Beyond the Scoreboard Forrrreeee!!!!
By Eddie Fields, Teacher and Coach
Space Coast High School (FL)
Summer break is the most joyous of times for teachers and coaches. With relaxed responsibilities and an abundance of free time, we all find hobbies to carry us through the dog days. One of my hobbies is golf. I have to be honest; I rarely shoot south of a hundred and routinely venture north of one-twenty…But I enjoy the game. The water, the air, the freedom and the occasional 5-wood from 215 that sticks the green. It’s glorious.
As wonderful as the game is, it does have its rough patches. The other day I was playing (some would say that I use that phrase generously). I was out on the course and things weren’t going well. I was hiding balls in the woods and water like the Easter bunny hides eggs. It was an extremely, enjoyably-frustrating day!
Before each swing, I would tell myself, “KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN!!!!!” I would take a practice swing, approach my ball and swing with everything I had in a subconscious effort to find whiplash. For a hundred and thirty some swings I embarrassingly simulated this nonsense.
After my round and a few cold ones, I tried to figure out what had happened. Ultimately, like most endeavors, my reflection brought me back to the gridiron. Interestingly enough, the whole experience reminded me of a chubby little center I coached more than a decade ago.
This kid came from a great family. He was a pleasant kid with a spirited attitude. Every day when this young man showed up he would greet me with the same phrase: “Hey Coach! Glad to see you!! Let’s do big things today!!!” I must confess I love football, but this portly young gentleman loved it more.
If his talent matched his tenacity, this might be a different story. He may have been one of the best players I have ever coached. It didn’t though and he grossly overstepped while snapping the ball, which lead to him not being able to block a soul.
My coaching didn’t do much to correct the problem. I must have stopped him and told him a hundred times a week that he needed to take shorter steps and maintain his balance. I told him and told him and told him. And he kept on taking giant old steps and watching defensive tackles wreak havoc in our backfield.
What my golf game reminded me of and I have learned over the years, is that the body and the mind don’t always have the clear link we think they do. With an array of moving parts the mind has a limited amount of control over muscle functions, unless we work to specifically build that bridge.
I can tell myself a million times to keep my head down, but my brain and my body haven’t built that connection yet. What I should do is head to the driving range and practice that skill, among many others.
Reminding myself to keep my head down on the golf course and coaching that chubby little center were no different. I have no doubt in my mind that when I would tell him to take shorter steps that he would repeat the phrase over in his head with a good faith will to execute this task properly.
At the time, I was extremely frustrated with this young man. Why couldn’t he just take smaller steps? Now, I am frustrated at myself. Why couldn’t I have put him a position to actually correct his mistakes? Why did I think my words had some magic power to control his feet into shortening that step?
Luckily, I understand coaching a little better now. I talk a little less. But, I coach a lot more. Over the years, I have found that identifying a player’s deficiencies is only the start. After highlighting a weakness and the essential skills that needs to be improved, I build drills that allow players to work to correct that portion of their play.
Instead of telling that young man time after time to take a smaller first step, I should have put in place a series of drills that allowed him to focus on and properly execute the proper footwork. I needed to directly build that link between his mind and muscles by letting him experience the actual technique I was hoping for him to use.
This baseball season I had a similar experience. I had a young man that was fielding the ball deep between his feet. I brought it to his attention. He said that he didn’t notice it. I watched him do it many over and over throughout the course of practice. Instead of getting frustrated, I went home and organized a pre-practice routine for him to specifically work on this technique. The drill series included three cone drills and a partner drill. For 8-10 minutes daily he had the opportunity to get 50 reps specifically working to improve his ability to field the baseball in proper position. After a couple weeks, his improvements were impressive.
While my golf game is hopeless, I do wish I could go back and work with that center again. As a young coach I missed a lot of opportunities to help players improve. The saying “actions speak louder than words,” definitely holds true in coaching. As you work with your players remember to coach them beyond your words by putting them in situations where they practice game-like skills in action.
Enjoy your summer,