Saturday, November 16, 2013

Coach's Corner With: Ken Donnelly

When I learned that Ken Donnelly accepted a football coaching position At Rye Country Day, I think I might have flinched just a tad bit.

The lacrosse guy?!?!
The one who trains soccer players? Mike Haddeland’s high-intensity assistant with the Mahopac varsity lacrosse team?


Did he ever play?

Sure, I knew this guy was well on his ascension up the coaching ladder, enthused to coach everything from lacrosse to racquet ball with the same relentless, high-horsepower zeal.

 I remember during a quarterfinal game against Carmel, Donnelly was so hell-bent on imploring his players to score the ball on the bounce.

He adamantly offered a new, delectable ice cream treat to the first player to exemplify a one-hopper.

Sure enough, then-senior Brendan Hynes heeded his coach’s call, as Mahopac seized an early lead it never squandered.

 Donnelly stayed true to his word. He arrived at practice the next day before the water boys and the players, thumping a Carvel treat.

 Donnelly is very much a player’s coach.

He’s always trumpeting the positives and promoting the development of his players, at least before the pesky ears and outdated recorders of the local media.

If a player of his absorbs a cheap shot and no call is made, he'll be the first one to give the refs an earful.

He is Mahopac through and through, a local guy who wants nothing more than his team to buy into the tenets of a winning philosophy.

Donnelly relished the experience of the Mahopac lacrosse alumni game this year.

During the event, which brought players from 30 years ago back in uniform, Donnelly renewed his competitive juices in full force.

The man who captured a Section I championship with the Indians as a player, defeating Lakeland/Panas in 2000 (advancing to the state semifinal), broke his hand during a mad dash to the cage. He definitely wasn't going soft in that one.

This season, that competitive nature transferred to the gridiron.

 It can be an arduous task, folks, coaching kids in a sport that’s receiving more and more criticism for the lingering effects of helmet-to-helmet hits.

As new research reveals more and the concern about football-related injuries and in-house locker room bullying concerns swarm the nation, you’d be hard-pressed to find a young coach willing to jump in and test the sometimes murky waters.

We caught up with Donnelly in this week’s Coach’s Corner, canvassing his swift transformation to the gridiron. I continued my habit of piling 3-4 different questions into one, but—as he did this fall—Coach Donnelly was able to adjust.


ZS:  What was the adjustment like to coaching football? How did you assimilate to your position?


KD: Being a new coach at Rye Country Day School I was extremely nervous about how the other coaches and players were going to react to the new guy. But every coach and player gave me a really warm welcome and got me get situated which was really great.


 ZS:   What's the experience of coaching football like, being primarily a lacrosse coach? how do you think you'll benefit from the know-how and wisdom you can incorporate into lacrosse from football, if that's possible?

KD: Football is a different beast. We prepare all week for the big Saturday game and there is this big crescendo of excitement towards the end of the week. Lacrosse has three games per week so as a coach you have 1 day of practice to prepare for the next game so it’s really intense.  But during both football and lax games it is the same level of pure excitement that is hard to capture in any other type of job. That’s why I love it. 

I think that I can absolutely take what I’ve learned from my experiences coaching football to the lacrosse field. For one, I gained a new perspective about how to connect with players and their response to coaching from Head Coach, John Calandros. He is the general and everyone marches with him into battle.





ZS: How did the position open up at RCDS and how did the process go for you? Did you have to learn anything on the fly having been mostly a soccer/lax guy?


KD:  I worked alongside Coach Calandros at a summer camp and we worked really well together so when he asked me to join his coaching staff I immediately jumped at the opportunity to learn from the best.


Yes, there was a learning process involved. As the Varsity Quarterback Coach I needed to learn some of the plays (there are 300 of them) so that I could design drills that would simulate game like scenarios. As the JV defensive coordinator I had to learn proper calls to make, when to call blitzes, etc… 



ZS: What was the most memorable moment of the season for RCDS and what were the high points for the team, will you be back next year?


KD: On the JV team the most memorable game was when we beat St. Luke’s 21-0. That shutout felt good as a defensive coordinator!


At the Varsity Level, the most memorable moment was actually at the team dinner at the end of the season when the players spoke about how they weren’t sure about me at first, but then thought that I fit right in with the team and I really contributed to a successful season. It was a nice moment.



ZS: How do you make the transition to Lax, what is the focus going to be on the ensuing winter and early spring, and how do you hope to prepare these guys for this season?


KD: It isn’t really a transition because lax is always on the brain. With the new company I just started, “Galaxy Sports & Adventure” I’ve been coaching private lessons, running indoor youth clinics, organizing adult lax games for the last few weeks to help me get back into the swing of lax.

As the new Head JV Coach at Mahopac I will be running Performance Training Sessions with players this winter that are designed to prepare the young bloods for the varsity system.  At the varsity level, Coach Haddeland and I are always discussing ways to prepare the team in the winter so when the spring comes we hit the ground running.  Our focus is always the same; work hard now, it pays off later. Regardless of what happened last year, our goal is always the same; Section Championship.


For more info on Coach Donnelly’s indoor lacrosse clinics or adult lacrosse leagues,  please go to Galaxy Sports & Adventure on Facebook ( or email: