The Time in Between

We all experience the “time in between.”  It’s that time spent in your doctor’s office waiting room, stuck in a long line at the DMV, or waiting at a gate for your flight.

It’s the time after you were doing something that mattered, but not quite yet when you’ll start doing something that matters again.

It doesn’t matter if we’re waiting for something dreadful or exciting – people waiting in line for a roller coaster have the same look as those in line at the DMV – because the “time in between” is still considered a waste of time.

We have ways of filling the time in between.  We check our phone, zone out, and check our social media. We people-watch, play a game on our phones, look at our reflection in a window, and check our phone until we finally start worrying about our battery level.  (*Generation gap moment: in the days before cell phones we only had “Hi-lights” magazines in the doctor’s office, and I’m sorry this generation won’t ever know the thrill of finding all of the 10 hidden objects.)

Even though we may fill the time in between, we’re really not doing anything useful with that time.

We have the “time in between” at school and in athletics too.  This is that time at school where we’re waiting for AP and final exams, end-of-year events, and graduation.  Waiting for summer vacation, waiting to go to college, waiting for the weather to change.  Waiting.

Your team may be waiting too.  Both teams in most contests at this time of the year are waiting: the successful team is waiting for the regular season to end so they can get to something meaningful (the playoffs), and the team with a losing record is just simply waiting for the season to end.  Waiting for the “time in between” to end.

Which would be fine, except for the fact that the one thing we all want is more time.

Perhaps we all have been given just enough time to do what we’re supposed to do.  It might be that we don’t always recognize the extra time we have … because it’s hidden in between the things we think are more important.

Maybe this “time in between” is where we’re supposed to reconnect with a classmate, get to know a teacher better, and to work on some academic skills that will prepare us to be successful in college.  Maybe this is the time to offer sincere gratitude to our mentors, or to work on leaving a positive legacy at our school.

Maybe this time is where we’re supposed to work on those skills we never get around to training because we’re distracted by competition.  Maybe we should try a new position, experiment with creative play, change up practice plans, or revisit team goals from the beginning of the season.  This might be the time to find a role for the player who has been ignored, to encourage a disillusioned coach or teammate, or to offer mentorship for younger players.

The “time in between” is the time to make yourself better, or make someone else better.  The time to recommit to what you want to do, hope to do, dream to do.  Play, smile and laugh.  Reflect, think, and imagine.

The “time in between” isn’t a waste of time, it’s a gift.  It’s time we do something with it.

-Jason Curtis

Seeking the Challenge

Everyone wants the “perfect” season … but we might not agree on what a perfect season looks like.

My perfect season is one where we lose some tough matches.  The perfect season has quite a few practices that don’t go smoothly, and we struggle to reach our goal in challenging drills.  My perfect season also has some parent meetings with challenging questions, inconveniences in travel, and some interpersonal difficulties and growth that force us to work as a team.

If we have a “perfect season,” where every practice and game goes our way, then we’ve made practices too easy and we’ve scheduled below our potential.  As Tom Hirshfield noted, “If you hit the target every time then it is either too near or too big.”

Seth Godin in his latest blog post reminds us how we learn to ride a bike: “Actually, by not doing it. You learn by doing it wrong, by falling off, by getting back on, by doing it again.”  How unreasonable it would be to expect our child to learn how to ride a bike without falling, and how ridiculous it would be to expect a season to be without challenges.

Improvement is inextricable from challenges.  You don’t ride the rainbow to the pot of gold – it’s at the end of a long, tiring journey.  The reason why learning to ride a bike is so memorable for both the child and parent is precisely because it’s difficult, scary and frustrating.

We want our players, coaches and parents to demonstrate a positive response to adversity.  Yet, we forget that the response is always better when we have sought the challenge, rather than feeling that a difficulty has been thrust upon us.  If parents gave up on teaching their child to ride a bike the first time they fell off, Schwinn would have been out of business years ago.

Instead of team goals that only include the positive, consider including the reality that your team is likely to lose some matches and have bad practices.  Be excited about the opportunity to challenge your team to the extent that you might have to work through team dynamics and explain processes to parents.  Be willing to be patient and steadfast through the challenge.

It’s the challenge that makes the journey and the destination better, richer, and more fulfilling.

