Wise Words for Coaches New (and Old)

September 13, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Every fall brings a new beginning for those who live by the high school calendar. And among those experiencing a new start are first-year high school coaches eager to begin their careers in educational athletics.

But what knowledge do they bring into their first coaching jobs? Most if not all played at the high school level, and many played at the college level as well. Some have served as assistants or coached youth teams. But high school coaching comes with its own set of challenges requiring an advanced set of skills – skills that are passed on annually as part of the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Coaches Advancement Program.

To assist in giving some of our new coaches a running start, we tapped into the knowledge of three of our Coaches Advancement Program instructors for advice they give those just starting out:

Jean LaClair began this fall 12th in MHSAA volleyball history with 861 wins since becoming a varsity head coach in 1987. She’s coached at Midland Dow, Pinconning and currently Bronson, where she’s also the athletic director and an assistant principal. She’s also served as an MHSAA official and contributed to the Women in Sports Leadership porgram. 

Ken Semelsberger is a recent inductee into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame and spent 33 years at Port Huron High School as a coach and athletic administrator. He also coached football at Detroit Servite and has led teams in basketball, softball and baseball. Semelsberger returned to the Port Huron sideline four seasons ago as the varsity’s line coach.

Penny Allen-Cook currently is an athletic consultant and in her fourth season coaching the Freeland varsity volleyball team. She also coached volleyball at Alma College, and is a former assistant commissioner of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. She served as an assistant athletic director at Alma College and director of compliance at Saginaw Valley State University.

All were asked the following questions during separate interviews. But not surprisingly, some of their answers were similar – especially those that emphasized dealing with parental pressures and why they as coaches continue to return to the sideline every year.

Many of their answers also segued well into each other, so we’ve blended them for one longer conversation filled with wisdom beneficial to new and veteran coaches alike.

What do you tell those who are interested in becoming high school coaches?

Semelsberger: “Basically, it’s one of the most fulfilling things you’ll ever do. And it’s also one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. I try to explain that it’s not just about going to practice and coaching kids today. That’s the easy part. It’s also preparing for practice, (gaining) the knowledge of what to do in certain situations from the game itself all the way to training procedures, injury procedures and liability issues. That’s all part of the coaching realm.”

LaClair: “My biggest concern with young coaches is them getting driven out by parents really early. You’ve got to have thick skin, and you’ve got to have great relationships with parents. You can’t be afraid to talk to parents.”

Allen-Cook: “Certainly to coach is an extremely rewarding thing to do. But you can’t get into it for the money. You get into it for the things that last for a lifetime. My first year I started coaching was back in 1986, and I’ve kept in touch with those kids. (Coaching) can’t be for money or wins and losses, but the differences you make in lives.”

Semelsberger: “Probably not until after the first year do you realize all that’s entailed in coaching. (Coaches) say, ‘Once I really got into and do it, after the first time, it was a lot more than I thought.’ They say, 'What can you tell me to help me?'”

How do you encourage coaches who have become frustrated with the profession?

Allen-Cook: “It’s easier to get discouraged nowadays more than it used to be, and a common thing that discourages is the parent involvement is at a different level than it ever was 20 years ago. The key is to remember, and it’s hard for young coaches who aren't parents, but you tell them to step back and imagine what it feels like if you were the parent.”

LaClair: “I do try to get all young coaches a mentor, someone to talk with. We all get frustrated; we all have to vent, and we need the right person to talk it through with and come up with alternative ways (of dealing with situations).”

Semelsberger: “The one thing I tell them is to remember that what’s most important out there is how they influence athletes. I want to see them doing positive things with our athletes, stressing grades and sportsmanship. I hired a hockey coach once, and I told him to clean up the program. I don’t care if you win; I want our grades to be good, community involvement, and the wins and losses will come. If you stay with it, hang in there, it will come.”

