“Seek opportunities to show you care. The smallest gestures often make the biggest difference.”
John Wooden

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Culture Code: Our 2017 Book of the Year (Plus Other Staff Picks)

By John O'Sullivan

December 5, 2017

It’s that time of year again, our final blog where we review our favorite books of 2017. There were some amazing books out there this year, and the choices were tough. This year, we also brought in some staff favorites to add to our master list. Hopefully, you can find a great read for the coach, parent or athlete in your life.

Book of the Year (for Coaches and Leaders)

Many of our readers have read Coyle’s last book –the #1 NYT Bestseller The Talent Code – and his followup is the book we have been waiting for. Coyle dives in to dissect the qualities of the best teams, from the San Antonio Spurs to Navy SEAL Team Six, providing coaches and leaders with the tools to build highly functioning and highly motivated teams. Coyle breaks down how great leaders build safe environments, encourage vulnerability, and establish a common purpose in order to get everyone moving in the same direction. This is the book you have been waiting for when it comes to connecting great stories with ground-breaking research in an entertaining, fast-paced read. While sadly, you will have to wait until January to get a copy (I got an advanced copy) it is worth the pre-order because you want this book the day it comes out!

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Badgers volleyball: Sydney Hilley soaks up leadership lessons from Lauren Carlini, Haleigh Nelson

By Dennis Punzel
November 30, 2017
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Haleigh Nelson and Lauren Carlini (M.P. King/State Journal)
Translation: What would Lauren do? What would Nelly do?
The questions arose a couple weeks ago as University of Wisconsin volleyball coach Kelly Sheffield and his freshman setter Sydney Hilley were watching a video of former UW quarterback Russell Wilson, who was miked up as he talked with his Seattle Seahawks teammates.
Hilley pondered what it would be like if she could’ve listened in like that to her predecessor at setter, Lauren Carlini, or former middle blocker Haleigh Nelson as they talked to their teammates. How did those two celebrated leaders inspire their teammates? What did they say in pressure situations? How did they say it?
Only way to find out is to ask. So the next day they called Carlini in Scandicci, Italy, where she is playing her first season of professional volleyball and the two setters discussed their craft for more than an hour on FaceTime.
The next day Hilley called Nelson in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she is attending grad school and playing beach volleyball for LSU.
“Every minute of it Syd was soaking up knowledge,” said Sheffield, whose main job was to hold the phone during the Carlini conversation. “Learning takes place when there’s a need to know, and Syd needs to know. That’s why she’s the player she is right now. And even more exciting, why she’s going to continue to get better.
“She wants to max out and you’ve got to be willing to put yourself out there if you’re wanting to be great at something. That requires searching out information, searching out people that have been where you want to go.”
Sheffield said that Hilley has been able to put the advice she got to immediate use and teammates have noted a difference in her communication during recent matches. That progression could play a role as the Badgers (20-9) begin NCAA tournament play Friday against in-state rival Marquette (22-9) in Ames, Iowa.
Hilley said she had different goals in each conversation, although communication was a common theme in each.
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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Here’s the Strategy Elite Athletes Follow to Perform at the Highest Level

By Ryan Holiday
November 22, 2017

This piece is an adaption from The Obstacle Is The Way.
This article was originally published 12/17/15.
Image result for mia fradenburg unc
Mia Fradenburg (http://goheels.com/)

When coach Shaka Smart was interviewed after his team beat North Carolina in a surprise upset last week, what did he say? He didn’t focus on the buzzer beater. Or the strategy. He said his team won because “they followed the process.
Tony Wroten, a guard for the 76ers, got the same advice from his coaches. “They tell us every game, every day, ‘trust the process.’” John Fox, the coach trying to turn around the Chicago Bears, asked his team the same thing.
But what the hell is it? What is the process?
It can be traced to Nick Saban, the famous coach of LSU and Alabama — perhaps the most dominant dynasty in the history of college football. But he got it from a psychiatry professor named Lionel Rosen during his time at Michigan State.
Rosen’s big insight was this: sports — especially football — are complex. Nobody has enough brainpower or motivation to consistently manage all the variables going on in the course of a season, let alone a game. They think they do — but realistically, they don’t.
There are too many plays, too many players, too many statistics, counter moves, unpredictables, distractions. Over the course of a long playoff season, this adds up into a cognitively impossible load. Meanwhile, as Monte Burke writes in his book Saban, Rosen discovered that the average play in football lasts just seven seconds. Seven seconds — that’s very manageable.
So he posed a question: What if a team concentrated only on what they could manage? What if they took things step by step — not focusing on anything but what was right in front of them and on doing it well?
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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The One Question All Coaches Should Ask Their Athletes

