Posted tagged ‘middle school sports’

Middle School Cell Phone Addiction

September 1, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     September 1, 2019

                                    

A few days ago NBC Nightly News ran a story about San Mateo High School, just down the road from Google headquarters. The school has instituted a ban on cell phones during the hours of the school day. Students put their phones in a locking pouch when they arrive at school and go to a staff member with the unlocking device at the end of the school day. There are exceptions for medical reasons and special circumstances.

The reason for the “lockup”, according to one of the administrators, is because the phones were having a negative effect on the educational environment of the school. One student also made the comment that at lunchtime “now students actually talk to one another!”

I see the addiction taking over the lives of adolescents, but also adults. I’m always amazed when I tune into a baseball game on TV at the number of people right behind home plate focused on their cell phones instead of the game that they paid several hundred dollars to attend. Or foru adults sitting at a restaurant table for dinner, each staring at their cell phone. 

Middle school students mimic what they see their older peers doing. They’ve even learned how to be sneaky about it. Most of the classrooms I substitute teach in have cell phone policies that stipulate that they can be used for educational purposes. Students use them to go online for sites such as Schoology and Google Classroom. The problem is that a number of them will be using them for gaming or social media and then quickly switch to Google Classroom when they see the instructor heading their way. 

At my school the consequence for being discovered is to have the student take their phone to the office where it will be kept until the end of the school day. Last year I had a student playing video games on his phone when the rest of the class was ten minutes into doing an assignment. I had him take the device to the office…but he didn’t come back! We discovered from security video that he had gone into the school library, found an isolated corner, and continued to play his video game. 

Some teachers have a “cell phone parking lot”, a bin that phones are put in when students enter the classroom and “unpark” at the end of the class period. Some teachers have become so frustrated that they don’t allow cell phones to even be seen.

San Mateo may pioneer a movement in the opposite direction from technology. My guess is that there are a multitude of teachers who wished they could be in San Mateo’s shoes. 

At the church camp this past summer where I was middle school camp pastor, we limited cell phone use to a couple of short time blocks each day, a half-hour in the afternoon and a half hour at the end of the day. It was amazing to see how the young teens connected with one another when their “cell buddy” was not holding hands with them.

BUT many of them ran to their phones like kids to free candy being thrown in a parade when they had permission!

Cell phone wisdom is needed. Proverbs 3:13 says “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding.” The word ‘wisdom’ is used 54 other times in Solomon’s sayings of that Old Testament book. Anytime a word in the Bible is used a multitude of times it means it’s a need, not just a want! It’s an essential, not a luxury!

Perhaps a class called “Device Wisdom” could help!

Nah! Students would probably learn the information, but not take it to heart. It would be like learning the state capitals- impressive, but not useful for figuring out the consequences of bad decisions. 

The Coach Makes Us Run 8 Miles

August 22, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      August 22, 2019

                              

We’re a week and a half into middle school cross country season. Eight days, so far, of practice and popsicles. 

Our athletic office secretary received an email from a parent after the first four days. 

“Is it true that the coach is having them run 8 miles a day?” 

No! To this particular mom I could have replied that we’re having a hard time getting her child to run an eighth of a mile! He’s comfortable walking…everywhere and at any time!

In fact, he was one of three who were walking downhill! And it was only a quarter mile into a 1.5 mile loop we were doing. 

The tragically humorous elements of middle school runners are contained on a long list that stretches the course.

One of our other downhill walkers was bemoaning the belief that he had pulled a muscle…during warm-up stretching! He walked most of the way downhill to a park where our workout would consist of a special Swedish type of running called “Fartlek.”

Fartlek means “speed play”, but to middle schoolers it means something that causes tittering through the ranks. “Pulled Muscle Boy” walked and limped his way through the workout. When we finished I told our 70 runners that we’d be running the half-mile back to the school and we’d have popsicles if everyone got there in time…no walking! “Pulled Muscle Boy” was one of the first 15 back, even though he had to run UPHILL! I’m trying to figure out if we can dangle a popsicle in front of him for each run, kind of like the rabbit for a greyhound race. 

And then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Yesterday I challenged the top group of runners to run a four miler with one of our coaches. I left the invitation open for any runner in our second group to try it also. (We have four groups, dependent upon experience and capability.) Other runners in the second and third groups did three miles. Group 4 did 2 miles.

I was delighted to see that about 40% of the kids did the four miler, another 40% did the three miler, and most of the remaining 20% did the two miles. 

It wasn’t 8 miles, but half of it, and considering we have an hour and twenty minutes to meet, talk, stretch, run, and warm down, it felt like an achievement.

There are those in our number who are wondering what their parents signed them up for! A few were maybe under the impression that cross-country was some kind of travel club that would take them to see some places they haven’t seen before. They were partially correct. There are a couple of places where we’ve been running that they probably had not set foot on before the last week and a half. However, none of our places are in any travel brochure!

A couple of our kids seem to have digestive issues at a certain time each day, right after we get stretched out and are about to begin our run. Funny how they have to “run” to the bathroom about that time. 

But then I have a few kids who yesterday ran the three miles and then asked permission to run another half mile. Absolutely, I said! 

I’m hoping for the same enthusiasm today when we go through an interval workout that will test their desire and require determination and perseverance when whining will be the normal middle school go to.

And the promise of popsicles will be dangled in front of them!

Playing Hoops Against the 8th Graders

May 25, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 25, 2019

                              

They hoot and holler as I emerge from the locker room wearing gym shorts, tee shirt, and lily white Air Jordan sneakers. Most of them haven’t seen me in anything but sweat pants or jeans. The paleness of the skin IS a bit alarming!

I’ve been their coach, but never competed against them. Today, however, is the Student-Staff basketball game, an event each year where players who were part of the school 8th grade basketball teams strut onto the court to teach their science, math, and social studies teachers a lesson. 

To them I’m just an old man who knows his “x’s’ and o’s”. They don’t realize that I have a jump shot and can see the court well, even though I take my glasses off when I play. The staff also has “Big Matt”, who measures at about 6’6”, a former college football player who can’t jump or shoot, but…hey! He’s 6’6” and beefy! He causes some of students to “reconsider” every time they have an opportunity to take the basketball into the lane.

Mr. Williams, seventh grade science teacher, has been playing at lunchtime with his students. He’s developed into a shooter, at least for this annual game! Mr. McKinney, despite a sore knee, is fundamentally sound and my coaching compadre!

But the students think that they are all that and a slice of Swiss Cheese! They only have five more days of middle school, and it’s time to leave their mark on the staff! To dominate and then leave like Clint Eastwood at the end of each of his westerns, riding off into the sunset.

One thing, however, that has remained consistent through the years about these basketball games is that the staff plays “team ball” and the students play as individuals. The bodies of the staff might be a bit achy and moving slower, but we know that the whole is better than the sum of the parts. 

Big Matt towers in the lane like Shaq and Mr. Reynolds, who teaches most of the players in social studies, is making them pay for not remembering the three branches of our government. He’s administering “justice” to them, “legislating” pain, and “executing” the game plan. By the middle of the third quarter the lead has hit double figures and keeps growing.

The crowd of students and staff watching from the bleachers cheer on their friends and foes and by the fourth quarter everyone is simply enjoying the event. I close out the game with a half court swish shot at the buzzer and smiles emerge from both sides. For the students, their teachers have become human. For the staff, the students have minimized their swag and enjoyed the moment. 

The next day the kids who I competed against greet me with high fives and looks of amazement. Instead of mentioning my pale-skinned legs they tell me that my sneakers are cool! Instead of my slow defense they talk about my half court shot! 

And what I don’t tell them is that I maxed out on Motrin the night before and soaked my aching body in the hot tub! They are the epilogue to the finished story!

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?????