Friday, October 18, 2013

#032 Movie Review: Gravity

Gravity.  It is far and away the closest any of us Earth-bound people will ever get to experiencing space in all of its realities.  Director Alfonso Cuaron takes film making where it has never gone before while changing the possibilities of movies for all future productions.  It is simply breath-taking.  I had to keep reminding myself that the actors were not actually hundreds of miles above the planet in space.  It was that real to the point of surreal...almost like you are having a vivid dream; especially in 3D as we watched it.

If I could use one word to define the movie, it would be "hopelessness."  That is how you feel for an hour and ten minutes of the film's 1 hour and 31 minute run time.  If there are young people out there dreaming of being an astronaut, this film will either change your mind forever or solidify that your dreams are truly significant and a tad bit crazy. 

Sandra Bullock's performance is her tour de force.  Every emotion she experiences, you will experience right along with her.  And because I don't want to give too much away if you haven't seen it, just know that George Clooney's role is not as large, in terms of screen time, as you might think.  Nevertheless, his performance is very strong as well.  He takes on a much more unique role than fans of his are used to.

Overall, it is a very good movie.  Oscar worthy?  Considering that very few movies have blown me a way so far this year, it has a good shot in my eyes.  If Castaway and Apollo 13 had a baby, this movie would be it.  Go see it.  Maybe keep the pre-12 kids away for some very scary scenes and some awful violent visuals, but I think it is a must see for those who like Bullock and Clooney and like to go to theatres for suspense and drama.  3 1/2 dribbles out of 4.

[I will be traveling for my new job next week, so I will not be able to create any new posts.  This will be my last post until Oct. 28th.  Beginning the 28th, I may have to pull back to 2-3 entries a week based on my job needs, but I will continue to talk hoops and coaching on a weekly basis.

In the meantime, please pass along any comments, concerns, disagreements, etc. about any of my past posts.  I am always looking to make the site better and my writing stronger.  I encourage you to follow me on Google+.  You can do so to the top right of this page.]

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Thursday, October 17, 2013

#31 Diversifying Your Practices

"I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework." 
                                                                                                                                         --Lily Tomlin

What's keeping you from creating fresh practices?

As my financial advisor always tells me, diversification is the key to a long, prosperous, and healthy retirement.  The same could be said for diversifying your practice plans.  Instead of a healthy retirement portfolio, you get happier, healthier and more adaptable players over the course of a long season.

I know a lot of coaches who have Practice Plan A and Practice Plan B.  Every other day, they print out the same thing they did yesterday or the day before.  Diversifying your plans doesn't mean you can't stick to a system and have continuity.  In reality, the more different ways to teach means the more different ways your players are learning to learn.  That can't be bad.

I had a conversation the other day with a good friend of mine who I think is one of the top college coaches in Division III.  He was explaining to me his conference's recent discussions to allow media time-outs at all games whether the game is being sponsored or broadcast or not.  As long as the game is being streamed over the internet, that school may insist on media time-outs.

He and I both agreed that media time-outs at the DIII level greatly hurts a coach's ability to control the tempo of the game.  However, I explained to him that I had a team 10 years ago who went the entire regular season without ever having to deal with media time-outs.  Sure enough, we advance to the National Tournament that year, and we have to deal with media time-outs.  I had no idea how much those built-in breaks in the action hurt our fast-breaking, heavy rotation system.  Normally, we just ran teams off the floor because most teams didn't play 12-15 players deep like we did.  Those built-in media breaks gave our opponent's starters all the rest they needed, and unfortunately, it took this young knucklehead coach an entire half to make the necessary adjustments.

So, in short, I told my friend that the media time-outs might be a blessing in disguise in preparing his team for the realities of the National Tournament.

What does this have to do with diversifying your practice plans?  Everything.  I love talking to DI coaches because they do not leave a stone unturned.  They prepare for every defense known to man, every possible offensive structure and movement, every possible end-of-the-game situation, and are constantly putting their players in a position to deal with the stresses and complexities of playing in front of a huge crowd every day of practice.  There's no way to get all of that in two or three different practice plans.

