Monday, January 9, 2017

Call me Coach

Dennis Schug, principal of Hampton Bays Middle School in New York and Jay Posick, principal of Merton Intermediate School in Wisconsin receive daily inspiration from our #middleleaders Twitter and Voxer groups.  They encouraged us to write about our experiences with coaching while still being a principal so here are our thoughts.  The following piece was written in collaboration by two principal-coaches- Jay and Dennis.  We dedicate this to our #middleleaders Twitter group and Impatient Optimists Voxer group.

On a personal note, Dennis has been a life saver, confidant, and coach to me as I continue my adventure as a middle school principal and coach.  Thank you, Dennis.


How did each of us come to be coaches?


Jay:  I was a high school and college athlete and always a student of whatever game I was participating in at the time.  I had great coaches who always took the time for me.  There were coaching openings for volleyball at my former high school and I was selected as an assistant coach.  That was the start.  I wound up coaching high school volleyball, basketball, soccer, and track and field.  When I hung up my high school coaching whistle I started coaching at the middle school where I taught.  I added cross country and wrestling, two sports I had never participated in, to my coaching resume.  In recent years, I have had the privilege of coaching 8th grade boys and girls basketball.  Coaching is something I consider a privilege.


Dennis: Waiting on line to sign my daughter up for basketball, parents were told, regrettably, that the league was a coach short of running an eighth team. Kids would be waitlisted and likely turned away without one more parent volunteer willing to coach. When I arrived at the registration table, I mentioned my willingness to help out in any way necessary. By the time I returned home from sign-ups, a voicemail message awaited me: “Dennis, we’d like for you to coach a team for us.” As a former teacher, I was game. This decision, not exactly made by me, turned out to be one of the best things that could’ve happened. I was a new Principal. And I was a new basketball coach. It didn’t take long before I realized, this was not something I HAD to do. Coaching kids was something I GOT to do.


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Why is coaching important to us?


Jay: As a principal, I don’t often have the opportunity to be a teacher in the classroom.  When I’m a coach, the gym is my classroom.  I can teach the basketball fundamentals and I can teach the joy and love of the game, too.  The practices are the daily lessons I’m able to teach and the games are the assessments.  But the score isn’t as important to me as it used to be when I was coaching in high school.  Don’t get me wrong- winning is important.  But what’s more important is seeing the progress of the individuals and the team.


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Dennis: One of the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher has been seeing a kid succeed, beyond his or her wildest dreams. I am proud to say that on occasions, I’ve been a member of a teaching team that’s created conditions for kids to love learning. I’m also privileged to have been afforded opportunities to teach students how to read. In the classroom, I felt surrounded by these moments, surging pockets of success that I could witness exploding at different times for different students. As a Principal, one of my greatest misgivings about leaving the classroom was the concern that I’d no longer be there to see, first-hand, when a student exceeded his or her own expectations of what’s possible. Coaching basketball would change all of that for me.


What lessons have we each learned through the Principal/Coach experience?


Jay:  There are a few lessons I have learned being a principal and coach.
  • It’s an honor to be the kids’ principal and coach.
    • It’s nice to be called Mr. Posick, but it’s even better to be called coach.  I don’t even think twice when the need arises for me to be a coach.  It’s a privilege to coach these young men and women.
  • It’s about the journey, not the destination.
    • It’s awesome watching the players progress and improve.  Ultimately we would go undefeated and win the year end tournament.  But we’re not the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers, we’re the 2017 Merton Mustangs and we will strive to get better every day in every way.  If that means we win all of our games, great.  But if not, we’ll sure get better every day.
  • It’s about making sure the kids are better people than they are basketball players.
    • We must all show good sportsmanship, teamwork, and effort, and not just on the court.  It makes me feel great when our players and team are recognized for being good sports, working together, and giving it our all.
  • You make an impact on the players so make sure it’s a good one.
    • The players are always watching and listening.  How I behave as a coach toward our players, our competition, and our officials has a lasting impact.  I do my best to stay positive, even when things aren’t going our way, and hope that this positivity can turn the tide in the game.


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Dennis: Being a coach and principal present numerous lessons that have nourished each role.


  • Both sports and learning are about having fun and finding joy in personal fulfillment.   
    • When we answer the call to serve children, we commit ourselves to this fundamental value. Designing conditions that promote meaningful and joyful individual success serves a basic need that resonates long after our time together in a classroom, a school, or on a field or court. The impact of such an experience, done right, is mutually beneficial, for both adult and child.
  • Athletics, like learning, is about making progress.
    • Each of us begins at our own starting point and moves forward at our own pace. We focus on our goals, we analyze our technique, we practice, and we improve. And together, we celebrate our successes. Today I view “success” much differently than when I first started (winning doesn’t always necessarily equal success). Who taught me this? It was the young ball player who began, unable to reach the basket, who within a season, was making layups. That’s winning.
  • Athletics provide us with opportunity to model integrity.
    • As a coach, there have been games we’ve won and games we’ve lost. But the outcome - the score - has never mattered. What matters most is each player being able to ask and answer honestly, the questions: Was a good teammate? Was I a good sport? Did I do my personal best? Modeling these qualities for our players has reminded me when I’ve needed it, that each player on our team depends on me to uphold the honor of being in a position to positively impact kids.
  • Being a coach gives us practice...with balance.
    • Anyone who is a school leader knows, being an educator can be challenging. Our time, our energy, and our focus is required both on and off “the job”. But sometimes, when we can easily log a 12-hour workday, it’s also important to make the time to step back to recharge our own batteries. Only then can we restore perspective so we’re our best when we’re back in the role as Principal.
Being a coach and an educator provides so many valuable life lessons...for us, as Principals.


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Three Lessons Learned as a Basketball Coach:
  1. Kids: Each player reminded me he or she came to every practice and every game with a story. Players arrived excited, confident, and in some cases, nervous and even on occasion, reluctant. Some had played organized sports, while others were new to the experience. Each player had a personal story and an expectation for what being a member of our team would bring to their lives. Before we could practice skills, it was always important to build a team culture that embraced meeting each player where he/she is and designing an experience that promotes personal success.    
  2. Families: Parents are busy people. Parents also, no matter what, have it in their hearts that they want what’s best for their kids. So when a mom or a dad (or another primary caretaker) reaches out, by phone, email, or in person, there’s an obligation to listen closely and to demonstrate that we both share a common goal centering on their child’s best interests, and that we will work together to maximize this mutual commitment. And when we are together, whether sitting courtside on one side of the gym or the other, when we cheer and we celebrate, we are doing it TOGETHER.
  3. Teamwork: “Knicks on three! Knicks on three! One. Two. Three. KNICKS!” This was the chant that we’d engage one another in before and after each game and practice. It reminded us that, as a team, we relied on one another to bring out the best in each other and to support one another as teammates. Being a basketball coach has served as a reminder that in order for us to thrive together, each member of our team had to feel valued as a contributor and integral to our success. It’s also proven that each of us defines terms like “success” or “progress” differently. While for some, it’s about becoming a more selfless teammate, for others, it may be about having the strength to take shots that not only reach the rim, but that eventually go in, on a consistent basis. It’s about setting goals and accomplishing them, but in the best interest of the collective team.


In conclusion…


Undoubtedly, the life of an educator is a busy one. And the demands of being a parent today stretch us, sometimes to frustration and other times, exhaustion. However, one thing’s for certain: Our decision to leave work a little bit earlier than usual or arrive earlier than normal, a couple of days a week, has been a gift. And while after so many seasons, the players and the years start to blend together, there’s one gift that will always remain.

They called us coach.