*Part 1 created momentum for the journey. Our focus was purpose and identity. They serve as a compass for the choices we make and habits we create. Part 2 will help us stay the course and remind us why the journey is the reward. The process reveals and shapes character. Most importantly it forges fulfilling friendships. Let's Chop Wood and Carry Water together...
“Always keep your guard up, and fuel your heart with encouragement...you fuel your heart with six things: what you watch, what you read, what you listen to, who you surround yourself with, how you talk to yourself, and what you visualize” (35). Encourage means to add to someone's heart. I believe coaching has a boomerang effect that can create a viable avenue for lifelong friendship.
Luke, Jake, and Jack. Three former athletes of mine turned best of buddies. I met Luke when he was an 18 year old Wisconsin Badger walk-on wannabe. I was in my first year of coaching. He says I became an older brother figure; in which I always respond “He’s the second younger brother I never wanted.”
Jake walked into NX Level Waukesha in 2012 with his brother, Nick. He was 130 pounds soaking weight. Now he is finishing his football career as a 215 pound middle linebacker with the University of North Dakota. One of my favorite success stories and its yet to finish.
I met Jack in 2014 at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Faith, fitness and football were immediate commonalities. He went from athlete to best bud pretty quickly. When you get to know one Moro you inevitably get to know them all. A month ago I bought an engagement ring from his Uncle. A day later I popped the question and Jack was one of the first to find out. A groomsmen kind of guy.
Sport breathes light to connection and intimacy. The weight room and practice fields serve as one of the best platforms for the creation of friendship. A friend not only shares past experiences but ultimately is someone who always has your best interests in mind. Trust is paramount.
Luke, Jake and Jack have my back and I theirs. Coaching has created a place for our Faith to grow together. I am so fortunate to have many more friends like them. Healthy boundaries are the foundation for any positive relationship. Friendship is a by product of great coaching but not necessarily the goal.
My closest friends know my faults; my sins; my shortcomings and struggles. Our appearances or social image can sometimes deceive. “With things like Instagram and YouTube, we only see the most edited, Photoshopped version of people's lives...No one posts anything of them not looking their best” (43). On the training floor and perhaps in my personal life; there have existed moments of cuing or conversing that led to less than ideal outcomes. There have been times in my life when I didn’t quite practice what I preached. For every perfect Instagram rep I’ve posted there has been equal amounts of imperfect positions.
Emotional strength requires awareness and introspection to address and recognize weaknesses and triggers. While we may never overcome some of our $h!%, understand attention begets change. Recognizing our faults can springboard growth and lead to bridges built to those who can extend HELP. My favorite bible quote offers up that humble perspective, “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Grace is special in that we don’t have to compete for it nor earn it. A foreign concept to sport.
Competition will always voice we are lesser than someone. “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. The grass is greener where you water it” (45). How crippling can comparison be to our psyche? The anecdote is always intrinsic. As Hemingway once said, “true nobility is being superior to your former self.” No two coaches share identical paths. Conditioning, connections, demographics, desires, environment, era, sacrifices, and basic geography all uniquely lead to divergent paths. “Compare yourself and measure yourself compared only to your own potential...Use what you and you alone have been given.You do not know what other people are going through, and everyone has their own unique struggles” (46).
"No two coaches share identical paths. Conditioning, connections, demographics, desires, environment, era, sacrifices, and basic geography all uniquely lead to divergent paths."
We often mistakenly think talent alone sets the best apart. While talent creates attention, it is mindset that separates the achievers from the rest. “Greatness isn’t for the chosen few, but for the few who consistently and persistently choose” (51). A few years back I read an article about Kobe in ESPN The Magazine. I was fascinated with the mentorship Pop Icon Michael Jackson provided him, “Your curiosity is your greatest gift. Use it to expand your scope. Ordinary people won't understand your insatiable thirst for excellence. They won’t bother to keep striving because it's too onerous, too difficult. You’ve got to study all the greats. You’ve got to learn what made them successful and unsuccessful.” Curiosity and extraordinary effort are the foundation of greatness.
