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Ten Selfies in the Graduation Line

I don’t care who knows it, but that was me running down the graduation line last month taking selfies with my athletes.  My Facebook page and Twitter feeds have every cheesy photo in case you want to verify this – it is not “fake news”.

I don’t care if you think I am unprofessional.  Because it’s my job to help our students maneuver through tough situations and decisions; and I helped this particular group to the best of my ability over a four year stretch.  It was through those tough situations and tough conversations that I learned a lot about this group of “kids” that makes me proud.

I don’t care if you think I am a nerd.  If you spent a day with me, or four years in our program, you will find out I like this term anyways and use it quite frequently.  But this group of young men and women worked harder in the classroom than they did on the course or the track.  An argument can be made that they accomplished more academically in their four years than any other group of seniors we have coached.  So call me a nerd; I love it.  This group will have future teachers, future business leaders and leaders in the medical field.  They will be changing the world around them.

I don’t care if you think I wear my emotion on my sleeve.  As I stated earlier, I have been through some tough times with this group.  I’ve cried with them, prayed with them, run with them, eaten cold pizza in hotel lobbies with them and spent hours talking about family and life.  We’ve helped each other through broken hearts, personal bests and season ending injuries.  That’s powerful.

During the first few weeks of May, this group embarked on a new adventure.  They quickly morphed into adults heading out into the real world.  One piece of paper and a flip of the tassel and four years of hard work finally came to an end.  But for that amazing group of seniors it truly is a beginning.  This is the beginning of the rest of their lives and that’s why it was a great day.

While out on the recruiting trail a few weeks after graduation, I had the chance to meet with three alumni at a track meet in West Virginia.  I spent a couple of hours with the three of them at different points in the day.  I left that venue so proud of the men and women they have become.   They are amazing coaches and are passing on their wisdom and their passion of the sport to the next generation of student-athletes.  I am glad to have been able to be a part of their journey.

Like them, this senior class will step out into the real world and have a chance to make a difference in the lives of others.  I think that’s why I like this coaching thing so much – and why I am really enjoying being Madison’s dad.  Each and every day I have a chance to help those athletes, and my daughter, be a better person and make a difference in this world.

To the class of 2017, I wish you the very best.  You are going to accomplish some great things – so set the bar high and don’t settle when you reach the peak.  Set the bar higher and get to work.  And, I am always a phone call away.  Maybe that “selfie” will pop up on my phone when you call.

 

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

Commentary on Quitting

During a visit over the Christmas holiday, my family engaged in a conversation about youth sports and when it is (and when it is not appropriate) to allow our children to “quit” a sport or activity. As we always do in my family, we respect all points of view and weighed both sides of the issue. On the drive home, my wife and I re-visited this issue, mainly because we were trying to spark up some conversation on the three hour car ride with a sleeping toddler.

Regardless of the level of the team or the sport that I have been associated with, I have had athletes step away from the sport. As a college administrator, I have had student leaders step away from their position in the middle of the academic year for one reason or another too. I have a conversation with each one of these students/leaders and always try and find out the real reason that they step away and give up their position on the team. I always want to get to the real root of the problem so I dig deep to answer the question, “what are the real reasons behind this decision?”

Alice Lee penned an on-line article in February of 2016 that was titled, “7 Charts that Show the State of Youth Sports in the U.S. and Why it Matters”. She notes in the period from 2008 through 2013, sports participation and fitness dropped significantly. About 3 million fewer children participated in sports (on average) in only five short years.

There are so many benefits to youth sports, so it saddens me to think that we are trending in the wrong direction. Alice Lee states that children in youth sports, “are one-tenth as likely to become obese, 15% more likely to go to college, and they are more likely to be productive adults.” And as a youth coach for a long time, I think that youth sports add discipline, courage and accountability to the lives of younger children. Those are things that I think are vital to all of our lives.

There was a very good article written by Doug Samuels in May 2016 (7 Reasons That Kids Quit Sports, and What it Means for Coaches) that focuses on why kids step away from the sport. He notes that some kids step away because they aren’t having fun, they don’t like the coach, feel disrespected, they are burned out or they aren’t getting playing time.

Those aren’t surprising for me, as I think those are the common reasons for kids to quit.
But I was drawn to two other reasons he highlights in his article. He noted that kids quit because “they have lost ownership of the experience” and they are “afraid to make mistakes”. I think as coaches and parents, these are issues that we may have created and issues that we need to hit head on. (Note: I say “may” because this is a general statement and does not apply to every parent or coach reading this).  He explains that our youth choose to play video games over sports because they don’t have a coach telling them what to do over their shoulder. They want ownership for their own actions and don’t want to be critiqued when they make a mistake. I can see this, and I think it’s true. As a “part-time gamer” myself, I am drawn to video game sports because I can create a dynasty of my own without someone stepping in and telling me how to run my team. I can play who I want, when I want and I am in charge of my own success and failure.

