Does Drama Really Make For Better Youth Football For the Kids?
On my flight back from the Atlanta clinic this weekend I had a short layover in Milwaukee. While we were all congregating around the gate waiting to board for Omaha, I noticed a fella that looked familiar.
Who is This Guy?
He looked like a youth football coach who used to coach for the Organization that were adjacent to us and our heated rivals. After walking by him a few times and thinking with about 80% confidence it was him, I finally asked him if his name was Guy. He said yes and said “ I thought that was you too, but I wasn’t sure”. We had coached against each other maybe 10 years prior.
How It All Began
I started a free youth football program for at-risk kids in Inner-City Omaha about 3 miles from where Guy’s teams practiced. His organization had voted against my new organization coming into the league and they even had maybe 10 of their coaches show up to my first practice. I still remember them laughing at my all rookie players as we went through our end of practice routine. Over 95% of my kids walked to practice, had very little parent support. These kids had no chance of navigating the 3 miles one way to practice with the other team. In fact, I had watched the rival Organizations team play the previous year and noticed they had zero kids on their squad with the skin color of the majority of my kids. So I wasn’t “stealing” any of their kids, my first team was made up entirely of first year players.
Fuel to the Fire
None-the-less we all know how some of these silly things escalate and of course we added fuel to the fire by winning our first game ever, against who? You guessed it and in dramatic come from behind fashion under the lights in front of a big crowd. In spite of our best efforts, the rivalry grew as my Organization grew to be the largest in the city and eventually dominated the league at nearly every age level, all running the WYF System.
A New Low
In 2002 the rivalry took a nasty turn as the head of the other Organization was tossed out of the league. He had attended one of my teams pre-season games at our home field, his teams were not playing. He brought a small cooler of beer and looked as if he had been drinking most of the day. He drank a number of Bud tallboys I’m told and urinated from the track surrounding the field, just feet from several of our moms and cheerleaders. Amazingly this person was defended in the meeting by one of this organizations representatives, but to no avail as he was banned for the season. This club was now consistently in the cellar with most of its teams and in the previous season been penalized for using illegal radio controlled mics in the players helmets.
Turning Over a New Leaf
In 2005 this rival club took on new leadership, but still had a number of its former coaches in place. Fortunately the new leader was someone I had met as a child and who was friends with my younger brother, the new leader is a descent hard working guy, Randy B. We extended a helping hand to Randy by offering him a bunch of new white helmets and pants we couldn’t use ( our teams had switched to black pants and helmets) as well as an offer for his coaches to attend our coaches clinics. We also shared with him some of the processes we had used to make our organization better including player, coach and parent contracts. He graciously agreed to accept our joint clinic offer.
Randy and I both had a hard time convincing some of our coaches that this was a good idea. There was some bad blood on both sides of this equation.
On the day of the clinic the other group came in together and sat together, a bit unsure of our motives and keeping to themselves. But as the discussions opened up and as they began to mingle during the breaks, my coaches found out that they weren’t bad guys with bad motives, most of them were doing this for the same reason we were. They thought football was important and could help develop kids into productive people. Emotion and jealousy by the previous leadership had clouded the coaches thoughts on who they thought we were and what we were about.
The opposing coaches had a lot of misplaced perceptions of who we were and why we were doing what we were doing. They were blown away by how we practiced and why and how we were able to practice so little and yet get the results we were getting. Many of their teams started doing group conditioning in June and practiced 4-5 days a week, when we started August 1st and went 3 then 2 nights a week once school started. They had been told by their former leadership we practiced year-round and went 5 nights a week during season.
A New Day
The net was some great connections were made over pizza and a day long football clinic. That animosity dissipated and understanding and respect replaced it. Randy even helped us out by playing against our new Lincoln area program when we couldn’t get games, heck he was the ONLY one that came down so those kids could have a home game in their rookie season. Our games went from ones we kind of dreaded in a way to ones we looked forward to for a different reason. We now knew and could trust who was coaching against us from the other sidelines. The scowls and frowns we had shared in the past had turned into smiles and back slaps.
My new friend from the plane, Guy and I ended up sitting next to each other on the flight and talking football for the next 90 minutes. I’m sure everyone in front and behind thought we were nuts. We found we had nearly identical philosophys on the important aspects of youth football. Guy even graciously agreed to drive the 80 miles to the rural area I now live to play my teams this coming season.
We were all smiles and handshakes after the flight. Something few would have predicted 10 years ago when a youth football rivalry was spinning out of control to the detriment of all involved. Do you think our kids benefited from us extending the olive branch to this rival group? Can you think of a football relationship you could mend by attempting to reach out to them?
It doesn’t always work, we tried it with another organization and were flatly and bluntly turned down. But all you can do is try and ask, you never know. I know none of us regret looking past what happened in the past and extending the hand of support to our friends at the OC, it led to so much good for so many kids.
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