Creating the Perfect Jump Shot From #MakeShots Players

Those of you who have read my thoughts on shooting know that in #MakeShots training I don’t try to get all players to shoot the same way. My goal isn’t to turn their shot into the same perfect jump shot, but instead, to create the best version of their shot that we can.

But….if I could create a perfect jump shot, based only on players that I’ve been able to train in a 1-on-1 setting, here are the shot elements I’d use and the players I’d use them from. Although I could list dozens, I stuck with 11 of the most important shot characteristics. We know how much of shooting is mental, so I couldn’t leave that aspect out.

IMG_1879.jpg1. BalanceAlly VanTimmeren/Jenison – Taking shots from balance and landing to balance takes a lot of mental discipline and focus. Ally faces many double-teams and the attention of defense in games. Yet, she stays true to one of the most important factors in making shots, which is to take shots from balance and land to balance.

2. Leg driveMaddie Petroelje/Hudsonville“Jump through your IMG_2798.jpghips” is something kids hear me say in training. Engage your lower body and sync that drive with your upper body. Maddie has a trademark 1-2 step walk-in for shots that really is an important timing mechanism that helped her to shoot an amazing 40% from “3” as a freshman.

3. Shooting Pocket to ReleaseJillian Brown/EGR Putting the ball into a consistent shooting pocket and moving it in a straight path through the shooting tunnel to release is vital to making shots. Jillian pockets it in the same spot time after time. That’s because of the number of practice reps she’s taken. It’s a high shooting pocket which allows her to get it off when tightly contested and in-rhythm off the bounce. Her shooting move is simple and repeatable, which is why she makes it so often. IMG_1092.jpg

4. Elbow Under/Elbow Height at FinishMeagan Tucker/Howell – Creating at least 45 IMG_5678.jpgdegrees of arc is vital so the ball “sees” as much of the hoop as possible. To do that, the elbow needs to get vertical under the ball, not behind the ball, at the “2” spot of shooting. Meagan only gets her elbow there at that spot of her shot, but also consistently gets her elbow above her eye line. If gives her a true “up not out” shooting motion.

IMG_8742.jpg5. Guide Hand ImpactEthan McConnon/NorthPointe – NBA Shooting Coach Dave Love is my go-to guy for guide-hand impact on shooting. He talks a lot about when the guide-hand should come off the ball and how minimizing that impact allows for shots to be more accurate. Ethan has a classic guide-hand finish. It’s truly a flat left-hand, with 5 fingers to the ceiling, and no pushing from his thumb to impact spin.IMG_1544.jpg

6. Arc AngleTommy Gregwer/GrandvilleCreating a consistent arc angle is really hard for players due to defensive pressure, taking shots from various positions/angles, and the power/accuracy needed. Tommy’s great mechanics allow him to shoot the ball right in that 45-degree range over and over. It’s a big reason why he is such a great shooter.

7. Shooting-Hand AlignmentAvery Zeinstra/Byron Center IMG_2986.jpgThe first shooting workout I had with Avery I told her she had a “hall-of-fame right hand” at her finish. Where the shooting hand finishes just after release is a true indication of all the other components of the shooting process. When you see Avery’s right-hand placement at the finish, with a true rim-grab, it’s obvious why she led the state of Michigan in 3-point shooting as a freshman.

8. #WeHoldFinishesAlli Carlson/EGR“FINISH YOUR SHOT” or “SHOOT THE LAST 10%” are things kids hear me say in training all the time. Holding your shooting hand online at finish is a great way to make sure you’ve completed the shooting process and self-assess your shot. Alli IMG_3028.pngCarlson has made this a consistent part of her shot. It helped Alli doubled the amount of 3’s she made from her freshman year to her sophomore year and increased her percentage to 35%. In #MakeShots, #WeHoldFinishes.

9. Ball RotationStone Smeenge/HudsonvilleThe way the ball spins through the air tells a shooting coach a lot about the player’s shot. Stone worked really hard on his jumper between his sophomore IMG_6181.jpgand junior year. A result of that work is really good rotation both in the number of spins and the top over bottom rotation. It comes from how strong the snap is in his right-hand finish.

