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

Mondays with Matt – Sports and Recreation with Coach Matt

Over the past month, I have been partnering with the Hadley Park and Recreation Department to write a weekly column called Mondays with Matt. As many who know me know, sports and recreation have always played a large role in my life. My playing days ended long ago, yet the fire that within me burns has never faltered.

Why coaching and teaching? I have long felt that education and teaching are my callings – my purpose. Over the course of the past decade, I have discovered the many areas that I enjoy helping others in. While sports has thus far been a small part of that, it has been an honor to pass on sports lessons that were passed down to me and that I learned to others. This was why I took a part time job with the Park and Recreation Department from 2012-2015 as the Instructional Youth Sport Coordinator, where some parents bestowed the nickname of Coach Matt on me. At the same time, I started my coaching website and manual – www.mattkushicoaching.com – to share my knowledge and experiences so that others may too learn these lessons, coaches and student-athletes alike.

So, why coaching? What do I have to offer? Self-admittedly, I was not a remarkable player. However, when you lack talent, you have to work harder to make a difference as a member of your team. You pay attention to the small things and do the small things that tend to go unnoticed yet are important. You study strategies, tendencies and mechanics. You learn the history of the game and try to glean every last bit of information you can so that you can be useful, even if only for a moment in time. That’s what I had to do to make it. It took me a long time to understand the importance of it, but what a powerful tool. I was never the player with talent. I was the unseen and unheard behind the scenes member of the team. I was the expendable player. What was lacked in talent, I made up for by being the cog in the machine and studying the games. I learned to perform the risky, un-glamorous jobs. If that required risking my body for the sake of accomplishing a team goal, so be it. Two dislocated knees, a dislocated elbow, various bumps & bruises and a few likely concussions will attest to the physical style of play that I adopted in order to make it in the 3 sports that I eventually played – soccer, basketball and baseball. That is how I added value. But I learned things as well. I learned the strategy of the game, the mechanics of the individual athletic act. I learned how scouting and coaching can make or break a team. I learned that sports is a lot like life – it’s the small things that make the difference. I learned that it’s all about perspective. I realized that I could help others by teaching others – by being a coach to them. And I learned that you never stop learning. Even left to your own devices and creativity – you can develop and learn. No matter the recreational activity that you are partaking in – from music to art to sports – you can develop and learn. I touch on this in this week’s version of Mondays with Matt below. Please read and enjoy!

Opportunities lost. Time lost. In the year 2020, much has been lost. Many have suffered more than time and opportunity lost. Covid-19 does not discriminate. For many kids in town, the opportunities and time lost may be among the more noticeable losses. This may actually be one of the first “losses” that a young kid experiences. It is said that experience is our best teacher and that has consistently proved to be true over the years. There is a lot to be said of experience and being exposed to different parts of life – both good and bad.

In these times of social distancing and isolation, it may feel like much of the structure that a kid knows has evaporated like the dew on the morning grass. For many, recreational activities serve as the ship that passes the time during our childhood. We are always doing something. Always trying to have fun.

How does one combat the feeling of loss that a kid may have? How does one take part in recreational activities? The answer is to rely on creativity and to create experiences. This is something that you can do as a parent or a kid may simply take initiative and do so on their own. Something that we possess as kids is a great sense of imagination. We are creative. We are resourceful. We try to create our own fun and experiences. We do this as adults too, but to a lesser extent – or so it sometimes feels with all of the responsibilities that we carry. Therefore, this lesson can be valuable to all of the parents reading this week’s column as well. This process can be summed up in a short statement – have fun!

In the absence of formally organized recreational activities, you can take advantage of the activities that the Park and Recreation Department puts out on their social media pages. You can also create experiences and games that help develop the same skills as if you were at the local park or field.

