Archive for the ‘coaching’ category

Sixth Grade Motivation and Just Getting By

December 2, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 2, 2018

                          

I was amazed and perplexed numerous times this past week, two opposite reactions in the same classroom. I taught 6th Grade Social Studies the whole week, a journey that began in the Inca Empire and ended in a Friday discovery of Canada.

Numerous students amazed me at their quest for excellence. After giving guidelines about a project related to the Incas, these students sought to raise the bar in terms of quality. They took seriously my statement: “If Mr. Smith (the school principal) came in and looked at your project would be say ‘This is awesome!’ or ‘What is this?’”

And then there were the students who sought to just get by. One of the directions said to use colored pencils or markers in the completing of images. One student asked, “Do we HAVE to use colored pencils?” He said it as if he was being asked to do a 24 hour work shift. I looked at him and replied, “So, what you’re really asking is ‘what is the minimum I have to do?’”

“Well….ah, no!”

At the end of the second day on the project some of the work was ready to be framed and sent to an art museum, and other ‘attempts’ at work made me shudder!

To one boy I said, “I can’t even read what you’ve written here. You need a class on penmanship.”

“What’s that?” he asked, puzzled.

“Exactly!”

It made me wonder about how some kids become so motivated to excel and others become so unmotivated and seek to just get by. One of my students this past week was a girl who ran cross-country for me this past fall. She’s about as tall as a grasshopper and about that wide, also! In each race she finished no worse than 3rd and always just a few steps behind the winner. She is a competitor who would be disappointed in herself if she did not give her best effort. Her Inca project was…you guessed it!…top notch!

On the other end of the spectrum was a project that was as barren as an Oklahoma corn field during the Dust Bowl years. I looked at the boy and with disappointed dismay in my voice said, “That’s it???” He looked upon at me as he finished his last chocolate do-nette and smiled. That WAS it!

How do some students become so self-motivated and others seem to think motivation is a sign of illness?

It is an intriguing subject to ponder. I talked to one of my Starbucks coffee friends yesterday about it. She has five children and they are all different. A couple are so self-motivated it’s scary, another couple are selectively motivated, and then another one wouldn’t be motivated to even get out of bed…ever! 

I’m motivated to write some days and have no motivation to write on other days. Some days I’m highly motivated to exercise and on others I am so unmotivated that I’d even rather watch a Hallmark Christmas movie…okay, not that unmotivated!

I realize that some motivation comes from within, intrinsic in nature; and other motivation is extrinsic, coming from an outside force or person. But why is that intrinsic motivation so different for each person? Why are so many students willing to just get by?

Sixth Grade Little Brothers and Sisters

December 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      December 1, 2018

                           

It’s been a week!

A week of sixth graders, that is! One of the sixth grade social studies teachers asked me to teach the full week for him as he recovered from a procedure done on one of his knees. Five days of teaching the future Einsteins, Feinsteins, and Non-Steins; smart ones and smart alecks!

Some names stood out to me after each 57 minute class period. They were the warts in the midst of a beautiful experience; the ones that the teacher can’t trust with a pair of scissors because they may cut the hair of the young lady sitting beside them…without her knowing! They are the ones who in hearing the words “You may work with a partner on this!” view it as giving permission to cause chaos, the ones who intimately know what the inside of their assistant principal’s office looks like!

So…I remember THEIR names! If I had an acronym of the phrase “Problem Child” I could put a name with almost every letter…Pete, Robert, Octavius, Bubba, etc.

The interesting thing is that I COULDN’T remember the names of younger brothers and sisters of students I’ve had in classes the last two years. After five days of having them I still can’t think of their first names. I’d ask a question and a hand would pop up from a boy with dark hair.

“Jill’s little brother!” I’d say, acknowledging him. He looked hurt and befuddled, as if his eighth grade sister had a more prominent place in life than him.

Question: “What does longitude measure?” Up comes the hand of a girl with a never-ending smile.

“Little Smith!” I bellow as I look at her. Her smile continues because she sees it as a badge of honor. Her sister, now a high school freshman, had told her stories about Mr. Wolfe. In fact, she was the one who made my last name sound French by pronouncing it “Wolf-ay”!

There were four or five other younger brothers and sisters whose first names escaped my memory. Of course, when I was growing up some of my older brother’s friends called me “Little Charlie” or, after being immersed in their high school Spanish class, “Carlos Pequeno!”

It was the first Spanish word I learned! I guess I’m a bit partial towards younger siblings. I’m the youngest of three, the one who got the hand-me-downs, like my brother’s bicycle all beaten and battered and shirts with mustard stains dotting the fabric. 

