I have a confession to make...
I am husband, and a father of two boys. I am 6'-2", 260lbs with tattoos from one wrist up and over my chest and down to my next wrist. I love America, Guns, Football, and most importantly, my Family.
I am also a 41 year old grown ass man who considers himself soft.
Yup! I said it, soft.
and... I am not ashamed of it.
If we get into a conversation and you yell at me; I will shut down inside and have nothing to say because I cannot formulate my thoughts.
If you shame me privately or in public; it will hurt my feelings and I will mull it around for days, sometimes weeks.
If you make fun of something I cannot control; it will derail my spirit and I will also feel this for days, sometimes a lifetime.
Now, I don't want you misconstrue the word soft with not being tough. Because leading with one's soft heart takes more toughness than the mouth of a yeller or one who shames; even if they have a whistle.
In team sports specifically, there comes a time when a parent needs to regulate how their child feels and detach from the situation to understand what's really going on. More times than not, it's needing to slow down through the frustration and talk to your child about what's required of them and to not take things so personal. A parent needs to teach and lead the idea that self improvement is hard and that working as a team goes beyond what you can see right now.
Dancing with the expectations of this culture I oftentimes have to greatly detach from the problem to find the positive. I know that at the end of the day it's not about play time, or ourselves; it's about our kids.
How a parent acts in the moment of concern, frustration, or cause, on behalf of their child, in front of their child is something most kids will never forget. There is no road map or manual for a parent to know when it's time to engage with a problem. For those of us who are emotionally fit enough to feel what's going on, it's the heart on your sleeve that guides you through the darkness.
This is one of those moments.
Before I continue, I must say that I truly love Paradise Honors. I want them to be successful and have many more happy generations come through their doors so we can have better humans in this world.
As a profession, we are in the business of helping people/families from across the city, state, and country, find a place to call home. Knowing where their children and grandchildren are educated is one of the top requirements.
I do not discount the effort it takes to be a football coach. Next to being a parent, having the privilege to lead small humans into adulthood through the act as a coach while facing difficult obstacles that need overcoming...man! that's a special place!
I get it!
I love it!
And damnit!! we need people willing to lead our small people through that fire.
I also deeply understand that in order to be an effective coach, feelings sometimes get hurt, not everyone is going to be happy, and difficult decisions are going to be made - even when others will not understand.
It is because of the love we have for this school that I am choosing to engage with this problem with my heart... this is a problem we and many other families have been trying to resolve for years now, but have had no success. The problem has trickled into the fiber of the surrounding community severing relationships and it's killing the Paradise legacy built by the families before.
It's sad to know this as I pull these thoughts down from my head, the Paradise culture is celebrating 25 years this year.
Me writing this is not to demand a change. It is more so to memorialize the problems facing something that I and many others care deeply about. In doing so, it also allows me to remove what feels like toxic emotions seething inside my spirit; it's not healthy. It is my hope that a community beyond my reach can feel what is going on and add to the numbers to stand for a change, rather than ignore it.
Today, after years of being under pressure there comes a time when the fiction is enough to start a fire. and there's a fire.
I have literally been at my desk since 7:12AM putting these thoughts down. Now as I proof this, it is 2:17AM. It's not frustration that drives me, it is my level of care that allowed me to willfully tough through it.
To expect any team sport without its drama is unrealistic. Whether it's from a parent to coaching staff or booster.. drama is gonna follow. I get that. Get enough people involved there will be some level of dissatisfaction. We also know that a team is only as good as their weakest link. Weakness can be literal, one that physically can't support the team, or... there can be one bad link that can negatively impact the spirit of an organization - regardless of all the good. What's worse is when that weak link is an authority person with a whistle.
There's a problem with PHHS's Football program and it's called SHAME with no accountability. Shame masked by calling it "toughness" at the cost of our youth while endless taunts an antics go without answer.
There is a football culture I am required to support simply by proxy. In doing so I feel as though I am not being authentic to what is important to me by allowing my child to participate in something that I struggle with greatly.
Being a parent is the universe's most important role one can be bestowed upon. Someday when we are no longer on this planet, it will be our legacy that carries on in our absence. There comes a time in every parent's life where you have to let your kids become themselves. Even if it makes you uncomfortable.
As a grown-ass-soft-man-Father of two boys who both love to play America's Sport, Football; I am navigating them upstream against a culture where men are supposed to be rough, gruff and tough and you can go fuck your feelings.
This is not easy to do.
Nor is putting the words down for this post.
Prior to Avin driving himself to football practice, when it was still my job to drop him off, I would be left feeling like I was signing him up to get punished, hazed and bullied. When I was a high school student myself I made the difficult decision to not take anyone's shit and left the football program. It was run with an iron fist, with more yelling than an MMA fight, all by a man who could not walk up a flight of stairs, yet has the gall to yell feverishly at people trying to better themselves.
After dropping him off I would recall my decision to leave football or keep going. The challenge is that it's compounded by what shit is worse to deal with. Having the courage to stand for something by refusing to be treated/bullied like shit and leave a program?.. therefore risk being labeled a quitter until you leave high school? or.. keep getting shamed/hazed on the regular to avoid being taunted for making a difficult decision all together.
You're fucked if you do, you're fucked if you don't.
Football is a tough sport. It requires mental toughness and physical toughness. Depending on who's leading or yelling at you, the mental toughness is a whole other level. There were times I would hate myself for allowing him to show up to such a place... but this was his call and regardless of the torment, he pressed on.
I know my son. He's a product of his soft-father...
which I am also not ashamed of.
Knowing my son, I know he needs to be toughened up. He needs to learn discipline and be pushed hard. He needs to know he can work through the pain. And this kind of encouragement needs to come from someone in addition to their parents. There comes a time when mustering through all the bullshit of trying to get better, the wrong voice can quickly become demoralizing, shameful and hurtful. No one gets better after that. They either implode or get bitter.
We'd drop a well spirited but anxious child off for a hopeful productive practice, only to pick him up and then completely rebuild his spirits while trying to hold him accountable...
Stupid shameful shit would easily popped off by a select coach in front of other team mates. Then in the absence of this coach, the team would continue this kind of taunting. Culturally this would happen unconsciously like a difficult child having been influenced by a less than supportive parent...
you know the situation... I'm sure there's about seven SVU episodes to give perspective.
Meanwhile the program would preach "brotherhood", the need to help and be there for each other... and so on and so forth. Yet other players would rather play a cell phone video game than let a teammate call his mom because his phone was dead. Even after being called out by another teammate, "you're seriously going to just play your game and not let him call his mom?" yup!. Group huddles after practice would announce, 1, 2, 3, FAMILY!
Although I appreciate the notion, I would roll my eyes. How can you not? If an authority figure is allowed to treat another player like shameful shit in front of the team, what stops the team from doing so themselves? 1, 2, 3, NOT family!
Picking your kid up cause he had his ass kicked physically, and tells you that it sucked! hell yeah I'm all for it! Embracing the suck means something! But when they are shamefully punched in the face (metaphor) and humiliated in an effort to "make them tougher". I don't see the logic.
This is not the Navy Seals, this is a 3A academic high school that does not have enough players for tryouts.
There were countless games where the team became so hyper focused on only winning that they only played the same boys over and over. Injuries would start to mount and the boys would start dropping like flies. The coach would be on the sidelines yelling and hollering at their lack of effort, even though they had been playing both sides for the entire game. Meanwhile there's a collection of other boys not playing who could easily step in. Regardless of the utter and painful ass pounding they took losing miserably, some of the coaching staff prevailed and grinded on - regardless of the injuries.
We would go to games and watch this unfold. Some boys would come off the sideline crying their asses off, in legitimate pain! but would go back in... go back in only to avoid the verbal fist of frustration from the coaches or worse, teammates indoctrinated from an infected shameful culture.
The program claims to make an environment of a safe place to talk to coaches, but you are not allowed to show concern for something or you'll be ostracized and reprimanded for talking back. This created a culture of fear to speak up. Even if you were in pain or needed to stand up for something. One boy I knew would internalize the stresses of being one of the few healthy kids on the field having survived the dice roll of injury. But after each loss, he'd be a total bag of shit internalizing the pain he sustained to keep going, or that his efforts didn't carry the team through. It was really sad to watch shake out.
He suffered an injury enough where his mother would plead trying to get him to go to the doctor, but he insisted on waiting until after the season.. tough kid! now doubt! but at what cost is tough before it becomes potentially career ending, or even life altering? The culture doesn't allow it.
One boy had a significant head injury on a Friday night game. The injury was so severe I recall his Dad carrying him off the football field, cradled in his arms like a small child, twitching...
The focus at the time was all about the game though; meanwhile there were 14 other coaches looking right as the vulnerable father walked to the left.. alone. You can't take that image away from me. I saw clear as day from the stands.
Shit was sad to watch unfold!
To save face, he continued to push through and later attended a college showcase that following weekend. That didn't pan out very well as he had another head to head collision which required stitches. Since then, the showcase has implemented a soft helmet rule.
Still, no quitter. In an effort to show toughness he drove pressed on. Days later he needed to remove himself from practice because the symptoms were too much to bear. The dizziness and brightness of the sun was caught up and he couldn't function very well. In a culture of shame, this decision didn't come short of more crap giving.
After a few days of mental regrouping the boy, Shipley, delivers a doctor's note to the Head Coach regarding his injury. The injury was severe enough that he now required physical and speech therapy for months afterwards.
At delivery, the other coach popped off with "I wish I had a doctor's note for a papercut too".
Shipley was a top performer and sack leader in the state. No factor, no care in the same from this coach... Athletes get shit from friends all the time which makes sniffing out a loaded comment from a coach easy, but hella sad.
Kids aren't stupid...
Ultimately, Shipley would have to sit out for the remainder of the season due to the head injury.
To make matters worse, this coach started calling every injured/slightly injured player "we don't need another Shipley"... all of which evolved into slang on campus for anyone with a problem, "we don't need another Shipley"
He would be a senior this year like Avin, but after a week's worth of the new school year, due to the football fallout, the family decided to pull the entire family from the Panther community.
It was a big loss to the team, and a super sad loss to the bleachers. :(
We don't publicize our challenges in the social webs and same with here in my grateful messages, however, Avin has dislocated his knee twice since the middle of his junior season. In my senior year of high school, I did the exact same thing! Only instead of football (which is way cooler!) it was getting into the back of a truck... lame! Avin has now done this twice. I personally understand the pain and apprehension of trying to press on and do physical shit.
Compound this injury with the shallow shaming of being labeled "another Shipley" amongst this coach and some of the team, you can only imagine the shit show he gets in being unable to perform. Even with a doctor's note from two different professionals, this coach still calls Avin out, suggesting that he do burpees and other explosive off the knee shit, and has to perform this in front of the team, solo.
This coach has zero regard to understanding or respecting the multiple doctors notes.
In trying to keep up with play walkthroughs, Avin gets called out for being too slow, followed by "you obviously don't want to be here".
1, 2, 3, NOT family!
Thank heavens for a supportive team trainer who advocates for his shortcomings of trying to please an authority figure. :)
We know of key volunteer personnel who also struggled with this coach. After expressing themselves about the conflict of interest (I'm paraphrasing) this person was indirectly demoted to another non-coaching position.
None of this has been without the effort of trying to make a bad situation right. Yet, here we are with the same person killing the culture without actionable accountability.
There have been light conversational moments at parent teacher conferences discussing school year needs while addressing current concerns about the present. Surprisingly it only takes a respectable mention in vague details about the "football struggle" for an eye lift of understanding without getting into detail.
It becomes very challenging for a family to ask questions or present concerns about this coach. Only afterwards, the coach's parental frustration is taken out on the student athlete.
The struggling reality of this problem is not delivered by your kid, but instead, other teammates who see this shit unfold and while your kid is off loading things up, the teammates are telling you this as you wait.
Kids aren't stupid.
It pains me to compare, but I must.
One Coach was highly favored by the team and parents last year. Sadly after a beatdown in a game, he made the comment in the locker room at halftime, "Come on guys, we're taking it up the ass out there"... for some reason, after this got back to the administration this was too much for the school culture to handle, and that would be his last game.
His absence was felt greatly. It's football. It's high school. These kids have heard far worse from their parents.. yet, an individual who was good at what he did, inspired and led, makes a comment about a situation, not a demoralizing shameful comment at a person... but was let go for one comment that's easily said in thousands of huddles and locker rooms... yet, a poisonous passive aggressive, publicly shameful, culture reckoning coach can still stay and wreak havoc?
Something's wrong and it makes more than just me sad.
I could go on many times about this person, but feel it's not necessary for more detail. There are handfuls of other students who have not come back to this season. For some of them it would have been their last high school season... All because of this one person..
If I didn't care, I wouldn't feel like a total dick right now expressing myself.
But I do feel like a dick and this shit hurts... but I need to get this shit out of my heart.
Insert sad and whatever other heartbreaking words that fills the void. :(
All of this brings me to this week.
Keeping up with the current events of this week, minding my own shit, I happened to wander upon the social webs. In doing so I came across a Tweet that the mentioning coach above decided to re-tweet.
I had to watch the video a couple times to really process what I was watching.
In short, I entirely agree that in order to have a winning program a team needs to be tough. they ABSOLUTELY do!
To address the stabbing comment:
"How far can we go to create a tough culture without being reprimanded by soft people"
In an effort to contribute to the open social forum that it was shared upon, I wanted to also add to the dialogue.
I've got my own gripes about the upcoming generation of small humans. Shit?! My children are part of this equation and it would be naïve to think otherwise. Until our boys are out of the house I'm going to groom them as much as I can. The part that really got to me was seeing a leader who's been hired to lead an elite level of student athletes but complains about the very generation he's being paid to serve. After watching this a number of times I couldn't shake this image of what happened to me years ago.
