Playing time is probably the single biggest issue facing players, parents and coaches in sports today. It has always been an issue but more so today because individual needs have a higher priority than team needs. Youth (K-8) sports demand participation by all players. It’s the time when developing skills happens. It’s when the seed for the joy of competing is planted. As players get older individual talent and skills start to separate players. Once they reach the varsity level in their sport things change. The idea of universal participation and equal playing time take a back seat to teams striving for success by utilizing the best fit, most skilled competitive athletes on the field as much as possible. Team concepts become more important than the individual satisfaction of getting some playing time. Athletes earn playing time by the quality of performance during practice and games A players attendance, attitude and character also play a major role in a coaches decision for playing time.
Why do kids choose to participate in a sport? There are as many reasons as there are players on the field but basically they just want to play. They want the thrill and challenge of competing. They want the excitement of being with their friends and sharing the joy of success. From the day they sign up until the final team gathering at the end of the season, players, coaches and parents face many challenges and the dynamics of sport can get complicated, especially when parents and players begin to have problems with playing time.
Parents and players often question the decision coaches make and that’s when the joy of sport starts to dim. I hear parents wondering why their kid is playing a certain position or why they’re being substituted. Parents like to talk strategy during games and question the coaches, referees and players decisions. These questions and attitudes can sometimes set a negative tone for a sport. Support can turn into criticism and the team concept can be compromised. The fun of playing slowly gets diminished.
How coaches and parents deal with dissent and outside criticism makes all the difference in having a successful season or an unhappy experience.
Players come home disappointed in their performance or lack of play and complain to parents. How parents handle these moments is the difference between their child growing and learning to solve problems or not. I feel it would be more beneficial for parents to teach their children how to approach solving their problems. Parents solving problems for their kids just makes them passive and they will lack the strength of character to deal with problems in the future. Give players the skills and strategies to address problems on their own before taking aggressive action as a parent.
Recently a local girls high school soccer team welcomed a new coach. During the first meeting parents asked the coach many questions about her philosophy of the game and coaching. They asked the usual question about playing time. Her response was enthusiastic and strong. As a young varsity coach she emphasized winning. She said that things like fitness, athletic skill, attendance at practice, attitude, and game specific situations would determine playing time.
As I watch players develop during a season, I notice that some players lack the skills, fitness and experience to compete at a high level. If they were to play against a physically strong and highly skilled team they could get hurt or hurt someone else. All coaches face this situation. It is not always easy to recognize when it’s safe for them to play. It is often difficult for parents to recognize ability and safety issues when they are focusing on playing time.
The question of playing time is key to everything a coach believes about their sport. It is key to why players play. When parents get involved distraction enters the game. Parents can often lose sight of the goals of the program and see things from a narrow point of view – playing time for their son or daughter. This, of course, takes the game away from the coach and players. Another game comes into play. This other game has little to do with sport and success.
I believe the best coach ever was John Wooden, the UCLA men’s basketball coach from the 1960-70’s. He touched the lives of many people during his lifetime. His philosophy was simple and he never wavered from it.
“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable.”
He created a “Pyramid of Success” and all the building blocks are about character. The joy of the journey was more important than winning. Winning was just the result of reaching success and knowing that as a coach, player or parent, you have given the effort and developed the character to reach the top of the pyramid.
Coach Wooden has written many books about his journey in sport. He has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and touched the lives of many in and out of sport.
To learn more check out Coach Wooden’s website.
Today is National Running Day!
I’m not a runner. I watch runners. I listen to runners stories. I tried running a 10K once in the 1980’s but didn’t like it. I’ll run to catch something. I’ll run if I’m being chased. I’ll run if it’s something short and quick and involves using a ball. I have family and friends that train for long distance runs. They travel all over to participate in events. I don’t have a distance runner’s mentality but appreciate the effort and energy of runners.
Recently I went with Newton Baker in support of his latest running challenge. I’ve known Newton for a long time and have taken pictures of him in various Vermont running events like the Vermont City Marathon, 100 on 100 and others. I’ve listened to him coach and talk about his running strategies for races. His strategies change depending on his goals and training. The run might be a training event for an important upcoming Ultra or a target for a personal best. He started telling me about an event he’d signed up for and I couldn’t believe he was going to do this alone. I believed he would and could do it, but not alone. The event is called The New England Challenge; 5 marathons, 5 states, 5 days.