In fact, I am currently playing a game where I don’t actually play at all; I just sign players to the roster and simulate all of the games. I know, it sounds like fun….anyways, I digress.
We have all had coaches who have made decisions that weren’t in the best interest of the team. Maybe they made selfish decisions or played “favorites”, or led the team in a way that didn’t make much sense to you or your son or daughter. That can be frustrating. In a situation like this, an athlete might want to step away from the sport because they are facing a challenge that seems daunting. In their eyes, they were treated unfairly, and the easiest thing to do is walk away.

If you are a parent, and you have a child in this position right now, let me offer up my take on the most productive way to proceed forward.

It’s simple….urge them to finish what they started.

It might not be the easiest thing to watch our children sit the bench. It might be even tougher watching another child “get the ball” when it’s apparent to you that your son or daughter should get the last shot. I get it, it’s not an easy situation. But it’s not about you – it’s about the lessons that your son or daughter are learning through this situation. They will survive and will be a stronger person.

You cannot control the coach and the decisions that are made. What you can control is how you and your children respond to the situation. Rather than focus on the negative, try to see this as an opportunity to teach your child some life lessons.

Mr. Samuels also noted that children quit sports because they are afraid of making mistakes. As a coach, I want you to know that I value mistakes. I understand that the only way for us to grow as athletes and as people is to fail and to learn from it. We aren’t perfect….we fail all the time, we make mistakes and we lose the game. But we need to have the courage to face those failures and understand that we will be stronger once we have learned from them and have moved on.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

The NCAA D3 Experience

The following is testimonial I worked on for the President’s Athletic Conference to help celebrate D3 week.  Check out http://www.pacathletics.org for more information.

Why Division III? It’s a great question, and one that comes up a lot when I am talking with the families that visit our beautiful Waynesburg campus. Although I don’t think there is one standard answer that I give, I frequently refer to a few standards of our cross country program in this simple saying, “Family is always first, academics are a close second and athletics come in third.”

 
To me, family is the most important thing in my life. The Division III experience allows me to spend time with my wife and daughter, while coaching a sport that I love. I don’t have long recruiting trips to far off places (well, not very often) and don’t have to sacrifice any time away from my family to travel to conference games on the other side of the country.

 
I value my cross country family too. The Division III experience allows me to help create a family environment on our team with a diverse mix of athletes from 11 states; many of whom have blessed this campus with a vast array of backgrounds, different needs and amazing stories to share. Their love and support for each other is truly inspiring and it’s awesome watching a family develop over the course of a season.

 
Waynesburg is a strong academic institution that I am proud to work for. A majority of our majors are highly sought after and the curriculum is demanding. But at the end of a four-year college career, our students are equipped for a job in their chosen field. My job at the University is to make sure that education is a top priority, and I take this seriously.

 

That’s why Division III suits my staff and I so well; we think of ourselves more as “educators” than coaches. Our team GPA of 3.40 over the last 7 years (cumulative GPA of over 200 athletes) makes our coaching staff very proud. We are also proud of the 108 men and women who have been named as Presidents’ Athletic Conference Academic Honor Roll recipients and the 10 NCAA All-Academic Team award recipients.

 
My work at Waynesburg has also instilled in me a passion for service. It had always been there, as this was important to my family when I was growing up. But Waynesburg’s mission of “creating connections between faith, learning and serving” has become something that drives our program. Since my time as head coach, we have completed over 2,000 hours serving and cooking at local food pantries, partnering with the American Cancer Society and clearing brush on the battlefield at Gettysburg.

 
From an athletic perspective, we have athletes that compete at an elite level training alongside athletes who may never crack our top-10 travel team. That can be a challenge to a coaching staff, but here at Waynesburg, we embrace that challenge. The Division III experience allows participation from all levels of athletes. The only requirements that we place on our athletes is that they work hard, maintain academic excellence and are the best teammates they can be. You don’t find that type of participation at a lot at the other levels of the NCAA.

 
To summarize, the Division III experience has been transformative for me as a father, a husband, an administrator and as a coach. I have learned so many valuable lessons that I hope to share with our athletes in the future. The end-all goal is to help our student-athletes realize their potential in life and to show them that they can truly change the world in a positive way.

 

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

Lobby Coffee, Cold Pizza and Effort

It’s the Effort; Not the Results that Matter” – Various Sources/Unknown

I can remember where I first ran across the quote above, but I am not sure who to give credit to for its original use. I tried researching it a bit this last week and didn’t have any luck. I had heard about it while reading some information related to Penn State University volleyball coach, Russ Rose (who has the highest winning percentage in NCAA history).

