It isn’t even September yet and low and behold we have the first football fight of the youth football season. The NBC San Diego affiliate is reporting that a youth football coach was arrested after a confrontation with a parent – apparently stemming from a dispute over recruitment of a top player – in which the parent was kicked and punched, then knocked unconscious when he tripped and hit the ground, police said.
The coach, Saivaauli Savaiinea, was arrested Saturday afternoon on suspicion of felony battery, according to San Diego Police Officer David Stafford. Savaiinea, 32, reportedly attacked Mark Cannon during an argument at Abraham Lincoln High School. The coach allegedly punched the parent in one shoulder and kicked him in the stomach. Cannon tripped over his own feet, fell and hit his head on concrete, Stafford said. Cannon, also 32, was taken to a trauma center with head injuries. Police had no word on his condition Sunday.
The confrontation began after Savaiinea reportedly thought he overheard Cannon trying to recruit one of his best players, Police Lt. Dan Christman told the San Diego Union Tribune. The two men were with opposing teams of 9, 10 and 11-year-old kids from Chula Vista. In another filmed report by NBC a witness said one of the coaches 10 year old players got between the two men and the player was tossed to the side by Savaiinea.
I interviewed a coach and parent who were at the game. According to them, when Savaiinea told Cannon to stop talking to his player, Cannon replied, “”Why? what are you going to do about it?” Shortly thereafter Savaiinea got into a martial arts stance and used several martial arts moves to attack a passive Cannon. So while Savaiinea looks to be the one where the majority of the blame should be laid, when you deal with people like this it is rarely wise to egg them on.
In any event this is an ugly situation that soils a great sport and gives ammunition to those opposed to youth football. Coaches like this put a personal agenda ahead of what the bigger mission should be, developing youth in a positive, safe and encouraging atmosphere. The coach who instigated the attack felt like one of his players was being recruited to play for another team. The victim claims he doesn’t even coach youth football, is a pacifist and was just trying to congratulate the player on a well played game.
As coaches we are role models, whether we like it or not. The kids have their eyes on us all the time. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your station in life is, when you are given the title of coach, you are in a position of authority. Kids are going to be watching you to see if your actions align with your deeds. The days of blind obedience are gone, kids are skeptical these days and looking for hypocrisy at every turn. Kids respect consistency, they can spot hypocrisy a mile away.
With so many kids without dads in the home or with disengaged parents, many times the coach is in a significant leadership role with that child. When it comes down to it, kids want to trust, they want to be led by someone that is consistent and trustworthy. How is that relationship going to be strengthened when the coach physically lashes out, loses control, loses all self discipline and attacks another person? Worse yet, what if that trust level has already been established between coach and player and now the player sees that is perfectly acceptable to lose control and lash out when faced with circumstances like this?
Looking at this on another entirely different level, who cares if a player leaves for another team? The coaches I know that consistently win and consistently retain their players, are not “talent is king” coaches. Most of them are confident enough in their coaching ability, that they don’t spend a lot of time fretting over which players are or aren’t on their team. The great ones are going to win, no matter the talent levels they have.
The guys that consistently lose and often times have retention issues are always looking for that next great player that is going to put their team over the hump. These types usually put little value in coaching and often times know deep down that their coaching abilities are weak. The net of it is, none of us in non select youth football ever has all the right pieces to the puzzle. We all have good, average and weak players. We never have the perfect mix, we always have missing pieces or pieces that just don’t fit very well. We make it work, we max out the equation and we usually win most of our games and retain most of our players. We don’t waste time worrying about who is or isn’t on our teams, we develop our coaching skills and max out the group that does want to play for us.
For my personal teams I think I may have lost 1 player to an opposing team in the last 6 seasons. There is another team that practices in the same complex we use and there is another program in the area the kids can play for. If I’ve developed that trust with the player and parent like we talk about in my book and the Chemistry and Character Development program, and we’ve built up those “emotional bank accounts” talked about there, the kids aren’t going anywhere. If the parents can see you care about every player, you aren’t wasting time, you know what you are doing on the practice field, are a good role model and the kids are having fun, they simply don’t leave. If a player does leave, it means we weren’t a good fit for them and their family. Maybe they can’t buy in to our approach that we can teach great fundamentals, have fun, play everyone, be great sports AND win too- that these goals are not mutually exclusive. If they leave, more power to them, we hope they continue to play the game for someone else who may have been a better fit for their needs.
Anytime something like this happens, it gives more ammunition to the soccer mom crowd opposed to competitive youth sports, it is their most powerful weapon. Make SURE NOT to hire anyone with a volatile temper. When you see a coach start to lose his composure, talk to him, counsel him and mentor him. Help him understand the bigger picture which is teaching young men to be responsible and productive members of the community. If the coach can’t be reached or fails to understand the larger mission, they don’t deserve to have the title of coach and should be removed from the program.
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