Sunday, May 1, 2016

Be Smarter Than The Elephants

CNN Breaking News announced that the elephants in Ringling Bros. Circus will be performing for the last time today.  Their performance in Providence, RI will be their final show before retiring to a conservation center in Florida.  While this might not seem like big news to most, it certainly caught my attention.

For years, the Ringling Bros. Circus has made the Convocation Center one of its' stops and I guess the kid in me comes out, even to this day, when it comes to town.  It was nearly 17 years ago (shortly after I had been hired as Head Coach here at Arkansas State) that the Circus came to our arena and it was an elephant that made the biggest impression on me.  Not because of the show, or his talent, or the tricks he'd was for another reason.  The elephant made a HUGE impression on me because he was not very smart.
The Circus was to be performing in the Convocation Center Thurs - Sun, but it was on the Tuesday before that I walked into the arena and noticed this giant elephant standing all alone.  I was fascinated by this.  Not only was I amazed by this giant creature standing in our arena I was shocked that he was standing there with a single rope around his leg.  This 3,000 - 4,0000 pound animal with this small rope around his leg standing unattended.  Well, of course, I couldn't let this go...I needed answers.  So I tracked down the training and started asking questions.  The trainer explained that they bring the animals into the arena a couple of days before the show so that they can get acclimated to their surroundings.  This, of course, made sense but the most important question was why such a small rope around the leg of such a huge animal.  The trainer replied, that, honestly, elephants just aren't very smart.  He went on to explain that when the elephants are babies they train them with the exact same type of rope around their leg. While they are young the rope is indeed strong enough and the babies can't break it or pull free from it.  As the elephants grow older and become much stronger they could easily break the rope but in their minds they can't.  They refuse to even try because of the sensation around their leg.  They just assume they can't break it.

I thought about this for a while and it hit me that so often as humans we do the same things.  We give in to these perceived limitations that are placed on us...the "rope around our ankle" so to say.  We, far too often, just give in when we assume we can't do something (we're not smart enough or we're not talented enough) just like the elephants.  One of the things I love about coaching is that I have the opportunity to try and break some of those perceived limitations with our athletes.  Daily we strive to take our athletes from average to above average, from good to great, from great to being the best.  Nearly once a semester one of our student-athletes will come to me wanting to drop a class because they "think" there's no chance to pass it (early in the semester) but yet they stick with it and get through it.  Every preseason, when really challenged, there are athletes that think "I can't" but yet they are able to get through it.  An injury might occur, and that athlete may think there's no way they'll come back from it but they do.  My job as a "coach" is to try and push and encourage our student-athletes to do more than they think, to be better than they believe and to not easily give in.

So while the elephants will be retiring from the Ringling Bros. Circus after today's performance the impression that I received from that one elephant standing in the Convocation Center 17 years ago will not go away.  I refuse to let the athletes in my program give in to perceived limitations.  Because after all we're smarter than the elephants we don't have to just settle and give in to that "rope around our ankle".

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


I'm sure you have heard the story of the businessman who was traveling late at night when his car ran off the road into a ditch.  Needing immediate assistance, the businessman walked up the road to an old farmhouse.  The farmer came to the door and the businessman explained his situation.  The farmer told him he had a mule, named Bessie, out in the barn that was old and blind but he would see if she could help.  So the farmer led Bessie down the road and tied her to the front of the car.  The businessman watched in anticipation as the farmer cracked his whip and yelled "pull Molly"...and nothing happened.  After a few seconds, the farmer cracked his whip again and yelled "pull Gus" and once again, nothing.  The businessman looked puzzled while the farmer once again cracked his whip and yelled "pull Bessie".  All of a sudden Bessie started walking steadily and pulled the businessman's car out of the ditch.  The businessman who was very grateful but still a little confused ask the farmer "why the different names, why didn't you just yell Bessie the first time".  The farmer replied "remember me telling you Bessie was old and blind, if she would have known she was by herself there's no way she would have been able to pull your car out of the ditch".
Of course the idea of this story is that we can accomplish more as a team.  When we pull together as a group we can achieve so much more.  The month of July for the women's basketball program here at Arkansas State is an example of that.  While most people think of basketball during the months of November - March a lot of hard work goes on during the other months as well.  One of the busiest months of the year for a Division I Women's Basketball program is July.  I am extremely grateful for the hard work and dedication that my "team" (I'm not only referring to our student-athletes when I say team) put in during July.