I didn’t ask him why because that’s not a running question. Runners know why. The rest of us can only wonder and guess and we’d be wrong most of the time. I wanted to go and support him and wanted to learn more about the mentality it takes to do something like this. I couldn’t see Newton finishing a race and then getting into his car to drive 100 miles, checkin to a hotel, getting meals, resting, and getting up at 4:30 am to do it again and again without help. I imagined him running, getting tired and driving in 6-lane traffic trying to find a hotel or restaurant. That part sounded insane but it’s not insane to people with a runners mentality. I learned that they know how to pace themselves not just in the race but in all other facets of endurance challenges.
I soon discovered that had I not gone with Newton that he would have been just fine and would not have been alone in this voyage. Many runners were doing The New England Challenge solo and they came from around the country. They had each other for support and managed to run the race, reach each location on time, complete the challenge and move on to the next challenge. Some of his Montpelier non-running friends doubted his motives and said things like they’d pray for him like he was going to war or suffering from some unusual illness or disease. They definitely didn’t have a runners’ mentality.
All races started at 6 a.m. and runners keep track of the number of laps by collecting rubber bands at the aid station for each lap completed. You can imagine what their wrists looked like at the end of the race with rubber bands digging into the skin leaving impressions. This was just another endurance challenge that was part of the races.
Those are some of the minor details about the New England Challenge but what did I learn about a distance runners’ mentality? I learned that I don’t understand what goes through their minds during a race. Just when they have come to the end of their endurance they seem to be able to go just a little further. I heard runners mumble to themselves things like, “I’m almost there. I don’t have much left but I’ve gone this far so I might as well finish.”
I think it is a unique mindset that has a lot to do with a runners’ focus. It’s doesn’t seem to be something that just happens but is developed over a long period of time. The distance runners’ mind seems to be able to keep going when their body is telling them to stop. They seem to be able to focus through pain, muscular exhaustion and all kinds of weather. I watched Newton run in heat, cold, wind and rain. He ran on hard pavement, loose gravel, over roots sticking up in the trail and even battled the long gradual hills. He had a plan, a focus, and a desire to reach his goal. These are the results of the distance runners mentality but I’m still not sure what it is because I’m not a distance runner. I can only marvel at them and be glad that they endure.
Newton completed all the marathons in the New England Challenge during those 5 days. He recovered quickly from each event, rested as needed, and always searched for mashed potatoes. We headed home after the last rainy event and Newton was already preparing for his next marathon in two days, The Shires of Vermont in Bennington which, of course, he did and had the best performance of the week. He completed marathons in all six New England states seven days. Once that was done he was getting ready for the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington in 7 days. After resting for a week he ran his fastest of 8 marathons in two weeks in May.
That’s a distance runners experience and Newton has a distance runners’ mentality. All us non-runners can shake our heads in wonder but will not understand until we start running! Until then appreciate and be glad for the accomplishments of distance runners everywhere. Happy National Running Day!
• • • By clicking on the name of the marathon you will find race results for that race. • • •
• • • By clicking on the name of the venue you can learn about the various parks. • • •
On Monday, May 12, Newton Baker ran the Pine Tree Marathon in Portland Maine. It was the first race in the New England Challenge. Each lap was 3.2 miles around Back Cove Bay. Much of the path was gravel and scenic. It was 78 degrees and sunny with occasional Atlantic coast breezes making running in the heat more bearable. Newton increased his pace the last 3 laps to avoid what the mid-day heat could do to him if he ran a slower pace.
Tuesday, May 13: Granite State Marathon in Mine Falls Park, Nashua, New Hampshire. Five laps on a 5.08 trail with a variety of terrain; loose granular paths, pavement, hills. A short out and back at the beginning of .8 miles to make the required 26.2 distance for a marathon.
Wednesday, May 14: Red Island Marathon in Warwick City Park, Warwick, Rhode Island. This was a very scenic course. Nine laps of 2.7 miles plus a 1.9 mile out and back at the start. The course was on payment and mostly wooded. Much of the course overlooked Narragnsett Bay.
