December 28, 2010

Book Review: “Whale Done”

A while back I was going through a bit of a crisis of faith, at least in the football context. I was having a real hard time coaching my position the way that our HC wanted me to do it, which felt exceedingly negative and overall-dick-ish. I'm pretty good a putting on a fa├žade/war face in most situations, but my problem was that I'm very fond of the two kids that we had starting at ILB. One played for me for four years, the other is a hard-working, charming, tough kid that I'd coached in a limited role as a freshman and almost started for me as a sophomore. I had a hard time doing what, to me, consisted of constantly running them down. I don't like being negative in that fashion, I prefer to coach and treat people differently.

This resulted in a lot of conflicts with me and the HC, some internal and some external. I got yelled at, a lot. It wasn't uncommon for me to a tongue-lashing in practice at least once a week. Eventually, I got assigned to coach the OLBs and another coach took over the ILBs, which upset me and both of the starters a great deal. I took it in stride, but I became pretty resolved to find a different way to do things. I wanted to find examples from anyone I could that would show me how I can be a positive coach and still be a winner. So, a shopping spree at Amazon resulted in several books by or about John Wooden, John Gagliardi (more on both at another date), and Whale Done! By Ken Blanchard.

Whales? WTF?

Yep. Whales. Blanchard uses the example set by the whale trainers at SeaWorld to lay out his philosophy of positive training. In a nutshell, the philosophy is this: by emphasizing the positive, ignoring the negative, and redirecting the rest, we can build positive relationships with our subordinates and loved ones that enable us to experience a better way of being.

An example he uses is the difference between training a Jack Russell terrier in your yard and a Killer Whale in a tank. If you Jack Russell pees on your shoe, the common reaction is to shout and holler and make sure he knows that peeing on your shoe is BAD. He may never pee on your shoe again, but that hasn't limited him from peeing on the rugs, the couch, your laundry hamper, any number of things. If he nips your kid's heel, you whack him on the nose with the newspaper. So on and so on, training a dog isn't terribly complex in the grand scheme of things.

A Killer Whale, however, is a different task altogether. The whale is a beast of tremendous power and a fantastic killing machine. We can't just smack the whale on the nose when it's doing something we don't like. So, we have to go another way. We ignore negative behaviors and focus on encouraging and supporting positive behaviors. If we want the whale to jump out of the water and over a rope, we have to slowly train him. It starts with putting the rope in the water and giving him a rub on the head whenever he goes over the rope. He associates the head rub with going over the rope and keeps doing it. Then you start raising the rope out of the water. Mingle in feeding him some mackerel, more positive energy, and lots of effort, and you've got a friggin' whale jumping over a rope that's six feet out of the water! But if we had tried to use negative methodology, we'd probably have been marine mammal food in no time.

So… People?

Yep. People. I'm pretty committed to trying this out in certain aspects of my life: coaching track, teaching, training my parents new puppy. I really dig the theory and the methodology. I'm still working on planning how to incorporate the whole deal into football, since football is such a complex environment. People like being told what they're doing or have done was good, they like being rewarded, and they like pleasing the other people in their lives. It's not terribly outrageous to presume that we would get results from accentuating the good in people.

The trickiest aspect, in my mind, will be the ignoring of the negatives that people put out. It's one thing to accentuate the positive, that's fun and easy. But to ignore the negative efforts or actions of others is really, really hard. Imagine your two kids come in from outside and one tracks mud all over the floor, which you just cleaned. First instinct? "Get off the carpet with those shoes!" Whale Done philosophy says a more useful reaction would be to look at the one who is taking their shoes off by the doorway and say, "I love how you're minding the clean floor, go ahead and grab some couch time with the remote for a bit." You've accentuated what's positive about their behavior, you've rewarded it, and you've made it expressly clear to the other kid want kind of behavior you want without attacking them. Good stuff, right?

One Caveat, Though…

The ideas are great. The writing, however, is kinda painful. It reminds me of a philosophy book that I had to read for a class in college where a group of 'college students' seemingly had a series of debates about the nature of 'knowing', just for the hell of it. It all just felt forced and annoying to read, I hated the book and it was a terrible intro to philosophy for me. This book is the same thing. Lo and behold, a perfectly crafted story just happens to appear that reinforces exactly what the author is talking about. It's not like reading Twilight or anything, but it got to me.

December 21, 2010

Website Plug: Reasoning With Vampires


    I friggin' hate Twilight for oh so many reasons. I hate what it's done to vampires, once a cool part of literature and movies. I hate that it's spawned some absolutely awful movies. I hate that it batters teenage girls over the head with the idea that a profoundly unhealthy relationship is romantic and desirable. But I REALLY hate that it's written by someone who doesn't seem to have any idea of what proper sentence structure, syntax, or punctuation is. It's incredible how poorly written it is. To that end, I present you with one of my favorite internet things:

    The wonderful author of the blog posts images of scanned pages of Twilight with the necessary grammatical corrections, plus commentary. I giggle sometimes at how much I love it. I'm like, 90% sure I'd date the author. Do yourself, your children, and your country a favor: enjoy how BAD Twilight is, one snarky post at a time.