By John O'Sullivan
November 8, 2017
Image result for coach volleyball bill ferguson
Bill Ferguson, Wake Forest Volleyball Coach 
Coaches, imagine if there was a way to gain insight, understanding, and connection with your athletes by asking a simple question? There is. let me explain how.
A few years back, I coached a talented, yet underperforming sixteen-year-old girl I will call Maddy. She was incredibly inconsistent in her play and often looked very depressed. She was definitely lacking in confidence. Her friends told me she was unsure whether to continue playing or not. After trying multiple ways to help her play the way I believed she was capable of, I called her in for a meeting.

I spent the first 30 minutes of our time together offering my thoughts and suggestions, but as I rambled on and on I could tell she was simply tuning out. Here I was, the highly experienced coach, offering my years of wisdom, and she wasn’t listening.
“Maddy, if you don’t start taking my advice, I can’t really help you. I don’t know what else to say,” I shrugged.
“It’s all good stuff coach, but none of that stuff helps me with my problem,” she replied.
“Really?” I exclaimed. “Then perhaps you better tell me what the problem really is, because I clearly am not helping right now.” I waited for her answer.
‘It’s my Dad,” she said. “Whenever you play me on his side of the field, he is constantly telling me what to do, where to be, when to be there, and I can hear him and see him getting angrier and angrier with me. I think I play a lot better when I play on the side where the teams sit, and away from the parents. At least that way I can’t hear him.”
I thought about it for a second, and she was right. She did seem to play better on the team side of the field. I could honor this request, without affecting the team much. “I can help with that Maddy, no problem at all. Why didn’t you ever say something about that before? I can certainly help you with your position, and more importantly, I can go and speak to your Dad. Why did you wait until now to tell me?”
“Because you never asked,” she said stone faced.
My heart sank. She was right. All season long, I watched this girl struggle with her play and her confidence, and all I did was get upset and frustrated with her. I tried to solve the problem, without ever knowing the problem. All I had to do was ask one simple question, but I never did.
“What is one thing you wish your coaches knew that would help us coach you better?”
It is the question that changes everything. Not only for the athletes but for us coaches too.
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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Twelve glaring problems with volleyball’s early recruiting culture

August 19, 2017

John Cook’s Husker volleyball teams built on D, just like Penn State

John Cook, Head Volleyball Coach, Nebraska (BRENDAN SULLIVAN/THE WORLD-HERALD)
Supply and demand. That’s the rule of economics. That’s the law of recruiting.
In a perfect world, college coaches wouldn’t make scholarship offers to eighth- and ninth-graders because there would be enough talent to go around three or four years later.
“The reality of volleyball is you need kids who are physically superior in order to elevate your program to the next level,” said John Tawa, founder of PrepVolleyball.com. “You can wait and find players who are very good who will help any program, but they’re not program-changers.
“So you are fighting for a small pool of elite athletes.”
That’s the coaches’ incentive. Now look at the players’ perspective. Again, demand exceeds supply.
Take the setter position, Tawa said. A top program that runs a 5-1 offense will grant a setter scholarship only every other year. So if there are 30 elite programs, you’re talking about 15 scholarships for setters. If you’re waffling over an offer, your coach won’t wait.
“They’ll go to Plan B pretty quickly,” Tawa said.
Borne out of the scarcity of resources, volleyball insiders see (at least) 12 big issues with volleyball’s rush to commit.
1. Planning headaches for coaches
John Cook feels like an NBA general manager, he said. Every week his staff meets to discuss scholarship allocation. Not just for 2017 or ’18, but four or five years down the road. Decisions for the class of 2021 must be made now.
“Let’s say a ninth-grader comes to camp or a visit,” Cook said. “If you don’t offer them, you may never get another chance. That’s the pressure we’re all feeling. If I want to wait and see how she develops, there might be 20 other schools that offer. So she’s going to think, ‘Oh, Nebraska isn’t interested.’
“Two years later, you say, ‘We love what you’re doing, we want to offer you.’
“ ‘Sorry, it’s too late,’ they say. ‘You don’t offer me when I was there.’ ”
You try to make predictions, Cook said. You weigh the risks of offering some girls early — and waiting on others. You hope you don’t invest four years in a prospect who doesn’t develop, gets hurt or transfers. In that case, you have to start over chasing ninth-graders.
“If something doesn’t work out,” Iowa State coach Christy Johnson said, “all of the good players have already committed.”
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Friday, August 11, 2017

