Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Youth Football Coaching, Act Like Men, Not Like Children, The Dorchester Pop Warner Incident

 

Are You a Man or a Child?

When coaching youth football, all coaches are given what may be the best platform ever invented for shaping and developing the character of young men. Unfortunately, some youth football coaches just aren’t up for the challenge.

Pop Warner Woes

Some of you may have read about the troubles of one youth football team at the Pop Warner National Championships at Disney this month. The Dorchester Eagles Midget football team  ages (13-15) from Dorchester Mass got into a fight at the food courts with another team from Edgewood, Rhode Island. Supposedly the players from one team were taunting the other team about losing it’s initial game. The Dorchester team responded to this verbal “assault” with fists, thrown chairs, kicks etc. Fortunately, no one was hospitalized.

Both teams were evicted from the Disney property and the Dorchester team was sanctioned from future Pop Warner events. The Dorchester team will not be allowed to participate in the Pop Warner National Championship tournament for 3 years, its head coach was suspended for 1 year and it’s assistant coaches were placed on probation for 1 year.

Swift Sanctions

While I was pleased to see Pop Warner taking swift action and sanctioning both the team and its coaches, I was very disappointed to see the reaction of the Dorchester coaches and parents. They certainly showed their true colors in interviews with the Boston Globe.

Dorchester head coach Terry Cousin said “Our kids were the victims: a coach assaulted our kid”. Police responded immediately on the scene, but amazingly no one, not one would give a statement to police. Amazing in light of Cousins “bigfoot, UFO, sasquatch, 300 mile per gallon carburetor, dog ate the homework” claim that an adult assaulted a child to start the melee and all this in a very crowded Disney World food court. Cousins, the WWF belt wearing coach reveals more of his character with further comments. According to the Boston Globe, He stated it all started “ because the other team was calling his unchaperoned kids “losers”. “We told our kids, you have to walk away, But our kid was like. How can we walk away after they hit me? I told him That’s a catch-22 there.  I didn’t tell him it was wrong, I didn’t tell him it was right either.”

Professional “Wrestling” is Real, the Moon Landing Was Faked

 I might add that I’ve seen and unfortunately met men just like this, when confronted with a situation where they are in the wrong, they come out with the most outlandish and ridiculous claims to “justify” their actions. This team has had problems at Disney in previous years, not to mention in their own league, this was not an isolated incident by any stretch of the imagination. The Philadelphia Chargers even complained to Pop Warner about Dorchester team members knocking on hotel room doors looking for members of his team with the intent to do some pre-game intimidation to go along with Coach Cousins WWF belt. Cousin defended this action saying his little angels were just “Yelling Chants”. Further evidence of a very skewed world view came from how Dorchester responded to the sanctions. Instead of reprimanding their own kids and apologizing for having unchaperoned and unruly players, Dorchester coaches and parents complained that the opposing team didn’t get the same punishment as their team.  Dorchester also pointed to other teams that have had problems at Disney and what they felt suffered lesser penalties. The “ Johnny did it, and didn’t get in trouble, why can’t I do it” excuse. What a great example these “coaches” are for these impressionable young men.

This is just so wrong on so many levels. I know personally how people take unfair pot shots and make the most ridiculous claims when you are win consistently in youth football. But this program is definitely one that has gone off the tracks, this isn’t some wild jealous accusation, this is a pattern of behavior .

The ABC’s of Reasonable Conduct

Speaking from someone that has taken kids to out of town Bowl Games and tournaments, the first rule is: you never leave the kids unchaperoned. I’ve played in those games, coached in them and set up the trips, you have group and partner relationships that require that no player is alone or unchaperoned at any time.

Second, if there ever was a situation where something went wrong, you use it as a teachable moment. You show kids how to accept responsibility, repent and try to make it right, not justify the poor decision making and try to lessen the consequences by blaming others or calling the consequence unfair compared to what others may or may not have received. I realize that is what todays world is all about, blaming others for your own mistakes and then using a “Johnny did it too” excuse or whining about the degree or “unfairness” of the consequences. How does that type of leadership help prepare kids for the future? If the players follow the coaches lead and end up in his shoes, what kind of “men” will they be? This is a team well known for taunting and cursing, one that tries to intimidate and whose coaches condone using physical force when verbally “assaulted”.  What great lessons to teach impressionable young men.

It All Flows From the Head Coach

When coaching youth football, players, parents and assistant coaches take their ques from the head coach. If the coach is combative, intimidating  and disrespectful the parents and kids will be too.  I’ve head coached all types of teams. I’ve been the head coach of  rich suburban teams, I coached numerous inner-city teams that practiced right across from the housing projects ( we even saw one of our practice observers shot and killed while observing practice)  and even  rural teams. I have never had problems with kids, parents or coaches acting out in any of these environments. It all starts with me and how I conduct myself. We also use coach, player and parent contracts that speak in detail what we expect, what we won’t tolerate and what the consequences are if they violate any of the covenants of the contract.

With the exception of having to endure a few petty jealousies from our detractors from time to time, we have had virtually no problems. The biggest one I can remember was from one Florida Bowl trip in 2003.  There were 5 kids on the balcony of the condos we had rented. one or two of the kids said something inappropriate to a female that had walked by on the beach. We suspended them all for the game and they all had to write a letter of apology to the female. They had to write a second apology letter to the team and leadership to get a vote on their ability to be part of the team the following season. That penalty was quick and just and was a reminder to all that we would not tolerate any type of inappropriate behavior on the trip or anywhere else for that matter. We also had another player not even make the trip that same year due to him not meeting some very attainable academic standards we required of everyone. After these bowl trip problems, and meted out consequence were made known to all, we never had another problem during subsequent trips.

On the Other Hand

 In fact during one Bowl trip, one team so enjoyed playing against us and were so impressed with the conduct of our players, parents and coaches that they invited us to a swimming party afterwards.  The party included lots of food and games brought in by the opposing teams parents. They ended up putting on  a joint “hayrack” ride excursion for us later where our inner-city kids had the time of our lives. At the Sunday morning church service we attended (their church) they even took up a collection to help us pay for food on our way back home. This was all done in the aftermath of us beating them 13-7 in a very had fought and very physical game played in  a driving sleet storm. I promise you that our kids had a lot more fun doing this than the Dorchester team did trying to intimidate and fight with their Rhode Island rivals. I’ve been told that to this day, several of our players still get Christmas cards from the families of these opponents.

Are my coaches and teams perfect? Far from it, but we do set a standard that we abide by. We set that standard in the first 30 minutes before the first practice in a mandatory parents/players meeting, We are blunt as to what our mission is and what the standards required to participate are. Bluntly tell your players, coaches and players what the mission is, how you are going to get there and what the boundaries are, and then STICK TO IT.  Invite anyone that doesn’t want to get in the boat and row with you to move on to a program that has lower or no standards.

Boundaries

You aren’t doing anyone any favors if you set a boundary then don’t enforce it. You then become like 90% of what the kids endure at home, in school and from todays press and society. Just remember, that once that child is in the real world, there are real world consequences. How well will the boys you are coaching be prepared?  Life isn’t a video game do-over, there isn’t a restart button with most of what we do in real life after age 18. What are you doing to help prepare the kids in your charge for the future? Discipline isn’t what you do TO someone, it is what you do FOR someone. Are you going to be an enabler, excuse maker, child in a grown-ups body like the WWF Belt wearing Dorchester coach? Or are you going to be someone that 20 years from now,  a productive member of our society looks back on and says “ Man I’m glad coach X coached me, he helped make me into who I am today”.

Don’t take this as an slam on Pop Warner, Disney or the town of Dorchester. I know most teams that go to Disney have the time of thier lives and it is very safe. Pop Warner does an outstanding job of putting together an exciting and fun filled venue. I’m sure there are many fine people in Dorchester and coach Cousin has obviously put in a lot of time coaching these young men. But just because you put time in doesn’t mean you have the kids best interest at heart or that you are sending the boys on with the tools they need to have in order to be successful men. Our prayers are with you coach Cousin and to the players as well. These players are going to really need these prayers if coach Cousin or those like him continue to coach these kids.

I might add, my teams do not play in Pop Warner and I have no affiliation with them. Some of Dorchester’s supporters claim they might leave Pop Warner. Good luck in having any league on the planet vote your team into their league. No one wants a problem child team putting a black mark on their league, hence if Pop Warner doesn’t want you, you won’t have any place to play. The blame will then fall squarely on the shoulders of the coaches and parents of the Dorchester program, but alas I have all the confidence in the world some evil imaginary foe will be blamed instead.

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