The only thing better than finishing a drill, is getting to a goal that your team didn’t feel they could reach.

The only thing better than beating a team, is defeating a team that you couldn’t figure out in the beginning of the season.

The only thing better than getting a high grade on a test, is acing an exam in the class where you’ve had difficulty mastering the material.

The only thing better than seeing your child or player succeed, is seeing them be successful in something that they just couldn’t do earlier.

Seek the challenge.

-Jason Curtis

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

Youth Sports: What I Care About

My kids love sports. Currently, my oldest daughter plays club volleyball, my two sons play in a YMCA basketball league, and my youngest daughter goes to “practice” (say it in an Allen Iverson voice) once per week to learn how to play volleyball. They play other sports too but these are our current “seasons.”

I love that they love sports. I watch when I can but when I’m not there, life does go on. I don’t want my presence to have any impact on the joy they receive from playing or the effort that they give to their teams. Don’t get me wrong, I go to as many games as I can but if I have a conflict, neither I nor my kids are bothered.

When I watch, I watch. When a good play is made by any player on either team, I clap to acknowledge the play – that’s it – the game isn’t about the parents who are watching from the sidelines. I like seeing kids learn things on their own, discover how to interact with teammates and coaches, and get better at winning and losing. Gasp – losing. I want them to lose? No – I don’t WANT them to lose but I have been involved in sports long enough to realize it’s a potential outcome of competition. So, if I don’t truly care if my kids win or lose their games, what do I care about?

I care about how they respond: To wins. To losses. To injuries. To mistakes. To sitting on the bench. To bad calls. To conflict. To fatigue. To feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, or lacking confidence. I care how they respond and sports provides a fantastic experiential learning opportunity.

I care about how they learn: I want them to become good learners. I want them to learn skills, team concepts, and the rules and strategies of the sport they are playing. More importantly, I want them to learn how they learn.

I care about how they communicate: Real human communication. I want them to communicate with their teammates, their coaches, and with other adults like referees, tournament directors, and volunteers who make their experience possible. There has been nothing in my children’s lives that has helped them to become better communicators than their participation in sports.

I care about how they lead: Sports provide my kids with opportunities to speak publicly, to motivate those around them, and to teach others. In addition, sports allow kids to play different roles which is an essential leadership skill as they continue to grow.

My kids have won and lost plenty to know the difference and to also know that the sun has always come up the next day regardless of the result. The outcomes I am most interested in are the joy they give and receive to their team through competition, the relationships that develop and last a lifetime as a result of being on a team, and the experience they have of being part of something bigger than themselves. I also want them to recognize that hard work is its own reward and never guarantees a successful outcome.

-Mike Schall

Making Our Case

In the January 23rd issue of Sports Illustrated, Seth Davis writes about the trend of high school basketball players leaving high school in their senior year so that they can start playing in college earlier.  In “The Case for … Starting College Early,” Davis writes about the Auburn coaching staff approaching a recruit in his junior year at Spain Park High in Alabama.  They encouraged Austin Wiley’s family to arrange an early graduation by transferring to Calusa Prep in Miami while playing basketball for The Conrad Academy in Orlando until he enrolled at Auburn and played in his first game last December.  By my count, that’s four different schools in less than 12 months.

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl argues that players heading to college early “get college coaching” “a meaningful off-season” and “closer to a degree.”  The NCAA appreciates the latter argument, asserting on its website that “the ultimate goal of the college experience is graduation.”  Yet, less than half of Auburn’s men’s basketball players who enrolled in 2009 had earned a degree from Auburn University by 2016 (according to 2016 US Department of Education Federal Graduation Rate statistics).

Kentucky coach John Calipari, who helped 18-year-old Hamidou Diallo enroll at UK this spring even though he may enter the NBA draft next year without ever playing a minute for the Wildcats, added: “If a young man is 18 and has a chance to go to college as an 18-year old, he should do it.  I don’t know why you wouldn’t.”

Unless you consider that only 29% of Wildcat men’s basketball players who enrolled in the school in 2009 earned a University of Kentucky degree by 2016.  To be fair, a record number of Kentucky players left college early to play in the NBA, likely a far more lucrative option than many of their Kentucky classmates had even with a degree.  Kentucky is the outlier however: only 1% of NCAA men’s basketball players actually have the opportunity to play in the NBA.

