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Sept. 20, 2022

Season 1 Most Downloaded Episodes: #3 John Nee | Helping Kids Navigate the Toughest Times

Season 1 Most Downloaded Episodes: #3 John Nee | Helping Kids Navigate the Toughest Times

Onto #3 of the top 5 most downloaded episodes of Season 1...Today's guest, John Nee, has been a teacher and coach at his alma mater St.Rita High School on the south side of Chicago for the past 25 years. In addition to his classroom responsibilities as an English teacher, Coach Nee is head coach of the baseball team and an assistant varsity football coach. He's passionate about impacting kids and today's going to discuss his influences, how he has grown as an educator, what he does to develop his players off the field and why having our players' best interests in mind makes for the best decision making coach.

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Transcript

Luke:

Welcome back to The "I" in Win podcast, as we continue to count down the top five most downloaded episodes of season one. We're onto number three, which is "Helping Kids Navigate the Toughest Times" with Johnny Nee who was the head baseball coach/ offensive line coach at St. Rita high school in Chicago. Not surprised at the popularity of this episode, given Coach Nee's track record of success in football, baseball, and most importantly, For those who know him best his ability to lead people. So here it is number three in a top five countdown of season one. welcome to The "I" in Win the show that focuses on why coaches should embrace the journey of impacting lives. I'm your host, Luke Mertens. And I'm excited to introduce today's guest, John Nee, who has been a teacher and coach at his Alma mater St. Rita high school on the south side of Chicago for the past 25 years. In addition to his classroom responsibility, coach Nee is an assistant varsity football coach and head coach of the baseball team. He's passionate about impacting kids and today's going to discuss his influences, how he has grown as an educator, what he does to develop his players off the field and why having our players' best interests in mind makes for the best decision making coach. Good to see you. Thanks for being here.

John:

Oh, thanks for having me. It looks great to see you.

Luke:

Obviously have a long history going back to our childhood on the south side of Chicago, but something else we share in common is we both are English teachers, which is a really odd combination, right. To be an English teacher and a football coach. So why did you decide to become an English teacher?

John:

So I went to St. Francis and Joliet, and I remember I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I knew I wanted to be a coach. That was, that was never, never a question for me. So when I was deciding kind of in the second half of my freshman year, Uh, which direction I wanted to go in terms of study, you know, at St. Francis, they had four majors when it came to teaching, they had science and math in English and they had history. So I knew I'm not a math or science guy, so that was easy. It came down to history and English. And I remember talking to a friend of mine on the team, Jason Thor Meyer, and him and I had a discussion about it. It's about three years ahead of me in school. And he said, you know, John, he said, I'm going into coaching myself. And I'm an English? major. And he said, if you're coming down to history or English, you're going to be much more marketable as a coach and an English teacher. So I remember that hit home with me, but more importantly than that, Luke, I had an unbelievable English teacher, my time at St. Rita Gavin. He met Dr. Donald Rakhi and he was a legend, you know, uh, how he went about his teaching. I know you and I, Luke have talked English grammar through the years and we kind of share, uh, an interest in a love in that, uh, beyond most people and, It was always the Don Rakhi way. You know, I was an average college student, trying to do a hundred different things at a time, but when it came to grammar, I always felt like that for those moments in time, I could be the star of the class. And that was all because of Don Rakhi. So, and I still have that passion today, I enjoy teaching grammar even though it's become less and less prevalent in my 25 years, there seems to be at try to move away from which I've resisted and will continue to resist. but I really enjoy it and I enjoy it to this day.

Luke:

Yeah, You know, you expose me now. Everyone knows that. Uh, I love grammar. So there goes my tough provato a football coach personality, but, what I do. It's interesting. Cause you said that it does seem to be going away in schools, but the irony is, I don't know how it is over at St. Rita. All I hear from my colleagues is, man, these kids don't know how to write anything. Well, if we're not teaching grammar best and part of the curriculum, how do we expect them to, right. So you stay in the same thing.

John:

I couldn't agree more. There's no doubt. I mean, I know that the approach that I was taught was. So, you know, I'm, I'm a firm believer. If it's not broke, don't fix it. And you know, sometimes that can be misconstrued as someone who's stuck in the mud and doesn't want to evolve with the time. But I do believe that there is a place for grammar for teaching it, to go back to the basics. It's no different than anything. You know, coaching the offensive line, coaching, catchers, coaching, whatever it's about the basics. And you work on the basics every single day. And hopefully eventually that stuff becomes muscle memory and it shows up for you on game nights. And I, I don't, I think grammar is the same way. I think if you drill it, drill it, drill it. I think it kind of. Morphs into making you a better writer. And, you know, I still preach that in my classes. I teach a freshman composition class now for the first time, the last couple of years. And, when you see where they start as writers at the beginning of the semester and where they finish from that first essay to that last essay, it's satisfying because you see a big difference and it just reiterates in your own mind that, you know what, there still is room in this world for teaching things the old way.

Luke:

Well, as much as I love talking about grammar, let's be honest. People are going to start turning the show off. So let's segue back to sports. So why did you get into.

