Archive for the ‘coaching’ category

The Specialness of Special Needs Students

September 28, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   September 28, 2019

                         

I’ve been looking forward to bedtime these past few days. By 7:30 I’m being challenged to stay upright until 9:00. I’ve been teaching special needs students at Timberview Middle School. Let’s just say that I’m getting my steps in during the school day.

It’s a three week assignment that they asked to take on while the teacher is away. One week is done and I’m down three pounds!

It’s been amazing, amusing, intriguing, and educational. Each of the students has their challenges and their awesome characteristics. Each is unique in some way and just like any other middle school kid in other ways.

For example, yesterday I was teaching a lesson to a group of 8th graders about the American Revolution. I mentioned the Declaration of Independence that was signed on July 4, 1776, and then strayed off with the question about whether any of them have watched fireworks. One girl shook her head yes and then said “Katy Perry, Fireworks.”

Being the old guy who is immersed in the middle school culture and yet totally clueless, I asked what “Katy Perry, Fireworks” meant. That led to us pulling up the song on a cell phone and singing it together. The young lady wants me to work on it and sing it solo-style on Monday. 

And then there’s the 7th grade boy who I do math work sheets with. Each time he gets a problem correct he becomes a drummer with his pencil and the edge of the table. His pencils literally take a beating each day. One 6th grade boy calls everyone “Dude”, even the school principal, but has added “Mr. Wolfe” to his vocabulary now. 

The para professionals who work with the students, go to the regular classrooms with them, help them to the bathroom, and do special feeding for the ones who require it…are incredible! I’m like a fish out of water that is being saved numerous times each day. They appreciate the consistency of my presence and my willingness to help, my conversation with the students and communication with classroom teachers about assignments and daily topics, but they know I’m a green rookie. 

It’s a new kind of education. I’ve discovered the specialness of their personalities, the challenges of keeping their attention, the variety of “paces”…from the young lady that required 28 minutes just to get to the physical education class outside, to the 8th grade boy who I can’t keep up with as he runs to give his mom a hug at the end of the school day.

I see the strain on the paras, who must constantly be alert to the sudden changes in their students’ movements and decisions- the chance of a sudden fall, shift in direction, changes in mood, and need to go to the restroom. There is no down time. A couple of them are often bruised by the unintentional blows that they receive.

And yet the work is rewarding. It is a reminder that the most rewarding moments of life are usually uncomplicated expressions of delight and discovery. Understanding algebra is one thing, but having a challenged student consistently being able to correctly add another number to an “8” is another. 

I see other students trudging through their school days uninspired and uninterested. Most of the special needs students look forward to their school days. It is their daily adventure into a place of discovery and relationships. They walk to class with their peer partners and engage in conversations about life. It’s the place where they are challenged, but also cheered.

For the adults that walk along beside them, it’s an opportunity to see life from a totally different perspective. 

And for me? Well…come Monday I’d better be ready with “Fireworks”!

The Guidance and Misguidance of Coaches

September 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               September 15, 2019

                            

I think the first team I ever coached was the Arlington Heights, Illinois First Presbyterian Church boy’s basketball team that played in the community church league. We were mediocre at best, and probably the last basketball team experience for most of the players. But they had fun lacing up their sneakers and trying their hardest.

That was in 1979. Forty years later I’m still coaching. This year will see me coach cross-country, boy’s and girl’s basketball, and track at Timberview Middle School in Colorado Springs. It will be the first year in the last eleven that I won’t be on a high school bench for the basketball season, but the middle school teams will suit me just fine.

What I’ve learned over the years is that a coach can guide, motivate, counsel, and influence for a lifetime. The words we say and the message that our lives speak lead our athletes towards not only success, but also to what are the most important things in life.

On the other hand, coaches can misguide, destroy, and instill the wrong set of values in their athletes. The sports world is littered with stories of athletes who were abused in some way by their coaches. The sexual abuse situations make the headlines, but the verbal abusiveness rarely is heard about. 

Coaches have the opportunity to fan the flames in their athletes to become passionate about their sport of leisure, or to douse the desire with showers of destructive communication. 

Just as there are stories of helicopter parents who make life miserable for the coaches of their kids, there are tyrant coaches who bring misery into the lives of young athletes. How sad is it for a kid who puts in years and years of practice, looking forward to the time he or she can represent their school and wear the school colors, only to encounter a coach, or coaching staff, who operate from a completely different set of values. How tragic and confusing to have an adolescent from a solid well-grounded family experience a coach whose life priorities are on the other end of the spectrum!

I’ve had the opportunity to know some great coaches who are also great human beings. You can see them teach the game to their players, but also teach their players about life. And I’ve also known some coaches who are, quite simply, scoundrels. My kids were fortunate to have a number of coaches through the years who were also great human beings, the kind of coaches that your kids run up to years later and want to embrace, the kind of coaches your kids want to introduce their kids to!