10. Shooter’s IQ/Understanding Their ShotJillian Brown/EGRI think all players need to become a “student of their shot.” They need to know what their common make is and why it goes in. They should know what their common miss is, what likely makes that happen, and how to counter that miss. To do that, you need to be a bit obsessive about the game and your shot. That’s exactly what Jillian Brown is. She studies her shot like she studies all aspects of the game. Jillian is constantly asking about parts of her shot, what she feels, and making necessary adjustments. 

 11. Shooter’s Mentality/Swag/ConfidenceMax Perez/Hudsonville – Shooters are mental. Plain and simple. They can be superstitious and a roller-coaster of emotions. The best shooters need to have unwavering confidence in their shot. Whether they make 10 in a row or miss 10 in a row, they need to KNOW the next one is going in. It’s not going in by chance, but because they’ve EARNED the right for it to go in based on the hundreds of thousands of shots they’ve taken when no one is watching. That’s exactly the way Max Perez thinks and why I want him to take shots at the end of games due to his mentality.

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I believe every shooter has strengths in their shot. They have trademarks or memorable pieces that stand out. When I think of the players listed and why their shots go in, these are the shot elements I think of for each of them. 

If you put all of these pieces together, you’d have a hall-of-fame level jumper.

 

 

 

 

10 Things I Learned in 6 Months as a High School Shooting Coach

  1. Kids have a great work ethic

A lot of kids WANT to work. They are determined to get better. The drive and motivation in kids to work hasn’t changed, the way adults expect or interact with them has. Maddie, Jillian, Trevor, Emma, Alli, Andrew, Brooke, and Tommy have a burning desire to improve and are willing to put in the work to do it. One of the reasons I got out of high school coaching was that I sometimes felt like I wanted success more than the players did. I NEVER questioned that with these 8. Their desire matched my desire and that was a big reason I greatly enjoyed our workouts.

  1. This role was very rewarding

I know that being in the gym impacting kids is part of my calling. I loved training hundreds of kids last year from September-February. But to focus 99% of my time on these 8, truly allowed us to take part of their basketball journey together. Seeing their highs and lows, being there to support, inspire, and cheer, while getting to know each of them personally, was so rewarding. I loved the film work, as I analyzed every single shot every single one of my high school kids took in every game. I charted it, scored the quality of the shot, assigned it feedback, and divided it by the type of make/miss from the type of position on the floor. That part of in-depth analysis and then giving advice on how to improve was very rewarding and intriguing to me. What I hope this role when I developed the program was truly what it became.

  1. Pressure on today’s high profile high school athletes is high

College scholarship offers at an early age. Scouting services ranking your every game. Some kids are trying to get into the starting lineup. Others working to make a certain AAU team. Every move you make, shot you take, and interaction you have can be captured on social media. It’s a lot of pressure, both self-imposed, from those in basketball circles and beyond. You can see and feel that pressure when working with these kids. I wrote a letter to each of them sharing 5 things I learned about them during this process. Much of the content of those letters were not even about basketball, but how they can take all of those pressures, work, demands, and expectations and turn it into life success. 

  1. Parents approach athletics in all different ways

Some parents are very hands-on. They watch game films with kids, attend workouts, keep stats, and are engaged in the entire process. Others are simply fans and supporters. There is a lot in-between those two approaches. There is no right, no wrong, but a lot of different.

  1. I felt like I won/lost 5 games every Tuesday and Friday night

Almost every Tuesday/Friday night I would attend a game that one of my 6 high school kids were playing in. I think I saw 24 or 25 games. As the night went on and parent/player texts came in, it was a roller coaster of emotions. It’s rare to have all 6 of your kids shoot well and all of their teams win on the same night. So it was often excitement for the player who had a good night but empathizing and planning for one who did it. As the varsity coach, I had some amount of control and one game to focus on. As a shooting coach, I had less control and 5 games. I underestimated the emotional roller-coaster every Tuesday and Friday night would be for me.

