Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Chapter 29: Hey Coach! Get a Clue

Let me interrupt the narrative here for a bit. I've been enjoying recounting my journey through a couple of lifetimes of hockey. Hopefully you've found it entertaining and/or interesting.  It's been a chronological accounting, with a couple of interruptions. Those being the passing of a couple of good friends who I would never have met had it not been for our hockey connection.  

I'm going to jump ahead here to talk about something that happened this week. I will return to the timeline as there are plenty of prep, junior, college recruiting and college hockey experiences yet to cover. 

Rochester Americans Camp
I've spent the past ten days on the east coast.  First, I spent time with my son. Although he's in college he had a chance to get some conditioning in by skating with the Rochester Americans junior team in their camp.  Then we spent a little time on the lake in New Hampshire before heading off to drop him and his stuff off at his new college.  After a less than satisfactory freshman year experience at Plattsburgh, he decided to transfer to Elmira.  Go Purple and Gold!

After getting him settled at school I headed back to West Haven, CT. My mom just had neck surgery and she's convinced my dad can't function without her, so I went home to help them both out.  

Schiavone's Peewees circa 1967/68.
Mike McDermott, John Glynne, Kyle Bensen, et al
I had a great week. I did all the usual things I do when I go home.
 I visited Whitey Bensen's store for the first time since Whitey passed away. I talked to his son, Kyle.  He showed me a huge poster which was an incredible tribute to Whitey on Facebook. It includes the blog post I wrote about him.

Whitey Bensen's Facebook Tribute 

I went to Stowe's Seafood. Normally I have lobster roll but they had a soft shell crab Sammy special and it's the end of the season so I went with the crab.

My best friend in high school, Dave Depew had dropped out of my life. Not for lack of trying, but I hadn't spoken to Dave in twenty years.  When I was in NH I posted a photo of Doug Hentz and our boys. I got a message from Roland "Rollie the Goalie" Depew, Dave's older brother.
Max, Me, Doug Hentz and Trevor
He saw the picture and told me Dave would be in town for Labor Day Weekend. We made plans to get together. Although I seriously doubted his actual existence.  

I received texts from Dave.  Dave was the center man for me and Frank Longobardi on the 72-73' West Haven high hockey team.  They still talk about our line.  If I ever want to feel important all I have to do is go back to the rink in West Haven.  People will go on and on about how we were the best line ever to play at WHHS.  Go figure. Legends in our own minds.

I made plans to have lunch at the Depew compound on Ivy Street right across from the beach.  It was a bit of a Depew family reunion.   Jackpot!  They had fresh made pizza from Zuppardi's.  Roland happened to have some Birch Beer in his fridge so it was a perfect lunch. 

We called Dave, "Mumbles" in high school.  After the Dick Tracy character.  40 years later and he is quite articulate. 

We had a fantastic time catching up, reminiscing and reliving some of our glory days.  

The next day was Labor Day. I went on the internet and searched for tournaments at the Edward L. Bennett rink.  Yep. There was a youth tourney going on. I decided to head down and catch a little holiday hockey to kick if the 2013/14 season. 

I drove through the high school parking lot.   I could see the football team was holding practice at Ken Strong Stadium.   Nothing to see there. I moved along.  I turned the corner past the metal shop(do they even still teach shop in high school). Coming around the corner I could see the white and blue building where I played my high school hockey. There was not one car in the parking lot.  I pulled up in front.  There would be no youth hockey to watch this day.  

I wandered back to my car then back past the football team.  What the heck.  I played for that team.  I'm sure there would be some dads there who I might know.  At least I could say hi to the coaches. The head coach, Ed McCarty, has been there for 4o years.  I don't know him but I'm sure he was familiar with the legend of Me!
Coach Ed McCarty barking orders at the Westies

I parked and walked down to the field.  I stood on the track in the corner.  No parents there.  No coaches seemed interested in my presence.  I watched. 

The team was divided into maybe five groups, each at a different station or circuit.  The lineman were in one group.  The receivers at another.  The backs were off with another coach or two.  And the defensive backs had their own station.   An injured player kneeled in the end zone texting on his iPhone hoping he wouldn't get busted by a coach. 

Here's the thing that caught my attention.  The amount of yelling, screaming and berating that flowed from the mouths of these coaches sounded exactly the same as when I was breaking my hump/rupturing my spleen for the Blue Devils in the early 70's under coach Thom Hunt, Ed McHugh and that little shit, coach Garibaldi. Coaching by fear and intimidation.  I was surprised it was exactly the same as forty years ago.  

I've been around a lot of coaching, hockey, lacrosse, softball, soccer, crew. I've seen the highest levels.  I've seen tough coaches who are strict and disciplined.  But I haven't witnessed this kind of old school intimidation since I personally experienced it on that very same field. 

So I stood there and I watched.  I was closest to the defensive backs.  They ran a drill. It was an "interception" drill. Very basic. The backs lined up on the sideline. One at a time they would run toward the quarterback who would zip a pass right at them.  All they had to do was catch the ball and toss it back to the QB as they ran by him so he could throw it to the next defender. Pretty simple. 