As I stated above, you can have continuity in your practices and accomplish all of this, but you must keep an open mind about your opponent, time-allotment, and team strategy and fundamental needs. Build a weekly plan around your priority needs and work to accomplish those priorities through different drills each day.  By simply making a list of all of the things you want your team to learn over the course of the season, you can begin building practical continuities into your daily practices.  Once I have my list, I begin to prioritize the most important aspects to the least important.  I then try and highlight the top 5 things I want to get done on a daily basis.  Those things become my foundation of my practice.  In no particular order, these are usually my 5 priorities:

1.  Defensive Shell Drill -  I can manipulate a shell drill 50 different ways to focus my teams energy and needs.
2.  Rebounding -  I cannot preach to my kids every day the importance of defense and rebounding if we don't do both.   I have about 20 rebounding drills that we use in stations each day.  4-5 kids with a coach at a basket working on different rebounding components/competitions.  Every 3-4 minutes rotate the groups to work with another coach.
3.  Ball-handling and passing - I make it imperative that we start every day handling the ball and working on moving the ball up the floor with balance and strength.
4.  Shooting - It may not seem like a lot, but I want each of my kids to get at least 50 jumpers up within the practice drills (not counting scrimmage shots).  We use individual workouts to get a lot more up each week.
5.  Press Work - Whether my teams are pressing 40-minutes per game or only pressing when necessary, I always like to work trapping and pressure in every day to build up patience and composure.  You can never give your kids enough of either.  I often will work end-of-game situations into our press work to kill two birds with one stone.

You might be wondering why offensive strategy and scrimmages are not foundation points of my practices.  In the first two months of a season, I really only care about our ability to become better individual basketball players who learn how to play fundamentally sound.  I have a tendency to stop scrimmages way too much to fix little things, so when we do scrimmage, I try my darnedest to get out of the way.  If my kids can dribble, pass, catch, cut, shoot, rebound, and defend, I know we have a chance to win every game.  As the season progresses, those two hour practices laced with fundamentals and breakdowns become hour and half practices laced with scrimmages and situational development.

One way or another, I want to have fun.  I know the kids want to have fun.  Why not keep the practice moving and keep the practices fresh and new? 

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

#029 Motivating Your Student-Athlete

In the next couple of weeks, I have been given the honor of guest writing on another coaching website:  It is an excellent site for parents and young coaches.  Coach Gray's focus is helping parents understand the gravity of team sports from a coach's perspective.  I will be writing a 3-part series for Coach Gray entitled "The Parent Plan," and I will be giving advice to parents who have children with aspirations of playing sports in college.  The three points of emphasis for the series will be:
  1. Preparing financially for college
  2. Developing your student-athlete's potential
  3. Understanding the complexity of college recruiting
I will make sure to link those articles to my blog when they are published.
In the meantime, with college basketball practice beginning across the country today, I thought it was a good time to write a pre-article to the aforementioned series that speaks specifically to parents in regard to motivating their student-athlete.
This is the time of year where motivation is not hard to come by.  Players are trying to make the team and have high hopes for a new season.  Everyone is excited about the opportunity and the freshness of a new season or experience; especially college freshmen.  It's an easy time for mom and dad to get their son and daughter pumped about the upcoming season.  No one has been yelled at and no games have been lost yet.
I think most parents do a great job of encouraging their child this time of year with great advice:
Do your best and work hard.  Listen to your coach, and do your best to execute what he or she tells you.  Believe in yourself.  Stay positive.  Be a great teammate.  Don't let a bad day deter you from working to be better.  Just be the best you can be.
All of these statements are great advice.  Not only are they great advice for day one, but they are great advice for day 1-100.
It is when rosters are determined and players are cut and starting line-ups are announced for first scrimmages and games when that advice starts to leak away from daily conversation.  That advice starts to be replaced with:
What's the problem?  Why are you not starting?  Why are you not playing more?  Are you asking enough questions?  Are you listening?  Are you doing what you're told?  Your coach said what?
Even with my four-year old, I can quickly assume that she is not doing her best when she comes home sad or frustrated from pre-school.  It is easy for me to fall out of that positive reinforcement and into questioning her commitment and attitude and the thoughts of her teachers.  That only makes her feel worse about something that would have probably been quickly forgotten if I had not made a bigger deal out of it and just stayed positive
For teenagers and college-aged students alike, that positive reinforcement is just as important.  Encouragement that supports a team-first attitude and positive characteristics like humility, perseverance, commitment and desire cannot be reiterated enough over the course of a long-season.
The biggest problem I have faced over the years is very similar to the situation described above with my four-year old.  A player has a bad day:  gets yelled at, makes more mistakes than usual, disagrees with the coach's perspective (right or wrong), and then brings all of those problems home with him or her.
The key for any parent is to not minimalize those problems in any way because they will be serious and important issues  in the eyes of your child...even if they are 22.  Instead, focus on what they know to be true...even if they are doubting it right now.
You have always been a good shooter, don't forget that.  You're nervous.  Time will eliminate that.  The game is faster now.  The talent around you is better.  That doesn't mean that you won't rise to that level.  Keep trying.  Keep listening to your coach.  Don't forget that they put you on the team OR Don't forget that they recruited you for a reason.  You signed up for a marathon, not a sprint.
For high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors and college freshmen, it is this type of motivation that may be needed for an entire season.  Playing time is designated priority-one by coaches for those upperclassmen who have put the time in and committed themselves to the program and personal improvement.  That doesn't mean your underclassmen won't prove to be more valuable and end up playing more, but most coaches will almost always defer to upperclassmen until it affects winning and losing.  It is imperative that parents not only preach that fact, but remind their child of what the future holds:
Think about when you are a junior and senior.  Will you want coach playing a freshman in front of you who has not proven themselves but maybe has more athleticism and potential?  Of course you won't.
From a college coach's perspective, the players who I deem to have been most successful in my tenure are the young men and women who played for me for four years and got progressively better each and every season.  Those kids left an indelible mark on me because they not only grew as players, but they grew exponentially more as people.  For the most part, their parents held firm to the advice "believe in your coach" for the entire four years.  With any good advice, those players began to believe that advice without having to be told it.  Their careers took off when they built a relationship with me that was important to them.  They chose to see me as a part of their solution and not a part of their problem.
In the end, a parent's consistent positivity is the key to a long-term athletic career.  Coaches must be firm, challenging, critical, and they often need to raise their voices.  It is our job to make the game real.  College sports can be brutal.  Players swear, yell, say bad things to each other and their opponents.  They are taught to be warriors and gladiators.  With that comes aggression, physicality, and extreme pressure.  Coaches cannot afford to pamper and be positive and sweet all of the time, or they wouldn't be preparing their teams for the reality of the challenge ahead.
So when motivating your child, remember that it is a game of good cop/bad cop.  The coach will often play the role of bad cop, and it is very helpful when mom and dad are the super positive cops.  In the end, even though coaches play the role of bad cop, our hope is that our dual motivation leads to conviction, confidence, courage, and an unbreakable self-worth.  That should be more important than any start or any championship.
Have a great season!  I wish you all a fantastic experience.
Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Monday, October 14, 2013

#028 A Parent's Legacy

I have been succumbed the past four days with an experience that really does not belong to me, yet I have gone through every emotion from anger to disgust to confusion to sympathy to empathy and back.

The top professional running back in the world, Adrian Peterson (AP), lost his son on Friday after what seems to be a violent act of intolerance.  Please forgive me if my facts are not all together perfect.  The point of today's editorial is not necessarily to analyze what happened or why it happened.  My goal is to dissect the psychology of the reaction of this professional footballer to the unnecessary death of his son.  I want to say upfront that I do not deem him guilty in any way of wrong-doing or not caring about his child.  I will not begin to speculate on the situation or circumstances that led to this terrible tragedy.

For you parents reading, this will be a much more personal and real exercise than those without children, but I imagine everyone will quickly be able to relate to the points of emphasis.

Imagine that you got pregnant or got someone pregnant out of wedlock.  Imagine that child was born, and you made the conscious decision to allow the other person in the relationship to raise that child without you while living hundreds of miles away.  Whether you decided to make a personal investment into being a parent to that child or not, you were going to go weeks if not months without seeing or touching that child because of your job and location of that job.  Either way, you made the CHOICE not to be present in that child's early development.  Two years go by and the other person has at least one relationship with another person.  That person begins having more contact and say in the development of your child than you.  You are so far away and disconnected that you have no idea of the quality of life and love that your child is receiving.  Maybe you send money.  Maybe you Skype as often as possible.  Maybe it is less or more, but in the end, you really have no say because of the choice you made.

And then it happens.  You receive a phone call that your child is in intensive care in a hospital and the prospects of survival are slim.  There are few details to follow your questions.  You just know that there was an incident and your child was critically hurt.  You hop on the next plane and go to be by your child's side.

This is where (as far as I can tell) the gaps in the story begin.  We don't know what AP did when he got there.  We don't know what he learned or didn't learn.  All we know is that he was back at practice by the end of the day hundreds of miles from his child who was pronounced dead in the afternoon of the same day.

I try very hard to be a person of empathy; to see the world and the actions of the world through the eyes of people I cannot begin to understand.  Sometimes I'm good at it.  Sometimes I am awful at it, but I do try hard to breathe in the face of tragedy and think of others before I think of myself.  Everyone was shaped differently in relation to their personal emotions, choices, and circumstances.  Everyone deals with tragedy differently.  Some blame God.  Some blame themselves.  Some point the finger at everyone else.  Some get depressed.  Some hide from the world.  Some get angry and look for opportunities to let that anger out in any way possible.  The spectrum of emotion and reaction is infinite.  I know I have personally felt the spectrum of the above reactions.