Coaches whose personal lives and life values are a mess, more often than not, make a mess of things with their athletes and teams. 

Middle School Sub Teacher: Episode XXVI

September 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 14, 2019

                             

It was a week!

I was in a middle school classroom five days this past week. The last four days were for 8th Grade Social Studies, a class I had also subbed in the week before another four days. In essence, I shepherded this flock for the past two weeks.

Some of the adolescent lambs needed some encouragement, some needed a watchful eye to keep them from falling into the chasm of complicating life. A few were identified as wolves in sheep’s clothing, seeking to lead the class to destruction. And then there were the sheep, gentle in nature and smart beyond their years.

There were statements like this: 

            “Rhode Island isn’t a state, is it?” 

           And “Mr. Wolfe, this doesn’t make any sense.” “What’s that?” “It says the Quakers believed in the s______________ of c____________ and s______________. What’s that mean?” “You mean right here in the reading where it says ‘the separation of church and state’?” “Oh!”

A couple of students put a ‘c’ in Quaker and made them Quackers. Puritans became “puritains”, a rare form of plantains. Spell check doesn’t work when you write it out longhand.

One student brought me his essay to read. I encouraged him to try reading it out loud to himself. “When I read it, it’s worded like a dialogue line for Tonto, saying something to the Lone Ranger.” 

I received a few questions such as this: “Mr. Wolfe, how many sentences do we have to write for the essay question?”

“So what you’re really asking is what is the minimum I have to do?”

            Pause before the confession. “Ahhh…yes.”

But then there were the ones who went beyond the expected. Like, “Mr. Wolfe, if I run out of room with my essay can I continue writing on another piece of paper?” I fight back the tears of appreciation. “Thank you for helping me to believe again in the possibility that 8th Grade students can be awesome!”

Talking to two girls who did minimal work on an in-class assignment about 9/11: “Hey, I’m a bit disappointed in the lack of effort. I’ll give you the opportunity to come in during lunch tomorrow and bring a little more effort to the assignment.”

“Why do you want us to do that, Mr. Wolfe?”

“Because I’m concerned about the educational pursuit of excellence in your life.”

“You’re what?” (Confused looks on the two who seem to reside in the land of confusion).

“I’m concerned about the educational pursuit of excellence in your life.”

No comments, just confusion that awkwardly turns into grins.

“Mr. Wolfe, can I come and have lunch with you and talk about strategy for GaGa Ball?” (GaGa ball has become a popular outdoor game that’s kind of like mass dodgeball in a octagon ring).

“Ahhh…okay!”

“Mr. Wolfe, am I one of your favorite students?”

            “Yes, you are! You’re in the top 200!”

 

“Mr. Wolfe, don’t you wish you could teach us again next week?”

“I break out in hives just thinking about it!”

Back to the two girls mentioned above.

“We have homework again!!!” Pained facial expressions.

“Yes, I’m-“

“We know, we know! You’re concerned about the educational something in our lives!”

I smile. I think I’m getting through to them.

Crotchety People

September 7, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       September 7, 2019

                                     

The elderly man in front of me at Starbucks this morning looked like he had been chewing on some bad prunes. He scowled at the barista taking his order. She had misunderstood his mumbling words and he was not one to extend grace. Thinking the best of people, I thought maybe his disposition could be blamed on not having partaken of his coffee yet, but he ordered iced tea. Tea wasn’t going to help improve his personality. 

I wondered what had brought him to the point of being the stereotypical crotchety old man. Was it his diet of high fiber cereal, throbbing knee joints, or Washington politics? Had he always been this way? Would he always be this way?

Crotchetiness has no age boundaries. We may use different terminology for different age groups, but it’s still the same thing. For adolescent students I teach or coach, I instruct them to get an “attitude adjustment.” For young children we say they need a nap. For young adults we tell them to “get a clue!” 

Of course, we all have crotchety moments. I was substitute teaching each day this past week in the same class. One student tested my patience each day…the last class of the day! By 2:45 p.m. I could have been viewed by many as being crotchety. I have the same class this coming week. I’m going to suck on Jolly Ranchers to help my disposition even as my son-in-law dentist frowns at my sugar intake.

People who are momentarily crotchety I get! But people whose personality is defined by the term I have a hard time with. You know, people who can cause sunflowers to wilt by just walking by them. 

And they’re everywhere! In my 36 years of pastoring I could have filled a sanctuary with all the crotchety people I was the pastor for. Thankfully they were spread out over the span of the 36 years. Too many at one time in the church could make the pastor ponder new occupations. It always seemed like crotchety people were at the front of the church potluck line, laying their plate with excessive amounts of the offerings while those at the back of the line would be left with jello salad.

I knew a office receptionist many years ago who would have scowled at Jesus if he had come by. A friend of mine came by to see me one day and she looked at him like she was a TSA agent, all suspicious like. Like a San Quentin greeter she said to him, “What do you want?” In the time i knew her I can not remember her smiling. Her face was like a stone, hard and cold.

At the grocery store that my dad shopped at, right next door to his senior citizen living complex, the cashiers were about as agreeable as month-old cottage cheese. My dad, one of the most friendly people you could ever meet, would cringe every time he exited the check-out lane.

Some people don’t recognize their crotchetiness. They blame life circumstances…their hourly pay wage, lack of air conditioning, dry skin, noisy neighbors, bunions…there’s always something to blame their right to be grumpy. 

Each day of life is a gift that crotchety people seem to forget about.

Okay! I admit it! All this talk about people with a turned down smile is making me a bit crotchety. Unlike the man at Starbucks ordering iced tea this morning, I’m on my third cup of Pike Place. I should be close to ecstasy by now, not Mr. Grumpus! It’s not even decaf!

The Coach Makes Us Run 8 Miles

August 22, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      August 22, 2019

                              

We’re a week and a half into middle school cross country season. Eight days, so far, of practice and popsicles. 

Our athletic office secretary received an email from a parent after the first four days. 

“Is it true that the coach is having them run 8 miles a day?” 

No! To this particular mom I could have replied that we’re having a hard time getting her child to run an eighth of a mile! He’s comfortable walking…everywhere and at any time!

In fact, he was one of three who were walking downhill! And it was only a quarter mile into a 1.5 mile loop we were doing. 

The tragically humorous elements of middle school runners are contained on a long list that stretches the course.

One of our other downhill walkers was bemoaning the belief that he had pulled a muscle…during warm-up stretching! He walked most of the way downhill to a park where our workout would consist of a special Swedish type of running called “Fartlek.”

Fartlek means “speed play”, but to middle schoolers it means something that causes tittering through the ranks. “Pulled Muscle Boy” walked and limped his way through the workout. When we finished I told our 70 runners that we’d be running the half-mile back to the school and we’d have popsicles if everyone got there in time…no walking! “Pulled Muscle Boy” was one of the first 15 back, even though he had to run UPHILL! I’m trying to figure out if we can dangle a popsicle in front of him for each run, kind of like the rabbit for a greyhound race. 

And then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Yesterday I challenged the top group of runners to run a four miler with one of our coaches. I left the invitation open for any runner in our second group to try it also. (We have four groups, dependent upon experience and capability.) Other runners in the second and third groups did three miles. Group 4 did 2 miles.

I was delighted to see that about 40% of the kids did the four miler, another 40% did the three miler, and most of the remaining 20% did the two miles. 

It wasn’t 8 miles, but half of it, and considering we have an hour and twenty minutes to meet, talk, stretch, run, and warm down, it felt like an achievement.

There are those in our number who are wondering what their parents signed them up for! A few were maybe under the impression that cross-country was some kind of travel club that would take them to see some places they haven’t seen before. They were partially correct. There are a couple of places where we’ve been running that they probably had not set foot on before the last week and a half. However, none of our places are in any travel brochure!

A couple of our kids seem to have digestive issues at a certain time each day, right after we get stretched out and are about to begin our run. Funny how they have to “run” to the bathroom about that time. 

But then I have a few kids who yesterday ran the three miles and then asked permission to run another half mile. Absolutely, I said! 

I’m hoping for the same enthusiasm today when we go through an interval workout that will test their desire and require determination and perseverance when whining will be the normal middle school go to.

And the promise of popsicles will be dangled in front of them!

Signs of Age and Age Distractions

July 6, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          July 6, 2019

                            

Every day one of our local TV stations has a paid 30 minute program where an auditorium full of smiling women listen to a presentation about beauty products and wonder creams. One of the products miraculously makes wrinkles disappear. 

We love to stay looking young…even when we aren’t really even close to be young. There are, however, certain signs of a person’s advancing age that can not be solved with facial creams and hair pieces.

For me, I am horrified by the bushels of hair that grow like weeds out of my ears and nostrils. I trim them, but they’re like dandelions; pull one and two more sprout up!  I can’t hide it. My dad didn’t have that problem. Of course, he had several rounds of radiation for skin cancers on his ears, so he had about half of his ear lobes missing.

Another sign of advancing age that is my giveaway happens when I sit down or stand up. The “moan and groan” audible sounds occur without fail. I’ll be kneeling in front of my basketball team’s bench and an intense battle is happening on the court. I go to stand up to argue a call and the first sound out of my mouth is “Ohhhh” in a pained core of way! The official sympathizes with my plight.

