Last week I got to experience both good and poor sportsmanship in a youth football experience in the span of about 10 minutes. As I walked to where my players were congregated prior to our game last weekend. The kids were just off the sidelines of another game going on and a very loud head coach for the game in progress said very loudly, “That’s the team I want to play, lets line it up and play right after this game”. He did it in the most arrogant and nasty tone one could imagine. I had no idea who he was, I had never met this man before or ever played his team, yet he felt like he needed to talk smack to me and a bunch of impressionable kids. I didn’t say a word, smiled and took my kids beyond the endzone.
After we grouped for our pre- warmup discussion, I noticed one of my weakest first year players, a 13 year old minimum play player did not have his pants on. We were 75 minutes from our home field and he has no pants, he had left them at home. Mind you, were going into a game I thought would be a tough game, as we were coming off a tough loss the previous week. We would be more competitive had he not played in the game, but that isn’t the way we do things. I went to the opponents head coach and asked him if by chance they had an extras pair of pants we could “borrow” for this game, They obliged in the most sincere and friendly manner imaginable, even finding a place for our distraught player to change. Mind you they had no clue if this was my best player or not and with just 23 kids it wasn’t like we had lots of depth at every position. So in the end we both were doing something each of us thought would put us in a competitive disadvantge, for the right reason, so a kid could play in a youth football game.
The game turned out to be a hard fought battle with 3 lead changes. While it was a very physical game, both teams players were consistently were helping each other up and patting each other on the back during the whole game, not just after he game had been decided. The parents of one of the opposing players even took the time after the game to come up to tell me “Thanks, that was the best sportsmanship team I’ve ever seen”. The only way I could reply was to say, that “You guys started it, obviously your kids are well schooled by your coaches to be great sports”. One of our players Moms came up to me on Monday at practice and said “I’ve never had X, tell me how great another team treated him, that was a real fun game, great sports”. Hats off to coach PW, a class act in every respect of the word.
The moral of the story is you can play physical, “knock the snot out of each other football”, respect your opponent and be great sports, they aren’t mutually exclusive goals. In fact they make the game much better for the kids, the parents and even the coaches. I’ve always been a proponent of being “overt” sports. Even in my High School playing days, we had nasty rivalries and “fun” rivalries. The nasty rivalries were against teams that had very little respect for each other, the fun rivalries were those were we got to play against kids we had played with in youth football and baseball. We always hit our friends just as hard or harder than we hit those teams we didn’t like very well. For most of us we enjoyed the wins and games we played against our “fun” rivalries far more than the wins against the teams we had little repect for.
My guess that goes double for kids playing youth football. As a coach you are in a position to put your kids into nearly any mode you choose. They will follow your lead and example, you decide what your team will be remembered for.
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