I have been graced with the responsibility of raising a male human. Ryan is neither boy nor man in his 16th year, therefore he must be categorized as “male human” so as not to offend his sensibilities.
Throughout his time with his father and me, Ryan has developed a genuine love for the game of football. I say “developed” because it wasn’t something that came naturally to him.
This male human has always been rather large for his age, so upon entering third grade, I thought it would be a natural progression to sign him up for football. The only problem was that he didn’t want to play.
You see, Ryan didn’t want to hurt anyone. We had always reminded him that he was bigger than most of his friends, so he had to be gentle with them when he was playing. Somehow, I inadvertently instilled a sense of fear into him without understanding the potential consequences in doing so.
But once he understood that, with the proper equipment, it was safe to plow over a friend, he was off and running (or tackling). And therein began his love for football.
My husband, Darren, participated in coaching Ryan’s teams throughout his years in the Sedalia Youth Football League. During that time, Ryan learned that the most important aspect of the game is safety. There are certain things that football players must always be aware of in order to protect themselves from serious injury. Keeping his head up while on the line of scrimmage was most difficult for him to learn.
During that time of fundamental football, Ryan also learned that screaming coaches were simply another aspect of the game. He realized rather quickly that coaches yell loudly, not only when they are mad, but because if they don’t, players can’t hear them with their helmets on.
Ryan accepted the “yelling” much easier than I did. I remember the first time I witnessed someone grab my male human by the facemask and give him a good “what for.” I was speechless — for a moment. But eight years later, I am now the mom in the stands yelling at the coach to grab my male human and shake him a good one when he’s not paying attention.
Recently, I have found that many parents are offended by coaches who motivate their players with loud voices and strong accountability. It has brought me to a crossroads in the way I think about youth in sports and I’m trying desperately to make up my mind about how I really feel.
Last week, a basketball coach at Rutgers University was fired for having been far too physically aggressive with his players. After seeing the video footage, I would have to agree that the coach absolutely crossed the line with his players and, in my opinion, was rightfully terminated.
However, I also acknowledge that there is a fine line between motivational and abusive emotion. Coaches are tasked with finding that line and pushing as close to it as possible without crossing over.
There are a number of reasons that coaches become so passionate.
In football, as I mentioned previously, players have difficulty hearing instruction on the field. It would do no good for a coach on the sideline to use his inside voice while he says, “Now, Ryan, I need you to pick your head up and look across the line at the fellow who is about to mow you over, son.” Somehow, that doesn’t seem appropriate. How can players find respect for a coach who speaks that way?
A friend of mine recently said, “Between high school and college I played for a total of five head and probably 20 assistant basketball coaches. I got yelled at and held responsible for my actions by every one of them! I believe this made me a better person in life and taught me a lot about leadership and responsibility.”
Notice that he used the words “leadership” and “responsibility.” Isn’t that what we want to teach our children?
When I asked Ryan how he feels about coaches yelling he said, “Shoot! If they’re not yelling at me, I think they don’t care about me.” He understands that passion is sometimes mistaken for anger and he has experienced the friendship of the same coach who, 20 minutes earlier, was directly opposite his facemask, spitting words of encouragement.
There comes a time in the life of the male (and female) human when the comfort of Momma’s gentle encouragement must be accompanied by firm discipline. We must learn to allow that to happen, so that our children can prepare for a world that is not always as nice as we are.
It’s all about balance.
Have a great week!