If I have these sixth graders again I’ll graduate to calling them by their last name. That would be progress towards knowing their whole personality. The disturbing thing is that I only know the first names of the problem children, and I’ll make sure my youngest daughter (Our “Little”) has a list of names NOT to give any future grandchildren. 

As one boy asked me, “Mr. Wolfe, do you remember my name?” 

“Yes!” I respond, pausing for effect. “Starts with an ‘A’ and ends with a ‘G’!” He looks at me ready to correct my thinking, but I break in before he can say it. 

“Annoying!” 

He smiles, and, although he began the week filling out one of the letters on my acronym, we kinda’ like each other! I wonder if he has any younger siblings?

Wearing Black Socks With Tennis Shoes

November 18, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     November 18, 2018

                   

There are certain things that I once could do that I can no longer achieve, like touching the basketball rim (which I did back in my college days), not having to use the bathroom at least once during the night, and drinking Folger’s coffee without gagging!

And there are other things that I never did that I still don’t do! One of those is wearing black socks with athletic shoes. I just can’t do it! No matter what sports apparel logo is on the side of the sock…Adidas, Nike, Under Armor…I just can’t wear black socks while playing hoop or running a couple of miles. 

It goes back to my growing up days. I was not very cool to begin with, but to wear a pair of black socks in P.E. class was to risk being seen as permanently uncool! Wearing black socks with tennis shoes was something my dad did! Plus, he’d have a pair of shorts on at the time…and would be mowing the lawn for the whole neighborhood to see! I stayed inside until he was done. 

Dad would also go the other side of fashion un-coolness. He’d wear white socks with brown shoes! That was like the twin brother of “black socks and tennis shoes”!

At basketball practice yesterday there were 2 boys out of 28 wearing white socks…and one coach. Me! Everyone else was wearing black socks or multi-colored with designs. In 1972 it would have been seen as a picture of totally uncool boys. Now it’s the trend!

There are certain things in life that we just can’t adjust to. It’s like they are a part of our cultural DNA that we can’t get past. Like a redhead trying to become a brunette. After a while the red roots spring up to remind the person of who he still is.

“Y’all” still comes out of my mouth when referring to more than one person. “Why don’t y’all sit down for a few?” I can’t say “all of you” or even “you all.” They taste like sour milk coming out of mouth. 

It took me a couple of months to not feel guilty when I bought a pack of Hanes black boxer-style underwear. For about sixty years I had worn J.C. Penney’s Towncraft tighty-whities! It wasn’t until after my mom- a Penney’s retiree- passed away that I risked wearing something different. I know, this is probably too much info, but I wear the tighty-whities still at nighttime.

Our understanding of what is cool is a strong tie, but our remembering of how things were also keeps its grip on us. One happens out of the fear of being unaccepted, and the other happens out of the desire to honor family and its sense of belonging.

In regards to black socks with tennis shoes, cool was more important than identifying with Pops, but in most other things family took preference. 

Y’all understand what I’m talking about?

In Appreciation of Great Parents of Young Athletes

November 12, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           November 12, 2018

                              

One of the main reasons I decided to stop officiating basketball after the 2017 season and 16 years of wearing the stripes was out-of-control parents. Many of them have added to their resume’ and are now not just “helicopter parents”, but also “helicopter fans”!

Irrational and belligerent, abusive and hostile, they bring a dark side to youth athletics. When their son or daughter has an official make a marginal call that goes against their child you would think that the kid just got a reject letter from Harvard!

BUT there are “the others”! That is, there are the parents who are awesome and supportive; the parents who understand that the world does not turn on the basis of a roundball’s rotation; the parents who allow their son or daughter to experience failure and also success and don’t feel like they need to pave the path that only leads to victory.

Parental guidance and encouragement are the vital elements for a kid growing up and trying to figure out life, but they are elements that are too often missing. They are elements that many parents have pushed to the side in favor of outraged entitlement and having a messed-up view of what is really important in life.

The parents of my 8th Grade boys basketball team this year were awesome, and here’s why!

They let the coach coach! Their analysis and evaluation of the game and their son’s play didn’t happen until after the game, if at all! Never once did I have a parent shout instructions to their son from the bleachers. They applauded and encouraged, grimaced and smiled. I’ve heard too many horror stories of coaches being hounded and ridiculed by parents. My parents modeled how things should be!

They understood that we coach student athletes, not athletes who also happen to be students! None of my players had to sit out a week of games because they were academically in trouble. Their son’s grade point average is much more important than his scoring average or how many rebounds he gets in a game.

