Posted tagged ‘coaching’

Cutting Kids

February 11, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       February 9, 2018

                                            

Yesterday I posted “the list”! The list is the 13 seventh grade boys who have been invited to be a part of the Timberview Middle School interscholastic basketball team. It’s a list of celebration that had 13 signs of relief breathed upon it.

Not on the list are the 28 others who I had to say “Sorry!” to. Telling seventy percent of the boys that they were cut is worse than a couple of hemorrhoids living side by side…okay, maybe not that bad!

“Cutting kids” is also a life lesson. In every aspect of life there are those who are left off the list. Last spring I applied for a head coaching position for basketball at a local high school. About a week later I received an email informing me that I was not one of the finalists. There was a moment of indignation, but I got over it. Two weeks later I interviewed for another position and was a finalist, but was still not the final pick. In both cases I was not the one. It’s how life works.

For each of the students who tried out for the seventh grade team I did an evaluation that I will willingly share with any of them who ask me. I made the point to those who were not chosen that if they work on specific skills their chances of making next year’s team will improve. Some will make attempts, and others will find other things that may be more of a passion than basketball.

Parents don’t like kids to be cut. In fact, we use softer language as I did in the first paragraph. We “invite” a few students to be on the interscholastic team. If you hear the students talk, however, they will usually use one of two terms. They “made the team”, or they “got cut.”

Some day these same kids will apply for college or submit a resume for a job. When they are rejected I wonder if their parents will correct them and say, “No, honey! You just weren’t invited to take the position!”

Pain and disappointment lead to self-discovery. “I’m sorry to inform you” letters cause adolescents to realize that the world does not spin on their personal axis. If someone is never disappointed he/she will seldom reach for something that is still beyond their reach.

One boy came to me Friday afternoon. He’s a good-sized kid, who I thought would be one of the 13, but his skill deficiencies rose to the surface in the four days of tryouts. “Coach, I was really disappointed when I saw that I didn’t make the team, but I’m okay with it now.” He’s a good kid who I will have in class Monday and Tuesday for the teacher I’ll be subbing for. I told him I’d share my evaluation with him so he can work on a few things. He appreciated that. In the course of a few hours he went from taking it personally to knowing that I care about him. In regards to him, disappointment will make him stronger and cause him to work even harder.

Cutting kids is the hardest thing I do as a coach, and yet one of the most important things I do.

On Monday morning I’ll convince 13 other seventh grade boys that the world does not revolve around them either!

Grace-Filled Winning

January 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        January 15, 2018

                                        

Recently a high school women’s basketball team in our area was beaten by 94 points. They were missing a couple of their players that day, but other defeats this season have been lop-sided as well, just not in the same zip code as 94.

In my years as a coach I’ve been on both sides of the final score…on the left side of the  hyphen with a way larger number than my waist size…and on the right side of the hyphen with a digit that looks as embarrassed as a naked child in a grocery store.

One of the first games I coached was a YMCA Church League game for middle school boys. We lost 75-5 and my only player who could dribble and chew gum at the same time broke his wrist. That team struggled to score more than six points in any game for the rest of the season. One of our last games was against Bethlehem Lutheran, and their associate pastor, Noel Niemann, was also their coach. Noel knew what our team’s skill level was and he purposely had his players play a packed in 2-3 zone defense and allowed our players to shoot from the outside. They beat us 36-12, but my team was elated that the scoreboard had to use two digits to display our team’s score. That was in 1982 and I still remember Noel’s name, the score, and the sportsmanship.

I seldom see grace filter into sports these days. It’s seen as a sign of weakness. “After all,” say too many coaches, “we’ve practiced hard. Winning in a blowout is our just rewards for practicing hard!”

That argument carries only so far! Winning by a ton of points is usually fueled by a coach’s arrogance, blood-thirsty parents in the bleachers, or players who think it says something about how impressive their skill level is.