Greatness isn’t always about linear improvement. Zoom out for a second. A long career has ups and downs month after month; year after year. Taking a 30,000 foot look will allow us to see if we are trending up. Mastery isn’t always about constant improvement; “it moves in steps, not constants” (59). Many variables can complicate the achievement of success. Attaining mastery can be complex.
Lets analogize the path to mastery using a map of the U.S. First, understand context and perception change outlook. While we all likely memorized the 50 states in our elementary days; I’d guess most of us would struggle to name just 25 state capitals. Retention seems to decline with time and necessity. Could you name each county in every state today? How about national and state forests? How about state highways and county roads?
Mastery, especially of human performance, is much like that previous scenario. Peel back a layer and you’ll find an entirely new set of problems or infrastructure to learn. Michaelangelo personified the chase and effort, “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.” Mastery...I’m nowhere close.
“Everything impacts everything. Everything is aiming” (61). The human body is a complex adaptive system: “Complex adaptive systems are hierarchically nested because they are large systems that are comprised of progressively smaller systems, etc.; these large systems can interact with each other as well. The issue of scaling and translating information from small-scale patterns and processes to understanding of large-scale problems, such as global change, is essential. This is captured in a simple way in the study of chaos and fractals. Chaos is a rich description of a complex nonlinear system that can include the coupling of different scales over time or space and where a small, seemingly insignificant change in one of the attributes of a single agent can have a widely varying effect on the system as a whole." Complexity, chaos, and uncertainty go hand in hand...Everything impacts everything. Each local change is to some degree disruptive or impactful globally. This holds true structurally and biochemically. Affecting calcaneal or talar joint mechanics has upstream repercussions. Adding heavy eccentric stress in the weightroom may impact sprint methodology. Cause and effects are endless.
We are all leaders of our own lives regardless of the inability of some to take ownership. Gordon B. Hinkley spoke on the price of leadership being loneliness, “The price of adherence to conscience is loneliness. The price of adherence to principle is loneliness. I think it is inescapable. The Savior of the world was a Man who walked in loneliness. I do not know of any statement more underlined with the pathos of loneliness than His statement: ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head’ (Matthew 8:20).”
Once a stable environment presents itself, grow where you’re planted. Be patient. A bamboo tree can take years to grow. “What you don’t see happening is what's taking place beneath the surface. Beneath the surface, a massive, dense foundation of roots is spreading out all throughout the ground...So, you keep watering it and watering it" (64) and eventually it grows. The process is simple, the journey is not.
Plastered to the wall of my work space the last ten years is a quote from legendary S&C coach Martin Rooney, “There’s an old saying that it takes 10 to 15 years to become an overnight success. The last 10 or 15 years, I've been busting my hump. I’ve been killing myself every day, 16 hour days, never stopping. And that’s how eventually people know your name...One, you have to have courage. Two, you have to have the discipline to make it happen. Three, you have to have patience.” Courage, discipline, and patience. Chop wood, carry water.
Surrendering to the process is challenging and often is accompanied with anxiety. Throughout the last ten years I’ve encountered personal and professional trials. I sought professional counselling for the first time almost two years ago. It took me a while to surrender to the notion of paying someone to listen to me. It took me awhile to get out of my own way. I’ve come to find out I’ve had many close friends seek the advice of smart professionals.
We have coaches for every imaginable discipline, so eventually I saw no harm in hiring an “emotional coach.” A common trend in behavioral psychology and life coaching is the prescription of gratuity lists. Creating the daily habit of writing down three things (people, experiences, feeling, etc) you’re grateful for can increase dopamine and have a positive effect on mood. “When you operate with a heart posture of gratefulness, you free yourself up to be at your best and slip into the zone. Not to mention, you are also much more of a joy to be around for those you love” (77). Enthusiasm is infectious. When it compliments effort and execution in the weight room or on the track it creates an environment unmatched.
