Rebuilding A College Program — Twice
Feb 02, 2016Posted by james

Four years ago, Denise Bierly had her most trying season as the coach of the Eastern Connecticut State women’s basketball team. The university dismissed five players for team rules violations, including four players who contributed 80 percent of the offense.

That season, the team consisted of only eight players, with one pulled from the softball team. Some of the ladies played every second of every game as the team won just eight games. Two wins came against much stronger schools. Coach Bierly felt that those victories were the most satisfying wins for the devastated team and that it opened the doors to future success.

Last season, the players who were holding the team together just a few years earlier as freshmen advanced to the Division III Sweet 16. The coach even recorded her 400th career win.

Bierly had arrived at the school about 17 years earlier. She never had been a head coach. She took over a program that had been highly successful for 20 years until it stumbled badly under an interim coach. But, slowly, she pulled the team from its lows, eventually getting the squad to the Final Four before losing an emotional game by a basket.

Even more difficult than that loss was the subsequent decision to dismiss the five key players. Bierly was as transparent as possible about the matter with recruits and their families. She told them the program had recovered once and that it would do so again with everyone’s support.

Through all this, Coach Bierly feels she has grown immensely in her role as a coach, mentor and friend. She said her fuse was short earlier in her career. Now, she has learned to handle her players with kid gloves. One current player admits that Coach Bierly is tough, but that she is fair. The ultimate tribute – “She’s made me a better leader.”

Coaches Steer Teen Athletes In The Right Direction
Jan 18, 2016Posted by james

A new initiative in New York is aimed at educating teens about safe driving. The tie-in to athletics is that the program encourages coaches to discuss proper driving habits with their student athletes.

“Coaches Care” is a partnership with the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee and schools across the state. As many of us know, coaches can have a significant and lasting impact on student athletes. We also know that first-time drivers require as much proper adult engagement that reaches beyond parents.

As part of the program, informational posters have been placed throughout the state’s schools. Coaches also received talking points to help generate the conversations that can dovetail with discussions about underage drinking and driving. These talks will lead to additional discussions about texting while driving and all the other distractions that can occur in a car driven by a teenager.

As another extension of the program, frank talk also will lead to discussions about a proper healthy diet to support athletic performance and open up dialogue about the substances – drugs, alcohol and steroids – that harm the body.

I know what it was like to be a student athlete with a driver’s license. I was on top of the world. I turned out okay and so did my teammates, but I am glad to learn that coaches now can be more engaged to provide our children with additional guidance as they get behind the wheel of a car.

Here are a few “Coaches Care” tips. I hope these are useful to those of you who coach our young athletes.

· Include every member of your team – players, coaches, managers, parents and fans – in the discussion to ensure not only a winning season but a safe one.

· Include information about adhering to highway safety laws in your team’s code of conduct. Explain the penalties for non-compliance. Secure buy-in and support from the school administration.

· Meet with team captains and assistant coaches to review the basics of driving safety and the text in the team’s code of conduct. Make it clear that coaches and captains will be expected to serve as role models.

· Attend a parent or booster club meeting prior to the start of the season to review the basics of driving safety. Stress that their sons’ and daughters’ safety, both on and off the field, is a priority.

· Regularly remind players and parents to make provisions for transportation if games or practices require driving between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Clint Retired Young But He Still Hasn’t Quit
Jan 03, 2016Posted by james

For more than a year, reporters have contacted Clint Trickett to talk about football. Specifically, they want to talk with him about football safety and his decision to leave the game.

Clint was the starting quarterback for West Virginia until December 2014. That is when he sustained his fifth concussion during a 14-month period. Today, even with all the news, lawsuits and now a movie about athlete health issues, specifically brain injuries, Clint is not interested in talking about head trauma. He knows the media wants to give the stories, as he stated, “a negative spin.”

Football always has been a huge part of the Trickett family, but playing the game never was required of any of the boys. Their father did demand, however, that the boys finish everything that they started.

The final hit on the field for Clint came before the end of the first half of a game against Kansas State. Fearful that his long-term health would be compromised, Clint decided that he would not pursue the NFL or the Canadian league.