I want to provide a quick example of this. I am an adult in his 30’s who has always had a healthy love of sport and recreation. When I was a kid, I didn’t always have the opportunity to be part of a program or a league. However, I wanted to play baseball any chance that I had. What did I do? My dad will vouch for the fact that we played plenty of baseball simulation games with a wiffle ball and bat. He also taught me to be resourceful. How did I work on hitting and throwing? Much the same way that I will absent-mindedly do so today. We have open space behind our house. We also have plenty of rocks. I will take a bat – a wooden one – that I don’t mind beating up and I will work on my hand-eye coordination by playing a game of how many rocks I can hit line drives with. Simple yet effective. The same goes with throwing. We have an abundance of butternut and walnut trees around our property. When the nuts fall, they can pose a hazard for your ankles. One way to dispose of them? Target practice on trees at the edge of the property. To this day, I can spend a good 15 minutes just working on my accuracy and throwing technique by playing a target practice game using nothing but walnuts and a tree.

You see, experience and exposure are our greatest teachers. To all of you parents and kids alike, there are hundreds of things that you can do from the comfort of your own home that can develop your skills and allow you to have fun. Play a game with your kid or parent, create a game in your yard – or wherever it is that you go to play – go fishing. All of these activities are fun and help develop skills. That is something that can be done, even in these trying times.

The fun thing about creating your own recreational experiences is that the activity can also be anything that you want it to be. Not all of us have a strong interest in athletic recreational activities. After all, recreation cover a vast universe of activities. You could enjoy woodworking or making music. Your creative activity could involve art and drawing or painting. There is a reason why all of the above activities are taught in our schools and are part of our educational journey. Bob Ross, the painter, once said when referring to a painting that he was about to create, “This is your world. You are the creator. Find freedom on this canvas.” The same is true for you – you the person. You are the creator of your world. Find freedom in your life and do what you love.

You can develop and learn the same lessons by being creative and creating experiences in your mind. Even when playing a game by yourself, you can learn about the triumph of victory, the lessons of failing and in developing a strategy to succeed again. In doing so, you will find that you are having fun too. So, in closing, to all of you parents and all of you kids reading this – go have some fun! You may not have your traditional coaches, but you will always have the greatest teachers of them all with you – experience and exposure. There is still much to do, much to learn and much fun to be had – just by being you!

A Tragic Lesson

Like many today, it has taken part of today to process what happened earlier in the tragic helicopter crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his young daughter and others to be named. I am still stunned. As someone who still identifies strongly with sports and has a sports background, I am saddened. As a fellow human being reading of a man and a daughter traveling with friends/others to a youth basketball game when this occurred, I am crushed. Take the fact that Kobe Bryant was tragically killed out of the equation. This could happen to anyone and did happen to those whose names have yet to be released. You still have multiple individuals who were killed in an act of tragedy today. Bryant was just like any of them. A father. A spouse. A friend. It does not matter that he was a celebrity. He was just like your local police officer, fireman, neighbor who works at the local store, friend. He was a human among humans who were the wrong place at the wrong time.

Over the course of the past few hours, I have read much about Bryant and learned much about him. I knew of the professional athlete who failed and succeeded. I knew of the athlete who inspired so many through a sheer will to succeed. I knew of the athlete who represented the NBA brand and showed that all basketball is worth watching – NBA and WNBA. What I have learned more about in the past few hours is Kobe Bryant – the person. He was a parent. He was a spouse. He was a friend. People today lost all of these things when he, and others, perished.

Out of this observation, I want all of us to do one thing: Appreciate those in your life. Tell your family that you love them. Tell your friends how much they mean to you and let them know if they inspire you. Show people that they matter to you. As today has shown, whether you are a celebrity or the neighbor who works at the local store, it can all be gone in an instant. Not all of us are destined for fame or greatness, but we are all unique and special – even if it is only to a few people in our lives. To them, we are the world. Hold those people close and tight for tomorrow is not promised. Honor them and mourn them as we do for every service member who does not make it home, every public servant who gives their life in the line of duty and every person who enters through the Gates after their time on Earth is done – famous and common.

Many of us have experienced death enough times to know that the loss of a loved one is a wound that never quite heals. The tears are never quite done being shed. The hole in the heart never quite closes as it was before. We are only here on this Earth for a short time. Whether we are famous or not, our lives matter. Our souls matter and our the spirit that provides that spark within us that makes us definable. Too often, we only look back upon that spark of a human and realize how amazing they are when their time of departure has occurred or is at hand. Why don’t we do this with those around us while we all have time to appreciate it? That friend who works hard and is always there for you and asks nothing in return? Don’t wait until the sun sets many years from now and you see their name as an obituary and think “That person was really amazing.” Tell them. Tell them now. Don’t you think it’s worth it to see a smile come across their face as they realize that they are defined by more than a label  – more than just a common person – and that to someone in their life, they mean something more valuable than gold? I do.

Whether you are a NBA legend or a hard-working person at a standard job, you have worth and value. You are someone – even if it is only in the eyes of a few. Tell those people, please. As the tragedies of deaths of military members, everyday people and legends attest, tomorrow is not promised. Not to any of us or any of those we sometimes take for granted. Use this tragedy as a lesson.

Athletic Sustainability: Self-Awareness and Adaptability

This post is part of a series on athletic coaching lessons and can also be found on the author’s Athletic Coaching Lessons website at this link here.

Sports and life have many similarities and many of the same lessons. This has been covered in other posts. As in any task in your every day life, one of the keys to success (covered here) is to have self-awareness. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Know how to best utilize them in any given situation, whether that be working as a lead on a project or on the field of play in athletics. To be truly successful performing your task at hand, you must also know how to perform the other side of the equation of self-awareness: Adaptability.

It is great to know your strengths and how to best use them. But how do you best use your weaknesses? While it is sometimes as simple as not letting your weaknesses come into play, there is another strategy that is more meaningful and one that is more sustainable. Turn your weakness into a neutral or a strength.

Look at it this way: you have the ability to be the best version of yourself in the current moment. What do I mean by this? I have written before about having a winning mentality – that on any given day, a team can be better than the next. For this example, I quote a speech that Hall of Fame college football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant gave to an incoming Freshmen class of football players as Head Coach of the University of Alabama. In this brief speech, Coach Bryant mentions how you can win, individually and as a team, if you believe that you can be the best that you are. The example he gives is that suppose that you have a 70/100 rating and your opponent has an 80/100 rating. Now, say that your opponent doesn’t play well or doesn’t prepare well enough. They are not an 80 anymore. They are a 70. Now, say that you prepare properly and that you are willing to go above and beyond what is required. You are now at an 80 level. Now, you have the upper-hand to win.

The example above holds true in competition and I believe it holds true when your opponent is yourself. Let’s use that 100 scale again. Say that you are a 75/100 at your current standing, knowing your strengths and weaknesses. You have a bad day, you can fall to 65. You have a good, self-aware day, you go up to 85. But your base remains at 75. How do you improve that base ranking? By adapting. By making a weakness neutral or a strength, you can become an 80/100 player or worker. This is why coaches are always teaching fundamentals in practice. The attitude and the willingness to adapt – that has to come from the player.

In sports, how many times have you seen this scenario play out? A new player comes in and starts to do well right away. Opponents don’t know how to neutralize that player, thus making that player an asset for their team. However, after playing against that player for a while – a few games, a season, etc. – opponents start to find the player’s weakness and strengths. They play away from the strength and to the weakness. Now the ball is in the new player’s court. They know what they are good at and are not good at. Do they keep doing what they did before? Many times, this does not work. It may work to an extent, but it is not sustainable. The successful players are the ones who know their strengths and weaknesses and have the ability to adapt. Once a player adapts to the adaption that opponents have made on him or her, they may experience success again. Thus, is the cat and mouse game of sports.

So, what does this look like? Sometimes, it isn’t an opponent who finds your weakness – it is something you notice on your own. Let’s look at quick case study of this process in action.

Batting Stance
A sport that I have played a lot of is baseball. I worked in college baseball as a Student Manager and was part of the scouting and recruitment efforts among my other duties. This led me to look at myself as a player. Now, I never had much talent. I had to rely on fundamentals. Technically speaking, my batting stance – the most basic element of hitting a baseball – was not great. I am a right-handed hitter primarily, so I dig in with my right foot and line my stance up in a perfect line to the pitcher. I tend to have a “see ball, hit ball” mentality and let the mechanics that I have practiced take over in the form of muscle memory.

