Posted tagged ‘middle school sports’

Middle School Track Practice

April 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               April 7, 2018

                               

Track practice started this past Monday…middle school track practice. An assortment of short and tall adolescents gathered for the uncertainty of what would happen on the outside oval.

Questions abounded…would the coaches run them so much they would fall down and throw up? Would they astound the world with their performance? Would people be looking at them as they trudged around the track? Would the one of the opposite sex, whose attention they desire, notice them? Would their uniform fit? Did they have the moxy to stay with it?

One hundred and twenty seventh and eighth grade students…wondering about what was ahead!

Coach McKinney gathered them together and shared his excitement about having all of them there. Some of them were grizzled one year veterans, having run as seventh graders. Others had the “deer in headlights” look about them.

“Coach Wolfe, what are we going to do today?” asked a paranoid seventh grade girl who I know.

“I think we’re going to warm up with a five mile run around the neighborhood and then do an interval ladder series, and then probably cool down with a two mile jog.”

Eyes as wide as the Grand Canyon, as she reconsiders whether she can switch from track to intramural golf.

“Just kidding! Actually, I’m not sure, so we’ll find out together!”

Exhale of relief!

Coach McKinney forewarns them that Colorado weather is unpredictable and emphasizes the importance of making sure they have the needed clothing. He makes the point that some days they may need to have layers of clothing. On Friday the temperature drops to 25 degrees with a few snow flurries. The seventh grade girls, who I am the coach for, run to me as soon as I enter the gym.

“Coach Wolfe, we aren’t going outside today, are we?”

“Yes!”

“But it’s cold!” whines the young lady wearing athletic shorts and a tee shirt.

“Yes…yes, it is! So, make sure you put your hoodie on and sweat pants also!”

“But I didn’t bring anything! I didn’t think we’d be going OUTSIDE!” (Emphasize whiny voice!)

“We will ALWAYS go outside unless the school administration says we can’t.”

WHINE: “Coach Wolfe!”

I smile at her and she gets the hint that whining will not change the location of our practice. At the end of practice we pass out team uniforms and sweats. The students welcome the sweats like they are Christmas presents!

As the week has gone on certain runners have impressed. Others have needed encouragement and words that instill confidence in them. Two new students- one from California and one from Florida- have used the week to get used to the 6,000 feet altitude, after coming from sea level. Pained facial expressions bring words of empathy from the coaches.

The coaches time everyone on different days during the week on the 100, 200, 400, 800, and a run around the high school and middle school campus that is close to a mile. Everyone finishes every race!

At the end of Friday’s practice a hundred and twenty students are still smiling. No one has asked for a transfer to golf, but everyone is praying for a warm Monday afternoon!

6:30 A.M. 7th Grade Basketball Practice

February 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 28, 2018

                                     

There usually are loud moans and groans when I make the announcement, but I expect it. The pained expressions on the faces of my 7th Grade basketball team are the result of finding out that most of our practices will be held before school at 6:30 in the morning.

The eyes get big and the mouths drop open. There is a momentary weeping and gnashing of teeth…and then they accept it for what it is.

For the past several years I’ve made that unpopular decision for a few reasons, which none of the players think are good are to begin with. When we practice after school we have to share the gym with the 8th Grade team. Our middle school has two gyms, one a full-size court and the other a small gym that resembles an elementary school facility. When both teams practice at the same time we get 30-45 minutes in the larger gym and 30-45 minutes in the small gym.

6:30 A.M. practice…problem solved! And it helps the 8th Grade team, also!

Some of them come dragging to the front doors of the school looking a bit disheveled. I greet each one of them with words like “Good morning, handsome!” and “Looking good this morning!” Some snap out of their weariness and smile. Others are not yet to the conversational level of their day.

As they’ve gotten used to the the fact that practice is that early most of them have adjusted. There’s more spring in their step and a few more smiles as they head to school long before anyone else does.

The blood gets flowing and by 6:40 they are at full speed and wide awake. Last week I asked them if they would rather practice before school or after school. All but one said before!

Amazing! Thirteen players and five others who are designated the practice squad, and seventeen of the eighteen said 6:30 rules!