  1. Being able to select your players/parents is heavenly 

Almost every high-level coach has player challenges, parent drama, team chemistry issues, or trouble with their administration. In my 18 varsity seasons, even in the best years and in great programs/communities, I usually had some situation of some kind to deal with. Players applied for this shooting coach program. I got to hand-pick the players and parents. I only worked with players who I wanted to work with and parents I wanted to be around. I’ve never had the luxury of cutting down to a handful and it certainly made the work more enjoyable. I was surrounded by kids that wanted to succeed as much as I wanted it for them. This program requires you to be almost obsessive about the game, which is exactly what I am. 

  1. I took on too much

The experience was great. The kids were awesome. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I hoped that what I had mapped out would be what it was like in real-life application.  I originally thought 5 was the right number and it probably is. 8 was too many. I had one weekend off in 6 months and that was Christmas. I worked 40 weekend days during that time frame.  In September/October, it was 16 individual workouts a week, which when you combine drive, planning, and data collection is about 25 extra hours a week. In-season, the 8 hours of workouts each week had to be on weekends because kids have practice/games on weekdays. Working at least 10 hours every weekend from December-February was a lot. There was game attendance every Tuesday and Friday night and about 2 hours per player of film work and analysis each week.  I don’t like to glorify busy, but all of that was a lot. 234 total sessions with players. Didn’t miss one for illness. That was a lot of time away from my family, friends, and hobbies. I love the program and believe in it, but 5 or maybe 6 is the right number and if I do it again, I’ll need to cap it at that and make some overall adjustments, which may include some partnerships and not everything being individual.

  1. I will get better at this / Motivating and supporting a player out of a shooting slump isn’t one size fits all – Not every player needs the same thing when they are struggling. Some of their challenges were mental/confidence, others were physical/mechanics, or it was even health/injury related. Supporting kids out of those times wasn’t easy and there isn’t a road map. Some of the 8 kids I worked with wanted to go 100 mph every session. Other times, they were sore, banged up, or tired. I tried to always ask them how they were feeling that day and what they wanted to work on instead of just what I had planned. That gave them more ownership and let them know that I cared about how they were doing and not just getting to work. Sometimes I was more successful than others. The better I got to know them, the more I could help. The better our relationship and trust was, the more we grew. I am consistently reading, watching, and attending things that grow me as a shooting coach. I estimate that I’ve watched over hundreds of thousands of shots in person or on film. That will be over a million in the near future. The more I learn and grow, the better I will get, and the better shooting coach I will become. As I do this specific job more and more, I know I’ll get better and better.
  2.  Hard work pays off, usually

I’ve been around some of these players for nearly 2 years. Some had success far and beyond what they set their goals to. I didn’t do enough to help other players reach their goals. Those who fell short certainly weren’t due to a lack of hard work. So many variables can impact you making shots in games and my support helped some achieve well-beyond their goals and in other instances we fell short.

  1. It’s time to take #MakeShots to a new level

I’ve stumbled upon a very good thing. I’m positively impacting the basketball careers of kids at all different ages. This is just the beginning. Big plans are in store for #MakeShots in the near and distant future. I know it’s in God’s hands and I fully trust him. Where this might go next is beyond me and I’m ready for the ride.

#MakeShots8 – What Does a Shooting Coach Do?

 

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I’ve talked to many parents, players, and coaches about the “personal shooting coach” training I’m doing with players from September-March this year.  After training over 400 players, including professionals and Division 1 players last year, I decided to stop public training and focus all of my work with 8 kids. Here is a little information about how the idea started, where we are at 2 months in, and what the rest of the season will look like.

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THE KIDS

I chose 8 players (6 High School and 2 Middle School) after getting many applications from kids all over the area. Players applied for the “shooting coach” program and I selected them this summer. That group is:

1. Jillian Brown – Junior, East Grand Rapids

2. Emma Bruwer – 8th-grade, Lowell

3. Alli Carlson – Sophomore, East Grand Rapids

4. Andrew Carlson – Senior, Rockford

5. Tommy Gregwer – Junior, Grandville 

6. Maddie Petrolje – Freshmen, Hudsonville

7. Brooke Toigo – Sophomore, Forest Hills Eastern

8. Trevor Zamarron – 8th-grade, Greenville

While I loved training and impacting so many kids last year, to really dramatically improve shooting, I believe the instruction has to be frequent and more intensive. By going with only 8 players, it’s allowed me to better differentiate drills to meet their needs, get to know them as people, and give them the reps and workouts necessary to make improvements. Each of these players has different strengths, things to work on, and personalities. Their common bond is work ethic, determination, and they come from families who are willing to support their improvement as players and as people.

