Tuesday, November 8, 2011

True Success and True Failure as a Coach

I’m sure most, if not all, of you have heard about the child abuse that took place in connection to the Penn State football program. This hits particularly close to home in my family as my husband is a high school football coach and has also coached little league football (middle school grades). Abuse like this can happen anywhere – through an organization like a school or a church, within a family or neighborhood. It can happen at the hands of a stranger.

And you know what – I can understand why people turn towards a cover up. If someone I knew well and respected, whose success was tied up with my own, was rumored to have been doing something horrible to a child, I wouldn’t want to believe it. I would think, if I call the cops and it’s not true, everyone’s reputation will be tarnished, people could lose their jobs, they’ll be branded forever as a monster even if it turns out it wasn’t true. I can understand the pressure against making that call.

But that’s where we see people’s strength and character, right? When a child’s safety – when unknown children and their safety is at risk – you must, you MUST put those concerns aside and do what is best for the children. Shoot, it doesn’t it even to be children, it could be adults.

Besides the horror of what was allowed to happen, including university administration not alerting ANY authorities (what?!?!), it makes me so sad to see coaches and other people who work with kids, tarnished that way. My husband coached a group of boys for 3 years in a row, starting with their 6th grade year in little league football, through their 8th grade year. He became very close to those kids, some of whom came from pretty disadvantaged situations. He was a major mentor for some of them. He chaperoned parties, went to parent-teacher conferences when parents had to work. He took them on trips to tournaments, had them over to our house for pizza parties. He counseled them, required them to give them progress reports from their teachers. We got to know the families and life situations of these kids. For one boy in particular, he was seriously a father figure.

Then we decided to move to Chicago and we had to step out of their lives. He felt such guilt over leaving some of the boys. They depended on him. Some of the boys did well in school and football (and other sports and activities) and some of them didn’t. Some of them got into major trouble, including jail time. At one point we considered seeing if one of the boys could come live with us in Chicago, because he wasn’t getting the guidance and support he needed at home, but that didn’t happen.

Since then, my husband has coached at the high school level, as a freshman coach. Every year, his freshman want to move up to the next team but are sad to not have my husband as a coach any more. My husband is about fundamentals and developing a love for the game. He has a special connection with a couple kids each year. Just recently, a player on the varsity team was featured in a Chicago Tribune article and you know what coach he talked about? His freshman coach, my husband.

He’s kept in touch with the little league kids – who are now men, actually (which is so hard for me to believe!). They’re college aged. Some of them are in college, some are working, some are fathers. One of them played football at a junior college and just received a football scholarship to a well-known university in our region, and he’s asked my husband to go with him on a campus visit next month. My husband has stayed in touch with him all these years, coaching him over the phone, watching game tape and sending him feedback, talking to him about life. When we visit my family, my husband visits his football kids and their families, his fellow coaches who are still in town.

THIS is the good a coach can do. This is how a coach should be. A person who is given access to children is supposed to enrich them, not damage them. They should not be above reproach. If anyone ever suspected my husband of causing harm to a child, damn right they should look into that, even if it means a heap of trouble for our family. Even if it meant my husband's chances of coaching again were ruined, I'd hope that the matter would be investigated fully until everyone concerned was satisfied that he hadn't done anything. The safety of our kids is too important to do anything less.

I am so proud that my husband does it the right way . . . and I am so sad for the children who were harmed by that sick, twisted man. I am so sad that a group of coaches and administrators put their jobs and their salaries before the well-being of children.

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