I have one problem. I tend to “step in the bucket”, meaning my stride (which can be a small step or static with my left foot) tends to drift away from the plate. This reduces my plate coverage while allowing my hips to flare open away from the plate. As I am trying to stay in line to the pitcher’s mound, I am prone to locking my hips, altering my ability to rotate my hips to the ball and make solid contact. I am also taking away the outside part of the plate from my power zone where the ball hits the bat flush.

This is a weakness. I am taking away from my prime swing and now following the optimal bat path for solid connection as Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams dictates in his book The Science of Hitting. What do I do? I need to adapt. Ok, I have trouble correcting my step. How can I turn this around? If I shift my stance so that I am angling my body in – a closed stance – where my back foot moves slightly back and my front foot moves slightly forward, I am still facing the pitcher but at an angle.

Now, when I swing, I am swinging for an opposite field base hit if I keep my body aligned (unless the pitch is inside, where I am prone to being jammed. If you have strong wrists, you can still get the bat head around to square the ball up). If I step a little outside, I am still prone to bad mechanics and flaring/locking my hips, but if I allow my hips to open – as I am now back to my neutral stance line with the pitcher – I now have a swing that can cover the entire plate and make solid connection with the ball. Is this perfect? No. There is still risk in the mechanics. However, I have improved my situation and turned a weakness into a neutral or strength. Pitch selection, location and strategy are other variables that can impact this scenario. But I adapted to improve a situation that I was self-aware of as a weakness.

Below is a quick sketch diagram of what I am talking about. For a legend, we have home plate with a bat and bath path sketched over it, based on the situation. The ovals next to the plate are my feet, as a batter, and the direction I want to go in along with the direction my load and stride take me in.

Stance

Conclusion
The point of all of this being, if you can be self-aware and adapt, you are putting yourself in a position to be successful. It is not guaranteed, but you are improving your odds and your baseline. If you do that successfully, enough times, you will succeed. This is true and applicable in sports as well as in life in many different job settings.

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The Role of Athletics in Society

* This post is part of and originally posted to the author’s Athletic Coaching Manual Website.

When people think of athletics, they often think of overpaid professional athletes and all of the glamour that the mainstream athletics market has to offer. What is lost is where the true heart of athletics lies, in one’s hometown newspaper and on the local athletic fields. You see, professional sports is just one part of the athletic world – one role that athletics plays in society. The role of athletics in society is not so simple to define. Athletics represents many different things to many different people. The role of athletics in society is complex and has been since the days of the marathon run in Ancient Greece to the Gladiator games in Rome to the current American international professional leagues. Sports touch us all in one way or another, whether it be at a recreational level, a community level or a professional regional level. What is even greater is what sports provide to us as a whole. The true role of athletics is as a character builder/developer, an identity builder, an opportunity provider, a health and fitness tool along with being an economic factor.

Even back throughout the course of history, sports has taken on many roles. Athletics, in it’s competitiveness form, has likely been part of the human condition since our early ancestors. It evolved into a way to efficiently getting things done – ie. Running to get a message to someone – and as entertainment. This was popularized in Ancient Rome during the Gladiator games. These games, and chariot races, were the beginning of sports as we know it today and was used for entertainment purposes. However, it was at its most primitive form. These were not the days of light-hearted gatherings to watch a game. Gladiator games were fought to the death and many other “games” of the time were fought with the defeated being deceased. As time evolved, sports came to take on the characteristics that we are familiar with today and the role of athletics, as we have defined it, came to resemble itself as we know it today with blends of entertainment, recreation, character development/building, health builder, opportunity provider and economic factor.