How would you react to this devastating news?  Would your reaction of your child's death be any different if he or she died in a car accident or was killed at the hands of his mother or father's live-in boyfriend/girlfriend?  I am not na├»ve to think that the latter doesn't change everything for you.  I know it would for me.  In the end, though, the child is dead.  It really doesn't matter how it happened.  That little boy will never laugh or cry or learn that life doesn't have to be this cruel.  The parents will never have an opportunity to hold and comfort that child and make that pain and fear go away.  They will never again get the opportunity to be the parent that little boy deserved.

I have two small children, so bare with me.  I have cried multiple times the last four days with the thought of this happening to one of mine.  Tears are running down my face as I type.  As sympathetic as I want to be, I still get extremely angry.

Why was this child left alone with someone who was capable of this act?  Why didn't someone see this coming?  How could anyone do this to something so small and sweet and helpless?

I have no relationship with Adrian Peterson or his family.  I live 2000 miles away from where the tragedy took place, but today, I feel guilty.  I have no reason to, but as a parent, I wonder if the average person like me is doing enough to keep this type of thing from happening.  It's a strange reaction to have, but I can't help it.  As adults, it is our job to protect those who cannot protect themselves.  You don't have to be a policeman or a fireman or a tough guy.  You just have to know better, and we live in a world where too many people have not been taught to know better.

This didn't happen because Adrian Peterson or this child's mother wasn't present.  It didn't happen because family and friends didn't see the signs.  This happened because the man responsible was not taught tolerance and love and empathy and humility.  Again, I can only speculate, but four days after the fact, I can only blame the parents of the man that did this...and their parents...and their parents...and so on and so forth.

I feel terrible for the parents and family of this child.  Not only did they lose a child, but they have to mourn their child in front of hundreds of cameras.  They will be reminded of this on TV and the newspapers and the internet for weeks if not months to come.  They will be reminded of their guilt and their choices.  They will be reminded of the smile and laughter they will never see or hear again.

The Peterson family will never be the same.  I hope we all take the time to reflect on what we can learn from this, so this never happens to someone we love.

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Friday, October 11, 2013

#027 Movie Review: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

My wife, 4-year old daughter and I were recently invited by another family to go see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.  As you can imagine, whether you have kids or not, I was not looking forward to losing two hours of my time sitting in a theatre watching a movie with that title.  I hadn't seen the original movie, so I was quite surprised when I heard that enough people had seen the original to inspire a sequel.

To my very pleasant surprise, the movie was quite enjoyable and the writers did a fine job of giving the script an independent story-line that did not require us to have seen the first.  The plot revolves around an awkward, but genius young inventor named Flint Lockwood (voiced by SNL alum Bill Hader) whose invention from the first movie (I won't even try to correctly type the unpronounceable name) was a machine that turned water into food.  Unfortunately, the food, when produced, popped out of the machine as living food animals.  [Stick with me here.  Let your imagination take over].   The food animals devastated Flint's small island town of Swallow Falls, and Flint was forced to destroy his machine...or at least he thought he destroyed it in the first film.

At the start of the sequel, we learn that Flint is now a hated man due to the destruction and fear his invention created.  When the opportunity arises to fix what he had broken with his idol and the most famous inventor on the planet, Chester V (voiced by SNL alum Will Forte), Flint jumps at the opportunity to work in Chester V's think tank and be a part of what he expects are Chester's good and generous intentions.

The conflict in the movie surrounds Flint, Flint's father and girlfriend, and his friends going back to Swallow Falls to find the machine and shut it down for good.  While searching for the invention and trying to survive the food animals, the group learns the truth about the food animals, as well as the truth about the intentions of Chester V.  It is a wild ride for a little over an hour and a half that ends with a number of positive lessons learned for the characters, as well as for my toddler movie mates.

As much fun as we had as a family, I really enjoyed listening closely to the voices of the characters trying to figure out which actor belonged to each famous voice.  I was happily surprised to see such a strong cast of former SNL players (Hader, Forte, Samburg), as well as a strong supporting cast (Neil Patrick Harris, James Caan, Anna Faris and Benjamin Bratt to name a few) during the credits.  Although it was a cartoon, the quality of the cast was a big reason why the PG plot was executed as well as it was. 

