Before the Whistle: Football Coaching 101, by Matt Kunz
Matt Kunz, a former Notre Dame football player, is currently a business owner, City Councilman, author, and former non-profit president. Kunz is the author of Triumph! An Athlete’s Guide to Winning On and Off the Field, Before the Whistle: Football Coaching 101, To God and My Country, and The Triumph Workbook. Through the help of his faith and his experiences, he loves building a winning team around an idea by bringing out the best in others.
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Chapter 3: Meet the Parents (Part I)
Team Moms and Dads
WHENEVER SOMEONE CONSIDERS COACHING as a volunteer, the biggest fear mentioned isn’t if someone gets hurt, or if you will have the time. Rather, it is the question, “How do I handle the parents?” Have you heard rumors of the parent suing his son’s coaches because little Johnny didn’t get to start at quarterback, thus hurting his chances at that multi-million dollar contract he deserves as the inevitable first round draft pick ten years from now? Yes, it is ridiculous, but this one seems to be the big fear that every new coach has.
Fortunately, I have good news. The majority of the parents who let their sons play football absolutely love their kids. Now they show that love in different ways, but they are putting their trust in you as a volunteer to help their sons learn life lessons through the game of football that they couldn’t learn anywhere else. Seeing as how most parents view this as an educational opportunity first, then a recreational opportunity, you have a greater chance of having these parents want to help you in any way possible rather than undermine your position as Coach because Johnny didn’t get to play quarterback.
Your first evidence of this will come when you want to select your “Team Mom” or “Team Dad”. Just like you with coaching, many parents will want to offer the responsibilities for “Team Mom or Dad” to someone else, but put a little question directly to the group of parents, and before you know it you will have a “Team Mom Committee” ready to help you, with an “Ultimate Team Mom” who will guide everyone else. Your “Team Dad” may be a little trickier, but when you press to find someone to accept the position, you’ll find you will have absolute loyalty and responsibility for the position. Your “Team Mom” will handle such things as funds, directions to the games, parent communication for the coach, practice snacks at the end of the week, team pictures, and cheerleader involvement. Your “Team Dad” will handle player equipment issues, taping players, and water for games. The perk for your “Team Dad” is that he gets to be on the sideline for the games, so you can use this in your recruiting now, can’t you?
How do you handle the moms? First, know that every mother has an instinct to protect her family at all costs. This is good when the child is young, but the father knows that the boy needs to experience some challenges in order to prepare him for the real world. This is why the parents let him play football. But the mother will have difficulty with the fear that her boy can get hurt. Especially if this is the first time she has had to allow her boy to have some challenges, she may find this extremely difficult for herself.
As coach, know that the idea of the boy playing football has already been sold to the mother because the boy has signed up. Don’t try to hide the fact that the boy can get injured because it can and does happen. Instead, focus on the chance for her boy to grow and mature through this experience along with his friends. Wouldn’t this be an opportunity for him to understand personal sacrifice for the sake of his teammates, while also knowing that his team is doing in the same thing for him? Yes, there are risks involved, but wouldn’t she want a boy who has learned how not to be afraid to take risks as he lived life? Keep an honest perspective. Ensure her that you will teach him everything you know so that he can protect himself on the field. If you win her trust, you will have her full support. Before you know it, that same lady, who was once so timid, will be yelling from the stands that her son knock some other kid’s head off on the next play!
Glory Day Dads
Unfortunately, there was a time where our coaching staff participated in our league’s Division II draft. In the selection of players there was a mix of running backs, and one of them had not made the cut on the Division I team. We felt that we could have really utilized this ten-year-old’s talents at that position, and develop him so that he’d have more fun and have a chance to make the Division I team the following year if that was what he wanted to do. So on draft day, we selected this particular running back to be the staple of our offense. Little did we know that his dad had felt slighted that his son was not selected to play on the Division I Team. There was a competing league run by the local high schools that had a reputation for having sixty kids on their team but only playing eleven of them. Apparently, this father felt that in order to improve his ten-year-old’s “high school career”, he would have his son play in the competing league. So how did the kid do that year? He sat on the wooden bench and the only thing he learned is what splinters felt like.
My point is that you will have fathers out there that I secretly refer to as “Glory Day Dads”. These are fathers who usually feel that they did not accomplish enough during their athletic years and have hopes that their sons will finish the unfinished business for them. It could be an ex professional player who was cut before he could make the pro bowl. It could be an ex college player who felt slighted by his college coaches and never started. It could be an ex high school player who had potential but made the mistake of giving up a scholarship for a girl or an alcohol problem, only to realize his mistake years later because he doesn’t like the situation he’s in now.
What you’ll find is that these are the dads who like to say, “In my day, we used to have practice without helmets in our bare feet, and all we did was hit each other all day every day, and we thought it was cool to be able to knock each other’s teeth out.” You’ll find that they will watch every one of your practices intently, and every time you take a moment to teach instead of make the kids hit you can feel them thinking, “Why are they not hitting?” Every time you let them take a water break you can feel them thinking, “I never got water breaks when I was a player. My son doesn’t need one either. This isn’t making him tough!”
You will find two common traits in these “Glory Day Dads”. One is that they didn’t sign up to coach like you did. What would you think about a man who thinks he has the knowledge but refuses to do anything about it? Wouldn’t you wonder about the courage of the man who chooses not to use what he has? Do you realize he thinks he is helping by bragging about stories of his past? Can you understand that he will always hurt with his unfinished business until he decides to do something to remove it himself?
Many coaches might disagree with me, but I think a good but risky step to take with a “Glory Day Dad” is to ask him to help coach. You’ll find that nine times out of ten he will decide not to help out and will instead continue to live with his pain. He won’t have the courage to say yes. What you’ll also find is that he’ll have more respect for you for the rest of the season because you have recognized him as a person, and you gave him an opportunity to do something about his unfinished business.
However, that one out of ten who musters the courage to say yes may be the person you least thought of as an assistant coach. But this may just be the opportunity he needs, and his loyalty, energy, and dedication will surprise you. If you have a position available, ask him to coach the tight ends, centers, nose tackles, or some other position where his son may not be involved. Put him somewhere where he can take ownership of that position. Watch the movie “Hoosiers” and see the relationship between the two coaches. Make sure you discuss this with your assistants before asking him to join, but in youth football, the more you can teach players by position, the better. You will find that this man will heal as the season progresses. Plus, your team may benefit. Your rewards may not only include teaching young men how to be adults, but also how to teach adults what it means to be young again.
to be continued, Part II will be posted tomorrow…