Archives For Mark Harrison

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.

NCAA Record Holder

MH3 —  September 10, 2013

I set an NCAA Football record last Saturday night.

I did have help from one-hundred and fifteen thousand, and one hundred and eight other people. (Is that even how you spell 115,108?)

The record, which to be precise is 115,109, was for the largest crowd ever to see a single NCAA event… football, baseball, hockey, or otherwise. Michigan-Notre Dame football. Live on ESPN. The Game Day crew camped out in Ann Arbor, MI.

The best part about being there is that I can actually say when I am old (next week), that “I was there.” For real. Isn’t it amazing how many people were at the Joe Carter walk-off home run World Series game at SkyDome? Or attended the first ever Coachella? Saw Usain Bolt win his first 100M gold medal in Beijing?

I-was-there syndrome isn’t just related to major events. House parties. Political events. Epic bar nights. Flash mobs. Full moons. Solar eclipses. Floods. Celebrity sightings.

It’s amazing how the desire to have been witness to a great event suddenly turns the most honest of us all into stone-faced fibbers. Many times we don’t even do it on purpose. The conversation starts, the magic of the moment expands in every converser’s mind, and without an ounce of guilt you are suddenly nodding vigorously, ruthlessly implying your participation.

But I was there. Michigan-Notre Dame. 115,108 people & me. If you want, I will show you my ticket stub. Then you show me yours.

New Year #3

MH3 —  September 4, 2013

In the course of a calendar year there are actually three “new years” we all experience.

One is January 1st. Fairly universal, unless you follow a unique religious calendar.

The second is your birthday. That day marks your own personal new year.

The third is the start of the school year, even, if you are like me, for whom school ended a quarter century ago.

But no matter how long ago your last “first day of school” was, every September still marks the beginning of a new year. Perhaps it’s your child starting school or your niece off to Western (like mine is) or a neighbour’s child entering their last year of secondary school. We all feel the start of the new school year.

The roads are busier. Our meeting agendas even busier. Even TV schedules are packed with the new fall shows.

There is no escaping it. September is the start of a new year.

But don’t fear. Let’s take advantage of it. Let’s use it to motivate us, inspire us, refresh us. Set some school-year resolutions. Take advantage of the fact that everyone is hungry to get stuff done, meet Q4 targets, get a head start on 2014.

So Happy New Year. Feel free to have a little party, some bubbly, a celebration. Nothing better than a perceived clean slate to get the engines fired up!

Workcations Don’t Work

MH3 —  August 28, 2013

Last summer I was pretty proud of myself. I took two weeks off and only sent four work-related emails. Of course the London Olympics were a serious distraction from the office rote.

Stupidly when I embarked on this vacay, I actually expected to work. The theory of this hot air balloon burst quickly when I crashed into this old world time warp called Spain. Since swapping the chaotic romance of Barcelona for the organized tranquility of Montreux, Switzerland…the work time hasn’t increased. But my productivity has…and today while yodelling down the mountain, I decided to share my epiphanies with you.

#1. Mark the hypocrite says don’t work on vacation, but if you feel the pressure to be available, then:

# 2. Take twenty minutes in the morning to work and no more. You will be horrified you can actually do everything that’s truly important in way less than the hours of candle burning you normally incur!

# 3. Email at the best of times is horribly misused. When you are away you realize how much so. Convince your team to use email as a data transmitter, not a conversation enabler, and your inbox will shrink.

# 4. Use the twenty-four hour rule. On home soil, this applies when you’re about to send an angry email. But when you are away, delaying all will allow you to edit your replies so they are divinely surgical.

# 5. Mull. Meditate. Ponder. Never do we have enough daylight hours to think. What better time to teach yourself new techniques.

Smile for the camera, it doesn’t know you’re working!

No Siesta

MH3 —  August 22, 2013

Can being on holiday really be this exhausting?

I didn’t get up until 8:22 today and I’m still fried. Trying to adapt to this time-warped Spanish way of life is taking its toll. As a man who prides himself on his nocturnal stamina, I’m a bit humbled.

Our situ is straightforward. We are about to complete a relaxing stint in the north of Spain. San Sebastián to be exact. It’s a legendary summer destination that puts a premium on massive beaches, swanky shopping, and endless restaurants, tapas bars, and cafes.

It’s not quaint. It’s teeming with people. But it has an ancient charm and a romantic pull that’s hard to describe. I said I wished we could stay for two weeks here and my twelve year old countered with “forever”. So it’s worth going.

But if I stayed two weeks I’m not sure I would make it. We’ve been eating lunch in the late aft and getting home from dinner after eleven. I can’t imagine being here sans kids and firing up for bar hopping at 2:00 AM per the local custom! But lots of people are.

I examine every face I encounter the next day. How late did you stay out? How does a two-hour siesta tide you over? What magic gene do you have that I lack?

Tomorrow we leave Basque Country for Barcelona. I’ve got four more days to get my act together or my name will be the subject of local ridicule.

This vacation stuff is hard work.

Don’t be fooled. The most important meetings aren’t the entries in your agenda today.

The 8:30 AM conference call with the sales team. The 10:00 AM budget re-draft with your boss. The networking lunch. The 3:00 PM metrics presentation. The 5:15 check-in with a new employee. The 6:00 PM call to the West Coast HQ of your largest customer.

They are all important. They are all vital. They all require preparation galore. But…

But the actual meeting pales with the “meeting after the meeting.” Here’s why.

# 1. YOU often aren’t in the meeting after the meeting. Whether it’s your boss, your clients, or your staff…you were left off the guest list. Because the MATM is usually held secretly, at a new location, quite often electronically…but rarely with your presence. Scary? It can be. Because you are no longer present to shape the dialogue and ensure your point of view is well represented. It’s now left to interpretation, which could be good…or bad.

# 2. Depending on the outcome of this meeting, the impact of your scripted meeting will soon have a new scorecard. In direct terms you need this meeting to be more effectual than the scripted meeting if you hope the mandate you established gets carried out with zeal. We have all heard from Debby Downer, sometime after the scripted meeting, that despite their head nod to the formal conversation, they really had no intent to follow through with their commitment.

# 3. You didn’t plan for the meeting after the meeting. You were naturally well prepared for the scripted meeting. Tight agenda. Sharp presentation materials. Detailed budgets. But did you think about where your materials, words, and discussion would travel in the next 24 hours? Did you project who, beyond the live/dialed-in meeting attendees, would virtually be part of the extended conversation? Did you forecast the agendas of the various stakeholders and what fires they would light within seconds of smile f’ing you out of the room?

Since I know you are reading this while you actually are in a meeting, you cheater, I am glad I caught you at a timely moment. Look up from your tablet and scan the room. Tally up who you think will be meeting with whom. Project what their mood and motives will be. Speculate how this is going to impact you. Then load up your verbal cannon and lob a few proactive comments on the table to preemept the chatter.

If you really want to be ballsy, why not let the room know you are in on their secret and you too plan to have a meeting…after the meeting!

Unity

MH3 —  July 24, 2013

I almost blew it.

A friend suggested I watch a video of a young man’s TedEx talk. Told me the presenter should be our feature keynote at the Canadian Sponsorship Forum.

Don’t know why, but I had little interest. Maybe it was because all I heard, saw, interpreted was that the speaker was a break dancer.

Thankfully someone on my team watched the video. I should say someones. It spread quickly among a few key influencers. They pulled me by the ear and I watched. Hmm. Me be wrong. Let’s invite him to speak. I didn’t slot him as our closing keynote. Cause I was still being stupid. But he got a prime speaking slot.

He didn’t speak at CSF. He wove magic. He cast a spell. He left me in a trance.

But don’t be fooled. Doing an awesome speech doesn’t mean you’re talented at anything but speaking. But he did do it while breaking, at times elevated on just one arm, at other times hosting fellow dancers on the stage. But, but, but…was he authentic?

Last weekend the trial was held. I got a chance to see the same speaker in action and attend his organization’s marquee event. The Unity Festival.

Bottom line. This man is what he says he is. His project does what it says it does.

The charity is UNITY. Its mission is fostering success in youth through avenues they entrust: music, dance, art.

The messiah is Michael Prosserman. Aka Bboy Piecez.

He is the founder, leader, and inspiration of Unity. Seeing him in action, seeing the talent he curated, the audience he attracted, the engagement with young and old alike. I now knew. He is what he says.

Don’t make my mistake and ignore him. Because Mike Prosserman is going to change our country.