I had the privilege a while back to sit down with a small group of veteran high school football coaches for what simply amounted to a bull session. Back when I was a coach this type of opportunity usually offered up talk of Xs and Os and recall about what plays won a certain big game somewhere in the history of football. That no longer seems to be the case.
Now, when coaches chitchat it seems the focus is not on coaching and playing the sport but on how to motivate kids to participate, practice and give their best. Then conversation of how to make the players behave on the field and in the schoolhouse inevitably pops up. It is starting to sound like that coaching may not be as fun as it used to be.
I realize that motivation and discipline have always been a big part of coaching. Whereas it once may have been 50 percent of the gig it may now be more like 90 percent of what a coach must do. As Ford Motor Co. used to say; it truly has become Job 1.
From what I hear coaches saying, apparently very few young men are playing football these days purely for the love of the sport or being part of a team. It involves too much time and hard work for those to be the only dividends. They have some bigger reward in mind that centers on, "what's in it for me?"
I'm not well enough into the minds of today's teenagers to think that they realistically aspire to become professional athletes with the accompanying fame and fortune. Surely they realize that it takes time, effort, determination, perseverance, some luck and most of all, raw talent to beat the odds and make it to the pros. In reality, I think most of them know they won't make it to that level. Maybe that is what concerns today's coaches.
If the possibility to make it to the pros does not exist, then what does it take to turn today's youth on? For me, and many of you out there like me, having never played on my high school team is something that I just can't fathom. I couldn't fathom it back then, and I can't fathom it now. Call it strange, but I honestly feel for me personally, I would have been a lesser human being by not participating.
For those of you that did not play, please do not take that personally. It was merely a comment of self-evaluation. It was important to me. There are other facets of life that turned on others and they did well at it. You know, different strokes for different folks, but I'm speaking here about the realm of athletics.
For whatever reason, being the best that you can be in the area of athletics is becoming less popular than it used to be. Sure there are still plenty of kids that participate, but I'm talking about more than just merely joining the team. I'm talking about truly dedicating yourself to never missing practice, representing your team and school by doing right and celebrating team success rather than quarrelling over your own playing time.
It's tough, even gut wrenching, listening to coaches talk about players quitting or getting into trouble. It is even tougher when coaches express the frustration of not having the parental support that they need to mold young men into a successful team. Our instant-gratification, selfish society has indeed filtered its way into high school athletics.
Transportation issues and other circumstances dictated that I could not play football until the eighth grade. When the opportunity finally presented itself I will never forget what my daddy told me.
In the middle of a yard work conversation, he made himself very clear. It was a directive that I stuck to for five years and remember to this day.
"I'll haul you and help you anyway I can, but I don't ever want to hear you coming home whinin' and fussin' about a coach," he said. "They are the coach and you are the child, and besides I don't know anything about it," were his final words on the subject.
With that in mind, I mostly sat on the bench for five years but I never missed a practice, caused trouble or thought of quitting. A bunch of daddies like mine would do today's coaches a bunch of good.
They could get back to doing what my coaches mostly did, teach us how to block and tackle and decide what plays to run. That had to be more fun than what many of them are faced with today.