A Hallmark Moment Tonight – Lyric/Poem

Snow is falling
And my heart is calling
To you tonight.
You are here,
Deep within my heart.
Take my hand, darling –
Open your heart
And listen to our love that is calling
As, outside, the snow is gently falling.
I am so in love with you
As we make our hallmark moment come true,

The snow is falling
And I hear your voice calling
As I gaze out into the night.
Loneliness has been with me
But I’ll be home soon.
So let your love shine bright
On me tonight
And guide me home
Into your arms,

At a tree lighting on a town common
Sit a couple – a lovely sight.
A love that could have been
But never was.
But she’s still his sweetheart tonight
As they gaze into the holiday light.
A century shared in the warmth of a night
As they capture a hallmark moment,

Love is near –
Oh, please let it be here.
A man stands ready
But with a hint of fear
As he waits for the one
And to create a hallmark moment,

Snow is falling
And my heart is calling
To you tonight.
You are here,
Deep within my heart.
Take my hand, darling –
Open your heart
And listen to our love that is calling
As, outside, the snow is gently falling.
I am so in love with you
As we make our hallmark moment come true,

Coach’s Corner – Monday with Matt

Over the course of the past 6 months, I have been writing a weekly column for Hadley Park and Recreation called Mondays with Matt. In these columns, I discuss the role of sports and recreation in society along with coaching lessons, tips and best practices. As Winter comes upon us, the column is taking a bit of a break – also due in part to some personnel changes in the Park and Rec. department. The following is my final wrap up column that was published yesterday.

As the calendar pages turn and the snowflakes begin to drop onto our New England landscape, it is coming to the time of year where we tend to stop and reflect. We look at the world around us and ponder what we have seen throughout the year. For many this year, it has been a challenging year. As I too reflect on the past year and prepare for a likely pause to this column during the seasons, I am glad that I have had the opportunity to have an audience with all of you who read this column.

Coaching, athletics and the role that recreation plays in our lives are things that I care deeply about. I never made it to high ranks in any sports, but I have continually been exposed to it and gleaned bits of knowledge here and there. It is that knowledge that I have sought to share with all of you. I hope that everyone who has read this column thus far has been able to take something away from it.

As one can see from reading these lessons in totality, sports and recreation have a lot to offer us. Not just in terms of pleasure and enjoyment or providing us something to do. Sports and recreation does provide us with that as well, but it offers us so much more. They provide us with a vessel to become the best that we are capable of becoming. Coach John Wooden’s self-crafted definition of success – the peace of mind obtained through giving the effort to be that best version of yourself – was not just for the field of play. On the contrary, Coach Wooden was seeking a way to convey to those around him about what it means to be successful as a person. The lessons that you learn through recreational activities and/or sports help to achieve that goal while also providing skills and ideas that cross-translate into any facet of life. However, like any activity or task, the vessel of learning will only open its doors to you if you genuinely seek to unlock the door, open your mind, keep your eyes straight and steady and actively learn.

Like any activity, sports and recreation require hard work – a lot of it. It requires being a student of the game. It requires a passion – whether that fire that was lit be an acquired interest or a force that simply cannot be easily explained. Learning and developing your inherent character through sports and recreation requires that you learn not only about the game, but about yourself and others as well.

Think back on many of the lessons that we have discussed together over the past half year. We have talked a lot about strategy. We identified what your internal strategy can look like and how that is influenced by – and can help influence – your team’s external strategy and game strategy. We talked about the importance of practicing the fundamentals of your given activity and understanding the tools that allow you to perform that activity. We talked about the importance of having fun, persevering and being creative. We identified the keys to success that will help you be the best athlete possible.

Look back at that last paragraph. Read the words. Not one sport was mentioned nor one activity. I could have been talking about baseball, softball, football, cheerleading or basketball. I also could have been talking about painting, playing music, participating on the debate team or writing. The ideas crossover and are applicable in all parts of your life. Sports and recreation are simply a microcosm of life and a medium through which these skills can be developed and displayed.

For myself, like many others, sports are what opened our eyes to these lessons. For me, all of the lessons mentioned above came to me through baseball. I use them every single day in my everyday life and with my family. But baseball is where I studied these concepts, along with other sports.

For those of you who use sports and recreation as a way to learn, I hope that these tips and lessons have been helpful to you. I hope that sports and recreational activities have opened your eyes to the world around you like it has for me.