I really think this program is a unique model that isn’t happening anywhere in Michigan.

The Program

The general set-up of the program is for players to have 2 shooting workouts a week during Sept/October to best prepare for the first day of practice. We met over the summer to design what their areas of focus would be and to set % goals for drills most closely tied to skills they wanted to improve.

I checked in with the high school coach of each player, sharing with them the aspects of the program and getting advice on what skills they’d like their player to work on. They shared with me the types of offensive shots/system/sets the player would be involved in during games this winter. They gave me some great feedback and direction. That type of trainer/coach relationship is very uncommon and many coaches shared their appreciation for me reaching out so we could work collaboratively.

We have put in almost 120 workouts over the last 2 months getting them ready for practice starting in the coming weeks.

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Preseason

Players get a copy of their workout after each session and a data-collection page that chronicles their shooting percentage of every drill we’ve ever done. We track everything.

Every 10 sessions, we do an entire data day. On that day, we track all shots, types of makes/misses, comparison from off the dribble to catch and shoot and look at it compared to our last data day.

Kids compare how they are doing with others as the training records for the top 20-25 drills are listed on the website.  This has really driven some to continue to improve as they are all very competitive. We don’t hope or think they are becoming better shooters, we either have the numbers to back up the progress or we don’t.

One of the most important skills we are trying to improve is players knowing what their IMG_9210.jpgcommon shooting errors and strengths are. When players start to struggle, we go right back to our fundamental drills and reinforce those key skills. Just like in games, players won’t always have good shooting nights, but they need to know the keys to breaking out of slumps that are sure to come. We’ve spent a lot of time the last 2 months on the mental aspect of shooting. Obviously, the ultimate transfer has to be carrying over our session work into games.

In-Season

During the season, we will have one workout a week to continue the work we’ve done on their shot. In addition, players will also receive film analysis of every shot they take in games. I’ve developed a shot analysis chart they get sent to them after each game that includes makes/misses on rim finishes, mid-range, mid-range off the bounce, 3’s, and 3’s off the dribble. It includes types of makes (front-rim, swish, back-rim, side-rim), misses (front, back, left, right) as well as assigning a value to each shot from 1-3IMG_9488.jpg based on how good of a shot it is for them to take. 

Kids get a copy of those shot charts along with feedback about what shooting components to be mindful of the next week of practice. I will also attend 3-4 of their games in person and we will start shooting percentage goal-setting in the coming weeks. I can’t wait to see how the #MakeShots8 performs in games this winter!

The Journey

I love investing in kids and supporting them along their basketball journey. We work hard and sessions aren’t always easy, but I try to be a positive voice and support person in a day and age where teenagers really need it. It’s allowed me to connect and reconnect with so many kids. I’m glad to have made this choice to work with the #MakeShots8 and see how helpful I can be to their games and basketball careers. At the end of this season, I’ll decide on whether or not I will be offering the personal shooting coach program next year.

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Looking Back on Year #1 of #MakeShots

I’m big on reflection. Looking back, learning, and then looking forward again. After about 13 months of #MakeShots training, it felt like the right time.

Over a year ago, I started a small business focused on providing shooting training for basketball players of all ages. In that year I’ve trained over 400 players around the Midwest, during 500+ sessions, in over 50 gyms. I’ve worked with 2nd-graders that could barely hold the ball, to entire varsity teams, Division 1, 2, and 3 players, some of the best high school shooters in the state Michigan, and even professionals. There was the first #MakeShots summer camp that sold out 5 sessions. I’ve been fortunate enough to train the children of 15+ high school basketball coaches and even a Division 1 head coach’s child.