After leaving football as a player, Clint accepted a job as the quarterbacks coach at East Mississippi Community College. He now works with talented student-athletes who play the game that he no longer can play. While disappointed that he can’t be the quarterback on the field, Clint revealed that he will never talk negatively about the game. He said football did so much for him, molding a boy into a fine young man.

Soon after Clint’s role as a player ended, he eagerly pursued a coaching career that he always had seen as his future in the game. In this new role, Clint’s finish line remains somewhere over the horizon.

-Jim


A Giant Promise Has A Fan In New England
Dec 17, 2015Posted by james

Pat McGillis lives deep in New England Patriot territory in Brockton, Massachusetts. But, she roots for Tom Coughlin and the New York Giants.

When Jay McGillis, Pat’s son, was diagnosed with leukemia, he was on Coughlin’s Boston College team. She said Coach Coughlin’s love and compassion were endless. Tears pour from her eyes when she recalls that her son had such an impact on his coach.

Jay was a strapping strong-side safety at BC during the early 1990s. He had impressed the coach with his work ethic and intense play. During Coughlin’s first year at the school, the sophomore became ill as the team played against Syracuse University. Jay’s glands were swollen and the original thought was that the young man had contracted mononucleosis.

Soon after, the diagnosis was cancer. Jay died at home eight months later. He was just 22.

Coach Coughlin and his wife were touched by the response of family, friends and teammates, and they vowed that if they ever had a chance to give back that it would be in the spirit and in the name of Jay McGillis.

Coughlin kept his word. While in Florida as the first head coach of the NFL expansion Jacksonville Jaguars, Coughlin established the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation. The foundation started with a golf tournament that raised $36,000.

Today, the foundation serves families in Jacksonville and in the New York metropolitan area, offering financial, emotional and practical support services for those diagnosed with leukemia. This past October, the fund’s 11th annual children’s gala raised $1.5 million.

A recent newspaper interview summed up Coach Coughlin’s work in the eyes of his biggest fan in New England.

“It’s just heartwarming,” said Pat McGilllis. “I’ve seen him visiting these children…and his love and his compassion [are evident]. What Tom Coughlin has done to keep Jay’s spirit alive is overwhelming.”

Jim

Wrestling With The Loss Of A Beloved Coach
Dec 03, 2015Posted by james

The walls in the wrestling room at Suffern High School in Rockland County are covered with team newspaper clippings and photos. These mementos remind the student-athletes about the accomplishments of the program over the years.

When the new season began last month, everyone involved with the team approved of the prominently displayed new addition. The words “Never, never, never give up” were placed on the wall and were followed by “There is no place like home.”

The quotes were attributed to the late Suffern Coach Mickey DeSimone, the lifeblood of the program for decades. He passed away a year ago.

DeSimone’s favorite sayings and his wrestling shoes are displayed to symbolize his standing within the Suffern community. Current and former wrestlers feel his constant presence.

“Des” was a Suffern wrestler. He became the head coach during 1989, compiling a career record 220-57. After stepping away, “Des” remained engaged with the program as an assistant for one of his most successful pupils. He remained with the team until his final day.

“Des” influenced many athletes during his coaching days. He even helped a number of them pursue jobs in coaching and education. He was a major role model in the lives of a number of wrestlers, guiding them to success in school, in sports and in life.

For last year’s team, wins and losses became an afterthought following DeSimone’s death. But, deep down, the players knew that no excuse for a lack of focus would have been acceptable to “Des.” So, after all the sadness was addressed, the team got back to work. “Des” would have been pleased. The team started to roll and clinched the championship.

Besides his coaching style to prepare his teams for competition, “Des” also was known for his sense of humor that eased tensions and coaxed players out of bad moods. But, once it was time to be serious, “Des” was deeply serious. This was the “Des” everyone knew, loved and appreciated.

Coach Mickey DeSimone certainly will have a life-long impact on the student-athletes who he considered part of his family.

Jim

A Difference Maker Who Was A Trailblazer
Nov 16, 2015Posted by james

Last month, we lost Sue Petersen Lubow at the young age of 61.