And it was shortly after that read, that I knew it fit our cross country team very well.

Last spring, in preparation for the fall cross country season, I was gathering some quotes to add to a few slides for the educational part of our training. My staff and I believe in giving very brief but impactful messages prior to practice a few times a week. The quote above was one of those messages, and I added it to a slide without really thinking about its importance six months later.

Let me fast forward to the season and the day I pulled that quote out for the first time. We were already about a month into our competition and I stood in front of the team at the hotel the night before our regional preview meet.  It was one of those moments you remember because I felt like I was on a stage – the layout of the hotel was the main culprit in this feeling, because the second floor had a balcony and a few athletes stood near the railing in pajamas and listened while they ate a slice of luke-warm pizza (which was ordered because the restaurant we had originally ordered food from forgot half the order).

The message was clear to me – Coach Rose was the head coach of a dominant program that chose to focus more on effort and less on results. If the teams he was coaching gave their best, the results would tilt in their favor every time. I said something like that, told them to go out and give maximum effort and we would see how it would unfold in the morning. I then filled up my paper coffee cup (the complimentary coffee at the Hampton Inn is great). Then circulated the room making sure I said at least one final word to each athlete. I went back to my room to FaceTime my “girls,” brush my teeth and head to bed.

It was a simple moment in time, but a moment that shaped the season for me. In twenty years of coaching, I gave similar talks dozens of times in hotels and soggy fields/tracks all across the northeast US. But something was special about this one; only I wouldn’t realize it until the next morning.

I awoke like usual, around 5 am, and took a small jog around the hotel. That statement stuck in my head…I couldn’t let it go. Our team was very good, but they were focusing too much on the result. I had to find a way to focus on something other than the result. I thought the statement about Coach Rose and the PSU team was perfect, and I needed to use it again that morning. Little did I know, I would not turn back from that quote, and I used it the final 6 weeks of the season.

That statement took on a new role in my life, and it became the statement that drove me personally over the final stretch of the season. I like to think it helped the team over that stretch too. Not only did I say it over and over again at practice and before each race, I actually pulled it out during a staff meeting in late fall. I felt my co-workers needed a boost one day, so it rolled off my tongue without even a pause. It had become something I said without even thinking deeply – it was my life philosophy during the fall of 2016.

Let’s break the statement down quickly. “Effort” is a vigorous and determined attempt (Webster’s dictionary), and something that you can control. “Result” is a consequence, effect, or outcome (also Webster’s dictionary) of something that you can only control a small portion of. To me, our young and talented groups of distance runners were thinking long term, and I thought that could be dangerous.

What I have learned in my time as a coach, and what I share with my teams each season, is that someone out there is better than you. I know, it sounds negative, but we need to realize that we are not going to master everything in life. We will surely fail in our lives and we will not be able to complete every task that is in front of us. That’s the harsh reality. We might not be good enough. But that doesn’t really matter if you focus on your effort each and every day. If you give your very best and fall short, you can still hold your head high.

Carol Dweck, a motivational psychologist and author has investigated this topic and has found that if we praise effort, we set the student or the athlete up to be more productive in many aspects of their lives. By praising effort, we teach the young person to work harder and not rely on natural talent. Ultimately, this helps them succeed.

Dweck conducted academic studies of over 400 fifth graders, between the ages of 10 and 12. She found that those who were encouraged to focus on the effort did better than those who were encouraged because of a talent or a result. She noted, “When children are taught the value of concentrating, strategizing and working hard when dealing with academic challenges, this encourages them to sustain their motivation, performance and self-esteem.”

As a new father, I use this tactic as much as I can. My wife and I hope our daughter learns that effort is more important than the overall result. We have begun to teach her at this young age to keep trying, never give up and to give her very best. Of course, she isn’t even three years old, so her attention span is the obstacle right now.

To conclude, I urge you to think about talking more about EFFORT with those around you. If you focus on a “vigorous” effort, success will come over time. I know it can be tough, but don’t dwell on the results if they don’t go in your favor – hard work will overcome and brighter days are ahead.  Enjoy your Journey and embrace the challenge that lies before you…

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

Coaching Cornerstones: Listening and Mentoring

It’s official; I am branching out and starting a blog that will focus on some things that are near and dear to my heart. As a coach, a teacher and a father, I am going to use this blog as a means of sharing some of the things I have learned in my career (and my personal life).

My first topic will cover what it means to be a “coach.” I have heard many definitions of this over the years, and whether or not you are in athletics, you have done some form of coaching. As a parent, you “coach” your kids all day long as you raise them to be the best versions of themselves. At work, you probably have “coached” a co-worker through a tough situation or you have managed an office and had to make all the tough decisions. And as a friend or sibling or son, you have had to “coach” those around you at many points in life. To me, coaching is many things, but let’s focus on two key things in today’s blog – listening and mentoring.

