Feb 02 2016

Rebuilding A College Program — Twice

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.”

Jan 18 2016

Coaches Steer Teen Athletes In The Right Direction

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.

May 16 2015

It Was A Three-Peat Season For Ossining

At the completion of the current high school basketball season, the Ossining High School girls team in northern Westchester County stood tall by winning the state championship. Again!

This season was the culmination of a three-peat performance, with state championships for 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and now 2014-2015. Ossining is just the second Class AA team in New York to win three consecutive state titles.

Various players (and even the coach) set some fantastic personal records and won great individual awards during this last season. A junior scored her 1,000th high school point during the final state championship game. A teammate became one of the tournament’s all-time single game scorers and received the tournament MVP award. During the season, the coach recorded his 400th win.

While all these individual accomplishments were noted, the group actually prefers to talk about the success of the entire team.

Ossining maintained a deep bench. Contributions came from the highly skilled starting five and all the substitutes. Each bench player easily stepped in for a starting player in foul trouble or when a player had to leave a game with an injury. Last year’s state title, the second one, was won without any seniors on the squad.

Off the court, these girls also are winners. The team’s players maintained higher than a 90 grade point average for the entire season.

Will Ossining girls basketball break the state record and grab a fourth title next year? We will just have to keep a close eye on them when they start up again in the fall.

Jim

Apr 02 2015

The Tools Of Success Include Teamwork

Many of us remember receiving our first, or even second, baseball glove. It got packed daily with our school books. It had a place of reverence in our bedrooms. For some of us, it was our most cherished possession.

Whether a child who plays Saturday little league, a teenager who is playing high school or college baseball, or a 20-something who is paid to play, each of us has had a distinct way to break in and maintain a baseball glove. Some players place their gloves in freezers while others fold it before sticking it under the mattress, or even under one of the legs of the bed. Other methods to break in a mitt to ensure that it literally fits like a glove include dunking it in water, placing it in the microwave, lathering it with shaving cream, soaking it with oil, beating it with a mallet, or placing a ball or two in it and then binding with twine.

For a baseball player, nothing is more personal than tailoring a glove to fit the hand. The process can take a few days, a few weeks, or even an entire season so that the glove is ready to use next year. It must feel right and it must hold its shape. The pocket must easily grasp and secure the ball while allowing the player, quickly and easily, to pull that ball from the glove.

The same attention to personal equipment also is common in the other sports. Quarterbacks like the footballs to be probably inflated, but let’s not go down that road. Hockey players fuss over their sticks, making sure the curves are at the right angles and the lengths suit their skating abilities. Lacrosse players, too, have specific requirements for their sticks. I should know!

At the office, many of us have adapted these sports equipment routines that have been with us since we first picked up a ball. Instead of a glove, or a stick, we now ensure that our computers are set up in a certain way, that our voice mail messages are professional and engaging, and that our smartphones contain everything we need to get through the day.

While all this attention to equipment is important, even more critical, whether on the field or in business, is the focus on teamwork. Without a team of talented people striving for the same goal, it really doesn’t matter how well any equipment serves our individual talents. Without teamwork, individual success will be much more difficult to achieve. Team, or company, success will be just about impossible.

Jim

Nov 03 2014

Let’s Celebrate Youthful Achievements

Before we get too deep into the academic athletic season, I wish to take this opportunity to shine the spotlight on a number of Long Island students who excelled in lacrosse during the previous school year. The players include gifted athletes on the high school level who will play in solid collegiate programs and grade school students who face daily challenges but have come together to learn and enjoy the game.

On the higher level, I created the James C. Metzger Leadership Award for Nassau County high school lacrosse. An award was presented to a player on each of the six teams that competed in the finals of the 2014 Section VIII Nassau County high school boys’ lacrosse championship held last May at Hofstra University. Each student reflected the tenacity, honesty, commitment and positive attitude required in Nassau lacrosse. Each player also possessed the ability to inspire others on and off the field.

The recipients were:
Syosset High School senior defender Liam Blohm always received the team assignment to defend the opponent’s top scorer. He’s now at Ohio State.
Massapequa High School Senior Midfielder Craig Berge. He’s at Georgetown University.
Lynbrook High School Senior Attacker Joe Grossi. He’s playing at SUNY Binghamton.
Manhasset High School Senior Defender Austin Orlando committed to Boston University.
Cold Spring Harbor High School Senior Midfielder Owen Love.
Locust Valley High School Defender Senior Sam Farren, who was a member of the varsity lacrosse team since freshman year.

For our younger athletes, I have been an avid supporter of the Hempstead PAL lacrosse team for several years. The team consists of African-American and Hispanic players from the fifth and sixth grades, and many of them are from single-parent households. This past season, only four of the 23 players previously had played lacrosse, yet they enjoyed an undefeated season by winning all nine games.