Currently, I’m the private shooting coach for 8 select players in the Grand Rapids area. What started as an idea in a hotel room in Chicago and began in a driveway in our neighborhood, has evolved bigger and faster than I ever imagined. What was a hobby/interest has turned into a second job. Here is a little more about that journey.IMG_8256.jpg

1. Basketball void – In our area, I know of many quality places where players can go to get bigger or faster. There are great options for improving ball handling. I think there is a MAJOR void in shooting instruction. With all of the great high school and college coaches I’ve been fortunate to be around, I’ve learned a lot and have something to offer players. When you focus on just one nuance of the game and pour all of your learning and energy into it, it’s amazing how much your knowledge can grow. That’s the focus I’ve brought to shooting the past few years.

2. I’m meant to be in the gym – My Dad was a coach, My Grandpa was a coach. I was a varsity coach at the age of 24. I’ve always felt at peace in the gym. Since leaving the varsity level, I’ve spent a lot of time coaching my own two kids. While I’ve really loved doing that, it comes with its pros and cons. With my time coaching them decreasing, so was my time in the gym. That didn’t feel right. Over the last year, I’ve met so many amazing kids and families. I’ve walked into gyms in places I didn’t even know existed. But every time it felt right. The relationships and work feels right. That’s because being in a school or in the gym with kids is where I know I’m supposed to be.

3. It’s not the fault of the kids – Over the last decade, I’ve gone to basketball games and watched a kid make 7 dribble moves and then airball a 10-footer. There seemed to be a disconnect. I watched my own son walk into the YMCA and fire up half-courters or hook shots while “practicing.” Clearly, not enough players have been taught what a quality shooting workout looks like. Not enough of them know the intricate details of their shot, what the keys are to them making or missing shots, and what to do when things go bad. Past that, kids don’t have a mental plan for dealing with shooting adversity. But that’s not the fault of kids. Those are things that need to be taught and learned.

4. The evolution of the game – I appreciate defense, hustle, a great pass, teamwork, assists, taking charges, roles, screening, deflections, all of it. But the 3-point line has revolutionized the game. Being able to #MakeShots, especially from 3, has never been more important than now. That isn’t going to change. The ability of players of every size and position to make perimeter jump shots is a key to them making an AAU team, starting on the varsity, or a college scholarship. IMG_8256.jpg

When I talk to people about this type of training, it’s a little hard to describe, as I do think it’s different. I’ll do my best to explain it using some talking points that I think give some clarity. Here are a few.

  • It’s about the player. I have a model, structure, and program, but it’s not for all kids. I don’t have a business, corporation, or boss telling me what philosophy to use. I can truly personalize the experience for what the player needs. Some players need the reps and volume. Others need to get a better understanding of their shot. Some need to learn what a quality shooting workout looks like and a few need to make mechanical changes. I have players that work almost primarily on 3’s, some on fundamentals inside 10 feet, others off the bounce and on and on. It’s not about me and what I want. It’s about the player and what they need.
  • There is a unique artistic beauty to every jump shot. Jumpers are so unique, kind of like handwriting or the way we talk. Jumpers are a trademark of our lives as basketball players. But they are different…so different! There are so many moving pieces that go into a shot and no two are alike. I don’t want them to be alike, its part of the beauty. I joke with kids that every jumper has a disease, none are perfect. Some might just have a cold, a runny nose, or even seem like cancer, but they all are flawed in some way. I don’t have “shooting non-negotiables.”  I have very specific shooting beliefs and philosophies, but those aren’t imposed on any player. The #1 thing I look for, as simple as it sounds, is how often shots go in. When it doesn’t, we find the common miss and then work from there. I have a list of 5 basic things we start with and those usually give us a good game plan of what to address and how.
  • #MakeShots isn’t for everybody. My style isn’t a fit for all players. The cerebral part of breaking down a shot isn’t for everyone. The ultra-focus on one skill isn’t the greatest area of need at this specific point of everyone’s basketball journey. Other trainers, systems, or focuses are better for some kids than #MakeShots. That’s OK.
  • There are no guarantees. Shooting is too complex and there are too many variables to offered guaranteed success. I’m awfully proud of the gains kids have made in workouts and games and that track record is beginning to speak for itself. However, the number of training kids come to, their openness to coaching, and many other things play a large role in improvement. The value of my word is more important than any guarantee.
  • The work is rooted in data. We can prove numerically whether or not #MakeShots is positively impacting the shooting of players. Data collected during workouts and games is the ultimate test of the training. This work is quantifiable. We track shooting numbers in every drill, every day. We set goals for drills and track progress towards them. There is a large data day every 10 sessions. Soon, we will be setting goals for the upcoming season. Everything is about shooting percentages, numbers, and improvements we can point to.
  • Coach vs. Trainer. Those two roles are different for many reasons. Very few trainers have 18 seasons of experience as a coach at the varsity level.  All of those seasons allows me to bring something different to training. That makes me a trainer who has coached vs. a trainer. Those are two different things.
  • It’s not that complicated. Players who learn how to participate in a quality shooting workout, and get lots of repetition, will get better. Sometimes, it’s simple.
  • Don’t listen to me. Really, none of that matters! It’s me talking about my business, what do you expect me to say? Talk to the players and families. They will tell the true story of #MakeShots and its impact.

I don’t have a “lab” or a “world headquarters.” I’m just one person with 20+ years of coaching experience, who loves developing relationships with kids, that enjoys teaching, and has developed an expertise in this one facet of the game. I’m not sure where this might go next and I’m really not too worried about it. My faith, conversations with my family, and the feedback I get from players, families, and coaches will take me wherever #MakeShots is supposed to go next.

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My first day off, where I haven’t worked either job, including weekends, will be a week from Saturday.  That will be after 53 straight days of work. I don’t write that to glorify busy, but to give you an idea of how hard I will work to be successful at both jobs. So many of you reading this have been part of this journey and for that, I am truly grateful. My wife and kids have been all-in supportive. People like Noelle Brown, Jeff Tucker, Sarah and Mark Zictherman, Matt Perez, and Mike Petroelije have believed in the training from the very beginning. All of that means the world to me. Thank you!

Tips for Educators on Balancing School Demands and Family Time

Educators work hard. I’ve lived with educators for 43 years and have been one for 22. I know many people in other professions. I can confidently say that educators work hard download.jpgwhile at school and also from home. Sometimes they take that work home and other times it just shows up. Figuring out how to balance that work with being an exemplary member of their family is something I know many educators struggle with.

There seems to be a big push for “self-care” recently. I have nothing against the term or thought process. But I’ve always connected with the term “balance.” I haven’t needed a boost in self-esteem, to go do something for myself, or a reminder of what my needs are. The bigger struggle for me has been to maintain a healthy balance between the demands of my job and my role in our family.

Do I attend the board meeting or my daughter’s basketball game? Should I finish the last set of report cards or pick my son up from daycare for once this week? Since I have 3 committee meetings this week will my spouse have to wake the kids up and get them to school alone? If I take an hour to read through all my school emails tonight will I miss reading to my kids at bedtime? If I just stay at school another hour I can get the lesson plans done for next month but will I make it for my son’s choir concert? download.jpg

Question after question. Dilemma after dilemma. Just choose family first, right?  Seems easy.  Well, then you have guilt for leaving school while there is still work to be done. You worry about the email you saw on your phone but didn’t respond to it.  It’s not that easy. It also doesn’t help me for someone to tell me to be balanced or to practice self-care. That may work for others. I need specific and intentional strategies that hold me accountable for making a change in how I operate.

In my 22 years, I’ve gotten better at finding the appropriate balance. I don’t have it all figured out and there are phases where I’m out of balance. But I’ve certainly improved. The biggest reason I’ve improved is that I’ve had dozens of teachers sit in front of me and share that they were also struggling. I didn’t always have the answer but we worked on it together. We stumbled upon some strategies that made us feel better, more balanced. It hasn’t been due to a change in mindset but instead implementing those specific strategies.