They modeled maturity! I’ve seen my share of parents who have been asked to leave gymnasiums because of their behavior. Last year the mom of a player from the team we were playing that day sat in the row behind our team bench…in our gym! Her voice was the loudest voice in the gym. If it was Cameron Indoor at Duke and the Blue Demons were playing North Carolina I could understand it, but this was a 7th Grade boys game. I had our security person ask her to move at halftime. She was not pleased! There were plenty of seats behind her team’s bench. The coach, a friend of mine, said to me after the game, “Great! You moved her down behind my bench and then I had to hear her!”

Some parents just don’t get it! And then you see their son or daughter turning into mom or dad!

Here’s the harsh truth! Officials and referees are hanging up their whistles because of parents! And coaches are calling it quits because of parents! 

My parents this year were awesome and that’s why I’ll be back for my 19th season next year…and consider myself blessed to be able to do it!

Coaching Moments and Conversations

November 11, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 November 11, 2018

                                

I love coaching kids and adolescents! Just love it! Yesterday I finished my 18th year as boy’s basketball coach at Timberview Middle School in Colorado Springs. With a new league this year our season got bumped forward to October and November. (Now I begin high school tryouts tomorrow where I’ll be coaching JV Boys)

I enjoy coaching moments and conversations that leave my players smiling and chuckling. They are spontaneous and sometimes non-sensical! 

Like yesterday! I kneeled in front of one of my players who was sitting in the midst of the bench personnel. We were getting beat by about 15 points by the team that had gone undefeated as 7th graders and now as 8th graders. It was our fifth game of the day, after losing to them in the winner’s bracket final, coming back and winning the loser’s bracket, and now having to play them again in the final game. 

The player I kneeled in front of is a bespectacled 4’10” 8th Grader. I said, “I need you to grow 6 inches…right now!” He stared back at me slightly smiling. “Okay! I guess that’s not going to happen, so just go on in for Josh!” He went to the scorer’s table and I moved to the next player on the bench, a boy about 5’10”. 

“I need you to grow 6 inches…right now!” His eyes darted from side to side considering the possibilities as I paused. “Okay! Guess that’s not going to happen, so go on in for Tyler.”

I moved on to the third player. Kneeling in front of him and looking him in the eye, “I need you to grow six inches right now…okay, just kidding!”

A little later. “You need to be close to him on defense! Pretend it’s your girlfriend!”

“Coach, I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“No wonder! You keep your distance from her! She thinks you don’t like her!”

Confused look!

I channel Coach Don Fackler from time to time. Don mentored me in coaching back…like 25 years ago. I loved that guy! He passed away suddenly about 15 years ago and it’s the one funeral that I flew from Colorado back to Michigan to attend. 

As Don would say I now find myself saying, “You’re all discombobulated! Get organized! I need my point guard to figure out when we’re all discombobulated and pull it back together.”

Here I come again! “There is nothing in that right corner of the court that is worth dribbling towards. You planning on going somewhere?”

“No, Coach!”
“Cause you keep heading for the Exit sign, son!”

Bad shot selection comment! “Hey! Have you hit a three-pointer yet?”

“No, Coach!”

“That’s right! You’re 0 for November! So let’s consider a better shot!”

“Sorry, Coach!”

Left-hand gone missing!

“What’s that thing attached to the left side of your shoulder?”

“My arm?” replies a confused looking player.

“Why not discover that it has a purpose, okay?”

“Yes, Coach!”
“I would rather you miss a left-handed layup than make a right-handed layup that announces to everyone that you don’t have a lefthand!”

And then yesterday I subbed for a player who made a couple of mistakes. I kneeled in front of him and said, “You made some mistakes, okay! But that’s not why I subbed for you! Your body language is spelling defeat. Everyone makes mistakes, but when you start moping on the court…you might as well be sitting here!” I talked to the player’s parents after the game and they thanked me for letting him know that. 

I love these kids! I love coaching them, guiding them, helping them to figure things out not just on the court, but in the situations of life. 

At the end of our tournament yesterday we gathered together with our runner-up trophy and had our team picture taken by parents and our school administrator. I noticed that the 4’10” player was holding the trophy in the midst of the front row. He was smiling from ear-to-ear, but the trophy was hiding his face.

“Paul, would you grow that six inches I asked for so we can see your face over the top of the trophy?”

Eleven players and three managers couldn’t keep from smiling on that one!

Love that kid!

Dictionary Education

November 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     November 3, 2018

                          

It has been a full week of substitute teaching- one day of 7th Grade Language Arts and then the last four days in 8th Grade Social Studies. I love teaching in a class for a number of days in a row. Next week I’ll have the same 8th Grade Social Studies for four more days.

8th Graders crack me up! They are as diverse as “Jelly Belly” jelly beans, but also with many similarities. They want to be liked and kinda’ cool without having to announce to everyone that they ARE cool! Most come to class not expecting to receive anything but homework and in-class assignments. So I like to do the unexpected with them!

