Posted tagged ‘coaching middle school’

First Day of Cross-Country Practice

August 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     August 14, 2018

                            

It was an optional practice day so the other coaches and I were a bit surprised that about 25 middle school students showed up for it. “I thought there would be four or five!” exclaimed Coach Barry.

But here they were! About 25 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders wondering what the next hour and a half would hold for them, their lungs, and their legs!

“I’m Coach Wolfe, and it’s great to see all of you here this afternoon!” 

Some smiled back at me.  Others looked down at the ground like they feared a sudden sinkhole would open up and swallow them down into the depths. One girl with shaking knees was hoping for a sinkhole!

A hand shot up. 

“Coach Wolfe, what will we be doing in our cross-country practices?”

“Well, let’s see! We’ll watch some Justin Bieber Youtube videos, have Fudgesicle eating contests, and finish each day with some tug-of-war competitions.”

He looked at me in disbelief.

“No, that’s a different sport I’m thinking of! In cross-country we’ll…RUN! We’ll run long, we’ll run fast, we’ll run easy and hard, up hills and down hills, on paths through the woods and sidewalks around the neighborhoods. We’ll run down to 7-11 and get Slurpies and to Boriello Brothers and get pizza…okay, strike the pizza idea! Basically, we’ll run in a variety of ways!

“Coach Wolfe!” This time the girl hoping for a sinkhole had her hand up.

“Yes.”

“How far will we run?”

“Some days further than others. Roughly three miles a day.” Her eyes opened as wide as the sinkholes she hoped for.

“Just three miles?” asked a new sixth grader. “I’ve been on a running team that competes in the nationals each year and we usually do six to seven miles a day.”

“Go for it! When we get done with our practice you can do a Forrest Gump and just keep running!”

A young man with blonde hair and a heavy dose of anxiety raised his hand halfway and looked at me.

“Yes, sir!”

“I just moved here from Texas. Do you think I’ll have a hard time with the altitude change?”

“Yes.”

“Oh!” he replied with a facial expression that resembled when the time his mom told him Santa Claus doesn’t ride in a sleigh.

“It will take you a while, but you’ll get used to it.”

“Thank you,” he said as he bit his lower lip.

“Each of you is at a different point than everybody else. Some of you have been running since you were about the size of a ladybug and others are brand new. Your coaches will seek to help each of you get better as a runner and also understand how to run. We’ll expect you to work hard, but we also want you to have fun!”

At the mention of having fun a few eyebrows went up, like I was saying that it was fun to go to the doctor and get a flu shot, or it was fun to wear underwear inside-out and backwards! 

But it will be fun! In fact, today…Day 2 and another optional practice before the first official practice on Wednesday…I’m getting popsicles for the end of practice. For a popsicle I bet the one young lady would even jump over a sinkhole! 

And I’ll high five each of them and joke with them and then send them all home thinking, “This is going to be awesome!”

Coaching Middle School Football

August 18, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 August 18, 2016

                                  

It happened about twelve years ago in the midst of a Pike’s Perk coffee shop. I was drinking my first cup of the day when Russ Peters, the middle school assistant principal in charge of athletics, entered. I greeted him from my table with a “Good morning, Russ!” He looked at me and said, “Hey Coach! Do you coach football?”

I didn’t! I had coached basketball at the school for a couple of years, worked well with the players, and so the administration kept asking me to return. But football…no!

The school had encountered the problem of hiring football coaches each year for the past several. “Russ, didn’t you have this problem last year?” He hung his head and nodded.

And that was my interview for the position. I agreed to coach football for the middle school, but I told him, “You just need to understand that I’m a basketball coach who just happens to be standing on a football field!”

Now twelve years later I’m still coaching football at the same school. Another season has started just like the others before it- players of all sizes…players who aren’t sure which is the front of their practice pants and which is the back…players who think their helmet is too tight…players who have played for several years…players who have never played a lick…players who have played Madden on their game system at home, and think that tackling a steamrolling running back will be just like that…players who have never worn a jock strap…and players who leave parts of their equipment as a trail behind them like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs.

And in the midst of these seventh grade boys who are still more clueless than clued in we have to teach them football terminology, a play calling system, passing routes, defensive formations, figure out who can catch versus who can’t catch a cold, assemble special teams, teach them how to tackle, try to keep a new kid the size of Tiny Tim how to not get killed or maimed, and equip each of them in a way that makes them look like a football player, not someone who has arranged his football wardrobe off leftover garage sale clothing.

My fellow coach, Coach Achor, and I see ourselves as teachers, encouragers, discipline instructors, role models, protectors, counselors, and coaches. Part of middle school football coaching is about the game, and the rest is about being like a shepherd who the sheep follow and trust.

Yesterday we taught them a couple of offensive plays out of a basic formation. “Spread Right Rocket 28”, and “Spread Left Laser 49”. Two basic plays! It took fifteen minutes to get all of them…okay, most of them…to understand. The quarterback would hand off to the wrong running back, the running back would fail to go in motion, the wrong running back would go in motion, the running back would run the wrong way, the quarterback wouldn’t hand the ball off to anybody…fifteen minutes to get two plays right!

I have to remind myself that students learning how to read didn’t start off reading The Iliad. There had to be a lot of “Dick, Jane, and Sally” reading times before beginners could go on.

Today will be the first day in full pads for most of them. Some will look impressive, and others will cause us to chuckle.

We will seek to have them take a few more steps up the “understanding ladder” today, and as coaches we will seek to learn more of their names. Right now I’ve got a Number 76 who is 4’6” and weighs sixty-five pounds. Learning his name won’t make him any bigger, but it will let him know that i know who he is.

And the ultimate privilege for Coach Achor and myself is that the players know who we are and they call us that name that we are privileged to have: Coach!