Thursday, December 4, 2014

Influential Coaches #11: Steve Chronister

Previous entries: Series Overview
January: Paul Westphal (basketball)
February: Tara Gallagher (basketball/softball)
March: Robert Joseph Ahola (rugby)
April: Rickey Perkins (swimming)
May: Bob Smith & Mike Craig (baseball)
June: Michael Minthorne (strength & conditioning)
July: Steve Radotich (football)
August: Tessa Paganini (volleyball)
September: Lynn Seitz (swimming)
October: Micah Hartman (volleyball)

I will begin with a statement that hopefully this piece will provide all of the necessary supporting evidence for; outside of my immediate family, Steve Chronister has been the single most influential person in my life to date. Not only was Steve my basketball coach for four of the first five years of my career, but he was also a neighbor (our houses were roughly one hundred yards apart), and his sons were two of my more constant companions growing up. He was a more or less constant presence in my life for the entirety of our seven and a half years in Anchorage.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Influential Coaches #10: Micah Hartman

Previous entries: Series Overview
January: Paul Westphal (basketball)
February: Tara Gallagher (basketball/softball)
March: Robert Joseph Ahola (rugby)
April: Rickey Perkins (swimming)
May: Bob Smith & Mike Craig (baseball)
June: Michael Minthorne (strength & conditioning)
July: Steve Radotich (football)
August: Tessa Paganini (volleyball)
September: Lynn Seitz (swimming)

October is smack in the middle of volleyball season, and so in honor of that we are going to take a look at Micah, who was a co-assistant coach with me for two years and an assistant under Tessa and I for one, all with NCS volleyball. During those three years, Micah's coaching provided a significant piece of the foundation for the 2010 Cathedral volleyball team, which remains the best season-long experience that I have ever had as a coach.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Influential Coaches #9: Lynn Seitz

Previous entries: Series Overview
January: Paul Westphal (basketball)
February: Tara Gallagher (basketball/softball)
March: Robert Joseph Ahola (rugby)
April: Rickey Perkins (swimming)
May: Bob Smith & Mike Craig (baseball)
June: Michael Minthorne (strength & conditioning)
July: Steve Radotich (football)
August: Tessa Paganini (volleyball)

I only swam for Lynn one year of my life, but it was a very important and tumultuous year in my development, both as a swimmer and as a person. My experience with Alaska Pacific Swim Club helped keep open the door to competitive swimming for me at a time when I would have been just as happy to drop it and spend those ten to fifteen hours a week on another sport (like, say, basketball). And it helped prepare me, eventually, for my own coaching style.

Back in April, I wrote about how many terrific swimmers developed under Rickey Perkins' tutelage at Northern Lights, and how several of them went on to compete at the Division I level. With that many ultra-competitive teenagers (particularly young teenagers) in one pool together, I suppose it was kind of inevitable that there would be some friction between teammates (especially in swimming, which is effectively an individual sport and doesn't require any of the mutual trust or cooperation of a team sport). So it was at Northern Lights, and I know that I personally had several relationships with teammates that could be categorized anywhere on the scale from "ice cold" to "extremely disruptive and antagonistic." I can even shamefully admit to my attitude being at least part of the reason another swimmer left Northern Lights for Alaska Pacific, and about a year or so later, with most of my contemporaries having advanced from NLSC's Silver team to its Gold team and me showing pretty much zero interest in joining them, I also switched teams.

Alaska Pacific was a relatively new club at the time in Anchorage (I joined at the end of the summer prior to my freshman year of high school), and if I recall correctly it had risen somewhat like the proverbial phoenix out of the ashes of another club based on the east side of Anchorage whose name I cannot remember. Lynn was the head coach and also provided much of the early depth for the squad with her five daughters, who ranged in age from about nine to eighteen. At the time that I joined, I was part of a mini-exodus from Northern Lights to Alaska Pacific that included at least eight swimmers I can think of off the top of my head, who all left NLSC for different reasons, and who all (I think) found a more comfortable home at APSC.

Being a mother as well as a coach to several of her swimmers, Lynn made the pool deck, in essence, an extension of the living room, with a very warm, family-style atmosphere that would have been unfamiliar (to say the least) at Northern Lights or Aurora, the two biggest clubs in town. As I had more than a few behavioral issues in my past, it was made clear to me early on that that kind of tomfoolery simply wouldn't fly with Lynn as the coach. She expected everyone on the team to treat everyone else with an appropriate degree of respect, not just in the water during practices and meets but on the decks and in the locker room and wherever else we interacted. This was especially important because a significant percentage of the team was in the twelve-to-fifteen range. I don't know how many of you know the saying "There's nothing dumber than a middle school boy, and nothing meaner than a middle school girl," but it contains a lot of truth, and had often been my experience at NLSC. Those tendencies were cut off short by Lynn's expectations, and it made for a pretty harmonious environment. In fact, while at APSC, the kid who had left NLSC at least in part thanks to my actions and I became friends and even hung out occasionally outside of swimming.