The first role of sports that I will discuss is that of sports as a character developer/builder, identity builder and opportunity provider. Sports, at its core, is about competition. The goal is usually outperform your opponent either through intelligence, strategy or strength. Many times, it is a combination of all three of these factors. How does this play into providing opportunity and revealing character? Simply, the outcome is decided by how well you or your team performed. Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams once said, “Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel. Not just to be as good as someone else, but to be better.” Some people, boy and girl, are able to do that through sports. However, they have to have the right make-up, the right values. An individual can have all of the talent in the world but if they can’t function as a member of a team or take care of themselves, the athletic world will not be there to provide for them in the long run. On the contrary, if one works hard and perseveres, they have fighting chance to gain something from the world of sports. While it is true that this is not always the case as nothing is handed to us and many people have had an unrequited love with sports, it gives you a chance – and a chance is all you need if you are willing to work hard to make it worth-while.

This is how and why sports is a character builder and developer. John Wooden once said that sports don’t build character, they reveal it. This is true in the sense that sports allows us to see what our values deep within are and what we believe in. These values define how we handle situations both in life and on the playing field alike. As I said in an earlier lesson on Athletic Development in Youth, Our values define who we are and how we have been raised, taught or the situation that we were born into. Athletics provides a window to let the world know who you are and how that affects what happens on the playing field.”How we act and define ourselves in life and on the field of play, both as a collective team and as an individual, builds our identity. Our identity is something that we can either be proud of or something that we are not proud of and know that we need to improve. It can be as simple as reacting badly after a mistake during play and letting that impact the rest of your game negatively. This impacts your team in a negative manner. Likewise, the inverse is true during a positive sequence of events. As the game is about more than any one person, how the community views you and your team is defined by these moments as well. Ideally, you want everything to be positive, both your character and reputation. Hall of Fame Basketball Coach John Wooden would tell his players to “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” Taking that a step further, allow your character to become your reputation. As having these both in the negative is a detrimental fact for all, strive to make it positive. That is putting yourself and those around you on the road to success as we have defined in earlier lessons of being the best that you know you are capable of becoming.

With hard work, talent/skill and perhaps a little luck mixed in, sports can provide you with a living. However, one does not need to make a professional living as an athlete for sports to provide opportunity to you. It can be as simple participating in sports and experiencing all of the positive benefits that sports can provide – such as recreation, good health and educational lessons – that let sports provide opportunity to you. Opportunity can also present itself in the manner of providing a living to you if you are able to stay in involved in athletics in a non-participant manner such as being a coach, a staffer, a broadcaster, writer, administrator, groundskeeper or any other vocation that is involved in athletics. So, in these manners, the role of athletics can be as an opportunity provider, identity builder and character builder/developer.

As sports usually require some sort of physical exertion, it can lead to a healthier lifestyle as well. When you are in shape, your body feels better and functions better. You may feel better mentally. Mentally, the work and strategy that goes into sports also is a positive impact. Therefore, athletics are a recreational and health tool – hence why health and physical education are requirements in many primary education systems. Sports can strengthen your body and your mind.

The last role that to be covered is that of economic factor. When many think of athletics and economics, they think of professional sports. While this is the most noticeable arena to those looking at athletics, it is far from being the only one. This is where coaches stress to their teams that their character is about more than how they play the game. It is about why they play the game. Hockey Coach Herb Brooks, who coached the Winter Olympics “Miracle On Ice” hockey team in 1980, once said, “You’re looking for players whose name on the front of the sweater is more important than the one on the back. I look for these players to play hard, to play smart and to represent their country.” You want players who play for the name on the front of the jersey and not the back. What does this mean? It means that you play for something larger than yourself. While it is crucial to focus on yourself and be self-aware so that you make yourself the best that you can possibly be in order to help the team, your ultimate goal is to do good by what you represent. For some in solitary sports, that may be yourself. Usually, there are other motives and reasons but some sports are solitary by nature. However, in team sports, you represent your team. Your team represents somethings and it is more than the company that makes it possible. You represent the region, the city that is on the front of your jersey. This is where the solitary sports have a united bond as well.  They may play for their family, their city, region and country. Why is this so important? You want players who play to make a living and play for the love of the game in order for them to help make the team the best that it can be so that the team can be successful and be a positive representation of where they are from and where the ownership is from. The Boston Red Sox do not just represent someone like John Henry; they represent Boston. This was shown strongly during the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013 when David Ortiz and the Red Sox became the face of perseverance in Boston. As sports teams and athletes are representations of their communities, it makes sense that in a capitalistic society as the United States is, that the business – which sports teams are professionally – are economic players.

