Monday, November 14, 2011

Why I Will Never be a High School Football Coach

Not because I don't know the rules of football by heart or even because sometimes I accuse the referees of calling "travelling" (wrong sport), but because I love my son too much.

During one of the first football games of his 9th grade year - the first time he'd played school ball - his previous coach (who also has a son on the team) approached me and said that he was so pleased to see McRae playing. "That kid plays with so much heart," he told me.

I ignored the moisture welling up in the bottom of my eyes and smiled, trying not to think about how worried I was that he wouldn't get as much play time as the bigger kids on the team, simply due to his size not his ability, and continued to watch the game.

As he stood there suited up on the sideline, he moved with the coaches and players, watching every play, congratulating teammates on things they did well and cheering for his team. He slapped helmets and patted butts just like you see the NFL players do. He got in for a few plays and executed them beautifully. He was always ON.

Repeat for the next 2 months, at every game.

He felt the defeats, of which there were only a few, and celebrated the wins along with his team. After every single game, his dad and I told him how much we enjoyed watching him and his team play and we pushed down our frustration with seeing only a handful of players out on the field for the majority of the game over and over again. We knew he noticed it too, but any parent with a kid in sports knows that these are not the things you focus on. Your only focus is to support, support, support.

It's the coaches job to coach.

So we let them.

The thing about it is, although we don't question the coaches tactics or their plays or their decisions, football is a team sport. Everyone should get to play for more than a few plays per game...especially if they have never missed a practice and show a good attitude and eagerness to improve. And those exceptional players? They need a break sometimes. We are talking about growing kids here, not fully developed adults - you push their bodies now, they will pay later. And trust me, there is a ton of research backing this up.

Of course I support safely growing a young player who shows exceptional abilities too...but not at the expense of the rest of the kids on the team or his health. Let that exceptional kid shine, but let others get a chance too. Yes, I know, I'm not there for every minute of every practice and I've already admitted I know only enough about football to follow the game without being completely confused (most of the time), but I also know how it feels to wait for your turn, and to never get it. I know how it feels to want something, and never get it. I know how it feels to be overlooked. And I know how it feels when a few people are given the chances over and over again, while the rest of us watch from the sidelines.

It doesn't feel good.

But we sign a code of conduct when we let our kids play in organized sports...and we set good examples by following that code by not questioning the coaches. That code? It sometimes feels more like a gag order.

These boys are young. Most of them are 14 years old. Do you remember being 14? Do you remember all of the turmoil, growing, learning and maturing that happens when you are 14?

Sometimes I think the coaches don't remember. I'm not trying to belittle their job because there is no way that I could do it. But at the end of the last game of their season, when our head coach stood there and pumped up the boys, preparing them for 10th grade football and thanking them for being excellent players, students and kids he was saying all of the right things until...

"I'm sorry that all of you couldn't play as much as you would have liked...sometimes it just works out that way. That's why we had that special game for you to play against XYZ team, so that you could play too and feel what it's like."

It was all fine until then. I'm not the only parent who wanted to morph into mama bear mode and release a can of you-know-what on our coach, even though he is a perfectly nice man. And I also know that a lot of the boys kneeling there, on the grass beaming up at their coach with respect and admiration, felt like it was a slap in the face too.

How about you just let them play next time?

So yes, no. You won't find me on the other end of the clipboard, calling the shots, making the playbooks and choosing who gets to go out on the field and when.

Not a chance.

That's why I think I love baseball more than football, everyone gets a turn at bat.


Anonymous said...

As YOU know, I was shocked at the patronizing talk given by that person.

And proud of your boy, who is a better man.

You made your point very well.

Probably a good thing you gave yourself time to reflect on the season... wish the coaches would do the same!


Mom Taxi Julie said...

My son played pop warner last year and was hardly put in at all. He's EIGHT. (7 last year). So they start early with their picking the favorites.

Miller Family said...

I feel your frustration as a parent. That has been happening in Basketball this season and we are almost done. Ty is 10 and played pretty much every minute of the grid kids football games, but now hardly plays in BB. Different coaches, different strategies I guess. (fball was great cause everyone on our team got to play equally! Maybe because we are a smaller town) As a coach (of boys soccer), my main goal was for the boys to have fun and play their best. I switched the kids every 5 minutes regardless if we were winning or losing. We were 5 and 1. Kudos to you for being so supportive of your son and his sports. If I was in your shoes and would have heard that speech, I would have pulled out my can of you know what and pulled the coach aside, much to the embarrassment of my husband. Hang in there. The coach will get what's coming to him.

Trooper Thorn said...

It's too bad that the coach does not see beyond the immediate play. You need to give kids "game" experience so they can fill in when others are injured as the season goes on. And what abotu next year? When some of those exceptional kids quit playing where are you going to get their replacements from if you turned off the back ups by not playing them more?