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Local coaches focus more on unity, less on wins

Two Harbor High School looks pretty deserted at 6:30 a.m., but a group of about 20 people has gathered Tuesday in a classroom and are chatting quietly among themselves.

The group is a mix of high school and youth sports coaches working through a program that focuses on emphasizing "body, mind and heart," according to program leader Cal Barr, who places a premium on developing players as people as opposed to measuring success in terms of wins and losses.

They are working with Barr, director of the Northeast Minnesota chapter of the Fellowship of Christian athletes, through the FCA Coaches Academy and its 3D Coaching philosophy.

"If you think in terms of the physical realm, 75 to 80 percent of the coaches is that first dimension, tactics and skills kind of stuff," Barr said. "Winning is a byproduct. You can win more by scheduling a weaker opponent ... We talk about the goal being a constant performance improvement."

In emphasizing more than just athletic achievement, the 3D philosophy aims to develop athletes into service-minded individuals who place teammates and other people before their own interests.

Barr said the idea of a service-minded team resonated with him when he was still a football player at Duluth East High School. He and his family woke up one morning during football season to find more than a foot of water in his basement. Barr mentioned what had happened at home to his coach and said he would miss practice that night.

"Later that day, the entire football showed up to help clean up the house," Barr said. "I tell you, I would have done anything for that team."

Barr has been involved in athletics in some fashion since he was around 10 years old. He played football, baseball and hockey at Duluth East and football at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He also played two years of minor league baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals' organization and spent six days in camp with the Atlanta Falcons before he was cut.

"The coach told me if I had more talent, they would have kept me," he said.

Two Harbors football coach Tom Nelson said he started using "pride stickers" when he started coaching. Almost all Agates helmets are decorated with at least a few of the stickers, but unlike colleges who use a similar program, the stickers don't represent any individual on field achievement. The only on-field achievements recognized are team wins; the remainder represent players' volunteer work, academic achievement or other school or community-related activities.

The 3D program gives coaches a number of strategies to help build relationships and break down barriers to team unity. One, the "spotlight drill," focuses on one player and asks all other team members to say one positive things about the player.

Neva Maxwell, coach of the North Shore Storm girls' hockey team, said she's employed the tactic with her team with positive results. Maxwell said before she started using the strategy, older and younger players rarely socialized and some even had trouble making eye contact. Now, some of those different groups are interacting more. Girls are approaching Maxwell before or after practices to nominate teammates to be highlighted with the drill.

"Some girls have difficulty making eye contact and acknowledging the positive because that's a very vulnerable thing to accept for a person, that level of mutual respect," Maxwell said. "It's a good communication tool, but it's also been really good for people learn something about themselves that may not have been recognized before. I think a lot of confidence has been built by (the drill), mutual respect has increased a lot and girls who maybe don't talk to each other on a regular basis have an opportunity to lay the foundation going forward."

Barr used the example of Houston Texans football player J.J. Watt as an example of the type of player the 3D program hopes to create.

Watt, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, raised more than $30 million for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Two Harbors athletes might not play professionally or raise that kind of money, but with coaches focusing on service and teamwork, they can enjoy competing and make a difference in their own communities.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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