Sunday, January 29, 2012

Coaching Generation Y

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
~Mahatma Gandhi

Being the Change

Coaching and Teaching
I love coaching and teaching. I love working with young people and helping them achieve their goals. I love watching them evolve under my watchful eye into an early version of the adults they will someday become. I love the nature of sports and the accountability the final score brings.    

Coaching Generation Y
“The athletes have changed.” I hear this all the time from my peers in collegiate coaching. There was a time when I said that too. I no longer believe this to be true. I think parenting has changed. I think their socialization has changed. I think the world has changed. The current generation of college athletes; Generation Y, The Trophy Generation, The Facebook Generation, or whatever other name the media is using to describe them, is unique- just like every other generation. And like all previous generations, they are amazing and frustrating for older generations to deal with. I could give you a laundry list of complaints I have about them, but in the end these are just a scrambled up version of the same complaints all older generations have had about younger generations. Years ago I accepted the fact that if I am going to be successful in helping them become the best athletes they can be, I have to adapt to them and their unique generational quirks. Like all students I need to connect with, I need to meet them where they are. And in the end, isn’t that what successful teaching requires of all teachers?   

So why is unearned self esteem a problem?
Kids from the Trophy Generation often suffer from unearned self esteem. We have to keep in mind their socialization contained less competition and more perceived success than previous generations. This experience undermines their ability to overcome failures and achieve things through hard work, trial and error. When faced with certain truths about themselves that challenge the idea they are great, there is nothing to challenge that truth. One new job for coaches and teachers is to help them shine an accurate light on their current ability level without shattering their confidence. This is a fine line we walk, but it can be managed if the athlete trusts the coach and sees a reasonable path leading toward their goals.  

So why is unearned self esteem an asset?
This generation is fearless. In fact, the only things I can see that they are actually afraid of are the judgments and decisions of older generations. This world is changing at lightning speed and instead of fearing the changes; they can’t wait to see what happens next. They pick up the latest technologies and start using them immediately. The ease in which they embrace and adapt to their rapidly changing world is something I find truly amazing.  

Some things will never change
In the end, the lessons of the teacher are the same as they always have been. In whatever time you have, help them accumulate the tools that will better prepare them for a life full of adversities nobody can accurately predict. I have 4-5 years to make a positive difference in the athlete’s life. I will never tire of the thrill of watching an athlete I have coached achieve their goal. It is one of the most rewarding experiences in life, and no generational quirk will ever change that experience for me. 

Be the change
With this current generation it is easy to have the attitude of, “Wait until you get in the real world. You are in for a shock!” But can’t we be better than the older generations who said the same things about us? The real world is getting harder and harder for me to fathom. Our job with this generation is to smooth out their rough edges, fix their collars and send them out into the world- praying they do a better job than we did. After all, who better to thrive in the new real world than an entire generation of young people who are na├»ve enough to think they can literally do anything. This generation just might be the first to actually be the changes they wish to see in the world. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Building Momentum

 With two meets now under our belts, it is clear we have some rising stars and a couple of very good teams. Just how good is yet to be determined, but I am cautiously optimistic about the 2012 season.

Impressive Early:
  •         Veteran Daniel Gooris has gone over 17’ in each of his 2012 meets and is currently leading the MVC pole vault. Daniel will be competing in his first heptathlon of the season this coming weekend at the Jack Jennett Invitational.
  •         Freshman Sebastian Barth has broken the UNI Freshman record twice this year and is currently ranked 2nd in the MVC. He has all the tools to be a big-time collegiate athlete.
  •         Throwers Justin Romero, Tanner Hurt, Jordan Williams and Freshman Justin Baker all look fantastic. These terrific young men will be called upon once again to make a major impact of the MVC scoring this year. Coach Dan O’Mara has done a terrific job with them.  
  •          Freshman 400m runners, Sheldon Magee, Derek Drew, Jesse Davenport, Jordan Guske and Marshall Hill have all run sub-50 already this year. Add veterans Aaron Stockstell, Ryan Newtoff and Justin Bartels to that group and we have one of the finest and deepest long sprint corps in the conference.
  •         Brett Egan ran his first 3k of the season last week and shattered his personal best. He seems to get better every week and we expect him to be an impact performer for us by the end of the season.