I don't think it lives up to the magic of Disney or Pixar, but Sony Animation/Columbia Pictures should be applauded for a quality movie that has my whole family determined to rent the original ...Chance of Meatballs on DVD in the near future.  Because of that, I give the movie 3 out of 4 dribbles.  Adults will probably not want to waste their time and money, but if you have kids and want a fun family night out, I highly recommend it.

Next Week:  Gravity

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

#025 The King of All Presses

"There is no such thing as talent. There is pressure.”  --Alfred Adler

As a young high school coach, my teams were known for their diversity of defensive pressure.  We'd full court, 3/4 court, 1/2 court man or zone trap in multiple different ways depending on the situation of the game.  For instance, if we were shooting a free throw, a made free throw would put us into an on-the-ball diamond and a miss may put us into a 3/4 court 1-3-1.  We utilized upwards of 6 different presses in a single game.  It made us extremely hard to prepare for, and because we had the talent and basketball IQ to handle it, we were very successful.

Not everyone is so lucky.  As I progressed to the college ranks, I still wanted to press, but the coaching, scouting, and ball-handling was so exponentially better that I found my schemes were often quickly foiled.  I lost a lot of my defensive cockiness early on in my college coaching career because I was still learning to adapt at the rate the seasoned college coaches were adapting to me.

All of that changed when I watched Billy Donovan's (Head Coach at Florida) clinic video on the "Ball Press."  He had adapted his own version of the press after playing for Rick Pitino during the Providence years and then coaching under Coach Pitino at Kentucky.  The Ball Press blew me away with its efficiency, misdirection, and lack of consistency and scoutability.  On top of that, it looked really fun.  I got to see it first hand in my early days coaching at Maryville University because my teams had to play against Greenville College and Coach George Barber (a former Pitino staffer) twice a year.  George's kids were aggressive, smart, and played extremely hard.  It was a great challenge every year to prepare for his unique approach.

I liked it so much that I quickly learned to make it my own.  I loved the freedom it gave my players (and so did they), and I quickly found that it gave them confidence through aggression.  It is definitely not a press players master in a few days, but with a commitment to it, most college players were able to make sense of it within 2-3 months into the season.

The Ball Press is not a zone or man-to-man press.  It is what it says it is...a ball press.  All 5 defensive players are focused on always having their chests square to the ball.  It shows itself as a man-to-man to the inbounder, but then the zone schemes can confuse the ball-handler.  The more you watch film of the ball press, you realize that players are marking a man while covering a zone on the floor, but the defenders are always rotating based on the rotation and movement of the ball and with the ball.

To a novice, the Ball Press is a simple run and jump based on timing and ball and player movement.  However, the principles are much more concrete:

1.  The ball should always be pressured in a physical, hands up high intensity 100% of the time forcing the ball-handler to speed dribble and beat the on-the-ball defender.  Force speed.
2.  Each off-the-ball defender puts him or herself in the passing lane between the ball and their offensive mark.
3.  When the ball-handler dribbles toward a defender, the defender stunts (think a base-running pickle in baseball with the base-runner being the defender) to confuse the ball-handler.  Is a trap coming or is the defender retreating to the offensive mark?
4.  The stunting defender only leaves to trap if the ball-handler is utilizing a speed dribble AND has a defender on his or her hip.  It must be both or the press will break down and traps will be easily split.
5.  Finally the players on the back-side (or two passes away) rotate to the rim and to the strong-side of the court putting themselves between the next offensive player in the rotation and the ball.  Quickly moving from zone to man-to-man.
6.  Never, ever foul.
7.  Deflections are the goal. Never go for steals on the ball by reaching.  The idea is to create steal opportunities for the players off-the-ball.

It is, in my opinion, the King of all Presses because you can make it look like any press in the book.  You can put a man on the ball.  You can set-up as a 1-2-2 or Diamond.  You can show a pure denial man-to-man.  You can play passive and soft until the ball is inbounded.  You name it.  You can run the ball-press out of it.

The reason more coaches don't use it is because it requires a huge amount of patience.  Steps 1-3 and 5 are fairly easy to teach and for any level of player to learn.  However, Steps 4 and 6-7 can make a coach go crossed-eyed because players have such great trouble learning to be deceptive, patient, and unselfish in such an aggressive press.  Even Pitino and Donovan struggle with teaching those concepts to the top athletes in the world.

Although I have had great success with it and watched some great D1 coaches run it to great success (Louisville's recent National Championship and Florida's back-to-back National Championships were Ball Press driven), the best I have ever seen it coached is by Carol Jue, the Head Women's Coach at Chapman University in Southern California.

