Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

THAT Kid!!??!!

Posted by admin March - 23 - 2010 - Tuesday

If any of you watch the tv show Friday Night Lights, you have an appreciation for what the Coach goes through dealing with a talented player like Tim Riggins. Riggins is portrayed in the show as a team “leader”, great player but… off the field, he cuts class, drinks too much, skips practice from time to time and would be labeled as a “screw up” by most coaches! What do you do with a kid like this? A coach just emailed me recently asking the same question!

It’s THAT type of kid that you have to evaluate why you are in high school coaching. Because if you’re NOT in it for the kids, then you don’t need to read any further. My reaction would be: this is exactly the kind of kid that God called me into high school coaching for. I don’t have a “savior complex” but I do know that there are plenty of young men out there who are in this catagory. If we ignore them or simply get rid of them from our program, what have we done to try and help this boy get turned around?

The first thing I told the coach who wrote in for advice was: do NOT give this boy the impression that YOU (or anyone on your staff) is “giving up” on him. The coach indicated that when the player is there, he works his tail off in the weight room and is a model player! But, he often misses a day or two a week and has been caught with marijuana. He skips school regularly and is obviously being labeled an “at risk” student. What do you do?

When he’s there in your weight room, you make sure that others recognize how hard he works. If you want a behavior repeated, reward it. Public praise for working hard tends to get that work ethic repeated and eventually entrenched in the person’s character. If the boy knows he is going to get “stroked” when he’s in the weight room, he’ll likely make it a point to be there.

Put him in a position of leadership. Even if it’s just leading team flexes before you start your work-out, you’re getting him up front. You are trying to build the mind set in his head that you, as the coach, are someone that he can trust. You build a relationship where at some point, when a “teachable moment” occurs, you have “earned the right to be listened to.”

Obviously, you walk a fine line between expecting the same things from him that you do the others and cutting him some slack to build that trust. If it’s a school issue, then I believe the school has to take care of that (i.e., cutting class, disrespectful to teachers). If he is failing to uphold the standards you set in the weight room, then, yes, discipline is necessary. The last thing I’d do, though… with him or any of your players, is pass the “death sentence” on him— “No more weight-lifting for you Tim. You’re done! Get out and don’t come back.” At that point, you may be confirming in his mind exactly what he thinks of adult authority figures in his life: “Another one has given up on me!” He doesn’t see that he is the one who has caused you to discipline him. He might even be testing you to see how far he can push you. But when you stop “reaching out”, you’ve lost him.

I recall counseling a student who had an awful attitude and was nothing but a headache to his teachers and coaches. We talked one-on-one a number of times over a couple of months, but I just wasn’t getting through to him. I was becoming frustrated but I knew I couldn’t show it. One day I told him, “Ya know Mike… you’re not going to get rid of me no matter how negative you are. I’m going to be reaching out to you. (and I reached out my arm towards him as he sat across from me.) Now, Mike, you can either grab hold of my arm and we can try to get through this together OR… you can cut it off at the elbow. What is your choice Mike?” The boy sat there for a moment absorbing what I’d just said. He then got an evil little smirk on his face and replied, “Coach J, I choose to… cut it off!”

I was shocked and a little taken back by his unexpected response. Thank God that He (God’s Holy Spirit) was there for me (cuz I’m not good at those ‘quick responses’ that we need in the midst of a conversation— you know… those retorts you come up with 15 minutes later once the conversation is over and the person is gone??!!!!). I surprised myself with my response to Mike. I said, “That’s OK Mike… God will grow another one back!”

The guy graduated and I didn’t see him again for a couple of years until I ran into him one day in the Christian book store in our local mall. He recognized me and immediately walked over. I wasn’t sure how he was going to act; but, I smiled and said hello. He said, “Coach J., first I want to apologize. I never came back and told you the impact that what you said about continuing to reach out to me even though I was so rude to you that day in your office. I never forgot it. I wanted to come over and tell you that I am now a Christian. I met a wonderful girl at my church and we are getting married next year.”

I was blown away. Praise God! You never know the impact that one little encounter or one little statement can have on a person. If you’ve got one of “THOSE kids” in your football program, don’t give up on him. You don’t give him a free pass but you do recognize that this young man is hurting. Participating in your program may be the only positive thing happening in this boy’s life. If you kick him out, what impact can you have on him? God is the God of “second chances.” If the kid screws up, discipline him. But always let him know that you are willing to give him another chance. Yes, there may come a time when you have to cut him loose. If he is “infecting” the rest of your team (i.e., selling drugs in the locker room; getting other boys to skip work outs) then it may require you dismissing him from your program. But, I would encourage you to continue to stay in contact with him outside of football.

I’ve said it before… if you’re not in it (coaching) for the kids, you’re in it for the wrong reason.

In Christ,
Lew

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