Posted tagged ‘middle school sports’

Encouraging the Untalented

June 10, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          June 10, 2018

                                

In all my years of coaching multiple sports I’ve had numerous athletes who were extremely talented…and I’ve also had numerous athletes who were incredibly untalented!

-Kids who get positioned in right field

            -Kids who play a forward in soccer because you would rather play great defense than score goals.

-Kids who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

-Kids who you could use a sun dial in timing their 100 yard dash.

-Kids who have great attitudes and no athletic skill.

In our sports-crazed world there seem to be more non-athletic, untalented participants lacing up the sneakers and putting on the pads.

I remember one young man on the middle school football team I coached. In practice one day he was playing defensive cornerback. He was about as far away from the action as he could possibly be and still be standing on the field. I suggested that he move in closer since there wasn’t even a wide receiver on his side of the field. All five feet one inch of him looked at me and said, “No, I’m okay!”

Or there was the foreign exchange student one year on the Girl’s JV team I coached. She had never played basketball, plus she had gotten out of line the day God passed out athleticism. If she shot the ball it had a better chance of getting stuck in the rafters than going in the basket. Her accuracy never improved during the season, although she did come to understand that the team with the ball was on offense and the team that didn’t have the ball was on defense. Running down the court without dribbling the ball meant that you suddenly would no longer be on offense and once again be…on defense! She came to realize this from personal experience.

I had a young man who would be the first one to show up for open gyms but couldn’t make a layup if his life depended on it. When he asked me if he was improving I replied, “Well, I can’t fault your effort!”

Every coach has the untalented kid who wants to be on the team. It becomes an exercise in patience as they struggle through the simplest drills that focus on fundamentals. Often they are the also the nicest, most well-behaved kids. They are the ones that you grieve over cutting, but know “there ain’t no way” you can keep them on the basketball team!

I try to find ways to encourage students who fall into this category, engaging them in conversation that shows I see them as persons of value. At the end of a tryout practice I may ask one of them to “get us a team break”.” I applaud their effort. When I post the basketball roster I try to be ready to give an evaluation to anyone who asks for it, what they can work on as well as a couple of positive points. I also try to communicate the importance of being a team manager or someone who keep stats. This past year I had one boy who didn’t make my basketball team, but I convinced to keep game stats. He’s a great kid who was disappointed in not making the roster, but saw how he was valued in a different role.

Often I encounter kids who are not as invested in athletic success as their parents are. There’s the parental pressure to change Lenny into LeBron…and Lenny would prefer to just be Lenny! 

There’s a lot of pressure on kids these days to be someone that they aren’t. It seems that only certain roles and specific achievements are valued, while others are ignored. 

As a coach, however, I hold to a certain principle: It is not necessary for an awesome kids to have a ball in his/her hands to still be great!

The 200 Mile Club

May 29, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       May 29, 2018

                                      

It was an idea that sounded good, like toilet-papering the principal’s car on the last day of school or eating Captain Crunch cereal every meal for an entire summer, as did a college classmate of mine!

An idea that sounded like a challenge!

Coach Schneiderman, 6th Grade Math teacher, offered it up before he did the math. 

“What if we challenged the cross-country kids to run 200 miles during the summer? We could give some kind of prize or shirt to those who do it?”

“That’s a great idea, Coach! Maybe get shirts that say Timberview Cross-Country 200 Mile Club!”

A few minutes later Coach Schneiderman offered a scaled down figure. “Maybe 150 miles!”

I, however, had already penciled in the number 200! There are about eleven weeks in vacation summer. Two hundred split amongst seventy-seven days is about two and a half miles a day…if a person runs every day!

Sold! I presented the idea to the students who came to a brief cross-country meeting the last week of school. Some looked at me like I was a crazed coach and others were inspired by the challenge.

And then I decided to take up the challenge myself! What??????