Here are a few examples of how our team pulled together:
An entire new staff was put in place this Spring / fact, two of our new assistant coaches arrived in Jonesboro on July 1st.  We quickly had to get everyone on the same page for recruiting since this is a big year for us (having 5 seniors).  On Saturday, July 4th (while most people were at the lake, watching fireworks, spending time with family, etc.) our entire staff met for 5 hours to talk about recruiting, team expectations, players expectations along with coaching duties and responsibilities.  Sunday, July 5th our team arrived back on campus for the second summer term.  After meeting with the team that night, myself and three assistant coaches hit the road
recruiting.  Over the remainder of the month our staff attended 18 different recruiting events and I am extremely grateful to Autumn Rademacher, Deidra Johnson and Steve Huber for logging a lot of hours and a lot of miles.  I also appreciate how easy and enjoyable they made the month of recruiting for me.  As the head coach it is important for me to be at as many of our top recruits' games as possible and this takes a lot of organization on the assistants part.  When I would arrive at an event one of the assistants had already spent hours mapping out the games and making sure I was at the right location each hour (and while that doesn't sound like a tough task keep in mind that one event had 56 different games going each hour and at different locations).  The recruiting piece of July, in some years, has been very stressful to me but thanks to the organization of this group it was a productive and low stress month for me.  The fact that they had to organize and pull this month together in a very short amount of time was very impressive.  I also have to recognize the efforts of Karan Gilliland, our administrative assistant, who had to quickly get a new staff organized and on the road.  She worked several consecutive late nights along with working on July 3rd (which was a University holiday) to help with travel plans and all the required paperwork so that the four of us could go out.
I'm also very excited about the effort that our team put in during the month of July.  Again, they all arrived on campus July 5th, started classes and workouts on the 6th.  Imagine a team of 14 showing up for a team meeting the afternoon of July 5th, meeting four new assistant coaches and a new strength coach and then as soon as the meeting ends myself and three of those coaches leave for a week recruiting...that is what this team faced.  But, it says a lot for this group and especially the seniors for how well they handled the transition and how well they handled themselves throughout the month.  There is no question in my mind that our team got better physically during July, they got better as basketball players during the month and they pulled off another successful academic term as they combined to have a 3.27gpa.  Very few teams could have handled this as successfully as this group did and I'm extremely proud of them for that.  We have five seniors on this year's team and I can't say enough about each of them and how they approached this month with such focus and determination and seemed unfazed by all the changes.

The other members of our "team" that did a great job this past month are Logan Mittie (our new Director of Basketball Operations), Rebekah Sittig (new strength and conditioning coach), Julie Ellena (Trainer) and Crimsynn Dover (academic advisor).  Logan, arrived July 1st and was quickly thrown into the job.  While the four of us hit the road recruiting she was given the task of overseeing our program while we were gone (looking out for the players and taking care of their needs, handling requests from myself and the other assistants while we were out of the office recruiting and at the same time trying too adjust to a new environment herself).  Rebekah Sittig was hired as our new strength and conditioning coach, on July 1st as well, and quickly had to get to know my philosophy and expectations along with each of the 14 individuals on our team.  We are fortunate to have
Rebekah on staff, she is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about her job and this team.  Julie Ellen, continues to do a great job of keeping our athletes on the floor.  We did not have any major injuries this month but we had several nagging injuries that had to be addressed all month long.  A lot of extra hours were spent by Julie treating these injuries and making sure our athletes were able to push through and develop throughout the month.  And lastly, Crimsynn Dover oversees the academic progress for our team and the results speak for themselves.  While our team is very disciplined and takes a lot of pride in their academics it is great to have Crimsynn there to guide them and provide assistance whenever needed.
So as you can see it took a total team effort to make our program better during July.  I am very appreciative of the entire staff, and extended staff, that I have in place and certainly for this group of athletes that are gifted in so many ways.  When I look back and evaluate the month of July I'm proud of what we accomplished...our team became better athletes (stronger and faster), we got better on the court, they had a great month in the classroom and our recruiting is going very well with the quality of recruits we are in on (or have committed).  I would be proud of what this group accomplished any year but even more so this year because of all the changes and new faces within our program.  Part of my philosophy in coaching is to "bring together a wide range of individuals toward a common goal"...July was a great example of this.  Teamwork allowed our program to get better!!!