In addition to creating a wholesome and comfortable environment for her swimmers, Lynn also knew how to coach; her oldest daughter, Erika, was swimming in college that year, and her middle daughter, Greta, was the best swimmer on our team (she also went on to swim at Wheaton, as did Anna, the youngest; Amanda and Laura merely attended Wheaton - I feel like there should be a Seitz Hall at the school). We had other talented swimmers as well, and although I continued to make no secret of my greater love for basketball (to the point of zipping over to the Alaska Pacific University gym the second I was changed in order to get some shots in), I also definitely applied myself much more to my swimming technique than I had been doing in my last year or so at NLSC. For example, it was under her watch that I mastered my open turns to the point where I was teaching my high school teammates how to best perform them just two years later.

That work paid off later on, after I had left and gone to boarding school, when I was a role player on a pair of state champion teams in Virginia. But I think what left a more indelible impression on me was Lynn's handling of that often volatile species, the young teenager. During my third summer in Valdez (2003), I was not quite twenty years old and coaching a knockoff of the Bad News Bears (guys - and Crystal - if any of you are reading this, you know it's true). When the two other coaches, both dads, simply stopped showing up, I was left to fend for myself with a dozen boys (and one girl) who were not always well-behaved, whether on the field or off. I may have made some missteps here and there, but I certainly know that I tried to incorporate Lynn's approach into my coaching, and it worked well enough for the team to get better as the season went on (even if certain, shall we say, extra-curricular activities occasionally affected their ability on the field).

When I moved to Washington, DC in 2006, I soon found a job coaching middle school girls. Now, I had coached one or two girls before (in baseball and swimming), but I had never had a full team of them, and the prospect was a little unsettling. Once again, I thought of how Lynn might handle girls, and tried to incorporate that. As many readers know, that led to seven years of successfully coaching girls at two schools and one club in the Washington metro area.

I haven't kept in great touch with the Seitz family, but being a swimmer for APSC was an extension of Lynn's family, and it provided me with both a boost to my interest in swimming and many lessons for my life as a coach. I don't know if Lynn is still coaching in Anchorage, but I hope that she has inspired a new generation of capable, family-oriented coaches who promote and maintain a comfortable environment in which kids can succeed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Influential Coaches #8: Tessa Paganini

Previous entries: Series Overview
January: Paul Westphal (basketball)
February: Tara Gallagher (basketball/softball)
March: Robert Joseph Ahola (rugby)
April: Rickey Perkins (swimming)
May: Bob Smith & Mike Craig (baseball)
June: Michael Minthorne (strength & conditioning)
July: Steve Radotich (football)

Of all the people in this twelve-part series, I spent the least time working with or playing for Tessa; we were co-head coaches of the National Cathedral School varsity volleyball team for one season, which lasted all of three months in the fall of 2009. But those three months turned out to be very influential in my development as a coach, and helped greatly the following season, when I had my favorite season working with any team that I've ever coached.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Influential Coaches #7: Steve Radotich

Previous entries:
Series Overview
January: Paul Westphal (basketball)
February: Tara Gallagher (basketball/softball)
March: Robert Joseph Ahola (rugby)
April: Rickey Perkins (swimming)
May: Bob Smith & Mike Craig (baseball)
June: Michael Minthorne (strength & conditioning)

This story might take a little while to get to its main character, but bear with me. Valdez was, for many years, something of an athletic powerhouse at the 3A (of four) level in the state of Alaska. The volleyball team was typically good and sometimes great (seven state titles, with four in a row from 2001-04), the wrestling program was strong (twenty individual state champions), and the cross-country (four titles) and ski teams could hold their own. But basketball (three boys' titles, five girls', with an additional eight combined runner-up finishes) was unquestionably the biggest sport in Valdez, as it is throughout most of Alaska. When my parents first moved to Valdez in late 2000, you could count on five to ten percent of the town showing up in the gym for basketball games, more if the opponent was Cordova (plus their visitors). Heck, I coached a JV tournament that drew over one hundred people per game in the winter of 2001-02.*

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

World Cup Musings

Disclaimer: I'm about to embark on an analysis of a sport which I am pretty severely under-qualified to write about. I have never in my life played competitive soccer, not even as a little kid (I played tee-ball and swam instead). But the "gripping drama" (copyright Ian Darke) of the last few weeks has certainly gotten me in its hold; hell, I don't think I've seen more than a few innings of baseball since the World Cup started. Don't worry, footy fans; I'm no Ann Coulter who's going to blather about how soccer is a sign of moral decay. I thoroughly enjoy the sport, but I just don't know it as well as many other people. Experts (paging Richie and Michael), feel free to chime in on the comment board if I make a mistake. Otherwise, onwards and upwards (copyright John Reimers, for those of you who get that joke).

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

NBA Draft Science

Well, the NBA draft is finally here this week to kick off an off-season full of questions. Will the Heatles break up, with LeBron moving back to Cleveland? Where will all the big-name free agents (Carmelo, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol, Lance Stephenson, Kyle Lowry) go? Will Minnesota trade Kevin Love, and if so, where? And most importantly, how long is this ugly Clippers saga going to drag on, and what will be the end result? In the meantime, let's all enjoy the deepest draft in many years, and potentially one of the deepest ever, with lots of good building blocks and a few potential big-time stars available. It should be a complete reversal of last year's uninspiring event, which featured a crop of players that might produce two or three All-Stars IF everything breaks right.