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Top 10 Reasons I Am a Better Coach Than Parent

When David Letterman retired, I thought it might be a good time to bring back the Top 10 List that he made so famous. It is hard to admit that at times I have been a better coach than a parent. 



With Kevin already in college and the girls headed to Missouri State in August, I have spent some time looking back trying to figure out what I could have done better.

As a coach, we try to focus on the future, but constantly look back to see where we can improve. I ask the tough questions like, What did we do well? What did we do poorly? How can we coach better? Being a coach and a soon-to-be empty nester, it is hard not to look back and evaluate what I could have done better. Unfortunately, I won’t have another chance to correct a lot of my mistakes. It doesn’t mean that I have no control or influence; it just means that it will be different.

Of course, there are differences in being a parent and being a coach. For one, if a player continually messes up, we can kick him off the team.  As a parent, they might be kicked out of the house, or disowned, but for most of us, our kids are on our team for life. A coach receives immediate feedback: we have a scoreboard, newspapers, parents, and the guys at the coffee shop who judge us at the end of the week. As a parent, it is difficult to judge  how well we are doing our job. My goal as a coach is to teach life lessons via the game of football and help our boys learn how to become better men. My goal as a parent is similar, but a lot more complicated.

Currently 31.5% of 18-34 year-olds live at home. An amazing 48.8% of 25-year-olds still live at home. The reasons behind this are for another day, but I believe that one of my main goals as a parent and as a coach is to teach our kids how to become healthy, happy, well-adjusted, and independent young men and women.

TOP TEN REASONS I AM A BETTER COACH THAN PARENT

(I know I only have 8, but Top Ten just sounds better)

1.  Show Respect to Everyone. 

On our football team, we demand that our players show respect to coaches, officials, teammates, and opponents. Our players are dealt with swiftly and harshly if they show disrespect to anyone. We expect them to use the words "please" and "thank you" often. Even though we had the same rule at home, I was not as consistent in the enforcement phase of the rule as I should have been. Our players become better men when they learn to treat everyone with respect, and so do my kids. I know that many of our players will not be respectful young men if their coach doesn’t show respect. I have set a pretty good example of being respectful in my job as a football coach. Too many times, I have not set a great example for my kids.

2.  Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

We have put this phrase on our football team’s workout shirts over the years. Football is all about the team. It is about 11 people working together to play a game at the highest possible level. Teamwork is 80-90 young men sacrificing for the good of the team, for something greater than themselves. Too many times, we were not as united at home as we should have been. On many occasions, we should have worked for each other instead of against each other.

3.  The Hard Road

We tell our team all the time, “Take the Hard Road.” Robert Frost describes it as, “The Road Less Traveled.” The Bible calls it the “long, winding road that leads to salvation” while the “wide and open road leads to destruction.”  We tell our team that to get to where we want to go, it is hard. If we want to have a great football team, we must be prepared for the “Hard Road.” If it were easy to win football games, then what value would be in winning? It is the day-to-day struggle that makes victory and championships so sweet. As a parent, way too often, I have protected my kids from the “Hard Road.” I have made their way easy instead of hard. Deep down, I know that struggles and difficulties make us stronger, yet as a parent I have tried to create paths that were “wide and open.”  We baby them, protect them, and fight their fights for them, and then we are shocked that they can’t manage difficulty on their own when they leave the house. I read a story a couple years ago about a woman who lived in New York City that took her 9 year-old son to Bloomingdale’s. She gave him a subway map, metro card, $20 bill, and a few quarters and left him there to get home by himself. I am ashamed to say that I wouldn’t want to do that today with my 20-year old son or 19-year old daughters.

4.  Have a Game Plan

I’ll never forget bringing Kevin home from the hospital after he was born. It was the scariest ride I have ever taken in my life. What’s crazy to me is that the people at the hospital would actually let us take another human being home from the hospital. They hand us the baby and two pages of instructions and tell us good luck. I had recently bought a DVD player and remembered that it came with a manual that was over 40 pages long. A $75 DVD player with a 40-page manual and an 8 lb 6 oz human being with two pages of instructions. There was a point in time about five days after we brought Kevin home, that I was sure we were methodically starving him to death. As a football coach, we spend hours and hours planning everything we do. We plan practices, off-season workouts, FASDOGS organization, etc. Our Friday night play calls are planned on Sundays before we play the game. We spend hours working on the process that we will follow throughout the whole year. It is hard to realize that I have spent way more time planning our 3rd and 4th play calls than planning the raising of our kids. We don’t get mulligans in life, but if we did, I would sit down and write down my goals, philosophy, and process that I would follow as a parent. Without a plan, we wobble from crisis to crisis, doing the best we can under the circumstances.  In a football game, when things get tough and the pressure is on, it is a great comfort to rely on a game plan created well ahead of time after much thought and concern. It is the same in my family’s life.