I’m going to share eight with you and maybe they can help you with this neverending struggle. Some of them I’ve used myself and others I have worked with teachers to implement. Here are my 8.

1. Early riser or stay late? – I believe you must make a choice. You will not be able to sustain the marathon of a year or a career if you come a couple hours before school and stay a few hours later. Choose one or the other.

2. The power of NO – You can’t be on every committee or attend every event. All educators need to be able to say no when it tilts their balance away from home and family. If necessary, write out a list of all the things you have volunteered to do. If that list is too long, decide what must stay and what could go. Or, keep a list of the things you are asked to do and see what the balance of yes to no is for you.

3. Organizing your daily to-do list. I’m a to-do list kind of person, always have been. I started to structure my list differently, knowing that it never truly ends and therefore leaves me feeling unsuccessful. The top half of my list is separated into 3 categories, “today,” “later,” and “extra.” Only those truly today things make the today list. Those are the things I really can’t leave without doing.  “Later” is likely tomorrow or this week and “extra” are those big-picture items I just need more time to think about. This process has allowed me to keep everything on the list, but organize it in a way where I can feel successful while viewing what lies ahead.

4. Ask yourself these 3 questions – When you start to feel unbalanced or aren’t sure how the next decision will impact your balance, ask yourself these 3 questions. Think, process, and reflect before deciding to take something else on.

  • Will doing this serve my family?
  • Does this feel right in my heart?
  • Will doing this serve God/faith/your beliefs?

5. Honor Friday – Start your weekend early or at the very least on time. Honor and celebrate Friday in a way that allows you to capture that first night of the weekend. Keep next to your desk a “check-out” time for Fridays and see if it matches your expectations.

6. 1 leave early or arrive late day each week – Put it into your calendar. Hold yourself accountable to it. Spend that extra time ensuring you stay balanced.

7. 1 weekend day of no school – Checking email and working on schoolwork happens at home, all the time. Choose Friday night, Saturday, or Sunday and share with your family that you will not do it on at least that time each weekend.

I’d love to hear from you on what things you’ve tried to help you with balance!

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Why I Will Cry at The MSU Football Game Today

IMG_2417.jpgThink about things that have been constant in your life since the year you were born. Try to make a list. I bet it’s a short one. If you are anything like me, there are only a couple. As you get older, the number becomes less and less. Being with my family at Spartan Stadium in the fall is one of the few constants I’ve had for 43 years. Our family has had season tickets for over 40 years, including this one. With everything that has changed in our lives, being at Spartan Stadium in the fall never really has.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve never shied away from a good cry. It could happen when I’m happy, sad, proud, or just caught in the moment. Things that are full of traditions, constants, and tied to family? Add those up and you can almost guarantee I will cry.

When you put those two things together, you will get me crying today at Spartan Stadium around 6:50 pm. Most of that reason is what happens when I look at constant vs. changing things in my life.IMG_6323.jpg

Where I’ve lived has changed. Lake Odessa, Hillsdale, Comstock Park, Rockford, Cedar Springs, and Hudsonville. Plenty of change. But each of those years, I was in East Lansing, in Spartan Stadium, with my family. As a teenager, everything changes. Where I wanted to go to college changed daily. Being in that stadium each year just didn’t seem to go away. My parents got divorced earlier in my life. That changed our family’s makeup forever, but family members and I kept going to MSU football games. I got married, had kids, all type of changes. I started coaching basketball, stopped coaching, and now started a basketball training business. Lots of change, but not my attendance in East Lansing. My jobs have changed. K teacher, 3rd-grade, AP at one school, Principal at another, and then another. Plenty of changes. Not me being in Spartan Stadium.