In most states high school athletes can choice into schools that ordinarily they would not be going to. Certain high schools are accumulating more than their fair share of the better players, while other schools are encountering cupboards that are bare. Mismatches are evident before the season even begins. And it will continue to be!

So whose responsibility is to be win with grace?

The opportunity to show grace begins with the coach. I use the word “opportunity” because it should be seen as such. Not a requirement, but rather a gift wrapped in the lesson of sportsmanship. Any sporting event is a venue for how we wish people would treat each other. Too often it is a place where the participants strut like peacocks and the observers say things they would not want their mothers, some already in the grave, to hear.

Grace in winning is an opportunity for a coach to teach his/her players a different lesson that is unrelated to the score. Not enough coaches seem to understand that so now there is this thing called “The Mercy Rule.” The name should be a stop sign, but, instead, it has just become a point in the game where one team is a certain number of points ahead of the other team…and mercy has gone out for coffee!

High school sports, and maybe even more than that, middle school sports, need more coaches who teach the skills of the game, but also the character that a person can have. It needs more coaches that can model for their players that winning is more than a good-looking number figure on the left side of the hyphen.

It needs more “Noel Niemann’s”!

Getting Scorched!

March 11, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       March 11, 2017

                                     

I’ve coached basketball at Timberview Middle School In Colorado Springs for sixteen years. I feel very blessed to be able to do it. Once in a while my team has gotten scorched! This past Thursday we forgot to put our “hoops sun block” on. The result was a severe ego burn! Thanks to a three point shot at the buzzer we only lost by 29!

It was the third time this season my boys had played Mountain Ridge Middle School. The first time we were blitzed on their court by 30! The second time was in the championship game of our local tournament, and we closed the gap to 12! The third time was probably the worst because we are playing in our gym.

To their credit, this group of Mountain Ridge players has not lost a game in two years. To our credit four of the five games we’ve lost these past two years have been to Mountain Ridge.

What do you say to boys who are accustomed to strutting down the hallway on the next school day after a victory with a hint of cockiness in their steps?

Welcome to reality! As someone used to say “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug, and sometimes you’re the bug smashed on the windshield!” Life is filled with conquering moments and crushing defeats!

BUT…but we live in a culture that thinks their is always a villain in a defeat! People look for scapegoats in losses. This past week the same Mountain Ridge team had played a different school that they also defeated. The next day the person who assigns officials to middle school games got a call from the school’s athletic director complaining about the officials. They had called four fouls on the school’s best player in the first quarter! It was unfair! They were obviously biased! There was no recognition of the coach’s or player’s responsibilities in the situation. Why did the coach leave him in, not only after his third foul, but after his second foul in the first quarter? What about the player’s responsibility to NOT FOUL?

As a coach I’ve been exalted and also vilified! Some have seen me as the best thing since sliced bread and others have wanted to slice me up like bread!

A different team I coached recently got off to a really bad start against a team that ended up winning our league that season. I called time out three times in the first quarter trying to escape the tsunami! Why hold on to them? If you are getting beat by twenty in the first quarter those timeouts aren’t going to do you a bit of good at the end of the game!

Sometimes we’re just the smashed bug on the windshield! My players probably get tired of me saying it, but after a loss I talk about what we can learn from the experience. When you get scorched there are plenty of teachable moments to refer back to.

The team I coach this season has a number of very talented players who haven’t learned how to play well with each other. That’s been my challenge. They hear me harping on them about offensive possessions where there has been just one pass and then someone launches a three point attempt. They hear me spout off “the lesson of the moment” about “If you can get that shot after one pass you can probably get the same shot after five passes.” They are a good team that makes one great play, but then forgets what they’re suppose to do on the next in-bounds play.

They make me look at what I need to do to be a better coach! They are a team that isn’t used to losing, but taking a loss is sometimes the best thing that can happen to you for the long journey!

Redefining My Retirement Focus

March 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 4, 2017

                            

    Every May I travel down the street to see my optometrist, Dr. Bettner. We chit-chat for a few moments and then he checks my eyes. I’ve worn eyeglasses since I was in fourth grade. My teacher, Mrs. Riley, had noticed my squinting in the classroom trying to figure out what was written on the chalkboard. She passed along the info to my parents who made an appointment with an optometrist in Marietta, Ohio. They discovered I was as blind as a bat, and have been ever since!

Dr. Bettner checks out my vision each year to see if it has changed at all. A few years ago I went to progressive trifocals. Now he looks for things like cataracts and other unwanted situations. Mainly he looks to see if I need a lens adjustment to sharpen my focus.

Fourteen months ago I retired from full-time ministry after almost 37 years.  A number of people thought I’d sit in my recliner watching curling competitions on ESPN all day with a bowl of potato chips and a Pepsi in front of me. Although I like chips and a cold Pepsi from time to time I seldom sit in front of the TV with them. No…retirement has been similar to a Dr. Bettner eye exam. As I’ve entered into it my focus has gradually been fine-tuned to where my time is most productive and meaningful.

Last week I took officiating high school basketball games off the table after sixteen years. Substitute teaching has been put on the table, especially middle school substitute teaching. I’ve discovered the riches of the public library. It has become my second writing spot, next to my Starbucks stool! I enjoy coaching and influencing young people, and now coach three middle school teams while volunteering as an assistant coach with two other teams.

Carol and I are more available for our kids and grandkids. Granddad doesn’t have a church meeting to rush off to, and, beginning next basketball season, will not have a game to take him away for the evening.

My focus has become sharper even though a typical week is not nearly as structured and planned. What I’ve found, for me at least, is that retirement has been a time of defining who I am. For 37 years most of the people I associated with defined me as a pastor, which I was, but the other ingredients in my personal recipe were undiscovered. That hint of creativity went undetected. The pinch of humor was unknown. Like my fourth grade squinting, my focus was fuzzy. The lens of retirement has been a time of clarity.

Some people ask me, somewhat accusatory, “So you aren’t a pastor anymore?” And I respond, “Oh, yes! I’m still a pastor! I just don’t get paid for being one anymore!” People still seek me out for advice, counseling with problems, and prayer.

If God desires I have thirty percent of my life still ahead of me. My challenge and opportunity is to finish the journey with a clear focus instead of a foggy idea!

Seventh Grade Cynicism

February 12, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      February 1, 2017

                                 

I’m becoming a seventh grade substitute teaching fixture. Two more days this past week to follow closely on the heels of the three weeks of seventh social studies. I’m starting to begin sentences with “Dude!”, and trash-talk with seventh grade athletes about sports teams.

Dude! It is making me see things in new ways!

One of those “new views” is the unmistakable seasoning of cynicism amongst the young audience. Although they are not proficient in understanding politics they are cynical about politics. They’ve picked up on the unrest of the nation from the recent political campaign, and wrestle with the confusion of the allegations hurled from each side of the arena. Perhaps part of their misgivings grow out of a statement that they’ve been hearing for a long time; that we live in the best country in the entire world, and have the best governmental structure. They’ve been hearing that, but are wondering why the citizens of this best country spout so much venom at one another over politics?

In fact, much of seventh grade cynicism emerges in questions that begin with the word “Why?” They don’t quite get it! Of course, neither do I! I just try to look like I understand!

Their cynicism is a foggy picture that reflects their parents beliefs and unbeliefs. They’ve heard the resistance towards immigrants, the absurdness of building walls, the plight of the poor, the dangers of terrorism, and the 4,000 piece puzzle that’s a picture of health care and insurance.

Seventh graders have become cynical about the world so they turn their attention to their immediate situation and environment. Yes, they heard that the unemployment rate went up, but there’s a school sock hop this Friday night that needs their attention. They heard about a school shooting in Oklahoma, but the new Chick-Fil-A opened up down the street. The President is coming through town for a speaking engagement, but the seventh grader just realized that he forgot to put a pudding cup in his lunch bag!