Thursday, May 15: Nutmeg State Marathon in Goodwin Park, Hartford Connecticut. Twelve laps of 2.08 miles plus a 1.24 mile out and back at the start the race. The course was mostly pavement with one long hill along the golf course.
RADIO INTERVIEW, TV NEWS REPORTS, PHOTOS AND VIDEOS OF NEWTON’S ADVENTURE:
- Fox44 & ABC22 News features Newton:
- The Barre Montpelier Times Argus mentions Newton:
- WVMT AM620 Talk Radio Show Interview: Charlie, Ernie and Lisa Show
- WPTZ TV Stephen Watson sports
Crowley Photos Short Videos • New England Challenge
- Portland Maine
- Nashua New Hampshire
- Warwick Rhode Island
- Hartford Connecticut
- Westfield Massachusetts
Sunday, May 11, 2014, Newton Baker (72) and I will head to Portland Maine as he checks in for the first marathon in the New England Challenge; 5 marathons in 5 states in 5 days. The Pine Tree Marathon begins at 6AM Monday the 12th. Skeptics have their doubts, it’s what skeptics do and supporters are touting their hope as they wish for the best.
Regardless of how or why he chose to do this doesn’t really matter because runners run. Runners look for challenges, opportunities and events to expand their experiences. As ambitious as it sounds Newt seems to be of the attitude that this is not only doable but another milestone in his running career. He’s prepared and motivated. I’m looking forward to how he manages the week and accomplishes his goal.
Newton has participated in 162 marathons around the country. He has completed 20 USATF National Championship 24 Hour Runs and is a Hall of Famer participating in all 25 Key Bank Vermont City Marathons. Now he will add the New England Challenge to his resume.
Here’s the schedule: (The New England Challenge website)
Pine Tree Marathon – Portland ME 05/12/2014
Granite State Marathon – Nashua NH 05/13/2014
Red Island Marathon – Warwick RI 05/14/2014
Nutmeg St. Marathon – Hartford CT 05/15/2014
Old Colony Marathon – Springfield MA 05/16/2014
I will document his accomplishments during the week and post images, comments and video each day so friends can follow his progress.
Stay tuned. This is going to be fun!
The last week in February is vacation week for many schools in central Vermont and it’s Vermont girls basketball playoff week as well. The Vermont Principal’ Association listed the pairings, playoff and quarter final games were held until the final four were decided in all four divisions. The mismatches are history and now the fun begins as D2, 3 and 4 teams head to the AUD in Barre while D1 prepares for games at the Patrick Gym in Burlington.
While there are some great match-ups in D1, 2 and 4, my focus has been on D3. I’ve followed two team this year; Montpelier Solons 0-20 and Williamstown Blue Devils 20-0.
Montpelier skipped the playoffs and hopefully will get ready for next year by spending some time watching games and dreaming, “We’re going to the AUD!”
Here’s a photo slideshow as a tribute to the 8 Montpelier girls who showed up everyday to practice and played their hearts out even thought they could not compete in their league.
The AUD, Barre Municipal Auditorium, is the home of some of the greatest basketball games ever played in Vermont from grade school to semi-pro contests of the defunct Vermont Frost Heaves. It has been the home of Vermont State Basketball Championships since 1941. USA Today claims it’s one of the “Ten Great Places to Watch High School Hoops” in the United States. The first championship game was won by Randolph Galloping Ghosts over St. Michael’s of Montpelier, 26-14. Ticket prices were $.35 students and $.50 adults. There isn’t a bad seat in the house.
The girls D3 Semi-Final games will be held on Thursday (2/27/14). #1 Thetford faces #4 Enosburg Falls followed by #2 Williamstown and #3 Oxbow from Bradford. The Williamstown girls are a powerhouse team. They run the floor like no other team I have seen in quite some time. They press full court for the full game in most cases. They beat Bellows Falls 97-72 in the quarter final round. They play incredible defense, trapping, diving for loose balls, taking the charge and use a sideline fast break to perfection. They use the dribble rarely and with purpose. They fill lanes and pass quickly and accurately. They are so much fun to watch. I think their test will be against Thetford Academy in the championship game assuming they both win Thursday. I worked with Coach Eric Ward of Thetford back in the 80’s. His girls are prepared for the showdown but it’s the AUD and both teams face opponents looking to upset the two best teams in D3. Anything is possible especially at the AUD!
In 2012 I wrote a message to the Lady Solons of Montpelier as they prepared for post season games and I included an article that appeared in the Times Argus back in 1988; “Savoring The Anticipation – And Memory – Of A Playoff Game” by Stephanie Carter. It’s a timeless piece and worth reading again especially before championship games.
A reprint from 1988 of Stephanie’s column in Beyond the Score. It’s as meaningful today as it was back then!
Thursday February 25, 1988 Barre-Montpelier Times Argus
“Savoring The Anticipation – And Memory – Of A Playoff Game” by Stephanie Carter
The Olympic Games were worlds away from Vermont last Saturday, but the pre game anticipation, tension and nervous stomachs of important competition were present in eight gymnasiums throughout the state as 16 girls’ basketball teams were gearing up for quarterfinal action.
Outside was a springlike thaw with cool temperatures and plenty of sunshine. But inside, amidst banners and corsages and fans clad in school colors, a brew of nerves simmered.
Inside the Locker Room
Twenty-five minutes before game time and ankles are being taped, warm-up jackets being put on and taken off. It’s players trying to act like it’s just another game after the coach just threw up in the bathroom.It’s drilling each other on which offense is “two” and which defense is “C”. It’s remembering where you go on the press.For seniors on the higher seeded teams, it’s realizing that this is the last time they’ll play on their home court. It’s the worry that this may be the last game of their career, period.
In the Stands
Nervous parents lean forward snapping gum and wringing hands. They’ve traveled to their kids’ games since sixth grade, trying to be supportive, while not over-emphasizing the importance of sports. It’s wanting their kids to do well, but wanting them to know they’re still O.K. if they don’t win, knowing that the next 24 hours will be a whole lot brighter if they do win. It’s wondering what their kids are going through. Younger brother and sisters have come along to cheer, not certain what “quarterfinal” means, but glad to be out of the house on a Saturday afternoon. Classmates arrive in a variety of dress and mood Many wear school colors and some carry signs. Others sit back cooly for the ride. They all hope that the team wins; it’s nice to have something concrete to cheer about at school.
Back Inside the Locker Room
Fifteen minutes before game time, and for most players, it’s a struggle between knowing that basketball is not the end-all and be-all of life, yet knowing that for the next hour-and-a-half, it will be. It’s wanting to give 100 percent and worrying that you’ll have a 65 percent game that just won’t cut it. It’s daydreaming about making a jumper at the buzzer to win the game by one; it’s the nightmare that you blew it at the foul line and lost the game. It’s intense sweat in a clean, ironed uniform, looking for tape to cover barrettes. It’s looking around at teammates who have been a major part of your life for four years, knowing that they won’t be next year. It’s realizing that you got only three hours of sleep last night, but you’re far from tired.
Out on the Floor
Twelve minutes to game time and one player emerges from the locker room to find a pack of gum, and then retreats. Another struts out to pick up the usual warm-up ball. The door closes again. Then the team comes out for real to receive the biggest pre-game applause they’ve ever heard. As they splinter into two lanes for layups, it’s wondering if this is the final warm up or does it go on from here? It’s trying to block out the microphones and wires of radio, ignoring cameras, while getting a charge that they’re there. It’s players stretching and giving adrenalin-filled “high fives.” The visiting team has traveled with it’s familiar tunes and plays them now for motivation and the comfort of continuity. They have never seen this particular gym before. For the home team, it’s wanting to go out in style, winning the final game on the same floor that has been the site of running laps and sit ups and scrimmages and new plays and pulled muscles for years. It’s sneaking glances at the other team, trying to pick out the star, convincing yourself that the six footer isn’t that tall.
The Final Huddle
Hands, freezing and shaky, join before the opening buzzer. Mouths drop open to reassure each other, but no one can understand what anybody’s saying (it’s just too noisy) until the final “Let’s Go.” Then, everybody knows what to do.
Vermont high school basketball tournaments are a chance for players to be stars. For most of those who participate, organized basketball will never again be a part of their lives, and they will never be in such good physical condition. But for 16 teams, a Saturday quarterfinal is a reward for hard work and learning about teamwork. It’s a chance to be in the spotlight.
For all of its pressure and mixed messages, a basketball quarterfinal is something that won’t ever be forgotten. It is one of those frozen moments, and no matter how far from the high school gym your life takes you, that game won’t ever be lost.
Back in January 2011 I wrote a piece titled “Where Have the Fans Gone.” It was about the change in MHS sports culture and lack of community support from students and teachers at sporting events. Not too long ago the MHS gym would have been full of raucous basketball fans. They were wild and full of excitement. Slowly this began to change, not just in basketball but all sports at MHS. It seemed a sign of things to come. Not only were things changing at MHS but in central Vermont. So why the change in sports at MHS? Where have the Fans Gone? In fact, Where have the Athletes Gone?
Since writing that piece community support for competitive sports has been greatly lacking and the quality of skill in students-athletes is also lacking. Fewer and fewer kids are playing competitive sports. Montpelier no longer has a football team; they used to dominate the league. No longer is there a girls softball team. The softball field behind the school is used as a parking lot for the Farmers’ Market or other non-school events. Also, boys and girls hockey no longer exists at MHS. The Vermont Principals Association allows MHS students wanting to play hockey to join the Northfield teams. Track and Field is now an independent sport and the few student-athletes with interest train with U32 High School. There are a couple of programs at MHS survving the sports culture change; tennis and soccer. Tennis has an off-season connection to First and Fitness Racquet Club and soccer benefits from the developing players in the Capital Soccer Club.
I remember the day when close to eighty-five student-athletes competed in track/field under coaches Rome Aja, Charlie Phillips and Ed Skea. It was an amazing sight to see the fields around the school full of athletes training and developing skills so they could compete at very high levels. Today the few sports that remain at MHS are suffering from a lack of participants and highly skilled athletes. The School Board recently suggested dropping baseball for just that reason. Some think it has more to do with declining enrollments but I feel it has more to do with a change in how families and students make decisions about participating in school and in the community.
A general observation, which probably shows my age, is that students today are “spread so thin that you can’t taste the flavor.” Parents want their kids to experience everything. I don’t disagree with that because a taste of something helps you make decisions about what you’d like to do. If you experience a wide variety of things and avoid striving to be really good at something then you become more of an observer of life. People that have skills and achieve at very high levels are successful. Competitive sports teaches you that.
I remember the day when the numbers of kids wanting to play competitive sports was so large that kids had to try-out for a team. Many didn’t make it so they would work on their skills during the off-season hoping to make it next year. They had goals and the enthusiasm to work hard to reach those goals.
Currently the MHS girls’ basketball team has seven players on the varsity and many are freshman. They are struggling to compete. These kids have great attitudes and they don’t appear to get down from not being able to compete. They play hard and give it their all. You can’t ask for more. They seem to be having fun. So if we measure success in terms of doing your best and enjoying what you’re doing then these kids are successful.
Why play any sport? The reason we keep score is to see who wins. To compete. To challenge yourself and an opponent. Losing day in and day out takes its toll on any competitive athlete, especially one that strives to excel. It takes a special quality of character to continue the struggle against the odds facing the MHS girls basketball team. Those seven – this magnificent seven, have those qualities. They are all in this together and they demonstrate a willingness to make the best of this journey. It is a struggle and they are facing it with strength of character and enthusiasm. Hopefully the thrill of competition drives them and they will welcome the challenge.
Sport teaches you how to work together and develop high level skills. It builds community and helps players strive to be successful. Some measure success in winning. I measure success in knowing that I made the effort to do my very best. To achieve what I am capable of doing!
Striving for excellence and digging in to be really good at a sport requires time and commitment. Going through the motions and experiencing little bits of life is not success. It’s neglecting your potential. It’s cheating yourself of the gift of knowing you can be great at something because you did more than experience it. You mastered it. You set goals. You worked hard to attain them.
I started this conversation wondering where the athletes have gone. Maybe they are dancers, actors, musicians, artists or something other than sport. You suffered through my ramblings about the past and my thoughts on sport and success. The community and culture around competitive sports in Montpelier is changing. Maybe you can offer your thoughts on why MHS sports are declining and what does the future bring for competitive sport in Montpelier. What is the message parents and students are sending us as Montpelier moves away from competitive sports? What replaces it?
It’s been quite awhile since I’ve posted to this blog. I have a long list of lazy excuses but will only share the most recent. January 30th I had foot fusion surgery. It’s a big deal and recovery has been slow. I’m sure it has a lot to do with my age, condition and people I hang out with. After several years of hobbling along with bad feet I decided to take my doctors advice and have surgery on my left foot. Basically they shaped several bones in my foot and then screwed them together to make one big bone. Here’s the latest X-RAY!
I spent several weeks in bed, foot above my heart, looking at the ceiling. After lots of drugs, infections, knee walkers, crutches, plaster casts, air cast, and now physical therapy, I’m starting to walk again. It’s been a long drawn out process and I’m glad I’m back doing things I love to do. Even if at a slower pace with a bit of a limp.
What does all this have to do with the title of my post? The reason I mention all this medical stuff is because it brought me to Choice Physical Therapy at First in Fitness in Berlin, Vermont. They’re helping me get going again. I was talking to them about some pictures I have been taking of the Montpelier High boys lacrosse team for parents.
We started talking about the difference between boys and girls lacrosse. That’s when I stuck my big foot in my mouth and started to regurgitate some one-liners about girls’ lacrosse that I’ve heard. I thought I was being funny by saying that girls’ lacrosse is very slow because of the “5 Second Rule”; definition: officials have to blow the whistle every 5 seconds whether something happens or not. Of course there is no such rule and I felt pretty stupid for saying it. I have watched many girls’ games and enjoyed the flow of the game. I have a lot of respect for any athlete that competes in any sport no matter the level of skill. Sometimes I say the dumbest things trying to be funny!
My sick humor got one of the physical therapists attention. She just happens to be the U32 girls varsity lacrosse coach. Her team is undefeated with a record of 15-0. She said I needed to come watch her team play sometime and that I’d learn what high-level lacrosse is all about. My red face was masked as exertion from the physical therapist working my foot. I feared my stupid comment had offended her and said I’d gladly go to the next couple of games.
I obviously know the difference between girls and boys lacrosse. Simply, boys lacrosse is a contact sport. They wear lots of protective equipment and muscle their goals. Girls lacrosse is a non-contact sport and they wear goggles to protect their eyes. Otherwise, no protective equipment except for the goal keeper. It’s a sport that emphasizes speed and finesse. Although it is a non-contact sport it is still very physical. Their goals are more strategy and team movement.
So I went to a couple of games as I promised and got to see a very highly skilled team move the ball at will anywhere they pleased and with much precision and grace. They were very fluid and accurate. They worked well together and obviously understand how a team is supposed to play a sport. Unfortunately, the competition was very weak and no match for the Raiders. I’m looking forward to the playoffs. I want to see how they perform when they are challenged by another highly skilled team. I have seen their skill. Now I want to see their heart. They have a new fan.
It is so good to be watching high school sports again after the long winter of being confined to focusing on healing my foot.
Vermont Mountaineer baseball starts soon. Now that’s real summer!
Saturday August 25, 2012 I spent the day on State Street in Montpelier, VT making pictures of the 3 on 3 competition hosted by the Montpelier Recreation Department and Montpelier Alive. There were 27 teams playing and ages ran from 8 to 40 plus in 5 categories. Jenny Bartlett, program director at Montpelier Rec. Dept., ran the event with help of many volunteers and staff.
This was the first year of the event and it went as smoothly as can be expected considering the location, number of people involved and heat of the day. It was humid and hot so banging away on pavement took it’s toll on the players especially the old timers. State Street is in big need of repair so players cutting to the basket often found footing a challenge. It was funny seeing players dribble and the ball bounce off in a direction they didn’t expect. It added another demension to the competition. It made passing more important and I’m all for that!
It was great to see so many familar faces going at it from middle school, high school and older. Parents were screaming directions at their kids and a few adults, of course, had to make calls from the sidelines about fouls and other violations even after Jenny explained that the players would be their own referees. I guess sideline referees will always be a sad part of the game. Overall the players were great about supporting each other. They played hard and limited trash talk to humor.
The highlight of the day for me was watching the older guys attacking the game with aging bodies and young minds. Their brains would say I can do this and their bodies would remind them that it was yesterday when they could make those moves. It didn’t stop them from giving it an all out effort. Maybe next year I’ll play if they have a category requiring a Medicare ID – 65+. Below is a picture of Tom Roberge breaking through three defenders as he attempts a shot.