Carol dominates teams with her version of the Ball Press by often having the 4 smallest players on the floor playing together.  The 5th player is often playing center while giving up 5-6 inches to the other team's center.  Does size matter?  Not if you play at Chapman.  With a bunch of ankle-biting shorties, Coach Jue's girls intimidate, scare, and completely wear-out the opposition.

So, like my post on "The System", you don't need great size, speed, and depth to make it work.  You just need the patience and conviction to see it through.

Stay aggressive, Coaches!  Trust your kids and allow them to reach their potential!

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

#024 The Power of Experience

“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward."  --Unknown

I have heard this statement in some shape or form by professionals in many different careers from stand-up comedian to professional athlete:

To truly master your craft, you must do it 10,000 times.

I made a habit for 12 years of going back and watching the game film from the previous season before I sat down and started to plan for the upcoming year.  I wanted to see what we were good at and bad at, but more importantly, I wanted to sit down and evaluate myself as honestly and critically as possible.  It was always a tough pill to swallow because I would always find so many errors and mistakes on my part that I simply could not believe I made.

What was I thinking?  Why would I do that?  Why weren't we better prepared for that situation?

Every spring was always a bitter-sweet experience because I would not only learn how dumb I was the previous season, but I would realize how much I learned from that season.  I was always in shock at how much better of a coach I became after 80 practices and 25 games. 
As I mentor young coaches and players, I often get asked, "how do I get better?"  The answer is usually under the context of finding ways to do more reps the right way.  Whether that be increasing the number of shots you put up each day to working more camps over the summer to experiment and stay fresh for your team in the fall, it always came back to advising players and coaches alike to improve their routine and understanding through quality repetition.

Over the course of my career now, I have re-built a high school program and two different college programs.  Some were in better shape than others when I found them, but all were in desperate need of a make-over...out of circumstance or neglect.  As a recruiter for those programs, I always wanted to bring in players during that rebuild process who were more talented than any of the returning players.  I wanted to make sure my staff was not wasting time recruiting players with similar or less skills than the players we already had.  For the most part, we always did a pretty good job of accomplishing that goal.

With that said, it was always rare for one of those talented newcomers to steal starts and playing time away from the less talented but more experienced player right away.  Just like a comic who had been booed off stage a hundred times or the pitcher who returns from a 6-19 season, the more experience a person has, the thicker his or her skin gets, and the more committed he or she gets to not allowing failure to be an option.

The hardest cuts I have ever had to make were those upperclassmen who thought experience was enough, though. 

I've been doing this for 2-3 years more.  I deserve this.

Sorry.  No, you don't.  Just like I never let those 80 practices and 25 games carry me over into the next season, players and coaches alike must continue to get better in between seasons.  Experience, like anything else, is a quality over quantity idea.  The player who takes 200 fundamental, hard-working shots in an hour will become a better player over the player who takes 250 lazy, undisciplined shots in two hours.  Experience and time are great, but if it doesn't come with a plan, purpose, and effort, you are just wasting the opportunity to gain experience.

I never underestimate the power of experience, but I also never let it get in the way of playing or hiring the person that makes the most of his or her opportunity.

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Monday, October 7, 2013

#023 Cubs Talk: Is the Rebuilding Over?

With the removal of Dale Sveum as the Cubs Manager last Monday after a 66-96 season and a 127-197 overall record after two seasons, the Cubs announced quite unofficially that the rebuilding process was over.  With talks now for three seasons about the 2015 season being the suggested time allotment for Chicago fans to endure hard times, the Ricketts family seemingly said enough is enough this past week with their decision to move-on to a new manager.

If the Cubs were truly going to slop out another line-up of one-year rentals and auditioning farm-hands for one more season as they wait for the saviors Baez, Almora, Soler and Bryant to mature, it would seem obvious to keep Sveum for one more year.  Why not continue to make him the sacrificial lamb until the intended roster of future superstars made their way to the corner of Waveland and Addison for good?  There is no doubt that he was up for it.

The answer is simple.  Even with a strong plan in place, the Ricketts family's ego is just too big.  With hundreds of millions being invested in the stadium, the mounting disappointment of their ownership thus far may be too heavy to carry.  I don't think patience is about to be thrown out with the bath water by any means, but I expect the process will be moving a lot faster beginning this off-season.  This is why Theo Epstein announced at his press conference last week that the new Cubs manager will have managerial experience at the major league level.  For any former or present manager, you are going to want to know your roster has a chance immediately.  Right now, this roster is not close to competing for 3rd in the NL Central.  This is why you may not see $250 million doled out to Robinson Cano in the off-season, but don't be surprised if the Cubs have a $100 million veteran pitcher (Garza or Price?) and a $100 million dollar center-fielder/lead-off hitter (Choo?) added to the roster by spring training.  The talk of a new manager will just be the start.