“The zone” is where we often find the best version of ourselves. Attaining flow state is often a notable phenomena of high performance. I was along for the ride and sat backstage watching Anthony “Showtime” Pettis butcher Ben Henderson to claim the UFC Lightweight title in August of 2013 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. From his pre-fight warm ups to the cage door closing he had an aura. That night he was the Michael Jordan of MMA. The electricity was brilliant. The snap of his kicks and precision of his movements were matched by one thing only--his moxy.
His performance that night was not only unforgettable but uniquely prophetic. He foreshadowed his confidence long before. I will never forget receiving a call from him on a summer Friday night a few weeks before the championship fight breaking the news of the card. He deemed future victory in his hometown as “destiny.” This belief of divine intervention coupled with unparalleled confidence led to the unstoppable mindset that night.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the father of flow. His masterful work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, highlights his theory that fulfillment is found in flow. “Flow” is a characteristic of intrinsic motivation matching engagement, skill and challenge. Many experience this as a deep concentrative state in which they are totally engrossed in an event yet lack attachment to outcomes. Anthony had this freedom. Arousal and relaxation teeter totter delicately to also carry a euphoric joy.
Flow is the end goal for high performing athletes. Flow leads to masterful coaching interactions. Flow turns a blind eye to the illusion of control. “Commit to the controllables, surrender the outcome, and trust the process” (78).
The process will always lead to road blocks and failures. “Your failures, shortcomings, and challenges can either end up as your excuse or your story. I hope you choose courage, curiosity, and persistence. Because those are stories worth telling” (82). We either fail first hand or our decisions lead to our charge failing...which likely feels ten times worse! One of the biggest failures I felt I had in my coaching career was allowing in an athlete to adopt a less than ideal movement strategy.
I was a few weeks into the NFL Combine training process with former Wisconsin Badger and current Philadelphia Eagle running back Corey Clement when I had an error in judgement. Upon returning from the NFL Senior Bowl, Corey made subtle changes in his forty yard dash stance, loading, and launch that my coaching eye and stopwatch failed to accurately detect. I allowed him to stray from the perfect technical model we had originally established in favor of what I thought was his newly acquired "ideal." This starting glitch and his inability to control arousal at the combine led to a 4.68 and 4.76 clocking in the 40. We were equally disappointed. I think we both went without sleep that night.
My emotions were a product of the attachment I had to success. For 15 years I had dreamed of training an athlete going through the NFL “job interview.” I’d idolized coaches like Tom Shaw, Luke Richesson, and Martin Rooney while in high school. I literally taped ESPN segments, bought magazines they were featured in and fell asleep to their DVD’s. My opportunity finally came and I blew it. Worse yet, I felt I failed Corey.
“The thing about incredible opportunities is that they often come to you disguised as five-hundred-pound lions...The question is, what will you believe about it, and what will you do about it?” (90) “When most people come face to face with their opportunities (lions) they run as fast as they can in the opposite direction, but when you decide to embrace the lion and chase it, you have the opportunity to build your resume, your character, and your skills” (91). Corey and I had an opportunity masquerading as a setback. We went back to the drawing board, fixed our mistakes and readied ourselves for the Wisconsin Pro Day. What a show he put on. Corey blistered a 4.5 40 and lifetime bested many drills that day.
My greatest success stories always have a main character not named Matt. “Where happiness is easy and ‘me’ focused, fulfillment is hard and others-focused. Where happiness comes from a life lived in endless pursuit of feelings, fulfillment comes from a life lived in faithful commitment to principles” (94). I was inspired early by great athletes like Sterling Sharpe, Jerry Rice, Donovan Bailey, Michael Johnson, and Maurice Greene. Their accomplishments led me to coaching. If I wanted to be like them I had to train like them. I needed to find their source--The Coach.