Sam Darnold Is The Realest

By Jeff Pearlman
August 2, 2017

Sam Darnold
Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold passes during the first half of a game against UCLA, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Sam Darnold is boring.
We might as well get that out of the way.
He’s boring. Dull. Sorta lame.
His mother and father (who, interestingly, are anything butboring) refer to their boy as “Flatline,” and while this isn’t meant as an insult, it’s not exactly a compliment. Southern Cal’s redshirt sophomore quarterback doesn’t tweet. He doesn’t talk shit. He won’t bash UCLA’s Josh Rosen or promise a national championship. There are zero traces of tattoos or piercings or shirtless arm-crossed tough guy poses.
When Sam recently met with a B/R Mag writer on the USC campus, he sported gray shorts, worn sneakers and a wrinkled white T-shirt with yellow sweat stains beneath the armpits. It is within the realm of possibilities he combed his hair beforehand. Maybe.
Whether discussing last season’s thrilling Rose Bowl win over Penn State or if he’ll declare for the 2018 NFL draft (he’s noncommittal), his vocal tone remained at the same level. Sorta…like…this. “That’s Sam,” says Chris Darnold, his mother. “He’s a wonderful boy. But his goal isn’t to thrill you.”
In the modern world of Sports Mythology: 101, Sam Darnolds are increasingly rare specimens. There’s a playbook, written long ago and perfected lately by LaVar Ball, that demands our offspring live and die with a gilded mojo and chosen sport. That they become one with a chosen sport.
It is the way. It is the future. It is inevitable.
“I hate it,” says the quarterback’s father. “I really hate it.”
His name is Mike Darnold. He is a stocky 53-year-old medical gas plumber with short hair and a soft-spoken manner. As he opines from a chair inside the living room of his Capistrano Beach, California, home, he dips one corn chip after another into a small bowl of green guacamole, taking meticulous nibbles off the corners. Chris, a middle school physical education teacher and his wife of 23 years, is across the way on a blue couch, nodding.
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Monday, July 3, 2017

The Word on Coaching: Penn State's Russ Rose on 'Commitment'

June 29, 2017
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(Photo: Mark Selders, Penn State Athletics)

