The Gear

Laid out on my bed, it was almost too beautiful to imagine that it was all mine for the season: white jersey with a major league baseball logo, matching baseball pants with a real, navy-blue belt, and … most important of all … the stirrups.

It was a far cry from my “Caps” level uniform the previous year: red t-shirt with white trim with “JACK IN THE BOX” in white letters ironed-on at a comical angle by a well-intentioned mom, matching trucker hat, and BYOP (Bring Your Own Pants).  Although we lived in shorts year-round in sunny Southern California, one ambitious slide into second on our gravel-strewn basepaths convinced us that pants would prolong our playing careers.  One raspberry on the back of your leg was a badge of courage, a second raspberry was stupidity. For me, my only option was a dependable pair of Sears-bought Toughskins jeans, knees reinforced with at least three layers of stiff patches rendering the pants both completely inflexible, yet bulletproof.

But now, playing in the “Minors” I would finally look like a professional baseball player.  The stretchy pants had a back pocket big enough to fit a batting glove, a full pack of Big League Chew gum (grape flavor), and whatever candy I could get from the snack shack after the game.  The jersey looked like one that a real big-leaguer would wear, not like a craft-store project.  But best of all, there were real, navy-blue stirrups.

For youngsters not schooled in baseball fashion history: players used to wear colored stirrups over their white sanitary socks (poorly named – there’s nothing “sanitary” about athletic socks).  In the late 1970s, major leaguers yanked their stirrups up above their calves with guitar-string tension, and my baseball cards were a glorious assemblage of baseball gods sporting moustaches and knee-high stirrups.  My 9-year-old face might not be able to host a mustache that would make pitchers tremble and 4th grade girls swoon, but my stirrups were clearly ready for prime time.

Everyone in the neighborhood had to know that there was a big-leaguer in their midst.  And so I rode my Huffy to my first game in full uniform, baseball mitt hanging from the handlebars and trying to keep my cleats on the bike pedals and my stirrups out of the chain.  I arrived at the fields with my white socks dotted with black grease marks, but my precious stirrups escaped unscathed.  Undaunted, I continued to wear that uniform every possible moment until the league mercilessly pried it from my fingers at the end of the season.

If you’re complaining about professional athletes who appear not to care about commitment to a franchise or its city, or who have apparently lost the innocent joy of playing sports, there exists in our midst a bunch of young athletes who are thrilled just to wear the jersey.  Let’s cheer for them, and celebrate how excited they are just to get the gear.

Parents: force your child to pose for a super-awkward picture on the front steps in their uniform – you’ll treasure that picture forever.  Coaches: treat the distribution of gear like a medal ceremony, calling up each athlete one at a time and bestowing upon them the incredible privilege of looking like a real, big-time athlete.

And finally, players: it’s totally normal to sleep in your uniform the night before your first game. It’s absolutely acceptable to keep your uniform on as you go get a celebratory milkshake at McDonald’s after the game. It’s even appropriate to keep your jersey and cleats on as you follow your parents through Home Depot while they start on the home improvement projects they delayed while watching your game that morning.  Wear that jersey until you’re sure that everyone knows that you had a game today.

Yes, that jersey means you’re big time.  Enjoy it.

-Jason Curtis


The stakes were high.  Trophies lined a 6-foot portable folding table outside of the third base line.  The pitch of the crowd suggested the score was close and the inning was late.  A kid–an 8 or a 9 year-old–on the grey team blooped a pop up toward second base.  The green team’s shortstop dove.  There was a cloud of dust and maybe a catch.  The base umpire thought so and signaled “out.”  The home plate umpire had a different angle; he signaled safe.  From my spot beyond the centerfield fence watching a game on an adjacent field, I sided with the home plate umpire.  There was no catch.  It was a great effort, but the shortstop clearly did not catch it.