The etymology of a coach dates back to a vehicle carrying something or someone of value to a desired destination. Way back when the coach itself had little acclaim. It was always about the passenger. Today, we may be a little confused. Evolving resources like social media, online courses, and “Zoom” often saturate our community. Modern technology and information has helped build an industry for coaching; both for the coach and the “coach to coaches.”
Everything is at our disposal...including each other and ourselves. We are smarter, more efficient, wealthier, and more popular from our Instagram posts and likes. However, I cannot tell you if this exponential growth leads to wisdom nor can I comment on personal fulfilment. A wise man once said, “But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.” I have a hunch he put his values and others before his immediate happiness. I bet he contributed a lot. I think he will always be remembered.
“If you want to be great, you must be willing to boldly step away from the crowd and take personal responsibility for your own journey and development” (105). Your path is yours and yours alone; own it. There is no map that can identify your exact journey or chart your territory perfectly. You have no game plan to predict or accurately plan every shot. “Most people would rather trust their old outdated map than do the hard work of exploring the territory on their own, and finding out what it really is and what is actually possible...Anyone can read a map. Navigating the territory is the hard part!” (112).
I hope many of us can see the forest for the trees while we continue to march towards greatness. “Mediocrity is replaceable. Greatness is not” (106). There is a price to pay for every achievement; greatness isn’t cheap. How much can you afford? What will you sacrifice along the way? Two years ago my pastor and mentor Max Ramsey made me rethink my purpose, “The journey to goodness sets a very different course than the journey to greatness. At some point, I think we must choose one or the other.” I want to be a great coach but never at the expense of being a good man.
An adventurous man once climbed Everest because “it was there.” He knew “mountains were meant to be climbed” (107). While many of us have the desire to reach the top, very few will know how it feels to stand at the peak. The view is often short lived and our eyes quickly fixate on our next goal. We give the top too much credit. We forget the importance of who we become on the climb. What may matter most is whom you carried or walked with along the way.
I used to say coaching is the second best paid profession. If most of us had it our way we’d have been paid to play first. Age, maturity and perspective have evolved my thoughts. The two have flipped and the gap grows daily. I am so grateful to call myself a coach and am humbled by the responsibility that title carries. It is an important part of my life. However, it took me ten years to understand it is not my life.
One of my favorite mega pastors, Francis Chan, describes the pursuit of the fleeting and superficial, “Our greatest fear is not failure, it is succeeding at the things in life that don’t matter.” I used to reluctantly admit that one of my fears in life was not reaching my potential. No longer do I have potential, I just have today. And all that matters is today.
Thank you for letting me share my heart and the first ten years of my coaching journey! Chances are you are someone I am grateful for. Give me another 4,000 days and I will accumulate more stories and failures for my 20 year piece.
I'd like to dedicate this to Ronnie, Ty, Brad, Jeremiah, Kevin, Jason, Jacob, Tyler, Collin, DIsch, Alex, Matt, Thomas, Casey, BJ, Jake, Willy, Dylan, Ryan and all the young coaches and interns I've been fortunate to befriend. I dedicate this piece to you, the reader--whether you’re two days in or twenty years out.
A decade of two point starts and glute ham raises; almost 4000 days observing bretzel stretches and hang cleans. Ten years may seem surmounting and a bit like forever to some. However, to a few that’s just the blink of an eye.
Five years ago, I listened to Dan Pfaff speak on 44 years in the coaching trenches. He had served for nearly twice as long as I’d been alive. I’m always nourished by Dan’s sentiments and left that day in Phoenix believing he had forgotten more than I will ever know. I was inspired nonetheless. The right humble pie recipe will always leave you licking your plate and asking for seconds. The right coach will give you a lesson to digest that may fuel you forever.
As I begin to highlight my last ten years, I want to forewarn you using Joshua Medcalf's closing sentiments from his best selling novel Chop Wood Carry Water, “My fear is that you would leave this story on the high of starting the process, but give up when the reality of the challenge sinks in. This can happen anywhere from day 2, to month 119. The process is simple, the journey is not.” Medcalf's words resonated with me and birthed connection to my journey all throughout his book. His story captures the path to mastery. Together we will explore the story of a young Samurai and his Sensei...and seeminlgy find ourselves somewhere along this path.
