By Eddie Fields, Coach and Teacher
Space Coast High School (FL)
The other day my son was horsing around on our stairs. My wife, nervous, told him to get down before he hurt himself. He immediately said “Dad lets me!” (And, I do…) I am not sure she agreed in this specific instance, but I explained to my wife that I have always believed some of the best lessons in life are learned the hard way.
Life would be much easier if we could learn from others’ mistakes and advice solely. However, sometimes pain is the best professor. After the initial disappointment of my son throwing me under the bus subsided, I pondered the coaching lessons that I had learned from falling down.
While coaching has brought me great pleasure, it has also punched me in the stomach a few times. Reinforcing my theory, one of my best lessons came from one of the hardest hits.
Early in my career, I thought yelling louder meant coaching better. Cussing was icing on the cake. Throwing stuff, the candles that granted wishes.
One night during pregame, my view on coaching was challenged. During the individual segment, one of my offensive linemen jumped on first sound instead of the actual cadence. It wasn’t the end of the world. My actions suggested otherwise.
I yelled “Gosh Darn It!!! How are we ever going to win if we can’t go on the right snap count? This is ridiculous. Complete B.S.”
The line bounced back to their three-point stances ready to roll on with the preparations. “Okay guys! Let’s go. On two—on two!”
“Down…..Set…” The same player flew off the ball early again. I lost my mind. “This is ridiculous! You are an embarrassment to the game of football and to this team,” I screamed with rage. Everyone in the stadium heard me, and I quietly applauded myself for concreting my coaching directive with such elevated decibels. Surely, the world was now safe from false starts and yellow flags.
After pregame concluded, our team headed to the locker room for our head coach’s final message. During special-teams roll call, I sought out the young man I had ripped in pregame. I wanted to double check if he was ready to compete.
Once I found him, I asked “are you okay?” His answer stunned me!
“No Coach, I am not okay. I know you love this stuff and are trying to help, but you really are just being a jerk.”
There was the punch in the stomach…the start of a hard-hitting life lesson. It hurt to hear those words. I didn’t care if everyone liked me but surely I wasn’t a jerk. I immediately and internally sung my own praises.
Jerk? Would a jerk spend all summer opening the weight room? Would a jerk pick you up for practice when your car was broken down? Would a jerk watch and breakdown film of the opponents every week? Would a jerk invite his position group over for weekly film dinners?
The whole game I asked myself “Am I really a jerk?” Well, the answer to each of those questions was “yes.” I was doing my job. I was working hard. But, I was also being a jerk.
When I yelled at this young man in pregame, I wasn’t only focused on improving his play or capabilities. Obviously, I didn’t want him to make a mistake that would cause the team to lose yards or negate a big play. But after reflection, I realized my screaming also held ulterior motives. Throwing a fit allowed me to relieve personal frustration while also highlighting the mistakes were not my fault.
My actions were driven in self-interest. I was acting as a “ME” guy. Of course I wanted what was best for the players and the team, but what I focused on and motivated by what was best for me.
Ultimately, I was being a jerk. A big jerk. I had been proud to embarrass a kid in front of his friends and the fans to make myself feel better. I justified my behavior by reasoning that it would make him a better football player and help the team win.
In sports and on the football field tempers flare. That’s just part of the game. There are still times that I lose my cool. There are still times I lose my tongue. I have yelled, screamed and cussed at players at times. The difference now is that I am not proud of those actions. I don’t view those moments as wins anymore.
The lesson I learned that night was that you don’t have to be a jerk to be a good coach. You don’t have to embarrass and berate kids in order to correct them. Since then I have learned that kids will rise to high expectations through mutual respect, honesty and consistency.
It hurt to be called a jerk, but I am a much better coach because of it.
See you next time,