Russ Rose is committed to Penn State.
And how. He arrived in Happy Valley in 1979 and has never left.
Thirty-eight seasons and counting later, he has amassed an NCAA all-time record 1,213 victories and seven national championships in first building, then guiding the preeminent collegiate women's volleyball program in the nation.
Russ is perpetually demanding, innovative yet old school, consistently and boldly candid, intensely loyal, hilariously and dryly funny, occasionally dogmatic and frequently brilliant.
And that's on a good day.
Russ Rose can also be a PIA. And how.
He is a teacher on the court and off — his masters thesis was on volleyball statistics and he still teaches KINES 493: Principles and Ethics of Coaching, which meets at the Russ Rosian hour of 8 a.m. Monday and Wednesdays every fall semester.
Rose has crafted a huge niche for himself at Penn State, and in intercollegiate athletics across the nation. He is respected by his peers, is revered by alumni (volleyball players and fanatical followers alike) and is sometimes feared by the less-initiated, including a wayward student or ten who have had the bad idea of blowing off his class.
His journey at Penn State has been one of success and, very Sinatra-like, he's done it his way. Joe Paterno was an important mentor, and his Rec Hall neighbor these days, Cael Sanderson, serves as part-inspiration, part-foil, part-fellow Penn State legend.
Russ Rose is Penn State.
So, it's no surprise that Rose kicks things off among the featured head coaches in our "Final Word" series. Or that his noun of choice is "commitment."
Rose is Part 2 of our seven-part "The Word on Coaching" series, in which Penn State’s athletics director and a half-dozen of PSU’s most successful current head coaches discuss their philosophy on athletics and life, summarized in a singular word of his or her choosing. The line-up:
Sandy Barbour, Director of Athletics —  "Why?"
Russ Rose, Women’s Volleyball — Today             
Char Morett-Curtiss, Field Hockey — Monday, July 3           
Guy Gadowsky, Men’s Ice Hockey — Friday, July 7              
Erica Dambach, Women’s Soccer — Monday, July 10         
James Franklin, Football — Friday, July 14
Cael Sanderson, Wrestling —  Monday, July 17                         
                                     •   •   •   •   •
SC.com: So, what's your word?
Rose: Commitment. That's being all in and wanting others to subscribe to the mission and recognize the importance of working together, controlling the things that you can control and having fun with the process.
It doesn't have to be tortuous. It has to be fun. But it's hard to achieve great things with mediocre effort. Having great players doesn't guarantee that you'll have a great team. It means you have great potential. The execution part is the hard part. That's where people have to get in the gym and they have to work hard and they have to sacrifice and they have to be cognizant of what the other players' needs are and can they massage their contribution to the team to give us a best chance for success? That's instead of just digging their heels in the sand.
It's commitment to whatever the cause is. It's being all in. It's not being distracted, not letting the noise bother you, not focusing on anything other than what you've identified as being the most important thing.
SC.com: Where does winning, which some say is "the" most important thing, fit into that?
Rose: When we had those years we went undefeated, I never talked about being undefeated. I talked about getting better. I talked about the things the team needed to do better. But more importantly, I talked to the players and told each of them what they needed to do to be better, because all of them should have the goal of being better.
If you are just looking at the end result, which some people do in sports and in life — that's how they keep score; "I made it!" -- well, just like that, with a flip of the coin, they're gone. So they didn't really make it. Making it, if that's such a phrase, is sustaining it. You want to build a product that is sustainable. You want to have people who believe in what you're doing, so you don't have to motivate them every day. That they've committed themselves.
I've had some years where I think I've had great commitment from the players and from the university. And there have been years both parties weren't all going in the same direction, so it made it a little more challenging for me in the role I had.
SC.com: Does your own commitment change?
Rose: Mine hasn't changed for 38 years. I work for Penn State. I care about Penn State and Penn State volleyball. I have friends at a lot of places, I get phone calls to help people out a lot of the time. I give advice and guidance, and I mentor. But I am committed to the people I interact with here. I'm not out looking for other jobs. I get involved in other things, but I work for Penn State. I'm loyal to Penn State and Penn State is loyal to me.
I don't know how many more preseasons I have. It's the same every year: I want to get a group of kids, I want them to be the best they can be, to compete and do better than the team the year before. I say the same thing every year. I've been consistent.
I say to the seniors, "Hey, I don't judge you on the last three championships. I judge you on your senior year. Did you leave the program in a better place than you found it?"
Sc.com: For the athletes, how much of the commitment gene do they come in with and how much do you engender?
Rose: To me, in recruiting, you want to tell the truth and identify the picture as to what it will be when they get here. That's becoming more and more difficult because when others are painting players a beautiful picture of rainbows and butterflies, I'm saying, "Hey, you have to work really hard; there's no guarantee. I can guarantee you're going to get better. I can't guarantee you're going to win. If other people are guaranteeing that you're going to win, they're better than I am."
