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.
You can follow Matt via any of the resources below:
Chapter 3: Meet the Parents – Part III
On another occasion, three of our players had to miss two days of practice because of a school field trip. I had no problem with this, and I think their field trip was a good thing. However, while they would be away, three other players would be doing their work in practice to get the team ready for the upcoming game. I had to mention to the three players that they would not start on Saturday, though they would get to play. The reason I felt this way was two-fold. First, starting a football game is a great reward and I have always felt that those players who do the work in practice to help the team should deserve to start. Second, I have always felt that prepared players are effective players, and non-practicing players would be unprepared to do their assignments. And again, a player who does not do his assignment risks causing an injury to one of his teammates.
The funny thing is that the three players understood my reasoning, but one of their dads had a big problem. Because his son wasn’t “starting”, he felt I was punishing him for something out of his control. I told this dad that things happen out of our control all the time. Whether or not his not being at practice was within his control, he was not there to do the work and someone else was. Should I tell the working player thanks for all your efforts this week to get the team ready but we’re not going to recognize you? The working player gets to start. I couldn’t justify not doing so.
As the season continued, that particular player had injured his growth plates in his ankle, ending his season. I felt terrible for the kid, and I had hoped that the parents would make him understand he was still a part of the team and continue to bring him to practices. Instead, he never came to a team function again. What lesson do you think this taught the young man? I don’t think it taught him that he had worth to the team as a human being, that he was one of us from the beginning and should be one of us to the end. Nor did it teach him the value in supporting those players who would finish the season in honor of his sacrifice. The greatest power within a team is love, and not only did he stop loving the team and himself, but he didn’t let himself experience that friendships go beyond performance.
Another season showed a more favorable contrast. During tryouts one player hurt his knee and doctors told him he would be forced to sit out the entire season. We decided to draft him anyway so he could be a part of our team. His father, showing him what it means to be a part of a team, brought his son to every single practice we had. He wore his jersey to all our games, and he cheered us on for an entire season. Our players knew him and played for him, and he contributed wherever he could. That team outscored our
opponents 426-32 all season long. We went 13-0 all the way from August through Thanksgiving, and we won the Championship. At our park, a large board holds signs representing the outstanding accomplishments certain teams performed. We have a sign for that season on that board, listing every player on that team. The Head Coach, so excited to win a Championship, bought rings for all the players, and this young man earned a ring as well, which he will always have. That young man, thanks to his father, has his name listed with his teammates on that sign. He didn’t play a down, but he was an undefeated champion in more ways than one.
The bottom line is that you should communicate your expectations at the beginning of the season. Give your parents a chance to make choices that are best for their sons and the team overall. Remember that both the positive and negative experiences a player encounters during a season will last a lifetime.
Finally, one little tool that has been a terrific way to communicate to all the parents is a service called Calling Post. If you go to www.callingpost.com you can set up a way to make one call and send a message to every player and parent with a cell phone. This will come in handy when reminding the team about games, special events, picture day, and rain outs. A fee of $50 will buy more than enough time to make enough calls that will last the entire season, which is usually four months. Consider setting this up. You will be glad you did when the game or practice schedule changes at the last minute.