For the 8th Graders on one day we closed class with a quest to find who could create the most stupid question with the answer being “Cream Cheese”. Call it “Dumbed-Down Jeopardy!” The winning stupidest question received a roll of Smarties! 

On another day this week a few students were finishing their classroom work early. 

“Mr. Wolfe, I’m done. What can I do now?”

“You can study for the test you’ll be taking next Wednesday.” (To tell an 8th Grader that he can study for a test that is a week away is like telling him that he can start preparing for the Graduate Record Exam to get accepted into Grad School.)

A non-verbal facial expression communicates that my idea is lame! 

“Or you could read a book.”

“I don’t have a book with me.”

“I’ll take care of that!” Twenty seconds later I come back to his table and put a dictionary in front of him. “Here.”

Confused eyes dart back and forth. “It’s a dictionary!”
“Yes, it is! A mind is a terrible thing to waste…especially the mind of an intelligent 8th grade student like you. Here’s what I want you to do! Start with the “J’s”! I think we may be “J-deficient” in our vocabulary, so expand your understanding for the next few minutes and tell me one word that is like a new discovery for you…okay?” I help him find “J” just in case!

His mouth is wide open and nothing is coming out of it. The other two students at his table who are still working on the classroom assignment are snickering.

Two minutes later another student falsely believes that he’s going to camp-out for the rest of the class period and pop Sweet Tarts as he does nothing. 

“All done?”
“Yes, Mr. Wolfe.”

“Okay, well…you can study for the test or read a book that you have.”
“Ahhh, I don’t have a book and I’ve done all the studying I need.”

“Well, that is awesome about the studying aspect of things, but since you’re so advanced I have something else for you to read.”

“Ahhh!”

“I’ll be right back!” A few seconds later I return with the Geographical Dictionary. “Here you go! Start with the ‘K’s’! I don’t think there are many places that we’re familiar with that begin with the letter ‘K’!”

“Huh?”

“An 8th Grade mind is a terrible thing to waste!”

Later on in the day a couple of other students discovered the treasures in “Q” and “X”. 

“Mr. Wolfe!” says the boy who is immersed in the letter ‘X’.

“Yes!”
“The word ‘xylo’ indicates something made of wood.”

“Really!”

“Yes! Like xylophone has the different keys made of wood.”

“Wow! I didn’t know that!” He seemed excited by the fact that he shared something with an old guy that wasn’t known.”

The next day another student asked if she could READ the dictionary! And I stood there with my mouth wide open!

Early Mornings and…Early Evenings!

October 24, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 24, 2018

                          

When I arrived at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in September of 1972 I was greeted with the freedom to make my own choices. That’s like being a contestant of “Let’s Make A Deal!” So many boxes to open and curtains to choose! So many new options!

My class schedule had me attending 8:00 and 9:00 classes Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Let me rephrase that! I could CHOOSE to attend 8:00 and 9:00 classes! As the fall term proceeded I CHOSE to attend less and less as I slept in to 9:00, 9:30, 10:00, 10:30. There were even a few days when I slept in got up in time to eat lunch.

Needless to say, my academic performance that first term was something less than stellar!

Perhaps you remember the days when you moaned and groaned when you had to get out of bed before 8:00! 

Things change! Now that I’m 64 and 1/2, sleeping in has become irrelevant. I remember it being in the distant past in the same breath as my first car, a 1974 AMC Gremlin. 

Today I was the assigned coach for an early morning shoot-around at high school for our basketball team. The shoot-around begins at 6:50. I did not need an alarm clock to wake up. At 5:30 my eyes were open and staring at the ceiling. My body now tells me when 5:30 arrives every morning. Actually, it also tells me when it’s about 2 A.M. as I make my nightly pit stop! As someone with minimal vocabulary but massive wisdom once said, “It is what it is!” For me “it is” every night!

Carol now knows if I’m not feeling well…like, deathly sick with chills and no energy. That’s when I’m still in bed and the clock is trudging upwards past 6:30.

On the other end of the day I now find it hard to stay up past 10:00. I went to the Denver Nuggets game last Saturday night with three young adult guys. The game didn’t get over until 10:00. They ribbed me all the way home saying things like, “It’s about two hours past your bedtime, isn’t it?” and “You should bring a pillow and blanket with you next time!” 

They’re more right than wrong! When Carol and I think about going to a movie we think about the late afternoon feature, because the 7:00 showing doesn’t get out until…like 9:00!

Isn’t it strange? When we were young we’d long to stay up late and then sleep in. Now that I’m almost to Medicare age I go to bed about the time the local news comes on and get up  with Al Roker. 

To wear out the saying, “it is what it is!”