Perhaps it came from memories of long distance runs that I used to take: running along the top of the flood walls of Ironton, Ohio; running the roads of Oxford, Ohio; running, along with 3 other Judson College teammates, 25 miles for charity once time; and running up Barr Trail in Colorado Springs as I trained for the Pike’s Peak Ascent.

But that’s been a few years, and I haven’t been getting any younger! In fact, Carol says I should have my cell phone with me when I run in case something happens. I inferred from that remark that the “something” was a heart attack, not that I stumbled and twisted my ankle. Sixty-four year olds may be one three mile run away from eternity!

So I’ve started. Six days in and I’m at 18 miles. My knees seem more like 180 miles. My body screams at me in unkind ways. 

Perseverance and determination, that’s what keeps me going. So far I’ve only been running laps around the Timberview track. It brings back memories of running around the Ironton Junior High School track I lived about a half mile from. In those days I’d run 24 laps, six miles, around the cinder oval. This summer I’ll begin to widen my circle and run some trails and streets close by. 

18 miles in, only 182 to go! After today I’ll be more than 10% towards the goal…barely!

In August I look forward to celebrating with the other runners who took up and met the challenge.

I’m also hoping to be about twenty pounds lighter by then, a pound for every ten miles! When I graduated from Ironton High School in 1972 I weighed 110 pounds. Now my right leg weighs about that much!

And when an eighth grader whines to me that 200 miles was too hard I’ll show him/her my running chart and say, “Your 64 year old coach did it!” 

“Oh!”

Cross-Country Return

May 13, 2018

 WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              May 13, 2018

                          

I received the good news this week. Next school year I’ll be coaching middle school cross-country. It’s a return, in many ways, to my roots!

When I was a junior in high school I started running cross-country. My path had been pre-determined by the previous school year’s track program. At a cold early April triangular meet at Fairland High School in Proctorville, Ohio, the Ironton High School head track coach, Bill Trent, had asked if anyone was interested in running in the two mile race that day. Our team needed another runner to compete, or at least jog. Although I had been the Wood County, West Virginia, eight year old 50 yard dash champion…that had been almost eight years in the rearview mirror. This was my chance to run varsity…as a sophomore!

“But it’s Twwwooooo Miles!”

And it was cold with a chilling rain mist making it even more miserable! 

“I’ll run, Coach!”

“Okay, Billy! Do the best you can!”

I don’t remember my time that day…something like fourteen minutes! I remember that I wasn’t last, beat a couple of other runners, endured the wet wind on the back stretch, and scored a point for our team with a fourth place finish. 

And suddenly I was a distance runner! My time dropped three minutes in the next few weeks and I finished the season with a fifth place finish at the league meet in Athens. It paved the way for the fall cross-country season, and a summer of running on top of the flood walls of Ironton. 

Lance Clanton was the cross-country coach. I don’t think Coach Clanton had much experience with running, but IHS needed someone to keep a pack of running fools in line. During the school day he was the industrial arts teacher. He is the only industrial arts teacher I have ever met who was also a cross-country coach! 

We were a mediocre team not quite understanding the race tactics and practice ideas of the new school sport. Our home course include one part where we ran down into a dump area next to the school, affectionately called “the Sand Pit”, and back up again. Interval training was a foreign concept. One goofy runner named Eugene would climb a tree and wait for everyone to come back past him on a route we would run from the high school down to the cemetery and back. Actually, we were all a bit goofy, a few nerds before that term became commonplace, a couple of athletes, and a few others thrown into the mix who had nothing better to do after school.  

Two years after that I was wearing a t-shirt that had Miami of Ohio on the front of it. I was 16th man on a sixteen man roster, which means I was able to wear the t-shirt, run in the home meets, and endure the exhausting practices. Miami finished 7th at the NCAA nationals that year. I was not a factor in their success, but it did teach me a lot about what cross-country is and isn’t!