When a team does well, positive press attracts people to that area and helps other businesses within that region. The same holds true for local sports, but without the team and athletes being a business. However, the thought remains the same that the image and identity of an area is connected to one of its most visible marketing arms – its athletic teams. In youth sports, the impact is slightly different as youth are more ingrained into the community – the shortstop might be your childhood best friend’s son, etc. – and there is a larger picture at play as sports is just one part of the youth’s life. Professionally, though, athletics is a large economic driver and, thus, plays an important role in society. This is how the role of athletics can be defined as an economic factor. These examples and reasons are why the statement about caring about the name on the front of the uniform more than the back is an important lesson for all, whether it be in life or on a playing field.

Athletics have been around for a long time. Just like many jobs, sports and recreation existed long before we were born and will still be here long after we are gone. Over course of history, the emphasis of sports has changed but the values of it have been consistent from the time of the Romans to the present day. The role that sports plays in our lives differs among each and every one of us. For some it is entertainment. For others, it is the road to making a living and making something of themselves. For others still, it is recreation, an educational tool or an economic tool. All of these perspectives show that the true role of athletics is as a character builder/developer, an identity builder, an opportunity provider, a health and fitness tool along with being an economic factor.

Athletic Coaching Lessons – An Overview and a Vessel for Learning

*This overview can be found on the Athletic Coaching website – www.mattkushicoaching.com

As many know, in addition my other writings, I maintain an athletic coaching blog/manual that was started in my time at Hadley Park and Recreation. The purpose of this article is to share the lessons behind this blog and manual.

Education. Learning. We all experience it. But how and where does it occur? Early on in our lives, we tend to gravitate towards certain activities. We may not know why, but we take an interest in certain things. Some of these interests may be fleeting. Some of them may be life altering. We learn life lessons through them. The amazing this is that we tend not to realize when the latter occurs. We all learn these lessons from different places. We all witness these lessons take place in different settings. We all have a vessel in which we learn these lessons of life.

For me, that vessel was sports – the world of athletics. For much of my early years, I tended to identify as a student-athlete. Granted, looking back, that I was more student than athlete, I nonetheless used athletics as my vessel to learning some major life lessons. I learned about teamwork. I learned about success. I learned about hard work. I learned about failure. I learned about life. Of course, my parents were the ones who really taught me all of these lessons but sports helped demonstrate these things to me in real life context. You know what the funny thing was? I didn’t realize that I was learning. I was simply taking part in activities that I loved. That’s the power of learning. That’s what a vessel does, whether it be working on a farm, learning a trade, playing sports, joining the military or any other activity/vocation. It gives you an environment to witness the lessons that you are learning.

Though my life’s journey has taken me all over the map in terms of interest, sports will always be the place that I know I witnessed the lessons in action that my parents taught me. While my path was ultimately not defined as an athlete, it is defined by education and it is defined by being a continual student. At the intersection of education and athletics is coaching. I may not know everything, but I know enough – from observing and from my experiences – that I can help teach others what athletics can do for an individual and how to best achieve your goals both off the field and on the field. As a Youth Sports Instructor for Hadley Park and Recreation, I started this Athletic Coaching Manual that turned into my Athletic Coaching website.

While the lessons are the main content of the manual and blog, I would like to share my outline and notes on what those lessons are, as that overview is important as well and can teach those with open minds something special as well.

General

Introduction – About this manual

The Keys To Success – Having a positive, self-aware, team mentality; all of these are critical

Youth and Character BuildingDevelop passion and inspiration in youth. Learn the lessons of the game. Sports teaches you life lessons that are applied to all facets of your life.