Schools stress an understanding of what is going on in the world…and rightfully so…but thirteen year olds yield to what their friends think. Their cynicism makes them skeptical of pure motives. They live in a world of hidden agendas. If I cut my neighbor’s lawn because he’s out of town these newly-arrived teens are wondering why I did it? What am I getting out of it?

In essence, we have made them who they are. They are the “Mini-Me’s” of our lives!

Sounds hopeless. And yet, there are certain people that have the distinct privilege and opportunity to ground our young people in social responsibility, compassion, and lives rooted in principles and purpose. For example, as a middle school coach for close to twenty years I understand that my players look to me for guidance, but also what my life conveys is truly important. Last week I told my 8th Grade basketball team that any detentions or behavior problems that require school administration involvement will automatically carry at least a one game suspension for the player. I told them that character is more important than athletic ability. I expect them to act responsibly and make wise decisions. I realize, on the other hand, that they are looking at me to make sure I’m acting responsibly and making wise decisions.

A few years ago I was camp pastor for a middle school church camp. One night we washed each other’s feet. It was a silent act. No words were said and it was strictly voluntary. For about thirty minutes, after I and another leader began the humble act, students would invite one another to the front and serve one another in a way that humbled the washer and honored the one whose feet were being washed.

In some ways that’s where we need to take seventh graders more often…to a place of service and humility. Dude! Wouldn’t that be awesome?

One Year Retired!!!

January 22, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           January 22, 2017

                                       

On January 17, 2016 I spoke for the last time at Highland Park Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, the church I pastored for sixteen and a half years. I went from a long-time pastor to a has-been pastor.

A week after I graduated from Northern Baptist Seminary in June of 1979 I began a position as Minister of Christian Education and Youth at First Baptist Church in Davison, Michigan. For the next thirty-six and a half years I ministered and pastored in churches of Michigan and Colorado.

And then it was time!

This last year has been awesome, not because I’m just sitting around each day watching my toe nails grow! My passions have always been “coaching” and “creating.” Pastoring and coaching have a number of elements that are similar. Creating and sermon-writing are like twin sisters. This past year has enabled me to do a lot more creating, blog-writing…working on a novel…thinking…pondering…conversing. And I’ve also been able to coach middle school football and basketball, coach a struggling small-town church as it navigates the future, and, most recently, coach roomfuls of 7th Graders in the discovery of Social Studies.

I headed into retirement thinking that I would golf more, work on my slice, hone my putting game. Instead, I actually golfed 7 holes all last summer. Yes, 7! A fog bank rolled in on us as we were getting to the 7th green, and then we couldn’t even see the 8th hole!

I headed into retirement thinking that I would read a lot of those theological books that look impressive on my book shelves but have been harvesting dust. (Pause) They are still harvesting dust. I’ve read a lot this past year, but not very much theology. I discovered a new treasure- the public library! Not a week goes by that I don’t go there at least a couple of times. I’m reading history and mystery! Carol has been pleased by the decreasing number of Amazon packages delivered to our front door. I’m currently reading Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, about the outbreak of World War 1, Ken Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, and John Sandford’s Escape Clause. I just finished J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, that resonated a lot with my family’s Eastern Kentucky roots.

We headed into retirement thinking that we would travel more, and we have: road trips to Phoenix and Ohio, and a week in Hawaii; an upcoming family trip to San Diego and heading up a mission work team to British Columbia this summer.

Retirement has really been more a refocus. Carol tells people that I am now much more relaxed and less stressed. I enjoy traveling out to Simla and worshiping with the 20 folk at First Baptist Church. They have helped me fall in love with the church again.

Carol and I get to watch and be with the grandkids more. On Saturday nights I’m not worried about the Sunday sermon. This past week I sat on the couch with the two oldest “GK’s” and watched “The Secret Life of Pets” together. It was awesome to laugh with them about different parts of the film. They are a delightful trio…with their two-year old sister.