The umpires met, and I hoped.  This is what I really hoped–that the umpire would go over to the kid shortstop and ask, “Hey, did you catch it?”  And I hoped that the kid would say, “No, I didn’t get it.”  And I hoped that the umpire would say, “Thanks for your honesty. I couldn’t tell from where I was standing.  That’s pretty impressive that you would be truthful even though it didn’t get your team an out.”  Then I hoped that the umpire would signal out and that everyone there–the players, the coaches, the fans–would understand.  That’s what I hoped.

Instead, the umpires talked.  They got the call right even without asking the kid.  And, from what I gathered, the play was not reviewed by the people in New York.  But despite the correct call, the kid’s coach was livid.  I watched in mute being out of earshot.  I saw the coach’s arms flail.  I saw him tear off his hat in frustration.  I saw his anger.  And worse yet, so did the kids.  All of this because the umpires got the call right, just not the way he had wanted.  And not the way I had hoped.

But I hope that when I’m in the situation that I can keep my perspective, my sense of fairness, and my honesty.  And I hope that you will too.

-Dan Schall

My Favorite Team

In each of my 25 seasons of coaching volleyball, I have had one team that is my favorite team of all time. This one.

My greatest joy of coaching is in the journey of each season and what the athletes take with them moving forward. I would like to take the opportunity to communicate to my current team and all of my past teams that I am beyond grateful for what they have left behind with their coach.

Within each season, there are lessons to be learned, challenges to overcome, and triumphs to share. Most importantly though, there are the people we meet along the way who stay with us forever. May we never lose sight of all that we gain by what we give to each other.

-Mike Schall

What Do You Want to Be When You’re Younger?   

This blog aims to write about the ways we should relate to students, to athletes, to children.  Even in its relatively short lifespan, this blog wants to promote the idea of building positivity and finding the ways adult life and childhood can generate such benefit and joy.  I think, then, that it’s worth remembering that age is only a number, you’re only as old as you feel, and other things I know you’ve read in a recent stroll through Hallmark.  Of course, it’s true- it’s all true.  So, with that in mind, ask yourself: what do you want to be when you’re younger?

If you can manage to stave off age, if you can feel the energy and the wonder of ideas and anticipations, and if you know that you consciously attempt to play and explore, then you are well on your way to getting younger.  There is a lot in the media about coaches and managers who create playful atmospheres, even at the professional level, and it always reminds me that even those that seem beyond such things still thrive in such atmospheres.  It’s then that I silently ask myself if I’m doing that enough at the house, in the classroom.  The answer is usually a mix of answers an angst—I would… I wanted to- but… I thought I’d start… and so on.

If I want to get younger, I’m responsible for that.  If I can bring that attitude of positivity and drive, then it might work.  If I just dust off the very things- the hobbies, the creative larks, the play-for-play’s sake- I generally put on the shelf, I’ll stay younger longer. I think we all can stay younger, we just forget to try.

This isn’t second star to the right, this isn’t Benjamin Button, this is making an effort enough times that it becomes nature, habit, life.  What can it hurt… we all know life can be fun, so make it so.

-Tom Mooney

So, Thanks.

We know to give thanks.  We know to express gratitude.  We know what it is to feel favored, blessed, fortunate.  We know all of that, but that doesn’t always mean we think to thank the many who help in life.  I think, ordinarily, that we wait to make some grand gesture when something simple, something small, would do.  So do something little, say something simple this holiday.  Thank a student for something routine, thank a player for something common and often lost to expectation.  Thank a parent, a coworker, a perfect stranger.  Make a point to make someone feel the thanks you know you feel.

Today, right now, in our classroom, the students of my first period are signing a large thank you card for Steve… the custodian who cleans our classroom each night.  No student has met Steve and they likely never think of the fact that someone, some Steve, each night, comes along and cleans our classroom the best he can.  Steve deserves thanks.  This is nothing heroic- it’s a large sheet of paper that will be signed by the 140 some students that pass through the classroom each day.  I feel, though, that it’s important for them to know and remember that Steve, and all the other ‘Steve’s’ in the world, help in invisible ways. When they feel that, when they are reminded of it, they care more, act more, and see the world a little differently if only for a few moments.

