Middle School Football:
Entering the 2019 football season, I was excited to be able to coach a group of young athletes that I had been coaching for a couple of years. It was middle school football and the goal was to help this group of growing young athletes develop their skills, play together and work hard enough to compete for a championship when they reached the 8th grade. The 6th grade team consisted of a number of players who were natural athletes and they were hard working. The way in which our organization works is that there are 3 teams, one 6th grade, one 7th grade and one 8th grade team. These teams all use the same playbook and for the most part, all run the same drills during their practices which are held in the same location, but on different fields. At the beginning of the 2019 season, the 6th grade team consisted of 5th and 6th grade players. The 2019 season went well and the players and coaches all learned and were well prepared for the 2020 football season!
By now, pretty much everyone is aware of what happened in the early part of 2020; the COVID-19 pandemic hit. By the middle of the summer of 2020 when my coaching staff and I should have been preparing for another football season with the now 7th graders, we were wondering if our organization’s board of directors was going to approve moving forward with a football season. As I met with my coaches in a virtual setting and discussed how we were going to prepare our team for a season during a pandemic, we put together a great plan to help keep players and staff safe and still teach the game of football. By the end of June in 2020, the other organizations which participate in our league had announced their intentions to play the 2020 football season and their was optimism that our organization would follow suit and play. This would ensure that the 7th grade players would not lose a season of competition and be able to compete for a championship once they reached 8th grade, having not missed a season of play. Late in the month of June word came from the board of directors that we would not be playing football in 2020. While this was heartbreaking for the coaches and players, it was something that was done to protect the safety of the players, coaches and families of the players and I respect the decision that was made!
2 Years Worth of Work:
As 2021 began, the board of directors made the decision to participate in the fall football season. Understanding that the other organizations had participated in 2020 and that our players would need to get “caught up”, a decision was also made that any player who wanted to, would be able to get a head start on the football season by participating in an all passing league over the summer. We had 10 players sign up and those 10 players would use that summer passing league to help develop and hone their skills in preparation for the fall season. They also built chemistry which benefitted them and the 8th grade team during the fall season. The other thing that it did was introduce me to 3 other people who wanted to coach and whose kids would be signing up to play football in the fall. Since some of the coaches that coached in 2019 were no longer going to be coaching with me, I said “yes” and lasting friendships started that are still going strong today! During the summer, we coaches also met and discussed how we were going to work to quickly make up for the time that our team had lost in 2020. The sentiment was unanimous, we would teach the players about a positive team culture where we work hard, win and lose together. We don’t blame, we support each other just like you would your own family member. We would teach them that it’s not what you just did or what just happened, it’s what you do next that matters and, we would empower the players to communicate on the field. The players were in charge of their own decisions on the field during games and if they were to succeed then, they would need to talk with one another to resolve issues, get better and grow as a team. We also broke down the concept of winning into “win this down”. Finally, one of the coaches said something at our very first practice that became each individual’s and the team’s rallying cry: “Effort Takes No Talent!”. The players loved it and when they saw one of their teammates taking things at a slower pace, they would ask that player, “are you putting in 100% effort?”. The players became accountable for the work that they were putting in to get better and it translated into success on the field and in the classroom.
Tremendous Growth Over 8 Games:
Nearly every team that I have coached has dreamed of winning a chapionship and that team in 2021 was no different. Futhermore, the talent that was on that team was second to none I have coached to this point in my 30+ years of coaching. A couple of things that back this up are we had a kicker who as an 8th grader and in his first year of playing football, could kick a 35 yard field goal with ease. We had not 1 but 3 quarterbacks who played at a high level and one of them had the fastest release on his throws that I have seen during my coaching career. The thing that probably amazed me more than anything though was how the players grew together to become a family. The support that they gave each other was second to none and even after an opening night embarrassing loss, the team ended up winning the majority of the rest of their games. They even took the division champs down to the last play on their home field in what was an incredible game and one that I may just write about in another post. Yes, 2020 was a year that presented many families with grief, turmoil, uncertainty, fear, and frustration. It was a year that took away from many and even deprived the players on my football team a chance to compete however, 2021 provided these young athletes and the coaches an opportunity to learn more about themselves and about the meaning of family, on and off the field of play. And, one final thing about what these young adults may have learned during 2021 and hopefully they will carry with them throughout their lives: Effort Takes No Talent! If you put in the work and continue to learn and grow, the rewards will be amazing!