5.  No Means No 

We have very few rules and a list of expectations on our team. I put both on my business card and I pass them out to each player. Every player, along with their parents, knows the rules and knows the punishments or corrections for breaking them. I would assume if you asked our players, they would say that I am very consistent in dealing with players who fall short of our expectations. I should have given my kids a similar card. I am not sure that even today they are clear on what my expectations are, what my rules are, and what happens when you break them. It isn’t that I didn’t have rules or expectations, I’m just not sure they were clearly presented to them. I do know this: if the ice cream man came down my street and I asked my dad for a dime to buy some ice cream and he said no, I didn’t ask him again.

6. Work Ethic

I am proud when people brag on our team’s work ethic. We take great pride in being the hardest working team in Arkansas. There could be harder working teams, but I’m saying that we believe that we are. We try to challenge our kids every day to be the best they can be. One of our goals as coaches is to teach the value of hard work. Every kid that walks into our locker room knows that he will be challenged every day to do better, to work harder, and to prepare to be a champion. 

Too many times as a parent, either I or their mother did the hard stuff for them. Way too often, I took the easy way out and instead of spending the necessary time to teach them how to put their dishes in the dishwasher, I just did it myself. I could make a long list of things I handled this way. In the long run, I reduced my kids' opportunities to grow up.  I especially was bad at this when it came to things I don’t like to do. I guess somewhere down in my gut, I had a hard time making the kids do the dirty work that I didn’t like to do. It was just easier to do it myself. My granddad didn’t have that problem when he made my dad milk 12 cows before 5:30am every day. My dad didn’t have that problem when he had me roll 100 miles of barbed wire one summer. How can our kids learn to work  if we don’t teach them? Maybe you’ll be lucky and their football coach will teach them how to work. I was always amused when a parent would come up to me and ask, “How do you get my kid to run 56 sprints in August when I can’t get him to make his bed?” I have been that parent and am not amused anymore.

7. Show Appreciation

One of the things that we preach over and over to our football team is to appreciate what we have and the people who support us. We try to show appreciation to our town by taking care of the great facilities that they have provided for us. We have a large indoor facility, a great turf field, a new weight room, and a huge locker room. We show appreciation by taking care of what they have provided for us. During the football season, our players clean the locker room themselves. Starting with the captains, every day there is a list of 3 to 4 players whose job it is to clean the locker room. I have found that players will be more careful about making a mess when they know that one of their teammates is going to have to clean it  up. We also want to show appreciation to people that serve us: a waitress, a cafeteria lady, a policeman, a school secretary, etc. In our society today, you cannot assume that kids understand the concept of appreciation. We have a huge entitlement problem in our society. A sense of entitlement and testosterone is a bad mix. I think I have given my kids way too much instead of giving them too little. When we give our children or our football team something that they have not earned, we should not be surprised when they show a lack of appreciation for what we do for them.

8. The Value of the Dollar 

You should see the lost and found in our indoor facility.  Kids leave phones, clothes, shoes, jackets, coats, and every other thing you can imagine all over it. On a monthly basis, we haul bags and bags of lost stuff to Goodwill. If our players leave their football equipment out, they usually have to pay in sweat to get it back. We make it a point to let our kids know that the school has provided them the best equipment money can buy. We need to take care of it. As I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, I had a large number of horrible jobs growing up. Those jobs taught me some very important lessons: 

1.  I didn’t want to work on a worm farm the rest of my life.

2. If I made $1 an hour at the worm farm, I would have had to work 15 minutes to buy a 25-cent coke. That is a perspective that my kids don’t understand. 

At the present time, two of my kids are on a mission trip in Nicaragua. Only a parent can understand the feeling in my heart when I see my kids spending their time in generous and meaningful ways. My three kids are a work in progress, just like I am. Over 38 years of being a coach, I have seen great kids who have great parents and I have seen not so great kids with seemingly great parents. I have also seen unbelievably great kids come from some of the worst family situations you can imagine. It is a mystery to me how that happens. As a coach, I believe that we have the opportunity to impact our players to have a better life than they would’ve had without football.

Many times as a coach, I have called the wrong play at the wrong time or punted on 4th down when I should have gone for it, and our kids played well enough to overcome my poor coaching and win the game. As a parent, I have made mistakes by the bundle. I can only hope and pray for God’s grace that I did enough things well for my kids to “win the game.”

And yes, during the 38 years I have coached, there have been a couple times that we did nearly everything right and still lost the game. I have known many good parents that have struggled greatly with their child or children. All I can say is that like a good coach, we will fight, scratch, and claw to find a way to win. My players need it from their coach and my kids need it from their dad.

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