Two years later I was arriving on the small campus of Judson College in Elgin, Illinois to complete the last two years of my college education. Soon after I arrived I met Don Kraus, the cross-country coach, and his assistant, Ed Allen. They welcomed me with open arms, although I would not be eligible to compete that first year. Judson didn’t have a track, but cross-country fit well there, and we would run through campus laughing and sporting our Eagles’ warm-ups. At Judson I came to value the importance of relationships of my teammates. I can still remember each one of them…Stan Brown (who was one of my groomsmen), Jim Fay, Duane “the lumberjack” Young, Larry Crane, Kevin Kelly, Tom Randall, Mark Diehl, our manager, Tim “Ratman” Etternick, our coaches, and our trainer, Dr. Stuart Ryder…professor of English by day and “ice and bandage guy” by night.

We were a decent team, finishing sixth at the NCCAA nationals my senior year. Notice I put an extra “C” in there. The NCCAA stands for National Christian College Athletic Association, a bit less prime-time than the other organization with one less letter, but not nearly as plagued by scandal and populated by cheaters either!

And now…forty-two years after that I’ll be returning to the sport I always enjoyed and the challenges of training young runners, many whom are totally clueless about how long the race is that they will be expected to complete. I prepared for this return by coaching the distance runners at the same middle school, Timberview, this spring. The whining of seventh and eighth grade runners is like sweet music to my ears. It will be awesome to encourage the runners this coming August that they CAN do it, they CAN succeed, they CAN be something more than they thought they could ever be. 

A 6, Followed By A 4!

May 6, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    May 6, 2018

                                

I’ve usually associated the  number “64” with the interstate between Charleston and Huntington, West Virginia, a road that often has the feel of the Monaco Grand Prix, populated by tensed-up drivers and speeding coal trucks.

Yesterday, however, I hit 64 in birth years. My former high school classmate, Tanya Citti, hit it a day earlier. I should have called her up to get a scouting report on its impact.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever had as a wild a birthday as number 64! I’d better clarify what “wild” means in case anyone thinks I took a roll of quarters to a casino slot machine, or went to a local bar and downed a series of Woodford Reserve Kentucky bourbon shots.

“Wild” began with about eighty middle school track team members meeting to travel to the league meet at 7:30 in the morning, our final meet of the year. Being the 7th Grade Girls coach I was responsible for about twenty-five of those students, all giddy and giggly for the day ahead. I layered on the sun block because it was…wait for it!…hot! Snow had canceled our last home meet two days before!

At noon the first hint of weird and wild appeared on my cell phone screen. It was a text from my youngest daughter, Lizi. The text said, “Not a good day over here! What time are you done with the meet?”

“Huh?”

I called. “What’s up?”

“Well, Mom fell in the front yard at Kecia’s house (our oldest daughter), hurt her shoulder, and is at the doctor.”

“Ohh, how did she do that?”

“She stepped in a divot or something…and then-“

“And then?”

“Yes, and then while she was there Reagan (our seven year old granddaughter) fell off the monkey bars at the park a couple blocks away from the doctor’s office and got a gash beside her eye so I had to take her to the Emergency Room at Penrose-St. Francis Hospital.”

“What!!??”

“So she’s probably going to get some stitches and then Mom’s doctor is sending her here to have her shoulder x-rayed.”

“Her doctor is sending her to the same ER as Reagan?”
“Yes! Oh, and happy birthday, Dad!”

Middle school track meets can sometimes seem like they go on forever. Saturday’s seemed to go on forever…and ever…and ever, as the three ladies close and dear to my heart spent their afternoons populating the emergency room! Lizi and Reagan were able to leave about 3:00, but Carol was still there…waiting! When I got home at 4:30 I dropped my stuff, changed clothes, and headed to Penrose to be with her. A new Time magazine came in the mail so I threw it in the car. Murphy’s law says that if you take nothing to read with you you’ll end up being there forever, but if you take a book, the newspaper, or a magazine you’ll never get a chance to open it. Sure enough, when I checked in at the ER Security desk Carol texted me, “Ready to leave!”

The security person took me back to Room 8 and there was my wounded warrior, struggling to get her pants on. I helped her get her right foot through the correct hole, the foot that she informed me had also been sprained in her fall that morning.