Except hardly anyone could hold on to the ball. The head coach stands at midfield and watches all of the drills going on at the various stations.  A couple of coaches work with each group running the drill.  They give praise and some instruction depending on each player's technique. 

The head coach watched these boys, one after the other drop, bobble and mishandle the passes they were supposed to catch. 

A great opportunity for someone to step in and actually coach.  Instead, the head coaches yells, screams and swears.  He says he's sickened by what he's watching. . These guys are an embarrassment.  They are disgusting.  The coach running the drill agrees.  Yells some more. Berates them further.  Fires a ball head high through the crowd of players on the sideline.  No teaching moment here.  

I stood there watching.  Even before the coaches melted down I was thinking to myself. I could help these kids.  Give me two minutes and I could have transformed their ability to catch the ball. I've done it before countless times. It's not that hard.  But it doesn't include yelling and screaming what worthless pieces of crap they are. 

I've used this simple coaching technique many times. It's never failed.  I stood there contemplating calling the coach aside, introducing myself and making a bold claim. I would tell him I played here in the 70s. I'd show him the scar from my splenectomy.  I'd tell him how I quit the team my senior year and that was the year we went undefeated and won the state title.  How Frank, Dave and I all had over 60 points in 20 games and lost the hockey championship to Hamden in the finals.  

Then I'd say coach, I can improve their ability to catch the ball by 100% in two minutes.  You interested?  I would have been a hero. Or an idiot.  But we'll never know.  To be honest, this coaching staff seemed perfectly happy to yell and scream.   I had this whole scenario in my head.  I have done this with my own players over the years.  I've watched dad's struggle with their young kids and offered it to them.  It's worked every time. 

What is it?   Glad you asked.  I came across this many years ago. First in the book, the Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. Then later in a self improvement seminar, the Forum.  I've never seen it not work.   Here is a variation that applies to tennis that works as well. 

The premise is that effective coaching shifts the way the game occurs, or shows up for the player, how the player sees the game, the speed of the game.  Let's do something to slow down the way the game occurs for you.  When things aren't going well who, or better, what is present?  You are. I am.  I can't do this.  I stink.  I'm not good enough.  I,  I,  I,  ay, yi, yi!

When things go well, there's no you. There's just the game; the catch, the hit, the swing.  Think about a time you hit a perfect drive.  You scored a goal.  There's no you.  There's effortlessness. There's joy. There's satisfaction. But that whiny, critical inner voice that never has anything good to say, the one you call "I" is nowhere to be found.  

So coach, let's remove everyone's ego and focus on the action for a moment. 

Try this sometime. Find someone you know who considers them self a klutz.  Have them tell you they can't catch.  Or use a young child who is just learning. Then establish that fact by getting some distance away and toss them a ball. Use a tennis ball. 

Make a number of tosses to see if they were honest.  If they were, their actions, their response will be perfectly coordinated with how they see themselves.  Better yet, how they see the ball.  The ball will appear small, fast, unpredictable. Their hands will be like pizza paddles.  Their attempts to catch will be awkward, jerky and uncoordinated. The worse they are the more improvement you will see. 

Now, change the game.  Unless your style is to yell, scream or berate.  Then knock yourself out.  No seriously, do everyone a favor and hit yourself in the head really, really hard.  I guarantee that won't work. 

Change the game.  Up until now the object has been to catch the ball.  Now we have a new objective.  This time, don't worry about catching the ball.  If they catch it, great. If not, no big deal. This time all we want them to do is to tell us in which direction the seams of the ball are spinning.  All they need to do is watch the ball, see the seams and report back to you the direction of the spin.  Miracle ensues.  

What you should observe, and I've never seen this fail, is a completely transformed being.  What I expect you will see is a person whose ego/identity is not there. What is there is a person actually present to what is happening.   Recall Chevy Chase in Caddyshack.  NeNeNeNeNe.......see the ball Danny, be the ball Danny

Your test subject will respond to a slower, larger object and their actions will be in a perfect correlation or dance with how the ball occurs for them.  Expect to see their eyes focused on the ball, their hands cupping and receiving the orb as it comes to rest naturally and gracefully in their hands. Not the herky jerky movement when they struggled and batted the ball in an attempt to catch it before.

Granted, if I'd done this with the high school football players I would have given the same instructions.  But the football will always spin the same way.  I would have instructed the quarterback to change up the speed. And to surprise them by tossing it end over end to mix it up and make sure they were paying attention.  

We'll never know if or how this would have worked with the 2013-14 Blue Devils.  I either chickened out or I decided these coaches already knew everything and didn't need my help.  Either way, I'm sure they will have a successful year.  The old school type of coaching through fear and intimidation works. Go Blue Devils! 

Let me know if you try this and what happens.

Addendum:   I received a comment from a person from West Haven telling me that Coach Ed McCarty must be doing something right.  He's on the verge of becoming the winningest football coach in Connecticut history.  To which I replied: "I did say this this coaching style works.  My broken body remembers everyday how inspired I was to sacrifice for the team." I'm sure it was arrogant of me to pop in and make this judgement based on this brief glimpse.  But I saw what I saw.  Old school coaching at its finest.

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