, was conference player of the year, and will be all-American (And you know what?  I’ll talk with you, I’ll help you.  Because it’s about the kid and her dreams and goals.  It’s not about you, it’s not about me, it’s about the athlete).

I’m sorry because I feel strongly about this, yet I know it won’t make a difference, that you who are addressed in this will never read it (because it’s written by a juco coach and none of us know anything–that’s why we’re at jucos, right?) or you will rationalize everything you do–that that kid hit in the head wasn’t really hurt, it’s only knee soreness, or that the kid struggling in Bio has access to study tables, so the rest isn’t in your hands.

I’m sorry because I can name hundreds of coaches out there who would kill to be where you are, do what you are doing–and would do it the right way.   I’m sorry because there are assistants out there reading this, nodding, who will say nothing because they fear you will hurt their chances of landing a coaching job somewhere else.

Mostly, I’m sorry for the kids.  They deserve better from adults.

It’s Christmas season soon enough.  Consider A Christmas Carol and the story of Scrooge.  We can’t change the past or the present, but we can change the future.  It doesn’t have to stay this way.  Become the change we as coaches, we as the sport of volleyball, need.  If only a few of you show the courage to agitate for change, things can be fixed.  One is an idea, five is a group, fifty is a movement, one hundred is change.  Please, put the sport first, not your pocketbook or self-interest.

Become. The. Change.



Thanksgiving (I’m still not Andy Rooney)

Like anyone under the age of 40 remembers Rooney.  Anyways, on the holiday where we are supposed to count our blessings…why not think about that, at least before the turkey hits the table tomorrow with the mashed potatoes and gravy.

  • I’m thankful for whoever came up with the concept of putting gravy on potatoes.  And on turkey.  You sir (or ma’am) were genius.
  • Sports on Thanksgiving is cheapened.  It used to be two NFL games and that was it.  Now there’s three NFL games, NBA games, college games.  More is not always better.
  • Unless it is turkey and scratch-made gravy.
  • Does anyone really go outside and play football as a family?  Every family I know’s got kids playing video games.  Us?–we’ll play boardgames.
  • I’m thankful for having a competent boss (my athletic director, not my wife).  Until you’ve worked with poor managers (see: my time at Ultra Pro), you don’t appreciate having a good one.  The problem is there are too many administrators so the good ones get buried.
  • I’m thankful every athletic department I’ve worked for, my boss has been great–Jim Stone, Matt Hensley, Randy/Dan/John at Allen, Ron at LLCC.
  • I’m thankful for having two dogs–one likes snuggling against my knees, the other against my back.  It’s like furry, happy heaters…great for sore joints.
  • I’m thankful for the last days before marijuana is legalized.  Once we get to January 1, most places in Illinois will start smelling like the State House governs.  Ugh.
  • I’m thankful for my wife–she found noise-cancelling headphones that fit.  Now I can tune out the world completely.  It’s the little things in life, y’know?
  • It’s good to have kids who clean up after themsel—-nevermind.  Wrong family.
  • I’ve got a couple hundred alumni parents now.  I’m thankful they trusted me with the care of their daughter as a coach.
  • I’m thankful for almost every one of those athletes, too.  It’s not what they did on the court, but what’s come afterwards–moms, NICU nurses, college, high school, and club coaches, teachers, all following their dreams.
  • I’m thankful for the crappy teachers/coaches I had in school.  They provided a perfect blueprint of what NOT to do.
  • I’m thankful for my heritage, being 1st-generation American.  If I was born yesterday, my mom’s family trying to come here, they would not be admitted, simply because of education-level and lack of wealth.  No one immigrates when they are wealthy and have influence.  People move for a better life.  That’s what America has meant for my family.
  • I love whoever the engineers were that built the Taurus-X.  In September, two deer ran in front of me going 60mph.  They added to my kill count (I’m a multiple ace, by the way).  The car??  Drove another 120 miles and was repairable.  It may outlive Keith Richards.
  • I’m thankful for the power-off button on the radio during Cubs telecasts.  There’s only so much Ron Coomer you can take.  Give him another 20 years and he may become this generation’s Tim McCarver.
  • I’m thankful for turkey.  Yes, I’ve said it twice.  It’s important.
  • And gravy.
  • I’m thankful for being able to have weekends where I get to see friends–hopefully one coming up.  We age, but those weekends are as if time’s stood still….meaning our maturity level remains that of 13-yr old boys.
  • No, farts, poop, and body functions never stop being funny.
  • I’m thankful for today, just for today’s sake.  I appreciate it because it is here, then gone, never to come again.
  • I’m thankful for the U.S. Constitution.  Amazing it can withstand the torture it has been put through for the past 25 years–by two political parties and a generation more intent on ‘winning’ than doing the right thing.
  • I’m thankful for the rising generation that old people seem to despise.  Someday someone will read this blog and find this comment: “Millennials are the next ‘Greatest Generation’.”  If current “leaders” haven’t mangled it beyond repair, they will put the world right within a generation.
  • Music.  Man, what would life be like without it?  I don’t care if it is a foursome of violins, Hendrix wailing away on an electric guitar, or Jerry Lee Lewis pounding a piano to death, my life is better with music in it.

Well, there ya go.  That’s a good list of things, I think.  My daughter comes home in a few hours and then we will all be united for Gluttony and Nap Day, 2019.  I hope you have things to be thankful for.

Family Memory (V)

So, I’ve written a bunch of stuff about my mom’s side of the family, like this and this and this.  This, though, is the story of a couple young people on my dad’s side of the family, his Uncle Don and Aunt Evelyn.  Important to note, my dad was born a bit late to my grandparents.  My grandfather was late within his family, so it isn’t too many generations between me and their initial arrival in the US around 1848 (only 4-5 generations actually).  Thus, this story takes place around in the fall of 1911 in Walcott, Iowa.

Walcott now is a suburb of Davenport and the Quad Cities, but back 100 years ago, it was a small farm community out in the middle of nowhere.  That meant it had just a single schoolhouse for everyone.  My Uncle Don (we never referred to them as ‘great’ relatives) was in third grade then.  One day that fall, he had a friend from school come up to him and say–hey, my parents went in to Davenport and they left the brand new Model T.  My brother (who was probably 14-15) is going to take it out and take me driving…want to come along?   What 8 year old wouldn’t want to do that?

So they went out driving–and then it happened.  A stupid teenage mistake.  The older kid, the driver, decided he could race a train and beat it to a rail crossing with the blazing speed of a Model T.  He didn’t make it.  The two siblings were killed in the crash.  My Uncle Don survived, but was pretty messed up–and worse, there were no doctors in Walcott–it was a small farm town.  That meant it was the town veterinarian who fixed him up.  He had some broken bones and after the crash, he would up having his lip/palate, etc reconstructed–always had a scar there.  It was a serious enough accident that he missed the remainder of the school year and had to be held back a year.

When he returned to school the following year, 1912, he was still in 3rd grade.  One of the kids who had been behind him a grade but was now in the same grade with him kept picking on him now–called him stupid, the whole gamut of 3rd grade insults.  Uncle Don took this for quite a while.  One day during recess outside, the teacher headed back in to the building…after all, how much trouble could there be?  Uncle Don’s tormentor chose that moment to add another insult, but that was one too many.  Uncle Don slugged the tormentor in the gut.  His victim immediately fell to the ground crying.  He wasn’t picked on again.

And actually, from that moment on, Uncle Don and his bully, a girl by the name of Evelyn Golinghorst, became friends.  By 1919, they were dating, and in 1927, they married.  They stayed married until Aunt Evelyn died back in ’88–61 years.  Uncle Don lived long enough for him to see our oldest son named for him (it’s Erick’s middle name).  He died back in 2002 at age 98.

More than 61 years of happiness that all started with a bully and a punch to the gut during recess.  Love comes from some weird places sometimes, but the sort that lasts forever–it’s special no matter what.

Advice for New Coaches/Taking Over Programs

My father-in-law spent twenty years as a high school principal.  He had some good advice for new teachers (we’ll get to it in a minute…).  It fit in with some good advice I got from the athletic director I had when I was a high school coach, Matt Hensley–best HS A.D. ever.  I think these two things are important when starting out as a new coach or for when taking over a program.

These are ‘generic’ philosophies–meant to be adaptable.  Think how these apply to your work.

