If you’ve been following this “Worst to First” story of my experience of taking a long suffering team in Reno to the semi-finals of their youth football league, thank you. This experience was one that helped me grow as a coach and from the feedback I’m getting from hundreds of coaches nationwide, helpful to many of them as well. Where will the show go? Only time will tell and who picks it up is up to the Production Company, not me. While we did have our fair share of drama, it may have been enough to attract the wider audience many networks are looking for.
Thanks to guys like the Mayor, a trusted Offensive Line assistant coach, a handful of supportive parents, assistant coaches AND winning, we were able to keep a lid on most of the conflict and drama. Let’s be honest here, winning doesn’t solve every problem, but it certainly quiets down many critics. Positive results validate the approach and we got those results. At the end of the day, this was all about making sure those kids had a great last season of youth football, for some their last year of football. This wasn’t about creating drama, it was to get these kids to believe in themselves and that was accomplished.
While we struggled the first couple of weeks to find our footing with the coaches, players and parents, we came together and figured out something that worked for this unique equation. My biggest personal moments from the season was the tearful farewells and thank yous I got from the players and the subsequent texts and updates from them since leaving. The meeting of the minds with the assistant coach that I had the bad relationship with ranks up there, the hug we shared after the first round playoff win. Seeing all those rookie eighth grade kids finish the season, being able to joke about their initial fears and gaining from being a part of a competitive team was a big one. Seeing our kids talk about the new found respect they got from their classmates in school who were playing against them made me smile a bit. It was so much fun seeing these kids come together and believe that they could beat anyone they played and effort through to the final whistle in every game.
Many thanks are definitely in order. First and foremost, without the Mayor, this never happens. Without the Mayor the season and team crumbles. He was the ultimate people problem solver and a great sounding board for me personally. Without those daily workouts and breakfasts at his home, the whole endeavor might have been too much to bear. Many thanks to all the assistant coaches. They consistently attended practice and did their level best. They love their children and wanted the best for them and our team. For the most part they were open minded and supportive throughout a difficult process. They all chipped in with rides for kids and other odds and ends to make it all work. One coach spent a tremendous amount of time helping one of our struggling players succeed in school. Another coach had a son who was out with a season ending foot injury at mid-season, that coach never missed a practice. They were good guys trying to do their best.
It had to be tough seeing all the changes to how things were done, positions and playing time and I wasn’t always as diplomatic as I could have been. The former head coach was a class act, he is a real man in so many ways off the field. The parents were the Mayors responsibility, so my interactions with them were limited. Several initiated contact, were very positive, encouraging and liked the changes. On the other hand there were detractors as well, thank goodness we had several strong parents who stood up for the needed changes. So hats off to those parents which included the Mayors wife, one of our staunchest allies.
The players surprised me a bit, they were great kids. I hadn’t seen any film or met them prior to that first practice. They were pretty open to the new approach. Like most of the youth football teams I’ve coached, they struggled early on to understand the high level of precision and pace that was possible. Many kids latched on to the new way right away and thrived, others it took a while. The net is, these were great kids who were willing to work hard and they wanted to get better and win. There was little to no problems with attitude, effort, or accepting coaching with the all but a couple of players. While this was considered a tough “thug” area, these were great kids and we only had a single player who dropped due to grades.
Sparks High School was all in supporting us, making the journey much easier. From letting us store our dummies on site, to practice and game field access, these guys were top notch. When we had to go inside due to smoke from forest fires, they took care of us. When we needed lights to practice at night, there for us. Need kids to help simulate your upcoming opponent, sure glad to help. They even came to our games and got their cheerleaders to cheer for us for a game. They broke a 30 game losing streak last year and have a very good Freshman coaching staff, my hope is the kids they are getting from us can help make them competitive again.
Special thanks to the outside coaches that offered help and advice. Joe Cianflone my buddy from Florida was a sounding board for most of the season and then late in the season offered some hands on advice on defending the Wing T and Pistol, which ended up with us improving a lot of basic fundamental skills. Joe even watched some of our Hudl film and gave me hard expert feedback. Dan Schlager from Florida came down for 2 days early in the season to help on bringing the team together, I wish I could have gotten more of his time. I ran into Chuck Tremain a starting Nose Guard in the University of Nebraska early National Championship days. Chuck came down and offered some help late in the season and became a trusted friend.
Thanks to the SYFL league for all the hard work they do to make it possible for kids in the Reno area to play. Yes they get criticized a lot and their district attendance policy is abused, but it takes a lot of effort to make a league work. There was no overt over the top poor sportsmanship displayed by any group of coaches, parents or players, with exception of our second game- the 5 unsportsmanlike penalties. The scheduling, the officiating and game fields were all of high quality. It certainly could have been much worse.
So thanks to all of the people mentioned above, the season was a huge success by many standards. Would I do it again? Commuting back and forth weekly from Reno to Nebraska was difficult and replicating all the positives Reno had into another environment would be tough, but I would be open to it under the right circumstances. Obviously the second time you do something, you know so much more about the situation and process, in many ways it is easier.
Hopefully by detailing the season, this helped other guys in similar situations. Can every bottom dwelling team be turned into a championship team overnight? No, but there are a lot of really bad teams that can become 5-5 teams with the right coaching approach. There are a lot of 4-6 teams that can be competing for league championships. Coaching matters, don’t let the naysayers tell you it doesn’t.