John:

I knew from a young age, Luke, that coaching was going to be in my blood. You know, I had, I grew up in a family that sports was huge for us. My dad coached me my whole life. My uncle would traveling from out of state to come see my games. My mom was the team mom, our lives revolved around sports and whatever it was. And, you know, I knew I had a love for. From a very young age from watching an on TV to playing it. And you know, when I came to St Rita, I had so many great coaches that I knew that that's what I wanted to do. You know, I fall in love with the place, from the start. And you know, all I wanted to do is go to college and find my way back to Saint Rita. And as I tell people all the time, there's not a lot of times in people's lives, they can say. They knew exactly what they wanted to do and everything fell into place. And 25 years later, here we are, but I'm truly living that dream every single day.

Luke:

So your love for St. Rita is very clear. And my question. Just about St. Rita. It's about why you have chosen to stay in a private Catholic school, because let's be honest, you can make more money if you went the public route. So why have you chosen to stay in a Catholic school? What is it that has drawn you to it for all these years?

John:

I think it goes back to my experience as a student athlete at St. Rita and you know, one thing I always talk to our athletes about that. There's two things that I want to help them with. Two things that I'll promise. And one of them is always to try to give them an even better experience than the one that I had. You know, I know the type of experience I had here. I know how impactful it was on my life and continues to be on my life today. And I know how powerful that is. And, you know, I always say if I could just play a small role in our kids' lives, where they can come back one day and appreciate, what you were able to teach them. Then it's all worthwhile. obviously you can get that in coaching anywhere, but I just have always felt, and I'm biased, but St Rita's a special place. It's it holds a special place in my heart. And I just want to continue to give St Rita kids, the best experience possible, because I want them ultimately to feel about St. Rita the same way that.

Luke:

You've already mentioned Dr. Ray. Impact he's had on you. What about mentors in addition to Dr. Rakhi, and what are some of those lessons that they have taught you that you carry with you today as a classroom teacher and as a.

John:

uh, you know, I can go back to my high school coaches and Jim Prunty and Todd where net our baseball and football coach, you know, coach was such a great competitor. I think he was a fierce competitor and I think that, uh, Rain true on our team. I think coach we're net was a little bit more laid back, stoic, but definitely, uh, another guy who just had a presence about him, and, you know, I think those guys never put winning in front of what was right. And, you know, I think the lessons that we taught and they were hard on us, you know, our coaching staffs were hard on us in those days and, you know, and that was important. I think it's important to push kids in the right direction. And sometimes they need a swift kick in the button and we got those and we appreciated them. And you appreciate those things more and more, I think, as you grow and you understand why the why part, why that had to be that way. And. You know, you look back on those things and you say, okay, that, that, that, that played a huge role in shaping me as a person in a.

Luke:

And let's talk about how you've grown and looking back because you're 25 years in. Experienced teacher experienced coach. I'm gonna assume that your process and how you approach each day has changed because you learn, you grow older, you figure out what it's like to work with kids. Let's start with the classroom piece. How have you grown and evolve as a. classroom?

John:

I think the longer you do this, the more you are in tune with guys having so many other things going on in their lives. And, you know, you really understand that you come to realize that those guys that are a challenge for you. Those guys that make it tough, sometimes those are the guys that need you the most, you know, we've got a great percentage of kids at St. Rita, probably more so at a private school, than let's say a public school per se. Of kids that kind of figured out they come from families that have it figured out and you know what? Those kids are going to be successful, whether you are, I come into their lives or not, and even you still can play a role in their lives, but then you've got those guys that you need to reach a little further for. And I think I've come to really appreciate those guys more than I did as a young teacher and a young coach that's really why we're in this business. It's not for the. You know, it's not for, waking up and reading in the newspaper, what your team did the night before or the post game parties or anything like that. It's really just about those moments that you spend with your athletes. One of the. Just talking and finding out things about them and supporting them and, not trying to, give them all the answers per se, but just listening. And I think kids appreciate that. You know, there's something that I heard my first year. One of the first pieces of advice that I got, that I've always tried to never forget this. And that is, they have to know that you care before they'll care what you know, and you know what that's so true. It was true. 25 years ago, it was true a hundred years ago. when kids know that you really care about them, not as athletes, not as guys on your team, but as. Those kinds of run through the wall for you. And, you know, you're able to really, really hold those guys to another level of accountability because they understand that's because you care about them, you know, and those are the guys that you feel the most satisfaction, not necessarily though. It's, again, those guys that got it all figured out, but all those guys that need a little bit more than what they have in their own life. And, you know, when you play that role and you see those guys go on and be successful, and that that's what really, really drives you to continue to do that.

