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Featured Series: The ‘Miracle’ Behind Herb Brooks’s Miracle On IceMonday, September 29th, 2014

by Charlie Adams, StokeTheFireWithin.com

It is often said that you cannot win without outstanding athletes, but never underestimate the importance of coaching and recruiting.

After Herb Brooks led the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey team past the Soviets 4-3 and to the gold, the legendary Anatoli Tarasov – one of the founders of the Soviet hockey dynasty – said this: “The line up of the 1980 Olympic champions – not so impressive. A couple of classy defensemen, about five individually strong forwards – and that is all. But the trump card for the U.S. team this time was its coach Herb Brooks.”

In sports history, Tarasov is like John Wooden. When he would speak, all would listen.

Historians have said none of the 20 U.S. players would have made the Soviet roster, yet Herb won with them. In my teambuilding sessions for
college programs, I share in depth how he did it, and one of the things he did was go to the head of the Psychology Dept at the University of Minnesota and have him prepare a 300 question questionaire for the prospective players. None of the questions had anything to do with sports, but more about how they could handle stress and change. Herb wanted players who could deal with pressure and embrace the total shift in playing style he would teach them over seven months. He also wanted young men who could take advantage of opportunities.

In the seven games at Lake Placid, the team was brilliant when it came to seizing opportunities. In game one vs Sweden, they trailed by a goal with a minute to go. A loss and medal hopes were slim and none. Herb pulled goalie Jim Craig with less than a minute to go to get another skater on the ice. With half a minute to go Bill Baker, now an oral surgeon, scored.

In the historic game vs the Soviets, Team USA was out shot 39-16 but took advantage of opportunities. With :05 to go in the first period Mark Johnson saw the Soviet defenders and goalie Vladisav Tretiak relax a bit anticipating the end of the period. Johnson soared at the puck like a bullet. Why? Because in the pre game speech Herb had told them they were born to be hockey players and meant to be there that night. Mark believed that it had been written in a book centuries ago that he was meant to be there, so the fired at the puck and scored with :01 to go. The goal so rattled the Soviet coach that he pulled Tretiak – one of, if not the greatest goalies ever – for the rest of the game.

Herb recruited and molded not the best college and amateur players in the nation, but the right players. The nation’s leading college scorer was not on his team. Herb wanted a team of players with a bucketfull of working class gumption and flying skates. Like many of you today, he knew the value of speed.

While it is important to give great respect to players and you can’t win without great and special ones, Tarasov makes it clear that the coaching, mind games, and drive of Herb Brooks was the main reason they won that year.

One resource I suggest for you is the book America’s Coch by Ross Bernstein. It is filled with insights on how Herb did it, and also includes transcripts from many of his motivational talks. There is more info at bernsteinbooks.com

In my on site college team building seminars, I share step by step how that team made history and earned the honor of the greatest U.S. sports accomplishment of the 20th century.

hockey herb book

 Charlie can be reached at charlie@stokethefirewithin.com(574) 807 2279 or at his site stokethefirewithin.com



Featured Series: The ‘Miracle’ Behind Herb Brooks’s Mircale On IceMonday, September 22nd, 2014

by Charlie Adams, StokeTheFireWithin.com

We lost the first of the 20 heroes that were on the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey team.

Bob Suter died earlier this month of a heart attack at age 57. He was doing what he loved best as he was coaching youth hockey at the facility he owned in his native Madison, Wisconsin.

In putting together that 1980 team that would stun the Soviets 4-3 in Lake Placid, Herb was looking for tough guys like Suter. Mike Eruzion nicknamed him Bam Bam, from the character from the Flintstones. He said Suter was always ‘bamming’ into someone. Other teammates called him Woody because he was like a wood duck, always bouncing back up.

As you recruit players, people like Bob Suter are who you want to win championships. Three months before the Games in Lake Placid, Suter broke his ankle. While he wasn’t at full speed, Herb kept him on his team because of his fire within and his toughness. When a Czech player cheap shotted Team USA’s top offensive player Mark Johnson in the second game of the Olympics, Brooks sent Bam Bam out to “deal with” the Czech player. As Brooks built teams, everyone had a role, and part of Suter’s role was to take care of such matters. It was the same with Mark Wells, who was the 20th and last man to make that roster. With the score tied with the Soviets 3-3 with ten minutes left on that fateful night of February 22nd, 1980, Brooks sent Wells out to agitage Soviet star Valeri Kharmalouv.

In recruiting, you are obviously focused on building a team and program that wins games and championships. However we can never lose sight of what’s really important is to recruit and develop young men and women that turn into people like Bob Suter. He was a standout at the University of Wisconsin, leading them to a National Championship. He was on the 1980 Olympic gold medal team, but what many will remember him most for is the impact on youth hockey in Wisconsin. Eurozione told the media recently that with respect to all his gold medal teammates, no one did more for youth hockey than Suter. His hockey programs at his facility impacted thousands, and sent several to the NHL.

They could not find a Lutheran Church big enough to hold his funeral. The waiting time to pay respects the day before was over four hours.

Suter never played NHL although he could have gone to that level. He wanted to get on to other things in his life like his sporting goods story and his hockey building. His son Ryan, a star for the Minnesota Wild, has never seen the 1980 game because decades ago his Dad lent it to someone and it never returned. Suter didn’t mind, as he had moved forward.

I will continue to write about the greatest sports moment and team of the 20th century, and I hope these insights help you not only in recruiting but in coaching. Herb Brooks was a genius. His players were very special. What they did should never be forgotten, and that is the purpose of my team building seminar I deliver on site to college athletics programs.

Charlie can be reached at charlie@stokethefirewithin.com(574) 807 2279 or at his site stokethefirewithin.com

Featured Series: The ‘Miracle’ Behind Herb Brooks’s Miracle On IceMonday, September 15th, 2014

Charlie1015by Charlie Adam, StokeTheFireWithin.com

College coaches at every level face obstacles in recruiting and in building and sustaining programs.