Click image. NCAA screenshot shows graduation rates vs. professional playing opportunities.  Yes, those are multiple typographical errors on the NCAA website touting the academic success of college student-athletes.

Coach Calipari previously asserted that the advancement of his players’ personal goals is paramount, even more than winning a national championship: “[My mission is] to be the vehicle that helps others reach their dreams, be the stone that creates the ripple in their lives that goes on and on and on.”

Sounds a lot like what we’re trying to do in high school education.  So why do these college basketball coaches feel so confident in publicly dismissing the value of the senior year experience in high school?

It’s not just college football and basketball: we are experiencing this phenomenon in volleyball.  High school student-athletes are increasingly seeking to leave high school early and enroll in college during what would be the spring semester of their senior year, and in response to decreasing participation USA Volleyball has moved up the National Championships for the 18s division, holding the tournament two months before all other age divisions.

I believe that college coaches are doing this for many of the right reasons.  They correctly assert that college coaches have more time and resources to dedicate to the training of student-athletes, including strength, conditioning, nutrition and academic programs.  Certainly having more time with their student-athletes on campus can improve the team dynamic, and college coaches can more quickly identify and address problems with student-athletes during off-season training.

On the other hand, college coaches don’t articulate the disadvantages of transitioning a student months before the rest of their freshman class comes on campus, or address the national statistics that indicate that more students every year are entering college unprepared academically and socially.  Many college coaches bemoan the lack of focus, leadership and program commitment from incoming players, while underestimating the abilities of high school and club coaches who could help form those characteristics.

If I were a college coach, I would want more time with my players too.  The tremendous pressures on athletic programs and the significant responsibilities of players and coaches makes every day with a college team important.

However, as a high school educator, I also want more time to help form these talented young people.  As seniors they can engage in a more personalized academic environment to prepare them for a university classroom.  They should spend time with mentors on campus who can challenge them to become active contributors and leaders, committed to leaving a positive legacy in their high schools.  They should work with coaches who have grown to know them and their families well and can assist them in developing life balance that will be essential in the pressure-packed world of intercollegiate athletics.  They must become mentors and teachers themselves, so that they are prepared to assume that role in college and later in life.  In short: they need to develop the characteristics that universities and intercollegiate athletics programs claim to seek in prospective students, but may be in fact keeping them from gaining by enrolling them in college too early.

Early enrollment isn’t the fault of college coaches or universities.  The fact that nobody is willing or able to articulate the value of the academic, athletic and social formation during the senior year of high school falls squarely on the shoulders of high school administrators, teachers and coaches.  Have we become too comfortable allowing or even enabling “senioritis?”  Has our willingness to allow twelfth graders to coast through classes, practices and competitions rendered the experience expendable?  Have we missed an important leadership opportunity by not pressing seniors into significant responsibilities to care for and lead younger athletes?  In short, are we failing our students by providing a poor senior year experience?

This is a wake-up call for us to examine the senior year in high school classrooms and gymnasiums, and to commit ourselves to providing an exceptional experience making sure that every student and family knows how important the 12th grade is to their short and long-term future.

As Pearl argues, “Why discourage someone from taking advantage of an opportunity to better himself?”

I couldn’t agree more. Shame on us if a student’s senior year in high school doesn’t offer an outstanding chance to better themselves.

It’s time for high school educators to make the case for a high school senior year that every student can’t afford to miss.

-Jason Curtis

Dear Coach Dunning

The first time we “met” was in 1999. I was a young assistant coach at Penn State and we were playing your Pacific Tigers in the National Semifinals in Hawaii. One of my main responsibilities at that time in my coaching career was to scout our opponents. I watched hours of film on your team, and I knew it was going to be a tough matchup. We were coming off two straight seasons of losing in the national finals and while our group was experienced, your team had me worried. You used two different setters and had an outside hitter named Elsa Stegemann. She was fantastic and from what I can recall sitting here today, she had somewhere around 40 kills against us. We managed to win the match in 5 games and then went on to win the finals against a Stanford team featuring the great Kerri Walsh and Logan Tom. Despite your team’s difficult loss against us, you were a true gentleman. As a young coach, I noticed that.