I’ll go to sit down in my seat on the plane and the same sound accompanies my connection with the seat. I don’t remember making those sounds ten years ago.

I know what you’re thinking. Not remembering things is also a sign! I may not remember, but I’m perceptive enough to figure out where you were going with that thought. 

You may be right, however, in your connecting memory with age. A couple of days ago I was talking to someone about the Big Red Machine of the mid-70’s. I can remember the potent lineup of that baseball team…Bench, Perez, Morgan, Concepcion…but I couldn’t remember the new password I chose two days ago for a certain web site. What’s up with that?

This may be too much information, but my morning trips to the bathroom are also a sign of my times. In fact…I’ve got to pause for a moment right here and…

I’m back! Last week I was playing basketball with some thirty-somethings and I did a cross-over dribble with the intent of heading to the basket. The young man guarding me, who is not that quick, easily blocked my way and then when I did a step-back to shoot he swatted my shot away. He’s maybe 5’11”! It was a sign that any illusions I might have had about still being quick were squashed and stomped upon. (To my credit, I did score on him a minute later with a left-handed half-hook shot! Boom, Baby!)

On the other side of the age indicator fence, I’ve learned how to fake it to make people think I’m kinda’ cool and young. Mainly, if the subject being talked about is totally foreign to me I’ve learned how to nod and make other facial expressions that cause me to look knowledgeable. For instance, I am totally clueless about Fortnite. My four year old granddaughter knows more about it and she’s never played or seen it! But I can make people think I am a Fortnite pro without saying a word. I just need to make faces that give a glimmer of intelligence. It’s an age distraction!

I’d better close now because it’s getting close to the time for another of my age signs…my afternoon nap! It’s what I look forward to shortly after I arise in the morning!

Crazy Youth Sports Parents

June 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     June 20, 2019

                              

They just don’t get it!

Parents of kids and youth who are playing sports, they just don’t quite understand the purpose of and their role in it.

When I say “they”, it’s like saying that one bad apple destroys the barrel. Most parents sit in the bleachers and offer appropriate applaud and encouragement. Others focus on their cell phones as the games go on. 

But…there’s the few who are like a bad case of flatulence. They smell up the whole area.

A few days ago a fight broke out at a baseball game played by 7 year olds in Lakewood, Colorado. The fight was between the adults, not the kids. The fracas erupted when there was disagreement about a few of the umpire’s calls. The umpire happened to be 13! He was umpiring because no one else wanted to do it. Like a lamb foolishly wandering into a den of wolves, he did it! 

I have experience with out-of-control parents. I officiated basketball for 16 years. Most of my games were at the high school level. The last few years before I hung up the whistle I also did small college games. 

But I also did my share of youth games on Saturday and Sunday afternoons involving teams as young as 3rd grade. It’s part of the journey of an official, doing games at different levels to get more experience. 

I can tell you this! I despised doing youth games because…because of the parents…and a few coaches. Sometimes the coach happened to be a former belligerent parent who decided he could do better, and get more of a hearing, if he was on the bench. 

I remember a 6th grade boys game I was refereeing where a mom was shouting to her son, “Kill him! Kill him!” She sat underneath one of the baskets within a couple of feet of where her son was doing battle on the low post. I stopped the game and told her that she would need to move to the side of the court where chairs were situated. She was adamant that she had paid her admission fee and that she could sit there. I let her know that the game would not resume until she moved, and we waited. After a couple of minutes she huffed and puffed her way to the side. 

And I swore I would never officiate another youth basketball game for the organization that ran that tournament! They were negligent in making sure there was adequate site management people that could be called upon to handle situations such as that one. My pay for doing that game? $18! Most high school officials don’t do youth games for the compensation. They do it for the game experience and to practice the mechanics of officiating. 

They also do it because there’s a shortage of officials and they want to help out. And guess why there’s a shortage of officials? Because of crazy out-of-control parents who think a baseball game between 7 year old boys is a life and death situation. 

I don’t remember it being that way when I was growing up. I don’t even remember parents being there. What I remember is running for a 60 yard touchdown for the Williamstown, West Virginia Little Travelers “B” football team when I was 12 against Vienna, West Virginia. I can remember when I was 11 lacing a pitch for a line drive headed for the third baseline, seeing Mick Mullinix leap, and snatch it out of the air. I remember winning the Wood County 50 yard dash for 8 year olds. I remember, as a ten year old, stealing the basketball from Mike Flowers, who was about two feet taller than me, and making a layup…my only basket the whole season in the Williamstown Saturday morning league at the high school. 

Funny, how I can remember the details of each of those happenings, but I can’t remember any of those memories involving yelling parents who were still trying to relive their childhoods!

I wonder what some 7 year olds in Lakewood will remember about their growing up days in a few years?