Archives For coaching

Fearmonger

MH3 —  January 19, 2014

This morning, while taking my son to his freestyle skiing competition, I drove past one of my former rivals from my high school football days.

Predictably, he groaned as I began to tell him about every game we played against this school. Not again, he begged, and I begrudgingly retreated into silence. But silence can often prove to be a blessing, as it allowed me to think about my worst game against this rival.

It was the year I finally won the starting QB position. We travelled to this school for a season opener that we should have won. Instead I let the team down, played a tentative game, messed up my play calls, and cost us a victory.

Why? I was afraid. Panicked I would screw up. Frightened to lose my role. In the end, my fear-induced ineptitude swiftly cost me my QB job. This was my first experience realizing that if you think about something too much, it will come true.

There is no greater enemy in the arena or the boardroom than fear. Nothing frustrates me more than when I hear one of my employees is afraid of screwing up or even worse, afraid of me. I once had a client tell me I scared them.

Creating an environment devoid of fear has been a relentless objective of mine for several years. The only thing I want people to be concerned about is not trying. Not giving their all. Mistakes will happen. Initiatives may fail. Pitches may be lost. But trying and giving it our all is the true victory. Not trying is failure. I think I am most upset with people when they won’t try. The effort is as important as the result.

It’s a lesson we need to apply away from work as well. If you have kids who play sports, you have no doubt been a part of some great seasons and some crummy seasons. Odds are high that during the crummy seasons, your child and her teammates competed in a culture of fear. Usually created by a well-meaning coach who thinks she is installing a system, but doesn’t realize she’s installing a Pavlovian condition.

Maybe she is as afraid of losing as I was? Maybe she too had the same experience when she was 15? Maybe she too will drive past an arena from her youth, where fear got the better of her one game, and realize that fear doesn’t breed success.

Kicking Game

MH3 —  November 13, 2013

I think every year I could write an emotionally charged blog when my football season ends.

If we finished with a championship win (circa 2005 & 2009), then the storyline might be about how my players overcame the odds or how they developed as a team.

If we finished with a playoff loss (insert the other 18 years of volunteer football coaching here…unfortunately), then I could pursue plot lines of valiant effort, or perhaps how I underperformed as a coach, or a wait-till-next year rallying cry.

This year, following our quarter-final upset loss last week, I could highlight being out-coached, a team that was overconfident despite fielding only 21-22 players versus 45 for our opponent, mistakes by me in the kicking game, key injuries to some of our best receivers, and mistakes by my team…also in the kicking game. Did I mention a team that fields only 21-22 players versus 45 for our opponent?

After the game, I was particularly obsessed by my errors in the Kicking Game, but was reminded by a knowledgeable parent of one of my players that one play doesn’t win or lose a game. He’s right, though I only half believe him today….

Admittedly, I’m a sore loser. I’ve been looking inward, very very deeply, over the last few days. Realizing that at 48, it really is time for me to grow up. Thankfully, I think I’ve stumbled over the reason why I feel this way.

It’s not the losing that really kicks. Because losing suggests I’m jealous of the winners. I’m not. They deserved to win. What hurts isn’t the loss of the game, it’s the loss of purpose.

When the season is on, everyone on a team has a common purpose. A brotherhood. A galvanizing force. When the season ends, the suddenness of that loss destroys that purpose. It’s the ending of the mission that hurts. Failure isn’t what creates fear, it’s the end of the journey and what that entails.

This is the true Kicking Game moral. It applies to sports, business, a husband and wife saving for their first house, a person trying to lose weight, someone facing a grave disease. The journey, the mission, the effort is the reward. The outcome is important; in most of my examples there is much more at stake than winning a silly high school football game. But even winning a championship results in the silence of the post-season the next day.

Fortunately, and unfortunately, I’ve recovered faster than ever from this loss. I’ve got a ton of missions to sink myself into. Work, clients, helping my wife and kids fulfill their dreams, mentoring my staff, supporting a sick colleague. Given what’s going on in this world, from devastating typhoons to ridiculous mayors, there is so much for us all to become a part of. Having a mission can be so powerful. So instead of waiting for next season to get my kicks, I’m going to tackle everything else in my life like I do my beloved Lawrence Park Panthers. As a volunteer, a leader, a committed partner.

That will give me lots of kicks!

Out of Bounds

MH3 —  October 16, 2013

Last week, my high school football team was involved in a game-ending incident.

Some people called it a brawl. Others called it a fight. Some called it unnecessary roughness. I call it unnecessary.

On the surface, our player started it by manhandling an opponent out of bounds on a play that was completely on the other side of the field. At first I was quite angry. Later, after watching film, it was clear that both players were the villains and they had been going at it for most of the game.

The scuffle that ensued resulted in many more players joining in and candidly my players were outnumbered and out-slugged. At one point it escalated to a scary tipping point, but players and coaches stopped it.

It was touch and go for a moment.

There were some bumps and bruises. This week, suspensions are being laid down. But there is more significant damage than that. I am concerned about how two players could get so mad at each other during a game, a simple game, that they want to fight. They need to respect the sport, the opportunity they are given, and embrace it. Yes, teenage egos can be fragile and tempers even more shaky, but football is a game of hitting, until the whistle blows.

Then it’s time to dust yourself off and help your opponent up. And leave it at that.

I love this game too much to let one scary incident chase me away. But looking at film of the episode does send chills up my spine, as one of my players is kicked in the back. Thankfully, all involved cooled down and the two squads shook hands before parting.

It was in the handshake line that my faith in the game was restored. You need to know the referees did not want us shaking hands. But myself and the opposing coach made it happen. It became more than a handshake. Player after player on their team apologized to me for what transpired, complimented us on a good game though we lost by three TDs, and several even opened up for hugs that meant the world to me. Not only for me, but for many of our players.

Thankfully, the spotlight shifted to the midfield armistice, far from the out-of-bounds area we had bloodied only minutes earlier. Here we embraced our tormentors and rejected the previous senselessness. This was, after all, just a high school football game.

Lights Out

MH3 —  October 9, 2013

My young high school football charges, the Lawrence Park Panthers, got to play a Friday Night Lights game last week and it was special.

It’s only the second time I’ve had the experience to coach in an outdoor night game and it’s now so clear to me that the Americans have this Friday Night thing figured out. It’s an awesome experience.

Usually we play in the middle of a weekday afternoon with tiny crowds, no supporters, and little media. Our Friday night game saw a noisy crowd, lots of parents finally seeing their children play, friends from school out in droves, and Rogers TV filming our every move for broadcast that weekend.

Beyond the tangible differences, the entire atmosphere was different. The stadium lights illuminated both teams’ uniforms and helmets, casting the players in a glow that made them seem much more “big time.” Those same lights glanced off the kids’ helmets, creating a light-show tango of visual effects. The spiraling ball, set against the pitch black sky, looked like a heat-seeking missile, speedily tracking its way to its target. Every tick of the score clock communicated a tense reminder of the gravity of the moment, as the teams worked their way up and down the battlefield.

In the end my team lost 28–21 to an opponent with many more players and much more size. But losing is not why I entitled this story “Lights Out.” No, I called it “Lights Out” as a tribute to my team. To my surprise, we are much better than I imagined possible in the first weeks of training camp. Friday night demonstrated to me how much better. We have a team that can play “Lights Out”. It all starts with a dynamic offence led by my star senior quarterback who is as good a runner, passer, and leader as I have ever had. His on-field talents are only rivaled by his off-field maturity and egoless personality.

Around him I have a cadre of receivers who can catch, run, and score. To protect them I have a line that is small in size, but large in fight, heart, and grit. On defence we are also short-handed player-wise and size-wise, but we make up for it with speed, smarts, and systems.

Losing sucks. I could recite every loss that I have had from 20 years of coaching. But where defeat can be a coach’s morass, potential is our elixir.

This team has all the potential in the world. Stay tuned as weekly we will take on teams with more players, more size, more everything. But as long as we play “Lights Out”, every game is going to feel like the excitement of Friday Night Lights.

 

Squeaker

MH3 —  October 2, 2013

At the conclusion of the “small d” drama of the past weeks, I led my young high school football charges into their first league game with equal amounts of confidence and trepidation.

You’ll recall that we had been dealing with potentially cutting a player, which bizarrely would have been my first such act in twenty years of volunteer coaching. But the potential victim has made an about face that has continued to spin from partially complete to almost full circle. The consistent effort and upbeat attitude he displays in practice now, is born-again-Christian-like in its transfiguration.

Back to the game.

The equal parts confidence and trepidation was how I was feeling. Having scouted our opponents and reviewed our smash of them in 2012, I was confident. Maybe over-confident. On the flip side of the pregame coin toss coin, I was nervous. We are not nearly as good as 2012 and our opponent had improved significantly. They opened their season tying their 2012 division champions, who had also crushed them last season.

Because our game has more spoilers than the last episode of Breaking Bad, I will tell you right now we won 13-6. Yet I have been upset about it ever since the final whistle.

It’s a classic coaching line to say we should have won by more, but I feel that way. Yet herein lies the problem. I am still listening to the side of my brain that was not only confident about the game, but now I am realizing was over-confident. How do I shake that?

