Thursday, December 12, 2019

Focus on the Big Picture - Complete Student Athlete Development

Recently Billy Jaffe who is an NESN on-air hockey analyst wrote a letter to hockey parents.  I got to know Billy when we were both working with the NY Islanders.  I always loved him as an announcer and I always look forward to Billy announcing the World Junior Championships in Hockey.  He's also a heck of hockey player.
Billy is now a parent and a coach so he brings that experience to his already vast knowledge of the game as an announcer and a former player. 

In Billy's letter - there are so many important points he makes (here is a link to the letter: Dear Parents by Billy Jaffe in his letter but one that stands out to me so much is this:

"I’m sick and tired of people talking to me how good their team is and how high they’re ranked nationally as 12-year-olds. How they only have four losses. I just laugh. I don’t know anything about rankings.
And who cares?
Did they have fun? I’d rather be the best team at 19 than at age nine. The rankings, whoever started those things; ugh. I can tell you dozens of stories about kids who were good players but nothing great until they were 16. Then they were great. "

Why are we ranking 12 year old teams?  Who makes money off of these rankings?  Why are we having "national championships" for U-15 and U-13 players?  

As an owner of a travel lacrosse club, some people might think that I may be part of the problem.  How many articles do we see about travel sports ruining youth sports?  Recently I posted on social media about single sport athletes getting injured at extremely high rates.  Kids as young as 10 or 11 having full ACL surgeries.  This is crazy!  The reason I am writing this is because I think we can all add value to student-athletes if we do it the right way. 

As a long time athlete who has played at the highest level - D1 Football, Wrestling and Lacrosse at Brown University and professional lacrosse for both the NY Saints of the NLL and the Bridgeport Barrage of the MLL - I bring a unique perspective to youth sports.  I have also been a long time coach of multiple sports - lacrosse, soccer and ice hockey.  I'm also a high school lacrosse coach and I as run a premier travel lacrosse program - 

Therefore - here is what I want all of us to focus on - FULL DEVELOPMENT OF THE ENTIRE STUDENT ATHLETE.  I am writing about student athletes but this also relates to kids who focus on art, music, debate, chess or any other activity.  We as educators need to develop the entire child - not just the athlete.  Let's help kids! 

We are focusing way too much on games and not enough on practice and player development.  I ran our town's K-2 girls lacrosse clinic for many years.  My focus on these clinics was to make it fun and to teach them skills.  I can't tell you how many times parents asked me - "when do they get to play games and not do all of these drills and practicing?"  My answer was always - "they will play in plenty of games, we have a small window to teach them the right skills early on."  Today I find it so much easier to teach a brand new player how to play the game of lacrosse than someone who has developed really bad habits over time because of improper training.  

Give me a kid who is playing other sports and I can teach them how to play lacrosse.  If a girl knows how to serve a volleyball she can shoot a lacrosse ball.  If a girl can play great basketball defense - she will be a great lax defender.  Over the last two years I have recruited two different players to my high school team who have never played lacrosse before.   I recruited them right off the basketball court and off the soccer field.  Both of them became starters for me and this past year we won the 2019 Class A Catholic School State Championship in NY.  

What is also amazing to me is how many people say - well my daughter (or son) can't start now, all of these other kids have been playing since 3rd grade.  That is so ridiculous!  I've taken countless players who did not start in 3rd grade and helped them develop into great players.  I've taken boys tennis players and made them into lax players - the swing is the same as an overhand shot.  I've helped a girl who was a great hockey player who never played lacrosse become her team's high scorer in 10th grade after never playing lacrosse before that year.   

One of my all time favorite stories is about one of my players Bridget Vilbig.  My daughter Victoria was playing with Bridget on the Island Trees soccer team.  We had left our own town travel program because we had a crazy coach who was truly ruining the experience for the girls (I'll save this story for another time).  The first time I saw Bridget play soccer I was blown away by her athleticism.  I immediately went up to her and asked her if she played lacrosse.  She said no and I said you are now.  That spring we put a stick into Bridget's hands for the first time.  We always told her - be an athlete first.  

