I grew up in Pennsylvania coal country, where football is not just a sport, but a way of life. Nothing can compare with Friday evenings in the fall in my home town: the cool, crisp air, the bright lights, the band striking up the fight song and finally taking the field in front of thousands of excited fans. Football has played a very important role in my life, and I still use lessons from the game everyday. It’s where I learned to solve problems, work as a team and push myself to new levels that I never thought possible.
We won many games and multiple championships, and with that came a lot of adversity and a surprising amount of scorn from opposing fan bases. Fans can be cruel and often don’t think before they speak. When I was sixteen my left knee was rolled up on in a junior varsity game, and I remember hearing the opposing side cheer my injury. Of course this was after harassment all game from those idiots, who kept demanding to see my birth certificate because they felt I was too large for JV. I had to be carried off the field that night, through the chorus of slurs and insults by that classless fan base. Of course, it’s no wonder why they never won anything with such a low brow mentality.
My knee still gets sore sometimes, but I’ve come to terms with it. That sacrifice is a small price to pay for the invaluable lessons that I’ve learned from the game. Now that I’m a couple of years shy of forty, and with children old enough to play, I decided it was time to give back to the game that has given me so much. I signed on to coach at the local county football league at the youngest tackle level. With no regrets, I can honestly say that this decision has turned out to be one of the best of my life.
Putting the fun in fundamentals
First and foremost, I preach safety in everything we do. If it can’t be done safely, then we aren’t doing it. No parent wants to see their most precious commodity injured ever, let alone on account of negligence. Safety is the very first thing I teach to the kids and it remains priority number one throughout the season.
If you don’t love what you’re doing, you have two choices: change what you’re doing or change the way you feel about it. The second most important thing that I teach at this level is developing a love of the game. Football provides a true team environment that showcases individual effort and the effects of that effort on the team as a whole. You will have some players that are naturally talented and very good at the sport. Those kids, obviously, are easy to coach and need little direction. Other kids may not excel that quickly, and that’s where good planning and encouragement comes in. Talking kids up and helping them build confidence is probably my favorite part of the experience.
The X’s and O’s come later, and the moment when a kids starts to “get it” will change your life. It is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding feelings that you can witness. The journey for these kids is entertaining and fulfilling, as you see them mature into little leaders and share in their accomplishments as well as their challenges. They will look to you for guidance and support, and it really becomes and extension of parenting. When it’s football season, I go from having five kids to having more than twenty.
Game Day, Baby!!!
Game day just feels different, period. Waking up on a Saturday morning, filled with excitement and a little nervousness, is something I look forward to all season. I remember how I felt when I was younger, and the look on the kids’ faces as they prep and play around before the game takes me back to those days.
I especially appreciate the modern amenities of the game, as the gear has vastly improved since my playing days. Now I get to deck my son out with a visor, elbow pads, gloves and eye-black patterned after the legends of the game. Watching my little linebacker make a play is the culmination of all the hard work he’s put in, and it is incredibly satisfying.
Coaching allows me to reach out to kids who may need a helping hand. Not only can I teach them about the game, but I might be able to reach them with some lessons that can aid them later in life. When you think about it, coaching is an extension of parenting. The situation is inherently different, yet many parallels such as discipline and trust exist. I show up to every practice with one simple goal in mind: to help someone get a little better today. When I see a little lineman make that block he struggled with or a small safety finally tackle a bigger back, I am reminded of what makes this a rewarding and fruitful passion.
The Wrap Up
Coaching any youth sport is rewarding in its own right. If you’re there for the right reasons and genuinely care about your players, you will be successful both on and off the field, as the kids will carry valuable lessons from and fond memories of you. Getting involved in a child’s life is always a calculated risk, but it can pay dividends if you help improve that kid’s life, at least for the few hours at practice. A mentor is a valuable asset that a lot of people don’t have, and I couldn’t think of a better example of one than a coach.
Even at thirty-seven years old, I still remember my favorite coaches and the lessons that they taught me. Having a positive influence in your life is a blessing, especially when you exist at a point of struggle. Football was always a welcome release from the troubles of my youth, and I aim to help others share in what the game can give, as well as give back in every way I can.