What To Coach First

A.k.a. The Argument For Effort

I'll be the first to say that I have a pretty difficult time getting behind every single thing my boss says or does. There have been many, many moments where I've just silently agreed to disagree with him, moments that range from fairly silly things to much larger issues. But, one thing that he's sold me on is the idea that there are certain things that have to come in the right order when coaching. I'd never really conceptualized what he was talking about before, but when I started thinking about it, he was right on. If you try to build a house without a good foundation, it will collapse. Similarly, if you skip some points of focus, you'll be building your offensive or defensive house on sand.

What it really comes down to is this: the most important thing we can coach first is effort. Without effort, we're left without much else. Poor defensive effort results in bigger and bigger plays and worse and worse outcomes. A talented player who gives less than full effort is less of an asset than a scrub who plays like Rudy. You can rely on Rudy, you can count on him, and you can work around his limitations. An effortless talent, however, is a liability in every possible way.

We can teach technique until the cows come home, in fact I would love to do that. Technique is vital to success at any level. But what is technique if it's not being used consistently or it's being used without full effort? What does it matter if Timmy can execute a perfect push/pull and then rip past his man when he jogs after the ball carrier after that? Effort is what matters most and until maximum effort is a consistent result, little else should really matter to us. Once you get a team flying around after the ball carrier, once you get an offense surging off the ball and just looking to hit someone, you're in a position for success.

How Do You Do It?

Well, in the beginning it should be about simplicity. Simplicity allows for effort to be not only talked about, but put forefront to everything else. If a player has no doubt about what they're supposed to be doing, then it's pretty easy for them to either be giving maximal effort or not. You'll know who is playing hard and who isn't because there won't be any doubt about whether or not they were busy brain-farting or doing the wrong thing or any of that other foolishness that can come with teenage brains. So you K.I.S.S. in the beginning to allow your guys the opportunity to develop into players with fantastic effort, which cures many, many sins.

The primary way that we coach effort is simple: if you aren't giving your maximal effort, you're replaced. Once the kids get the hang of this, there becomes a greater desperation to make the play, to execute your assignment, to play through the echo of the whistle. How you replace them is up to your own individual personality. My boss replaces with fire, brimstone, and the righteous wrath of God. Me, I generally just send the next guy in and tell the first guy, "We won't win with that." Everyone has their own quirks and mannerisms, but the important part is that we put out a consistent message to the kids: go hard or get pulled. There are other ways, such as push-ups or up-downs (usually just 2-5), but the primary tool we use is playing time.

Step 1: Effort, Step 2: ????, Step 3: Profit!

So once you've got effort, then you can start to do more. Schematically you can expand, you can add in new techniques, you're free to do more because you have already created the most important thing: great effort. To use a common phrase, putting scheme before effort is putting the cart before the horse. You can go back to effort once you've installed your complexity, but you've sacrificed time and allowed the players to learn to play at a level below what you consider acceptable. Instead, do things right the first way and make effort your only thought until they prove that they will continue to give great effort with or without your reminding. Then, and only then, can you start to think about more.

December 14, 2010

More Posts Incoming…

    Probably. We had a heck of an interesting season and I've been busy getting settled into the post-season. It's my hope that I'll be able to find more time to write articles and get some more philosophizing done. Some season highlights:

  • Lose our (likely D-I when he's finished) junior starting QB for most of the season to a mis-diagnosed broken foot
  • Got beat a combined 88-22 the first two weeks.
  • Reclaimed our rivalry trophy after a stupid-ass DC made a lousy game plan that surrendered it for the first time last year.
  • Went either 5-3-2 with 2 OT tie breakers or 7-3, depending on how you're scoring at home. According to our league, we're 5-3-2.
  • Lost in the first round of playoffs to the eventual section champion, who beat our week 2 opponent for the title.
  • Placed had 4/5 of our OL and ¾ of our DL make 1st or 2nd team all-league, all but one of which are juniors.
  • I almost got fired during pregame one week.
  • Graduated my first group of 4-year players, coached 'em from freshman to seniors. Very sad to see some of them go, especially our ILB/FB. Great kid, gonna be a damn good position coach if he wants it.
  • I became a much better coach, albeit at the expense of some sanity/happiness. I work for a very difficult man, but there's no doubt that he's helped me a lot.

Not sure what the offseason holds, there's a lot of issues in the air. I'm definitely going to keep posting here, hopefully the readership hasn't completely abandoned me. As a sort of manifesto for what I'm going to be writing about, here's what I've been researching and planning on talking about in the coming months:

  • Belly Series football, a frequently popular topic on CoachHuey. I'm hoping to maybe set up a mini-interview or two with Lochness and Groundchuck from Huey, both of whom have a great thing going with their belly series offenses.
  • John Wooden. Great man, very good coach, I've been learning a lot about him and his philosophy.
  • John Gagliardi. Same reasons, basically.
  • Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Great book so far, pretty dense reading though. Hoping to finish it and have a write-up over Christmas vacation.
  • More 3-4 stuff. For being a pretty heavy 3-4 devotee, I haven't written all that much about it.
  • Whatever catches my fancy. I have the unfortunate trait that everything interests me, so it frequently feels like I'm just bouncing between topics going "Oooh, shiny…"