As we head into a winter break, I want to thank everyone who has been reading this column and say that I hope to be back with you all soon for our weekly discussions. If you would like to continue following my coaching lessons and columns, you can view the archive – so far – on the Hadley Park and Recreation website and through my website that I am updating at www.mattkushicoaching.com.

Thank you all and Happy Holidays!


A Lover’s Lullabye – Lyric/Poem

It has been a while since I have written new material. I also wanted to briefly give a glimpse at some of my writing process.

Tonight, I wrote a new piece called A Lover’s Lullabye. I have explained before that I draw from many different places, stories and experiences when writing. While listening to music tonight, I came across a song I had not heard before by Fleetwood Mac called Songbird. It was from the Rumours album with Christine McVie on the lead. It is a beautiful song painted against a piano backdrop along with a subtle acoustic guitar line with a simple message delivered with the right tone. This song stuck with me and eventually the tune started to take on a life of its own in my mind with a few additions. As I listened to the song again, this time without hearing the words, just the sound and the tone, I started writing and this is what I came up with. Complete with editing, this took about 15-20 minutes. I hope that you all enjoy it. I will post a YouTube clip to Songbird by Fleetwood Mac below.

A Lover’s Lullabye
Matthew Kushi

From the dusk of moonlight,
And a lullabye whispers to me.

With you, everything is alright
By you, I can sleep well tonight.
My heart is tucked in, wrapped into your arms.
We are both safe tonight –
Sleep well until the morning light.

I wish that you I could give you all that I have ever owned.
I hope that you feel the sunshine dance across your face
As we pass through the fleeting dawn of the morn’
And the stars wink at us goodnight.

Let me tell you that I love you
And how I want this love of ours to last forever,
Stronger than all of the powers in all of the world.

And with you, the sun will forever shine.
I watch it dance across your face,
And I find myself lost in your loving, smitten eyes.
I find myself wishing you knew how deeply I have fallen.
For the sunshine of my life.

Songbird – Fleetwood Mac

Dream Baby

Dream Baby,
Look at her as she walks down the aisle.
Dream Baby,
You’re the one that makes me smile
Now we’re together
And so much in love.
I look at you
And we say “I do”.
My heart is beating fast
As I lift up your veil
And kiss your sweet lips.
Loving you is better than a dream, baby.

They met long ago
That is how this story goes.
As they talked, they didn’t know
That they were dreams from heaven
Sent for each other.
Now, they are so much in love
And will forever be lovers.

Dream, baby
Of our time together.
Dream, baby
You’re the one I love
Dream Baby,
You are my dream, baby.

Close your eyes now and dream, baby
For tomorrow is our wedding day.
There are so many words to you I want to say.
It’s times like this I don’t know what to say or do
Because I’m in love with you.

Dream Baby,
I see you sleeping
As the glow of the fireplace
Dances across your face.
You are more beautiful than I ever dreamed.

Now, she is dreaming late at night
She’s got a dream baby on her mind.
Times are a-changing
And love is a-coming
To this beautiful Dream Baby.
So dream, baby.

Dream Baby,
Look at her as she walks down the aisle.
Dream Baby,
You’re the one that makes me smile
Now we’re together
And so much in love.
I look at you
And we say “I do”.
My heart is beating fast
As I lift up your veil
And kiss your sweet lips.
Loving you is better than a dream, baby.

Dream, baby
Of our time together.
Dream, baby
You’re the one I love
Dream Baby,
You’re the one I will hold
Even as we grow old.
Dream Baby,
You are my dream, baby.

No Place I’d Rather Be

Look, here comes the sun.
A new day has begun.
Out on the river, the water shines
and it ripples in mighty lines.

Let’s walk under the sky so blue.
That’s all I want to do with you.
Far off an eagle cries
Followed by the sound of your pretty sigh.
You look into my eyes
and there’s no place I’d rather be.

We walk through the grass so high
and watch a hawk as it takes off to fly.
Listen to the stream as it flows.
On and on forever it goes.

I just want to lay here with you
and watch the sky turn an emerald hue.
Hold each other as the sun goes down
and feel the silence all around.
Days as perfect as this are so few.
There’s no one I’d rather share it with than you.

A day so pretty I can’t recall.
Guess it’s that way when you fall.
The katydids are singing
and in harmonic rhythm our hearts are beating strong.

The world’s at peace,
I hope you can feel it too.
Soon day will be set anew
and the morning will be fresh with dew.
In all of nature’s beauty, there is nothing I would rather do
than share this with you.