Over the years, I have been fortunate to continue learning from you in a variety of ways. A few times in direct conversation but also in other ways: listening to you talk at coaching clinics, reading articles you wrote, watching you on the sidelines, and – maybe most important – watching your team play. I also know that Madi Bugg, an alumna of Triangle Volleyball Club, where I now serve as the Associate Director, had an incredible experience playing for you at Stanford (where you have coached since leaving Pacific).

This evening, at 9:00, your young Stanford team will battle the University of Texas for the national championship. With all due respect to Texas and their fine team and staff, I hope your team wins. Here is why…

  • You are a true teacher who cares deeply about the health and well being of your athletes.
  • You have created an environment where it is clear that the process of learning matters. Your team got off to a rocky start this year and somehow stormed through the tournament to land in the finals.
  • You are humble. You take the time to talk with everybody you come in contact with.
  • You are an encourager. I have seen you on the sidelines and can never tell if your team is winning or losing.

When I spoke with you briefly yesterday at the AVCA Convention, I didn’t have a chance to thank you for your leadership. So, Coach, I will be cheering for Stanford tonight. Thank you for the example you have set over the years of how a coach should act, how a coach should teach, and how a coach should lead. Regardless of the outcome, I want you to know how much you are appreciated.

With respect,

Mike Schall

Update 12/18/16: Congratulations to Coach Dunning, the Stanford staff, and Stanford players for winning the 2016 NCAA Championships.

Why I Love Tryouts – Really

In my role as a Club Director at Triangle Volleyball Club in Raleigh, North Carolina, mid-October through mid-November mark the most difficult time of the year. And I love it.

Here is what I love about tryouts:

  • Every year, I see kids do things in moments of intense pressure that they have never done before. Pressure and their desire to perform at their very best bring out the absolute best in some kids. I love the opportunity I have to witness them taking a step in the direction of fulfilling their potential.
  • ‘How you do anything is how you do everything.’ – When tryouts are run well, when people (athletes, parents, and coaches) are treated well, and the process is fair, it is a reflection of the club as a whole and the people who want to become part of it. It’s a reflection of the club as a whole when those things are done poorly as well.
  • As leaders, we have the chance to shape the culture of the youth sports experience. I am fortunate that I work with so many coaches who understand the importance of professionalism in the tryout process. I’m also grateful for parents who exhibit trust and respect to the coaching staff during tryouts.
  • We get to teach kids about honesty – when it’s really hard. They may not like the message that we have to deliver sometimes but they deserve honesty. When honesty can be delivered with compassion and with empathy, it allows young people to process the truth in a helpful way. In a way that provides an opportunity for growth in the future. They may not agree and that’s ok but we always want them to feel that they were treated fairly and with respect. This goes for their parents as well.
  • Everyone involved has the chance to learn about courage. There are players who walk in the gym and are obvious selections for one of our teams. There are some players who are not so easy to identify. Then, there are some who may be in over their heads. It is those kids who I respect the most. They come back for three days, getting better every day, and despite the long odds of making a team, they thank us for the opportunity. I am the one who is grateful to them – for showing me year after year what courage looks like.

Tryouts are difficult for everyone involved. In every case, there are difficult decisions to be made. Whether it is 12 kids trying out for 10 spots or, in our case, more than 650 kids trying out for about 320 roster spots, there are tough decisions to make. Our intent every year is to do our best – to be fair in the process and to treat people well. We are not perfect at it but I love that it is meaningful to kids and to their families.

This is why I love tryouts.

-Mike Schall

[Full disclosure – I typically lose 10 pounds, don’t sleep, and feel stressed out for most of the tryout period. I still love it.]

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

We Hereby Agree to Be Nice to People

The following post is from Jason Curtis. Court and Classroom is especially thankful for Jim Garman of Garman Homes for allowing us to post this. More importantly we are thankful for the example Jim sets in how he leads his company and treats his customers. 

This is the most unusual contract I’ve ever seen:

Good Attitude

At Garman Homes, We believe a good attitude can change the world. We insist on a good attitude…from Our employees, Our vendors, Our cooperating Brokers, Our Legal & Lender Squad and from You, Our Buyers. We insist.

Mistakes happen all the time. So do misunderstandings, miscommunications and the dreaded perceived mistakes and assumptions. All are likely to put Our Good Attitudes to the test. At some point during construction on Your New Home, We are likely to stumble upon something unexpected. In fact, You should expect the unexpected. We have built hundreds of homes, We know to expect the unexpected.