Herb Brooks faced remarkable challenges in building the 20 man roster that would win Olympic Gold in February of 1980.

First of all, some elite college players didn’t even try out because why would they want a shot at bronze at best and endure getting annihilated by the Soviet team that was the best team in hockey history. The Soviet team had beat the NHL All Stars 6-0 the year before and used their back up
goalie the whole game.

Just like you have some recruits that won’t give you the time of day, Herb focused on the ones he could get. Chances are those others wouldn’t have had the mental toughness he was looking for anyways. Remember, all along Herb wasn’t looking for the best players. He was looking for the right players. Jim Craig, the goalie who played every second, was rated by some pro prospects as maybe the 5th best goalie in college yet it would be Craig that would stop 36 of 39 Soviet shots that historic night of Feb. 22nd, 1980.

In September of 1979 Herb faced the challenge of NHL player agents trying to talk some of his 26 players (he would whittle it to 20) into giving up that Olympic pipe dream and sign pro. To counter it, Herb scheduled a month of exhibition games in Europe in September. He knew NHL Camps would be starting then. His European tour served several purposes. It kept the players away from the agents and also allowed them to play on international sized ice rinks.

While he was okay with some college stars not trying out Herb knew there were certain players he had to have or it didn’t matter how well he coached. It’s just like there are certain recruits you really need to build a program. One of the players was 6’4″ defenseman Ken Morrow of Bowling Green University. Herb REALLY wanted him. The challenge was Herb had a strict no facial hair while coaching at the University of Minnesota and with the Olympics. Morrow had a big ol’ beard. Herb was worried that if he asked Morrow to shave it, Morrow might go pro). Herb adjusted. He adjusted his policy to ‘existing facial hair is fine – no new facial hair.’

As Herb was molding the team over the 7 month training process leading to Lake Placid, he would have the team play a whopping 61 exhibition games. You have budget challenges. So did Herb. One of the reasons he played all those games was to finance this whole thing. They never had fancy facilities or transportation along the way, but sometimes you develop better as a team with salt of the earth equipment. They were playing exhibition games in northern Minnesota in snow storm season. They were in this small plane leaving one city when the plane lifted up, clipped a tree, and had to land. The plane could not go backwards, so the whole team got out and pushed it all the way back to the start of the runway. They were saying, “Can you believe this?” as they laughed. Things like that helped blur the borders of the Minnesota vs Boston area player rivalry that had been going on.

In my team building workshop for college coaches and players, I share many more of the challenges and solutions that Herb faced and solved over that historic run in 1979 and 1980. Many feel it was the greatest coaching job in American sports history. Herb faced challenges, just like you. He still was able to recruit and build the team that would achieve the greatest sports moment of the century.

He always said, “Don’t be common. The common person goes nowhere. Be uncommon.” Don’t be common with your recruiting. Be uncommon. Utilize the powerful methods Dan Tudor and his team have developed, and you could very well build a team that goes down in history like the 1980 US Olympic hockey team.

I want to close this week by dedicating this article to the memory of Bob Suter. We lost our first member of the 20 man team this week. Bob, a defenseman on that team, died this past week of a heart attack at age 57. He was working at the rink he owned in Wisconsin. Bob had helped so many kids grow as hockey players and as people over the years. He taught at the rink, coached, cleaned the bathrooms, ran the front desk, and on and on. He had a life motto of “It’s all about the kids.” Rest in peace, Bob.

Charlie can be reached at charlie@stokethefirewithin.com(574) 807 2279 or at his site stokethefirewithin.com


Featured Series: The ‘Miracle’ Behind Herb Brooks’s Miracle On IceMonday, September 8th, 2014

by Charlie Adams, StokeTheFireWithin.com

Before becoming the 1980 US Olympic hockey coach, Herb Brooks was head hockey coach at the University of Minnesota from 1972-79. They were last place in the Conference when he took over and winners of 3 NCAA championships in the seven years.

Brooks was passionate about recruiting. He and his staff worked hard on it and it paid off. Herb identified Neal Broten as a primary recruit as Neal was going into high school. Herb would later say Neal was the best 9th grade hockey player he had ever seen. For three years Herb had his assistant go to northern Minnesota every week to watch Neal play. Three straight years.

It paid off as Neal signed a scholarship with Minnesota. In his freshman year he broke the Gophers’ assist record and scored the winning goal in the 1979 NCAA championship. Herb would later say that Neal was the best player he ever coached at Minnesota.

Neal would later win the inaugural Hobey Baker Award as the best player in the country. After winning he said that it should’ve gone to his brother Aaron, who had a better season. Aaron was also a remarkable player for the Gophers.

Herb created a dynasty at Minnesota and then made the run to the Gold at the 1980 Games by recruiting top talent and recruiting for values. Values like the humility Neal Broten had when he honestly said his brother should have won the player of the year award. Neal was incredibly talented but so well liked by his teammates because he was always looking to set them up for scores and never got the big head.

Neal is the only hockey player ever to win a NCAA title, Olympic gold medal, Hobey Baker Award, and Stanley Cup. Players of talent and character like that are the ones you identify early and recruit hard, because they are the program changers. The Minnesota staff stayed on him hard for three years as Herb was ahead of his time. Even back in the ’70’s he would identify talent early and take dead aim on it.

Charlie can be reached at charlie@stokethefirewithin.com(574) 807 2279 or at his site stokethefirewithin.com

Featured Series: The ‘Miracle’ Behind Herb Brooks’s Miracle On IceMonday, August 25th, 2014

by Charlie Adams, StokeTheFireWithin.com

The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team and their upset of the mighty Soviets on their way to Gold was named the greatest sports moment of the century. I will be writing regularly here on how coach Herb Brooks put together that team, his recruiting as a college coach, and lessons we can learn from him and the miracle on ice.