To make a long story short, Bridget went on to earn a scholarship to The Ohio State University to play lacrosse.  Bridget then became one of our best Team ELevate coaches.  She is an awesome motivator and now Bridget is a teacher at New Albany HS in Ohio where she is also the head women's lacrosse coach.  Last year Bridget led her team to a 21-2 record and lost in the Ohio State finals.  So glad she picked up a stick with us in 6th grade! 

Bridget was a member of our first ever Team Elevate girls team.  Her class was high school graduation class of 2012.  When we first started Elevate our motto has always been the same - Elevate Your Mind * Elevate Your Body * Elevate Your Game * Elevate Your Life.  We told these girls from an early age that there job was to be leaders in everything they do - school, community and their teams.  We gave them the goal of becoming team captains for their high school teams so they could make an even greater impact on their teammates.  

Well so many of these girls not only became captains of their teams, they became captains of their college teams and are also coaching now.  Need to put my proud papa hat on for a minute.  Last year my daughter Victoria was named Nassau County Coach of the Year at Friends Academy.  She is doing such an awesome job making a difference in young girls lives at both her HS and at Team Elevate.  So many of our alumni are making such important impact right now.  One of our coaches from that first Elevate team are also doing huge things.   Chelsea Peters, who played lacrosse at Bucknell University and I had the opportunity to coach in HS at Cold Spring Harbor is now the Chief of Staff of UNICEF.  Chelsea is literally changing lives for children all over the world.   We have helped develop so many leaders.  How? Because, we never told them that lacrosse was the only thing - it was just part of who they were.  We also made lacrosse fun for all of them.  The more fun you have the more you are willing to work.  We also taught them life lesson through sports - commitment, teamwork, grit, sportsmanship and being coachable.  They now bring all of those skills into their daily lives and are taching the same skills to the next generation. 

We also need to let kids be kids.  They need to do everything they want in school - join the play, sing in the chorus, go to after school activities.  Some of these kids practice more than professional athletes do.  One key problem is that so many clubs and travel teams are forcing kids to commit more and more time.  They are asking kids to bypass their local town teams for their travel teams.  We are seeing this with travel soccer and now we are seeing it with travel lacrosse.  

At Team Elevate we have always laid out what we believe a players commitment should be.  We put them in this order:
1. Family First - Always, no explanations needed.  
2. School - this includes all extracurricular activities including band, theater, specialty clubs and sports. 
3. In Season Town or School Sports - as an example - in NY soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country are fall sports.  Those should take precedence over fall lacrosse.
4. Team Elevate - practices, training or games.  

At Elevate we  don't practice during the spring when the girls are "in season" for their local town teams, middle schools or high school teams.  We may have the occasional training session - but we don't have formal practices.  We do this so kids do not get burn out or get hurt.  We expect them to commit fully to their schools and towns.  I have witnessed many of my players going on to win County, Long Island and State Championships.  Those girls will remember those championships and their teammates forever.  That's where there focus should be! 

As a parent and as a coach - I know that I have changed over the years with how I do things.  The reason I have changed is because I made so many mistakes.  Of course there are things you wish you can take back, but most importantly we need to learn from those mistakes.  Parents - we need you to let your kids make mistakes.  Coaches - we need players to make mistakes.  That is how they learn.  That is how they learn in school too.  Nobody knew Algebra before they first learned it - they had to make mistakes and keep learning.  We need to do the same in sports.  Kids who are free to make mistakes while learning from them will develop so much more than those kids who are afraid to make mistakes and never push their own boundaries.  