A few minutes later, with a boot on her foot, I helped her hobble out to the car, got her buckled in, and headed home.

Lizi and Kecia arrived a little while later, Kecia driving Carol’s car that had still been parked at her house. She, and her husband, Kevin, had been at the Spartan Race that morning and afternoon, an eight mile run with a 100% possibility of getting muddy and dirty as the participants encountered various obstacles and challenges.

They all wished me a happy birthday, and then apologized.

“It’s all right! I’ll have another one next year!”

Next year…65! And my mind went to another highway, I-65, the interstate I traveled numerous times from Chicago to Indianapolis. A road that does not seem nearly as treacherous and intense as 64, and I thought to myself, hopefully number 65 will more resemble that road than the wild ride 64 was!

Middle School Track Knowledge and Reluctance

April 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          April 28, 2018

                      

One week from today our middle school track season culminates with our big league meet that draws 12 schools together.

Let me say this: I love coaching middle school track! Every day is a story that’s about to be created and lived. Each of our coaches is in charge of a certain group. This year I have 7th Grade girls…38 bundles of confusion and giggles! I also am in charge of training all of the distance runners, a Dairy Queen Blizzard of personalities and varying levels of talent…and non-talent! One boy still wears his sweat pants underneath his uniform shorts…in the meets, even when it’s seventy degrees!

Last week one of the 7th Grade girls came up to me in the midst of our home meet and said, “Coach Wolfe, where do I get a ‘bonette’?” I asked her to say the word again. “The bonette.”

“Do you mean the baton?”

“Oh, yes, the baton!”

It is an example of the unpredictable. As the coach, I am never quite sure what is going to be asked and what direction the question is seeking to lead me in.

“Coach Wolfe, we aren’t going outside for practice today, are we?”
“Sure, why wouldn’t we?”
“It’s cold!”

“That’s why we gave you a pair of sweats.”
“But I forgot mine.”

“Wow! That’s too bad! Okay, let’s go!”

Coaching tip: In middle school track it’s important to know when to look void of any hint of empathy and when to be extremely sympathetic. If someone is having a hard time breathing it’s essential to make sure the runner is okay, but when someone is just being “middle school-ish irresponsible” keep a facial expression that communicates disbelief in their decision-making.

Second coaching tip: Raise the bar of expectations!

“Hey! I’ve charted out your 1600 race and if you stay on this pace you’ll run this time.”

Dismay running across her face! “I can’t do that!”

“Oh, yes you can! And I’ll help you.”

“But-“

“Would you like to run this time?”

“Yes!”

“Then you’re going to!”

And she did! There are some middle schoolers who got in line twice when confidence was being handed out, and there are others who forgot to get in that line! They have to be spoon-fed the confidence to do what they don’t think they will ever be able do. At our next meet I’ll lower her time once again, get the same look of dismay, and help her achieve her “impossible” once again!

Coaching tip #3: Treat each athlete equally and coach every athlete to succeed no matter their talent level.

Seventh Grade girls want to relate to the coach. They want to know you care and are willing to hear their goofiness and forgive their goofs. From the girl who will win you four events to the girl who may throw a negative distance in the discus they are all important, and when my #38th most talented athlete runs up to me and says that although she still finished last she beat her personal best the coach gives her a high five and a “whoot whoot!”

Middle school track is more about conquering mountains and easing fears than it is about times and distances. It’s more about the laughter of thirteen year olds than the yelling of their parents.

It’s more about teaching them about track than winning medals and ribbons. Case in point, at the beginning of each track practice I ask my seventh grade girls a track trivia question. The winning answer gets a roll of “Smarties!” Last week I asked them what event in the Olympic track and field competition includes water. The answer is the steeplechase, but that event was like a foreign concept for the girls. The first girl who thought she knew the answer raised her hand and I called on her.

“Is it water polo?”

“No, they play water polo at…water polo!”

Bonettes, water polo, personal bests…it’s all good!

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!