So thanks.  Thanks to those who read these posts so often.  Thanks to those who comment. Thanks to those who share their ideas and help us all get a little better.  Thanks.  Truly, thanks.

–Tom Mooney

Don’t Be Busy

Several years ago there was an article published in the New York Times called ‘The Busy Trap’; it was good. It identified the trend that everyone feels they have to be busy these days.  It’s not something most want to be, or want to feel, but generally we are, we do.  We are busy.  The article explained, though, that we don’t have to be.  The idea of being busy sometimes, it went on, was in response to others who claimed they were busy- so all felt they had to be equally busy, or busier, in response.  In the spirit of ‘you think you’re busy?’, we’ve come to despise the word and overuse it [start paying attention].  So, let’s not be busy.  I know, it’s hard.  Sometimes we simply are busy, other times we just want to feel busy.  Let’s not be so busy.  How? How do you not be busy? I think it starts with simply realizing you don’t have to be busy, or that slowing down might help you more than you realize.  For instance, half the time I feel busy it’s typically related to compensating for something I forgot to do since, after all, I was too busy to remember it in the first place.  I don’t manage time correctly, I fail to prioritize, I just get lost in my own mismanagement.

I think that busy makes us feel important, but I think it’s that trap mentioned about.  Instead of busy, say your day was ‘full’.  I’ve read that instead of ‘having’ to do something, say that you ‘get’ to.  You don’t have to take a kid to practice, you get to take them.  It is, after all, pretty amazing that you have kids and that you can give them the chance to try a sport.  It’s pretty awesome that they have the health and the ability to play a sport. Heck, you don’t have to set aside an hour each night for homework, you get to help your child with their homework.  You’re still there, still so needed.  The time can be so great, even in the chaos and the whirl of day that seems to be 5:23 p.m. one minute and 8:48 p.m. the next.  It’s a rush; many feel it, but don’t feel busy.  Feel like life is full, like life is taking you along with all the need and speed of itself.

–Tom Mooney

I Don’t Think I Tried

Chances are you’ve never seen me on ESPN’s Center of Sports.  There’s a reason for that- I’m not a very good athlete.  I’m not looking for lame praise to the contrary, I simply know this to be a fact.  Although I’ve always enjoyed sports, always played sports growing up, I have never felt like an offense was built around me or anything.  I was okay, serviceable, a team-player.  And, to be honest, at my age I miss the chances I think I squandered as an athlete.  I think I made some mistakes as an athlete and I think the greatest overall mistake is now clear to me: I didn’t try.

Though I regret this now, there is absolutely nothing that I can do to change the fact that I could have practiced more, could have done more strength conditioning, could have become more of a student of the game.  I didn’t, I didn’t, I wasn’t. I liked sports, I loved certain teams that I was on, I had my moments… but by and large, I could have tried harder to be the athlete I now wonder about.  I wonder, now (and maybe you wonder the same for yourself) if I could have been better if I’d tried harder.  It’s a natural part of the aging process- wonderment.  I wonder, more than I likely realize, who or what I could have been if I’d tried harder.

The hardest I know I ever tried as an athlete was when my dad helped me get ready for a basketball season in seventh grade.  A few nights a week, my dad would go with me to a track behind an elementary school and we’d run together.  I’m not sure exactly how far we’d run each time, but I know by the end of those first few nights I was panting and I know that each time we went it got easier.  I was better that season, I felt prepared.  I still wasn’t great at the foul line maybe, or couldn’t hit many shots from certain distance, but thanks to my dad I was less winded than I might have been otherwise.  I think, looking back, that it was fun to do that with my dad.  It was fun and felt special to do that- running a few nights a week.  I felt like he was teaching me something about training, about trying. I was an athlete that year, that season.  I was prepared, I was better, I was committed.  I’ll never forget it. I don’t remember much of all my years as an athlete, but I remember that one best.  It was support.  It was support in the guise of training.  My dad wasn’t yelling from the sidelines, wasn’t pouring over plays that didn’t work during the car ride home… he was just running with me.  He was there for me.  It was a quiet and continued support.

So who cares? Likely no one other than me.  But, still, I offer it simply to show what might be most important to you and most important to your player or your child- the time you spend helping them try.

-Tom Mooney

Leading With Vision

Last week, I wrote about the importance of vision in a post titled, “What You Will Become.” Jason Curtis then wrote “Growing Trees” in which he describes the role leaders should play in the lives and the development of young coaches and teachers. It got me thinking in a practical way about how coaches, teachers, parents, and leaders can model, encourage, and collaborate with one another to change the atmosphere and ultimately the impact that participation in sports can have on the lives of young people.

Here are a few examples of statements I have heard over the years and how teachers, coaches, parents, and leaders with vision can change the narrative and perspective.

She can’t.” A coach with vision replies, “yet.

I give up.” A parent with vision encourages, “stick with it.

It’s his fault.” A leader with vision states, “let’s do this together.

It’s over.” A teacher with vision inquires “when can we start again?

We did it!” A leader with vision questions, “what’s next?

Where can I hide?” A friend with vision pleads, “where can we go?

We made too many mistakes.” A coach with vision wonders, “what did we learn?

That’s not fair.” A parent with vision answers, “how will you respond?

It’s mine.” A teammate with vision corrects, “it’s ours.

That’s impossible.” A teacher with vision answers, “what a great challenge.

We need this.” A leader with vision compels, “let’s give this.

It’s too late.” A mentor with vision exclaims, “it’s the perfect time to start.

There is no way.” A coach with vision begs, “what is possible?

We’re no good.” A leader with vision implores, “how can we get better?

-Mike Schall

Growing Trees

Finally, for the first time in my coaching career, I’m considered “above average.”

At last night’s season kickoff meeting we learned that the average age of coaches in our club is 34, firmly throwing me into the “above the average” category.


Years ago, while hiring for a coaching position we interviewed a young candidate who had talent and potential, but did not have much experience.  When I brought up my concern about her lack of experience to a colleague who had participated in the interview he replied, “I’m sure she’ll make many of the same mistakes you and I both made when we were new coaches.” He added, “We should definitely hire her.”

I felt a sudden rush of gratitude for the many coaching colleagues and administrators who had patiently mentored me, supported me as I made many, many mistakes, and encouraged me during those times when it got difficult.

Thank goodness they had been willing to hire me and introduce me to this wonderful calling, despite knowing that I would make those errors.  I only wish I had thought to thank them at that time.

NFL observers talk about “coaching trees,” referring to a group of former assistants who spend time with a legendary coach and bring their offensive or defensive schemes to teams when they move on.  Legends such as Bill Walsh and Tom Landry influenced a large number of assistants who went on to become head coaches throughout the NFL.

All of my mentors and colleagues had each, in their own way, welcomed me into their “coaching tree.”  While they transferred knowledge about drills, game-planning, and technical correction, they also taught me about better ways to care for my players, how establish relationships with parents, and why I needed to give back to the sport.  Whether or not they knew it at the time, I became a part of their legacy and contribution to the sport – their “coaching tree.”

We are all coaches together – the head coach of our rival team, the eager assistant, the volunteer parent coach, the confident rookie, and the veteran with too many stories about the “good ol’ days” – all of us are connected to a part of someone’s coaching tree.

That tree’s continued growth and health is up to us.

If we’ve coached for one season or twenty years, we each have something to offer all of these coaches who are starting out.  The next generation of players is counting on us to grow our coaching trees into healthy forests of coaches who will be dedicated to coaching our grandchildren.