We need to develop more leaders.  Just the other day, Miss Universe from South Africa was highlighted because she said we need to teach young girls more about leadership - here is her answer on YouTube: Miss Universe 2019 - On Leadership.  Even Oprah Winfrey tweeted out to her: 

We need to be teaching our student athletes about the psychology of sports.  How to create the right mindset to succeed.  We need to instill in them the belief that if they truly want something and are willing to work at it - they can achieve anything.  And we also must let them know if they don't believe in themselves they will diminish their ability to achieve their goals.  Henry Ford said it best with his famous quote. 

Our student athletes will play tons of games.  Games to me are just a way to show off how hard you have worked in practice.  We also need to instill in our kids that they will need to put in the work on their own and not just when they are at practice.  College coaches want self motivated coachable kids.  Employers want self motivated coachable employees.  How you practice is how you will play.  Make practice important and make it fun.

Another important point, parents - until your child is in middle school, you need to be their advocate.  If you think something is wrong, speak up.  Trust your gut.  If you have questions, ask them.  However, please make sure that you are asking things only about your child's development and don't reference other children.  If you feel you are in the wrong program, then make a decision to move but do your homework first.  The grass is not always greener. 

Don't let your kids quit - if they make a commitment stick it out.  It will help them learn about GRIT.   As they get older they need to be their own advocates.  They need to know they have the RIGHT to speak up for themselves.  If they want more playing time, they should ask their coach how to EARN more playing time.  If they want advice on how to get better, ask for specifics.  When they value their own ability to speak up for themselves, they will further develop their own leadership skills. 

As a community, let's stop worrying about creating athletic superstars - lets create awesome well balanced kids who will thrive in all aspects of life.  Let's stop worrying about winning a youth lacrosse game and focus on winning the real trophy - developing great kids who go on to make a difference in this world.  Thats what we really need. 

The picture below says it all.  Alonzo Stagg is considered one of the greatest football coaches of all time:

Stagg went on to say - "let's see the type of husband and fathers they become and I'll tell you how successful this team was."

Thanks for reading and please send us your comments.

Coach K

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Coach K on WFAN with Rick Wolff - The Sports Edge

May 26, 2019 - The Rick Wolff Sports Edge Show on WFAN with Coach Dave Kotowski

Click on the WFAN logo below to listen to Coach Kotowski's guest appearance on the WFAN Sports Edge with Rick Wolff.

Rick and Coach K talk about girl's lacrosse, the impact of concussions, girl's lacrosse helmets and how to keep the game safe.  Here Coach K's suggestions on how to keep the game safer for all players including adjusting the rules and enforcing the current rules.

Click on the WFAN Logo below to here the Apple Podcast:

 Click Here for Podcast with Rick Wollff and Coach Kotowski

Thursday, May 23, 2019

8 Questions with Marie McCool

Thoughtful Thursdays - 8 Questions with Marie McCool

May 2019 - Today we share with you my interview with Marie McCool.  I had the opportunity to watch Marie for a long time and got to know her really well in her time as a University of North Carolina Tar Heel.  Marie was a two time Tewaaraton Award finalist (2017 & 2018), 1st Team All-American and Midfielder of the Year (2018).  Marie was the first player to ever be named ACC Midfielder of the Year two times.   In 2017 she was one of only two collegiate players playing for the USA World Cup team.  So I guess we can say that Marie is pretty good at lacrosse!  

Marie is an EXTREMELY hard worker who pushes herself all the time to be great.  She also finds the time to help out the next generation of younger players whenever she can.  Marie is now entering her second year in the WPLL and last year she was a unanimous All-Star Selection.   She is also a New Balance & Brine Lacrosse spokesperson and sponsored athlete.  

Please share this interview and please click on all the links in this article to help Marie and her sponsors, Team USA and the WPLL.  

