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

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!

The American Vision

In 1776, the founders of what was to become the United States of America set us upon the path of democracy. With the Declaration of Independence, our newborn country freed itself from tyranny and the dogmatic way in which its people were governed and set forth the thought of a new ideal. An ideal where “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” In the many years that have passed since Thomas Jefferson penned these words, we have realized many things in the United States. As recent events have shown us, we are still fighting to realize that all are created equal.

Our founders could not have foreseen what the future may hold beyond their years. Yes, they had an idea of what worked for the times and what could possibly work for the future. But they could not have foreseen the unknown road that lay before the country, just as we cannot foresee the future ourselves. However, they created a vision. A vision called democracy. Whether this was the realized vision or not, this is what has come to pass – an ideal of government of the people, by the people, for the people. Not just one people – rather, all of us.

Here’s the thing about an ideal – a vision. It is not static. Rather, it is always evolving – moving like the intricate parts of a clock. Some will argue that our great experiment set forth in 1776 has failed. Certainly, it has not held true in the eyes of every person who called themselves an American. We do have oppression and discrimination in this country – we do have evils that seek to snuff out the light of hope and freedom. Now, here’s the thing. An ideal does not accomplish itself – it is not self-sustaining. Rather, it must be maintained. It must be fought for. It must be nurtured. Yes, we may not have reached the ideals that our founders set forth – perhaps unknowingly. But we do have the power to change that. We have the freedom to allow ourselves to reach that higher level. That is part of the vision that is America. That small sliver of hope gives us something to hold on to. An ideal is something to aspire to and become worthy of.

There is a vision that is United States of America. We are still on the road to realizing that full potential and that full vision that was presented in a document in July of 1776. America, we are still a dream worth fighting for – for all. Happy 4th of July and Independence Day.

If I Asked You To Stay

You told me that you needed to leave,
To get away from here.
You said that you weren’t sure if there was a future here.
I could see the pain of those words in the dawning eve.

I nodded and wished you well.
Told you that I would sure miss you.
Later that night, as I thought of your words
I thought of what I could do.

If I asked you to stay
Would you not go away?
I truly want to see you be happy
But I don’t want you to leave.
If I asked you to stay
Would not go away?
Would you stay?

I don’t know if your future is with me.
I don’t know what the future holds at all
But I know that you mean more to me
Than you realize. More than I realized.
I’ve just been too afraid to let you see.

I don’t know why
But you can make a day bright
Just like a day warmed by the newborn light.
The thought of you leaving brings a tear to my eye.
The more I think of you, the more I realize
I’m not ready to say good-bye.

When I talk to you

If I asked you to stay
Would you not go away?
I truly want to see you be happy
But I don’t want you to leave.
If I asked you to stay
Would not go away?
Would you stay?

Ripple of Hope

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. And crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

~Robert F. Kennedy

I have written many times on the subject of hope and humanity before. In the uncertain times of COVID and societal strife that we live in currently, a reminder seems timely.

In order to reach the full potential of who we can be as a country and as a society, we must stop oppressing each other and start believing in each other. We must stop fighting against ourselves rather than against the barriers that impede our progress towards a more equitable and prosperous future. We are all one in the final analysis. No matter the foe that we collectively face, whether it be knowingly or unknowingly, we must stand together. It is fair to acknowledge that we will have our differences. There will be differing opinions and there will be representation among us of good vs. evil. It would be a fallacy and unwise not to acknowledge this fact. However, we must strive to overcome that divide.

What will it take to overcome this divide? Moral courage. The courage to stand and deliver for what is right. When we see a wrong, we must correct it. We have an obligation to stand and deliver for what is right; not what is popular. It takes taking action and making a difference rather than stating the obvious of what we know to be true that the initial action is wrong. And, yes, we are capable of this. We prove this through our millions of undocumented acts of kindness towards one another every day. Let those shining moments – those ripples of hope – define us.

In these trying times where our imperfections as a society do come to light, we must remember to not give up hope. We need to believe in each other. Let us remember that “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. Let us not give in to lawlessness. Let us not give in to hatred. Let us not allow the bitterness of anger to seep into our everyday lives until we become the very force that we believe that we can defeat. We are better than that. Let us keep our open minds and open hearts. Let us keep on believing and acting upon the virtues of love and compassion as we know it is the right way to go. Let us go forth and spread the word that we are the ripple of hope that others can believe in.

Let us be the shining beacon of light that others strive to follow. We are capable of it. We always have been. Many of us already do start that ripple every day by the way that we live. Let us spread that ripple even further in this time of uncertainty.

Outside the Window

This lyric/poem is for everyone who needs to hear an encouraging word as we fight through this pandemic.

Sun shining
A ray glistening through the cloudy sky.
Look outside –
No words do you need to say.
Close your eyes and open your mind.
Let the stress and strife melt away,
As you feel the newborn day.

Outside of my window,
I hear the birds singing.
Outside my window,
There is a land where I once was
And again, long to go.

Outside of my window,
Where the grass turns greener every day
As time advances to the month of May.
Watch the red streak of the cardinal
And the blue hue of the blue-jay
As they soar and play.
Feel the world melt away.
As they soar through the dancing sway of the trees.

One day, the prison walls will fall,
And the calm of nature will call.
We will dance through the grass so high
And into the pure blue sky will I sigh
With you by my side.
That’s the world that waits for us
Outside of the window.

Outside the Window

How I Learned the Power of Writing From A Eulogy…To a Cat?