When Herb Brooks took over as head coach of the University of Minnesota hockey program in 1972, they were last place in their conference. They had gone 8-24 the year before he came aboard. He coached them to a 15-16-3 record in his first year and, get this, guided them to 3 NCAA D1 national championships in the next 7 years!

Although many college hockey powers got their players from Canada back in the 1970’s, Herb made the decision to recruit only Minnesota players. While they may not have had the skill, he recruited for toughness and loyalty. He also knew kids from Minnesota would care more about representing their state University.

In Ross Bernstein’s book, America’s Coach, Don Micheletti shares the story of when Herb was recruiting him. Herb first offered him a half scholarship. Don told Herb that Colorado College had offered him a full, but that playing for Minnesota meant so much he would take the half. Herb smiled and said he had a full scholarship for him the whole time but he wanted to see how badly Don wanted to be a Gopher. 

Herb was big on home visits. He watched carefully to see how players acted around their parents. Values. He wanted kids with values. He was big on kids that had been captains in high school. He was big on muscle as he liked his teams to have an intimidating feel to them.

Herb knew it would take a couple of recruiting classes to take the program to new levels, but from day one he told his current players they could learn to get tougher immediately.

In future articles here, I will share how he recruited and put together the 1980 Miracle on Ice team. For now, I will end with this story of one of the kids he recruited at Minnesota. The team had a stretch where Herb told the players there would be no going out and certainly no beer. A player named Jim Boo had a Dad who came to town. They decided to go out to a pub near the hotel for some brews. The waitress came over with a beer and said it was for Jim and paid for by a customer. Jim thought it had to be a pretty lady, as he was a good looking hockey player. Well, he looked across to the bar and there was Herb Brooks staring at him. Herb had a look that would go through you forever.

Jim gulped. Herb walked over and said he would see him at the rink at 6 am the next morning. For two hours, Herb skated Jim to the brink of annihilation. There was throw up all over the place. Finally, Herb skated over to the slumping player and said, “How’s that beer tasting now?”

Motivational Speaker Charlie Adams delivers his More Than a Miracle program to college coaches and athletes. He explains how the 1980 Miracle on Ice was not so much a miracle as it was work ethic, remarkable vision and leadership, commitment to change, commitment to team, and perseverance.
Charlie can be reached at StokeTheFireWithin.com and at charlie@stokethefirewithin.com

The Ups and Downs Of Being RecruitedFriday, April 11th, 2014

by Charlie Adams, StokeTheFireWithin.com

I sat down for an extremely insightful conversation with the parents of a young lady who has signed with Division 1 University of San Diego to play college basketball. Over lunch and beyond, Jeff and Patty Buhr took me behind the scenes on how their daughter Caroline ended up connecting with an athletic scholarship at an outstanding school located in paradise, and what college coaches to stand out from others in the recruiting.

“Relief,” was the first word Patty said when we sat down at The Vine restaurant in South Bend to go over their recruiting process. They had put maximum effort into recruiting, and along the way had seen plenty of highs and lows!

Their 12th grade daughter Caroline recently was named to the prestigious Indiana All Star team. She was a 4 year prime performer for PennHigh School, leading them to the 4A state title game this past March. As a sophomore she set a school record by making 64% of her shots. At 6’1″ and athletic and skilled from an early age, she learned that Mid-majors like BallState were interested in her as early as 8th grade. It was after a summer showcase event before 9th grade that the interest increased with Big Ten schools like Penn State and Michigan showing a lot of interest.

Caroline really liked Michigan and their coach Kevin Borseth, but he went back to be coach at Green Bay. Along the way, the Buhr’s would experience multiple occasions of developing relationships with coaching staffs only to see them get let go or take a new position at another school, which was frustrating. They also found it hard at times to know if coaches were up front with them about where Caroline stood on their recruiting lists.

“Iowa was very good at being up front,” said Jeff. “They said, regarding visiting, that they were pretty sure they would offer but they weren’t there yet and they didn’t want us to make the effort to visit and expect an offer when they were not ready to so.”

As the high school years went along, they sometimes found that Caroline would be a back up offer in case a more highly rated player picked another school. Other times she would be the number one target of a school where they really wanted her. They also learned that despite the enthusiasm of what assistant coaches were telling them about probable upcoming scholarship offers, the head coach made the recruiting decisions and sometimes didn’t agree with the assistant’s view of Caroline.

From an early age, Caroline has had an adventurous spirit and dreamed of signing with a California school like PepperdineUniversity (being located right off MalibuBeach was attractive!). She dreamed of becoming an orthodontist, and living on a ranch with her own vineyard. Then the summer before her junior year, a local connection with a Stanford coach put Caroline on Stanford’s radar screen and she was invited to come to their Elite camp. It was a great opportunity and an even greater experience.

“She went in the summer for a long and rather intensive camp”, said Jeff. “I spent some time with the head coach and lead assistant coach and she flat out told me that no doubt Caroline could play at Stanford but they had a number of players in their recruiting hopper. Every school has their needs. They told us they needed two ‘bigs’. If they could get them, they could focus on Caroline. Another thing regarding top academic schools like Stanford is it takes time for the school to sort out which recruits can actually meet their higher academic standards. And if you are lower on their list, you are stuck waiting to see what other recruits fall off the list for whatever reasons, academic, choice, etc.”

“If you are trying to get a scholarship with a top academic school,” said Patty, “you need to do as best you can on the SAT or ACT as early as you can. Some kids test better than others. Caroline is smart, but she doesn’t test that great. She just needed coaching on how to better take these tests. With Caroline we did Sylvan Test Prep for the ACT. We focused on the ACT as we had heard that the ACT is a better test for math/science oriented students, compared to the SAT.  Sylvan had her do a practice test to identify areas of weakness, and this really helped her to know what to study to be prepared for the test. She went two to three times a week for a month, and the results were good enough for schools she was considering.”