Sue was the first woman head coach and the first woman athletic director at a United States military service academy. When she joined the Merchant Marine Academy right here on Long Island, she was appointed the head coach of the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams. Her teams produced two NCAA Division III national championships.

As athletic director for 25 years, Sue expanded the number of competitive sports at the academy. During 2014, when she was inducted into the academy’s athletic hall of fame, Sue said that she had not become an athletic director to break barriers.

“I chose my profession because I wanted to make a difference,” she stated that day, “not because I wanted to be a trailblazer, but in reflection—whether I like it or not—I guess I was.”

Sue grew up on Long Island. She was an All-American and swim team captain at Springfield College in Massachusetts. She earned her master’s degree in health education at Hofstra University.

Sue was a difference maker. She also was a trailblazer. Her successor as the academy’s athletic director is the only woman currently in that position at a service academy.

In paying tribute to Sue, each of us must continue to strive to make a difference in our work, in our communities and with our families. Each of us possesses that opportunity to blaze a unique trail.

Jim

Marketing And Communicating In Baseball
Nov 02, 2015Posted by james

Few boys who dream of playing professional baseball actually end up competing in the country’s big ball yards. Millions of other boys must follow another path so they can touch all the bases.

Tim Mead’s passion for baseball landed him an internship more than 30 years ago with the Los Angeles Angels. Today, he is the team’s vice president of communications. He is the team’s spokesman and he oversees media relations, publicity and broadcast operations. Mead and his staff also provide beat writers and media with game notes and media guides, handle media requests and arrange interviews with players and team executives.

Mead realized early on that he did not have the talent to make a living at hitting a ball with a bat. So, during college, he looked for other opportunities to stay in the game that he loved. He focused on sports writing. He soon realized, though, that he could not write about failings and shortcomings of people who worked hard in an area where he did not achieve success. So, Mead slid into public relations.

The job is all about promoting and protecting the Angels brand. While some tasks are easy for Mead, he faces many challenges similar to a hitter figuring the best way to hit a knuckleball.

One example has involved social media, specifically Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This medium does not allow PR people to control the flow of information. With the growth of instantaneous postings, the Angels communications team decided to employ a defensive shift. It increased online monitoring. The strategy has allowed the staff to respond quickly to address fan issues while it continues to proactively promote, publicize and reach out to media and fans with the many positive stories that occur within the organization.

As for advice about achieving success in sports communications or any business profession, Mead provided the following guidelines: prove yourself every day, be true to your personal brand, stay away from discussing politics, work hard and be ready for the ball to be hit to you when you least expect it.

- Jim


NBA Player Returns With Lessons For LI Youth
Oct 03, 2015Posted by james

Tobias Harris plays for the NBA Orlando Magic. Last season he averaged 17 points per game. Tobias plays with the world’s elite professional basketball players, but he has not forgotten his Long Island roots.

Tobias played for Half Hollow Hills High School West, joining the team as an eighth grade student. He then transferred to Long Island Lutheran Middle and High School in Brookville before returning to the Dix Hills school for his senior year. Tobias then played one season for the University of Tennessee before declaring for the 2011 NBA draft.

Back on the Island this past summer, he hosted the Tobias Harris Basketball and Life Skills Workshop. The clinic taught young athletes about basketball while also providing invaluable life skills.

Though only 23, Tobias already is looking ahead and he is concerned about the future for the next generation of boys and girls. He indicated that these kids are ready to be molded to take advantage of opportunities and to plan for their journey to success. Too many kids, according to Tobias, are not fulfilling their potential. His clinic helped point them in the right direction.

The boys and girls came from Westbury, New Cassel, Jericho and Freeport. The middle and high school athletes spent their time at the five-day clinic running basketball drills to improve their skills, experiencing the excitement of competition and learning more about game strategy.

But, the clinic offered much more than basketball. Tobias said that every kid has a gift just to be able to play and that he wants to show all kids that they can achieve anything they really want in school and in life. He gave the boys and girls some straight talk that success is more than becoming a professional athlete, since the percentage of that occurring is super low. He told the kids that they have a huge variety of life options in and out of sports.

The clinic required mandatory attendance at sessions about career assessment, good health and nutrition, and character development. In these sessions, Tobias stressed that the primary goals for the kids were to be good students and good people, to be respectful and to hang with the right crowd.

A Luge Step For One Athlete
Sep 16, 2015Posted by james

The sign appears at the driveway—TEAM SICHLER / ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

Inside the house, a flag comforter and matching pillowcase are found in one of the bedrooms. A Team USA flag hangs on a wall, painted by the parents and two children who reside in the home. On another wall is a huge cutout photo of a boy sliding down a track. That boy is Jeffrey Sichler, the U.S. Junior National Team luger. He’s 10 years old.

Jeffrey’s parents were dedicated skiers and triathletes. Mom just missed making the national team. Their training has been placed on hold for their son, who has become obsessed with luge, that ultra-fast sledding on an ice track that seems to garner widespread interest only during the Winter Olympics.

The U.S. has only two luge training tracks. One track is in Utah. The other is in Lake Placid. After working on his skills at lake Placid by sliding on multiple weekends every month last winter, Jeffrey’s talent eventually caught the eye of USA Luge during the spring 2014 national dry land Slider Search in Queens. That event is conducted on wheeled sleds on a concrete course.

More than 730 teens and pre-teens participated in the Slider Search, but only 124, including Jeffrey, were chosen to attend screening camps. Jeffrey then became one of 40 kids to be added to the U.S. team. A total of 95 boys and girls are in the junior program. Jeffrey is slotted at the beginner “D” level. By the time he is 15 or 16, he should be elevated to the “B” level. Winning in international competition warrants promotion to the “A” level.

Jeffrey is attaining 50 miles per hour on his runs that begin partway up the track. That’s more than half the speed of athletes who start at the top. The family is “all in” for this new luger who already has a nickname (“The Jeffinator”) for his go-for-broke style.

The ride won’t come cheap to the Sichler family. The first year will cost about $10,000 and the expense for training and competition will rise annually.

The parents will find the money. They just want Jeffrey to have fun and continue to succeed. They believe that it is healthy to dream, to dream big and to pursue goals while enjoying the ride—even if it is downhill all the way.

- Jim

Lessons From A Storyteller
Sep 02, 2015Posted by james

Fans of Seinfeld are familiar with the show’s J. Peterman character. He certainly liked to tell long-winded stories during a show about nothing.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that the art of storytelling is an actual attribute of the actor who portrayed Peterman. John O’Hurley’s real stories, however, are based on a successful business career and each one offers a significant lesson about the pursuit of personal goals.

After graduating college with a degree in acting, John was unable to find relevant work. His first job was wrapping boxes for the in-house public relations and advertising agency of a machine tools company in Hartford, Connecticut. He arrived every day with a suit and tie. At the plant, he would remove the tie and roll up his sleeves to wrap the boxes, but he never allowed himself to think for one moment that success was not within his grasp. He used his lunch hour wisely, talking to everyone and learning about their jobs. He spoke with the art director, the typesetter, the person responsible for paste-ups and those involved with graphics. He learned about printing and copywriting.

Within two years, John had moved on to the position of public relations director for one of the teaching affiliates at Yale School of Medicine. From there, he became director of public relations for the Connecticut Red Cross.

John certainly did not fail in business, but he knew at the time that he was not satisfied in his career choice. He had defined himself as an actor since he was three years old. It was about time that he pursued his passion.

John relied on everything that he had learned in business as he toiled in a variety of acting roles. Eventually, he ended up on Seinfeld as, in his words, a “mock Shakespearean legend in his own mind with no particular point when he gets to the end [of one of his stories].” John’s success in television continued to other shows, and he also became part owner of the real J. Peterman Company (“I liked the role so much that I bought the company,” he says often).

Along the way, John also became a pretty good golfer. He says there are a lot of parallels between hitting that little ball and taking personal responsibility to reach the top. He says that if the ball is not moving, then it also is possible that one’s career is not moving. There is only person, he says, who can be responsible for moving that ball and moving a career to achieve personal goals.

As for storytelling, John has a definitive take on it that he readily shares with anyone who will take a moment to listen: “If you’re going to tell a story, tell it from an interesting perspective. Attack your listener, your audience, so that they listen to you.”

- Jim