Below are three lists of what I learned, and didn’t learn, as a coach at Amherst Regional High School in the past 23 years. Brent Anderson, our assistant coach for the last six years, contributed to these lists, which is not to slight the other assistant coaches (Woody Clift, Jeff Yu) before him.
Please keep in mind that our high school season is a short nine weeks, with a week of vacation, as we have to follow the parameters of our state athletic association as a varsity sport. Very compressed, very intense season every year, with five 3-hour practices most weeks.
Lessons I Learned
1. Look for the athlete who can learn throws in tryouts, rather than the thrower who did not train all winter.
2. Teach offense before defense.
3. There is a difference between sick and injured. If you are sick, go home. If you are injured, contribute to practice in any way you can.
4. Drill catching at every practice.
5. Drill the reset at almost every practice.
6. Make drills creative and challenging. Set the bar high every day and expect your team to surpass it.
7. If your team is doing a drill half-heartedly, stop immediately. If you continue, all you are doing is creating mediocre muscle memory.
8. Say 0 or 1 things in a huddle.
9. Call a time out, if needed, after your team has scored, not when the other team has.
10. After a game, whether won or lost, do a quick debrief and move on. Leave everything behind and get read for the next task.
11. Being up-to-date on pop culture, as tawdry as it is, makes long road trips more fun.
12. The parents and community members who put on the Amherst Invitational and the Paideia Cup run the best tournaments. USA Ultimate is a close second.
13. Adriana, Don, and VC Ultimate are the nicest and most loyal sponsors we could ever hope for. They have been with us since 1990.
14. The best crossover sports for ultimate are soccer, football, basketball and hockey. The worst are cross-country and cross-country.
15. Having a supportive athletic director and principal makes all the difference in the world.
16. Confidence over swagger every time.
17. I prefer to coach a game that is either observed or reffed.
18. Many alums think that the players that came before them were amazing and that the players who come after are terrible. Neither is true.
19. Dr. Alan Goldberg is the man.
20. Keep reading and learning about other coaches and their philosophies. There is no need to reinvent the wheel just because we play with a disc.
Lessons I Learned Over and Over
21. The best way to teach your team about losing is to lose. Losing is just delayed success.
22. Having a group of friends on a team is both good and bad.
23. With very rare exceptions, your seniors will be finished with the season, and its responsibilities, before they should be.
24. Players have no idea how hard their parents work to support the team.
25. What a player needs, and can contribute, changes on a daily basis. The same goes in a classroom.
26. If you have a motivated team with great leaders, you can sit back and watch them perform, and only lightly hold the reins.
27. If you have a different type of team, you sometimes have to carry them on your back, throughout the entire season
28. All types of teams are fine; that is the challenge of coaching.
29. I hate paperwork.
30. I hate fundraising.
Lessons I Never Learned
31. How to teach players to pop in zone offense. The best I can do is say, “Watch so-and-so.”
32. How to teach field sense. One time I took a senior on varsity with no playing experience just because he stopped his cut when he saw a teammate needing the space to score.
33. How to teach downfield defense. That’s why I have assistant coaches.
34. How to give pump-up speeches. That’s why I have assistant coaches.
35. How to demonstrate what I want players to do, (unless it is how to putt in disc golf.) That’s why…
36. And while I am able to coach alone, it is not nearly as much fun.
37. I still get nervous when I have to talk to a parent about playing time or any other player issue.
38. I know that getting cut is much worse than cutting players, but I still feel terrible about it. I did not start coaching to tell teenagers that they cannot spend their spring playing ultimate.
39. Being lied to makes me not sleep at night.
40. I have a difficult time being happy with the state of youth ultimate in 2014, or in any year. I can always see more to do. I have to realize that I should not, and do not want to, be the one to do it.