This is the continuing story of my “Worst to First” youth football coaching experience in Reno, Nevada this year. I took an 8th grade team that had won about 6 games in the last 6 years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area. This segment is about the first parent revolt in the program. Youth sports is filled with parent issues and parent revolts, so how can you handle them?
Every youth football teams needs that “Mayor” guy. If you’ve been coaching youth football for any length of time you know what I’m talking about. He’s the one that gets along with about anyone. He’s friendly, smart, positive and just knows how to get along with people. Sometimes that is the head coach, but does a head coach have the time to be the lead diplomat and run the team too? More on what that role is and why you need one in the next post. Coach B, the person responsible for bringing me in was our man in that role.
Coach B is a very successful businessman who can get along with anyone, he solved problems for a living. The parents like and respect him and they feel comfortable opening up with him. While Coach B is a position coach, there are times at practice where he had time to visit with parents. Several were unhappy with the amount of running and negative reinforcement their sons were getting in practice.
After practice, Coach B and I sat down at the hotel and talked about the issues facing us. While I had set the boundaries up at that first practice which included a short parent meeting, I guess they must have thought I was just using a bunch of coach speak. While not all the parents had attended, I had clearly laid out that I was there to make sure that the kids had the best and most successful season in their young football careers. I was crystal clear on what I expected from an attendance, attitude and effort standpoint. I talked about while the community expectations of this team were very low, that I didn’t share those expectations. We talked about high standards, precision and fast paced practices. My experience is people will live up to what ever standard, high or low that is set.
The next day right after warm ups, I brought everyone in for a short clearing of the air. That included players, parents and coaches. I started off reminding them why I was there- to make sure they had the very best football experience of their young careers, to prepare them for High School football, to help them be better prepared in life, to get them to believe in themselves and to help them understand that hard work, selflessness and teamwork pay off in the long run. I told them it didn’t matter what other people thought of them, that they had the potential to be a championship level team.
But then is when it got sticky, I asked all of the kids and coaches to raise their hands if they had coached or played on a championship level team. Of course none of them could raise their hands, they never had a winning season and were losing games by 50 points. After looking around slowly and deliberately, I raised my hand. I shared with them all my youth football coaching resume and all my championship seasons and records. Then I shared them what Albert Einstein defined insanity as: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
I reviewed with them some of the scores they had been beaten by last year 57-6, 51-0 and asked players if they wanted to have another season like that? They all responded with a resounding NO! I let them know that I didn’t think they had the talent of a bad youth football team and that I could see some heart and competitiveness in many of them that was what championship teams were made of. I was willing to work my tail off to make sure that they had a great year and that they played to their full potential. Sure we were going to have fun along the way, but not all of anything we do in life is fun. Anything worth having, a degree, a good job, good relationships and a good marriage require work and doing things that require us to get out of our comfort zones and yes, things that can be a bit unpleasant and not fun. The fun stuff was a reward for putting in work and practicing to potential. Fun also is seeing that commitment and hard work resulting in your team having success on the field.
They had a choice, do things the way they had done in the past and have the same results OR try my proven approach which was different. I let them know the way we do things; the precision, the high standards, the pace, the discipline and accountability were how great players were developed and how championship level teams were built. They could go back to how they did things before, but that I wouldn’t be a part of it and GLADLY return back to my family in Nebraska. If the parents and coaches wanted to get rid of me, not a problem at all. There was a team back in Nebraska that had my name on it and my wife and children would be ecstatic to know I was heading home for good. That caught a few of the parents off guard, they weren’t in the drivers seat, I was. It also ruffled the feathers of some of the coaches. The coaches didn’t like the fact I had basically called them out for poor coaching and low standards of previous seasons.
While I didn’t want anyone to quit and I shared that with the group, I also said I would be happy to continue with whoever was committed to the process, my process,. Then we talked about the progress we had made and the ruts we kept falling into and why I was trying to keep us out of those ruts. We had the potential to be very good, why settle for mediocre? Sure we looked great in blowing out two teams in those scrimmage games, but so what. THAT was an issue, since mediocre was a huge improvement on what they were used to. Many of the parents and players seemed to be satisfied with that, but I wasn’t going to let them settle. That would be the battle.
How did it turn out? Some of the supportive parents who “got it” talked to some of the problem parents. The mayor talked to some of the more aggressive parents and “bought” more time. He also spoke to the kids whose parents had been vocal and encouraged them to stick around for what would be a huge turnaround season. How much of the problem was parents who didn’t get it? How much of a danger were we in losing kids? I couldn’t say, I just kept the course. Without the mayor’s support, counsel and help, this team could have fallen apart.