IMG_0030.jpgBut maybe more relevant than anything else, people in my life have changed. Especially those who go to games with me. My Grandpa took me to games. When I went with him, my uncles and cousins were normally with us. My Mom and Dad took me to LOTS of games. I may have attended more games with my brother than anyone. He and his wife make a trip out at least once a year. My Grandpa and Dad are no longer alive. They are the first thing I think of when I walk into Spartan Stadium. I’d give just about anything to sit with them for one more game in that stadium. Now, I have the biggest constant in my life, my wife, by my side. I have my two kids who love being there with me. People have changed, but me being in Spartan Stadium didn’t. The moment just as pregame ends during the first game of the year when the team runs on the field and the band plays the fight song gets me every time. It’s when I stop and remember all of those people and all of those times in Spartan Stadium. I grab the hand or shoulder of my wife, Ally, and Myles.  I smile and cry at the same time. I’m so grateful for this constant in my life, which is now passed on to my kids. I can’t wait for that cry in a few hours.

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Back to School: 11 Thoughts for Principals

The excitement builds each day as we get closer to the first day of school. This time can be busy for principals as we make personnel decisions, attend administrative team meetings, receive new PD and training, finalize schedules, welcome new students, host open house, and much more.  As I begin year #22 in education and my 10th as a principal, here are 10 things that are on my mind.

1. Teacher burn-out, quitting, and fewer people going into the profession are real problems. What action steps can you take this year, different or in addition to those in the past, to support individuals on your staff that might be battling those realities?

2. Push back against new laws/rules/regulations that are bad for kids. Encourage your district to use exemptions against the 3rd-grade reading law. Decades of research showing the negative impact on retention are not reversed because a governing body with minimal expertise in educating students passes a law.

3. Provide feedback to your most effective teachers. They have a burning desire for it and frankly, deserve it.

4. Think about one teacher on your staff that you haven’t yet built a strong personal relationship. Ask them more personal questions during the first few months of the year about their interests, kids, and background. Take notes if you need to. Have meaningful conversations with specific information when passing them in the hall. Take tangible steps to build that relationship.

5. Treat your staff as people first and employees second. Always. What is most important to them is their families. Support that. Always. With no questions asked.

6. The way you handle every interaction with students, parents, and staff sets the tone for the culture created in the school. If you show respect for people in every single situation, especially those when parents/students/staff are in high emotional states, it will set the expectation for how people are treated at the school. Respect the parent yelling at you, the student kicking you, and the staff member frustrated by you. The ability to show kindness and respect for those with differing opinions than ours is tragically missing in our society. Believe that you have the power to positively change that.

7. Don’t fall into the trap of focusing on the “bottom 30%” or just “students who need intervention.”  Don’t just hold data dialogues or team meetings on isolated segments of students. Focus on all kids. Emphasize growth for them in all areas, not just academically. Again, don’t just use rules and regulations imposed upon you when you know they aren’t best for kids. What is best for kids is assessing the progress of ALL of them and building plans for them ALL to grow.

8. Don’t use the word “low” when describing a student and their academic performance. Stop labeling kids based on an arbitrary timeline of learning and expectations that have significantly changed over time.  First, is this professional and kind?  If that was your child, is that how you would want others talking about them?  A more accurate phrase might be, “the learning acquisition levels of this student, which are individual and developmentally unique to them, have not yet matched the random timeline and skills we have decided they should have mastered at this time.”

9. You are not great at every single aspect of your job. It’s OK. Other principals are doing things in certain areas of their work that are better than you. It’s OK. You don’t have to be an expert at everything. Identify those areas that are not yet strengths for you (my list is long). Write them down. Find colleagues in your district, on social media, or in professional organizations that can support you in those areas. Show and share that vulnerability with your staff.

10. Delegate. Build capacity and trust others. There is simply not enough time for you to do it all. Communicate those priorities to staff, parents, and supervisors.

11. Keep your life in balance. You know your mental and emotional state better than anyone. Your time in education is a marathon, not a sprint. I don’t allow the job to overwhelm me, stress me out, or rattle me anymore. I know what to expect, self-assess regularly, and use strategies to prevent the walls from caving in on me. When people ask how I’m doing, “busy” will never be my answer. This is what I signed up for and I know the expectations and reality of the work. Be real and true with yourself and find ways to make sure you are the best version of yourself for your family and school.

We are fortunate enough to work in the greatest profession in the world. We have the ability to positively impact so many people on a daily basis. If I can support you and your work in any way, don’t be afraid to ask.