As an aside, please consider supporting the Dietz Foundation.  The Foundation is a charity which seeks to advance education, endowing teacher scholarships for the next generation and helping current teachers learn new, creative ways of teaching material to students.  (Donations ARE tax-deductible)

Philosophy #1 (from my father-in-law):

When you’re new to a job, don’t come in and change things straight out of the gate unless it is obvious specific changes are necessary.  In most cases, things are done a certain way for a specific reason.  It’s better to learn how/why things are done first, then if you want to change things, you can provide a better reason–that your changes aren’t just changes because you’re new, but because they improve on what’s being done now.

Oh…yeah…have you considered hitting the ‘Follow’ button so you don’t miss other posts like this?

Philosophy #2 (from the HS A.D.):

When you make a decision, ask yourself one question, “Is this in the best interest of the young person?”  If your answer is yes, you will have my complete support no matter what.  If your answer is no, I will not support you; instead, I will ask you to figure out what will make the answer ‘yes’ and if you need help with that, I’ll help.  Once it is yes, you will have my full support.

I don’t think it needs to be much more complicated than these two philosophies.  First, when you take the new job, be patient, learn how things work, become acclimated, and then work with the organization, not AGAINST it.  Second–and this is actually critical for education (and many coaches struggle with this)–youth athletics is meant to help make young people into better adults.  It is not just about the scoreboard.  It’s about teamwork, understanding roles, learning discipline, gaining maturity…things that carry over into successful adulthood.

So if you’re busy taking over a new program or you are just starting out as a coach or teacher–keep these in mind.  Don’t rush and remember that as long as you keep the best interests of the young people in mind–you’ll be fine!


Kottman (III)

There are two other Kottman blog posts (I and II) I’ve done about my favorite history professor.  This is the third in the trilogy.  It also has nothing to do with history.

When I came back to Iowa State for grad school in 1991, Dr. Kottman was still teaching in the History Department, though by that point I was in the English Department learning to be a writer.  I still stopped by to say ‘hey’ when I could, even did some independent study for him putting together an annotated bibliography on some pre-WW2 US domestic issues.  The thing was that during this time I learned that Kottman was a big basketball fan, so we’d talk about the Cyclones, etc.

One time I mentioned that once in a while, I’d go play over at State Gym or Beyer with my roommate Brian and maybe a couple other people.  Surprised the heck out of me when Dr. Kottman said to give him a few days notice, give him a time, and he’d come play with us.  Okayyyyy….we were going to take a bit more serious than I thought a 58-60 year old professor would take it (Kottman was not in great physical shape–but he was tall).  No matter.  Saturday, 9am.

We go to Beyer and Kottman gets there shortly after.  Pickup basketball worked the same then as it does now: winner stays, plays the next team waiting.  We played to 15–baskets were one, three-point shots counted 2.  That’s normal nowadays, too, but back then not so much.

So we take the court.  Brian (a far better player than me), two guys who joined us, me–all I can do really is play average defense, set picks, and pass, and the old, overweight professor.  Now, you’re playing pickup ball…we’re playing a team of four pretty good guys and one sucky player.  Who do you put Mr. Suck on??  The old guy!!  Normal strategy.

Of course…what I didn’t realize, what Kottman hadn’t told me…way back yonder in 1955 or so, he’d been the runner-up for Mr. Basketball in the state of Iowa.  He couldn’t move fast on defense, but he was big and tall, so he could occupy the post and…he had a hellacious set-shot he could bomb from the top of the arc.  Five trips down the court and he didn’t hit the rim once–nothing but net.  Only then did the other team adjust and put a real defender on the old guy (at which point Mr. Suck and me got matched up).  We wound up winning the game.  We lost the next one because the other team had watched Kottman drop bombs.  We won the next–because they’d just arrived, didn’t realize Kottman could play.  Then…Kottman ran out of gas and that was that.

To me it wasn’t about winning or losing though.  That was a great morning simply because a professor took the time to come play ball with a former student and some guys he didn’t know.  If there’s a pity to it all–I wish Kottman let other people see that side of him more often.

When I taught high school, I played basketball a couple times on retreat with students.  I wonder if they remember that.  No matter–that Saturday morning remains one of my favorite grad school memories.