I can guarantee that our players are going to work really hard and that we want to be in a position to win. And we want to have the right mindset to know that we trained hard enough that we feel that we deserve to win. But, there's no guarantee that you're going to win. There are certain variables that are out of your control — injuries, kids just not being competitive enough or not focused enough. That's one of the things that's tough about recruiting. If you told people the truth, then you feel like at least you've told them what it's going to be like when they get here. We've had some examples of players who came to Penn State because we were good, not because they wanted to be good.
I'm not going to chase them away. I'm beginning my 39th season here, and we've had less than 10 players transfer‚ and yet we had two this past season. And I think for the good. What I mean by that is for the good of them, rather than us. They were here on the team, and we treated them fine. Now they have a chance to go somewhere and re-start what they said they wanted two or three years ago.
I don't waste a lot of time with players who say they want to do something, but then don't do it. I want to focus on the kids whose actions speak louder than the words.
SC.com: How do you inoculate them with commitment?
Rose: You hope your staff has told them the truth about what the program entails. You hope that they've done enough homework that they understand the tradition aspects of why our program is successful. Certain factors make it easier to succeed. But it's hard to excel without being committed, really doing the things that are necessary.
SC.com: How do you know if a kid is truly committed?
Rose: In the recruiting process? You don't. When they get here, they either identify as that because they're always in your office, wanting to know what they can do to get better. Or you only see them in practice, so they're committed to something other than what I'm committed to. I have players now who are committed every weekend to going to see their boyfriends or whatever they're doing. Those people aren't like the players we've had in the past, who were committed to hanging banners. Big difference.
Sc.com: Can you change their thinking?
Rose: Some people change (their players) by telling them to go somewhere else. That's not the way I've done it, and that's not the way Penn State does it. I've been at Penn State through 69 head coaching changes in Big Ten women's volleyball. And yet, recruits ask me when am I going to be leaving. That was the conversation I would have with Joe (Paterno). He would say, "When are you leaving?"
So, there's a lot of ways to do things. There's not just one Penn State way to do things. Because my way is different than Cael (Sanderson)'s way. My way is different than Char (Morett-Curtiss)'s way, which is different than Guy (Gadwosky)'s way. Everybody has different strengths and weaknesses.
Sc.com: Are the best kids the most committed?
Rose: There's always going to be an outlier who you can't figure out why they're so good. They may be a screwball, yet they're good at what they do. They have the ability to balance a great college experience, being the best college player and the face of the program, being able to help others, being in the secret societies because they're great students. We've had a number of kids who've had great success but walked in different paths.
If you want to be great, you have to put the time in to accomplish those things. With wrestling, there's some guys in there in the fall when their locker room wasn't available — when our team was practicing three times a day —  and they had guys who were coming in at our 8 a.m. practice and they weren't leaving until the end of our second practice, at 5 p.m. And then they had some guys who we would see drag it out at 10 o'clock at night.
I don't believe the 10,000 hours (rule, where expertise is purportedly achieved after that many hours of practice, a theory popularized by author Malcolm Gladwell). Did the guy who just won the U.S. Open put in 10,000 hours? He put in 30,000 hours, at least. But what about the person who played the lottery for the first time and won? How do you explain that? How do horses win races they haven't been running for 10,000 hours?
Sc.com: What's the biggest hurdle for a kid these days when it comes to staying committed?
Rose: For kids these days, it's their phones, their inability to communicate in a face-to-face fashion, texting and doing all of these other things I don't even understand. Those things keep changing, so it's good I'm not worried about one because there's going to be a new one next week. I don't get caught up in that sort of noise. I don't Tweet.
It's tough for kids because they're worried about their brand. They're texting, they're communicating, they have a way to sit in their room and say their thoughts.
So what's my challenge? Maybe I have too many players that have thoughts on their own about themselves vs. players who have thoughts about the team. The teams that are most successful are filled with players who revolve around the team.
Sc.com: Does hard work still work?
Rose: I'm old school. Hey, if you want to get better, you get in the gym and you bust your ass. And that's how you get better.
That's how people have survived. That's why great stories exist of people immigrating to the United States and having nothing in their pockets and just the clothing they're wearing, and they raise a family and take care of their children and create a business when they've had nothing. Those stories are based on hard work. Very few of them are based on an angel or benefactor. People work hard.
But that's not the common thread right now. You tell kids that you want them to work hard these days and they'll say, "Yeah, coach, I want to work hard, but I have to go meet someone for fake tanning and then we're going to the salt room, and then we're getting a massage and getting our nails done..."
I think it should be hard. I don't think it should be easy. The responsibility of a coach or parent is to put their kids in situations where they are going to be able to take care of themselves and not have mom or dad or me and the coaches take care of everything. I want them to responsible, because there are going to be times in life where it is just them.
That's where their commitment to who they are, what they want to be and what they're all about really matters.

The Secret to Alabama Football's Success? The Hardest Practices in The Nation

June 29, 2017

Image result for nick saban practice

Nick Saban became the head coach at the University of Alabama in 2007. By 2009, he had turned the Crimson Tide into the most unstoppable force in college football. Alabama has played in five of the last eight national championship games, winning four. They've averaged an incredible 12.5 wins per season over that same span.
The Crimson Tide's secret? Excellent recruiting classes and elite facilities certainly help, but it's their unrivaled practice intensity that really sets them apart. The combination of ridiculously good competition, Saban's high standards and the constant expectation of an undefeated season make the practices punishing affairs. Former Alabama running back Trent Richardson once told reporters no team in the country practices harder. While some may believe these practices take a toll on Alabama's players and jeopardize their NFL potential, there's no arguing with the results.
During a recent video produced by ESPN, current Alabama players were asked to describe the intensity of their practices.
"You ever seen two male lions scrap for meat? That's what it's like," senior linebacker Rashaan Evans said. Senior defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand continued the animal analogies, saying, "You've got to be a dog. And the offensive linemen, they got to be dogs, too. So when you got two alpha males going at it, you can only get better."
New York Giants offensive guard D.J. Fluker once told Tide 99.1 FM that practices at Alabama made life in the NFL seem like a walk in the park. "Playing at Alabama, practice-wise, is probably a lot harder than playing in the NFL," Fluker said. "Being under coach Saban…each and every day was like an NFL game." According to Saturday Down South, Saban often runs full-contact practices on both Wednesdays and Thursdays during the season.
The competition at these practices is the real key to their intensity. Whether you're going up against the starters, the back-ups or the scout team at Alabama, there's a good chance a future NFL player is lining up across from you. The starters, of course, take many of their practice reps against the scout team. Since Alabama recruits so well (Rivals has ranked their recruiting class best in the nation six of the last seven years), the scout team is routinely filled with young, talented players looking to make a name for themselves.
Take Quinnen Williams, for example. Williams came to Alabama as a four-star defensive tackle. He redshirted last season and played like "a monster" on the scout team. He's now being touted as the nextJonathan Allen—you know, the guy who was the 2016 National Defensive Player of the Year shortly before becoming a first-round NFL Draft pick? When there's that type of firepower on the scout team, the starters never get a chance to take it easy. That competition benefits everyone—the starters get a great look and the scout team guys get to compete against the best college football has to offer.
"If I'm lucky enough to get the chance to play in the NFL, it will be because I've been able to face guys like Derrick Henry in practice so much," Reggie Ragland, who went on to become a second-round NFL Draft pick, told Saturday Down South in 2015. "You have to bring it every day."
Last season, Saban ratcheted up the intensity of practices even further when he began supplementing the scout team with former Tide greats. For example, Richardson—who won the Doak Walker Award at Alabama in 2011—spent a week standing in for LSU's Leonard Fournette. Richardson reportedly didn't hold anything back. John Parker Wilson—a former Alabama quarterback, who also served on the scout team to help Alabama prepare for LSU—told ESPN that Richardson was trying to "run over" players such as linebacker Reuben Foster.
If the unparalleled competition isn't enough to bring the best out of Alabama players every single practice, Saban's notorious penchant for perfection will. "He wants everything done perfectly," junior safety Minkah Fitzpatrick told the New York Times. "When you demand perfection, you're not going to get perfect every time, but you're going to get the best out of your players."
Saban's not afraid to rip a player in front of the team for a mistake or a perceived lack of effort. Eddie Jackson, now a safety for the Chicago Bears, remembers almost being reduced to tears by Saban. "One day when I was a freshman in practice and Coach Saban was yelling at me, it almost brought tears to my eyes. I'd never had that feeling before. It was crazy," Jackson told Bleacher Report. "He does it to help you. Like they say, if he doesn't, you should be worried."
Alabama's practices are so physically demanding that there have been rumors in recent years about NFL teams possibly passing on players from the program because they believe similar prospects from other programs have less mileage on their bodies. These concerns are compounded by the fact that Alabama routinely competes in the national championship game, effectively making their season the longest in college football.
"NFL executives believed that having many of the best players in the country squaring off in physically demanding practices and then playing games in the top college football conference took its toll," Adam Schefter wrote of Alabama in a 2013 ESPN article. "A perception exists that it has chewed up some players."
Saban has been predictably upset with these allegations, and rightfully so since the numbers don't necessarily back up the sentiment. One reason why people may feel that many Alabama players don't meet expectations in the NFL is because they already hit their peak in college—that's how good the program is at developing talent. Seattle Seahawks head coach Peter Carroll said as much as at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine.
"I think that Nick and his football program do such an extraordinary job with their players. That's why they're so good when they play there. When (the players) leave (Alabama), they don't have Nick coaching them," Carroll said. "I think he's that good. I think he's that special. They're an all-encompassing program. Their concern for their players is why they consistently perform at such a high level, and when they leave that, they don't have that same system."
Regardless, Alabama will continue to do the same things that've helped them become the juggernaut of college football they are today. After Alabama won the 2016 College Football National Championship, Saban gave a telling quote during his press conference. "Hard practice, easy game. Easy practice, hard game," Saban said. No one makes games look easier than the Crimson Tide.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Women’s college athletes don’t need another coddling parent. They need a coach.

