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May 10, 2022

Focus on the Process, Not the Prize w/John Belskis

Focus on the Process, Not the Prize w/John Belskis

#40. This episode features Hall of Fame coach, Mr. John Belskis, who has amassed over 200 wins in his career, including 2 trips to the state championship game, winning 1 title and 1 runner-up in the largest classification of Illinois schools.

TOPICS IN THIS EPISODE:

  • Coach at public vs. private schools (00:01:23)
  • Challenges of being a HC today (00:09:29)
  • Getting to a championship level (00:17:26)
  • Changing culture (00:20:51)
  • Lesson learned from Michael Jordan (00:30:09)


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Transcript

Luke:

This is episode 40 of The "I" in Win Podcast

John:

the next few years, we kept asking our kids whenever we're going to do it, whenever we're going to get to this state championship level. And the kids reply was always when it's more important to us than it is to the coaching.

Luke:

Welcome to another episode of The "I" in Win. And yet another hall of fame coach. Joining us today. We welcome John Belskis coach. Thanks for coming onto the show.

John:

Oh, thank you. Look, I'm honored that you would invite me to be on The "I" in Win podcast and look forward to talking to some high school football with you.

Luke:

Well, one thing we share in Common is we have been on both sides of the fence of a very testy argument and that's the public versus private debate and being on both sides of the fence, you and I have a different perspective and we understand the unique struggles. And how great of a coach you have to be to win at either place. let's start with your days as a public school coach. If you had a room full of private school coaches, what would you explain to them for them to understand and appreciate the role of being a head football coach at a public?

John:

well, I think the common theme Luke is always that we get the kids that come through our door and we don't get an opportunity to have a 30 mile radius to go out and get kids. I think, you know, there's some schools that have 84 kids or 84 schools. zip codes in their district and can choose kids from there. So I think that's the common denominator when, when the public people are talking to the privates about what they feel is an advantage for the private schools that we don't have when we were at public? schools.

Luke:

Now let's turn the page you get to experience being a head coach and a private school. You have a room full of public school coaches. What would you want them to understand and appreciate about the role of a head coach at a private.

John:

Well, I think it depends what private school you're at, to be honest with you, you know, there's, schools have developed a, uh, a great tradition of, of sports and academics, and naturally kids are gonna get drawn to those. now the private schools will say, well, you know, you have to pay $12,000 to go here where the public schools, tuition is funded by the state, but not all schools have that kind of situation. The school that I'm at right now, where our central Catholic it's a school of 500, student athletes. And, You know, we don't have scholarships, we don't give student aid. Uh, it's not traditionally been a consistent winner. Uh, in, in the football program. We've had a couple of years where we've, done well, but, you have to make your school a tracker. I don't care. Look, if you're in a public school or you're in a private school, you have to make your school attract. To the people available to go there and it doesn't make any difference if you're public or private. Now, how do you do that? there's a lot of ways. Obviously you have to win and you have to win consistently, not just when one year and you know, be down for three or four years. And then, you know, if I'm a father of a talented eighth grade football player, you know, I'm going to look to put him in a situation where he's going to be successful. Both individually, obviously, but more in a team setting because we have choices in those situations. so that's the one thing, how do you going to make it attractive? We gotta win. Uh, the second thing is, you have to have great resources. You have to have great coaches and you know, all those private and public schools you look at, you know, the Lincoln way east to right now are completely one of the. public schools out there main south, those schools are always in the mix. And then you look at, well heal us and, you know, St Pat's this year and all those schools that are gonna be very competitive, you know, year in and year out. Um, they all have great coaches. So, it's a combination of, of making your school attractive by having great coaches, having the resources. The kids want to come and have nice facilities. They want a nice field. They want a nice thing, a nice turf field. They want a nice weight room. They want a nice locker room. They want nice uniforms. So there are a lot of variables that come into play. And so just like, you were busy all day today, trying to get a lot of those things in place. You have those things happening? I know there's a lot of excitement at St. Pat's right now with, with what you're doing is a football program. Uh, one of my good friends, John urban is a former coach at St. Pat's. He was there in the mid eighties and he was instrumental in. putting in the weight room back in, in the mid eighties. And he took over the program when they were a one or two win program coaching. and then a couple of years they had won two conference championships. I think they went nine and two eight, and one, something like that and really turned that program around back at that time. But he drove by the school. He said last week I talked to him tonight and he said, man, it's, it's exciting over there. They're putting in the new turf. And I know your principal's a. alumni as you are. And so you're getting people in there who, who bleed green and gold and, and I think, you're setting the table for a long-term success there.

Luke:

Well, I appreciate the support, appreciate the call out to St. Pat's. I'm not going to lie feel just a, just a tad bit of pressure to be successful, but that comes with the job. And, you know, one thing you, just can't deny as your success, you have over 200 wins in your career, and you've also reached a pinnacle of. Getting to the state championship game winning one. And I believe you're a runner up for one. So let's first talk about the wins and that's not really the focus, but I'm sure just like me. You have like that one game that just sticks out to you. That one victory that for whatever reason is just something that you'll never forget. What is that one?

John:

You know, you're probably thinking it would be the state championship game or the runner up, but, there's actually two and I have to, mention Tim mash who came in and. Early eighties and really was the guy who turned the program around at downers Grove south. I was fortunate enough to be coming out of ISU down at Illinois state as a grad assistant and the defensive coordinator down there. Ted Schmitz played college football with Tim mash and Tim got the job. And long story short, I was hired as an assistant and I was an assistant for nine years. And Tim turned that program around and I would say it was a year ago. No, we had just come off our first season. We were one? and eight. Uh, we had opened up with Homewood Flossmore and they, I know they, they beat us 40 something to nothing. so now it's year two and we've had a year of, of implementing our program. And I think we open up with Homewood again and they were ranked in the top 10 pre. We had them home on a Saturday. And I remember Tim coming in the locker room and saying, do not let our kids go up to the stadium right now. And I said, why is that? He said, because the varsity from Homewood is watching the sophomore game. And if our kids see the size of those kids, they won't come out of the locker room. So we kept our kids in the locker room. throughout the game, uh, they were an option team and we put in, uh, an option coverage where we change it up. We call the zinger. I don't know how to remember that. I forgot what I had for breakfast this morning, but I remember we call it zinger back in the early eighties and our, an outside linebacker in the fourth quarter changed this coverage. The quarterback pitched ship right into his hands. I think he went 90 yards and we wound up winning the game 17, 14. And from that day on our kids believed in what we were doing. that one play really. You know that program around. And then when I became head coach, I would say in 1993, the year that we went to the state finals, we opened up the first round with Naperville. On April north had just come off a state championship in 1992, uh, bidding Loyola, and we were ranked number one in two in the state in class six eight. And that was the highest division back then. And we were matched up in the opening round. If you can imagine that the one and two ranked team. We were down 14 points in the fourth quarter, we wound up scoring and we went for two points on that third touchdown. And we got it. Figuring if we score one more, we'd be lucky. So we were going to go for two and if we got it and we scored again, we'd kick the extra point when, and if we didn't get it, we go for two and maybe tie and going over time. So, we were fortunate enough that on fourth and 10 and late in the game, our quarterback threw a fade and we won a point in that game. Kind of vaulted us into the state championship that year, playing Loyola. That was a good game. We lost seven to nothing, but, those are the two games. you know, that looking back, you know, I think really turned our program around and led us to a state championship in 2001.

Luke:

Well, those are two great stories and you're right. There's always has to be that signature win and every coach goes through. It doesn't matter if it's Nick Saban at Alabama, when he had to turn that program around or John Bell Scouts at downers Grove south. Right. You have to have that one win to have the credentials behind everything you're telling your team. Because prior to that, there just buying into a belief, right? you're painting this picture analysis and you have something tangible and say, look, I told you we would get there. And it definitely changes everything. So thanks for sharing those thoughts and that those are great stories. And, you know, you've been at this for almost 30 years, so you probably have a lot of stuff. One being how the job of being a head coach at the high school level has changed maybe for the better, maybe for the worst. I'm just curious to hear your thoughts of how the job has changed through the years.

John:

Well, obviously, the number of kids playing football now has changed quite a bit. And how you coach. I would say concussion fears, you know, was the onset of maybe starting to lose kids. and then with the COVID situation, or a lot of teams are struggling, to, fill rosters. And, I know there are some programs that are always going to be solid, but, you know, I've talked a lot of coaches who are struggling to get enough kids to have a scout team. You know, when we were in that situation last year at our central Catholic, So, you know, it's, it's a situation where, You ha to understand that coaching now with the fears of concussions and things like that is, so much different than it was maybe 20 years ago when you know, we bumped heads and there was bull in the ring drills and all those kinds of things. Um, I think one thing though, that, I would say, coaches. If you look at kids 20 years from now and look at their brain activity and the CTE that we hear about you are not going to see the same type of things from people who played 20 years. ago. This game has never been safer than it is right now, uh, in as much as how we teach, tackling how we limit contact, and, and things on that nature and the, uh, the type of, uh, ways that we address. Injuries is so much different now. And like I said, it's a struggle to get kids out right now for whatever reason. Uh, I, you know, when you sat on a couch for a couple of year and a half or whatever, and played video games, and now somebody wants to get you out in a 80 degree sun in the summer and put pads on it's, it's a difficult situation and we're, we have to fight that as coaches, but, those are some of the things that we have to address at this time,

Luke:

Speaking of the numbers thing. This is just my theory. And it's probably mostly coming from the lens of being a parent of my daughter's in high school. My son's in middle school and just kind of watching them come up through. Their sporting experience. And I feel like obviously concussions is a real thing. So let's table that because that's a different conversation. I think one of the issues that challenging the football is the level of preparation. That is required to play the game. And that doesn't necessarily reconcile with kids coming up through travel sports, because what they're doing is playing games year round, and let's be honest, games are more fun than practice, right? Games are more fun than being in the weight room. Games are more fun than a lot of things that are required to be successful in football. So I'm just going to use hockey as an example, my son plays hockey. if you look at the ratio of practice to play, it's the complete opposite of football And then I know basketball with AAU. Like the kids are getting a lot of experience of playing, which is great, but I think that is negatively impacting football. That doesn't exist. Right? I mean, it's a different level of preparation and I, and I don't mean to demean any sport. Every sport takes a level of commitment and preparation, but we just don't have games year round to offer kids. That's the difference? So that's kinda my theory. And, w what are your thoughts on that? The preparation piece, and if that's maybe discouraging some kids, and if so, what can we do to fix that?

John:

No, I agree. A hundred percent with what you just said. There is no more restricted sport in, I should say, as in football, you know, you play nine games when you put your pads on against an opponent. And if you're fortunate enough to get in the playoffs, you can extend that. But there is no other time during the year where you can replicate what you do during the season. You can play 35 baseball games on the spring. You can. 80 baseball games on the summer with travel and your, and now it's fall leagues now in baseball that, uh, the kids are being encouraged now to go out for fall baseball by their travel coaches. so like you said, you know, that? feedback of being able to, get instant gratification by shooting baskets or, you know, I played baseball in high school college. I get it. You know, to sit on a bench and split their spit sunflower seeds for, 15 minutes and go up and take three swings is a lot easier than, some of the things that are required in the sport of football. And like I said, every sport, there are kids, I think that, can Excel at those. And, and, and I have, The ultimate respect for people who play multiple sports but not only the pressure they get from playing year round sports or multiple seasons sports is the commitment and the weight room for the sport. You can play other sports, you can golf, you know, you can play baseball and, and not spend a whole lot of time in the weight room. but you can't do it in our game and not if you want to be supported. And successful at a, at a high level. it just that's, we, you know, when you asked me a few minutes ago, again, you know, what has changed, the off season training and football, you know, we have been fortunate enough. We just hired a, a young man, young man. He will be turning 30 soon. His name's Mike settle. He's a personal trainer. And our school administration hired him in our building now to train our student athletes. Uh, you know, you understand this being at St. Pat's. We have kids that come from DeKalb, from Plainfield, from all over and to have them stay after school or after practice for an extra 45 minutes, an hour at night takes away from their family time, their homework. So our school, Had the good sense to allow us to hire Mike and he trains our student athletes. We're going to have three full classes of it next year. and what he's done with our kids in these last three or four months has been phenomenal with, with their strength gains. And he also coaches are in our track kids right now. more than anything else. Yeah, You know, we tell the kids we're going to win on the off season. You know, once August starts, it's pretty much determined, you know, who's going to win and, uh, our kids have done a much better job. Based on the fact we have committed to hiring a, trainer that is going to have our kids ready, both with their strengths and, avoiding injuries because they're going to be in better physical condition.

Luke:

Yeah, that's great. And I know a lot more schools are moving in that direction and following the college format. That was one of my big rally cries. When I decided to take on this position that I did was I need to bring. A strength coach. We need a certified strength and conditioning specialist. It just cannot be run by the head coach. And that's the head coach of any sport. Right. And you have all these different. functions going on. So they're doing a football workout and then they're going to do an, a basketball workout and they're doing a baseball workout. And all we're doing is injuring kids in the process because it's not scientifically backed. So I am glad to see that you're doing that. I know we're doing that. And over. More schools in our state are going in that direction. And quite frankly, like most things, Illinois is behind many other states, but I'm glad we're at least catching up there. but, uh, you're right on, right? Like come August, you know, if you're going to be successful or not. And you've been at the pinnacles, I mentioned when I introduced you of our sport, you want to stay championship. if you had to sum it up and I know this might be difficult, but if you had a. What does it take to become a state champion? Not just in football, but just overall. What's it. Take?

John:

Yeah, I remember a coach that Homewood Flossmore. I don't know if, you recall his name, John Wren, won a state championship in the early nineties, John since has moved on to Arizona was an outstanding coach. And I was actually standing on the sideline, Don at Illinois state during his championship game, I was on the side. Terry McCombs was one of my good friends and we have sideline passes and there was a timeout called and he came off the field and I had been standing there and we kind of knew of each other through seven on seven. And, um, and this was before we even went down in 1993 and he kind of looked over at me and, and we kinda made eye contact. And he said, you know what you said, you're going to win one of these. He goes, but it's not going to be with your most talented. And that really resonated with me. And, um, uh, a lot of introspective thought on that. And what did he mean by that? And we came to find out that through the next few years, we kept asking our kids whenever we're going to do it, whenever we're going to get to this state championship level. And the kids reply was always when it's more important to us than it is to the coaching. And I think that's a unique way of looking at it when the kids are so vested and have such a passion for wanting to play down at champagne or at Northern Illinois. I think that overcomes maybe not being as talented or any other inadequacies that we may have there and out, and I'll be very honest. Our 2001 championship team was not the most talent. Team that maybe we've had a downers Grove south. We didn't have one player that off that team that had a division one scholarship that year, not one, but what we did have look is we had tremendous leadership from our senior captains. We had three captains, Joe Harani who's the head coach right now at honors Grove, north Mike our quarterback and Paul Niznick one of our defensive linemen. We have some issues that year. We went one in. Just to open up the season. And primarily because we had some players that made bad decisions in the off season. And I remember Paul Niznick coming in my office and said, coach, what happened? And I said, well, we had, he goes, I'll take care of it. He said, I will take care of it. And when you have that kind of leadership on your team, you know, the sky's the limit. I had a coach from Northern Illinois come, come by. And we were talking about Rocky Lombardi and. 31, the state championship, Rocky Lombardi was just a little kid. He was at that game with his dad, Tony. And, uh, actually he was at the semi-final game when we beat main south. And we still talk about that. But, the coach told me, he said we we've never had not never, but he said that to monitor leadership, we have right now from Rocky Lombardi is unbelievable. And so, you know, a combination of that senior leadership and team chemistry. Uh, it goes a long way coach to maybe upbeat and teams that maybe you shouldn't be winning state championships.

Luke:

Yeah, that was really cool. When you said, when the kids recited the fact of when we care more than you as. And then, you know, you have something really special until the point of talent. I also agree with that. it's, especially at the high school level, I mean, it's really a matter of believing in yourself and that's something that has always intrigued me. And I try to study the concept of belief. I try to talk to as many coaches like you on this idea of how do you get kids to believe? Because we as coaches. See them on the mountain top. And it's amazing because they don't see themselves there. And especially in today's world, they're so caught up in comparing themselves to their peers. And, oh, it's just, you know, this guy has a scholarship to Illinois and I don't have anything and they're starting to feel bad about themselves. And it frustrates me because I see greatness in them and I believe in them, but that doesn't mean a whole lot if they don't believe in themselves. Any suggestions you have for what you, what we could do to get kids to ultimately believe in themselves and see that great version that we see in them.

John:

Well, I think it starts with raising their expectations. in any program, like you've been at several schools, you know, and so have I, and. You know, when you go in and try to change a culture of a school, it always involves raising everyone's expectations from the administration to your coaching staff, to the student, athletes, to your parents, you know, right on down the line. And, those kind of things that you go over and you teach, and you talk about with your, student athletes throughout the year. Uh, if you come to our weight room right now, we have a lot of different signs up on our walls, but not one that has anything to do with football. It has to do with how you live your life. Terry McCombs, who was one of my good friends, told us, one of his favorite sayings and it's, you have the greatest power on earth, the power to choose. And that sits right above our squat racks right now. And, we have signs on how you act in school. It's just you raise their expectations. And when you do that, you have to understand, there may be some kids. I don't want to do that. You know, they're, mediocre people, don't care much for people that are real successful and successful people. They don't care for mediocrity either. And there are some mediocre type kids that when you raise expectation, they say, this is not for me. And that's okay. they can sit in the stands and watch and cheer our. You know, when we talked about losing kids and raising expectations, I think we've lost maybe kids that play football, not football players. And let me explain what that means. I play golf Luke, but I'm not a golfer. Okay. I think the kids that we've lost in football are not football players. I think they're still there. I think the kids that were just playing football. Yeah, the kind of the kids that maybe have decided to do other things. And again, when you raise expectations, you got to understand maybe the first year or two, you're going to lose some of those kids. And I think that's okay. All right. but you, you know, the market, I think of a good coach is, is helping kids do things that they don't think they can do. And so you do that in the weight room, you identify work habits, you know, and off season, and then the summer and their attendance. You know how they conduct themselves and talk to coaches and those types of things. And, once the season starts, like I said, if you've done those things in the off season, then you have situations like those two games that I talked about earlier. so, that's what we've done at the schools that I've been to. I've been fortunate enough to be at, you know, three that the administration support has been outstanding and the community support and. coaches, I would, and I'm sure you've heard this loop, but, uh, you know, you put a staff together and, uh, if anything resonated me in my coaching career, I've always been able to hire assistants that were smarter than me. And if you can do that, I don't care if you're running a business or you're coaching a football team. If you have guys on your staff that are smarter than you and have a passion for wanting to take your job someday, you got a good chance of winning on a lot of football games.

Luke:

Yeah, I agree with you. And sometimes when I'm running around, I'll stressed out on. I'm uh, encouraging my assistants to have that passion to come take my job anymore. I think they liked that role of assistant, to be honest with you, but let's go back to those kids that play that maybe are not football players. I do agree. There's not as many of them, but we all do have some on our team and what's frustrating is some of them could be really good players. what do you do with the kid that wants to just be on the team? And he's participating and let, let me be even more specific. The kid comes to every off season workout. He comes to every practice he does exactly as he's told, but he never goes beyond that. And you know, there's more in the tank and he know that the kid has more in the tank. what do you do to get it?

John:

Well, I think that's what you identify in the weight room in the off season. and you know, our strength coach does a really good job of, you know, uh, we have a kid that's putting a weight on the bar. He said, no, put 10 more pounds on there because again, they're telling themselves one thing and not believing, you know, those kinds of things. And we have a lot of those kinds of athletes. More of those kinds of athletes and we have football players and, you know, one of the things that made us successful when I was at Donald's road south for all those years is not so much that we had difference maker type kids. And we had some really good players. Don't get me wrong. We've had we're we're lucky. But what we were able to do is through our system with our freshmen and sophomore coaching staffs, and even our youth football program, that downers Grove pants. We were running the same system, the same terminology all throughout, their football careers in middle school and high school. And when they got to the varsity level, those kids that were juniors, that weren't starters were the kids that the next year made the jump into a starting position. through the senior leadership and, and the kids that they played behind made them better football players. And if you're going to be good consistently, you have to have that development in your program from the lower levels, coming up to the varsity, you know, you might get a transfer here or they're a really good kid, but you have to have kids. Were, role-players or junior year, but now are stepping in filling those roles as starters and, that's how you develop consistent winners. And, you know, we did that there and they're doing that down at menuca down, down there now with, with Matt Harding down there, he's doing an outstanding job and that's what we're trying to do at Aurora central Catholic. You know, you're now and get back to that type of level.

Luke:

Well, let's talk about the other type of kid that at least for me, is equally as frustrating as a kid who just participates. And that's the kid that is extremely talented, but he lacks the committee. And, I'm not saying he blatantly doesn't follow rules, that's a different conversation. He, he just doesn't have the commitment that we want, but the kid is talented. What do you do to try to find the spark, to get the kid, to have the effort matched?

John:

Well, you got to make sure that everybody gets treated the same way. case in point we had arguably one of our best players this year, or the summer came out to practice. So that was practice Jersey and had just walked on. Like it was any other day. And I looked over, I said, where's your Jersey. You said, I forgot it at home. I said, go home. And he was probably our, one of our most talented kids. Uh, you know, you, you have to follow those expectations and those standards, and if they're not performing at the level that you think they are, then you have to challenge. And everybody's different. I don't think there's a cookie cutter way of doing that coach. I think, every player, every student athlete responds differently and you got to find exactly how far you have to push a kid, maybe to get them to that point. but, uh, that's, that's a challenge. Like I said, we probably. we have what you have a couple of those every year. Maybe some years you have may have more than others, but, if they don't meet those challenges, you know, unfortunately those, there are times when those kids can come back and hurt their football team, maybe put the ball on the ground in a critical situation, or, let somebody go over the top of them as a defensive back. And it seems like there's. The football gods kind of pay you back if, if you put yourself in that situation. So, you know, we challenge those kids and we do it in practice. We do it in the off season. Like I said it, the game should be easier than the practices. If we're doing what we need to do out here, if our defense, you know, if you're going against them all week and they're good, then the team we're going to play that defense is not going to be at the same level as our own. And, and we will challenge our kids. We do a fight drill, you know, almost every day at practice where we put two kids on the board. Uh, you've probably seen that drug before and it's like king of the hill. and we challenge our kids and try to get them in as many competitive situations, because then you find out when things are getting tough and things are hard when you're trying to get that last rep on the bench who gives up and who doesn't, you know what I mean? And so, challenge kids and, put them in as many competitive situations as you can. And I know we're limited by that because we can't put the pads on it, but you can do it in other ways.

Luke:

Really, what you're talking about is the process. And that's something that we all try to teach our kids is that process of, you know, stacking wins on top of each other. When Monday, when Tuesday, when Wednesday, before you could win. And I have found that kids are becoming more and more impatient with the process and it could be gains in the weight room. It could be, becoming a starter It could be winning games and everybody lives in this now world. So how do you get kids to. Understand the process, like, do you deliberately do things to teach the concept of a process and it's about the journey and the outcomes will take care of itself? How do you approach that?

John:

You know, I, I think I saw somewhere on one of your, any other tweets or something, you've talked about the. Uh, and not making it a grind if I saw that? correctly.

Luke:

Yeah. Yeah. I'm not a fan of the word grind. We have to find a better word as coaches.

John:

exactly. and I, I refer to a story that We we always tell our kids every year and it, it goes back to Michael Jordan and he used to have a summer camp at Elmhurst. For high school kids and he'd come on the last day. And one day he sat like 300 kids down on the court at the end of the last day of camp. And he called a girl up and put her at the free throw line and he handed her a basketball and said, if you make this free throw, everybody in camp gets free air Jordans. And so he handed her the ball and her knees started shaking and she started sweating. And so he reached over and took the ball back from her and he S and he said something to her. That we try to teach our kids. He said, focus on the process, not the prize, because what she was thinking about was if I miss this shot, we have 300 kids. Aren't gonna like me. And instead of when you shoot a free throw, coach, you play basketball. You don't think nobody's in the gym. You're you have a process. You dribbled twice, you spin the ball, whatever. And his lesson to her. Let's change our thought process to the process of how we do this and not worry about what's going to happen if I make or miss it. Now, the story winds up, she did miss it, but they all got choosed anyway, but, he taught all those kids, a lesson that we use now with our football team, we're not worried about being an all-conference player or getting a scholarship. You know, those are things that will come if you play well. And how do you play? What's the process by getting in the weight room and by coming to summer camp and by learning your assignments and executing your plays and playing well on Friday nights, everything else will take care of itself. So it's a great story. And, and, we use that every year with our team.

Luke:

Yeah, that is a great story. I really like that phrase too. Uh, why like anything to do with Michael Jordan, but focus on the process, not the prize that is really good. And, honestly I think our fans and our parents in the stands need to hear that same thing too, because I find it fascinating. Every school I talked to believes that they're the sleeping giant, right? I'm doing my air quotes for those who they can't see this right now, everyone believes that a sleeping giant, everyone believes that they should win more games and they don't understand how hard it is to win just one game. And I think that the, average fan sitting in the stands has really taken that for granted With that said, I think it's causing a lot of coaches to hit pause and go. I'm going to go spend time at home with my own family, because the expectations have become just so overblown. And it's, it's just a lot of pressure. I mean, you feel that where you're at. I'm sure. And you're in the hall of fame. I feel it. I mean, let's be honest. So that pressure used to be a motivating factor. And now I think it's becoming to the point that it's suffocating and we're losing great coaches. So that's a very long-winded way for me to ask you, how did you last, as long as you did, like what's the key to longevity in this profession? That could be really unforgiving, a tough at times.

John:

Yeah, and I want to segue that by saying that's also happening with officials right now. With the way they're getting treated by their fans and we're losing some good officials. So, you know, we have to address that as Well, Um, you know, I I had the good fortune of meeting a lot of really good coaches throughout my career. one of which was Bob Reed and I don't know how familiar you are with Bob. He was a, national championship coach at August Danna in the eighties and, just a really wise and smart coach. some really good perspective on not just coaching, but also life. And I sat in the office with him one day and we were talking about exactly what, what you asked me. And he looked at me and he said, how many kids do you have on your varsity? I said, we have 75, about 75 kids. And he said to me, 70 sets of their parents of those kids. Think you're the greatest thing they've ever seen. You walk on water. They love. But you probably have five sets of parents who think you're the worst thing that could ever happen to downers Grove south, because whatever reason there's kids don't play and you know, they think you favor and he goes, he said, you better understand that if you're going to be around a long time, uh, every year that's another five sets of parents in your community. So you have got to stick to, you know, your principles and your philosophy. and not be persuaded by, you know, what you might hear from a parent here or there. You know, we have that a little bit in our society where the one person I think right now is, who's, the loudest is getting the most attention. And, you know, when we look up in the stands, 95% of those people are there and enjoying the game and very supportive. And you're always gonna have people that, even when you win it downers, and then menuca, there were always a mom or dad up there. I thought you should've done it differently. one of my favorite stories real quick, and I don't, I don't know how much time we have, but, and you may have heard this. There was a story about a coach who the fans were always on him after the play was over. They should have run. He should have passed. So he went around town and he went to the drug store and he went to the grocery store and he, you know, you went to the barber shop and he asked them to drop their best play. And he took, those, went to practice and then Friday night they ran up. They lost five yards and the manager turned around and held up a sign and said, this play was drawn by Mike Davis, the barber, and then went onto the next play just to show the fans that, it's not just the, plays that we draw. It's, it's how it's executed. And, and, you know, people don't realize what goes into preparation for a game. They, you know, on Friday night they see 48 minutes, you know, think about seven months of training and. Oh, that's the practice time. And you know, all the different segments of the sport, you know, baseball is baseball is baseball. You know, you get a ground ball to third, or you have a bun coverage, or it never changes and football from one week to another week, you are changing, maybe how you're blocking your offense, how you're defending on defense, what your punt teams gonna, you know, there's so many elements of this game, that we just have to understand that you're going to have people. I don't agree or think they should do it better. And it's just part of the thing, you have to live with and just believe in, in what you're doing and your system and, and your coaches and your kids. And, and if you do that, you know, when you look back on your coaching career, at least you did it the way you thought you should do it. And not because you were persuaded by outside influences. And I think any coach in predicting a young. Yeah. You know, think years down the road when you're all done coaching and you're looking back that, do it the way you think it should be done. Is it always going to be right? No, but at least you did it at that time, the way you did and you won't have regrets.

Luke:

Well, I know one thing, speaking of philosophies and principles that you really believe in is the impact that we could have as coaches. Um, lives and the impact outside of football, right? Like football is just the platform. We all have a larger role to serve as coaches. And let's talk about victories in that sense. What are some, and you don't have to give a person's name, but what are some victories that you could share? Maybe that one great victory, like we talked about earlier, but off the field. We're. You did impact a life and you heard from that player 10 years later, something along those lines, because I really like to end my episodes like that because that's really what this is all about. And those are the stories I love to really truly hear. So tell us about your greatest victory.

John:

You know, and a number of years ago, I had a young man who, uh, was a senior and was, selected to play in one of the, all-star games in the Chicago land area. And they have promise he made a bad decision, which involved alcohol and, as a result of that, I withdrew him from the all-star game. obviously he was not happy with that decision and his parents weren't happy as well. but my hands were kind of tied, uh, with not suspending them from the season next year or anything like that. And so I just thought, that it's best that, w I just re withdrawn from the game. And, I went to the game that night and he was there in the stands. And, I wound up coaching his younger brothers. one was a defensive back in our state championship game. And, it was kind of a tough pill to swallow for him, because you know, he was a really good player. He went on to play at, uh, Youngstown state was one of our really talented players that we had in our program. so just this last Christmas I was sitting at home and I get a phone call and it's. And his two brothers and they were sitting around, they had gotten together for Christmas and they had called to tell me that that decision helped change his life, that he had been doing things like that and was not held accountable for it. And he had lost something that was valuable to him and called, and just said, I need to call you to tell you, I love. My brothers are here. We all love you. And we thank you for what you've done to make us better people. And, it, it was one of those moments in coaching that, you know, you look back and you say, it was a lot of work and not much money, but this made it all worthwhile. And, we've had, a lot of kids that we, come across in our coaching career. And, sometimes we don't understand that, What we say and do, we might forget a couple of weeks later, but they remember it the rest of their life. And, you know, there are there some things that I would like to go back and change? Yes. we've made all made mistakes and I, I certainly have too. but when you get a phone call like that, somebody who played with 20 to 25 years ago and, tells you how much you impacted their life by showing that you care about them, certainly makes it all worthwhile. And, I'm sure you'll have many of those in your coaching career as well. Coach

Luke:

Well, I sure hope so, because just listening to you tell the story. I was envisioning myself getting that phone call and, how that would make me feel was, you know, the hair on the back of my neck is rising up and, you know, you get watery eyes and for thinking like that is really why we enter this. Like, yes, we, we love the sport and we love the game and we love the computer. But it's those phone calls that we need to hold onto. And like you said, it's long hours and sometimes thankless and, uh, let's use the word it's the grind. Right? So, um,

John:

We'll find a better word.

Luke:

Yeah. right. So, but yeah, it's, it's so special moments and the reality is, and you know, this better than anyone. Sometimes you're not even going to get that phone call, but you still had that impact. And it's understanding that and believe in that you are impacted them along in their journey to finding their best selves that we really have to hold on to because. As great as the state championship was like you said, it wasn't even your greatest victory and it wasn't even your greatest team, but I'm sure that phone call probably ranks above that ring. You probably going to hold on to that phone call a lot longer. You hold on to that ring is my.

John:

Absolutely for the rest of my life coach. And, this is an interesting profession that we're in. I mean, you will impact more kids maybe in the next year or two than some people impact their whole life. And, we have to understand that that football is going to be over for these guys someday. And what have we given them as foundation? To be successful people in this world. And, you know, I've heard some other podcasts gentlemen say, you know, when we talked about it as well, I, you know, better husbands, better, fathers and better community members and church, community members. So, that's our job, you know, and that's our job to, prepare them for that. And, we can't lose sight of that.

Luke:

Absolutely agree. And I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on how to not only when. Field, but more importantly, how to win off, to feel. And if any of our listeners would like to get in touch with you and learn a little bit from your years of expertise, what would be the best way for them to read?

John:

my email is, by first initial, last name it's J B E L S K I S J bell. At Aurora central.com. I will tell you this coach, I have been around this professional long time, but I still have more questions and I have answers. So, you know, we're still learning this game too. So whoever calls me, I'm going to try to pick their brain as well. And you know, I did come and watch you speak a couple of years ago at the glacier clinic and picked up some stuff from you. And, we do a pretty good job of that, of steel and other stuff. And, I would love to talk football or help in any way with anybody in this profession.

Luke:

Well, I really appreciate you saying that. And I agree with you. That's what makes our profession so awesome is it's a fraternity. And we share ideas, we steal ideas and, everyone just willing to kind of put it out there. I have to vent for a second though. I am a little disappointed that now everybody has to sell everything before it'd be, Hey, can I come meet with you? I want to talk about how you organize practice and now it's like, 10 bucks. I'll send you my practice plan. I feel like more and more people are selling their, their expertise rather than just openly sharing it. So for those of you coaches out there listening, I don't begrudge capitalism and begrudge entrepreneurship, but man, we have to stick together. The only success I ever had is because I was able to reach out to successful coaches and they open their doors. And said, come watch us practice. Come watch us work out, come sit in the gym with me and I'll go through whatever I have and I'll share it with you. And I think we need to keep that going because if I didn't have that, I don't know if I would have stayed in the profession because I probably would have never been sick.

John:

No, and going to clinics is one thing. And all we call those appetizers, you know, you go and you see something there that you like and so on and so forth. But if you really want to learn the game and I go, you know, this, you, you've got to go to, Alabama or Michigan or Northwestern and sit with those coaches and just learn everything about one part of something you want to do better. You know, whether it's running. Or, you're spread punt, whatever it is, and just learn the ins and outs. And, those coaches are, very open to sharing those ideas. And I don't think they charge, so I would encourage any young coach, you know, clinics are good and you can learn a lot outside of the clinics do like in the restaurant and things like that from other coaches. But if you really want to learn the game, get to a school that does what you do. And spend time and just absorb as much as you can about it.

Luke:

Absolutely. And listen to The "I" in Win podcast, right. That that's the, that's the other new resource. So, but go ahead. Sorry.

John:

no, I was just going to say, we need more people like you in this profession, promoting this game. you know, it's always going to be a struggle with, with what's going on in the world right now, but just the excitement that. Building a debt at that school right now. And I look forward to following you throughout the season this year, and then your coaching career as we move forward and, wish you all the best.

Luke:

Well, same to you coach. I really appreciate you staying up late with us here with. this late at night after bolt has had a long day at work. So thanks so much for, uh, for hanging in there with us. We had some technical difficulties that we're able to navigate through. We, we tell our players to embrace adversity, be comfortable being uncomfortable, and we did it ourselves. So thank you very much. And look forward to crossing paths at a clinic or some Northwestern practice or something in the near future.

John:

I hope so. Go shamrocks.

Luke:

Thanks again for listening to The "I" in Win podcast. If you found value from it, please share with a friend and consider leaving a review, which is linked in the show notes. You can also post on social media and tag me at Luke. Mertens be sure to subscribe. So you're notified as new episodes are released and sign up to receive my free weekly notes containing main takeaways from each episode info for both can also be found in the show notes and with. Please remember tomorrow eyes be impacting this world. The more everyone wins. That's The "I" in Win.

John Belskis Profile Photo

John Belskis

High School Football Coach / Husband / Dad

Downers Grove South HS - Head Football Coach - 24 years
201-62 record
1993 Class 6A Runner-Up
2001 Class 8A Champions

Minooka Community HS - Head Football Coach - 2 years
18-4 Record

Aurora Central Catholic HS - Head Football Coach
15-14 Record

Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame Inductee

Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Class 8A Rep

IHSA Football Advisory Committee