Posted tagged ‘middle school sports’

In Appreciation of Great Parents of Young Athletes

November 12, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           November 12, 2018

                              

One of the main reasons I decided to stop officiating basketball after the 2017 season and 16 years of wearing the stripes was out-of-control parents. Many of them have added to their resume’ and are now not just “helicopter parents”, but also “helicopter fans”!

Irrational and belligerent, abusive and hostile, they bring a dark side to youth athletics. When their son or daughter has an official make a marginal call that goes against their child you would think that the kid just got a reject letter from Harvard!

BUT there are “the others”! That is, there are the parents who are awesome and supportive; the parents who understand that the world does not turn on the basis of a roundball’s rotation; the parents who allow their son or daughter to experience failure and also success and don’t feel like they need to pave the path that only leads to victory.

Parental guidance and encouragement are the vital elements for a kid growing up and trying to figure out life, but they are elements that are too often missing. They are elements that many parents have pushed to the side in favor of outraged entitlement and having a messed-up view of what is really important in life.

The parents of my 8th Grade boys basketball team this year were awesome, and here’s why!

They let the coach coach! Their analysis and evaluation of the game and their son’s play didn’t happen until after the game, if at all! Never once did I have a parent shout instructions to their son from the bleachers. They applauded and encouraged, grimaced and smiled. I’ve heard too many horror stories of coaches being hounded and ridiculed by parents. My parents modeled how things should be!

They understood that we coach student athletes, not athletes who also happen to be students! None of my players had to sit out a week of games because they were academically in trouble. Their son’s grade point average is much more important than his scoring average or how many rebounds he gets in a game.

They modeled maturity! I’ve seen my share of parents who have been asked to leave gymnasiums because of their behavior. Last year the mom of a player from the team we were playing that day sat in the row behind our team bench…in our gym! Her voice was the loudest voice in the gym. If it was Cameron Indoor at Duke and the Blue Demons were playing North Carolina I could understand it, but this was a 7th Grade boys game. I had our security person ask her to move at halftime. She was not pleased! There were plenty of seats behind her team’s bench. The coach, a friend of mine, said to me after the game, “Great! You moved her down behind my bench and then I had to hear her!”

Some parents just don’t get it! And then you see their son or daughter turning into mom or dad!

Here’s the harsh truth! Officials and referees are hanging up their whistles because of parents! And coaches are calling it quits because of parents! 

My parents this year were awesome and that’s why I’ll be back for my 19th season next year…and consider myself blessed to be able to do it!

Coaching Moments and Conversations

November 11, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 November 11, 2018

                                

I love coaching kids and adolescents! Just love it! Yesterday I finished my 18th year as boy’s basketball coach at Timberview Middle School in Colorado Springs. With a new league this year our season got bumped forward to October and November. (Now I begin high school tryouts tomorrow where I’ll be coaching JV Boys)

I enjoy coaching moments and conversations that leave my players smiling and chuckling. They are spontaneous and sometimes non-sensical! 

Like yesterday! I kneeled in front of one of my players who was sitting in the midst of the bench personnel. We were getting beat by about 15 points by the team that had gone undefeated as 7th graders and now as 8th graders. It was our fifth game of the day, after losing to them in the winner’s bracket final, coming back and winning the loser’s bracket, and now having to play them again in the final game. 

The player I kneeled in front of is a bespectacled 4’10” 8th Grader. I said, “I need you to grow 6 inches…right now!” He stared back at me slightly smiling. “Okay! I guess that’s not going to happen, so just go on in for Josh!” He went to the scorer’s table and I moved to the next player on the bench, a boy about 5’10”. 

“I need you to grow 6 inches…right now!” His eyes darted from side to side considering the possibilities as I paused. “Okay! Guess that’s not going to happen, so go on in for Tyler.”

I moved on to the third player. Kneeling in front of him and looking him in the eye, “I need you to grow six inches right now…okay, just kidding!”

A little later. “You need to be close to him on defense! Pretend it’s your girlfriend!”

“Coach, I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“No wonder! You keep your distance from her! She thinks you don’t like her!”

Confused look!

I channel Coach Don Fackler from time to time. Don mentored me in coaching back…like 25 years ago. I loved that guy! He passed away suddenly about 15 years ago and it’s the one funeral that I flew from Colorado back to Michigan to attend. 

As Don would say I now find myself saying, “You’re all discombobulated! Get organized! I need my point guard to figure out when we’re all discombobulated and pull it back together.”

Here I come again! “There is nothing in that right corner of the court that is worth dribbling towards. You planning on going somewhere?”

“No, Coach!”
“Cause you keep heading for the Exit sign, son!”

Bad shot selection comment! “Hey! Have you hit a three-pointer yet?”

“No, Coach!”

“That’s right! You’re 0 for November! So let’s consider a better shot!”

“Sorry, Coach!”

Left-hand gone missing!

“What’s that thing attached to the left side of your shoulder?”

“My arm?” replies a confused looking player.

“Why not discover that it has a purpose, okay?”

“Yes, Coach!”
“I would rather you miss a left-handed layup than make a right-handed layup that announces to everyone that you don’t have a lefthand!”

And then yesterday I subbed for a player who made a couple of mistakes. I kneeled in front of him and said, “You made some mistakes, okay! But that’s not why I subbed for you! Your body language is spelling defeat. Everyone makes mistakes, but when you start moping on the court…you might as well be sitting here!” I talked to the player’s parents after the game and they thanked me for letting him know that. 

I love these kids! I love coaching them, guiding them, helping them to figure things out not just on the court, but in the situations of life. 

At the end of our tournament yesterday we gathered together with our runner-up trophy and had our team picture taken by parents and our school administrator. I noticed that the 4’10” player was holding the trophy in the midst of the front row. He was smiling from ear-to-ear, but the trophy was hiding his face.

“Paul, would you grow that six inches I asked for so we can see your face over the top of the trophy?”

Eleven players and three managers couldn’t keep from smiling on that one!

Love that kid!

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!”

The Troubling of Sports Officials

August 8, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  August 8, 2018

                          

It’s a situation that basketball game assignors started dealing with a few years ago: too many games and not enough referees to cover them safely and effectively. So a trend started! Games on heavy volume days began to be rescheduled…or, in a few cases, officials had to cover three games in one day…often at two different locations. 

It was a warning sign that most wanted to pretend wasn’t happening; that the number of people officiating basketball games was gradually decreasing while the number of games being played gradually had been increasing. A few people saw the impending crisis, but most went on like there wasn’t any problem. After all, how do you fix the part of the basketball game that is best seen but not heard. That is, officials long to run up and down a court where the participants with numbered uniforms play the game fairly and under control, to the point where a whistle rarely needs to be blown.

I still remember a girl’s varsity game I officiated several years ago at St. Mary’s High School in Colorado Springs. St. Mary’s was hosting Trinidad. Two excellent coaches, George Dasko and Mike Burkett, led their teams. I can even remember my officiating partners for that game: Rachel Martinez and Kevin Kizewski. We rarely had to blow our whistles in a contest that was well-played and close the whole way. I remember that, even with the ten minute halftime and the uncertainty of the outcome down to the last few seconds, the contest was finished in an hour. 

Unfortunately, most basketball games are not like that! And that hints at the problem. It gives us an inkling of why the number of people willing to put on a striped shirt, run up and down a court with a whistle in their mouth, and have their intelligence questioned is slipping.

I’ve been on both sides of the sidelines, wearing a black and white striped shirt inside the lines and a shirt and tie on the other side of it. I’ve asked coaches to stay in their “box” (the designated area in front of their team bench that runs now from the baseline to the 28-foot line) and also been the one standing in the box.

Sixteen years as a basketball official and twenty plus years as a basketball coach. After the 2017 high school basketball season I decided to hang up the striped shirt. I made that decision for several reasons. 

The first two were quite simple; I wasn’t getting any younger, and I enjoyed coaching much more than officiating. Two good reasons…except for the acknowledgment of my advancing age as an AARP member!

The other reasons, however, were troubling. 

Parents! How do you fix parents, specially parents of young athletes? In the increasing of games that need to be covered, youth basketball games are like a locust storm. In helping out our game assignor in the covering of some of these games I had to deal with parents that were belligerent, unrealistic, and obnoxious. One mom, who I asked to relocate from underneath one of the baskets to the side of the court because of her language during a 5th-6th grade game, told me she had paid admission to get in. Since I heard her urge her son (I’m assuming it was her son!) to kill one of the opposing players I moved her and informed her that we weren’t going to start the game again until she relocated. She had lost perspective! She forgot that this was a game that was being played by young boys and it was for their enjoyment, not for her “revenge on life” attitude!

How do you fix parents? I tell the parents of the players I coach to keep perspective on what it is we’re about. If anything needs to be said to an official I’ll say it, not them. 

In saying that let me also say that most parents are great! They understand that having their child’s team beat the archival is a great moment, but not life-defining. Finding a cure for cancer would be life-defining for the discoverer and the people helped by it. Being a community peacekeeper would be life-defining. Walking with a family through struggles and heartaches would be life-defining. Most parents understand that and help their adolescent athletes develop a balanced view on life.

Here’s another reason! The blurring of authority. That is, the minimizing of the respect for the ones blowing the whistles. The disrespect comes from fans, coaches, and players. For every coach with integrity like Mike Burkett there’s a coach on the other side of the fence who sees the referees as the enemies. In recent years the number of assaults on referees has increased. A recent basketball game between two club teams ended with players from one of teams physically attacking the officials. Physical assaults happen just as much at contests between teams of younger-aged players as they do with high school teams.

In other words, those wearing the striped shirts have become the targets to aim at for frustrated players, coaches, and fans. People have forgotten what the purposes are for there to be people wearing the stripes. Perhaps it’s simply a smaller arena example of how authority has become blurred in our culture. 

Ask public school teachers if changes have occurred in regards to the respect of their authority during their teaching career! 

Ask coaches about the attitudes of their athletes. Even though the size of the ball has remained the same the way they coach their players has to now contend with some attitude warts.

The examples of the abuse of authority has contributed to the disdain of authority. 

As a coach I keep perspective on how things are. Last year I coached two middle school basketball teams and a freshman team. The officials we had were often new officials who still make the same boneheaded decisions that I made in my first few years of refereeing. So I would tell my players that new officials need to start someplace, and we’re the place they usually start…so it is what it is! Let me be the one to ask them questions! My players saw that I wasn’t contentious or abrasive, but rather that those wearing the striped shirts and I each had a role and a purpose and we, in most situations, tried to work together to be participants of a great athletic contest. 

After all, if there aren’t any people to wear the stripes and officiate the games who will do it? 

The parents?????

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.