Helping coach junior football last year was more fun than I would have thought. It carried many lessons that have helped improve my thoughts about life. The opportunity came my way seemingly on a whim, when spending some time with a friend from high school. His son was playing and they were looking for another coach to help out. The opportunity came at the right time and fit into my life well. However, my knowledge about coaching football was zero. The only coaching experience in my life was around basketball. My first year involved with football all felt educational. Even spending much of my life watching the game, coaching taught me quickly that watching football didn’t translate to coaching the sport. The year went on and many things were learned about the depth of football. Our team won all its games until playing for the championship. The championship game handed us the only loss we endured all year. It became a difficult pill to swallow, but thankfully my coaching career wouldn’t end that day. Because of the lessons learned and nonstop challenge of the year, it was easy to agree with coaching again. This last weekend we all came together after the winter for our first football activity, it was time to begin another year.
Our first coaching activity of the year was a three-hour coaching clinic. It was arranged for us to gain an understanding of some objectives of the high school coaching staff. We ran through some power point presentations about philosophy, then went out to the football field. After learning about program philosophy, we went through some drills used during their practices. It was another learning experience for me, both in the classroom, and on the field. The high school staff seemed pretty knowledgeable and much was learned. However, my cerebral palsy came to mind many times during the Sunday evening spent on football. When looking around the classroom during our first section of the clinic, no one else appeared to have any disability. In fact, many appeared to be ex-athletes, seemingly comfortable in the football environment. When moving outside to begin walking through the staff’s physical teaching, the discrepancy felt more apparent. Football playing and coaching often feels like a setting for some of the most athletic people. It doesn’t seem a place populated by people who battle a disability. These emotions had me feeling good about exposing myself to the discomfort. The situation also had me wondering how many people with a physical disability coach football? Hopefully many of us help.
While moving through the classroom portion of our coaching clinic, many things were learned. The overriding theme was working from the place of positive coaching. We spent time talking about encouraging players, instead of blaming them. The idea seemed to be giving direction on how to correct mistakes instead of harping on the mistake itself. Many of us might struggle with the way we talk to ourselves. The conversations going on in our heads can be reflected in the confidence we have in our abilities. Instead of berating someone for a mistake, maybe giving them tools to enable success next time helps their self-perception. Now, instead of worrying about making the mistake again, we think of actions to achieve better outcomes. It can help us talk to ourselves more positively and raise self-esteem. It’s incredible how these thoughts relate to handling the challenges cerebral palsy presents. My life has been full of internal dialogue centering around my inability to perform tasks. Or, even when a physical task succeeds, many times the path to success looks different. There have always been ways to criticize my walking, talking, or manipulating physical objects. But, if we think about small ways to make something easier, those tools may cascade into improving the struggles.
When moving the coaching clinic out to the football field, these ideas were put into action. The coaches were split into group of five or six people. Each group went through four stations, looking at teaching techniques. We went through four offensive centered drills and four defensive centered drills. Luckily the sun was peeking through the spring sky and temperatures were warm enough for comfort. Still feeling like a new coach with just a year under my belt, these drills were fun. With each station, we learned how to teach skills through a step-by-step process. Having spent the previous year coaching, this time the techniques of teaching and information didn’t feel as unfamiliar. Cerebral palsy continued to leave me feeling shy and out of place.
When any opportunity came about to volunteer while learning a teaching process, you could find me shying away. Fear would cause me to remove myself from placing my awkward movements on display. With the concern over whether I could perform the task being ask of me, it would be almost impossible to process other things going on. Something similar could be said of my reluctance to ask questions. Fear begins intruding when thinking about the difference in my speech. It can be difficult to understand or even comprehend my attempt to ask questions. So, my tendency has been to stand toward the back and soak up as much information as possible. However, there is always success in placing myself in these situations. It helps me work through the fear of feeling uncomfortable and out of place.
The coaching clinic felt valuable for me due to those feelings of displacement. Having never played the sport, it seems important to learn from both sides. Not only becoming familiar with teaching methods and instructional tactics, but also what it might be like to be a player. It’s challenging to understand what it’s like to not have cerebral palsy, being the kid, playing and learning. The entire situation can leave me feeling a bit behind the curve. But, it becomes fun to look at the game from all kinds of angles. Even when removing myself from the drills because of cerebral palsy shyness, there remain things to learn from watching coaches go through the drill. Noticing things, they might find challenging can help me understand situations where players may become challenged as well. Having my disability can find me looking at football as a total outsider. Not only have I never played, but having cerebral palsy would have made playing football at any level nearly impossible. The facts of life seem to dictate learning the game from many different angles. It has me constantly searching for different ways to relate, because it has been fun coaching the game.
Being around football also brings back the idea of making excuses. The overriding take away from coaching my first season of football was looking at excuses. It changed almost my entire perspective on the idea. Football culture, more than any other culture throughout my life, has an emphasis on not making excuses. The way football seems to be taught focuses around being accountable to yourself and your teammates. The constant contact nature of the sport seems to make it unique, because no matter what happens you’re going to endure some pain. Your buddies need for you to keep playing if you can, barring injuries that require time away to heal properly. This lesson of reliability in the face of physical, mental, and emotional challenge felt evident all year long. When sitting through the classroom portion of the clinic, these ideas all came flooding back. As the high school head coach talked about their 6:15am workouts, if a player showed up late, he would forfeit the opportunity to work out with the team that morning. It seemed just another way to reiterate that we don’t make excuses, players are required to be accountable to themselves and their teammates.
Well, the fun has begun on another year of coaching football. Based on my previous year of experience, there will be much to look forward to. The emotional highs and lows will challenge all of us as the year unfolds. Hopefully, gaining experience with those ups and downs will help me relate to them better. There seems to always be more things to learn about the playing of football. Each practice hopefully helps me improve the skills required in becoming a better coach, mentor, and person. Cerebral palsy remains part of my coaching experience. One of the exciting aspects of coaching the second year becomes returning players. Some of the kids having been with our team last year have familiarity with me and an understanding of my disability. But, the challenge continues to lie in exposing new kids to interacting with me as a coach. Hopefully through football they also learn someone who has a disability isn’t all that scary to be around. With some new and familiar challenges, it’s almost time to begin a new year. The early summer will probably fly by and before we all know it, August 6thwill be upon us, and away we go on another football journey.