There was no validity in my overconfidence. While historically we have played this opponent pretty evenly, they do have the edge in victories, are really really well coached and at kickoff they had many more players, much more size, and consequently way more depth than we did. The worst part is, we weren’t ready to play.

We came out flat. We flubbed an easy touchdown pass. Throughout the game we had at least four other TDs we should have secured. Our defence gave up garbage yardage and our special teams couldn’t get twelve men on the field without me calling timeout. When we did line up a full kick unit, we let their returners race past us.

I suddenly realized I hadn’t coached with enough urgency in practice that week.

Yet we won. We won because we have some real studs at certain positions, significantly linebacker and quarterback. We won because my assistant coaches have all played this game at a high level. We won because, well because we had enough guys make plays at the right time.

But it came down to a late drive by our opponent to inside our 20, featuring a last play of the game pass into their receiver’s hands, that we magically broke-up with a devastating hit by one of our DBs. We squeaked by.

Lesson learned. We have five games left on our schedule. Three will be very tough, and the other two on paper look easier. Time for me to stop looking on paper. Time for me to prepare for every game with the utmost fear. A fear that propelled the young man who I almost cut, to change his work habits. Time for me to eat my own cooking.

Hanger On

MH3 —  September 22, 2013

Well, he made it.

At least for a few more days or maybe just a few hours. I was convinced that last week he would finally be severed by the axe of dismissal.

You met this week’s subject in my last posting, “First Cut”. The honour of being the first person I ever cut, from my lofty volunteer coaching position, was in his sweaty palms. Some of my readers thought I was actually trying to give him a warning, an opportunity to right his floundering ship.

He entered the week on Animal House level triple secret probation. One misstep and he was eligible for obliteration. The expression “on thin ice” wasn’t even closely appropriate. This kid was in my deep freeze.

I entered the week ready to pounce. Waiting for that stumble. Not surprisingly he managed to stumble not once, but twice. Shockingly he somehow still evaded my weaponry.

Clearly if he had read my blog, he sure didn’t take it to heart. He had fake injuries, misplaced equipment, an alleged sore back, followed by emergency breathing issues, and I am sure he lost his homework as well, but fortunately didn’t tell me.

Can’t say I was all that kind about his sticking around. I yelled at him. I lectured him. Kicked him out of team meetings. Sent him home early. Pulled him aside for stern lectures. Made him run lap after lap. Undoubtedly I tested every fibre of his spirit.

To say he passed the test wouldn’t be true. BUT…he did put in two good practices, out of five. His first and second good nights of the year. So while my core players give me a consistent five out of five great practices every week, his 40% success rate was relatively miraculous.

So, for now, I am letting him stay. Clearly there is something about this team he wants, needs, or likes. Perhaps a combination of all three.

I’m seeing some life in his eyes. I am seeing a small flicker of recognition on his face. There is a slight lift to his shoulders.

He hasn’t received a full pardon. But he might have achieved much more.

First Cut

MH3 —  September 17, 2013

I still remember the first time I was cut.

Despite being Grant Fuhr’s doppelgänger and my 6.85 House League goals against average, the Orillia Pee-Wee rep team didn’t want my netminding “skills”!

Then again, that wasn’t the last.

In Grade 9 I was thrilled when the basketball coach suggested I join the wrestling team, until my parents advised me this wasn’t an “incremental” suggestion. What I really needed was some incremental inches given I was 4′ 6″, without the skills of Spud Webb.

Seems lots of coaches had some great suggestions for me over the years, but they never involved sticking around. The late Tom Dimitroff took one look at my 5′ 2″ freshman frame and suggested the Guelph campus paper needed a sportswriter more than the Gryphons needed a wannabe Pinball Clemons. (Though in those days, Johnny Rogers would be a better example.)

Even today, when I’m 25 years past trying out for teams, I endure regular cuts from potential clients during the pitch process. Many of them sound just like my old coaches. “We loved your agency, but you finished second.” “If we could only hire everybody.” “Your pitch was great, we just found a better fit.”

But today it’s me who has to do the cutting. It’s my first time. It’s making me sad. I have never had to boot someone off the high school football team I have coached for over 15 years. But I have finally met the kid who won’t try. Won’t listen. Won’t commit.

So it’s bye bye time. Unless he can turn it around. He doesn’t have to be good. He just has to try.

When I am angriest at myself at work, it’s when I lose a pitch I know I didn’t put enough effort into. A valiant effort resulting in a loss is okay. Losing because I was outworked…grrr!

For three long weeks I’ve tried to create the teenage analogy of this lesson in junior’s head. But he doesn’t give a crap.