Allen-Cook: “If they approach things the right way, in as few years as four or five, if they stick it out, they’ll learn the positives outweigh the negatives. I’m always encouraging them to stick it out a few more years until they can figure out their true philosophy, why they want to coach.”

What specific situations do you tell new coaches to prepare for, and how?

LaClair: “For me as a coach, the parent/athlete meeting is mandatory. If a parent comes to me with a question during the year, I say, ‘Do you remember the parent/athlete meeting? We discussed that.’ It sets the tone and tells parents how proactive you are as a person, how organized and prepared you are.”

Semelsberger: “When you’re not coaching, when you’re sitting in the stands, the parents are friendly. But once you’re on the sideline, now you’re the coach, and that changes the dynamic of the relationship dramatically. I explain to (coaches) that my philosophy is I’m dealing with parents’ most precious item. You want to treat each one of those children like you’d want your kids to be treated. You don’t have to play everyone all the time, but treat (athletes) with respect, talk to them and let them know what’s going on, why a kid isn't playing, so the kid has an idea what’s going on.” 

Allen-Cook: “One of the best defenses is to be a student of whatever the game is they’re coaching so they can be seen as an expert all the time. Show it by going to clinics, reading up on things, and coming to practice with a true plan of what you’re doing every day. Parents are less likely to question if you know what you’re doing and they can see you’re a true student of the game and come every day prepared.”

LaClair: “Time management is critical. Especially for me, you need to have good practice plans, well thought out in advance so kids aren't standing around at all.”

Semelsberger: “Sometimes I tell (coaches) about reporters if the sport has a lot of reporters; always be positive, don’t be negative. ... (Also) I make sure they understand and follow the rules. Academics are the most important thing, so make sure every kid is eligible. And I tell them the most important people are secretaries and custodians. Get them on your side, and they’ll do anything for you.”

What advice do you offer coaches who also are balancing teaching or other jobs at the school?

LaClair: “Just over half of my (teachers are coaches), and that’s great. You can build a different type of relationship.”

Semelsberger: “Their number one job is being a teacher, and that’s always been the number one job. They can’t let the fact they coach take away from that. Classes are number one, and coaching comes after that.”

LaClair: “You have to think days and weeks ahead. I tell coaches who are also teachers that the weekends and a lot of Sundays are going to be for making lesson plans for the week, practice plans for the week. Then all they have to do is tweak them. Have a good plan and all you have to do is tweak, and you don’t have to do that for two hours on a Thursday night.”

Allen-Cook: “It’s a neat experience to be able to teach in other realms (like athletics). Unfortunately there are less and less teacher coaches.”

What keeps you coming back to coaching?

LaClair: “The kids. A lot of people think social media is an evil beast, and it can be. But what I love about it is I've been coaching a long time and I can keep up with former athletes all over the country, see baby pictures, things I wouldn't be able to do without social media.”

Allen-Cook: “I think once you’re a coach, you’re always a coach. It’s tough to get out of your blood. I enjoy the interaction with the young people. I’m an independent contractor now (Allen-Cook also has taught) so I have little interaction with student athletes anymore. It feels rewarding that in some way I’m having a positive impact.”

Semelsberger: “The kids, the athletes, just to watch them develop as human beings. We work hard with on our athletes being leaders in the (school) building; the first day of school our senior and junior football players were helping out the freshmen. If a kid was scared or something, trying to get where they needed to go, we had jerseys on and they knew if they saw a kid with a jersey on they could ask for help. To see those kids take on those roles ... I love watching the ninth graders come in as scared little kids and watch them leave as confident seniors going on to college or work or whatever they’ll do.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Penny Allen-Cook (second from left, back row) and her Freeland volleyball team celebrate last season's Class B District championship. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.) (Below) Bronson volleyball coach Jean LaClair speaks with some her players during one of her more than 1,000 games as a varsity head coach. (Photo courtesy of the Sturgis Journal.)

2023 WISL Award Honoree Glass Continuing to Create Leaders On Court & Off

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

March 2, 2023

Hailing from one of Michigan’s smallest communities, Laurie Glass has made an impact that continues to connect all over Michigan.

But her impact on women’s athletics began long before a career that has seen the longtime Leland volleyball coach become one of the winningest in her sport in state history.

As a high school junior in 1976, she recruited seven classmates and a coach to form Leland’s first girls sports team – for basketball – and the same group then played volleyball that winter. She was a senior and major contributor when, during their second season, the Comets won the 1978 Class D volleyball championship.

More than four decades later, Glass is a Michigan legend in that sport – a winner of 1,218 matches with Leland and Traverse City Central and three Finals championships with the Comets. She’s also a nationally-recognized voice in volleyball and women’s athletics as a whole – and this year’s MHSAA Women in Sports Leadership honoree for those many and continuing contributions.

“Because I’m a teacher and coach, that’s my desire to help the youth be the best they could be. And if I can impact a coach or impact another district or program, that means I’m affecting more youth in a positive way,” Glass said. “So for me, it’s just the ripple effect; it gets a lot bigger when I’m starting little drops in other places. So I can affect the hundreds of kids that I’ve seen go through Leland, or I can impact the larger audience by impacting coaches or impacting kids in other places that can then impact other people. It allows me a wider audience for wanting to help young women to be their best young woman self in however way I can make that happen.”

Each year, the Representative Council considers the achievements of women coaches, officials and athletic administrators affiliated with the MHSAA who show exemplary leadership capabilities and positive contributions to athletics.

Leland finished 49-13 this past season and reached the Division 4 Quarterfinals. Glass has a record of 1,218-393-122 over more than three decades as a varsity volleyball coach, having led the Comets for a combined 29 seasons over three tenures, the first beginning with the 1989-90 winter season and later picking up with her most recent return for Fall 2010. She also coached Traverse City Central for four seasons beginning in 1991-92.

Glass passes the championship trophy to her team after the Comets won the 2015 Class D title.Glass led Leland to Class D Finals championships in 2002, 2006 and 2015, and runner-up finishes in Class D in 2014 and Division 4 in 2018 and 2019. She was named to the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association (MIVCA) Hall of Fame in 2006, and selected as national Coach of the Year in volleyball in 2014 by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association. She’s a three-time MIVCA Coach of the Year and was named Michigan High School Coaches Association (MHSCA) Coach of the Year for volleyball in 2015. She also was a finalist for National High School Athletic Coaches Association (NHSACA) national Coach of the Year in 2014. 

Glass has spoken multiple times at the MHSAA Women In Sports Leadership Conference and several times at the MIVCA Coaches Clinic, and among various other engagements was the featured speaker at the Nebraska Athletic Association Coaches Clinic. She will receive the Women In Sports Leadership Award during the MHSAA Division 1 Girls Basketball Final on March 18 at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.

“Laurie Glass is recognized most on the statewide level for leading one of the most successful volleyball programs in state history. But she is known among her peers most for the way she teaches not only volleyball but life skills to her athletes,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “Her leadership creates more leaders, be they the athletes who have the opportunity to play for her or the coaches who learn from her and receive her mentorship.”   

Glass’ roots are in one of the most accomplished athletic families in Michigan high school history.

Her father Larry Glass coached Northwestern University’s men’s basketball program from 1963-69, and later took over the Leland girls basketball program and led the Comets to a 388-110 record and three straight Class D Finals championships (1980-82) over two tenures from 1977-91 and 2000-05. Laurie’s sister Rebecca McKee played basketball at Leland and Michigan State University, and her brother Michael Glass played basketball at Lansing Community College before also becoming a high school and college coach.

Laurie also coached and parented arguably the most accomplished volleyball player – and perhaps top female athlete across all sports – in Michigan high school history. Her daughter Alisha Glass-Childress graduated from Leland in 2006 with national records for career kills, aces and blocks, and the first two still top those respective lists. Alisha, also an all-state basketball player, went on to star on the volleyball court at Penn State and as the U.S. Olympic team setter in 2016 in helping that team to the bronze medal.

Larry Glass’ lessons still ring true as Laurie passes them on to another generation. One of her favorite sayings from her father was “you can’t take money out of the bank until you put money in” – in essence, a coach can’t expect athletes to accept criticism or a hard ask if that coach first hasn’t invested in them. Another of her dad’s themes involved making sure players learned fundamentals at young ages and improved on them at all levels, whether they won games or not during those early years. As one of his middle school coaches, that stuck with her, and it remains a basic component of her coaching.

“I’ve always said that we compete with teams that are way more athletic, have all the things on paper that should beat us. And the fact that we know how to be a really good team is what allows us to beat people who on paper should be better than us,” Laurie Glass said. “I’ve always valued the time spent on culture and team because that’s the advantage we hold. We’re never going to be the tallest or most talented – Alisha being the anomaly, of course.”

Laurie Glass has served on the MIVCA Executive Board, including as president, and is a member of the MHSCA and American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA). Locally, her program annually hosts the Forever Dig Abby match in honor of former player Abby Gross, who died after a fight against cancer in 2015. Proceeds most years go to benefit another community member battling the disease, and this past season went to a fund for efforts related to ovarian cancer.  

Glass has served nearly 35 years in education and retired from her duties as a behavior intervention specialist and special education teacher in the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District in 2019. She has returned to the school setting, however, and is in her second year as a behavior intervention specialist at Leland.

Glass earned a bachelor’s degree in special education with an endorsement in emotional impairment from Western Michigan University in 1988, and has done master-level coursework in education administration and technology. She also is a certified instructor for the Crisis Prevention Institute. Glass first attended Grand Valley State University and played a season of volleyball before transferring. (NOTE: Glass also coached the Kalamazoo Central varsity for two seasons during the mid-1980s. Those records are unavailable currently but will be added to her overall record when research is complete.)

Past Women In Sports Leadership Award Winners

1990 – Carol Seavoy, L’Anse 
1991 – Diane Laffey, Harper Woods
1992 – Patricia Ashby, Scotts
1993 – Jo Lake, Grosse Pointe
1994 – Brenda Gatlin, Detroit
1995 – Jane Bennett, Ann Arbor
1996 – Cheryl Amos-Helmicki, Huntington Woods
1997 – Delores L. Elswick, Detroit
1998 – Karen S. Leinaar, Delton
1999 – Kathy McGee, Flint 
2000 – Pat Richardson, Grass Lake
2001 – Suzanne Martin, East Lansing
2002 – Susan Barthold, Kentwood
2003 – Nancy Clark, Flint
2004 – Kathy Vruggink Westdorp, Grand Rapids 
2005 – Barbara Redding, Capac
2006 – Melanie Miller, Lansing
2007 – Jan Sander, Warren Woods
2008 – Jane Bos, Grand Rapids
2009 – Gail Ganakas, Flint; Deb VanKuiken, Holly
2010 – Gina Mazzolini, Lansing
2011 – Ellen Pugh, West Branch; Patti Tibaldi, Traverse City
2012 – Janet Gillette, Comstock Park
2013 – Barbara Beckett, Traverse City
2014 – Teri Reyburn, DeWitt
2015 – Jean LaClair, Bronson
2016 – Betty Wroubel, Pontiac
2017 – Dottie Davis, Ann Arbor
2018 – Meg Seng, Ann Arbor
2019 – Kris Isom, Adrian
2020 – Nikki Norris, East Lansing
2021 – Dorene Ingalls, St. Ignace
2022 – Lori Hyman, Livonia

PHOTOS (Top) Leland coach Laurie Glass confers with one of her players during the 2019 Division 4 Final at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) Glass passes the championship trophy to her team after the Comets won the 2015 Class D title.