June 23, 2017
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Tennessee coach Pat Summitt in huddle with team during timeout of game vs Louisiana State, Baton Rouge, LA 2/10/2005 (Getty Images)
This week marks a dual commemoration: the 45th anniversary of the signing of Title IX coincides with the first anniversary of the passing of Pat Summitt, who turned that law into such an equal rights spear for women. So it seems right to dwell for a moment on the collective state of young women athletes on campuses today, to ask whether they are weaker or stronger than yesterday — and whether Pat could be the same kind of force for them in this current snowflakey, iGen safe- space climate. The truth? She might get herself fired.
The data shows that since Summitt left coaching in 2011, women athletes have become more anxious, more prone to depression, less adult, and more insecure than ever before. What is up with that?
According to a 2016 NCAA survey, 76 percent of all Division I women athletes said they would like to go home to their moms and dads more often, and 64 percent said they communicate with their parents at least once a day, a number that rises to 73 percent among women’s basketball players. And nearly a third reported feeling overwhelmed.
Social psychologists say these numbers aren’t surprising, but rather reflect a larger trend in all college students that is attributable at least in part to a culture of hovering parental-involvement, participation trophies, and constant connectivity via smartphones and social media, which has not made adolescents more secure and independent, but less.
Since 2012, there has been a pronounced spike in mental health issues on campuses, with almost 58 percent of students reporting anxiety, and 35 percent experiencing depression, according to annual freshman surveys and other assessments.
Research psychologist Jean Twenge wrote a forthcoming book pointedly entitled “IGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.” She says that the new generation of students is preoccupied with safety. “Including what they call ‘emotional safety,’ ” she said. “Perhaps because they grew up interacting online and through text, they believe words can incur damage.”
At the same time, accompanying this anxiety, iGens have unrealistic expectations and exaggerated opinions of themselves. Nearly 60 percent of high school students say they expect to get a graduate degree — when just 9 to 10 percent actually will. And 47 percent of Division I women’s basketball players think it’s at least “somewhat likely” they will play professional or Olympic ball, but the reality? The WNBA drafts just 36 players, 0.9 percent.
“If you compare iGen to Gen-Xers or boomers, they are much more likely to say their abilities are ‘above average,’ ” Twenge said.
This combination of dissonant factors is creating an increasingly tense relationship between overconfident yet anxious players, and coaches who bring them down to earth. In women’s sports especially, there has been an ugly surge in complaints of “verbal abuse,” with investigations at more than a dozen programs between 2010-2016. In some cases, coaches were relieved for legitimate cause. But in others, good decorated coaches were suspended, fired, or resigned even though there was no evidence of mistreatment. At Nebraska, Connie Yori, was the 2010 coach of the year and took the Cornhuskers to a Big 12 regular season title, a Big Ten tournament title and seven NCAA tournaments in 14 years, before she quit last season in the wake of complaints that she was “overly critical” of players, and made them weigh themselves.
Something more is going on here than a new awareness of bullying, and rebellion against fossilized methods.
