Archive for September 5th, 2012
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Tennis star Serena Williams does it. Olympic legend Michael Phelps did it during the 2012 London Games. Baseball player Carlos Delgado was profiled in a 2006 New York Times story for doing it.
So did the soccer teams Richard Kent coached around 30 years ago when he was teaching high school students in the western Maine town of Rumford.
Now an associate professor in the University of Maine’s College of Education and Human Development and the director of the UMaine-based Maine Writing Project, Kent has developed the concept of team notebooks in which athletes spend time in the course of a sports season writing evaluations of their preseason goals, feelings about games they have played and watched, and postseason outcomes.
He relates the notebooks concept to differentiated learning, which acknowledges that the variety of ways in which students learn in a classroom (or on a field, court or wherever athletes do their work) requires a teacher (or coach, trainer or adviser) to present a variety of learning techniques.
For athletes — from Olympians to high school players — Kent’s research shows that keeping a journal is a way to decompress, unpack mentally and think critically about the outcome of a game, match or other sporting event. Some use journaling in preseason to clarify their goals for the upcoming competition, or in the postseason to set themselves up for off-season training. Others write while an event is in progress. Delgado, for example, was known to keep notes in the dugout when he wasn’t playing.
“The team notebook is a way for athletes to communicate more directly with a coach, but even more than that, for them to think about learning in different ways,” Kent says. “What we know about learning these days is that we all learn differently, and in fact it’s differentiated instruction for coaches. This really mirrors what we know in the College of Education and Human Development of the effective classroom, which is that we address learners where they come from.
“In other words, we all have different ways to learn. Some of us do well by writing about it, some of us need to talk about it, some need to think about it, and some need a little bit of everything. That’s the bottom line with this research, that an effective coaching practice has lots of different ways for athletes to consider their performances and their training, and writing is one of them.”
Although athletes have been journaling on their own for years, Kent’s notebooks are among the first of their kind to standardize the process with specific writing prompts and consistent questions. Several institutions have starting using Kent’s model notebooks and tailoring them to their own needs, which Kent encourages. Coaches at Southern Virginia University, Gonzaga University, University of Missouri and Temple University have adapted the notebooks and implemented them in their programs.
Kent’s ideas about athletes and journaling started about 30 years ago during a flight from Europe. At the time, he was Maine’s state soccer coach, returning with a group of players who had competed in a tournament. It wasn’t a successful trip for the team. It hadn’t fared well against its European opposition.
That’s when Kent had the idea to have the players write about their experiences and how they felt about the trip. Problem was, the only paper available on the plane was the airline’s airsickness bags.
“Some kids wrote six sentences, but some wrote on both sides, ripped open the bags and wrote inside,” says Kent, the author of 10 books, including Writing on the Bus: Using Athletic Team Notebooks and Journals to Advance Learning and Performance in Sports, The Athlete’s Workbook and The Soccer Team Notebook. “I sat there and read them and thought, ‘Holy mackerel, this is really interesting.’ I started incorporating more writing activities with my teams.”
While Kent had used writing exercises with his soccer teams for years, his research for the notebooks began in 2005-06 when a University of Southern Maine soccer coach gave them to his team as a pilot project for a season. Also around that time, Kent met with David Chamberlain, an elite World Cup cross-country skier who grew up near Kent in Wilton, Maine. Chamberlain had long kept journals and training logbooks, and allowed Kent to study five years’ worth of his writing.
Kent looked at Chamberlain’s logs through a writing-to-learn lens advocated by William Zinsser, a well-known writer and teacher, and others who believe writing enables us to find out what we do — or don’t — know about a subject.
“The concept of writing to learn allowed me to see what types of themes would emerge,” Kent says. “Then I would interview Dave about those themes, one of which was he was thinking about whether he wanted to stay with ski racing or move on to become a coach. He wrote seven pages grappling with this issue.
“I do a great deal of narrative analysis, where you look at a piece of writing and think about: What direction is this athlete going with this? How do the themes merge with his thinking and what he ends up doing? It ended up that he stayed with skiing for another three years.”
Kent also asked UMaine head soccer coach Scott Atherley and members of his staff for feedback on the notebooks. A friend who was then an assistant coach with a professional basketball team also reviewed them.
“Everybody was very accommodating and offered me ways to reconstruct the notebooks,” Kent says. “Like with anything in writing, there is always a process of revision. When I work with teams or coaches I say, ‘Listen, make it your own.’ There isn’t one right way to do this. You have to revise and be comfortable with it. I used team notebooks five days a week, but you might want to do it once a week.”
Kent believes journaling makes athletes more accountable in a number of ways, and his work with Chamberlain provided a good example of this. At the higher levels of endurance skiing, athletes in training measure the levels of lactic acid in their blood as an indication of fitness level. Skiers who journal, along with tracking their lactic levels, can establish patterns that reveal how factors such as sleep, nutrition and mood affect a training session. The journals are frequently shared with coaches, sometimes via email.
“They write about it, talk to trusted advisers about it, and then make decisions about how they’re going to adapt their training,” he says. “Writing is a critical component for all of this and I think it’s been a missing link in athletics.”
Journaling can be a way for athletes to learn to take emotion out of analysis and think about categorizing, moving on from a win or loss.
“The mere act of writing slows us down and makes us think,” Kent says. “You start with the self, think about what you need and then move forward. It’s the same with the team notebooks. After a match, you sit and think: ‘What did I do well in this match, what did I struggle with? How did the other team do against us? What advice would you give as a coach to the other team about the way they played? It helps them as writers to learn theory and how to think more deeply about the way they look at sports, but also sort of turns them into coaches, which I think is a great thing. It helps them consider the sport through a different lens.”
The basic athlete notebook contains five sections, complete with writing prompts based on the templates Kent used while he was coaching soccer. The notebook begins with a page called Preseason Thoughts, which the athlete is meant to fill out before regular-season competition begins. The athlete is asked to write about his or her individual and overall team strengths and weaknesses in the previous year, preparation done in the off-season for the upcoming season, goals for upcoming season, and information about his or her class load for the upcoming season.
The next section, Competition Analysis I, asks athletes to reflect on the outcome of a game or match in which they have participated. The writing prompts include individual, team and opponent strengths and weaknesses, suggestions for adjustments in subsequent games or matches, and what made the difference in a win or loss.
That section is followed by a Competition Analysis II, which is meant to be completed by players following a match they have watched but not participated in. It directs them to write their observations of the two teams, including strengths and weaknesses, halftime adjustments, comments about players at different positions, key moments of the game, and a final analysis that asks the players to think like a coach.
A page called Postseason Thoughts allows the player to think about strengths and weaknesses as an individual and a team, describe plans to improve in the off-season, reflect on preseason goals and discuss how he or she is handling schoolwork. The fifth section, Athlete’s Notes, is a kind of free space for players to store handouts, sketch plays and keep notes.
One of the trepidations teams often have when confronted with the notebooks is the amount of time that should be dedicated to journaling. This is particularly true for student-athletes who might have homework to do following a game, or coaches who are already overburdened. But Kent has designed the journals so they take a few minutes to complete. Athletes can write as little or much as they choose, and coaches can take as much time as they want to read the notebooks.
Coaches nationwide have contacted Kent to praise the notebooks for having helped their teams become more pragmatic and thoughtful about the way they analyze a game and a season. Kent sensed the power of the notebooks himself one night years ago following a soccer game that his team won after a late comeback.
The members of his winning team had formed a circle on the field, pulled out their notebooks and were busy writing. On the other side of the field, the members of the losing team milled about aimlessly, walking off into the darkness.
“I thought about the (losing team members’) drive back to their school and wondered how the players would unpack the match with one another,” Kent says. “I looked at my kids and how purposeful they were about their writing and their thinking, and knew that this was something that was special and helped create a common language for the team. That’s what I have explored and expanded through this research.”
The Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society (MESAS), in conjunction with University of Maine, has initiated a new project, “More Maine Meat,” which seeks to improve economic returns for livestock producers in Maine, in addition to growing the meat industry in the state with more forage-based resources. The vision includes Maine farmers satisfying a larger proportion of Maine and New England’s demand for meat.
“More Maine Meat” focuses on red meat production, processing and distribution.
A working group of producers, processors, distributors and commodity group leaders, along with University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Maine Department of Agriculture representatives, met recently in Hallowell to outline goals and visions for a prosperous and vibrant livestock industry. Representatives from almost all Maine counties were in attendance, from Aroostook to York.
The group worked through many issues with current problems that limit the potential growth of livestock production, including processing, production and distribution of product to market. While many different opinions and solutions were raised, the group was committed to moving forward, according to Rick Kersbergen, a UMaine Extension professor and expert in sustainable dairy and forage systems.
Under the leadership of MESAS, the working group will develop a plan of action that will draw upon existing resources throughout the Northeast as well as research specific issues that are relevant to Maine. The group will identify bottlenecks, provide information, data and support to entrepreneurs and provide expertise to specific enterprises as appropriate.
Kersbergen, who is working on the project with MESAS executive director and UMaine graduate Andrew Files, estimates a very small percentage of Maine’s and New England’s demand for meat is satisfied through state or regional producers. Most consumers get their red meat through supermarket chains that purchase meat from national sources.
The project is one of several being brought forward by MESAS, whose mission is to explore, develop and promote agricultural systems and practices that allow Maine farmers to retain a greater share of consumer expenditures for farm products. MESAS is membership-based and is served by a board of volunteer directors, including faculty from the University of Maine and Maine food and fiber producers. Click here for more information about MESAS.
It was a milestone weekend for the University of Maine football team, which opened its season Saturday playing the program’s 1,000th official game. To celebrate the Black Bears’ milestone, UMaine announced the results of a fan poll of the top 10 moments in program history. The No. 1 moment was announced during the Sept. 6 airing of UMaine head coach Jack Cosrove’s Coach Cos Radio Show.
UMaine lost to Bowl Championship Subdivision and Atlantic Coast Conference member Boston College 34-3 at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass. The Black Bears will travel to Bryant University this Saturday for their second game of the season.
The top 10 moments in UMaine football history are:
10. The Bat Ball Play vs. UNH, 1978 – Maine, being a heavy underdog, trailed in the game as the Black Bears set up for a field goal, but quarterback Tony Trafton took the snap and flipped it behind him to kicker Mike Hodgson, who batted the ball like a volleyball into the end zone where Dave Higgins fell on it for a touchdown. The game ended in a tie, 7-7. The play created a lot of controversy and was ruled illegal shortly thereafter.
9. The 1951 Team – The Black Bears of 1951 produced the program’s first undefeated season, going 6-0-1 and 3-0-1 in Yankee Conference play to win the title. The team recorded four shutouts and had an average margin of victory of 22 points.
8. 1961 win at UConn and undefeated season – With an undefeated season on the line, and clinging to a 2-0 lead over UConn in the waning seconds, the Black Bears block a Husky field goal to preserve the win. The Black Bears go 8-0-1 and a perfect 5-0 in Yankee Conference play to win the title.
7. The 1998 Alfond Stadium and Morse Field dedication and the continued support from the Alfond and Morse Families – on Sept. 12, 1998, as a crowd of 9,244 fans witnessed the Black Bears down border-rival New Hampshire by a score of 52-28, as the facility opened in grand fashion. The Alfond and Morse families have continued to support Black Bear football and have contributed greatly to the team’s success.
6. 2010 Brice-Cowell Musket win in overtime vs. UNH – With the game tied 13-13 late in the fourth quarter, Maine blocks a Wildcat field goal in the waning seconds to force game into overtime. In the extra session, Jerron McMillian intercepts a pass to give the Black Bears possession. On the ensuing Black Bear possession, Maine kicker Brian Harvey nails a 37-yard field goal for the win, the Black Bears’ first in seven years.
5. Marcus Williams’ 41-yard TD run in 2002 Playoffs – Trailing 13-7 in the fourth quarter at powerhouse Appalachian St. in the 2002 NCAA playoffs, Black Bear great Marcus Williams breaks off for a 41-yard TD run, giving Maine a 14-13 lead that they would not relinquish.
4. Maine comes back at Youngstown State to win 27-22 en route to the 1965 Tangerine Bowl – Down 22-7 midway through the fourth quarter against Youngstown State, Maine rallies for three touchdowns in the final 8:10 to win 27-22 as the Black Bears win the Yankee Conference and advance to the Tangerine Bowl, the first and only bowl game in program history.
3. The ‘Helicopter’ vs. JMU in 2011 – After scoring a Warren Smith to Justin Perillo touchdown in overtime to get within 24-23 against the Dukes, Maine lines up in a special formation. Chris Treister takes the snap, dives towards the end zone, gets hit by two James Madison defenders as he spins around like a helicopter, landing in the end zone to give Maine a 25-24 win at No. 6 James Madison. The play was No. 2 on ESPN’s Top-10 List as well as a finalist for the GEICO College Football Play of the Year. The Black Bears catapult the win into a NCAA Final Eight appearance and No. 8 final national ranking.
2. Royston English vs. McNeese St. in 2001 – Black Bear great Royston English runs for 144 yards and a score as the Black Bears win an NCAA playoff game for the first time with a 14-10 win at perennial FCS powerhouse McNeese State in 2001.
1. Ron Whitcomb to Kevin McMahon 15-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter as Maine defeated Southeastern Conference foe Mississippi State in 2004 — The win by the Black Bears over Mississippi State made national headlines and stands as the Black Bears’ only win over a team from the FBS.