1. What helped make you into the great player you became?

Practice, practice and practice. I’ve always been an energizer bunny and I could never sit still as a kid. Sometimes my parents didn’t love it, but other times they appreciated how I never sat down in front of the TV! I always begged my siblings to come outside and play with me. They said no most of the time, so I went outside on my own. I didn’t do many clinics or camps growing up, my backyard was my own personal clinic. I had a rebounder and no matter what the weather was like, I went outside everyday and did 100 right hand, 100 left. Drop the ball, start over. Skills are important but I also worked hard to stay in shape. As a midfielder, it’s important to be in great shape as a two way player. I ran sprints at the turf and hated taking days off, so
I rarely did!

Along with the practice, I was also very fortunate to be surrounded by great players at Moorestown and to learn from some of the best high school coaches in the country, Deanna and K.C. Knobloch.

Watch this great video of how Marie is “changing the game”

2.  What advice would you give your 14 year old self today?

If I could go back to my 14 year old self and give advice, I would tell myself to focus on being the best individual player I can be and not practice to be better than my own teammates. I think it’s so important for young girls to work hard each day in order to become the best player THEY can possibly be. It’s easy to get blinded by competitiveness but the best way to get better is to focus on your own individual areas that need improvement and then everything on the field will fall into place.

3. What is your definition of a great player?

When I think of the “GOAT” from every sport there’s a common theme and set of qualities that each person possesses. A great player is one who is not only skilled, but is always one of the hardest workers on the playing field. It’s someone who has the desire to get better and spends extra time outside of designated practice hours to work on his or her game, someone who is a leader by example, confident and determined. Finally, great players put the TEAM before themselves.

4. If you could make one change in the game today what would it be?
If I could make one change it would be 9v9 (hold three back making it 6v6).  

Note: The Women’s Pro Leagues have gone this route and it has opened up the field for more offense!

5. If you had one thing you wish you had done differently in your career what would it be?

My playing career has been far from perfect and there have been may road block and bumps along the way. With that being said, I don’t have any regrets and can’t truly say what I’d do differently. My past experiences have played an important part in shaping me into the person / player I am today. Rather than thinking negatively about the past, I try to find the positive outcomes from my experiences and use that to my advantage. While I sometimes find myself dwelling on the past, I don’t have many regrets because I know it has all been a great learning experience.  

6. Is there one moment where you had to overcome some real adversity and if so how did you do it?

I think that at some point in life, everyone faces adversity no matter what others think or see from the outside. Luckily, I didn’t have any serious injuries but my freshman year was definitely the most challenging year. It’s not easy adjusting to the collegiate game or the schoolwork. You may be a top recruit in the country, or the best player on your high school team, but once you get to college, you’re placed on a team with 30 other girls who were the best and you have to go in with an open mind. I put pressure on myself to prove to my teammates and coaches that I belonged and unfortunately, it was mentally destroying me. At one point I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it at UNC because I felt I wasn’t good enough for a national championship caliber team. When I came back in the spring for my first season, I worked really hard to control my mental game. Rather than worrying about what others thought of me and trying to prove anything to anyone, I just went out there and played. It’s important to focus on individual goals and areas to strengthen rather than thinking about how other teammates are playing and how you can be better than them. This approach helped me and I went from coming off the bench and being another body on the field to give people a rest,  to a starter on a team that reached the national championship.

7. Where can we stay in touch with you most on social media?

8. Favorite scene/quote from a sports movie is and why!?

“I play for the United States of America” -Mike Eruzione, Miracle

Probably one of the most notable scenes in sports movie history, when Herb Brooks says “again.” many many times until the USA players are basically crawling on the ice. This is a powerful statement and is significant for anyone involved in sports. Always remember you represent and play for the name across your chest, not the name on the back of the jersey.

Bonus Question from Michele Tumolo:  I think you should interview Marie McCool! Ask her what her favorite memory of the World cup or world games was!

Obviously winning gold against Canada with 17 incredible teammates by my side! Also LOVE when Michelle Tumolo was my Roomie and brought me back pierogies in Poland!

Who should we interview next and what question should we ask them?

You definitely have to interview Taylor Cummings next! Ask her what it is like being part of the WPLL!!

Taylor Cummings you are on the clock!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

8 Questions with Michelle Tumolo

Today we share with you my interview with the awesome Michelle Tumolo.  Michelle is the new head coach of Wagner College and is a former All-American Attacker from Syracuse University who also happens to play for Team USA and is a professional women's lacrosse player too! Can you say overachiever!! 

Michele was also an assistant coach at Syracuse, Oregon and Florida.  She left a lasting impression on all of the players she interacted with.  I have known Michelle for a long time and I was always a fan of how she played the game - she played ALL OUT.  She gave it everything she had and she loved to win. 

One quick story of the type of athlete that she is was when I was meeting her at the University of Florida on a recruiting trip.  As we were doing a tour of the facilities we came upon the Florida Gators wide receivers getting some football work in with the Juggs Machine

Thats a jugg's machine on the right and it is used to fire balls at really high velocity.  As soon as Michelle saw them catching balls she said let me try that.  She jumped in front of the machine just as one of the receivers yelled - "you are too close watch out."  The machine fired a ball at around 70 mph right at Michelle's head.  Without flinching she snagged the ball cleanly out of the air without as much as a bobble.  She then fired a perfect spiral to one of the other receivers about 30 yards away.  That's the athlete that Michelle is. 

I always liked watching her play and now I was obsessed with this awesome athlete in front of me.  As I have gotten to know Michelle over the years, I can tell you that she is an even better person than she is an athlete. 

Thanks so much Michelle and good luck to you and the Wagner Seahawks as you continue to take those around you to new levels.  That's what great Players/People do - they make those around them better and that's what Michelle does every day!

1. What helped make you into the great player you became?
A lot of practice in my backyard and great coaches helped make me into who I am. I picked up a stick at 14, so I had a ton of catching up to do. I knew I had to work extra hard to get to where I wanted to be but truly, I never would have thought it would be this far. When you fall in love with a sport (like I did with lacrosse), putting in the extra reps to get better wasn't always "easy", but you do it because you love it and you want to be the best version of you. 

2. What advice would you give your 14 year old self today?
Like I said above, I picked up the stick at 14. This was such a special year for me! If I could go back and give myself advice, it would be to not be such a nervous wreck about the whole process. Little did I know it was all going to work out better than I ever would have imagined with going to Syracuse, but my nerves really took over. I would tell myself to relax, enjoy being a HS kid and just work my butt off at everything I do. I definitely worked hard to get to where I was, but to do it with not so much anxiety and worry. I'm thankful for my journey though :)

3. What is your definition of a great player?
There's so many types of great players. In my eyes, it's someone that knows how to step up in big moments. Someone who is coachable, who works hard on and off the field and when no one is looking. Someone who is able to learn from their mistakes. A great player is someone that makes their teammates better in practice and in games. Someone who rises to the task at hand. Great players make good players great. 

4. If you could make one change in the game today what would it be?
I have 2! First - Go to 6 v 6 in college and second, being able to go through the crease after you release the ball.

5. If you had one thing you wish you had done differently in your career what would it be?
I wish I took better care of my body. I was the kind of player that didn't really stretch or go out of my way to do treatment for the little things. I believe that could have been the reason I tore my ACL in my senior season. I've learned a lot since then. Always listen to your body and take care of it.

6. Is there one moment where you had to overcome some real adversity and if so how did you do it?
Tearing my ACL my senior season not long after being cut from the 2013 World Cup roster. I didn't let that define me. It motivated me to come back stronger and to work hard to gain a spot on that next roster. I am thankful that I had another opportunity to play for Team USA.

7. Where can we stay in touch with you most on social media?
Instagram or twitter! Mtumolo35

8. Favorite scene/quote from a sports movie is and why!?
In Remember the Titans when Julius and Gerry say LEFT SIDE, STRONG SIDE. Alyssa Murray and I used to say this to each other because of us being lefties!! She was an incredible teammate and player who always caught everything I threw at her! 