Talk to coaches, and they will tell you they believe their players are harder to teach, and to reach, and that disciplining is beginning to feel professionally dangerous. Not even U-Conn.’s virtuoso coach Geno Auriemma is immune to this feeling, about which he delivered a soliloquy at the Final Four.
“Recruiting enthusiastic kids is harder than it’s ever been,” he said. “. . . They haven’t even figured out which foot to use as a pivot foot and they’re gonna act like they’re really good players. You see it all the time.”
Coaches are so concerned about this that at the annual Women’s Basketball Coaches Association spring meeting they brought in no fewer than three speakers to address it. Youth-motivator Tim Elmore lectured on “Understanding Generation iY.” And a pair of doctors discussed “Promoting Mental Health Strategies and Awareness.”
It doesn’t take a social psychologist to perceive that at least some of today’s coach-player strain results from the misunderstanding of what the job of a coach is, and how it’s different from that of a parent. This is a distinction that admittedly can get murky. The coach-player relationship has odd complexities and semi-intimacies, yet a critical distance too. It’s not like any other bond or power structure. A parent may seek to smooth a path, but the coach has to point out the hard road to be traversed, and it’s not their job to find the shortcuts. Coaches can’t afford to feel sorry for players; they are there to stop them from feeling sorry for themselves.
oaches are not substitute parents; they’re the people parents send their children to for a strange alchemical balance of toughening yet safekeeping, dream facilitating yet discipline and reality check. The vast majority of what a coach teaches is not how to succeed, but how to shoulder unwanted responsibility and deal with unfairness and diminished role playing, because without those acceptances success is impossible.
Players can let that demoralize them — or shape them into someone stronger. The choice is ultimately theirs, not the coach’s. And that’s the thing most people miss about coaches: how strangely powerful yet powerless they ultimately are, how beholden they are to the aspirations and frailties of other people’s children. It’s a beautiful, terrible relationship that can tilt all too easily, and usually tilts hard, into undying loyalty or lifelong hard feelings.
The bottom line is that coaches have a truly delicate job ahead of them with iGens. They must find a way to establish themselves as firm allies of players who are more easily wounded than ever before yet demand they earn praise through genuine accomplishment.
Based on what I knew of Pat and her intuitive dealings with vulnerable players such as Chamique Holdsclaw, who has become a powerful campus mental health advocate, she probably would have found a way to work with and build up iGens, just as she did boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials. But it would not have been an easy adaptation.
Believe it or not, for most of Summitt’s 1,098-victory career at Tennessee, what she really taught was how to deal with fear and falling. In the 21 years I knew her, only three times did she win championships. All the rest of those seasons ended in some kind of failure.
Much as she loved to see her players win, what she was really interested in was “how they respond,” she said. She said time and again that what she really was trying to do was convert girls into strong, independent women. It was an inevitably painful undertaking.
“If everyone loved it all the time,” she said, “that meant we were doing something wrong.”