Our good attitudes can make the difference between working through something unexpected in a collaborative way or stewing about it and trading ‘he said, she said’ emails. Those emails never end well. The gist is, We don’t promise to make any fewer mistakes than other homebuilders. But We DO promise to be honest, sincere and propose ways to move forward. In return, We expect the same from You.

We don’t respond well to yelling and screaming. And We don’t respond well to threats. We prefer working with people who want to find a winwin for everyone involved. If You feel You may struggle with this approach during the building process, We’re not the builder for You. Be honest with Yourself about whether You can commit to a Good Attitude. There is no faking it. We can tell when You’re faking.

We feel so strongly about the importance of a Good Attitude, We reserve the right to terminate Our Agreement at anytime prior to Closing if We feel Our relationship has gone off the rails. The last thing We want is for You to move forward with Your New Home if You are no longer able to offer Us the benefit of the doubt or if You’ve lost the ability to trust Us. It’s tough to imagine now but it happens. In this rare situation, We will return to You the Builder Deposit and, depending on the timing, We may be able to refund Your Option Deposit also.

We love what We do for a living. It is more than a job for every single one of Us. It’s not business, it’s personal. With Your help and positive support, We are confident that We can build a great home for You.

Signed

You:____________ Date:____________ Us:____________ Date:____________                 

Jim Garman, the owner of Garman Homes, was introduced to me by a colleague who was fortunate enough to have a home built by Jim’s team.  We invited him to campus because we were looking for someone who could stimulate new ways of thinking about IT customer service at our school.  Jim is a thoughtful, reflective, creative and passionate “serial entrepreneur,” who is taking advantage of his position as owner to serve as purchasing manager for the year (instead of running the company).

In the frequently contentious world of construction, the Garman Homes team seeks to create the best possible experience for both the customer and the building team.  They seem to have hit on a winning formula: seek to create a partnership and don’t be afraid to be specific about expectations from both the builder and the homebuyer.

The most important thing about a contract is that it demands something from both parties.  It extends a promise in exchange for another promise, and is supported by specific action (or “consideration” in legal terms).  The language of the contract keeps both parties honest, while laying out what is to be expected throughout the transaction.

What if we were to create a “good attitude” contract between coaches and families at the beginning of the season?

Here are a few ideas, and we’d love to hear your comments and additions:

At ______________ Volleyball Club, We believe that we have a most important responsibility to partner with You, parents, in helping raise your child.  We believe that the only way that We can effectively help You raise Your child is by both parties agreeing to act with mutual respect and appreciation.

We know that the upcoming season will include some wins and some failures, that every player will not be able to play as much as they want and where they want, and that We will make some coaching decisions that will not be successful.

In those inevitable moments of potential disappointment, You and We will react in a positive manner because it is the best response for Your children to witness.  Both parties will allow space for each party to be the best version of themselves [Growth Clause], will always assume that the actions of the other party are initiated with best intentions [Optimism Clause], will understand that errors will be made by You and Us, both of whom are human [Forgiveness Clause], and will always endeavor to leave the other party happier at the end of every interaction [Joy Clause].

You love your children, and We do too.  Therefore, both parties promise that:

We You
will react to disappointment with professionalism, kindness and positivity will be open-minded about the learning process and embrace adversity for our children
will understand that families are doing their best to attend practices and games and will seek to decrease to a family’s scheduling stress by being empathetic, patient and kind about tardiness and absences will be patient with schedule changes and endeavor to bring my child to practice with more than a full stomach and necessary equipment: they will come armed with gratitude, optimism, openness and joy.
will continue to challenge our players by giving them opportunities to stretch and grow, especially when they struggle or fail will bring cheerfulness and kindness to the bleachers at games, and will extend genuine hospitality and welcome to other parents
will always build up and encourage players and families through conversations with other coaches will always build up and encourage all players and coaches through conversations with other parents
will cheerfully conduct ourselves as exemplary role models and supporters for our players will consistently enjoy and appreciate the sacrifice of supporting our children in athletics
will treat my players and opponents as if they were someone’s child (which, incidentally, they are) will treat my child’s teammates and opponents as if they were someone’s child (which, incidentally, they are)

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