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Preconceived Notions Are Your Enemy In Pee Wee Football
We all seem to have preconceived notions about people, places and things based on information we’ve been exposed to or often based on the viewpoints of those in our immediate environment. In youth football, I can’t count how many times I was pleasantly surprised by the play and actions of teams and coaches. Often the reputation of these Pee Wee teams and coaches was the product of others, just the aggregated frustration and greed of other youth coaches, nothing more than sour grapes. Unfortunately, in the world of youth soccer coaching, these impressions and attitudes are ubiquitous, widespread and often WRONG.
Keep an open mind
When I coach Pee Wee football, I try to go into these situations with an open mind and a soft heart and let the other team and coaches prove me wrong. One of the most beloved and misunderstood coaches in the two different leagues my teams competed in actually became a trusted friend and confidant. His organization went out of their way to treat us well, and we in turn went out of our way to do the same for them. Now our organizations enjoy a strong rivalry, but with respect and we look forward to playing each other every year for the right reasons. Would we feel the same if we listened to others and entered the game with one toe in the water? Probably not.
Unfortunately, I too have succumbed to making judgments about people I know little about and in many cases those judgments are 100% wrong. I had the opportunity to meet and spend some time with UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel last weekend at the Clinic of Champions at the
Reno, Nevada. Coach Neuheisel gave a very sharp presentation on his version of the two-minute offense and how UCLA will be practicing it this fall. I knew Coach from his days in Colorado, his Buffaloes were always a big game when my beloved Cornhuskers were on their schedule. Of course, Coach Neuheisels’ unorthodox West Coast attitude was diametrically opposed to Nebraska’s no-nonsense, blue-collar, physical offense from the ground. The coach was not a very beloved man in these parts, the West Coast persona, the passing attack, the surfer persona, etc. Then there was the Washington University controversy with NCAA tournament hoops, a pool, more bad publicity. For some reason, even though no one around knew the guy, he was known as “Skippy” and the usually friendly Nebraska fans seemed to like to make fun of him in the papers, on the radio and in daily fan chats.
While not too much can be taken away from spending a few hours with someone, in my opinion you can get a feel for the person. Coach Neuheisel opened his presentation with some background, he didn’t talk about his 66-30 coaching record or his championship, he talked about some humbling moments he had as a player and how we can relate that to our teams and kids. I didn’t know the coach went on at UCLA as a very small guard who was given the number 24X as a freshman. An X meant you were a double number and would probably never match or get into the game. No. 24 that year was Freeman McNeil, so obviously they didn’t think Coach N would get on the field. They were not redshirt freshmen at UCLA at the time. Fortunately for the coach, one of the other freshmen got nostalgic and quit so the coach got this player’s number, number 20. Coach N was never in the game program that year, in fact the other kid quit so late that the coach N was known by the original name of #20, not his, as the game programs had already been printed.
UCLA and Coach Neueheisel
As the season progressed, UCLA was having a very poor season and the coaches were trying to boost the special teams. The coaches offered the opportunity to anyone who would volunteer to play on special teams. Coach N volunteered to play and to his surprise the UCLA coaches assigned him to the kick return team, where his job was to block L4 on a trap type block. At just over 195 lbs the coach had to block players from other teams who weighed 230-250 running full speed with malice in their hearts in the teams coverage. The coach had some very self-deprecating stories to tell, including one where he passed out and his mask was broken during one of these comebacks. He didn’t say that to brag, but to teach and make fun of himself a little. A quarterback who plays special teams as a designated blocker, that impressed me. He never mentioned his Rose Bowl win at UCLA or the Rose Bowl MVP award, nothing like that.
At the post-session mixer in the Speakers Suite, Coach Neuheisel couldn’t have been more different than I imagined. He was shy, warm, not at all friendly, kind, humble, and very willing to offer help and guidance to anyone who asked, even a short Pee Wee football coach like me. He did his best to show support and appreciation for what youth coaches do for the game of football. He looked you in the eye, shook your hand firmly, and listened carefully to what you had to say, asking great questions and asking for clarification along the way. I came away from that experience with a much different opinion of Coach Neuheisel. He had absolutely nothing to gain by spending time with the Nebraska youth coach, none of my kids were recruited by UCLA, and I’m certainly not a donor to UCLA.
On the way back to my room I felt a little embarrassed that I had judged someone so wrongly without the benefit of more information or personal experience. I hope I’ve learned my lesson, because my biases have often been so wrong and out of line with how I want my kids or players to behave. I had the same experience with high school coach Steve Calandeo from Pennsylvania, I was 200% wrong about him as well and now we are fast friends. My opinion changed after I finally met him at a coaching clinic in Pennsylvania in 2002. The moral of the story is that you make your own decisions about people, including players, youth football coaches and parents. Be open and they might surprise you.
I myself have been on the other side of those situations. I can’t count the number of times guys have come up to me after the clinic and told me while looking forward to hearing me speak that I was much different (in a positive way) than they expected. I am not a win at all costs, Pee Wee football coach in any way shape or form. Our assumption is: you can win, have fun, play with kids, play a great sport, and teach great fundamentals, they are not mutually exclusive.
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