Bonus Question: Who should we interview next and what should we ask her?

I think you should interview Marie McCool! Ask her what her favorite memory of the World cup or world games was!

Marie McCool you are on the clock!! 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Thoughtful Thursday - 8 Questions with Kylie Ohlmiller

Thoughtful Thursdays - 8 Questions with Kylie Ohlmiller

Today we share with you my interview with Kylie Ohmiller.  If you are a lacrosse fan and you don’t know who KO is you have been living under a rock.  She was a Tewaaraton Award finalist in 2018 and she set the NCAA career record for points with 498.  She also holds the assist record with 246  helpers and the single season NCAA points record of 164 points and 86 assists. 

Kylie was also the #1 draft pick of the New York Fight of the WPLL.  She was also nominated in 2018 for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award. 

Besides being one of the greatest players of all time, Kylie also spends a lot of time helping the next generation of girls lacrosse players. 

Please share this interview and please click on all the links in this article to help Kylie in her mission to help other girls to Dream Big.

1. What helped make you into the great player you became?

In today’s world too many people focus on specialization - lacrosse becomes your job.  I loved playing multiple sports and I never lost my passion for the game.  I was constantly wanting to get better.  I would lose myself in a bucket of balls.  As a 9 year old I fell in love with cradling a ball and I never lost that. 

I always believed that:  A Stick + Ball = Endless Opportunities 

I would come up with new wall ball routines - I would make it fun and be creative. 

Even today, there is nothing better than listening to some tunes while getting lost in a bucket of balls.

Watch this video of Kylie “getting lost in a bucket of balls” 

2.  What advice would you give your 14 year old self today?

There is so much more out there for you to accomplish.  Don’t take your foot off the gas. 
Put in the hard work. No dream is too big!

Kylie is not kidding around - Dream Big is part of her KO17 Brand!!

3. What is your definition of a great player?

I would say there are few things that come to mind.  First, you could have all of the talent in the world, but if you are not a good teammate you won’t ever reach your full potential.  Secondly, you need to fill any role a coach asks of you.  Joe Spallina used to say - “Don’t be a one trick pony.”  Be versatile and be valuable.

4. If you could make one change in the game today what would it be?

I would change the eye black rule in girl’s high school lacrosse. 

Note: For those who may not be aware, there is a specific rule in girl’s HS and Youth lacrosse (not a rule in college) that your eye black can only be the width of your eye.  Kylie has a signature eye black look and she thinks all girls should have the opportunity to look however they want.  There is no rule like this for boys lacrosse. 

Even her Bobble Head has Eye Black! 
5. If you had one thing you wish you had done differently in your career what would it be?

I took a turn on fitness and nutrition halfway through college.  In my sophomore year I had the realization that I could have done more.  That summer I dialed in nutrition and made fitness a huge priority.  This way I never had to worry about being in great shape - I knew I was in great shape.  I wish I had started on this path earlier. 

6. Is there one moment where you had to overcome some real adversity and if so how did you do it?

One thing that has definitely shaped me was all of our 1 goal season ending losses.  To this day I have a different mindset because of those losses.  My mindset is to do at least two more of whatever I need to do.  If I am going to do 10 sprints, I’ll do 2 extra.  I want to push myself a little bit more so I don't have to endure another 1 goal loss.  The reason I do 2 is if I only do one more that makes it a tie, if I do two we win the game!

7. Where can we stay in touch with you most on social media?

I hang out the most on Instagram and you can find me at KylieOhlmiller17

You can also check me out on my YouTube Chanel - KO17 Lacrosse YouTube

8. Who should we interview next and what question should we ask them?

Your next interview needs to be with Michele Tumolo (Syracuse University All-American, Team USA Player and current Head Women’s Lacrosse Coach at Wagner).  Please ask her what her favorite scene/quote from a sports movie is and why!! Tumolo is on the clock!!