Being strong in the classroom and on the basketball court helped Caroline attract interest. She also was a very good soccer player. “I think soccer success and being a good athlete in general was her biggest asset,” said Jeff. “Her grades were also a big plus for her in the process, especially for the schools she was interested in.” Once she got her standardized test score up, she could get in just about any school she wanted.

After a strong 10th grade year of high school ball, Caroline was playing in a summer showcase just before her junior year with coaches from Oklahoma State, Michigan, Indiana, Stanford and mid-majors watching her specifically. “They were right there courtside and she was playing SO well,” said Patty. Unfortunately, she tore her ACL on that last Exposure day.  It was an injury that cost her almost all of her junior season. She was able to return to play in the final four games of the season, but her minutes were limited as she was not 100% ready to go.

Many schools did not know of her injury so on September 1st of her junior year, the first day college programs could personally write her, she got over 50 letters.  “There were many big programs in the bunch,” said Jeff, ” including a hand written letter from the head coach at Stanford, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Penn State, Northwestern, Iowa State, Cal, Wake Forest, Oklahoma State, and more. I have a picture of the 50 letters all laid out so you can see them together. It was overwhelming and she continued to get 15 to 20 letters a day for a year. ”

However, as programs learned of her injury she received encouraging letters about their continued interest in her, but a lot of their recruiting fell by the wayside.  While some major D1s stayed interested, she shifted to more of a mid-major recruit at the D1 level. “At the end of the day,” said Jeff, “it was back to the mid-majors.”

Jeff and Patty said the one positive thing about being injured  was that it allowed time for college visits that fall, winter and early spring of her junior year. They sat down with her and made a list of the top 20 schools she was interested in and then the top ten. They visited every one of the top ten. Caroline was pretty picky in what she was looking for at the next level. She wanted to get away from home; her older sisters had gone to college in state. She wanted a strong academic school. Miami of Ohio became a leading contender as their coaches were there for her from the start, even after the injury, and she liked the school. However, in the spring of her junior year, the coaching staff was let go and new relationships had to be developed with the new coaches. The new head coach told them he wanted to see her at a camp and after watching her there he would either offer her, not offer her, or tell her that they just need to “watch her more” that summer.

“No pressure!” said Patty, with a smile.

But she did what they wanted and got a scholarship offer from the new coach. The other thing the head coach said that resonated with them was that he wanted the players he signed to have a passion for playing there and to bleed Miami. That is a good thing because the happiest recruits are the ones that really, really want to play for a school and have many reasons why.

“We really listened to that because while Caroline really liked Miami,” said Jeff, “she had always wanted to go somewhere totally ‘out of the box’ and out of the Midwest. As time went on she wondered if she had that burning passion for being at Miami of Ohio like the coach wanted his recruits to have.”

They had a very good visit to Dayton and appreciated how their coach was very honest in saying there was a local recruit they liked more but that Caroline was next to her on their list. They had only one opening for their Class of 2014 recruits and Patty was concerned it would be difficult being the only player in a grade. Caroline didn’t mind that much, but in the end Dayton wasn’t a fit.

At this point, Miami of Ohio was the leader. Then, the University of Toledo came into play. Their coaches wanted her in the worst way and had kept in close contact since the injury. The Buhr’s took a visit and really liked the atmosphere at the game and the coaching staff. Toledo draws very well and they have many supportive fans. Then the coaches did something that really sold them on Toledo. They encouraged Jeff, Patty and Caroline to go into the post game locker room and ask the players anything about the program, the coaches, the school. Anything.

“So we are in there around these sweaty players in a roundtable discussion where nothing was sacred not to ask,” said Patty. “I left there so impressed the coaches had faith to do that, and the players had all kinds of good things to say about what it was like to play for Toledo and that coaching staff. You could tell they were having fun and were part of a tight program.”

Jeff compared that to visiting a Pac 12 program where the players were very up front that playing at that level was a job and not a whole lot of fun.

“That’s why you take visits,” said Patty.  “Being on campus, meeting the staff and the players, and learning about the academics, you can gain so much to help in your decision. The intangibles, little things that you would never think about might come to light on a visit.” Patty emphasized the importance to taking a lot of visits and starting them early in the process.

Toledo, based a lot on how open they were in allowing the Buhr’s to have that locker room candid talk with the players, moved up the list to the top with Miami of Ohio. They kept visiting Northwestern, but they wouldn’t commit to an offer. Green Bay was the very first offer she received as a sophomore. Despite a coaching change, the offer was kept, and although she loved the new coach, the school was not the right fit for what she was looking for.

“Caroline was picky,” said Jeff. “While it was frustrating for us that we couldn’t get some of the programs to be up front with us on where she stood, I’m sure it was frustrating for some of those that really wanted her that she was taking her time and looking to find all the things she wanted in a school and program.”

Caroline developed a strong attraction to an ACC school. One of their assistants really liked her, but the head coach was more hesitant. “They didn’t think she could defend the quick guards they would face in the ACC,” said Jeff. “They wanted her to come to camp and play one on one with one of their top recruits. She did and basically they both scored against each other quite often (Caroline still in knee brace of course). I don’t think she met their test.”

“After the camp,” added Patty, “both the assistant and head coach sent a hand written letter telling her she did great, and the assistant coach said she did ‘what she needed to do’ at the camp. In the end, they had a higher ranked recruit that ended up committing so there was not the need. Also, we figured out that the assistant coach was more excited about her than the head coach who, in the end, makes the decisions.”

The summer before her senior year was Caroline’s final participation at various AAU Exposure Events. After the camp at Miami of Ohio, Miami was the clear leader on her list of schools. Toledo had moved up, based on their visit that spring. After several of the AAU events she had quite a few calls from schools that were interested in offering.  “Many Mid-major D-1s let us know that if we would come visit, they would offer,” said Patty. “We were running out of patience, time, and it is expensive to travel far away. We didn’t want to go visit just to rack up another offer, so we told Caroline that unless she had a really strong desire to visit another school, that we just needed to be done and she needed to decide. She had several good options to choose from.  The University of Denver was very interested. Jeff and I really liked that school. Their assistant Abby (Waner) Bartolotta had been a superstar player for Duke and she was so personable. It’s a great private school, but Caroline was not drawn enough to it to feel like she had to go visit.  Our list of Top 10 and Top 20 schools kept getting revised and whittled down.”

Then, San Diego came into the picture in a way that would eventually look like it was meant to happen.

Caroline’s travel team was playing in a July Showcase. Caroline’s teammate, Jess Alexander, was being heavily recruiting by D2 Saginaw Valley State. Their coach Jamie Pewinski was recruiting Jess hard. She happened to be a friend of Cindy Fisher, the head coach of the University of San Diego.

“They were sitting together because they were friends,” said Jeff. “Coach Fisher said she had some time to kill and was there anyone there she should watch. The coach said, “Yeah, Jess has a teammate named Caroline you should see because she is your style of player.’ On that recommendation she stayed and watched her. She liked what she saw and later called Caroline.”

Miami and Toledo wanted Caroline to commit before the July showcases. The Buhr’s said they wanted to get through the Exposure events and that Caroline would make her decision in early August. “We told them we know you have to make other offers,” said Jeff. “They weren’t happy, but they were willing to be patient and allow us to sort everything out, to ensure that Caroline made the right decision.  I tried to be upfront about everything, but with San Diego’s sudden real interest things had changed.”

The Buhr’s sat down and talked about San Diego with Caroline. It was a top 100 academic school. It was in California. It was fairly small, private, has a strong pre-health program, and touts a Top-10 ranking as a “most beautiful campus.” Then Caroline remembered that it was during a class the fall of her junior year, when they were practicing completing college applications, that one of her friends had told her that she should look into the University of San Diego, as his brother was going to school there and he loved it. She realized this was the same school that was recruiting her—the one that her friend had encouraged her to explore nine months earlier. She later learned that yet another friend also had a sibling that was at USD, and they had nothing but good things to say about the school.

Caroline became very interested in San Diego. Everything was coming together. It fit everything, and the coach appeared very interested.

“I called Coach Fisher because I wanted to see just how interested they really were because Caroline was extremely interested,” said Jeff. “Coach was happy to hear from me and said, yes, she was very interested. She was ready to make an offer but needed her to come out for a visit. So now we’re sitting there thinking of ordering plane tickets but not totally sure an offer would be made. The coach did say they had a couple of others they were bringing in but they were more courtesy visits and they would rather have Caroline. It was a visit we needed to take.  Caroline was pretty adamant that out of all the schools interested in her that this was the one she really wanted to visit.”

The Buhr’s visited and everything went great. An offer wasn’t made then, but when they were flying back to Indiana Coach Fisher called to make an offer. There were some communication mix ups where they didn’t connect and for awhile the Buhr’s thought San Diego wasn’t  interested and Coach Fisher thought Caroline wasn’t interested, but they connected, made the offer and Caroline accepted.

She would be playing at a very good academic University on a full athletic scholarship of $57,000 a year.

During the August visit to San Diego, Coach Fisher told Patty that she had “found Caroline.” Typically it is an assistant that identifies a potential recruit, follows them, and then brings them to the attention of the head coach.  “Coach Fisher told me that that she believed that ‘things happen for a reason,’” said Patty.  “After all that we had been through, with the injury, the recruiting ups and downs, and then at the end, for USD to come into play at the very end with all that Caroline was looking for in a basketball program and academic school—we shared that same sentiment. It was meant to be. The style of play that USD has was a great match to how Caroline plays and that was why they wanted her. This was important to Caroline in her decision—that they played her type of game. When she accepted to Coach Fisher on the phone, Caroline said Coach Fisher screamed she was so excited. Caroline knew she was really wanted, and this was so huge to all of us.”

“I truly do believe that God had His hand in this process,” said Patty. “From the injury that rocked her from probably a higher D1 school to landing there at USD. This is where she is supposed to be. Caroline is excited about USD and we are too!”

A lot of hard work and effort had gone into Caroline earning this remarkable opportunity. Coaches along the way said what they really liked about her playing for MBA Select AAU program was players from there are known for the high skills set and their work ethic. Caroline had also gained a great deal from playing for a Penn High program that had reached the 4A state title game twice in her high school career. Penn coach Kristi Kaniewski Ulrich runs a first class program known for teaching defensive fundamentals.

Although it took a lot of work and a there was a lot of stress, in the end Caroline found that the right playing level for her was high mid-major, like San Diego. She loves basketball. When she missed most of her junior year season with the knee injury, she realized then how much she missed not only playing in games but she missed the hard practices and running “down and backs.” Playing is something that she will never take for granted again.  She will love it at San Diego, but it won’t consume her.

“Caroline has a lot of balance in her life,” said Patty. “She loves playing basketball, but she also wants to be a student and look to the future after she graduates. Some of these college programs were telling us how many players they had put into the WNBA. That’s not even on her radar. She wants to play hard for a solid and reputable women’s basketball program, and in the end graduate with a degree from a school with some prestige.”

When she signed her national letter of intent, Caroline said this: “I liked the school, the people, the coaching staff and players, and on top of that USD represented the type of school I was looking for academically. And I can’t complain about the weather!”

It hasn’t snowed in San Diego since 1967.

Her versatility as a player was a strong positive for the USD coaches. “Caroline’s ability to play inside and outside for us is going to make her a hard matchup for our opponents,” said Coach Fisher. “Caroline’s game is very smooth and she plays at an extremely high level. I am excited to see her on the floor and watch her game develop.”

San Diego is a long way from home, but Jeff put it this way:  “Had she picked Miami of Ohio it would have been a 4 1/2 hour drive.  San Diego is a 4 hour direct flight from MidwayAirport in Chicago.”

“We can watch all her games on the internet,” said Patty. “Plus we have an excuse to go somewhere warm in the dead of winter!”

I asked them about the growing trend of athletes specializing in one sport, compared to the old days when so many played three or even four. “I don’t think anyone should be pressured to focus on one sport,” said Jeff. “I think multiple sports are better to a point. At some point it can be just too much for everyone, between time and money. I think kids kind of figure this out on their own. It was our girls’ decision to quit soccer, not ours. We told them we would respect their decision and support them no matter what.”

Jeff said that having Caroline in the NCSA Athletic Recruiting Network had been very helpful in educating them on many things involving recruiting, and having a recruiting coach to talk to through the process was valuable.

As our lunchtime visit wound down, they smiled at some of the recruiting memories.

“Green Bay would send her these recruiting letters in the mail,” said Patty, “and they would take various pictures of Caroline off the internet of her playing basketball for Penn, and then they would Photoshop a Green Bay uniform on her instead. This was fun to see, and always caught our attention. At Wake Forest because of her interest in the medical field they had the head of the Biology Department take her to the cadaver classroom and had her put on gloves and handle a human knee, showing her what the ACL ligament was. That was pretty memorable for all of us.”

I asked Patty to sum it all up. “It is not easy by any means to get a scholarship,” said Patty, “especially if you have particular criteria you are looking for. But we met so many interesting people, got to see a lot of schools, and when it all came together it was an amazing journey!”

Charlie Adams is a motivational speaker who works with college coaches and athletes to help develop a set of positive, solution centered and team oriented attitudes. His son Jack was a college cross country runner. His daughter Abby will be a college swimmer starting this Fall, and his youngest daughter Grace plays for Skylar Diggins’ Elite Travel team. Charlie can be reached at charlie@stokethefirewithin.com

Building Traditions: What Is Your Selling Point?Monday, January 7th, 2013

by Ellen Sawin, NCSA College Relations

College sports are home to some of the nation’s most famous traditions: Wisconsin football fans “Jumping Around” before the 4th quarter, Florida fans “Gator Chomping” at their opponents, the Fighting Irish slapping their “Play Like A Champion” sign as they take to the field, and so on. High school athletes dream of playing for a team with a tradition and fan base like these. But less than 1% will realize that dream. One school is changing that…

Picture this:

A gym packed to capacity with college kids and community members lining the court. Everyone is dressed in eccentric and hilarious outfits.  And the crowd is perfectly still and dead silent. Two teams take to the court and nothing changes. Play begins and the crowd remains silent. Both teams put points on the board, and the crowd doesn’t make a sound. Then, the home team scores their 10th point… and suddenly the gym erupts in absolute madness.

Sounds like a top tier Division I athletic event, but this occurs at Taylor University, a small NAIA school in Upland, Indiana. It’s their annual Silent Night Game (see a video version here). The tradition originated in the early 1990s and goes well beyond silence and then cheering at the 10th point. The entire crowd also comes together throughout the game for other crazy events, including this year’s half-time dance to “Gangnam Style,” where fans danced right onto the court. And the game concludes with the crowd singing the famous Christmas carol, Silent Night.

Even though Taylor University isn’t the nation’s largest or most well-known University, news and video of this event is spreading like wild fire, garnering them national notoriety. They’re changing the stakes in the recruiting game. They’ve proven that a team from any level can make headlines and develop a tradition of value to their university, athletes, fans and community.

Taylor’s tradition gives a handful of the more than 99% of high school athletes who won’t play at the Division I level, the opportunity to realize their dream of playing in front of a sellout, loyal, and involved crowd. This is a valuable selling point when recruiting high school athletes.


Anticipation, Anxiety and Your Recruiting ApproachMonday, December 3rd, 2012

Best selling author and marketing guru Seth Godin makes a great point about the way we approach things in life, and it has a lot of application to the job set before you as a college coach in recruiting this next generation of athlete.

“When you work with anticipation”, says Godin, “you will highlight the highs. You’ll double down on the things that will delight and push yourself even harder to be bold and to create your version of art. If this is going to work, might as well build something that’s going to be truly worth building.

“If you work with anxiety, on the other hand, you’ll be covering the possible lost bets, you’ll be insuring against disaster and most of all, building deniability into everything you do. When you work under the cloud of anxiety, the best strategy is to play it safe, because if (when!) it fails, you’ll be blameless.

Maybe you see where I’m going with this, Coach:

  • Way too many coaches selling themselves – and their program – short.
  • Way too many coaches give up too soon on their “next level” recruits.
  • Way too many coaches worry about recruiting instead of approaching it as an incredibly exciting opportunity.

Working through the filter of anxiety, as a lot of coaches do in our experience, stops you in your tracks as a coach and recruiter.  Coaches who play it safe, don’t take a “heck yeah I can get that recruit!” attitude, and generally don’t aggressively pursue a recruiting plan that aims high never, ever make big changes to their program.  Exactly the opposite happens:  Coaches settle, take on a negative outlook on who they can get and what they can achieve through their recruiting efforts, and experience year after year of frustration when it comes to their results.

Now, look at the other approach:  It’s riskier, in the sense that a coach who takes this approach will fail…and fail often.  There’s risk in that, because a coach who doesn’t take a long term, consistent approach to recruit won’t be able to afford to fail; that coach needs success, and needs it in a hurry.  And so they push, stretch the truth, and pressure recruits.

On the other hand, the coach that takes the “risk” – that is, anticipating and enjoying the recruiting process as a central part of their job as a college coach and recruiter, will build a program that is successful for the long haul.  Risk?  Yes.  But the rewards almost always follow.  Look at any coach you consider successful in your sport, and chances are 1) they are a great recruiter, and 2) didn’t approach recruiting with anxiety and a negative attitude on what they could do in building a program they would be proud of.

Which brings it back to you, Coach:

If you’re someone who might be taking the wrong outlook towards your job as a recruiter, and filling your days with negative thoughts and anxiety about the job in front of you, here are three things I’ve seen successful coaches do to turn around your results when it comes to attracting the right kind of prospect to your program:

  1. Understand that you’re going to lose more than you win. One big mistake I see recruiters make over and over again is assuming they will win more recruits than they lose.  That’s not realistic, unless you’re recruiting athletes who aren’t those game-changers you need.  If you’re getting a lot of no’s, at least you know you’re going after the right recruits.  (Don’t change that approach, by the way.  You can adjust your tactics to get better results, so keep aiming high).  That being said…
  2. Be realistic and have a good foundation to build on. If you use letter grades to rate your prospects, I’m talking about getting a healthy number of B+ and B caliber recruits.  Aiming high for the A+ recruits fits right into that positive “anticipation” approach that turns good programs into great ones. But along the way, don’t sacrifice your foundation…it’s a combination of the right recruits that builds a solid program from top to bottom.  Too many coaches either swing for the fences with every recruit, or simply settle for good (but not great) recruits that result in middle-of-the-pack finishes year after year.
  3. Make sure you’re having fun.  That’s what Godin refers to when he talks about “doubling down on the stuff that delights and pushes you.”  If you aren’t enjoying the recruiting part of your job, then figure out why that’s happening and what you need to change it.  The other trait I’ve seen among the great coaches we get to work with is that they figure out what they’re passionate about, and do it as much as they can.  Recruiting is challenging enough…you need to find ways to enjoy it, or your prospects for a successful, long term college coaching career aren’t going to be bright.

Every coach has to find their own answer when it comes to how to enjoy and anticipate the recruiting side of your life, while also eliminating the anxiety that handcuffs you from making real strides.  As you head into this next recruiting year, make sure you take the time to figure out how to make that happen – for they good of your program and your own coaching career.

Need help with formulating a strategy and putting proven ideas to work for you and your program?  An inexpensive option that hundreds of coaches have found helpful is reading our popular recruiting workbooks.  They’re packed with ideas and new ways of approaching the most important part of your coaching career.  Or, for something more in-depth, consider becoming one of our clients.  We work with you one-on-one to create and execute a recruiting plan that will get results.  Click here for the details.

You, Recruiting and “A Message to Garcia”Friday, November 9th, 2012

What kind of a coach and recruiter are you?

At your core – when nobody is looking, and you’re the only one in the office – how focused are you on getting the job done for your program, your fellow coaches on staff, and your college?

That question applies directly to your role as an effective recruiter.  What you do, how well you do it, and what kind of focus and energy you apply to that part of your job, will (in the long term) determine what degree of success you have as a college coach.

Which brings me to a short piece written in 1899 in pre-Socialist Cuba by a businessman and author named Elbert Hubbard.  If you are a college coach who wants to be the very best in the business, this should be something that you print out and read regularly.  It’s powerful, and though written in language that is better suited for the last century, the core questions it raises for hard-working recruiters are timeless.  In my opinion, it’s also an excellent piece to have your team go through, as it addresses the concepts of hard work, personal accountability, and results that each individual is responsible for in their professional and personal lives.

After the piece, I have three key questions for every college recruiter at the end.  Enjoy.


“A Message to Garcia”

by Elbert Hubbard, 1899

“In all this Cuban business there is one man that stands out on the horizon of my memory like Mars at perihelion. When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain vastness of Cuba- no one knew where. No mail nor telegraph message could reach him. The President must secure his cooperation, and quickly.

What to do!

Some one said to the President, “There’s a fellow by the name of Rowan who will find Garcia for you, if anybody can.”

Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How “the fellow by the name of Rowan” took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the Island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and delivered his letter to Garcia, are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail.

The point I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, “Where is he at?” By the Eternal! There is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning young men and women need, nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: Do the thing- “Carry a message to Garcia!”

General Garcia is dead now, but there are other Garcias.

No man or woman, who has endeavored to carry out an enterprise where many hands were needed, but has been well nigh appalled at times by the imbecility of the average man- the inability or unwillingness to concentrate on a thing and do it. Slip-shod assistance, foolish inattention, dowdy indifference, and half-hearted work seem the rule; and no man succeeds, unless by hook or crook, or threat, he forces or bribes other men to assist him; or mayhap, God in His goodness performs a miracle, and sends him an Angel of Light for an assistant. You, reader, put this matter to a test: You are sitting now in your office- six co-workers are within call.

Summon any one and make this request: “Please look in the encyclopedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning the life of Correggio”.

Will your co-worker quietly say, “Yes, sir,” and go do the task?

On your life, he will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye and ask one or more of the following questions:

Who was he?

Which encyclopedia?

Where is the encyclopedia?

Was I hired for that?

Don’t you mean Bismarck?

What’s the matter with Charlie doing it?

Is he dead?

Is there any hurry?

Shan’t I bring you the book and let you look it up yourself?

What do you want to know for?

And I will lay you ten to one that after you have answered the questions, and explained how to find the information, and why you want it, the clerk will go off and get one of the other clerks to help him try to find Garcia- and then come back and tell you there is no such man. Of course I may lose my bet, but according to the Law of Average, I will not.

Now if you are wise you will not bother to explain to your “assistant” that Correggio is indexed under the C’s, not in the K’s, but you will smile sweetly and say, “Never mind,” and go look it up yourself.

And this incapacity for independent action, this moral stupidity, this infirmity of the will, this unwillingness to cheerfully catch hold and lift, are the things that put pure Socialism so far into the future. If men will not act for themselves, what will they do when the benefit of their effort is for all? A first-mate with knotted club seems necessary; and the dread of getting “the bounce” Saturday night, holds many a worker to his place.

Advertise for a stenographer, and nine out of ten who apply, can neither spell nor punctuate – and do not think it necessary to.

Can such a one write a letter to Garcia?

“You see that bookkeeper,” said the foreman to me in a large factory.

“Yes, what about him?”

“Well he’s a fine accountant, but if I’d send him up town on an errand, he might accomplish the errand all right, and on the other hand, might stop at four saloons on the way, and when he got to Main Street, would forget what he had been sent for.”

Can such a man be entrusted to carry a message to Garcia?

We have recently been hearing much maudlin sympathy expressed for the “downtrodden denizen of the sweat-shop” and the “homeless wanderer searching for honest employment,”  and with it all often go many hard words for the men in power.

Nothing is said about the employer who grows old before his time in a vain attempt to get frowsy ne’er-do-wells to do intelligent work; and his long patient striving with “help” that does nothing but loaf when his back is turned. In every store and factory there is a constant weeding-out process going on. The employer is constantly sending away “help” that have shown their incapacity to further the interests of the business, and others are being taken on. No matter how good times are, this sorting continues, only if times are hard and work is scarce, the sorting is done finer- but out and forever out, the incompetent and unworthy go.

It is the survival of the fittest. Self-interest prompts every employer to keep the best – those who can carry a message to Garcia.

I know one man of really brilliant parts who has not the ability to manage a business of his own, and yet who is absolutely worthless to any one else, because he carries with him constantly the insane suspicion that his employer is oppressing, or intending to oppress him. He cannot give orders; and he will not receive them. Should a message be given him to take to Garcia? His answer would probably be, “Take it yourself.”

Tonight this man walks the streets looking for work, the wind whistling through his threadbare coat. No one who knows him dare employ him, for he is a regular fire-brand of discontent. He is impervious to reason, and the only thing that can impress him is the toe of a thick-soled No. 9 boot.

Of course I know that one so morally deformed is no less to be pitied than a physical cripple; but in our pitying, let us drop a tear, too, for the men who are striving to carry on a great enterprise, whose working hours are not limited by the whistle, and whose hair is fast turning white through the struggle to hold in line dowdy indifference, slip-shod imbecility, and the heartless ingratitude, which, but for their enterprise, would be both hungry and homeless.

Have I put the matter too strongly? Possibly I have; but when all the world has gone a-slumming I wish to speak a word of sympathy for the man who succeeds- the man who, against great odds has directed the efforts of others, and having succeeded, finds there’s nothing in it: nothing but bare board and clothes.

I have carried a dinner pail and worked for day’s wages, and I have also been an employer of labor, and I know there is something to be said on both sides. There is no excellence, per se, in poverty; rags are no recommendation; and all employers are not rapacious and high-handed, any more than all poor men are virtuous.

My heart goes out to the man who does his work when the “boss” is away, as well as when he is at home. And the man who, when given a letter for Garcia, quietly take the missive, without asking any idiotic questions, and with no lurking intention of chucking it into the nearest sewer, or of doing aught else but deliver it, never gets “laid off,” nor has to go on a strike for higher wages. Civilization is one long anxious search for just such individuals. Anything such a man asks shall be granted; his kind is so rare that no employer can afford to let him go. He is wanted in every city, town and village – in every office, shop, store and campus.

The world cries out for such: They are needed, and needed badly – the man or woman who can carry a message to Garcia.”

* * *

So, here are my three questions for you as a college coach:

  • What are you doing – or could be doing – without being asked?
  • When you set your mind to recruiting, do you approach it begrudgingly?  Or, do you strive to learn as much as you can about this part of your job and attack it with the same enthusiasm you do in preparing for the pure coaching part of your career?
  • What needs to change right now?

Look for opportunities to “carry a message to Garcia”.  And when you get that opportunity, excel at it.



What Coaches Can Learn From the Amazing Life of Steve JobsMonday, October 24th, 2011

Steve Jobs’ death brought an end to the amazing life of a man destined to go down as one of the most incredible innovators of our time.

He is also someone who developed principles that every college coach should try to learn from, and put to use in their program.

Here is a list of Steve Jobs’ rules for success.  Are you following them in your coaching career?

1. Do what you love.   Jobs once said, “People with passion can change the world for the better.” Asked about the advice he would offer would-be entrepreneurs, he said, “I’d get a job as a busboy or something until I figured out what I was really passionate about.” That’s how much it meant to him. Passion is everything.

2. Put a dent in the universe.  Jobs believed in the power of vision. He once asked then-Pepsi President, John Sculley, “Do you want to spend your life selling sugar water or do you want to change the world?” Don’t lose sight of the big vision.

3. Make connections.  Jobs once said creativity is connecting things. He meant that people with a broad set of life experiences can often see things that others miss. He took calligraphy classes that didn’t have any practical use in his life — until he built the Macintosh.  Jobs traveled to India and Asia. He studied design and hospitality. Don’t live in a bubble. Connect ideas from different fields.

4.  Say no to 1,000 things.  Jobs was as proud of what Apple chose not to do as he was of what Apple did. When he returned in Apple in 1997, he took a company with 350 products and reduced them to 10 products in a two-year period. Why? So he could put the “A-Team” on each product. What are you saying “no” to?

5. Create insanely different experiences.  Jobs also sought innovation in the customer-service experience. When he first came up with the concept for the Apple Stores, he said they would be different because instead of just moving boxes, the stores would enrich lives. Everything about the experience you have when you walk into an Apple store is intended to enrich your life and to create an emotional connection between you and the Apple brand. What are you doing to enrich the lives of your customers?

6. Master the message.  You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can’t communicate your ideas, it doesn’t matter. Jobs was the world’s greatest corporate storyteller. Instead of simply delivering a presentation like most people do, he informed, he educated, he inspired and he entertained, all in one presentation.

7. Sell dreams, not products.  Jobs captured our imagination because he really understood his customer. He knew that tablets would not capture our imaginations if they were too complicated. The result? One button on the front of an iPad. It’s so simple, a 2-year-old can use it. Your customers don’t care about your product (Coaches…translate “your recruits don’t care about your program at first”). They care about themselves, their hopes, their ambitions. Jobs taught us that if you help your customers reach their dreams, you’ll win them over.

Special thanks to Coach Karen Corey, Head Volleyball Coach at Bowdoin College, for sharing that with us.