The hardest part of this past year has been the separation from many of the dear relationships I had with people of my former congregation. As a long-term pastor I’ve tried to keep my distance as the church navigated the journey ahead of them. There is a journey of loss for everyone involved, the congregation and the former pastor and pastor’s wife. I miss the Saturday morning men’s bible study group and the Thursday morning Ageless Wonders bible study. I’ve kept my distance from the Buddy Basketball program I started 14 years ago. Others have picked it up and continued it. I miss the conversation amongst the older saints, and I miss the group of young guys that I “coached” for several years in dialogue about their families and faith.

Retirement is about missing some things and moving on to others. I think the first year of ours have been done well. Thankfully we still have our health. Thankfully I can still talk to my dad every Sunday night on the phone. Thankfully I still have a couple of support groups that help keep me grounded and healthy. Thankfully Carol and I don’t get on each other’s nerves very often. (If Sister Wives is on TV I just leave the room! She did tape my snoring one night on her iPhone and sent the scene to me the next morning while I was substitute teaching. I just want to say, however,  that the film footage was very grainy, so it probably would not hold up in court as evidence!)

Year two of retirement began with a long-term substitute teaching position. What a hoot! Getting to spend most of each day with 120 7th Graders in a portable classroom! I could write a book!

Oh…I’m already writing a book!

I could write another book! Perhaps that will come in Retirement Year Three!

Memo to Coaches…Especially Coaches of Young People

November 6, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             November 6, 2016

               

Dear Coaches,

Thank you for giving of your time, energies, and experience in the coaching of young athletes. I appreciate that! You are an invaluable resource for the teaching of the skills of each sport, the fundamentals, and the understanding of how a team functions.

Now I’ve got to say something on the other side of matters.

Quit it! Stop being jerks on the sidelines! Stop blaming the officials for the fact that some of your players can’t properly execute a pivot yet! Quit it! Knock it off!

As a basketball official for fifteen years now, blowing the whistle for everything from clueless kindergarteners all the way up to college basketball, I’ve seen my share of great coaches and coaches that take on other personalities when the game starts. It’s taught me a few things that I’d like to pass on to you.

Players follow the lead of their coach! If the coach questions every referee decision that goes against him his players follow suit. I recently had a middle school game where one coach was calm and controlled. His players, although not very skilled, were just as controlled as their coach. On the other bench was a man who was combative, yelled constantly, and demeaning. Some of his players followed the lead of their coach. They were out of control, overly aggressive, debated each call against them, and even less skilled than their opponents. The example of the coach got channeled through his players and through some of his parents. Two of his players fouled out, and I think a third player had four fouls. Meanwhile, the calmness of the first coach got transmitted through everyone connected to his team. The first coach questioned one of my whistles late in the game. He was calm and I walked over to him. “I thought he traveled before he got fouled.” I responded with a smile on my face. “Coach, you’re probably right.” He smiled at me. Meanwhile the other coach…”the boy who cried “Wolf!”…used up all of our hearing and we became deaf to his constant complaints.

Coaches, think about how you are acting!

Coaches, who have the opportunity to teach your players about more than a game. You have the incredible privilege of being able to teach them about life! If your view of life gets communicated through a sour disposition, your players, who look up to you, will begin to look at life through that kind of lens. Some of the best coaches are tough on players in preparing them for games, and also educators of the important lessons of life. The greatest coaches understand that the game revolves around life, not life around the game. Some of the worst coaches- that is, coaches who have screwed up priorities- think the game is everything!

As an official, who has also coached basketball for over twenty years, I see this “win at all costs mindset” being displayed in players to the point that they are not above injuring a player on the other team if it improves their chances of winning. The question is where did they learn that from? Who has the responsibility, and opportunity, to teach them sportsmanship and fair play? Who has the privilege of shaping their understanding of how the game is played?

The coach!

So, coaches, ask yourself a few questions. What are you going to teach your players about the game? What fundamental skills are you going to emphasize to them over and over again through different drills? What are you going to teach them about teamwork and team roles? What are you going to teach them about sportsmanship and having a good attitude? And, most importantly, what are you going to teach them about life?