Two weeks ago, top news story with video: varsity football players tackle a referee during a game. I could not believe my eyes. Not only was it immoral, and unethical, and crazy, it was dangerous. The ref had no protective gear. They could have killed him, paralyzed him, or given him a brain injury that he would never recover from. So, yeah, this is why we recognize kids as kids versus adults, because we know that they sometimes make bad decisions without thinking through the consequences. But, a coach got fired over that, because he apparently said something to those kids that made them think that this was required or acceptable.
Last week, news story with video: football pileup, and very clearly, one player reaches his hand under an opposing players faceguard, and rubs…..injured player comes off the field….eyes full of Icy Hot…..athletic trainers trying to wash his eyes out. No one on the sideline saw this player fill his hand with a chemical? Bull. The refs didn’t call a foul, didn’t toss a player out of the game, and the game went on. Now the parents are dealing with the police, trying to get an assault charge filed.
This week, within our region, an assistant football coach got arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct. At a football game. AT THE GAME!!!! This guy is so drunk at halftime the police had to approach him. This guy is calling plays on the sidelines? This guy is watching plays to see if a kid takes a shot to the head and needs to be evaluated for a concussion?
I’m mad. Genuinely mad. Because I have a child that has played sports for 10 years. And, I’ve been there. We’ve had truly bad apple coaches, and truly spectacular coaches. Parents all over the country put their kid in a sport, only to find out that the coach that they spend 20 hours a week with is someone that they would not welcome into their home, let alone allow to babysit. What do you do when you find that your child’s coaches are not just poor coaches, but undesirable people, as well?
I have so many issues going on here, but this is at the top of my thought process: society, in general, blames parents for a child’s poor, anti-social behavior. The reality, however, is that after a child turns five or six (and sometimes with preschool three), they spend more awake time with teachers, coaches and “leaders” than they do with their parents. When a teenager assaults another player or a referee on the field, is it really a parenting failure, or is it a coaching failure? When a teenager gives up on school and fails, is it a parenting failure, or a school failure?
My seventeen year old, high school senior son, runs a schedule that just exhausts me. He is up at 5:30 am, takes a shower, eats breakfast, gets dressed, and is ready to head to school. Meanwhile, his brother and father are doing the same, in rotation. They aren’t holding hands in a circle singing “Amazing Grace.” There isn’t time. Mornings are a rush of making sure that everybody has everything they need for the day. He spends 7:15 am until 2:30 pm in school, and then heads to the locker room to get ready for practice. Practice is from 3:00 pm until 6:00 pm. My son is a leader, so he stays after to talk to his teammates, and help clean up. He hits home around 6:30, needing a shower because he reeks. Dinner, homework……he is in bed around 10:00 pm. How much time does he have with a parent? An hour, maybe two? Weekends? He is volunteering his time for the “Little Gridders” pee-wee football games, where he runs the score board or moves the chains. Sometimes he is refereeing a baseball game. He has a job doing yardwork for his grandparents. He goes to church and youth group. The kid is hardly ever home, and when he is, he is doing homework. He has WAYYYY more contact with other kids, teachers, coaches and youth group leaders than me. So, if this Friday night, he does something on the field that would get him charged with assault anywhere else, is that my fault? His father’s?
Fortunately for me, I don’t really have to worry about that. My son’s coaches at Franklin Area High School are men of ethics, morals and faith. They are much more concerned about their young men being GOOD young men than winning. They have spent more time working on the guys being a TEAM, being a BROTHERHOOD, protecting themselves from serious injury, and BUILDING a winning team. It has worked. Franklin has had a losing Varsity Football team for years. THIS year, as of this writing, Franklin is 2-2. No, not winning every game, but last year they were 1-9. This year they are already 50% better. Beyond that, they now have confidence. They are looking at the upcoming schedule and BELIEVING that they can win. It has been an amazing, awesome experience for me, as a parent, to watch this team transform. The players take the credit for doing the hard work, but honestly, it is the coaches who have made this transformation happen. Beyond that, at every game, the opposing side has had five times the number of “flags” and penalties. Our kids win by skill, not by breaking the rules.
Coaches, teachers, and leaders of Scouts, 4-H, YMCA, etc…. you influence our kids. They spend time with you, and look up to you. Your word is gold to our kids. Make sure that you are on the right side of things. Make sure that it’s about the kids, and not you.
Good coaches don’t play an injured player. They insist that the kid gets x-rays and gets cleared. It isn’t about you having a winning season. It’s about whether that kid gets accepted to the Police Academy, or the Armed Services, or whether he deals with crippling arthritic pain when he’s 25.
Good coaches want to win. But, not at all costs. Not if it means injuries. Not if means playing dirty. Good coaches lift their kids up.
Good coaches yell. They call out poor performance and lack of drive. But, they also don’t do it out of personal anger. They look for a way to create a teachable moment. They are asking themselves, “How can I turn this into a positive?”
Good coaches don’t try to force a teacher or administrator to change a grade to keep their athlete eligible to play. They work with the student, and help a parent find a tutor so that the kid actually earns a grade that keeps them eligible. A good coach understands that most of these kids won’t play at the college or pro level, so that Algebra grade matters for the future.
Every coach faces the same situation. They have four or five kids who are natural athletes. Bad coaches focus on those “stars” to the exclusion of everything else. Good coaches understand that those kids will succeed no matter what……and work with the other members of the team to bring them up to a functional level. What do I mean? I mean that you can have the best quarterback in the region, but if he is laying on his back, after the seventh sack of the game, how good is he? He is only as good as his offensive line allows him to be. Yes, have someone work with the quarterback to enhance his skills, but have the rest of the coaching staff work with the offensive line to make sure he’s protected.
All kids who have signed up for the team have value. Some have more skills than others, but all kids deserve a coach who will give them more than one opportunity to show what they can do. Coaches, forget about who has money, who is a teacher’s kid, who is your pal at the club. Make every kid fire off a football, or try to pitch. You are absolutely, positively missing a kid (because he is from the wrong side of the tracks, because he has “issues,”) who has skills that you are totally unaware of. That kid who comes to every practice, who sits on the bench, who you have ruled out….why is he still there? Why hasn’t he quit? Could it be that he can fire a ball, and he knows it, and he’s waiting….waiting for his turn, waiting for you to notice him, waiting for you to give him a chance? Notice him. Give him credit for sticking it out and not quitting. Pull him aside and ask him what he can do.
Some of our coaches/leaders/teachers have forgotten that it’s about the kids. It’s about the future. It’s about their influence over the future generation. Let’s hold people accountable for the influence that they wield. Unfortunately, parents, we are part of the problem. Most of us are afraid to speak up. We worry that being the complaining parent will influence our job or business. We’re afraid that if we speak up, our kid will get punished, either with less playing time, or eventually with unfair grading when that coach becomes your child’s teacher.
So here I am, ready to submit this blog, and on my newsfeed: HS football player kicks opponent in head when he loses helmet, family attacks offending player in locker room. For the love of….seriously? As I am approaching retirement, and my kids are getting ready to leave the nest, THIS is what I am supposed to look forward to? THESE are the kids that are going to take care of me in the nursing home? We have gone wrong, people. We have erred. We have taken kids with beautiful, bright futures ahead, and turned them into this….people to be feared. People with no empathy. People with no thought for other people. And we think that they are going to pay taxes and take care of the elderly. Nope. Not gonna happen. We need to make this stop. It is a game. It is a sport. It is an extra-curricular activity. It is not supposed to be a training ground for felons.