Overcoming fear as a young coach

I began my coaching career in 1989 at the young age of 23. From my first post remember that I stopped playing organized football at the age of 13 and that I had an incredible learning experience thanks to my youth football coaches. I was confident that I had learned enough from my youth coaches and in the years that I had played backyard football and watched the Pittsburgh Steelers on TV, that I would be able to teach the game to youth players who were as young as I was when I started playing.

The method that was used to select the teams in the organization that I chose to coach in back in 1989, was by player draft. Since I was a brand new coach and I was coming into the draft with no players returning from the previous season in the league, I was given the opportunity to draft in each of the 13 rounds and at the end of the draft, I would have 13 – 14 players on my team. Since I did not know any of the players that were on the sheet of paper that I was given, I made the assumption that the ones that were listed at the top of the page were the most highly rated players based on a pre-draft camp that was held to rate the players in several football skills categories such as, passing, running and tackling. After 90 minutes at the “draft table”, I had 14 players on my roster and was given the team name of the Chiefs. With me team set, I was ready to call all of the parents, set a practice schedule and meet my team!

The first day of practice came and I was pretty nervous because now, I needed to be a coach and impart the knowledge that I had about the game of football onto these young athletes. The players started to show and that is when the fear started to creep in. I saw the players come up to me and introduce themselves to me and I started to think about what would happen if I was unable to teach these young players anything about the game or about how to work together. I needed something to calm these fears and get me moving in the right direction and I had that come to me in the form of 2 fathers who introduced themselves to me and offered to help me out in coaching this team. I also had 2 mothers come up to me and offer to be team Moms and organize team game day snacks and pregame meals, if needed. Those fears were relieved, now what about the actual coaching of the players?

Overcoming fear can be challenging when you are venturing into the unknown and my unknown was being a coach and I wasn’t even thinking about winning games. When 13 pairs of players’ eyes are on you for 2 hours a day, 3 days a week and the other coaches are waiting for instruction from you on what drill to do or play to run, that can be pretty nerve-racking! Along with the daunting task of selecting what drills to run during practice in order to best prepare the players for games, it was necessary to be a good evaluator of talent in order to put the players in the best position on the field in order to give them the best chace to succeed and grow as a player. The great thing about fear is that if you look beyond the fear, there is serenity and usually very clear answers to many questions that you may have and that was the case with my coaching. I overcame my fear by listening to my assistant coaches, relaxing when I felt too much stress and doing my best to teach the players the game, the way that I would have wanted to be taught. I made the practices as much fun as possible and at the end of practice the other coaches and I played a 2 hand touch game against the players on the team with the coaches winning every game, of course!

What I found when I was able to focus on the game of football and not so much on the coaching aspect, was that I was having more fun, I had less fear about my ability as a coach and the players were learning how to have fun together. Playing the game was the main objective of each of the lessons that I taught during practice and each drill that was done had a game element to it. In this way, I was able to relax more and watch the players grow as individuals and watch the team succeed and most importantly, see the players leave the field each night after practice and each Saturday afternoon following our games, with a smile on their face and knowing that they were able to play the game to have fun.

What happened to me as a coach was that I was able to relieve the fears of not knowing whether or not I could coach and enjoy teaching the game of football to my players. Fear can certainly hold one back from achieving what it is that they are capable of achieving and it can also motivate one to realize that if they face the fear that they are feeling with their true character, they will overcome and triumph and in their triumph they will be better able to assist others in achieving their goals.


Starting with a Story

It is not often that one gets the chance to share what they have learned during their life that has helped to make them who they are. My journey through life has offered some incredible moments and connected me with people who have made this journey a constant growth opportunity filled with smiles, laughs, tears, pain, suffering and the discovery of what makes me strong.

My story begins in the city of Pittsburgh, PA on a Saturday night in June of 1966. The location of my birth has played a significant role in defining me and the principles that I live my life by. It has also brought me to a place in my life that sees nature through the eyes of someone who enjoys all 4 seasons and respects all that nature has to offer. Western Pennsylvania presents a pure part of the U.S. that offers up opportunities to marvel at the beauty of nature as well as the entertainment aspects of city life. It is where I spent the first 18 years of my life and where I can proudly say that I will forever have my roots.

Now that the foundation has been laid out for this first blog post, let me move on to the first lesson of this blog: life lessons sometimes happen in the oddest ways! As the second child and only son in a family of five, I felt as though I was dealt a bad hand from the get go. I seemed to feel as though I didn’t have someone there to guide me when I needed guidance. Lesson number 1 for me was: you are able to find what you need, when you need it, if you are willing to do the work to seek it out! I am going to be honest about this one as it took me a long time to figure out that help is not only found by turning towards your family, it is also found by seeking it in your community of friends and mentors/coaches.

Playing football in Western PA was something that every able bodied male in nearly every family did during the time that I grew up and as far as I know, remains so today. Loving sports as a child, I decided to play football at the ripe old age of 8! I strapped on my helmet, walked to practice and worked with as little effort as possible to play the game of football. I was not aggressive and I was not talented in the skills that were needed to play football well, i.e. strength, speed, and agility. That was 2 strikes against me and the third was that I loved the game of baseball and was only playing football because all of my friends were. I didn’t play much and watched closely as the other boys played and I paid particularly close attention to how the coaches were talking with the players and with each other. What I realized years after I was done playing football was that I learned how to teach the players how to play together. I learned how to be a coach during my playing days! I understood that I wasn’t so much interested in playing the game as I was about communicating with the players and planning for what the offense and defense were going to do during each play.

Reflecting back on that experience, I realize that my coaches probably knew that I would not be playing football beyond the youth league and they wanted me to have a positive experience. They helped to make my experience memorable and after more than 30 years of coaching that is what I try to bring to the players that I coach. I still feel a desire inside of me to see the players make progress and grow as individuals while learning about teamwork. I have been told that I still have passion in my eyes when I am on the sideline of a game that I am coaching in and while I don’t get to see that passion, I feel it!

Ask for what it is that you need to learn or experience because the worst thing that can happen if you ask, someone says “No!”

“Ask for help not because you are weak, but because you want to remain strong.”

Les Brown