  •          Olimpia Nowak broke her own 60m hurdles school record last week in an impressive 8.44. She also set a new PR in the 400m running 56.42. Already holding one of the top pentathlon scores in the country, Olimpia will be competing in her 2nd multis of the season this weekend in the Jack Jennett Invitational, held at home in the UNI-Dome.
  •          Sam Cameron established a season's best 400m in 55.75 en route to her win last weekend in the Jack Johnson Classic held at the University of Minnesota.
  •          Michaela Brungardt broke the 300m school record two weeks ago in the UNI-Dome and then followed that performance with a 400m PR (56.35) last weekend.
  •          Freshmen Paige Knodle and Darian Thompson have looked terrific in their first two collegiate meets. Knodle ran an impressive 60m hurdles last week time of 8.70 which currently ranks 2nd in the MVC behind Nowak. Later that day she set a big 400m PR in 56.35. Knodle will be competing in the first multis of her career this weekend at the Jack Jennett Invite. Thompson also set a 400m PR in that race, running 56.68. Thompson should factor heavily into the MVC 400m and 4x400 Relay.
  •          Throwers Kelsey Sukavaty and Traci Harms have been setting PR’s already in the 2012 season. Both should figure into the MVC scoring this year.

We have a couple big teams and I expect a lot more of our athletes to step up before this 2012 journey comes to an end. We are a long way from the Indoor Missouri Valley Championships in late February, but I like what I am seeing so far. The name of the game now is momentum. We need to continue building it.

This weekend (Feb. 27-28) we host the Jack Jennett Invitational, honoring legendary retired UNI Track and Field coach, Jack Jennett. Jack will be on hand for the festivities as will all of your favorite Panther athletes. The action will begin Friday at 1:30p with the Women's Pentathlon. Saturday the meet will kick off at 10:45a with the Men's Heptathlon.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Define Yourself

"The secret of life is this: When you hear the sound
of the cannons, walk toward them." ~Marcel France

Define Yourself

We are less than a week away from our first 2012 track and field meet (Jan 14th UNI-Dome). I love this time of the year. The always difficult fall training is behind us and it is time to take the exams. Competitors love this part of the season. The pretenders; not so much.

Like I referenced in last week’s blog, this is an extremely young team. We have some amazing upperclassmen (and women) who you will be hearing a lot about once the guns goes off, but it is always the newcomers that get my attention heading into the season.

Every generation is different. It is our job as coaches is to understand what makes each new group unique, and how we can bind them. Within that group it is our job to figure out what makes each kid special and what makes them tick. I love this process. One thing I always try to get the newcomers to understand is that life is hard. Seems simple to a guy over 40, but we are in the entitlement age. This new generation is fantastic in many ways, but they seem to think life is supposed to be easy and there must be something wrong if it is hard. Sweet idea, isn’t it?

So it is very important the idea that life is hard is understood and accepted as fast as possible. Once we get that ingrained, we can move on to the fun stuff. The dreams stuff. What I tell my athletes at the start of every new season is this: Define yourself.  It is absolutely your choice. Who do you want to be when you walk out these UNI doors? Who do you want to be as a student? As an athlete? As a man or woman? You get one shot son, who do you want to be in this life? Once you realize it is a choice- once you start defining yourself; then you start living it. Be that person when you wake up in the morning. Be that person when you go to bed each night. Be that person when everyone around you is accepting something less for their lives and encouraging you to do the same. Welcome to the frightening age of accountability. Oh, you’re not going to define yourself? Guess what, partner? You just did.

I have been preaching this message my entire coaching career. In my opinion, this is the single most important factor to the psychology of success, to the psychology of winning. I also think this is where Sports Psychology comes up short. If you define yourself as a winner- and you successfully define what a winner is, then you have a template for success. If you define your team or organization as a winner, then you’ve got a foundation for success. As a leader, as the head coach, it starts with you. You’ve got to be the compass. You’ve got to set the standard and provide a vision. And by the way, you’d better be a winner or you and your team has got no chance. (And yes, I consider myself a winner.) Once the team shares this winning identity, it’s easy. Harvard Law, Julliard, John Deere; these are organizations that define themselves as being the best. They set the standard among their peers. It means something to be part of those teams. If there isn’t a sense of pride that comes with putting on that uniform, then there’s a lot of work left to be done.

Once you successfully set the stage for these newcomers, motivating them also becomes so much easier. My commitment to them during the recruiting process was that we will bring out their best. As part of that agreement, they will be pushed harder than they ever imagined. I believe too much in them to let them have an easy road. It would be a disservice to both of us. Sure, you may need to hold up a mirror to them on occasion- they’re still kids after all, and many will screw up. But negative reinforcement isn’t necessary if you have done your job. You find out who made them, who matters most. You hold up the mirror and you remind them they are UNI Track and Field athletes and that means we don’t do that. You remind them of their goals. You remind them Aunt Suzie and Grandpa Jack hold a heck of a lot of stock in their success as a human being, and this behavior is dishonoring that. “You and I both know you are better than this. Time to grow up.”

Most will shock you at their ability to meet your high expectations. It’s all how you frame it.

Let’s hope you’ve recruited kids that love to compete. You’ll recognize them as the ones who have been winning their whole lives. I’ll tell you right now those winners can be tough to deal with. But hope for them to be tough and courageous enough to challenge your coaching and vision. The greatest athletes are always a pain to work with. Those are good problems for coaches to have. It means you recruited the right kids. If you can’t handle it as a coach, go join a recreational league somewhere. Competitive people make a lot of people nervous. It goes with the territory. And I’ve known plenty of people who I’ve rubbed the wrong way in my life, but I consider it a great compliment that I’ve never met a winner that didn’t like me.
Less than one week and it all begins. I am smiling as I write this. I can’t wait to get going. Some UNI newcomers will start a journey where their dreams come true. Some will learn they aren’t going to become Olympians. Some will bring tears to my eyes when their years of hard work finally pay off in a moment only those close to him or her will understand. Like a family understands.  My job through all of this is to help them along their unique journeys and to help put meaning to their experiences. I can’t wait to get going.

I invite all of you to take the journey with us. The gun goes off this Saturday at 11:00am

GO Panthers!

2012 Home Meets in the UNI-Dome: 
Sat.,         January     14            Panther Open
Fri-Sat.,   January     27-28     Jack Jennett Invitational
Sat-Sun.   February  25-26     Missouri Valley Conference  Championships

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

It's a New Year

UNIPanthers(1).jpeg2012 is finally upon us. And with it, endless possibilities for the fast approaching season. In the next few months, the UNI track and field athletes will line up against some of the best in America. We have a handful of terrific veterans trying to go out in style and a large group of newcomers learning what it means to be Panthers for the very first time. 

I plan on blogging weekly about the program. Our Indoor season actually started with a low-key meet in December in Ames, IA. The meet went well and we are optimistic about the season. Last year's successful recruiting took our women's roster from 33 to 53, making it the largest women's team in the UNI program's history and marking the first time our women have ever outnumbered the men. Not to be outdone, our men's team added a large number of blue chip talent and have their sights set squarely on winning a Missouri Valley Conference title. 

The indoor season kicks off in the UNI-Dome Saturday, January 14th.

There will be no shortage of things to write about this year. But perhaps this very first blog should be about sharing with the readers my vision for our teams as the UNI Head Coach:

The cowards never started. The weak died along the way.
Only the strong survived. These were the pioneers.”
~Pioneer Creed

The early pioneers braving the harsh Oregon Trail were not in search of an easy life, but a place to make a better one. Born of the Heartland, those extraordinary men and women took their blue collar work ethic with them on their journey and courageously settled the West.

Today's Western United States, once populated by a spirit of hard work and rugged individualism, is heavily populated with individuals in search of an easy life, living by a spirit of entitlement. But that early American spirit isn't dead. The cradle of that spirit is the Heartland, and it is still alive and well. 

From it's inception as a home for Civil War orphans, the University of Northern Iowa has always embodied this American spirit. The UNI Track and Field teams, always living by the Pioneer Creed, are known for their tenacity and work ethic. Today, these fearless athletes are among the toughest in America.

Northern Iowa is not for everyone. We are not the prom queen; we’re more like the girl next door. The individual that thrives here feels like they are coming home when they first arrive. They come to Cedar Falls because it feels right. Their toughness is a given. It’s a special individual who never gives up. This trait seems to be written into the DNA of UNI athletes and makes us bigger than the sum of our parts. We are a family. This is who we are and why we are so hard to beat.  

Our job as UNI coaches is to teach our student athletes and cultivate a culture of excellence and character in all aspects of the program – because it is our job to be the best. It is our job to mentor our kids; to develop well-rounded adults ready to take on the world they are entering after UNI. 

Like the early pioneers, the extraordinary individuals who have earned the right to be called UNI Track and Field athletes, understand that an easy life isn't better. And that a better life is not to be found; but to be made.

GO Panthers!