A couple of teachers have commented to me that they’ve noticed how my players are wide awake and ready for class on days we practice early. I’m sure that when the season ends in a couple of weeks that they’ll revert back to their usual school wake-up schedule, but for a few weeks they are learning what it means to be early risers.

It’s one way that I make sure they are committed to what we’re about. It’s one way to make sure they know I have higher expectations for them, and it’s one way I emphasize discipline. I wait at the front doors for each of the boys to arrive, but at 6:30 I head to the gym. You arrive late…too bad!

Tomorrow we have a game. It’s tie day. I’ve told each one of them to dress up for school tomorrow…shirt and tie. I’ll wear one for the game, also! When I told them that the teachers would be impressed they just stared at me, but when I said the young ladies would suddenly see how handsome they were…they grinned!

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!

Temporary Disfigurement

February 5, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 February 5, 2018

                              

My wife and I went to see the movie Wonder a few weeks ago. We found ourselves shedding a few tears during the film, which followed the story of a fifth grade boy named “Auggie” who had Treacher Collins syndrome. Because of his condition Auggie would wear an astronaut’s helmet around whenever he was in public. He dreamed of being an astronaut because in space no one sees the faces of others.

Ten and eleven year old kids can be cruel, but they can also be compassionate. Auggie experiences both ends of the pendulum as it swung from classmate to classmate.

I was deeply moved by watching the film and pondering its messages. Weeks later I’m still thinking about it!

And then Saturday morning I woke up with a rash on the side of my face that made me want to put on an astronaut’s helmet…or paper bag. By Saturday afternoon I looked like I had a huge chaw of chewing tobacco between my left cheek and gum (Not that I’ve ever done that, but I was born in Kentucky! Half the barns in the state used to have “Chew Mail Pouch” painted on one side!).

The past two days I’ve had a few “Auggie moments”. That is, I’m very self-conscious of my face and I assume that everyone I see is looking at me. There’s a sense of embarrassment tied into it. I don’t feel normal, and normal is what all of us want to be unless we’re doing something that our culture thinks is extraordinary.

Lessons are learned in the abnormal moments of life.

This afternoon middle school boy’s basketball tryouts begin. It’s my seventeenth season coaching at Timberview Middle School, and it’s the seventeenth time I will see the uncertainty of seventh and eighth grade boys as they deal with the uncomfortableness of being watched by coaches and other boys who they feel inferior to. Perhaps God gave me this rash to help me empathize with the pressures of being a twelve year old.

Actually, there’s that hint of uncertainty and inadequacy in any middle school child. With some it just might be a little deeper below the surface, but it’s there. Much of the time he or she simply stays out of situations where it has the potential to rise to the surface.

I can relate. In my few trips out in public the last three days I’ve tried to stay to the left so the left side of my face is away from people. Three months from today I’ll turn 64 and I’m still sensitive to my insufficiencies!

I’m simply a self-conscious adolescent in an elderly shell!

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!

Riding A Bus With 7th Grade Boys

November 1, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         October 31, 2016

                            

During the course of this school year I will have coached three middle school athletic teams- a 7th Grade football team and two 8th Grade basketball teams. Some who may be reading this might be thinking I’m crazy, but my response is…what a hoot! I receive so much writing material from coaching middle school kids. They never cease to amaze me…and, ironic as it may sound, teach me!

Last week our 7th and 8th Grade basketball teams had about a 30 minute bus ride to an away game. The 8th Grade boys take control over the back few rows of the bus. It is their domain, their clubhouse! There is an invisible “Do Not Enter!” sign at about Row 10. The 7th Grade boys therefore take up residence in the front and middle sections, a safe two seats back from the coach, but close enough for me to hear their conversation.

I learned things!

First of all, 7th Grade boys jump from topic to topic like a game piece in a checker’s match. Here’s a snippet (Names have been changed):

“I hate math!

“Mr. _________ is mean!”

“He sends people to the office for just breathing!”

“Dude, I got a whiff of Emily Johnson breath after lunch. I got ill!”

“What did she have for lunch?”

“I think those garlic bread sticks and crap!”

“Dude, she said hi to me in the cafeteria and it was like her butt was saying hello!” (Chuckling and laughter. Butt and farting language is considered cool and 7th Grade boys feel obligated to laugh even if they don’t think it is that funny!)

“Dude, I can not eat the food they serve in the cafeteria!”

“I can’t wait for the new Chick-fil-a to open.”

“It won’t make any difference to us! We can’t leave school for lunch until we’re like 18!”

“I can’t wait until I’m 18 to have different food for lunch!”

“Dude, suck it up!”

“I’m getting a new puupy!”

“Sweet!”

“Dude, you’ll have to pick up all the poop!”

Laughter and chuckling!

With that conversation in mind, the second thing I learned is that 7th graders begin sentences with “Dude!” if they are about to make a statement that requires a hearing. “Dude” is the emphasizer! It signals to the gathered cluster that what the boy is about to say is important to listen to…even if it isn’t!

“Dude, did you hear about Amy doing a face plant coming down the stairs today?”

“Dude, that was awesome!”

“Dude!”

“Dude!”

Sentiment is not a big thing with 7th Grade boys, especially if it is related to klutziness or the unexpected.

The third thing I learned is that 7th Grade boys have lost all understanding of “inside voice, outside voice.” You know what I’m talking about? Volume control! The conversation will be going along in a normal way and someone will erupt like a Hawaiian volcano in jet engine level volume. They have no concept of how their voices can enter the radar screen of annoying.

And yet their youthfulness is their gift, their stress reliever. I’m sitting in row two thinking about the game that is looming on the horizon, getting my mind right, thinking about player rotations and offensive principles…and they are thinking about how does the chocolate chewy part get  inside a grape-flavored Tootsie Roll Pop?

There’s something…pure and simple about that, something that I probably need to lean towards.

Dude!

Making Grown-Ups Too Quickly

July 31, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                       July 31, 2015

                                         

As a high school basketball coach and a middle school football coach I am around adolescent athletes a good bit each week. I love relating to them, seeing them create life-long friendships with teammates, and improving on their skills and understanding of the sport they are competing in.

There is growing concern about a multitude of things related to middle school and high school sports. “Helicopter parents” is a new term that is used to describe parents who are always hovering over their children to make sure that the coaches are seeing that the next Peyton Manning is right there on their football field in a twelve year old body.

We also have the “transfer craze”, where athletes are changing schools because School A has a better team than School B, plus the attached thought process that says, “I’ll have a better chance of getting a college scholarship if I play for School A!”

      Helicopter parents spend unbelievable amounts of money to have Johnny play for a club basketball team, go to several basketball camps, and outfit him with gear that an NBA player would wear…because if Johnny is going to play for Kansas, or UConn, or UCLA someday he’d better get started now.

And so grade-school boys are treated like celebrities and middle school girls start walking with swaggers because their lives are consumed with playing a sport…one sport…year-round…too excess, but nothing is too excess in the eyes of their parents.

We cut out the years of their lives where they can just be kids, playing whiffle ball in the backyard with the neighbor kids, catching fireflies at night, and having a sleep-over in the home-made tent in the basement made out of bed sheets and blankets and propped up by chairs. We eliminate the need for kids to just be kids, like it’s a wasted period to be avoided like acne, and we rush them into being grown-ups who haven’t reached puberty yet.

But the tragedy in addition to that is that when you don’t let kids grow into their lives it’s like cutting off a body part that will hinder them in some way at some time. Johnny gets to his junior year in high school and is sick of his sport, and he’s angry with his parents for making him play it excessively. Brenda’s knees ache all the time to the point that Motrin is her best friend. Tim thinks he’s a loser simply because he is very athletic, and his parents have told him he should be with all the money they’ve spent on him over the years. Judy can’t stand being around her dad because all he ever talks to her about is volleyball.

A life rule that we just can’t seem to remember is everything in moderation! Excess does not lead to success! In fact, more often than not, excess is the curb on the road to sadness.

In a few days my wife and I are having a cook-out for all the girls I coached for five years in high school. We will talk about some of the games, and a couple of our opponents, but we will mostly talk about what is going on in their lives now, the meaningful team bonding experiences they had, and the former teammate that passed away a couple of months ago. It will be a gathering of young ladies who have moved on in life and are understanding that the most important things do not have to include a round 28.5 inche basketball!