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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 the point of view of those in our immediate environment. In youth soccer, I cannot count the number of times I have been pleasantly surprised by the game and the actions of the teams and coaches. Very often the reputation of these Pee Wee teams and coaches was the product of others, just the added 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 pervasive, pervasive, and often WRONG.
Be open minded
When I coach Pee Wee football, I try to approach these situations with an open mind and a tender heart and let the other team and the coaches prove me wrong. One of the most hated and misunderstood coaches in two different leagues my teams have competed in has become a trusted friend and confidante. His organization has gone out of its way to treat us well, and we, in turn, have gone out of their way to do the same for them. Now our organizations enjoy a strong but respectful rivalry and we look forward to meeting each year for the right reasons. Would we have felt the same way if we had listened to others and entered the game with one finger in the water? Probably not.
A big mistake
Unfortunately, I, too, succumb to making judgments about people I know little about, and in many cases, these judgments are 100% wrong. I had the opportunity to meet and hang out with UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel last weekend at the Champions Clinic in
Reno, Nev. Coach Neuheisel gave a very sharp presentation on his version of the 2-minute offense and how UCLA will practice it this fall. He had known Coach from his Colorado days, his Buffalos were always a big game when my beloved Cornhuskers were on his schedule. Of course, Coach Neuheisel’s unorthodox West Coast attitude was diametrically opposed to Nebraska’s no-nonsense, blue-collar, ground-attacking attitude. The coach was not a well liked man in these places, the west coast personality, the passing attack, the surfer type personality, etc. Then there was the controversy at the University of Washington with an NCAA Hoops tournament, billiards, more bad publicity. For some reason, although no one around here knew the guy, he was known as “Skippy” and the generally polite Nebraska fans seemed to like ridiculing this man in the papers, on radio shows and in everyday fan conversation.
While you can’t take too much away from spending a couple of hours with someone, in my opinion, you can feel something about that person. Coach Neuheisel opened his presentation with some background, he didn’t talk about his 66-30 college head coaching record or his championships, he talked about some humbling moments he had as a player and how we can relate that to our teams and kids. Little did he know that the coach entered UCLA as a very small quarterback who was given the number 24X his freshman year. X meant you were a duplicate number and would probably never wear a suit or enter a game. By the way, the number 24 that year was Freeman McNeil, so they obviously didn’t think Coach N was going to come onto the field. In those days they weren’t red shirt freshmen at UCLA. Fortunately for the coach, one of the other freshmen got homesick and quit, so the coach got this player’s number, #20. Coach N was never on the game show that year, in fact the other guy quit so late that Coach N was known by #20’s original name, not his own, as the game shows were already known. they had printed.
UCLA and Coach Neueheisel
As the season progressed, UCLA was having a very poor season and the coaches were trying to spark the special teams. The coaches offered an opportunity to anyone who volunteered 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 pounds, the coach had to block other teams’ linebackers who weighed 230-250 by running full speed with malice in their hearts on their kick coverage teams. The coach had a number of highly derogatory stories to tell, including one in which he was knocked unconscious and his face mask was broken during one of these returns. He didn’t tell it to show off, but to instruct and to make a little fun of himself. A quarterback playing special teams as a designated blocker, that impressed me. He never mentioned his Rose Bowl win at UCLA or his Rose Bowl MVP award, nothing like that.
On the post-session mixing desk in the Speakers Suite, Coach Neuheisel couldn’t have been any different than I imagined. He was shy, cordial, not at all outgoing, kind, humble, and very willing to offer help and guidance to anyone who asked for it, even a humble Pee Wee football coach like myself. He went out of his way to offer support and appreciation for what youth coaches do for the game of soccer. He looked you in the eye, gave you a firm handshake, and listened intently to what you were saying, asking big questions and clarifying along the way. I came away from that experience with a very different opinion of Coach Neuheisel. I had absolutely nothing to gain from spending time with a youth coach from Nebraska, neither of my sons are being recruited by UCLA and I am certainly not a prospective donor to UCLA.
On my way back to my room I felt a bit embarrassed to judge someone so poorly without the benefit of more information or personal experience. I really hope I learned my lesson, because my biases have often been so wrong and incongruent with how I want my own children or players to act. I had the same experience with high school coach Steve Calande from Pennsylvania, I was also 200% wrong with him and now we are good friends. My opinion changed after I finally met him at a coaching clinic in Pennsylvania in 2002. The moral of the story is to make your own decisions about people, including players, youth soccer coaches, and parents. Keep an open mind and you might be surprised.
I myself have been at the other extreme of those situations. I can’t count the number of times guys have come to me after a clinic and told me that while they were waiting to hear me speak, I was very different (in a positive way) than what they expected. I am not a winner at all costs Pee Wee football coach in any shape or form. Our premise is: you can win, have fun, play with kids, be a great sportsman and also teach great fundamentals, they are not mutually exclusive goals.
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