Ode To A Brother

So many days I wonder,
Why did it have to happen to you?
Why were we selected for this task?
Brother, as I look at you, I wonder.
If you could speak what would you say to me?

Would we share jokes?
Would you give me brotherly advice?
I’d give the world to know you better.
Maybe, just maybe, some day you will be able to read this letter.

Your muscles may not work in smooth motion
But that doesn’t bother me.
You may not be able to see
But that doesn’t bother me.
You lift me up when my world collapses.
You are the strength that I can only hope to be.

You may not be able to move around gracefully
But that doesn’t bother me.
Just your being here is enough for this little brother.
I hope you know this through the wordless emotions that we speak.

Though we may always wonder what could have been,
We are blessed to have each other.
Through the sad and happy times,
You are my best friend.

We’re in this until the end.
We are bonded by blood until the end of time
And I wouldn’t want anyone other than you
As my brother.

A Call to Imagination

Failure of imagination. These three words – this statement – are so simple yet so complex. The phrase “Failure of imagination” has been around for a long time and spoken by many. It has almost turned into a cliché of describing what went catastrophically wrong in a given situation. But what if the words are true? Both globally and domestically, we are at a crossroads on several different fronts. The problems that we face are complex. However, are they complex beyond our ability to mitigate them? Are we helpless to bring about change? Are our laws and our policies not mighty enough to alter the path that those that they guide? While there are limitations to what we can do, the answer to these questions should be no. As Robert F. Kennedy once stated in his speech in South Africa during their Day of Affirmation, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” We should be able to contribute to a change in society. We need to be able to make that change. Yet, we need to take a risk to affect that change. We need to imagine that we can change our future. Only by imagining a better tomorrow, can we make a better tomorrow possible.

So, we go back to the phrase again. Failure of imagination. Looking upon some of the woes that are inflicting pain upon our society and our world today, could one problem be that we are daring to dream? To imagine? It at least seems plausible that this could be case.

As we think of that phrase, examples may come to mind. What has caused me to think of this phrase is an example from American history. Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy dared the United States to dream – to imagine. To imagine and to see exploration beyond the realm of which we were aware existed – the lands and the seas. Rather, let us explore a new frontier. The frontier of outer space. The Moon. Thus, began an era of technological movement and innovative dreaming. Project Mercury to the Gemini Project and finally to Apollo. It is the start of the Apollo era where our phrase comes into our world in this case.

January 1967. A plugs out test wasn’t supposed to be dangerous. No man would fly into space or beyond the confines of the launch pad. Yet, this is when tragedy struck. Mired in a communications line breakdown issue, a sealed cockpit with a latched hatch door exploded into flames – the result of a faulty wire igniting in an enclosed area filled with 100% oxygen. Fifteen seconds was all it took. Gone were rookie astronaut Roger Chaffee, veteran Ed White (the first American to walk in space) and Gus Grissom (one of the original Mercury astronauts). A lot of time was spent trying to figure what went wrong. Astronaut Colonel Frank Borman was asked this during a Congressional hearing. He responded, “Failure of imagination”. The TV series From the Earth to the Moon highlights some of the testimony this way: “A failure of imagination. We’ve always known there was the possibility of fire in a spacecraft. But the fear was that it would happen in space, when you’re 180 miles from terra firma and the nearest fire station. That was the worry. No one ever imagined it could happen on the ground. If anyone had thought of it, the test would’ve been classified as hazardous. But it wasn’t. We just didn’t think of it. Now who’s fault is that? Well, it’s North American’s fault. It’s NASA’s fault. It’s the fault of every person who ever worked on Apollo. It’s my fault. I didn’t think the test was hazardous. No one did. I wish to God we had.”

Read Col. Borman’s words, whether they are from a Congressional transcript or TV series. The failure that occurred here did not occur due to some uncontrollable force. On the contrary, it was preventable. But no one thought of the situation in which it did occur. There was no plan. Failure was the end result.

Look at the world that we live within. See the parallels? We cannot afford to have a failure of imagination. We cannot afford to stand aside and let things happen as they may. We need to plan. We need to dream. We need to think. We need to imagine. Then, maybe, we can start solving some of the problems that face us. We need to plan for sight seen and unseen. In the film Lincoln starring Daniel Day Lewis, there is a line that struck me as interesting when it comes to planning. In response to a conversation about strategy and following your moral compass, Lincoln utters this line: “A compass, I learnt when I was surveying, it’ll point you True North from where you’re standing. But it’s got no advice about the swamps and deserts and chasms that you’ll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp… What’s the use of knowing True North?”