To be honest, it’s taken me years to develop my listening skills. My personality leans more towards, “what’s next” or “let’s move on” rather than “tell me a little bit about why you feel that way.” But to be a good coach in life, you need to be able to figure out the real root of the problem. An athlete might not be performing well one week and you really want to know why. A student may have missed a few classes this week, and you are curious why they had perfect attendance and then all of a sudden they aren’t there. Or your spouse has been quiet and has been distant and you just cannot figure out what you did wrong. The only real way to find out why is to ask questions.

You might think the power lies in the question asked, but I think the power lies in the answer that is given. Start with one question and see what happens. A question generates a response, and that response is something that could help you figure out the real answer to the problem. What I have learned in my life is that you need to ask the question and pay close attention to the answer. Listening can save your season, your relationships and propel you and those around you towards greatness.

All right, Coach, how does mentoring fit in? Well, that can be the tough part. Once the answer has been received through listening, you have to help the other person “process” what they are going through. I have found the most efficient way to do this is to ask even more questions. But, they need to be directed at the issue. You see, my philosophy has always been that the person with the problem really does have a solution. They just need to be nudged to make the final decision.

I met with a young man a few weeks ago, about a relationship he was working through with his younger sister. He was not sure why she was ignoring him. They used to be close, but something changed in their relationship and he was not handling it very well. Instead of giving advice from the start, which may have been easy, I decided to ask question after question and let him reply. By the end of the ten-minute conversation, he had figured out (by himself) what he needed to do. I literally did nothing other than ask questions and help him “process” what was going on with him and his sister.

Mentoring can be simple, but it can also be messy at times. True mentoring for the purposes of helping a person reach their full potential in life involves tough questions and difficult responses. It can be emotional at times, but don’t be afraid to enter into those conversations if you think they are what the other person truly needs.

And another point I wanted to make about mentoring is to be yourself. During a staff meeting a few months ago, I urged some co-workers to take some time to think about a role model who has influenced them in their life. I gave them a few weeks to think about that person, jot down a few reasons why they were a mentor and asked them to bring a photograph so the rest of the group could see the person. For me, this was an eye-opening experience and I took a few things away from that exercise that I think are important for us all.

There is no perfect mentoring or leading style. You don’t have to go to a conference on leadership to learn leadership skill; just go into each situation with the goal of helping the other person and let your instincts take over. Just be you; I am sure it will be good enough.

Mentorship can be reactionary in many situations. You may make the choice to mentor someone around you, and that is a great thing. But in many cases, you are mentoring “on the fly.” That’s because mentoring is reactionary. For me, that’s what I find as the most rewarding part of my job on a college campus. Every person that walks through my door brings a different issue, and it is exhilarating at times to be able to help them navigate through the problem and work toward a solution.

You will be called to mentor or lead in untraditional situations and circumstances. Sure, there are jobs or positions in life that are more suitable for mentoring. A teacher, parent, coach or a minister come to mind first because they have direct access to youth and they are in a setting to make an immediate and measurable impact. But you can make an impact in other ways. It’s hard for us to believe sometimes, but we are mentoring without even knowing it through the modeling of good behavior. You are mentoring someone right now, and you may not even be aware of it. Take a few minutes to think about it…there is someone in your life who is watching you and probably trying to model your behavior. I bet if you think hard enough a few examples will come to mind. Maybe it’s the waitress at the local diner, a co-worker at the office or the elderly neighbor you meet at the mailbox each morning. These are all untraditional settings, but they are powerful moments of mentorship none the less.

We have officially circled back now to the initial topic of what it means to me to be a “coach.” I started athletic coaching in 1996, and it has been a remarkable journey so far. I have transformed as a person through those two decades and feel I have much more to learn in the next 20 years. But for me, two things have remained consistent through the years: I love the challenge that this profession provides and I want to make a difference in the lives of others. That will never change.

Enjoy your Journey and embrace the challenge that lies before you…..

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University.  You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

Called to Coach Our Athletes Character

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

This isn’t really my first blog, but I thought I would clear up the name for you a bit.  Called to Coach is actually the shortened way of saying “Called to Coach Our Athletes Character”.  If you use the “C” in Coach, the “O” in Our, the “A” in Athletes and the “CH” in Character you get the word COACH.

I look forward to posting a monthly blog focusing on things related to coaching and how we can help build character in all of those around us (regardless of if they play a sport or not).  The goal is to make the world a better place!

The first “real” blog will be posted very shortly.

Embrace the challenge that lies before you…..

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University.  You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.