Luke:

Yeah, and we share that same growth piece. I'll admit that early in my career. I just always thought that. my classroom and that day of practice, wherever. Was the most important thing in that kid's life. And the more I got into this business, the more I realized that in some cases it's the least important thing in that kid's life and that he, or she may have a lot heavier things going on and it's our jobs to get to know that person. So we can understand that piece because, and I'm sure you hear this as a head coach teachers economy and say, oh man, your star players and doing any homework. it's really frustrating. And I'm like, well, do you understand what he's going home to? homework is the least of his or her concerns right now. But again, that's all part of getting to know the kid. So what do you do in a classroom? There's one of you in 25, 30 kids. How do you get to know them? So you could understand what is going on.

John:

you know, I think to me, it starts very simple saying hello, and it starts there. How you doing? How's it. it's just little things like that, and that builds a rapport, and then those guys and not everybody, but those guys tend to open up to you more. They tend to come in and maybe even, get into your class a little bit more. Cause, cause you're not the guy that's jamming it down their throat. You're not that guy, you know, and they understand that and they appreciate that. And there comes this mutual respect. And, you know, it's not always easy for them. It's not easy for teachers. but that's like you said, you know, you and I agree on this, that as we've gotten older, we've been able to do that more, that we've been able to put things in perspective and not take things so seriously and understand that, Hey man, this guy needs me to help him out. It doesn't need. To coach him in baseball or coach him and football. He needs me to help coach them through life.

Luke:

yeah, right on. And that's a great segue to the coaching piece. and I don't know, maybe it's the same answer, but how have you changed and grown as a coach as well? Cause that's a different dynamic in the field as opposed to in the class.

John:

yeah, I think, I think. I really do. I think I approach my classroom the same way I approach the field the same way I approach the football field, the same way I approach the baseball field. I think it's all the same. I think, you know, I think it translates from one to the next, Like I said, if you can really, you know, we always laugh about it. Great friend of mine, Jerry pays and, was in the Dean's office. I was the Dean at St. Rita for awhile and he was my assistant and we became great friends through that. And we always joked about getting guys on our team, you know? And how do you get guys on your team? You get them on your team by showing that you really care. You know that it's not always in your face. It's not always the negative stuff. especially as a Dean, you're dealing with that kind of stuff all the time, but we always felt that we weren't great at what we did. And we admitted that, but we always felt the one thing we were pretty good at was getting those really tough to reach guys on our team because I think they knew we really care. You know, and like I said, I think that that works as a football coach. It works as a baseball coach. You know, we've been dealing with some things on our baseball team, this off season. and what'd you come to realize, is this when a kid is either not showing up or not performing to the level that you expect of him, there's a reason for it. And you can't just ignore it. You know, you've got to sit down and you've got to have that hard conversation. you've got to encourage kids to open up and you've got to get, you've got to build that level of trust, where they feel comfortable sharing those things with you. And, you know, I feel like I've had a breakthrough in a few of our players this past couple of weeks. That's been very satisfying and I think it's helped them. And I know for sure, it's helped me. And you just, you become a better coach. You become a better person. And those moments, those hard. Those hard moments in life are what define you, and if you can help navigate a kid through those moments, man, it's gonna make him a, such a better person going forward

Luke:

Yeah, spot on. And one of my assistant coaches was actually one of my mentors coach galloon and he used to always tell me, Luke, there's a reason for the behavior. I'm a perfectionist I'm OCD want everything just to fall in line. And sometimes that doesn't work when you're dealing with teenage kids and I'd be frustrated in the coaches office. And why is this kid just not getting it? And he would always bring me back to that point. There is a reason for the behavior, and if you're really going to call yourself a coach, you have to find out what that reason is. Right. Because once we find out what that reason is, then we know how to approach the situation a lot more objectively, because it's not about what we want, it's about what they need. And that's the tough part of coaching because we're competitive. We want to win and want and do all those things. But again, that has to take a back seat to what is really larger in life. So, yeah, I I'm with you on that coach and. We're going to switch gears here now and talk about multi-sport athletes. Cause I know you were a great multi-sport athlete at St. Rita high school. You obviously support multi-sport athletes being that you are a varsity football coach and a varsity head baseball coach. What are the benefits to being a multi-sport?

John:

well, I, I think first and foremost, the more people. You can surround yourself with baseball players, football players, the different dynamic. I just think it makes you more well-rounded as a person. You know, the more people you can learn to deal with makes you better. And then from a physical standpoint, you use different muscles, different, talents, different things for different sports. And if you're just going to focus on one sport, It could be a problem where you're end up overworking, and I I'll tell you a couple of things. So we've been very blessed at Saint Rita for a long time to have several very, very successful, multi-sport athletes. And I'll give you two examples. literally. Louisville baseball is, is kind of like the Alabama football. You know what I mean? They're a perennial top five program and we had two kids in back to back years, commit to play baseball Louisville, and they were both top-line football players. So they both gave up football going into their senior seasons. This is back to back years and each guy after sitting in the stands for one game, missed it so much. That they wanted to come back. So they called the coaching staff at the university of Louisville and explain their situation. And those guys were a hundred percent onboard with them coming back and playing football. And I think that's all they needed to hear as kids because there are people out there that are getting in kids' ears these days and trying to tell them that they need to do one sport. And my favorite comeback to that is there's going to come a time in your life. And you and I, Luke are there right now where you do what you have to do. You have to go to work every day. You've got to take care of your family. You have to do this, you have to do that. But you know what? Kids don't have to do anything. Kids should do what they want to do. when kids come to me and ask me, coach, what do you think that's exactly what. Do you want to play two sports? Do you want to continue to play baseball? Do you want to continue to play football? Do you want to try to play basket? Whatever the case might be? And if the answer is yes, I stopped the conversation right there and said, well, you've answered your own question. Never do what you think you have to do, do what you want to do because the rest of your life is going to be you doing what you have.

Luke:

So why is it seemed to be going away? Why are less kids playing multiple sports? I mean, I have. my own theories, which may be wrong. I don't know what.

John:

Well, part of it to me is you got to keep up with the Joneses, Jimmy who lives down the block from you. You're playing the same baseball team and here comes the fall and you go play football and Jimmy's playing fall baseball. Then you're going to play basketball in the winter. And he's going to the dome every day and hitting, and you feel like, oh my God, he's getting, he's going to be better than me next. So I feel like, well, geez, if I'm going to play baseball in college, then I better catch up to those guys. And the reality is this college baseball coaches. And I use baseball because that's what I know the most in terms of recruiting, in terms of my interaction with coaches, they're going to take a Midwestern kid over a coast kid if they're equal because they know the Midwest kids got a lot more group. They're going to take a two sport athlete over a single sport athlete if they're equal, because he knows that that guy's got the toughness. So whatever he's got, he's taken from that other sport, those things are all true. All right. And you and I talked about this before that it's a big business out there now, too. You know, these facilities and. We always joke amongst our baseball coaching fraternity. And when I say that, I mean, my Zuna Ken and I, and our staff, that these days, these kids have this advantage where they've got somewhere to go hit somewhere to play baseball whenever they want to. And how cool is that? But you know what, those guys, we talk about being players that are built under a roof because you know what those guys have never played lob league. Those guys have never played strikeout. They've never played right field out. Right. They've never done any of those things. The things that you and I did growing up, and that's how we really learned how to play. That's how we got all of our instincts to play this game, which has definitely played a role in our success as coaches and kids are missing that these days. You know, because it's all about going to my hitting instructor. And it's about going and taking, 50 ground balls with the coach and taking a hundred swings. It's not getting your two best friends together and going out and hanging out playing. Cause that's when you really learn how to play this game. So to me, it's a double-edged sword, all these new, great facilities are great. but you know what? Back in the day, I used to go to Honda trails on Friday nights with about $5 worth of quarters to get ready for my Saturday morning Catholic league doubleheader. And that worked okay too.

Luke:

Haunted trail. So that's where I learned to hit a fast ball myself. So a great, great memories there, but yeah, it's interesting to listen to you. Talk about a, the recruiting piece speaking from a lens of a football coach, college football coaches want someone who plays multiple sports. It's one of the first questions they ask me. What else does he do? What do you mean? He doesn't play basketball? What do you mean? He's not running track and it's a negative check mark against. College football coaches. Can't publicly say this as well, but they would much rather you run track, then join the seven on seven league. Now they tell me that. I'm sure. They'll tell you guys that at St. Rita, they just can't publicly declare that because it's a PR nightmare, but you know, you're talking to these kids, like go run track. You, you want exposure to football. Go run track. And the narrative has just been taken over by the business side of it. Now let's talk about the athletic development side. You're right on with lob league and draw on the box on the wall wall and playing fast pitch, you know, and learning to become a better baseball player there. I think of myself, I learned to become, I'm not saying I was a great football player. Any moves. I had, I learned from playing tackle football at the park because when I was a kid, it hurt to get tackled. So I did everything I could to knock a tackle. And that's where you learn how to make open field moves. Right. And all that's being taken away. I had Tommy Kleinschmidt on my podcast, not too. long ago. And he was talking about basketball, right? He's a Chicago basketball legend. He was like, we got good go into the park. And the old school of playing pickup basketball. And if you win, you stay on. And if you lose, you're kicked off and you have to wait to get your chance again. He's like, that's where we got. Good. And now all these basketball kids, you walk into a gym while they're doing dribbling through a cone and yeah. It's skilled development, but yeah. I don't know. I mean, does it really developing the overall athlete? So the question becomes then what can we do as coaches to truly foster an environment that encourages and supports these kids in high school to go play multiple schools?

John:

well, I think the first thing is you've gotta be lucky enough to be amongst the staff at the school that you coach that everybody's on the same page. And I think it starts there, and you know, you've got to practice what you preach. I think we're very fortunate at St. Rita right now to have all of our major sports, head coaches on board with multiple sport athletes. most of them are St. Rita graduates who had the experience here who were multiple sport athletes themselves. So I think it starts there, you know, if the kids are getting the same message. Everyone that they respect from all different angles. I think it really starts to hit home with them. and you know, I just think the other thing is, you've got to practice what you preach as a coach. You know, you've got to understand that, Hey, if, if, if it's basketball, I deal with it right now. you know, we do our morning lifting for baseball, but I've got a couple hockey players and I told those guys, I go, listen. You're in the middle of the Kennedy cup playoffs. Get outta here. You know, I used to have to kick Luke Napleton out of the weight room because he'd play Mount Carmel at eight o'clock start the night before, you know, get out of the rink at midnight and he'd be at St. Rita at 16. And Griff our strength coach. And I would literally kick him out of the weight room and go, man, you gotta get outta here. Now you've got to let your body recover. And I think that's important, you know, I think if you're going to really do it, you've got to understand that there's going to be some given take. You know, you can't say it and then expect your guys to always pick your sport. First. You've got to understand that as long as they're doing something they're getting better and you really have to believe the fact that when that guy's playing that hockey game last night, guess what? He's becoming a better baseball player. All right. And I truly, truly believe that. All right. And I think that that's important that you stress that to them. And then hopefully it's going to come back. You know where it's not going to be all about specialization now, once again, and it goes back to my theory of do what you want to do. Some guys love baseball and they don't want to do anything else. That's okay. That's okay too. But it's those guys that feel forced to do so. All right. one of the things we talk about here is, be where you're feeling. And I talked about that, my program all the time, that there's this misconception out there that high school sports has become about trying to obtain a college scholarship. That's not what high school sports is about. That's not what I want. That's not what I signed up for. High school sports is about becoming a better person, a better teammate, a better leader, fighting through adversity, being a part of something that's bigger than yourself. That's what high school sports is about. And you know, what, if that turns into account scholarship, that's the cherry on top of the sundae, but it's, it's the people out there that are making it that that's the end all be all. If you're not a division one guy, then it's a failure and you know what? And you've got to sometimes really fight that battle with kids because of the messages they're getting outside of your. every year when we have our parent meeting, we have a mass at the beginning of our season. At the end is when I speak to the entire program. It's the only time all year that I have everybody in the same room all at once. And I talk about that all the time, be where your feet are. And high school sports is not about obtaining a couch scholarship. It's about learning lessons in life that are going to make you. A better dad. I'm going to make you a better husband are gonna make you a better co-worker all those things. That's what's most.

Luke:

Well, those are some great points. And for whatever reason, it seems like high school sports have evolved into, well, this is my avenue to. The payday, which is the scholarship. So where's that change coming in your opinion, is that have the parents changed, have the kids changed? Where do you think that.

John:

I think it comes. And I've mentioned this earlier. I'm trying to keep up with your. You know, and I think parents get caught up in that. I think parents, want to tell everybody that their son has a scholarship to the university of Louisville or to, Illinois or whatever. It doesn't matter any division one college. I think that they wear that with a badge of honor. And you and I both know, all you gotta do is look at college athletics right now. The state that that's in with guys in the transfer. I tell my guys all the time, go where you're wanted, go, where you're wanted, don't force the issue because you think you have to be a division one guy, and you know, they'll run you out of town in a year. If they don't, you don't fit who they want you to be, but there's plenty of schools out there that want you now. And I said, that's, that's where you need to be, because that's where you're going to end up. So you might as well go start there and have yourself a nice four year career, but I just think it's, it's competition. this guy is getting the scholarship and why is this guy have five scholarship offers and why doesn't my son have this? And what are you doing for him that you're not doing for, for my son and, and I don't totally understand the process of recruiting. You know, Luke you'll say the same thing. We've coached athletes that you can't understand why they're not being recruited more heavily because you know that those are winners and, you know, sometimes it becomes about measureables and measurables only take you so far, give me a guy that knows how to win and we're going to win with those guys. And you know what, I'm pretty sure that works at the college.

Luke:

Yeah, I'm with you on that. And I'm also with you on the point you made earlier that high school sports about growing as a person and learning the skills that you're going to take with you to become successful in life. However, we have to be intentional with how we teach at the kids. So what are some things you do in football, baseball, your classroom? you are intentionally teaching life lessons. What do you do? What are you trying to get out of it? How do you go about doing it with the.

John:

Well, I think sometimes you can create your own. I think, when you've got a stretch of time where things are going really well, I think you could create your own adversity and, challenge your players in a different way. you know, I think that's important. we always, we talk about embracing adversity here, meeting adversity with a smile and, I can't wait during a season for my team. To have to battle some adversity because you don't really know them until that happens. that's when you find out, you know, we talk about, you find out half of a man's character when things are going well, you find out all of his character when things are not going so well. You know, we've all been there as teachers, as coaches, you know, when you're around people and that's adults, that's kids, that's everybody that when the chips are down, that's when you find out who. You know, so I think really, really embracing those moments as a coach, and really pointing those out to your players and talking about that and, and making that a point, I think is so important. I really.

Luke:

that was a great points that you're making. And again, it comes with that intentionality piece, right? So you're intentionally teaching these kids that adversity is an opportunity to shine, Adversity is an opportunity to show your true character as a human being. So being very intentional with how you want the kids to approach that. And I love it many times coaches say they want to coach the whole person. They want to teach life skills. But then when the season starts, it goes out the window, right? Suddenly you see coaches yelling at each other on the sidelines or yelling at kids or even worse yelling at coaches. But three weeks before the season began, they said, we're all about self-control and discipline. Right? We're going to be the most disciplined teams in America in any sense. You know, the head coach, just losing his marbles at RF over a bad call. We see this all the time. So that's the hard part, right? Coach, when you start getting into the season and you start getting caught up in the wins and losses, because let's face it, we all do We're competitive people. And sometimes you need that reminder of wait a minute. There's a, there's a larger role of athletics here. So what's your reminders, Do you have a routine in the morning? Is it your assistant coach? What do you use as your reminder to get you back to your.

John:

well, it's funny you say that because I don't know what they are. I don't know if I can quantify it or, pointed out, but I will tell you that. I find myself often taking a step back when my mind starts to wander to those unimportant things, thinking, you know what, remember what's important. And I tell myself, keep, keep in perspective what is important, whether it be a losing streak, you know, whether it be. Your team is struggling, whatever the case might be. you got to take a step back in those moments and say what's important here, or you're stressing about dumb things. Like, you know, did I order all the uniforms that I needed? Did I, did I make all the calls I needed to make last night? Did I order this? Did I do that? Did I have this meeting? Did I remind them this? You know, and then you, you lose sight of what's important. by getting so caught up in the day to day and like you, and you know, this loop, you know, you can, that happens easily as conscious as you may be about that. You're ultimately going to lose yourself at any point in every season that you'll ever coach and it's those times. And hopefully as we've grown into be middle-aged coaches, We've gotten better at that, where that doesn't last for a week or two weeks after a day at practice, you can self-assess and go, man, you know what? I didn't handle that very well at practice today, or I could have done something different. And then, you know what, you know what I've really found out with kids. If you show them vulnerabilities as a coach that goes along. No admitting that you were wrong, that you handled that poorly. I had this conversation with one of our, one of our players and then with our seniors recently, how much I miss being an assistant coach, as much as I love being a head coach at Luke, you're the first guy that turned me on to this. I remember we talked about this and you know, when you become a head coach, you're the same person, but everybody looks at you different. And, that's hard to deal with sometimes because you lose those personal relationships sometimes because you're the guy that's making all the calls, you know, you're the guy that's got to deliver the bad news that you're not in the lineup today. Are you going to get cut from the team today? And all of a sudden, you're not the guy that they come to in. You know, you're finding out things about your players from assistant coaches and, I told guys, I go, I missed that. I go, my favorite part of coaching football is the relationship that I have with our offensive line. we're like a team within the team, you know, we're very tight. We do everything together. Those guys tell me things, and I don't have the same relationship with our baseball team because of the title, But it's in those moments that you have to get back to your roots still, and you've got to fight Claude to get there. And I, like I said, I think showing vulnerabilities as a coach, to your team, admitting that you handled that one poorly, that you wish you had it back, that you wish you would've have said that, or you wish you would've done something different. I think sometimes coaches have a hard time doing that. They think it's a sign of weakness. What I really think it's a sign of.

Luke:

Yeah, there's a lot to digest there and we could have an episode just on your answer, a little. man, vulnerability as a leader, so important and something that I was wrong on when I first started, I used to always say, I need to be at my best. I can never have an offer. And as I got more into this role as a head coach, and as a leader, I started to realize that true leadership is being vulnerable, having off day, letting people see you, not at your best, Rather than this persona of always trying to be at your best, because that creates those stressors. And that takes away from the enjoyment of. the position. And then, yeah, I mean, it's lonely. Sometimes being the head coach, everyone loves the assistant coach. I tell my assistant coaches that all the time, like, I understand that these parents are grabbing you at the local Tavern and telling you that you should be the one in charge and you should be the one calling the place, but just know that you do become that guy. That same parents can be grabbing your assistant, telling him that same thing. But you don't know until you're in that position. And it's something that I've tried really hard to. Uh, I don't want to use the word control, but that's, what's top of my head right now, controlling my relationship with the kids. Like why can't, I know we'll never be the same as the assistant. And I understand that, Because ultimately I'm picking playing time, but why can't I have that strong relationship with kids like I had when I was an assistant and it's really just how we approach each day and how we talk to those kids. And I, I think if we are vulnerable, I think if we are intentional, I think we are just human. We can develop that relationship despite. The head coach, at least as best we can at that moment. So.

John:

One of my main goals this year is to be conscious of that. And we've dealt with some controversy amongst our senior class over the past few weeks, that I think ultimately is going to bring our team together and closer. and like I said, I I've really made it a point to myself as one of my main goals this year is to get back to that place, or at least closer to that place that I have been at my first few years as had.

Luke:

Well, that's great to hear because that's important for you too, right? I'm sure you see everyone's resigning, right? Everyone's walking away from this business because the stress, and it's just not that fun all the time. So it's our job as head coaches to remember. What are those enjoyable moments and focus on those and intentionally bring those into our daily plans, I mean, if having the conversation, Darren stretch before practice is something you really enjoy to do, why not do that as a head coach? All the more reason to go do that, If you enjoy taking the offense, align out for pizza, which is, I know what you did. still do it as a head coach. Why not? Because you have a right as a leader to still enjoy the moment as much as anyone else does, because if you're enjoying it and you're happy, then they're enjoying it and they're happy as well. So go for a coach.

John:

I'll tell you one thing real quick here. just a little thing, but so, we've been very fortunate at St. Rita for a long time. Uh, with some, uh, success we've had, at our baseball program. And I always remember us not celebrating Catholic league championships as much because it's about winning the state championship or not celebrating the regional championship. Cause we're not in this to win regionals, you know, we're in this to win the whole thing and a really little thing, but I think as kind of a big thing, We would never take a team picture after a big win or a big events, because didn't want to jinx it. We're going to wait till the, take the big picture at the end. And two years ago, I decided that that's over. That's done every good thing we do. We're going to celebrate it. Cause you know what? Winning is hard. And a lot of people put a lot of time and effort. To get us there and we're going to enjoy it. Cause if you can't enjoy it, then you shouldn't be in this business. So now we win the Catholic league. You know, we, we were lucky enough to, to clinch a, share the title of brother rice last year, you know, we're going down the right field line to take a picture and we won a regional championship. We're taking a team picture and I'm going to throw it up on the wall. So those guys will always remember that day because that's what it's about. it's about the jury. It's all about the journey. It's not about the end result. It's about the journey because that's what everybody remembers. You know, then at the end of the day, you know, only one, team's going to be standing at the podium and you know, that's great. And obviously, you know, I've been able to experience that as a coach and there's nothing like it. but you know what? I've had plenty of years where I got just as much satisfaction or more out of teams that didn't quite get there because you remember all the time. To get there all the good times you had the pizza parties, the talk during stretch. My two favorite times as a head baseball coach are in the weight room at 6:30 AM because our strength coach Griffis and charge, I'm there to walk around to see how everybody's doing. And then my second favorite thing is throwing BP, throw the music on. I can stand there and throw BP all day, forget about everything else and just be a baseball coach. And, you know, I love those moments and.

Luke:

Yeah, that's a great point about celebrating success. You look at football and Illinois, you have to qualify to make the state playoffs. We minimize that sometimes, you know, a program like you guys your perennial playoff team and you have to remember, it's still an accomplishment to get there. I understand there's larger goals. Understand everyone wants to walk home with that trophy, but sometimes I think we're guilty. Like you said, of not celebrating. Hey, we made the state playoffs. It is a big deal. Hey, we won conference. It is a big deal because the odds of walking home with that trophy are still. So you might as well celebrate those little victories because they are part of that process. And Hey, you know, we made it to this and I understand when it reach our big goal, but we did get here and let's be proud of that fact. And I think that's the growth of a coach, that's where you're at right now. and. I have to take offense to the fact that you call the middle age. I'm a young man. What are you talking about? Middle-aged

John:

uh, you are a full year younger than me. So

Luke:

Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, right on though, Coccia I'm with you with what's going on in your head and how you're feeling about that. to start wrapping us up, let's talk about resources. Do you have any great podcast, books you have read cleanse you have gone to that you would really recommend to our listeners who want to grow as a teacher or as a.

John:

I would say probably one of the things. I don't do as good a job as I should. And that is reading up on other coaches and listening to things. And, I've got coaches in my life that I bounce things off of, that I enjoy talking scheme or strategy. And even more importantly in that how to deal with certain situations. And, you know, I, I talked to a few of my coaching mentors over these past couple of weeks. Like I said, we've been dealing with some things within our program. so that's the first thing I'll always. His go to guys and bounce off ideas. I probably need to do a better job as a coach of, resourcing out. And, you know, sometimes I've been at St. Rita for 25 years and it's easy to say, wow, we've had a lot of success here. We're doing it right. But I will say this. I really enjoy when we bring a coach onto our staff, who's coached somewhere else. Who's seen it done a different way. and I'll give you a great example. we added an offensive line coach to our staff this year. he happens to be living in the area cause he's following his fiance, played at NC state. actually spent a little time with the new England Patriots on their practice squad. You know what he's a coach's kid, his dad played in the NFL, his dad still coaches to this day. And man, I'll tell you what he came in. And I be honest with you. To me, it was the most important thing for not only our group, but our team, just because he brought a new perspective, and sometimes, and this is, you know, you, you coach, you you'll, you'll say about this too. Sometimes it's hard, you know, you become a. What's the word I'm looking for? I'd say, uh, within your own group, Hey, I'm in charge. This is, this is how we do things. And when somebody comes in and sees it from a different way and changes things up sometimes as a coach, you gotta take a deep breath. Like, you know, who's this guy, what's he? But man, I'll tell you what, it took me a day to kind of get past that. our kids just, blossomed, they really did. We got so much better. And when we work together and allow him to coach and, you know, and I think as a head coach, allowing your coaches to coach is a huge part of things. I was very, I've been very fortunate as a longtime assistant to have coaches that have allowed me to coach. That have not stood over me, have allowed me to take on responsibilities within our team, because I know as a coach, you take ownership as an assistant on those things. So that's one thing I try to do, and I know it's kind of off topic of your original question, but. You know, I think that's, that's important and yeah, I need to do, I need to be better. I need to be better at, getting other people's perspectives and, getting out and talking to people and, and finding out how they do it outside of 77, 40 Southwest.

Luke:

Yeah. You know, I never forget. I, my first clinic talk and man, I was probably 32 years old. So four years of being a head coach, really no business getting up in front of a group and talking to clinic. But anyway, I guess the original guy canceled and I was the B plan. So I'm up there talking. And someone comes in and he sits down and I knew who this person was. And a man, I think 10, 11, 12 state championship rings under his belt. And he was the first person in my talk sat in the first one. And took out his notebook. And, I was really nervous. I was like, I can't believe he's sitting in the front row and he's out in my talk and took copious notes. the whole time I was talking, I was distracted. I couldn't focus on what I was doing. His thinking, like, how was he possibly taking notes? What I have to say, like I only should be learning from him. And then the older I got and the more I talked to my mentors, the more I realize that's why he has all those rings because he was sitting in the front row because he was humbled enough to say, I can learn from anyone at any point, no matter how many rings I have no matter how many wins are underneath my belt. And that's why he is successful. And it's something that has stuck with me. So to your point of this new, online coach, Yes. W we have a heck of a lot to learn from each other. It's also why in this podcast, I don't do just football coaches. This is a podcast about leadership. So I'm bringing in business professionals, girls, softball, coaches, basketball, coaches, you name it because. We're all in the business of people and we all could learn how to have impact on someone's life and just make a better day for someone. Right. So if we tend to think, well, I only can learn from a football coach. I'm a football guy. I think it's pretty narrow minded and you're limited in your opportunities to be great. kudos to you, I'm with you on that coach. So. To wrap up this great talk we've had, what about contact information? And we would like to reach out and talk to you about baseball or football or multi-sport athletes or whatever it may be.

John:

Yeah. I mean, absolutely. I'm, you know, this kind of conversation is stimulating to me. I, you know, we've, we've been going on. 45 minutes and it feels like five minutes. I love these kinds of conversations. I love to share ideas with people that have the same interests that are in it for the same reasons. Um, my email Jane ni at St. Rita hs.com is a great way to get ahold of me. I check a daily. Love nothing more than to a week or two from now have a couple of people that are looking to share some ideas. Um, like you said, you can learn from anyone. we had a clinic on Sunday where we had about 120 grade school kids here, and I told them the greatest thing about the sport of baseball. And obviously it doesn't just apply to baseball. Was that every single day I'm out there, I'm learning something. And I truly meant that, you know, here we are coaching up 11, 12, 13 year old kids, but you walk out of there and you learn something new and that's what makes it great. And that's what makes athletics great. And that's why it's a great microcosm of life. And, you know, we talk about baseball, specifically, the failure aspect of it. how that's such a great thing for you moving forward. But yeah, I, I love the opportunity to connect with as many coaches as I could, uh, bounce some ideas up and back offline.

Luke:

Well, thanks for sharing your email address and to our listeners. I will have that in the show notes and also to our listeners. I hope that this 45 minutes seemed like five minutes to you as well, because that's a sign of a great episode. Coach a really value. First and foremost, I value our friendship. You're a mentor to me as well. I've loved being able to bounce a lot of things off ya, sending you that sentence and being like, Hey, should a comma go right here? Cause I, will admit we do have those conversations via text messaging because we are English nerds that

John:

I, and I miss those. So start sending them back again. Wait,

Luke:

absolutely.

John:

not in a classroom right now, but you know,

Luke:

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So I value that, that relationship and, thanks for all the work that you do at St. Rita and for all the work that you're doing with kids, because it's making a huge difference. And it's why I wanted to showcase you on this podcast. So thanks for coming.

John:

well, look, thank you. And congratulations on your new gig at St. Pat's. You're going to do great things there. And, uh, I've always, we talk about this St. Pat's is the scent read of the north side. So I'll always be a huge fan. Hope you guys go 81 next year, except for your one. Game against the Mustangs. Of course.

Luke:

Well, I appreciate that. Let's talk about that one game and let's not talk about the fact that, although you're a south sider, you are really a Cub fan too. That's a whole nother conversation. So, all right, coach. Thanks for being on man. We'll talk.

John:

Thanks Luke. Have a good one.

John Nee Profile Photo

John Nee

Head Varsity Baseball Coach St. Rita

25th year at St.Rita
20 years asst coach baseball
5th year as Head Baseball Coach
-2019 3rd place Class 4A
-2020 preseason #1, #29 nationally (Covid)
-2019, 2021 Back-to-Back CCLBlue Champs
24years asst football Oline Coach