As we strike forward, let us not sink in the swamp that is failure of imagination. Let us be a strong, intelligent and compassionate people, who work for the betterment of all mankind. Let us have a plan and plan for all. Let us use our imaginations to avoid the tragedy that has befallen so many in the passages of history before us. Let us be the ripple of hope that Robert Kennedy described in that Day of Affirmation speech. That is how we will triumph as a world and as a society in an ever-complicated world. We can bring the flowers that exist in the world to bear so long as we use every once of our imagination and will to keep them alive and bring them to the front of the picture.

Coach’s Corner: Strategy and Workload Management – A 2 Part Series

*Author’s Note: This 2 part post is part of an initiative the author is publishing in partnership with Hadley Park and Recreation for the benefit of student-athletes and coaches. The first post focuses on strategy. Prior lessons are referenced with the idea being that an athlete’s internal strategy (what they can control) influences their team’s external overall strategy. More traditional topics will be returned to in future weeks as well for those not wishing to read in-depth analysis of sports strategies.

Article 1: External Strategy
Greetings and welcome to this week’s edition of Mondays with Matt! This week, I would like to finish our discussion on athletic strategy. For a few weeks now, we have been talking about this concept of strategy. We have spent quite a bit of time identifying what internal strategy is and why it matters. This week, we will take a look at external strategy – the actual operations of how a game is conducted by both teams and why strategy is important to understand.

The way that a game is played and designed is based on a sequence of strategies and strategic decisions. As we watch games, we notice these strategies. We root for certain strategies to work. We watch a play develop in basketball or watch the sequence of passes to find a good shot in hockey and soccer. We notice how our favorite team is trying to score runs in baseball and softball.

All of these events do not occur in a vacuum. Yes, they do occur by individuals who have mastered the fundamentals and are playing a game. There is luck, chance and basic performance occurring. However, these happenings are also occurring based on a certain mindset that a team has based on achieving their goal of performing better than their opponent. Now, we are not going to dive deep into strategic analysis in this column. There are sports libraries full of books dedicated to different game plans and strategies and why (ie. Football – West Coast Offense vs. Pass Balanced; when to use a 4-3 Base Defense with read options [see Tom Landry] vs. a Cover 2 personnel package. Baseball/Softball: Base Advancement vs. Power Ball; SABERMetrics vs. traditional scouting. Soccer, Basketball, Hockey: Spread Offense vs. Crash Offense; Zone Defense vs. Man Defense).

What I do want to make sure is understood is that a team’s external strategy is based off of many different factors. These include a coach’s values, their preferred playing style, what they value in terms of fundamental skills, an opponent’s tendencies and our own team’s tendencies. What are your team’s tendencies based off of? One, how your team performs as a collective unit. Two, the individuals who make up your team. The internal strategies that make up your collective team.

There was an example that I used last week that I would like to examine further. In basketball, there are many different types of external team strategies that a coach can employ. You can use set plays, post plays and fast break plays among the many options. For this example, let’s look at the fast break. The fast break is an offensive strategy typically used to capitalize on your opponent’s failure to score. The emphasis is moving the ball up the court quickly. In order to do this, you need to have conditioned players who can run. You need to have good ball control and the ability to make quick, concise passes to your flanking teammates as you move down the court. If the members of your team are not fast or don’t excel in those skills, then the fast break will likely not be a key way that that team plays the game. You are looking for a skills match – a consistency in skills and strategy between player and coach. For example, in baseball and softball, the generally accepted offensive strategies are “small ball” (using hits, stolen bases and base advancement to score runs) and a more power-based strategy (homeruns, swing for extra base hits). If you are a coach that values small ball principles, having power hitters all over the lineup may not be a good match-up and vice versa.

So, we have established that there are many different strategies that teams can employ and many different factors go into determining that external strategy. This diversity is fine. However, there is one key to success in all of this where there must be no misunderstanding if a team and its individuals are to experience success: Understanding. Player and coaches alike must understand the strategy. Players must understand and respect the overall team external strategy and understand how their self-regulated internal strategy impacts that entity. Likewise, a coach must understand every nut and bolt of their philosophy and strategy. A coach must also understand his/her players. What are their strengths? Weaknesses? What is their value? How does that add or detract from the overarching team identity? It’s about managing people and managing expectations. Without understanding and respect from both players and coaches, that one team heartbeat becomes fractured.