Whether you're a first month intern or twenty years deep, "TODAY" is equally important for all. “The only thing that is truly significant about today, or any other day, is WHO YOU BECOME IN THE PROCESS" (6). Learning and providing value to the lives of others is an unwavering part of who I want to be day after day. The path of a worthy coach can be simplified: Learn. Teach. Reflect. Repeat.
“Every little thing we do, no matter how mundane, matters greatly when it is multiplied by the number of times we do it” (8). I was raised by a goody-two-shoes mom who admired Mother Teresa. Her patron Saint legacy was paved through small actions as she once explained, “Be faithful in small things for it is in them where your strength lies.” I’ve always believed a coach's desire to be great is reflected in the way they coach the warm up. Discipline in details dictates your destiny. It’s always your decision every day to coach up the simple, small and monotonous specifics. Observing intently is essential.
It’s also your choice to genuinely connect with everyone in your community. Mother Teresa said, “I believe in person to person. Every person is Christ for me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the one person in the world at that moment.” Could you imagine how great your sporting community would be if you coached every athlete like they were the next J.J. Watt? Think of the details you’d highlight, the standard you’d set and the enthusiasm you’d show. You'd likely analyze metrics of effectiveness after the session was finished and look back on each workout as if it were the Superbowl.
"Discipline in details dictates your destiny. It's always your decision everyday to coach up the simple, small and monotonous specifics."
“You can get pretty confident by reading everything you can get your hands on about a certain subject, it's called ‘artificial maturity.’ But knowing about how to do something and having practical experience actually doing something are radically different" (13). From politics, to our parents, to periodization and programming, we are all guilty of analyzing superiors and believing we could “do it better.” The Dunning-Kruger effect has held merit in every life at some point. Some of us will never grow out of this ego led mindset which I believe arouses from a fear of inadequacy. Pop culture echoes this pheomena as Morpheus in "The Matrix" confidently explains, “There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” Furthermore, I love the words of Telamon of Arcadia from The War of Art, “It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life.”
Sadly, our ignorance can affect everyone we lead. Let me explore coaching context...The French-Contrast method seems so cutting edge until your two hundred forty pound high school freshman tears his ACL upon landing from a hurdle hop. How about six weeks into your elite speed combine prep program and your potential NFL’r yanks his hamstring 35 yards into his 40 because your failed programming was overzealous? Or worse yet, lets watch the kid on twitter barbell ½ squatting five hundred pounds all the while not having the mobiity to tie his shoes. His feat of “strength” draws further imagery as we imagine his scrawny teammates fist pumping and cheering him on. Who will be clapping for him when he gets cut one week into his first college camp? These real life scenarios are all likely reflections of EGO and “artificial maturity.”
Copy and paste coaching...If only optimizing performance were that easy. Coaching is both a science and an art. We can all run a pre-scripted lab experiment but how many could take a couple of days to recreate the Sistine Chapel ceiling? The effort, sacrifice, trial and error, and sometimes the loneliness that accompanies a great artist's journey are all essential qualities that one cannot experience second hand.
“Practice is good, but too much practice is not" (23). Burnout seems inevitable for many of us. Desolate feelings have sustained themselves twice in my career. Luckily, detachment and rest have served me well when desperately needed. Too many accumulated coaching hours not only can be harmful physically and mentally for obvious reasons, it can also wrestle with your identity. “When your identity gets wrapped up in what you do, it clouds every decision you make...Find your identity in something that cannot simply be stripped away in a moment, but instead do the hard work of reminding yourself that your value comes from who you are" (25). “Coach Giff” and “Matt” are often inseparable. Coaching bleeds into my ethos.
Two summers ago, I began training a young talented hockey athlete named Anders. Anders had tasted professional success; signifying the realization of childhood dreams. Dreams shared by family and friends alike. This can prove equally motivating and daunting. When Anders and I first connected, he was amidst a battle with the physical and mental setbacks of injury. The possibility of retirement loomed all too early for this twenty one year old phenom and clearly carried with it negative thought traps. He was grappling with issues of “identity.”
We all seem to battle with associations, labels and titles linking ourselves to self worth. Medcalf warns, “Whatever you do though, please don't find your identity in something that can be gone in a moment’s notice" (25). With COVID-19 currently snapping its fingers to remove many reliance's and comforts from our lives, this message is as perfect now as it was for the many conversations Anders and I had that summer. We both found out a lot about ourselves.
Anders wasn’t just an athlete. He was a product of all the characterisitics that made him a great on the ice: “Confident, committed, competitive, consistent, determined, cool under pressure, risk taker, and an enthusiastic teammate.” Likewise, I'm not soley “Coach Giff.” I am: affectionate, aware, commited, disciplined, exuberant, curious, a learner, a teacher, a lover of sprints and health...you get the point...You are more than a title. More than a position. More than a job. More than a partner...Always remember, it’s not what you do, it’s WHO YOU ARE that defines you.
Coaching is a journey in which we may never really fully “arrive.” Success carries a different meaning for all. Some say “success is a journey and not a destination.” Some feel it is highly subjective and a “feeling.” A majority may have objectives and look to attain criteria such as: knowledge (PHD, Accumulated Certifications, “Know It All Status”), experience (years, organizations, pro and collegiate), population influence (i.e. # of social media followers), finances ($100k or $1,000,000), and titles or power (Head S&C Coach, Owner). I sometimes like the notion of "freedom of time." Many find satisfaction in having the time and freedom to do what they want; when they want. Whatever contributes to your definition of success, it is very clear that we all have unique markers, thoughts and combinations to its specific personal meaning.
A long coaching journey requires patience and effort. “People who get world class results have trained themselves to become comfortable when it's painful and uncomfortable” (28). I often quote Drake when I reflect on my path, “Started from the bottom, now We here.” Twelve bucks an hour and resting my head at night on a couch in mom's basement was far from "baller" status when I began. However, I could've cared less knowing my size 13 Nike was in the door. I remember being so jacked up for my first paid coaching session with a fourteen year old quarterback from Watertown named Tarek. The 2009 Coach Giff was probably way too animated all the time. My aggressive eyebrows may have had more of a “Rasputin affect" back than too. I likely yelled too much to mimic my superiors and can guarantee I constantly over cued. My enthusiasm and passion, however, would catalyze my first few months and years. Upon reflection, I wouldn't change much and I defintely wouldn't dimmer the level of exuberance I had. Late nights, long weekends and not making as much money as my buddies in the “Biznass” fields were an easy sacrifice for the opportunity to COACH. After all, the essence of coaching is about the give not the get.
What do you desire most as a coach? Is there a title your'e chasing? A caliber or level of athlete you'd wish to lead? Notoriety? Wealth? Do you think the attainment of your dreams can lead to a greater level of happiness or fufilment? “Every day, people everywhere live their lives believing that everything will be different if they can just achieve more, win more or make more money. But if achievement hasn’t filled that void to date, How is achieving more going to fill it in the future?” (30).
There have been many awesome moments in my career thus far. I can without a doubt say the cool things: UFC Championship Belt, T.V. cameos, magazine articles, clinic talks, online world love, and NFL/MLB/UFC athletes trained have been equally fleeting as they are fun. Some of those peaks came early and some took a decent amount of patience and grit. Regardless of whether they were chased or sometimes effortlessly caught, big accomplishments may pat the ego but have never truly carried substance to nourish my soul. Those highlights may provide the opportunity to check the “experience box” or bolster a resume but they don’t make me more valuable to God and my close friends and family.