There is no room in my world for people who won’t try hard. Maybe I should try harder to turn him around. But I really think it’s time. The first time. For me to make that cruel, everlasting decision to cut someone. Because I believe it’s the only message that he will remember.

Game Changer

MH3 —  June 13, 2013

Let me be clear, football is still my passion.

But I am now royally pissed off that I never got a chance to play rugby when I was a kid.

Now the cynics might scoff and say that’s only because I am now doing work for Rugby Canada. To that, I say, I do mucho work with Nike and I don’t fancy myself a track star. But I can see their point, and yes on Saturday I will be hosting at BMO Field; as our currently undefeated Senior Men’s National Team goes head to head in a Test Match with mighty Ireland in front of 20,000 fans.

But no, that’s not where my angst has originated. It’s more personal and closer to home. It’s watching my twelve year old in his first season with Toronto City U14. Patrolling the sideline at his games, which I will also be doing Saturday, has given this football freak a close-up look at the true origins of gridiron combat. Despite my business interests, I really don’t know the game of rugby.

But what I have witnessed has now made me jealous. Non-stop action. Dashing runs. Brutal tackling. Breath stealing goal line stands. Unbelievable fitness. Constant communication.

As an under-sized football player with a passion for the wishbone, you can understand my jealousy. Rugby was probably my sport. Yet it didn’t exist in my home town. What’s worse, when I didn’t make it in university football, I inquired about joining the rugby team. The rugby coach dismissed my eight seasons of football as irrelevant, given I hadn’t played rugby ever, and told me essentially to go away.

Today I wish he had suggested I at least try intramural, because fast forward to 2013 I may have ended up coaching my son, my Panthers, and maybe your daughter in rugby… instead of football!

 

Second Fiddle

MH3 —  January 31, 2013

I feel badly for Alex Smith.

Smith is the recently minted backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.

He has fallen from being the overall # 1 pick in the NFL draft, and after several underwhelming seasons, to almost leading his team to the Super Bowl a year ago. Magically this year he was leading the NFL in passer rating before the cruel twist of being injured led to becoming a sideline patrolling clipboard carrier.

If I have to explain this to you, then clearly you are not a football fan and evidently you are not tracking the second biggest story line of Super Bowl XLVII. It’s not that Smith is the first QB in NFL history to lose his role as a starter. But it’s the way he fell on the depth chart and the amazing manner in which he has responded that contributes such an intriguing thread to this story.

There is an unwritten rule in sport that you don’t lose your job to injury. Meaning your replacement’s tenure is over the minute you are medically cleared to play again. In football this rule is close to a constitutional right especially for key skill positions such as quarterback. Amplify that Smith was, statistically at least, the best performer at the QB position in the league, at the time of his injury, and the violation of the injury rule code is even more amazing.

But unfortunately for Smith waiting in the wings was a freak of nature named Colin Kaepernick. I will bet you a souvenir Super Bowl t-shirt that you never witnessed CK7 play in college at Nevada. Well I saw a few games on late late late night ESPN, and I knew what was coming. Partially anyway. Not even his supporter emeritus, Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, could have imagined what was coming.

Kaepernick is part Michael Vick, part Peyton Manning, part Cam Newton, and part Adrian Peterson. Whatever parts I missed are covered in his tattoos. This guy can play.

He has set records with his legs, sliced up defenses with his arm, and energized a franchise with his energy. Plus he seems genuinely nice in his interviews.

So this weekend will feature this newly minted phenom against retiring warrior Ray Lewis.

What about Smith? Has he run away to pout? Is he spending his waking hours inebriated? Has he picked up a weekend’s supply of Mardi Gras beads for his stay in NOLA?

None of the above. Instead he is thrilled to be competing in a Super Bowl. He has turned into a coach, confidant, and cheerleader for his usurper. He has kept his skills sharp, his teammates motivated, and his ego in check for the betterment of his entire team.

Let that be a lesson for us all. I know we all want to be #1, but at times fate or failure stop us short of our goal. Alex Smith will benefit in the long run from how he responded to this dose of adversity. He will rise again.

Dear 2012 Lawrence Park Panthers

MH3 —  November 8, 2012

4. Marks blogDear 2012 Lawrence Park Panthers;

It’s me. Your coach.

I need to issue you an apology.

The reason you aren’t playing in today’s championship game for bragging rights in Toronto high school football is because of me.

You worked so hard all year. Running hills. Doing Train Tracks. Military Mile. Hitting the sled. You showed up at most every practice rain or shine. You listened and you learned. You leaned on your brothers for support and led by example when it mattered most. You endured injuries from opposing players, insults by opposing students, and insane  conditioning sessions from my fellow coaches.

In short, you deserved better.

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