Start this season by reaching out to other coaches, especially those new coaches, by trying the following:

  • Find the new coach in the tournament coaches’ meeting (they’re the ones frantically deciphering the schedule) and offer help and encouragement throughout the day.
  • Stop by a new coaches’ practice and give them a compliment about one of their drills.
  • Talk to their team’s parents and tell them about something special you see in their coach.
  • Pass along a favorite article or book.
  • Write them a note pointing out something specific that you like about their coaching.
  • Quietly mention to their student-athletes that they’re fortunate to have such a talented, committed coach.
  • Bring your team to one of their tournament matches or practices to cheer on the players and the coach.
  • Encourage them to speak up at a coaches’ meeting, and ask for their opinion during impromptu discussions about technical skills.
  • Let them run a drill demo, speak at a coaching clinic, or write a blog post for your club’s website.
  • Find that new coach at the end of the tournament day, compliment them on their work that day, and tell them you’re looking forward to seeing them at the next tournament.

And to those brave souls who took a chance on a young coach, thank you.  I’m sorry that I didn’t always think to express my gratitude at the time, but I promise to do my best to pass it along and take care of the “tree.”

-Jason Curtis

What You Will Become

I had the honor of speaking to our coaching staff last evening about establishing a vision for the season – personally (as a coach) and collectively (as a team). So critical is our role as coaches to see what the collective ‘we’ will become.

To be clear, vision has nothing to do with goals. We all want to win. In fact, throughout my coaching, teaching, speaking opportunities, I have often asked those listening a simple question – would you rather win or lose? Without fail, those responding answered ‘win.’ To me, as a coach, leader, or parent, vision is far more important – and also far more difficult to develop – than a list of goals. Vision forces one to see something that isn’t there yet.

The most powerful vision I have been a part of was the experience our family went through when our youngest child Mia was diagnosed with progressive hearing loss just after her first birthday. In the ensuing months of uncertainty after her original diagnosis, my wife Sarah and I arrived at a meeting with Dr. Oliver Adunka at UNC Children’s Hospital. Dr. Adunka sat Sarah and I down and explained to us very calmly, “The vision we share is perfect hearing and perfect speech for this child. We are not sure exactly how we will get there but we must remain committed to that vision.”

In that moment, while still concerned, unsure of the exact path we would take, and faced with the uncertainty of how Mia would respond to the treatment, we were given confidence in what was to come. Below are a few reasons our hearts and minds shifted on that day:

  • A vision was shared. Dr. Adunka, when explaining what he saw for Mia, committed to working with us to help the vision become a reality.
  • We partnered with someone who had the experience, confidence, and maturity that went beyond our emotion and feelings of uncertainty in the present.
  • It gave us hope and a glimpse of what was possible – something we could not yet see.

We have this opportunity as coaches. Regardless of the age or level of team, the beginnings of a season are filled with questions surrounding roles, opportunities, and experience. Casting a vision with your team allows everyone involved to build confidence on what is possible vs living in the uncertainty of the present.

My encouragement to coaches everywhere is to be Dr. Adunka to the lives of the young people, their parents, and the teams they are responsible for leading. Here are several thoughts and questions to help coaches cast a vision for their teams:

  • Have a picture in your mind, as the coach, of all that your team can become, what positive behaviors they will exhibit, and the possibilities that this experience can provide. Kids and their parents often can’t see that picture yet.
  • What are the qualities of the very best teams?
  • Five years from now, how do you want to remember this season?
  • If someone were to watch your team play at the end of the season, what would you want them to say?
  • What does your team look like, sound like, feel like when you are collectively performing at your very best?

Enjoy the opportunity to coach your team to the very best of your ability, to see in them what they are unable to see in the present, and inspire them to get there. By the way, our shared vision for Mia has already become a reality. Five years after the vision was cast, two cochlear implant surgeries later, hundreds of hours of therapy with selfless teachers and therapists, a determined child has begun first grade. In speaking and interacting with Mia, one would never know that she ever had an issue with hearing or speaking. Vision is a powerful tool to bring reality to that which is unseen in the present.

-Mike Schall