In 2016, I applied for the Head Football Strength Coach position at the University of Buffalo. I thought this may be my big break to help me harness all those possible desires I confessed earlier. I sent my resume out and drafted a winning cover letter. Realistically I may have been a dark horse, athough having a few inside references and connections gave me confidence. I researched the city, pondered houses, thought about the facility and programming changes I ‘d create with the team. I waited for a call...and I waited..and waited and waited...And SNUBBED! Silver Lining Alert: The silence provided an opportunity for scripture to envelop me.
God chooses to occasionally bear hug me and speak through The Word. His timing is impecable. I’ll never forget my eyes and fingers finding “Ecclesiastes.” As the story goes, there once was a wise man who had EVERYTHING under the sun. None of his possessions brought him fulfillment. The pursuit of riches and worldly desires became an act in “chasing the wind.” Have you ever tried catching the wind? You'll always come up empty. The wise man had all the riches, experiences and acclaim and yet realized it was all meaningless. All that mattered was God and the relationships he had with people...
...We are a few years into my journey and have now began to really dig into the carry overs Chop Wood Carry Water has to coaching. I am going to hit pause and let you digest as I give my fingers and head some rest. I will keep “chopping wood and carrying water” and finish Part 2 next week. Be good.
*Editors Note: "Everything new is well forgotten old." I made a few alterations to the original article from 2016. 2020 has only cemented these sentiments. YouTube Video (2013)
Whose really changed? I often hear the phrase "kids these days" thrown around loosely by critical adults. I am the first to admit I've grown increasingly more guilty with time. Usually, I contrast my era from my ever so high pedestal. I frequently tell my athletes of the days in which "I was locked out of the house in the dead of hot summers" and told to "play until the sun goes down." I also especially like to recall making it through my freshman year of college at UW-Madison without yet owning a cell phone. Calling cards are second only to the beeper.
History will do its part in animating social differences and progressions. Opinions certainly tend to bias or embellish. Regardless, the facts are kids these days are a product of YOU, US, and ME.
Kids these days are "pudging" out. The CDC says one out of five are overly plump. They are spending more time slouched in front of a flat screen and have more experience pushing buttons on a cell phone than they do climbing on monkey bars. Conversely, adults these days are guilty of the same damn issues. Every other adult in the U.S. is overweight. We hit the scales for an extra fifteen pounds of blubber in comparison to the late 80's. Adults these days don't consume phytonutrient (fruits and veggies) rich foods. Adults these days don't find the 20-40 minutes a day out of their "insanley" busy lives to get up and move.
And its not just a "health thing." Our priorities are wack. We could name the back ups to our back ups on our Fantasy Football team but we can't name more than one or two teachers that spend the day with our 7th grader.
Adults these days often say "my kid doesn't want to _____(fill in the blank with: eat good, exercise, stop to help someone, sacrifice something, play outside). Unfortunately, kids are merely a reflection of unaccountable adults.
Fitness coaches often condition the body with the Law of the Farm: what you reap you sow. We should condition our (kids) mindsets using the same mantra. Leading by example is the best way to make that stick.
God hasn't blessed me with my own children just yet. However, my coaching style often reflects that of a parent. Here are my top five ways to build the champion "kid" in all of us:
1. "Show Up, Step Up, Lead Don't Manage."- My dad was my first coach. He gave me my first lesson in "Experiential Learning" by allowing me to figure out how to ride a bicycle without giving me much help. When I was five or six years old he bolstered his resume with the title "receiver coach." I learned "button hooks" and "down and outs." To his surprise, my first year of flag football became my dad's first year as an organized youth coach. He stepped up and stood in the gap when no one else would. He did a great job implementing simple practice plans, teaching the basics, communicating according to his audience and making sure to set fair expectations for all. Everyone played equally and everyone learned. I was humbled when my dad made it clear that nepotism had no place in our family or on the field.
As my coaching career has matured I've realized the coaches who made the biggest impact on my life not only lived the sport but also offered their hearts to my teammates and I. If they lacked in knowledge, they surely made up in character and leadership. My coaches were great people first.
Kids and adults alike don't want to be managed. They want to be lead, inspired and EMPOWERED. Most of all, they need an example. My dad, Pam Lahman, Kevin Kraemer, Dan English, Jim Mork, Bill Kirsch, Tim Paulsen, Fritz Richter (the list goes on)...they were all great humans who provided an awesome example. Many youth athletes in my community felt their impact.
2. "Listen for the talent that whispers." -George Anders, author of Rare Find, separates two types of talent: "that which shouts and that which whispers." It is easy to find the top performers. As a coach or scout it takes zero skill to look for the biggest, fastest, baddest and highest scorer. Rasmus Ankersen, author of The Gold Mine Effect, describes the search for talent that whispers best "Shut up and start to listen! Listen for the story, the theme and the reasons driving performance. Listen for what people say without saying it out loud." Ankersen uses Timothy Gallwey's performance equation: "Performance = potential - interference (P= p - i)" to provide more context into discovering unique unrevealed talent.
John O' Sullivan, founder of "Changing The Game Project" elaborated brilliantly:
"Our system is setup to find the talent that shouts, but not the talent that whispers.
In our hyper-competitive youth sports world, we are racing to the bottom in a huge hurry to accelerate development. We are pushing single-sport specialization younger and younger. We are having tryouts, making cuts, and forming travel teams while children are still in elementary school. Parents are afraid that if they don’t hire a private trainer for their 8-year-old, she will be pushed out of the system. We are pouring the training volume of a fifteen-year-old into a nine-year-old, and then proclaiming 'look how good he is' and splattering the video all over YouTube.
We are creating a youth sports environment that only works for those with the most money, the most time, and often, the well-intentioned parents with the greatest willingness to look the other way and ignore not only all the science and research, but that gut-feeling that says 'I don’t think this is working for my kid, but I am going to do it anyway because I am scared if I don't, my kid will miss out.'
We are throwing dozens of eggs against a wall and hoping one or two won’t crack, and with little regard for those eggs that do break.
We are great at selecting the talent that shouts. These are the kids who are usually born within a few months of the arbitrary calendar cutoff, known as the relative age effect. Study after study has shown the bias toward older birth dates in sports(those born in the first half of the sporting calendar year.) Another study shows how the relative age bias is increasing. Programs select those who have specialized first. We grab the biggest, fastest and strongest, and select based on output, instead of looking at the input that created said output."
Listen for the whispers of potential...harvest the effort..pay attention to the emerging talent unaccompanied by privilege and void of resources... BE A PART OF THE SUCCESS STORY.
3. "You Did Good Kid." - Talent and potential can only be actualized when exceptional effort collides with a genuine appreciation of process. Self confidence has to be nurtured early on through relationships with superiors, friends, and family. Scripture will always be my go to coaching manual. I love how Books such as 1 Thessalonians (5:11) encourage the coach in many of us, "We are to love one another, encourage one another and build each other up." Kids are HUNGRY...Feed them the "coaching sandwich." Discuss corrective feedback between two layers of praise... If competition breeds success, push kids to compete within first. Reward enthusiasm, body language, focus, attention to detail, persistence, timeliness and any often over looked characteristic that can create positive change..."ENCOURAGE" - to add to someones heart.
4. "Embrace Failure." - Million dollar marketing ad campaigns manipulate and influence our kids early. Some of my athletes have sported Nike t-shirts with "Fear Failure" slapped on the chest. That's some serious BULL$%#@! Success is catalyzed by the flames of failure. Teach kids to take smart risks, to learn from failure through analysis and constructive feedback. Push kids to welcome the chance of failure. Most importantly, teach kids to accept the responsibility of their losses and setbacks. Have a short memory as my high school football coach Steve Rux always said, "Own it, learn from it, than trash it."
5. "Empower." - Define: goals and standards. Educate: the how and why. Do: promote action and inspire ideas into results. Make kids part of the mission. Teach them the way, show them the way, and than most importantly get out of their way.