So who will this new leader be?  You cannot read or listen to anything related to Chicago sports without Joe Girardi's name being discussed ad nauseam.  The problem is that the Northwestern grad and former Cubs draft pick is under contract with the Yankees until October 31 and has already been offered a new multi-year deal from them.  The Yankees have also supposedly refused the Cubs request to speak to Girardi while under his present contract. 

Girardi could use his leverage as the top free agent-to-be manager on the market and demand that the Yankees allow him to listen to what the Cubs have to say.  The fact that he hasn't signed his new deal with the Yankees yet speaks volumes.  But is he the right fit for the Cubs now?

You see it at the college ranks all of the time.  Schools go out of there way to fix a major identity problem by hiring someone who is a part of the family...someone who completely understands and embraces the culture.  You saw this most recently at Rutgers with the Men's Basketball program when they had an image problem that they needed to go away quickly.  What did they do? They hired the most qualified alumnus with NBA experience they could find.

As far as the Cubs are concerned, it is time to go the same route.  The problem is that the cupboard is pretty bare.  Banks, Williams, and Jenkins are too old.  Santo has passed.  Sandberg is locked-in in Philly.  Dawson likes his consulting gig with the Marlins.  Sosa, Grace and Sutcliffe have image problems.  So, who's left?  Girardi and Greg Maddux (Mark DeRosa would be another option in a couple of years - he has impressed on the TBS Playoff broadcasts).  Maddux has clearly stated that he doesn't want to manage, but could he be enticed to become the pitching coach if his brother Mike was given the manager's job?  It appears that Mike has much more interest in the Cubs than he did two years ago when he removed his name from consideration.  He has continued to do wonders with less than ace material in Texas, so his abilities are legitimate.

The Cubs have gone the big name route before with Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella and saw success early on.  However, both were not "Cubs people;" even though, both brought the blue collar attitude to the Windy City that fans demand.  They simply couldn't relate to the Cubs fan who had been witness to more bottom of the division seasons than anyone deserves.  It may be time for the Cubs to hire a Cub:  a former player who never got that pennant while in town but who understands how to get it now that they have been elsewhere.

In the end, if the Cubs choose to pick someone without ties to Latin America (Manny Acta and Rick Renteria are said to be on the short list), it would be in their best interest to hire a former Cub.  Joe Girardi makes the most sense from a media standpoint (especially if he brings Tony Pena with him to mentor Welington Castillo and Starlin Castro), but I'm not sure the smartest move isn't the Maddux brothers.  With either Girardi or Maddux, you will see Cubs fans relieved that their young core will be mentored by former Cubs that are bringing a wealth of wisdom back home to Wrigley.

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Saturday, October 5, 2013

#022 Movie Review: Prisoners

It is imperative to temper some expectations because I know that I went into my viewing of Prisoners with very different expectations than with what I left the theatre.  If you were hoping for Se7en or Silence of the Lambs like I was, you may be a bit disappointed because the violence and physical suspense in this movie do not own the movie.  They are simply tools to tell the tale.

The two and half hour story begins with the disappearance of two pre-teen girls from a dual family Thanksgiving dinner in a small suburban neighborhood.  It is the rural town environment of the movie that allows the edge-of-your-seat nuances of this thriller to be magnified.  The detective in charge of the case (played by Jake Gyllenhaal - his best performance in some time) seems to be the only detective in this small town and works the entire case without a partner.  It is because of the lack of physical evidence and lack of support for Gyllenhaal's character that you are left with a hopelessness and despair early on in the movie.

Where Se7en and Silence of the Lambs could be deemed psychological thrillers, Prisoners is much more of a sociological thriller.  No one's face is peeled off or has their liver eaten, and there are very few moments where you want to be somewhere besides that theatre out of pure fear.   Writer Aaron Guzikowski and Director Denis Villeneuve do an amazing, if not unique job of capturing the true emotions of what a parent would experience after the disappearance of a child.  Whether it was the uncontrolled animalistic anger of Hugh Jackman (I couldn't help but hope for the Wolverine blades to come out at times) or the paralyzing despondency of Terrence Howard (one member of the audience yelled out "you big pu**y" towards his character at one point), you cannot help but experience their despair right along with them in whatever way it would materialize in you. 