I forget where I was, but I couldn't recall a phone number by memory and had to rely on my phone. In a snide delivery, an older man watching this shake out made a prick'ish comment about the fact that I couldn't remember a phone number by heart. Like such a thing was a right of adult/intellectual passage.
I'm not super quick on my feet, but I didn't miss this moment.
While boasting about how silly my need to revisit my phone was, I quickly said, "excuse me, how many Wi-Fi passwords and email addresses, and their passwords do you have memorized...?"
He stammered uncomfortably for a second knowing he had shit for an answer. I didn't need to poke, nor call out how silly his entitled questioning was. He ultimately understood that he didn't have grounds to stand on.
This reminds me of exactly that.
This tweet bothered me though. I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing anything and also wanted to make sure that if I created a level of dialogue I checked back in.
To my unprovoked surprise...
. . .
I was one of the boys having something to say that you didn't like and now you're acting accordingly.
While processing the silliness of this, it suddenly hit me!
Hit me like shaking off a doormat and oh shit! there's the extra key!
Leaning into the idea of "soft" people and complaining about them as the reason why a leader cannot create a tough culture it's painfully clear to me.
Maybe I'm weird, I don't know.
When these coaches were younger boys playing football, it's entirely possible that they would have had phone numbers memorized into their head like the old man and not four dozen logins and passwords...
For the most part, I can only imagine what these coaches dealt with while in school and is why they are so rigid today.
A one sided cube with about 4 slots for the social dynamic of school expectations. I could be missing some things, but being younger than the coach who re-tweeted the complaining Ragin Cajun coach's comment... this is really all that I remember dealing with.
I know I'm being slightly silly, however my point stands.
Today however, if you don't have all your logins, Wi-Fi passwords, and, and documented. Shit. you are not keeping up.
This is today's culture. A six sided cube with not enough slots in it.
We've created a world where there is far more social acceptance and need to understand how one feels than ever before. Compound that with the fact that society brought the need for a trophy and certificate of accomplishment to every child who did anything.
There is no undoing this, so why continue to complain about it.
The sad reality is that the way some of today's coaches operate is that if you don't conform with what I'm expecting of you, rather than slow down, detach from the situation and lead, they apply more torque to the problem.
As mentioned above with the few teammates who no longer play for PHHS and a large handful that have transferred elsewhere or not returned to the sport, too much torque will destroy what vulnerable spirit is left in the student athlete. I think coaches often forget what the cost of winning is. Trying to demand toughness through bad culture will kill all things about a sport for a youth.
For the coaches that dwell on a climate of "soft" people, will sadly dwell in a climate of "soft" people. All this is, is a mind shift.
Rather than push with shame and belittlement, coaches should try looking at the student athlete as they could be, and they'll grow into the athlete they should be.
Just because one has a whistle does not entitle that coach to be a leader. The world has enough whistle blowing, yellers and screamers.
Being a leader is an action. This is an action that requires a firm but soft hand in pulling someone rather than just pushing them where you want them. Pulled with intention and patience, a younger person will become better and ultimately tougher.
Can you imagine a team where if the coaches were to show up late for practice, they'd also do 100 pushups or whatever the tardy requirement is for an athlete?
Can you imagine the impact that action would have on the young minds who look up to you?
Can you imagine a team where a coach cared as much about their physical fitness and self improvement as they expect their student athletes to care about?
Can you imagine a team where the coach worked out with their team, as a team?
Can you imagine a team where a coach was spotted by a student athlete while weight lifting together?
Can you imagine how deep those roots would go?
Can you imagine a team where the coaches lead from the bottom up, rather than the top down?
Can you imagine a coach who didn't yell or shame their athlete, instead remembered what it was like to be an athlete when they were younger and guided them through what they didn't know?
Can you imagine a coach who treated every athlete like an individual rather than a standardized test?
Can you imagine a team where the less athletically gifted were paired up with one of the better athletes for the entire season?
Can you imagine a team culture that when no matter the fight to win, an absolute ass beating is taking place and has zero chance of winning, the coaches let the athletes make decisions to try their hand at leadership?
Can you imagine a team that focused on the mechanics of what it meant to be a team rather than talk about it?
Can you imagine a team being measured on their effort and growth, rather than just a win?
Can you imagine how hard a team of athletes would work for their coaching staff if they treated them like this?
Can you imagine what 1, 2, 3, FAMILY would really mean?
Can you imagine how much support parents would give to such a football culture?
Can you imagine how much money a program like this could earn?
Can you imagine the talent that would follow such a team culture?
Can you imagine?
It just takes a soft hand to pull out the true toughness in others.
You just need do have the courage to realize that.
Do you have the courage?
If this resonates with you, please share with a friend :)