2004. That was the year that I first became any semblance of a writer. In the 15-16 years that have passed since that time, I have written in many different publications and about many different subject matters. I first began writing as a way for a shy guy to spread a message – to make himself known. To get noticed. While the latter two points were of importance to me at the time, the real reason I was writing – and the reason why I write to this day – is the first point. Spreading a message. Putting into words what may not be said in a forum otherwise.

For me, my first real message was about disability awareness and advocacy. Many who are reading this are aware of my family situation and the special, unbreakable bond that my brother and I have along with the circumstances that forged that bond. After my initial venture into writing in 2004 – which I will explain in a minute – I became a writer for a my high school newspaper, The Hawk’s Claw. At the time, I was a the Sports Editor, but I would occasionally cross into other subject matters. Disability awareness was the first. I have covered this in a prior article posting, but my first serious writing – aside from the fiction stories that you write for assignment in elementary school – was about stopping the use of the word “retard” as used in a derogatory manner. This was before the Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign that would take off a few years later. While unrefined and a tough write, my messaging worked for the most part. I had used the power of words and rhetoric to make stand for what was right, not what was popular.

I have written many times about the power of words, of expression and of communication. As alluded to at the start of this article, I discovered that power in 2004. This revelation came about as a mixture of research and from a personal event. The research came from spending time in the school library. The event was the death of my pet cat. The reason that I keep mentioning 2004 is that it was June 2004 that my beloved cat died from feline leukemia. When we buried Kitty in the back yard, I read a eulogy that I had written. If you cracked a smile at that last sentence, I can’t say that I blame you. Who writes a eulogy for a pet cat? Me, apparently.

Well, this eulogy was more than a eulogy, looking back on it. It was when I discovered and applied a lesson I had learned from that school library – the power of words, thoughts and communication. Remember that last word – communication.

Much of my library studying came during art class in early high school. While it may surprise some who know me now, I was actually a lousy student until part way through high school. I wasn’t lazy, I was just…lost…indifferent at times, I guess is one way to put it. Sports is what I cared about and I lived and breathed sports – especially baseball. I could break down a baseball swing and relate it to Ted Williams Science of Hitting and I could tell you the batting average of Napoleon Lajoie from 1901 in Major League Baseball (.426 on the odd chance that you were wondering) but I wasn’t great at school work. I certainly wasn’t much of an artist, though my art teacher didn’t see it that way.

Somehow, I would manage to talk my way out of my art lessons to go to the library the next room over. I would sit and I would read. A book here about Jim Abbott, a one armed Major League Baseball pitcher, a book there about military strategy in World War II or about the history of NASA. One day, I picked up a book about Ronald Reagan and started reading. Political affiliation didn’t matter as I read about a public servant. I read about an actor turned public servant who was called “The Great Communicator” – see there’s that word – and suddenly it clicked. Words = Knowledge = Power. I was fascinated. That summer, my cat died. Though it felt silly, I decided to harness the power of my emotions through writing a eulogy for my cat.

From there, I kept on writing. After high school, I wrote for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, the college newspaper of the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. I wrote guest columns for local newspapers and started writing lyrics and poetry, self-publishing a I went along. And I am still writing. But it all started in 2004 with a eulogy to a cat and lesson from a Ronald Reagan book. Who writes a eulogy for a cat? Me. And here it is below:

Kitty Eulogy – June 2004
Matt Kushi – Read and written

Today, we lost a great and beloved family member in our cat, Kitty. We will never forget you, Kitty. You were part of a family. Not just any ordinary family, but our family. You were as much of a family member as anyone else in the family. We will never forget what you meant to us or what you did for us. You comforted us when we needed comfort and you were always helping us out by having a good and friendly behavior. We will always remember you for who you were, not your tragic ending. We will remember all of the great times we shared over the course of 8 ½ years. As your death has come on, I have realized that life goes on. We must grieve and move on as it is the process of life. You would have wanted us to be happy and carefree such as the attitude that you brought along to us. Thus ends a journey of life that began on November 26, 1996 as a tiny baby that defied the odds in surviving such a small birth size and ended here on June 14, 2004. May God open up the arms of his Kingdom to receive you. You will always be missed and you will always be a part of our family as Butterball and Inki are.

 

Your loving family,

 

The Kushi’s

Valentine’s Day Special Lyric/Poem – In Your Arms

To all of you who are celebrating Valentine’s Day today and tonight with a loved one, this is dedicated to you:

The night slowly comes along
And the magic of love comes alive in my heart
As I can hear the music of a love song.
In your arms is where I belong tonight.

Girl, take my hand,
Let me sail you to a star-lit land.
Now, our hearts move as one as we sway to the beat.
I’m lost in this moment in time with you
Because all I want to do
Is slow dance with you in my arms.

Listen to our hearts as they sway to the music
And watch as our feet drift along.
Feel it now, our love is strong.
With you, there is no way to be wrong.
Love as it should be, in your heart where I belong
As I slow dance with you in my arms.

Oh, forbidden fruit never tasted so fine.
Still can’t believe that out of all of the hearts
You want mine.
Never knew a love like this,
Living my life searching for a heart like mine.
I was a prisoner and you set me free.

In the dark of the night
We don’t need a light to feel so right,
For our love lights up the darkest of nights.
We are a true lover’s sight
And know what it’s like to love somebody.
I’m where I belong in your arms tonight.

Take my hand
Let me sail you to a star-lit land.
Now, our hearts move as one as we sway to the beat
I’m lost in this moment in time with you
Because all I want to do
Is slow dance with you in my arms tonight.

Listen to our hearts as they sway to the music
And watch as our feet drift along.
Feel it now, our love is strong.
With you, there is no way to be wrong.
Love as it should be, in your heart where I belong
As I slow dance with you in my arms.

I can hear the music of a love song.
In your arms is where I belong tonight.