Nevertheless, it wasn't the thrill that drew me to this movie.  In just watching the trailers, I was quickly impressed with the casting director's choices.  Whether it was Hugh Jackman's struggle with his faith or Terrence Howard's lack of courage, just about every major actor was cast against type.  The characterizations were refreshing because you knew each of these well-established and accomplished actors were truly working and maybe, just maybe, rewarding the audience with some of their best work yet.

As good as the big stars (Jackman, Howard, Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, and Mario Bello) were throughout, the movie was stolen by the minor, but dominant parts played by Melissa Leo and Paul Dano.  Leo (The Fighter) and Dano (There Will Be Blood) demonstrate their phenomenal skill at the highest levels with a minimalist approach.  Both actors are masters of transformation.  Both, from movie to movie, quickly evaporate into the environment of the story as if they were born into the role.  In Prisoners, they each take their genuine skill of playing the chameleon to a new level.  Brilliant does not express how much their ability to transform and shock the audience with the removal of their invisibility cloak at the most critical point of the movie.  In the end, you are left in wonder realizing they had been right in front of you the entire time.

Although my overall impression of the movie is a step below the classics mentioned above, Prisoners did not leave me wanting.  In an era where I am often left disappointed when the credits roll, I left my seat knowing I had just been apart of a unique experience.  The ending may leave some of you disappointed, but it's only because the director wanted all of us to leave formulating our own opinion instead of being told what to think.  Overall, I give Prisoners 3 out of 4 dribbles and encourage everyone to experience it for themselves.

Next Friday:  Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Thursday, October 3, 2013

#021 Adaptation

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” ― Albert Einstein
“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”   ― George Bernard Shaw

As the leaves begin to fall and the temperature begins to drop and dusk comes quicker and quicker each night, my pulse begins to race for the start of basketball season.  You can smell it in the air.  Everything smells a bit crisper.  There's an excitement in my veins like it was when I was a child on Christmas morning.  No matter what was in that wrapped present, I knew it was going to be something new.  In relation to the start of basketball season, that new present is the equivalent of a new opportunity to be a better player or coach and have another opportunity to prove you're the best, if not worthy of the opportunity to earn that title.

With coaches and players beginning to anticipate that first practice, it seems like a good time to talk about hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.  At the NCAA Division I and II, NAIA, and Junior College levels, workouts and practices are already underway.  DIII schools are less than two weeks away and most high school seasons will start at the end of the month.  One way or another, coaches are trying to figure out what they have while challenging players to be in better shape, more fundamental, and stronger mentally and physically.  Players are looking to impress their coaches while worrying about making mistakes and falling behind.  The older players are focused on making sure the younger players don't become obstacles along the road of the veteran's last chance at winning a championship.

It is an exciting time but a stressful time.  A two-hour practice can seem to fly by in a matter of minutes with so much to teach and learn and master.  Coaches are not so concerned at this point about how many jumpers are made or how many balls go flying out of bounds.  They are focused on building routines and getting players in shape and teaching the muscle memory that they hope will be there when the game and season are on the line with seconds to play in late February.

When I was coaching, I lived for this time of year.  It was my Christmas, Birthday, Halloween, and Easter all wrapped into one.  I had spent all summer and fall working on a plan that best suited my talent, and I was always anxious to see it in play while hoping the kids were as excited about the plan as I was.  With the first practice looming, I was always confident my plan was going to lead to great and significant results.  A coach's confidence is never higher than right before the first practice.

BOOM!!!  That's the sound of your plan in your head on Day 1 when your starting point guard blows out her ankle on the last drill of the day or when the volleyball team makes it to Nationals and you will be without your starting center (also a Volleyball player) for at least two more weeks.  Or maybe, you hear that explosion in your head the day you walk into the gym and see the floor covered in water from a leaky roof the night before.

The greatest characteristic a coach can have is not intelligence or toughness or passion.  It was, is, and forever will be, the ability to adapt.  I can remember one season in my 16 years of coaching where the plan that was put into play on the first day of practice was followed through to the last game of the year.  That season came on the heels of the hardest season of my career where everything that could have gone wrong, did.

So, as you coaches, players, parents, and fans head into the start of a new season, keep in mind that the path to a championship will have many hills and valleys...and probably a few big walls along the way.  Don't ever get too caught up on your plan or line-up or rotation because you may not have the options you hoped.  Prepare to go into every practice to adapt and change, and when 5 kids come to you and say, "Coach, I don't feel so good," don't be afraid to say, "PRACTICE CANCELLED," and send everybody home.  As good as you are as a coach, you won't win any games with a team full of players at home in bed.

Good luck!  I wish you all a great basketball season!

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary