The FBU National Championship, Part 3: The Dog Catches the Car

After Southeast Louisiana we were ready to hang points on the board. So we did. Final score Northwest Louisiana 38, Arkansas 0. They were good sized kids but couldn’t match our speed and everything they did we had an answer for. PJ caught four scores. Slade was a magician running the option, sucking the linebackers up with play action then going over the top. The defense pitched another shutout and we just physically wore them down. It wasn’t Arkansas’ fault. Some days you just play a team that is flat out better and no amount of coaching or adjustments or half time pep talks will change that fact.

This was the game where heads began to turn, when we began to earn the reputation as a brutal, physical, outwork you until you quit team. Later on, when each of the Final Four teams had a highlight video made by FBU, the other teams had plenty of long runs, athletic catches, and timely interceptions. Our film looked like closed circuit TV footage of a bar fight.

Mike the HC gathered us around to explain what was about to happen. The next step in FBU’s “Road To the Dome” was in Kansas City, Missouri. Nine hours and 540 miles away. Our first game was Saturday morning. And it was Sunday. The longer Mike talked to the players and their parents the more the realization of what was about to happen showed on his face.

You have to get 32 players to the middle of the country. You have no budget. Most of your players’ parents can’t skip work on such short notice so there will be little adult supervision and support. You have to drive because it’s too expensive to fly. Ditto for renting a bus so that means the team will arrive in pieces in whatever transportation you can arrange. Half or your coaching staff will not be available because of prior commitments.

You have six days to solve all of these problems. Go.

Mike was the HC for a reason. I would have tried to pile 32 kids in my wife’s Saturn SUV and thought about food, lodging and bathrooms when our hypoglycemic players started losing consciousness amongst piles of their own excrement. Mike had a better idea- he started working the phones. Sal offered to drive his RV with Joe the OC and eight players (this was before Sal was “Sal.”) A player’s grandfather donated enough cash for Mike to rent a passenger van and carry another dozen players along with his wife Laurie who I am pretty sure gets her own condo in Heaven for putting up with twelve middle school boys for eighteen plus hours- not including pregame, postgame, and hotel hallway duty. The West Monroe parents, those who had bosses, told them that they were in a national championship football tournament and got whatever time off they needed. If there is Heaven on Earth for football I’m pretty sure it’s in West Monroe, Louisiana.

I rented a minivan, loaded three players, my wife, two coolers and enough caffeine to keep Lindbergh awake across the Atlantic and headed north.

Two rules for traveling with a team, doesn’t matter the sport. One, a hotel has to have a breakfast. Two, it has to have a pool. I was met at the reception area by a dozen or so soaking wet players and as I checked in I noticed the coffee and juice machines indicating a free continental breakfast. The hotel even gave us our own wing. They must have been the parents of teenage boys too. Good job, Mike.

Missouri in December is cold. Not Canada or Siberia cold but for a bunch of people that usually show for Christmas dinner dressed in shorts it might as well have been the surface of the moon. Our first opponent, Wichita, lived in the stuff year round so the home field advantage was definitely their’s. What made me even colder was the absence of game film. We had no clue about Wichita’s personnel, tendencies or even their base offense or defense. You know the feeling you get when you wake up in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar place and you need to use the bathroom but you don’t know where it is? I kind of felt like that.

It didn’t help when Wichita came out and ran the ball down our throats and scored first. Double freaking wing. Got some undersized kids that are smart and disciplined? Run the double wing. It gives defensive coordinators irritable bowel syndrome. Unless a defensive coordinator happened to coach the double wing for five years, which I had. Felt like the briar patch was calling me home. We gathered the defense around after the first series.

Me: “Wherever the fullback goes, tackle him. Then everybody behind the fullback, tackle them. Questions?”

I’m no defensive guru. Can barely count to 11 and figure out the strong side from the weak. But if you just tackle the fullback in the double wing then the backfield suddenly looks like the parking lot at Disneyworld on Fourth of July weekend.

Northwest Louisiana 34, Wichita 6. But Dallas was up next. Fast, athletic. And with a few million people in the Metro Plex we were certain they had more than a few game breakers on the squad. I figured we had topped out.

As usual, I was wrong.

“Coach, You Need a Pound Puppy.”

I was complaining to my Dad the other day. My 8th grade son was given the opportunity to participate in heat acclimation drills with his school’s varsity football team. For reasons I cannot even begin to fathom he was less than enthusiastic. His school is by most standards very small, and his starting position has been solidified since, forever. My talking to him about his reluctance had turned into me talking at him, then yelling and he pretty much tuned me out after that.

Me: “He’s never had anybody pushing him. Never felt what it’s like to have another player breathing down his neck for playing time. Never felt that emptiness when you want to play but the guy ahead of you is just better. Never been cut. He’s spoiled by success and it’s made him lazy and entitled. I can’t talk to him.”

Dad: “The summer before my first year in high school we had football tryouts. A hundred kids my age so we knew some of us were going home. Well, we did our thing and the coaches ordered us up into the bleachers. Told us they’d call our name and if they did we were to go stand on the track. We didn’t know why we were supposed to stand on the track but back then if a coach said to do it you just did it or you didn’t stick around long. So the coaches are huddled around this clipboard and they start calling names and after a while they call mine. Coach Farrar was running the show and he had his head down looking at the clipboard and he happened to look up as I was walking by. He leaned over and said something to one of the coaches and that coach didn’t seem too happy but then Coach Farrar said to me, ‘Get back up there, son. We don’t want you.’ I didn’t know what to think about that. So they get finished reading off names and when they do Coach Farrar turns to the boys on the track and says ‘Thanks for coming out, but we just don’t have the room for you.’ Thing of it is, he didn’t know my name. All he knew was what he saw in that tryout and I promise you it wasn’t much. But I decided that whatever I did on that football field I’d do it so as not to disappoint that man, to reward that faith he had in me. Maybe the boy needs to hear that. Maybe he needs to understand that those coaches may not know him now, may not even know his name, but what he does, how hard he works, that starts to build trust and faith and that’ll pay off sometime down the road.”

I was 14 years old or so when I finally met Coach Farrar, although my dad had told me the stories. Coach had left high school by then, teaching and coaching at a local university. As a baseball coach and professional scout my dad gave him a call and asked would he be willing to look at his son’s swing and maybe give him a pointer or two. Ten minutes with the man and I understood why my dad was so fond of Coach Farrar. He did what he could for my swing and as we were leaving, said something to me that I can hear word for word almost 30 years later: “Your dad,” he said, “was one of the best players I ever coached.”

The 120 pound senior. The defensive back with the blown out knee. Coach Farrar had seen talent over the years but he decided that something was more important than talent. Desire.

I call them “pound puppies.” They are players without the ability or talent to match the heart and dedication. A pound puppy is so happy to be playing that they will do anything they are asked. Pound puppies make the best teammates. A team of pound puppies can become champions.

My dad was a pound puppy. So was I. My son is not. His ability is something I could never match and it’s why I talk past him a lot when it comes to sports. Our experiences are divergent.

As a coach I am bothered by the fact that there are a lot of pound puppies sitting at home. Kids that weren’t “run fast jump high” and were overlooked. Dedication can’t be timed. Heart can’t be measured. You have to seek it out. And you have to know what you’re looking for. Coach Farrar saw it in my dad. Coaches saw it in me as well over the years. McDowell. Frazier. Worthen. Groll. Names to you. Giants to me. Men I would have run through a wall for. Still would.

Pound puppies are like that.

My Kindergarden Commencement Address

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Why do we have Kindergarden graduation? To me it’s as plain as a yellow stained nap mat- to give Kindergarden teachers an extra week of summer vacation. However, if we are going to play in to the fantasy that Kindergarden is worthy of all the pomp and circumstance then the pee wees should get their own keynote speaker. So, without further ado…

“Thank you principal McVicker for that wonderful introduction, as well as that lovely meal of Chicken Dinosaurs and apple slices. If I’d have known that talking to five year olds meant having to eat like one I would have held out for 8th grade commencement.
The pressures placed on you by society, my tiny friends, will only grow as you age. I thought of relating witty anecdotes based on my encyclopedic knowledge of the Disney Channel, but

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

 I believe that at this critical moment in your development you are yearning for something more. Therefore, let me give you some advice from a world weary, jaded and slightly overweight fellow traveler on Spaceship Earth.

Smart phones are the devil. If you have one right now it’s too late for you- weaning you off would be like doing rehab in a meth lab. The rest of you are right now being crushed under the weight of peer pressure to ask Santa Claus for an IPhone 6- or whatever number they’re up to now. Don’t. It’s a scientific fact that smart phone users lead the nation in obesity, heart disease, failed relationships and self portraits taken in front of bathroom mirrors. While we’re at it, ditto for television and game consoles. Except for the selfies though I’m sure Bill Gates and the Sony people are working on it.

If you want to predict what the priorities of American society will be then listen to rap music. This is due to the fact that a) black kids are cool and b) white kids will do anything to be cool. When I first began listening to rap music all Eric B and Rakim, Slick Rick, et al talked about was competing to be the best rapper. That gave rise to the hyperactive competitiveness of the .com bubble and Gordon Gekko. Now, Kanye and the rest talk about clothes, having more money than Davy Crockett, and various foreign hand made sports cars. I predict this will lead to an influx of Gap and Saab franchises in the very near future. You have been warned.

English: Slick Rick performing with Doug E. Fr...

English: Slick Rick performing with Doug E. Fresh live in 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t go to college. A college degree leading to a well paying job is just as much a myth as the 0% interest credit card. Colleges want you to believe that they are the gatekeepers to the American dream so that you or your parents will take out loans or start savings accounts to pay for your education. This will leave you and your parents, er, cosigners, with a six figure debt and a monthly nut bigger than their mortgage. You will not be able to pay, of course, because in four years, maybe more, you will graduate with a degree in something that interested you only to find that the people that are interviewing you got their degree in general studies from the University of Phoenix and had an uncle that plays poker with the assistant Vice President of Field Operations. Get a poker app for that smart phone you are probably going to get anyway and give it to your uncle NOW- while there’s still time. Split any winnings with him 50-50 and use the money to purchase your own charter deep sea fishing boat. But don’t go to college.

Don’t buy a house. If you are ever lucky enough to snag a job that pays a living wage a mortgage will suck up 1/3 of your take home pay. Add in the hours of leisure lost to yard work and cleaning toilet paper out of trees and the whole deal is a non-starter. Rent an apartment, call the maintenance guy when the toilet backs up, and bail on the lease when you find something better. Apartment leases only exist to allow community college law school grads the ability to pay their parents back for their student loans, so it’s O.K.

Run for public office as soon as possible. An elected official is the only person in civilized society that determines their own salary. They have no real definable responsibilities, no burden of expectations because they are universally believed to be learning impaired, and as long as they aren’t arrested AND imprisoned during their term of office are almost always re-elected. As an experiment, go home today, write your name on a piece of poster board, fashion it into a sign, and place it in your front yard. Be patient, maintain the sign as needed, and wait until the next election cycle. I will almost guarantee you will be elected to something. You’re welcome.

In closing, let me condense my remarks into one easily memorized sentence:

Adults are just as stupid as you, only with more body hair.

Please treat them accordingly.

Good night, Cleveland!”

Motivation, Michael Jordan’s Brain, and Chocolate Cookies

English: Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan 1997

English: Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan 1997 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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My daughter is a third generation cook. My mother in law is a caterer, my wife is a caterer, and now my daughter. She’s nine. Yesterday she was at my mother-in-law’s and they decided to make a batch of chocolate cookies from a super secret special recipe that’s been handed down since forever. Problem is, my mother-in-law couldn’t find the recipe even though she has a collection of recipe books, folders, and cut outs from magazines that would rival the Library of Congress in size. No problem, my daughter said, and commenced to write out the recipe. From memory. Since birth she’s probably made these cookies twice. Did I mention she’s nine?

A few things to notice about the recipe:

The vanilla measurement. Normally it would be a teaspoon but the last time they made cookies my mother-in-law used the cap from the vanilla bottle. Hence, one “top.” And one less dish to wash.

“1 cup sweetend milk” is sweetened condensed milk. The can said condensed so that’s what she did. My daughter is very literal.

“1 cup Flower”….well, you get it.

She’s gets the beautiful handwriting from me.

Now, my daughter is not unique- actually she is to me but in the context of the 6+ billion people in the world she probably isn’t.  And while her memory is incredible it says more about what’s important to her than it does about the human brain in general.  Cookies are important to her, and making them the right way.  We all have the potential for incredible feats of memory if we are provided sufficient motivation.

Need an example? Ever forget to pick up your clothes at the cleaners?  Next time, put a $100 bill in the pocket of one of the shirts before you drop them off.  Sometimes you have to supply your own motivation.

Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever- sorry LeBron.  Most people know the story of Jordan being cut from his high school team, and any interview with Jordan I’ve ever read or seen alludes to the fact that he used the belief that everybody thought he sucked as fuel to become the player he did.  He’s even hinting at a comeback- at age 50.  Motivation is powerful, and whether you are a 9 year old girl making cookies or #23 for the Bulls it can move you to heights that the mere mortal side of you would think impossible.

Or it can help you make a really great batch of cookies.

The FBU National Championship, Part 2- A Game of Memory

I watch film. Game film. To most people watching game film as a youth football coach is the equivalent of topping off your boat’s live well when you’re bass fishing with dynamite. But it can mean the difference between a play that wins the game and a play that loses it. Or a player that wins the game or loses it. And while it’s supposed to be fun and esteem building and all of that other stuff, it gets very serious when a coach realizes that thirty something players believe you should have all the answers and put their faith in you to get it right.

So I watch a lot of film.

Of course there is a flip side. The same eye for detail used to break down an opponent’s tendencies and weaknesses can make watching your game film uncomfortable. Every mistake moved from the reel of the projector to the reel of the mind. Every missed opportunity advertised for an audience of one. So, once the season is over, I don’t watch film. Maybe, I say to myself, when my son is thirty and I’m mostly dead and we need something to entertain ourselves during Thanksgiving I’ll drop the tape in and relive the past with a less accusing eye.

Problem is, my memory sucks. I can remember getting ready for the game against Southeast Louisiana. I remember the game plan. Press the offense. Overload with blitzes and force the action. Set the edge and take away the speed advantage- if New Orleans had anything, we reasoned, it was speed and it had to be negated. Defense always shines early in a tournament so don’t overload our guys with too much and let them play fast. The game? Just a blur.

So I put in the tape.

First thing that struck me- Southeast was bigger than we were. And faster. Then I remembered a conversation I had with my son during warm-ups.
Jack: “Here they come.”
Me: “No. Too big. That’s the 8th grade team getting off the field.”
Jack: “Then why are they warming up?”
Me: “Maybe they’re just being thorough.”

Second thing-the game was sloppy. We made too many mistakes. They made more. And that was the difference in the game. It was to be expected when kids had only played together for a week or two. We would see as the tournament progressed that the mistakes would be less frequent, their impacts tremendous.
Third- the game hinged on moments. Cliché, I know, but so true. In a one-and-done tournament you never know the moment that decides your fate, the one that sends you home or sends you on. We had a moment.
Southeast had not made a first down. Mid fourth quarter, down by six and at their own thirty they have their best offensive play of the game. The Hail Mary was picked by our all-everything safety and downed at our thirty. Three and out and we set up to punt.

Then, the moment.

The coaches put their heads together to strategize. Until then we had not punted, trusting our defense- who had not allowed a first down- to keep everything out front. I wanted to get the ball as far away from the other end zone as possible. The others wanted a shot at a first down. I begged not to give my guys a short field. They relented. Everyone’s eyes turned to the punter. The backup to the backup quarterback. Spotless jersey.

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The punt was partially blocked. It should have been blocked into the end zone. Somebody got through but Elliott stood his ground and delivered. The prettiest 5 yard punt I’ve ever seen. I let down my guard and talked to the kid as a grownup as he left the field.

“Son, they couldn’t fit your balls in a dump truck!”

Final score: Northwest Louisiana 6. Southeast Louisiana 0. We lived to fight the next day. We didn’t know it at the time, but this game would turn out to be our toughest victory. Of course, none of the victories were easy.

The film doesn’t lie.

I watch the film and am reminded of things I had forgotten. A play. A conversation. A moment. Things that, at the time, I believed would be etched in my memory forever. Things so powerful I thought I’d never forget. And I think, what else have I lost? What other memories are my “tears in the rain?”

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Maybe I shouldn’t trust my memory so much. Maybe there are memories so important they shouldn’t be entrusted to the same brain that forgets his kid’s lunches or to pay the water bill. Growing up my dad would be in the stands at our games or on vacation decked out like a Japanese tourist. Video camera. Nikon with telephoto lens and kung fu grip. Back then I thought he was trying to get out of riding Space Mountain at Disney World or coaching first base. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe he was making sure the memories stayed when his brain failed. That we’d always have those memories whether we were reminded of them or not. For my fortieth birthday he took all of my game films- the ones he recorded- and put them on DVD for me.

I should watch more film.

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Tweet this……

One of our softball players went 3 for 3 last Saturday.  I know this happens all of the time but until Saturday she had just one hit total.  For the entire season.  Seven games.  I was out of town with our son at a football tournament and missed the game, but later on I threw out a Tweet letting her know I was proud of her.  Problem with Twitter is you only get 140 characters to say what you want to say.

Here’s what I said: “So proud of your 3 for 3.  I knew you could do it!”

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What I meant……..

You don’t realize what you’ve done. Not a clue and that’s actually a good thing. It needs to be a fundamental part of your character, this thing you’ve accomplished over the past few weeks. It is one of the true pleasures of coaching that I was able to watch it happen.  Eight weeks ago you looked like someone swinging a polo mallet and riding a pretend horse. Six weeks ago it looked like Tiger Woods coming out of the sand. Four weeks ago, Happy Gillmore’s tee shot.

Last week I noticed something. The swing was level. The timing was slow and you were juuust behind it. I thought, a few more AB’s and she’ll find it.  And you did.
But I know the rest of it too.  The hours of work in the back yard to fix that swing, Mom and brother feeding you balls and breaking it down. Daddy picking you up after every strikeout, feeding you confidence so you’d have the courage to make that trip to the plate one more time.
Remember this feeling. The weight of the bat. The ball on the sweet spot. Parents and grandparents and teammates fist pumping and hugging after you ran through first base. But remember what got you there, too. You have learned a lesson many adults haven’t figured out:

Most things in life are not going to come to you naturally.  

They will require you to work at them, and success happens when you work at something you’re passionate about. Success is not a gift. It is not a birthright. Many adults have raised their children in a sports atmosphere where we don’t keep score, we try to build self esteem instead of character, and then we act surprised when children want everything and don’t understand why they have to work for it. Then they are equally surprised when they look to someone else for validation of an unaccomplished life. How else do you explain boys barely out of their teens building bombs, high schools that need day care, and 26 year olds still on their parent’s insurance?

Softball isn’t natural for you. Whatever success you have in the sport will be because you worked for it. Because you earned it. And guess what? This won’t be the only time in your life where working at something important will pay off. Your job. Your marriage. Being a parent. Not to overdramatize it, but you are now set up to be anything you want to be because now you know what it takes- the decision that something is so important that the sacrifice is worth it.

Good game.

A Conversation You Will Never Have On a Boys Baseball Team

href=”https://hwrighttyndall.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/ashsoftball.jpg”>ashsoftball

I love coaching girls. The grit. The determination. The careful attention paid to personal hygiene. It has been an experience that I was completely unprepared for. I should have had at least an inkling of what I was getting into.

I have a wife. A son. A daughter. Two dogs, a boy and a girl. A turtle that I’m pretty sure is a boy and a fish that is almost certainly a girl. On paper the ratio of females to males in my household is 1:1. When you take into account the pure indomitable will of the ladies though that ratio gets a bit skewed.

It’s more like 492:1. The fish put ‘em over the top.

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All of that to say this- I am experienced at being outnumbered, so I figured coaching girls softball would not be a problem. My wife coaches first base and our friend, a kindergarten teacher, coaches third (She’s a girl too. Arnold wasn’t available.) Eleven girls. Two ladies. And conversations you will never hear in the pregame huddle of a boy’s team.

The First Practice
Right Field: “Are we going to have any signals?”
Me: “Signals? Like to steal or bunt or stuff?”
Right Field: “Yes sir. We should have some signals.”
Me: “Signals will come later. Let’s worry about
fielding, and hitting, not overrunning 3rd base. OK?”
Right Field: “I still think we should have signals.”
Me: “The only signal this team will need this season is
a ‘I need to go to the bathroom signal’.

Two Weeks Later….30 seconds before the first game

Me: “Play hard. Have fun. Don’t sling the bat.
Questions?”

Pitcher: “What’s the bathroom code?”
Me: “The WHAT?”
Pitcher: “The bathroom code.”
Me: “You mean the signal?”
Pitcher: “Yes. The bathroom signal.”
Me: “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Catcher: “You said there is a bathroom signal but you didn’t
give it to us. What if we have to go to the bathroom!”
Me: “Then cross your legs like this.” ( I cross my
legs at the ankles.)

The Kindergarten Teacher:
“Or do your fingers in a ‘T’ like this.” (Taps one
finger on top of the other to make a ‘T.’) “Do it
twice for tee-tee.” (Laughs like a maniac)

Catcher: “Use your fingers not your hands ‘cause then they’ll think you
want a time out."

My Wife, the ‘Responsible One’:
“Or just hold up two fingers if you need to do the other.”
(Exchanges high fives with the Kindergarten Teacher)

Me: “I need a better agent.”

Boys have no concern about signals or bathrooms. I’ve learned through experience that A) boys just tend to go to the bathroom wherever they happen to be when the need arises, and B) even if a team of boys did have a bathroom signal they would all miss it anyway. Signaling a nine year old boy standing on first base while you’re standing on third base has as much of a chance of working as you being spotted by an orbiting satellite while stranded on a deserted island. If you were buried in sand up to your neck. And wearing a khaki hat.

Which is why I love coaching nine year old girls softball. I get to have signals!