So, in closing, as a player and a coach, understand your internal strategy and your team’s external strategy. Understand every reason and every nut and bolt of your system. That is how you put yourself in position to succeed. That is why strategy is so important. Not only in sports. Look at the world around you. Life. Work. Sports. They have a lot in common. Even in everyday life, there is this relationship between strategies. Understanding this will help you in any environment.

In closing, pay attention to strategy. But, I would also like to stress as an aside, never forget the basics of what made you interested in strategy in the first place. Never forget the fundamentals of the game you are playing or the task you are performing and the fun that you derive from it. Never forget the basic act of how to do your job – playing a piano, throwing/hitting a baseball, shooting hoops. As Park and Recreation participants, enjoyment of the activity is of the most importance. Understanding strategy is a tool that helps you succeed in adding value to that enjoyment at higher levels.

Article 2: Workload and Capacity Management – Understanding the System

In today’s edition of Mondays with Matt, I would like to have a conversation with you all about workload. While we will be discussing the importance of understanding workload in athletic terms, this is another one of those concepts that translates into everyday life as well. What I want to impress upon you in this week’s discussion is the importance of understanding workload and the idea that workload intensity is not a constant – it is an evermoving variable that impacts how you play the game and perform. For coaches, it is also important for you to understand this concept. As was mentioned in a prior column, as a coach, you are a teacher and a manager. You are not managing just players. You are managing people – adults, kids – who happen to be under your supervision in the role as an athlete. Coaching is about managing expectations and understanding the concept of workload is critical to this.

So why is understanding workload important? Understanding your workload is important because it allows you to understand what you can do and are capable of. As a coach, it allows you to understand what to expect from your players in a given moment given your current situation. In an ideal world, you would be able to benchmark your workload and your capacity based upon how much work you have done or how long you have played. However, that assumes that all in-game situations are alike and constant. The assumption is that all plays and motions that happen within a game during a set time-period are of equal stress. That is where this thinking is flawed. We live in an imperfect world where we are subject to variables and our capacity changes based upon in game context. An athlete’s capacity and workload stress incurred is affected by the situations that they have been exposed to in the game and how they reacted to those situations.

As I was watching this year’s Major League Baseball National League Championship Series, broadcaster (and former player) John Smoltz made a great point relating to this. Smoltz said something noting the impact of high stress plays and situations on a player’s strategy and capacity.

Let’s look at a few examples. Whether you are a player or a coach, you should be able to relate to these examples. Let’s look at fast motion sports such as basketball or soccer. You are trained to run up and down the court and be able to make essential fundamental plays – i.e. pass a ball, shoot a ball and dribble. You also are aware that it is easier to perform these tasks when you are relaxed, confident and in the zone. It is also easier to perform these tasks when you are rested. This is why substitutions exist in these sports.

Now, let’s break that down further. Why is it harder to perform these tasks under certain circumstances? Why are you effective in some games when you have played 30 minutes but are tired after 20 minutes? Shouldn’t the well-rested theory work the opposite way? This happens because of situational play and high stress plays. Let’s say your team is winning and your team is in control of the game. You are confident and can take your time and perform your tasks the right way. You can play 30 minutes and, despite a higher workload, have the capacity to perform. 

Now, let’s flip that scenario. Your team is behind. You are aware of the clock ticking. You need to match the other team and then surpass them to win. You are pressing. This is a high stress situation. You are performing the same tasks and running the same amount as the scenario when you are ahead, yet you are tired and ineffective after 15 minutes of play. Why? Your workload may be lower but the intensity of that workload is higher, resulting in more stress and lowered capacity.

An excellent example that I like to give is pitch counts in baseball. Ignore the arguments on whether pitch counts are too much of a data driven approach – traditional and new school views can co-exist. Let’s look at pitch counts and Innings Pitched. Look past the numbers and the statistical thresholds that people tend to use. There is more to the story. Look at the qualitative context instead. We have two pitchers, each pitching 8 innings and 110 pitches. Which one is more tired? Well, the starting pitcher was ahead in the game and did not let many runners on. Their pitch count was a result of mixing pitches and working the count. They are not as tired and could go another inning, despite the thresholds. The other pitcher? They have been in and out of jams with runners on base. Walks and hits have been an issue. Same Innings Pitched, same pitch count but they are tired. It’s time for a relief pitcher. See the difference? Workload and capacity influenced by high stress situations. Going back to John Smoltz, that was his point.

As you can hopefully see, workload and capacity understanding are critical components to understand as a player and as a coach. The same can apply to an everyday workplace as well. We are impacted by the situations that we are exposed to. Understanding that can help us manage ourselves and others better. This can help you become a better worker, manager and athlete/student-athlete.

Coach’s Corner – What’s Your Strategy?

Welcome Everyone,

In this week’s edition of Mondays with Matt, I want to start introducing a concept that I will be discussing in the future – Strategy. I want to discuss this concept as strategy is really the guiding force when we talk about recreational goals and athletic ventures. Why? For a few reasons. First off, we have spent some time discussing the importance of understanding and mastering the fundamentals. We have discussed the importance of practicing and understanding your role on a team and being self-aware so that you can best contribute to whatever team you are a part of. But how do you accomplish a team goal? What guides you in determining how to best use your skills? What determines how you prepare and practice to be the best that you are capable of being? Strategy. The way that I look at it, there are two types of strategy that you must be aware of – whether you are a member of any team, a student-athlete or a dedicated athlete competing on the field of play. There is internal strategy and external strategy.

What is your internal strategy? For the purposes of this column, we will discuss this concept in athletic terms. Notice that I used the word “your” in that opening question. Internal strategy is what you control. As a member of a team and an athlete, you have some responsibilities. You are responsible for serving your team to the best of your ability and putting yourself in the best possible place to have a positive impact in your effort and your team’s effort to achieve success on the field of play. That is, after all, the ultimate goal of an athletic team – to achieve success and perform the functions of a game better than the other team and individuals that you are competing against. But how are you going to put yourself in a position to help accomplish that goal?

What is your strategy? See, there’s that concept. You have a choice to make. You could sit and do nothing. You could certainly do that – it’s easy. And you know what you are going to contribute and be able to do? Nothing. As an athlete and/or a student-athlete, your ability to contribute depends on being both mentally prepared and physically prepared. You need to be conditioned and in good physical shape. You need to understand yourself and every piece of your team. You need to understand what you can do and what your teammates can do and why. You need to have practiced the skills required of you and your teammates. You need to have the ability to perform the physical skills required to achieve that over-arching team goal.

All of this should sound somewhat familiar, right? This sounds a lot like some of the life lessons and athletic preparation concepts that we have discussed in prior columns, doesn’t it? Self-awareness, teamwork, mastery and understanding of fundamental skills. This is all part of preparing yourself for success and is part of the internal strategy model. No, we do not sit idle and do nothing. We prepare ourselves. We study the game. We study and master the fundamentals and refine our skills. We study ourselves and our teammates until we become one heartbeat. We study our opponents and understand their tendencies just like our own. We condition our bodies so that they are in physically optimal shape. In sports, you are using your body in most cases. You need to be able to physically perform and have your body conditioned in the best possible manner in order to sustain athletic success. You need to understand how to best physically condition your body and why, as not every sport and activity requires the same physical skills and requirements. This is why some sports require lifting weights while others have more of an emphasis on running and conditioning. This is why understanding athletic position and biomechanics is so important. I will cover this in another column. The point is that our internal strategy should be actions taken to put ourselves, and our team, in the best possible position to achieve our goals. We will outwork and outperform our opponents. This is done through practice and staying in peak physical and mental condition.

Now that we have an understanding of what our internal strategy should look like, we can turn our attention to external strategy. External strategy is probably the one part of athletics that we are exposed to the most, yet realize we are seeing the least. Anytime you watch an athletic competition, you are watching an exercise in strategy. Really, any action we take in any setting can be viewed as an external strategy. It is the process and method in which we seek to achieve our goals. As an athlete, you can control your own game strategy. However, you are almost always adhering to a game plan put forth by your head coach. Thus, external strategy can be viewed as a coaching concept – one of the most important concepts. A coach will – or should – have an intricate understanding of their team and the skills/weaknesses that each and every one of their players has. Based on the skills and tendencies of the other team – and matched with your own team’s skills and tendencies – a strategy is formulated. You know what players have which skill set and your team should have a general mastery of the fundamentals. What do you do with those fundamentals? That is your external strategy. Are you aggressive? Defensive? Tactical? What is your general team concept in terms of how you score points, runs or goals? That is the chess match that makes sports exciting. External strategy based upon how your team strategizes internally. As a coach, this is the game. As a player, this is how you set yourself up for success.

I hope that you have found this helpful and we will discuss further in future columns.

Until next week!

Coach’s Corner – Practice: An Introduction to Fundamentals

* Author’s Note: This column was written for the Hadley Park and Recreation Department as part of an athletic coaching lessons and life lessons series that the author is writing called Mondays with Matt.

Today, on Mondays with Matt, I want to talk to you briefly about fundamentals and practice. Why? Well, practice – and practicing the fundamentals of whatever activity you or your kid are participating in – is often overlooked and not looked at in the most favorable light. Last week, I talked with to you about creating your own experiences through your own activities and the fact that these small instances of play actually help develop skills. Really, what I was talking to you about was practice and practicing on honing your skills. I am going to spend a few weeks on this concept of practicing the fundamentals because it is so important. So, to all of you kids out there who read this and who are having someone read this to them, gather around and let’s talk about practice.

First, I want to start off with a quote: “We [are] talking about practice. Not the game, but practice!” Now, I am taking this quote out of context, but we are indeed talking about practice. I mention this quote for two reasons. For one, it’s a fun way to start this week’s column. Some of you who are younger may not quite get the reference and that is fine. For some of us of a certain age, this was a head shaking yet amusing moment in sports history. NBA All Star Allen Iverson had an issue with a coach and went on a memorable rant about practice that is noteworthy for the number of times the word “practice” is mentioned. In retrospect, it is an amusingly absurd rant.

The second reason I mention this, however, is due to the message behind that rant. In Iverson’s eyes, practice was not as important as a game at that point in time. Now, parents and kids alike, I want you to think back to your last sports season or recreational lesson session. Parents, think back to your sports and recreation days. How much did you like practice? Of course, there will be some of you who loved practice. For many, myself included, there was a love/hate relationship that existed. You enjoyed practice because it likely beat doing homework or some other activity. You got to play a game that you loved and be with friends. But practice was something to have done. What you likely really looked forward to were the games. Practices far outnumber games, so this is not uncommon.

Keep thinking back to that last practice. Don’t leave that world of memory yet. When you study coaching or start getting into the details of how to become the best that you are capable of becoming – remember that John Wooden quote on success – at your given activity, what do most teachers and coaches have in common in their philosophy? The idea that the games are important, yes. But success in a performance or a game does not come unless you have put the time and effort in at practice. For it is at practice that you develop your craft. Where you work on and attempt to master the fundamentals.

You see, practice is the most important part of recreation. We all love the feeling when we have succeeded at your craft, whether it be playing a song on the piano or painting a picture or helping our team win an athletic competition. But those things do not just happen. It takes dedication. It takes effort and work. It takes a desire to learn and develop your skills. It takes repetition. Kids, what else does this sound like? It sounds a lot like your typical school day doesn’t it? Adults, this sounds a lot like most things in life doesn’t it? That’s because the concepts are the same. Being able to do the basic act of what it takes to accomplish something – what are called the fundamentals – is achieved through practice. That is why we go to school. If this step were not required, education would be a series of tests with no instruction. The whole world of learning and teaching would not be relevant. But it is. In fact, education is the most valuable treasure that you will ever receive in this life other than love. But these things must be maintained and developed.

That is why we practice. That is why we practice the basic concepts in practice. In order to achieve success in any endeavor, including sports and recreation, you must be willing to put in the effort and the work. You must be willing to work on the fundamental skills at practice. So, you see, we are not just talking about practice. We are talking about developing success. Practice and working on the fundamentals may not be the most glorious of activities, but it will help you find the success and glory that you seek.

So, to my young friends who read this column or have it read to them, remember that practice is a good thing – not a bad thing. With the school year coming up, I want you to treat practice with respect and as a great activity to do, because it is important. Whether you are at soccer practice, music practice or simply doing your homework, give it all of the effort that you have. There is a reward at the end if you do well. I know, homework is not fun. I can relate, too. I am working on my second Masters Degree and I have homework that I do not always enjoy doing. But I know that if I work hard enough, it will help me.

Now that we have covered the importance of practice, stay tuned for next week for a serious discussion on the importance of working on fundamentals in both athletic and in life. We will be doing a deeper dive of some of what we covered today.

Have a good week everyone!

~ Coach Matt