Role of AthleticsEconomic Builder, Character Builder, Identity Builder, Keeps people fit (mentally and physically)

Role Perspective and Development

History and PolicyHow were the games formed and why. Why does Integrity of the Game matter so much?

Public ImageYou are a representation of your community, team and self. Treat that with respect.

Opportunities That Athletics GiveAthletics can give you the ability to be part of a team; something larger than yourself. Gives you the ability to learn life lessons and build character. If good as an individual and as a teammate, can you give the opportunity to make a living and/or make something of yourself.

Physical Fitness and EducationGives you the ability to make an impact on yourself. Gives you a platform to make a difference in others lives (personal and raising awareness) Keeps you physically fit and well physically and mentally.

The Different Sides of Sports: Business and Fun – Fun in Sports does not end as a youth. It continues however long you are involved. However, the dynamics do change. Must understand this and that there is a business side (Capital) and a fun side. Balance these. Never forget about either.

The Importance of TeamIn most sports, no person is an island. A team can accomplish things that an individual can’t. Your team is your family and support system. Utilize them and be a good one back. Do your job and role.

Know Your CommunityYou represent more than you or your team. Your represent your community, school, town. Get to know your community and who they are so that you can proudly represent them.

Student of the Game Education never stops. You can always learn and improve. In order to maximize your effectiveness yourself and your team, learn everything, no matter how small about your trade and game.

Transferable DevelopmentUse what you have learned in other parts of your life. Being a good human is the most important asset of all.

A Successful Mentality

SuccessBelieve that you can accomplish tasks. Don’t be too arrogant but be confident. Study your trade and the game. Take care of the small things and that will lead to Success. Know that, with the proper preparation and skills, that on any given day, you or a team can be better than someone else and beat them.

EffortGive it all that you have 100% of the time. There may be times for pacing but have a purpose for it.

ConfidenceBelieve in yourself and what you are doing. It will make it easier to do your job and focus. Know that, with the proper preparation and skills, that on any given day, you or a team can be better than someone else and beat them.

CommunicationOne of the most critical components of human interaction. To function for yourself and as a team, people must know what is going on.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Questions No person knows everything. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from team.

Strategy and PacingKnow your limits. Make sure that you can go the distance and still give 100% effort.

Importance and Flexibility of FundamentalsKnow your trade and how to do your job. Be flexible and open-minded to adjustments. Know yourself and the needs required.

What It Takes To SucceedA winner’s attitude and dedication to the task at hand.

Self-Awareness: Know YourselfKnow what you are good at and what you are not good at. This helps with self-improvement and with your team trying accomplish a common goal.

Balance and FlexibilityBe open-minded. No one task should rule your life. Be well-balanced in life and sport.

Succeeding On The Field

Staying in ShapeAn athlete must be in shape and able to do their job if they want to help. Helps in life and in sport.

Understand Your Team and Role – Self Awareness. Know what your team needs from you. Know what you can offer. Do your job. Offer suggestions on you can enhance team effort with your skills.

Understanding Strategy and FundamentalsUnderstand the situation, the game and how to do your job.

ManagementUnderstand the strategy of the game and of the people within it. Be firm but fair with people.

Importance of Practice Practice helps train and improve athletes for when it counts. Don’t coast.

Know and Take Care of Your Equipment View your equipment as your tools. You are not much without them. Take care of them as you take care of yourself and your teammates.

Game Plan: Have A Plan Develop a strategic plan and know, how and why. Stick to it and adapt.

Know Your Tools Know your equipment and how to best use them and why.

Athletic PositionAthletic position puts you in a mechanically ready position that enhances your ability for your body to do the task at hand athletically.

TechnologyUse as a tool. Know how to use and what the balance is.

Adjustments Know how to make adjustments and why. Adjusting while staying true to yourself, team and master plan are the key to the game.

Game Tips

Game FundamentalsKnow how to play and think about the game

Game StrategyKnow how to play and think about the game. Think of different strategies.

Game TechniquesKnow how to play and think about the game. Know how to do your job.