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Little Things Add Up

 Another "found money" year has come to a close.  That's right, "found money".  This year's total (from July 1st to June 30th) comes out to $7.49.  I have found a grand total of $7.49 laying on the ground in various places this year.  This may not seem like much to you, but I see things differently.  To me that $7.49 is a big deal because I was brought up to not take for granted the little things...because if you take care of the little things, those little things can turn into something big.

Ok so here's the whole story.   While, it may not appear so, I am an avid runner.  I enjoy running, or even walking, and try to log several miles every
week.  I used to be amazed at how often while running I would see a penny on the ground or a nickel and maybe even the occasional quarter.  So 16 years ago (the same year that I became head coach here at Arkansas State) I decided I was going to pick up every coin I saw on the ground and keep it in a container and see just how much change I could find laying around in one year.  From July 1st, 1999 to June 30th 2000 I "stumbled" upon a total of $55.17.  So, that process has stuck with me. 

Each year I keep a running total of how much change I find while running, getting out of my car while looking down, on the floor in an airport, etc.  I never pass up a coin if I see one and yes I have even fished a penny out of a urinal...hey, that's what they have soap for.  The totals have ranged from the $55.17 during the 99-00 year, to as low as $7.25 in 2001-02.  Now each year, on June 30th, I calculate how much loose change I have found and then deposit it into a savings account which is strictly made up this found money.  After depositing this year's $7.49 I have now found a total of $363.46 just laying around on the ground.  The pennies, nickels and dimes that aren't important to most people I have made important to me.  I'm fairly confident that nobody would just leave $363.46 laying around on the ground, but it's the little things that seem meaningless to others that have added up to something important to me.

Growing up I was surrounded by people that understood the concept of hard work and that nothing in life is just given to you.  My parents are two of the hardest working people I know and they taught us kids the idea of hard work and earning everything we had.  While I know I frustrated them at times with my griping and complaining the message stuck with me.  Growing up in Church the message of being responsible and appreciating the little things was preached in Luke 16:10 "He that is faithful in very little is faithful also in much; and he that is unrighteous in a very little is also unrighteous also in much."  My high school basketball coaches, Tom Shalley and Dave Shalley enforced the idea of hard work and doing the little things.  When I started volunteering at Missouri Western under the men's basketball coach Tom Smith nearly daily I would hear him tell the players "nothing good in life worth having comes without hard work."  This list could go on and on because I have always been around hard working people that appreciated the little things in life.

This weekend our entire team will be arriving on campus to start their team summer workouts.  Come January, February and most importantly March our team will be hoping to accomplish big things.  Coming off two seasons in which we've combined to win 46 games I have no question that this year's group will be looking forward to the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead this season.  But none of that matters if we don't take care of the "little" things now.  And just like that loose change that I find laying around all the time, some people don't value it.  There will be some coaches and players that won't value the little things that need to be done this summer in order to be successful during the season.  Everyone wants to do big things during the season but those that want to do big things in the off-season are the ones that will be successful in the end.  It is my job as a head coach to once again instill the idea of taking pride in the little things again this year.  Nothing will be handed to this team next season, we're going to have value the little things that it takes to be successful...and that starts this weekend.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

I Will Choose Happiness

Located in a rural town in Missouri was a general store.  This was THE place in this small town...everyone picked up their groceries and supplies at this general store, the farmers would start there day with a cup of coffee here each morning and of course if you wanted to visit with other members of the community this was the place to be.  One morning a couple stopped by the general store just to check things out and started up a conversation with the clerk.  The husband said "my wife and I are looking to relocate...we'll be moving in the next few months and are considering moving to this town."  The clerk was excited and continued to carry on a conversation with the couple.  The gentleman went on "but just out of curiosity, before we make a decision can you tell me about your town...what's it like, how are the people in this community?"  The clerk paused for a second and said "well first, tell me about the town you're moving from and the people that live there."  The gentleman started to get emotional and said "we love the town we live in and it's going to be very difficult for us to leave.  The people are so friendly, everyone you meet is very helpful and willing to lend a hand.  Some of the best people you'd ever want to meet live in that town."  The clerk grinned and said "well sir you're gonna find that this town is just like that.  If you choose to move here you'll find that the residents of this town are just as friendly and outgoing."

A week went by and another couple, from out of town, strolled into the local general store.  The couple walked up to the clerk to strike up a conversation.  "What can I do for you" said the clerk.  The gentleman spoke up saying "my wife and I are looking to relocate...we'll be moving within a few months and we're considering moving to your town.  We're curious if you could tell us a little bit about your town and the people that live here."  The clerk looked at them said "first off, how 'bout you tell me about the town that you're moving from."  The man shifted around and said "honestly we cannot wait to move...we're very unhappy...the residents of our current town are very unfriendly, they're always in your business and gossiping, they never want to lend a hand to help and as a whole we really dislike the people in our current town."  The clerk hesitated for a second and said "well sir unfortunately I have to be honest you're probably going to find out that the people in our town are the same way."

This short story illustrates that it's up to us to either find happiness or to not find happiness.  I've tried very hard over the years to try and surround myself with good people...people that work hard, are positive and try to find the good in situations.  College basketball can be a very stressful profession and any coach will tell you that the losses, the injuries, the team issues (on the court or off the court) can get you down if you're not able to move past them and focus on the positives.  Instead of letting the disappointments take over we have to quickly resolve them and move forward as opposed to dwelling on them.  We can't just pretend a loss didn't happen or an issue within a team didn't exist, we have to recognize it and then try to correct the problem so that we as a program can move forward.

 I've been very open in saying that this past season was one of the most successful in women's basketball history here at Arkansas State.  One of the really good qualities of this team was its' ability to move past disappointments and "negatives" quickly and to focus on the opportunities that were in front of them.  This team was faced with one of the most difficult schedules in the country.  A non-conference schedule against teams from the SEC, the Big 10, the Pac 12, the Big 12 and two Top 25 opponents in Chattanooga and Florida Gulf Coast.  We were dealt some difficult losses including a disappointing loss at Colorado followed by one of the hardest practices I have ever put a team through the very next morning (at 8:00am) instead of spending the morning sightseeing (and our players handled it perfectly.
Our conference schedule had its' own challenges as well as we played our first 10 games in 24 days.  One stretch included flying to Boone, NC for a contest at Appalachian State on a Thursday (suffering a loss in the last few seconds)...busing early the next morning to Charlotte only to have a flight delay...arriving back in Jonesboro on Friday later than our Saturday's opponent (Texas State).  But never once did I hear any of our players complain, they simply accepted it and proceeded to knock off a very good Texas State by 20 points.  They didn't take time to dwell on all the bad or the negatives that surrounded that trip...instead they focused on the positives and the opportunity that was ahead of them.

You hear the term "culture" used often whether it be in the work place or in my line of work, athletic programs.  I am proud of the "culture" that has been established in our program and it is one of finding the "good" and not focusing on the "bad".  A culture of not worrying about what other Women's Basketball programs have... appreciating what we have, because we have it really, really good.  And not worrying even within our own athletic program about other teams and what they might have or not have.  We've been able to create a culture that appreciates and understands how good we have it at Arkansas State and focusing our energy on the things that are really important.  We are human and are just like the two couples in the story we can either choose happiness and find that daily or we can choose to not be happy and find that daily as well.  Me and my program are going to continue to focus on the good and choose to be happy.  And I am going to continue to surround myself with people that can see the good and see happiness and not constantly find the bad and unhappiness in every situation.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Loose Change

On Friday, November 1st I could hardly control my excitement when I arrived home to find the envelope I had been waiting for in my mailbox.  It was finally here . . . this year's Christmas Club check.  And it wasn't so much that the check had arrived, it was more about the anticipation of seeing how much interest I had accumulated throughout the year.  Drum roll please . . . $1.53.  Yes, I had accumulated a grand total of $1.53.

Now I know you're thinking really, $1.53 and you're excited about that.  Well it's not about the $1.53 it's more about how the amount came about. 

I have always had a habit of picking up "loose change".  Anytime I see a penny (or any other coin) on the ground I will always pick it up.  There's a good chance I will have neck problems some day because whenever I am outdoors running or walking I am always looking down and scanning the ground.   So on July 1, 1999 I decided to collect all the money that I picked up and keep it separate.  I was curious to see how much money I could find just laying around on the ground in a year's time.  From July 1, 1999 - June 30, 2000 I picked up $55.17 worth of change that had been discarded by other people.  Change that was not valuable to other people became important to me.  Since that time I have played this little game every year.  By 2011 I had finally collected enough found money to open up a savings account (Christmas Club).  I have keep my yearly findings separate and then on the 1st of July I deposit it in my ongoing savings account.  The grand total of money that I have found just laying around is now up to $341. 80 (over a 14 year period) including the interest of $1.53 that I received this year.  Think about it for a second, sure it's only $1.53, but I am drawing interest on "loose change" that I have found laying around.  This total consists of $29.96 that was found last year, it includes $30.41 that was picked up during 2007-2008, it includes an even $29 that was found during 2006-2007 and it also includes the lowest total ever found which was only $7.25 during the 2001-2002 "fiscal" year (and yes the term fiscal is said with a chuckle).

While finding "loose change" has become a game with me there is also a hidden message too.  The idea that I have found value in the little things that aren't important to others.  A penny here or a penny there to some people is meaningless.  But how many people wouldn't want to be handed $341.80. 

Tomorrow night we tip-off another basketball season here at Arkansas State.  I have used this analogy with teams in the past but the equivalent of "loose change" in basketball is diving for a loose ball, taking a charge, boxing out even if it allows a teammate to collect a rebound, deflecting a pass, sacrificing your body to save a ball inbounds . . . in other words those hustle plays that other players don't find value in.  These are the plays that don't require talent they just require desire . . . and they also required the belief that there is value in these plays that won't show up on a stat sheet.  Players that find value in these plays are special and teams that find value in these plays will be successful.  Hopefully the 2013-2024 Red Wolves will be a team that finds value in picking up "loose change".

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Traveling Carnival

Just recently the fair was in Jonesboro . . . the Northeast Arkansas District Fair.  While I didn't get to attend this year I know it was a big time for a lot of people, as it is every year.  I've always found it interesting that fairs have seemed to stand the test of time.  Fairs or traveling carnivals' roots actually go back to the 19th century similar to the circus.  It is said that the 1893 Chicago World's Fair was the catalyst for the traveling carnivals. Even in 2013, County and State Fairs are more popular than ever.

Here is what is so cool, to me, about a carnival.  Just the other day while I was driving to a recruiting visit a traveling carnival passed me while going the other direction.  A convoy moving to their next destination.  And as they passed I couldn't help but to try and guess what the folded up ride might become once it was put back together.  I also couldn't help but to think that there was no way in the world that I would get on one of those things . . . it is not possible for something to be folded up and traveling down the highway one day and then a carnival ride the next.  Be honest, you know you've thought the same thing too right?  So how can this convoy of 40 - 50 campers, trucks and folded up rides turn into this magical entertainment venue, overnight, for thousands of people one location after another.

Fifteen years ago when I became a Head Coach for the first time I needed to establish a core coaching philosophy.  What is my purpose as a basketball coach.  The first idea that came to mind and one that has stuck with me is the idea of "Bringing Together A Wide Range Of Individuals To Work Towards A Common Goal".  I love this idea and it is the one core piece of my philosophy that motivates me each and every day.  Bringing together 15 individuals from all different walks of life and working daily to get them all on the same page is such a thrill.  When you look at our team, we have athletes from five different states, some from small towns and others from big cities.  We have players of different race, different religions, different socio-economic backgrounds, different personalities and different long-term dreams.  And while it is a thrill it is also very, very difficult.  This, in the end, will be the deciding factor in which teams win Championships and which teams' seasons end in disappointment.  There are talented teams all across the country, every year, that don't reach their full potential because they were unable to pull together for the common goal.

So as our team starts practice tomorrow, we can take a lesson form the traveling carnival.  Week after week they travel from town to town and are somehow able to pull all these individual pieces together to accomplish the goal of providing entertainment and lasting memories for so many people.  I am convinced that we have a very talented group of individuals and I am also convinced that we have a team full of very good people.  The question will be can we all put aside our individual desires and goals so that we can focus only on the collective goals. Can we pull together all of our individual pieces to accomplish something special as a team.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Carve Away What Doesn't Belong To The Bear

Last week, I took the opportunity to go on vacation and try to recharge prior to the new school year starting.  I traveled out West and into some of the Mountain destinations.  One of the stops being Steamboat Springs, CO in the Rocky Mountains.  While spending time in the downtown area I happened to
stumble upon this carved image of a bear . . . and yes you will notice the bear is holding an ice cream cone which is a dead giveaway as to why I "stumbled upon" it.  The bear is totally made of wood and one would assume it was carved out of a tree trunk.  I think we've all seen at one time or another some type of image carved out of a block of wood or a tree trunk.

I read a story one time about a guy who was driving down a road and noticed a wood carver actually carving a bear out of a tree trunk.  The guy being inquisitive, like I would be, pulled the car over and stopped to visit with the wood carver.  He, admiring the bear that was being created from the trunk, asked the man "how do you do this . . . I mean you have a huge block of wood and start sawing and chipping away and you end up with this perfect image of a bear"?  The man without even looking up at the passer by simply stated "well it's pretty simple, you just carve away what doesn't belong to the bear" and then he kept on working.

When I saw this carved bear this past week it reminded me of that story.  It's a story we can all learn a lesson from.  So often in life everything gets so cluttered that we forget to focus on what is really important . . . we get easily sidetracked and it takes away from the goals we are trying to achieve.  I for one am guilty of walking into my office in the morning with a list of tasks to accomplish and I leave at the end of the day exhausted because I've been working all day but yet I look at my task list and none of them have been marked off.

As we move into a new season I am extremely excited about the team that has been assembled.  I feel like the pieces are in place for us to have a successful year.   But, one of the challenges with this team and as with any team in the country is can we "carve away what doesn't belong to the bear".  Can we as a team recognize our goals, focus on those goals and not get distracted by anything outside of those goals.  Our team needs to carve away and remove anything that gets in the way us of winning a Sun Belt Championship, having a successful year in the classroom and staying active and being a positive member within our community.  Anything that gets in the way of those three goals needs to be carved away.

This is easier said than done because there are so many distractions.  Families can get in the way, friends will try to become distractions and fans' opinions can create doubt or chemistry issues.  Their own bodies can take away from the goals if they don't take care of themselves by eating properly, getting enough rest or using the training resources available to stay healthy.  Time management will get in the way of succeeding academically . . . there are enough resources here that if used properly all of our athletes can be successful but it takes time and it takes commitment.  Our program is committed to being involved in the community.  But, I realize that this once again takes commitment and it takes the right state of mind to be a positive member of the community and for us not to become a negative.

Our job as coaches is to help funnel these athletes in the direction of these goals.  To, in a way, try to protect them from anything that can take away from these goals.  I honestly feel like the team is in place for us to meet these three goals but there are a lot of teams that are in place to meet these goals.  The difference will be which one is able to "carve away what doesn't belong to the bear".