I'm coaching 8th grade football again this year, again with my good friends Brian and Jack. This is our 5th year coaching this level together and likely to be our last. For various reasons (two of us will be empty nesters next summer) we are likely to hang up our Sherwood Youth Football coaching hats for good after this season.
Which leads to the questions: What do we want this season to look like? and, What goals should we have?
The 2013 season was no cake walk. We had a decent seasons win/loss-wise, making it to the playoffs and holding our own in a playoff loss. Most of the kids (I think) had a great experience and are playing again this year on the HS freshman team. I see them around the town (I just saw one today at the HS) and they are eager to talk about their ongoing football experiences. But not all was rosy last year: parent relationships were the worst we've had in our experience, and some of this dysfunction transfered over to player relations.
It would be easy to blame the parents and shirk accountability, but we were part of the problem. I think our mistakes fell in two categories:
- Allowing ourselves to get pulled into confrontational conversations that eroded relationships. We may not have initiated the conversation, but we allowed it to happen when we could have walked away or smiled and asked to defer the conversation until cooler minds prevailed.
- Not enforcing natural consequences and outcomes for player behavior. In a few instances, generally to take the path of least resistance or to mitigate problem (1) above, we didn't carry out proper discipline or adjust our depth chart (player A starting over player B) when we should have. I think this undermined our authority and sent the wrong message to the players and parents who were doing things right. Not that these incidents were very visible outside of a very small number of players.
Given this backdrop, let's talk about how we'd like 2014 to play out.
We've recommitted ourselves to making this a great team and football experience for the players. Personally I'm smiling more, yelling less, and finding more ways to connect personally with each player. I'm getting to know the parents on a more personal level, finding ways to engage them into support activities for the team. Julie has filmed our games for years and I've taken care of film processing and uploading to Hudl. I've delegated that completely to a parent (this was very hard for me). We are working on a new no huddle play calling systems and I've enlisted three different dads to help with some fabrication and production work to support us.
Secondarily, we want to focus on the bottom third of our kids and help them over perform. Sherwood is one of the few programs in all of greater Portland that will field two 8th grade teams this year, and as a result we will face several other teams that draw from larger communities that have a single team. Our talent pool will not measure up, but if we can coach up the weaker kids and properly prepare them perhaps we can steal a game or two that otherwise we should lose.
Over achievement this year probably means a 5-3 season. I'll check back in November and report on how things went.
It is hard to contemplate that this could be my last season coaching. I wonder if there might be some other venue for me (or maybe the three of us?) in the future where impact could be magnified. After watching Undefeated, Brian and I wonder if there might be some high school out there somewhere that could use a volunteer staff to turn around a program and establish a foundation for the kids.