Coach Alan Hodish has been coaching youth sports on Long Island for many years and Hempstead PAL lacrosse for several seasons. At the season-ending awards presentation, he told the players, and their parents and guardians, that above all “we always are looking for good students and good citizens.”

Here is the roster of the 2014 undefeated Hempstead PAL team:

Sixth Graders: Mekhi Affrainy, Tyrek Benjamin, Nasir Bishop, Josue Canales, Lassaun Corely,
Daniel Dobson, Righteous Holden, John Jackson-Tinch, Dahmire Johnson, Jamell Jones, Kalyl Richardson, Jeffrey Rodriguez, Johnathon Rogers, Jordan Satchell, Khalil Young

Fifth Graders: Destin Arms, Najze Berkeley, Jordon Evelyn , Marcus Jackson, Jaden Johnson,
Aazayah Ross, Lewis Webb, Aaron Williams

Among the many individual award winners, I was proud to present The James C. Metzger Award to Jordan Satchell for his “strong work ethic and improvement made throughout the lacrosse season.”

Whether they are the student athletes I have introduced to you, or young adults who have entered the workforce after high school or college, the contributions and successes of our young people always should be recognized and embraced. Their achievements, celebrated by those of us who have achieved success after working through the growing pains, will help them build personal character, self-esteem, teamwork and sportsmanship.

Jim

Oct 18 2014

A Friendly Rivalry Can Be Right Up Your Alley

Not many people bowl anymore. If you haven’t noticed, bowling alleys have closed across the country. We’ve lost a number of them over the years on Long Island, including one of the oldest that was located in Plainview. It is now a clothing store.

Once hugely popular, bowling mostly has become an occasional fun night out with friends or family. But you still can find organized bowling leagues where teams covet a trophy along with rivalries among college and high school bowling teams.

For several years, a bowling sibling rivalry in Putnam County has framed rather than split the love between Jeanna Brown and her brother, Dominick. Since they were kids, the two regularly have competed against each other during practice, in high school matches and during tour events. It has been a constant battle of one-upmanship, with the older brother challenging the younger sister.

Dominick shot a perfect game before Jeanna. But Jeanna has been to the states competition four times while Dominick only went twice. While Dominick was all-in with bowling, Jeanna initially wasn’t a fan. She actually hated bowling, claiming that it disrupted her social life.

Now, Jeanna is a full-fledged bowling junkie. She just started her last year of high school where she can continue to dominate the area’s Section 1 bowling. Dominick, meanwhile, graduated last June. He now bowls for Dutchess Community College and then will move on to New York Institute of Technology. He plans to study architecture, and just maybe he will design some interesting new lanes that will help reinvent the game.

Rivalries can be good, whether they are between siblings, friends, or business colleagues. The competition challenges each player, raises the bar of success and often strengthens relationships.

In business, fostering employee teamwork and comradery contributes to the success of an organization. Everyone benefits when business is humming along. So, I urge all company owners and leaders to champion friendly rivalries. When implemented correctly, you will see improvement in the confidence and contribution of each employee. Then, all of you, as a team, will participate in many celebrations as you continue to beat the competition.

Jim

Jan 03 2014

Fordham Rams Taste Success

Fordham football has grabbed a lot of local headlines during the last two seasons.

A team effort this past season delivered a regular season 11-1 record, the most successful schedule in school history in the modern era (since 1920). That means the team was better than the days of Vince Lombardi and the Seven Blocks of Granite. All the wins placed the Rams in contention for the 2013 NCAA Division I Football Championship, where they secured a first round playoff win before losing in the second round.

While the 2013 season was a team effort, just a season earlier, when Fordham had a modest 6-5 record, headlines mostly featured one player. Place kicker Patrick Murray credited good coaching and a focused approached for his record-setting 2012 season.

Personal inspiration also had its role. Murray dedicated his senior year to a childhood friend who had been killed in a car accident. Before each game, Murray placed his friend’s initials on tape that he wrapped around his left wrist.

During the 2012 season, Murray hit 25 of 30 field goals, with four from 50 yards or more. He led the team in scoring with 105 points. He was named Patriot League Special Teams Player of the Week seven times, and he earned consensus All-America honors.

Murray also ended up on the radar of professional scouts, with about every NFL team asking about him. Since last fall, he has had tryouts with the Giants, Jets and Buccaneers. His NFL future is still undetermined.

Through all this, though, Murray kept up with his studies, knowing that football is such a short moment in a lifetime. He immersed himself in portfolio management and global investing, maintaining a near-4.0 GPA as a finance major at the time of graduation. If football doesn’t work out, he will consider law school.

Patrick Murray will be successful in whichever professional direction he points his kicking toe. He is well grounded and he knows that he just needs to remain focused.

Jim