“Coach, You Need a Pound Puppy.”

I was complaining to my Dad the other day. My 8th grade son was given the opportunity to participate in heat acclimation drills with his school’s varsity football team. For reasons I cannot even begin to fathom he was less than enthusiastic. His school is by most standards very small, and his starting position has been solidified since, forever. My talking to him about his reluctance had turned into me talking at him, then yelling and he pretty much tuned me out after that.

Me: “He’s never had anybody pushing him. Never felt what it’s like to have another player breathing down his neck for playing time. Never felt that emptiness when you want to play but the guy ahead of you is just better. Never been cut. He’s spoiled by success and it’s made him lazy and entitled. I can’t talk to him.”

Dad: “The summer before my first year in high school we had football tryouts. A hundred kids my age so we knew some of us were going home. Well, we did our thing and the coaches ordered us up into the bleachers. Told us they’d call our name and if they did we were to go stand on the track. We didn’t know why we were supposed to stand on the track but back then if a coach said to do it you just did it or you didn’t stick around long. So the coaches are huddled around this clipboard and they start calling names and after a while they call mine. Coach Farrar was running the show and he had his head down looking at the clipboard and he happened to look up as I was walking by. He leaned over and said something to one of the coaches and that coach didn’t seem too happy but then Coach Farrar said to me, ‘Get back up there, son. We don’t want you.’ I didn’t know what to think about that. So they get finished reading off names and when they do Coach Farrar turns to the boys on the track and says ‘Thanks for coming out, but we just don’t have the room for you.’ Thing of it is, he didn’t know my name. All he knew was what he saw in that tryout and I promise you it wasn’t much. But I decided that whatever I did on that football field I’d do it so as not to disappoint that man, to reward that faith he had in me. Maybe the boy needs to hear that. Maybe he needs to understand that those coaches may not know him now, may not even know his name, but what he does, how hard he works, that starts to build trust and faith and that’ll pay off sometime down the road.”

I was 14 years old or so when I finally met Coach Farrar, although my dad had told me the stories. Coach had left high school by then, teaching and coaching at a local university. As a baseball coach and professional scout my dad gave him a call and asked would he be willing to look at his son’s swing and maybe give him a pointer or two. Ten minutes with the man and I understood why my dad was so fond of Coach Farrar. He did what he could for my swing and as we were leaving, said something to me that I can hear word for word almost 30 years later: “Your dad,” he said, “was one of the best players I ever coached.”

The 120 pound senior. The defensive back with the blown out knee. Coach Farrar had seen talent over the years but he decided that something was more important than talent. Desire.

I call them “pound puppies.” They are players without the ability or talent to match the heart and dedication. A pound puppy is so happy to be playing that they will do anything they are asked. Pound puppies make the best teammates. A team of pound puppies can become champions.

My dad was a pound puppy. So was I. My son is not. His ability is something I could never match and it’s why I talk past him a lot when it comes to sports. Our experiences are divergent.

As a coach I am bothered by the fact that there are a lot of pound puppies sitting at home. Kids that weren’t “run fast jump high” and were overlooked. Dedication can’t be timed. Heart can’t be measured. You have to seek it out. And you have to know what you’re looking for. Coach Farrar saw it in my dad. Coaches saw it in me as well over the years. McDowell. Frazier. Worthen. Groll. Names to you. Giants to me. Men I would have run through a wall for. Still would.

Pound puppies are like that.

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Why I would let Dave Grohl teach my kids.

grohl

Stumbled across this quote by Dave Grohl.  If you aren’t a child of the ’90s he is the lead singer of the group Foo Fighters.  Also played drums for a little known band called Nirvana.  F-bombs aside we should generalize it some and use it as our life mission statement.  How many times have you been talked out of doing something you really want to do?  How many people have told you that you aren’t good enough?  Not talented enough?  Not as good as the next guy? To settle for the easy thing you hate instead of the hard thing you love?  Don’t get me wrong- I like The Voice.  I just worry about all of the potential Nirvanas that will be selling insurance ten years from now because somebody told them they weren’t good enough for their T.V. show.  Here’s another statistic for you: 70% of all youth football players will not play in high school.  Why?  My thought is that many don’t have someone to believe in them, someone that pulls them aside one day and says-

“You can be anything you want to be.  Keep working.  I’ll help you.”

And guess what?  They may suck something awful.  Today.  But maybe they won’t tomorrow.  I’ve coached so many kids that I just knew should find something else to do, and realized that they wanted to be a football player so bad they turned themselves into one. Not all at once.  But it did happen.  And it happens all of the time- but most kids are still naive enough to think adults are smarter than they are and it only takes one knucklehead to make them give up on their dream.  Don’t be that guy.

I spent years becoming very good at a job that I hate.  I’m ready to spend years becoming very good at something I love.  Right now, I suck at being a writer-but every day I suck a little less.  And I’m good with that.

What do you love to do?  Are you doing it?  Why not?

The FBU National Championship, Part 1: Armageddon

Let me preface by saying I’m not completely certain what Armageddon will look like. I’m sure there will be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. I’m fairly certain that the weather will suck, the food will be less than palatable, and a lot of my friends will be there. My FBU National Championship experience was all of that, as well as a few things that not even our Creator could have envisioned for the end of the world. Eighteen teams of teenage football players running around San Antonio Texas, sleeping four to a room, frequently crossing paths with their opponents, and all with a minimal amount of adult supervision lends itself to the more terrifying aspects of Revelations.

I had the time of my life.

Football University, or FBU, conducts camps all over the United States for football players ages 12-18. They also sponsor the showcase event for high school seniors, The Army All-American Bowl, played in San Antonio, Texas. Over the years FBU has added events to the weekend of the Army All-American Bowl, including United States All-Star teams playing other countries, 7th and 8th grade East-West All-Star games, and, beginning in 2011, the FBU National Championship “Road to the Dome.” Sixty four teams from all over the country in a March Madness style tournament.

That’s where I come in.

I have coached my son’s football teams since he was five (he’s thirteen now.) My hometown (Shreveport, LA) is small enough so that the youth football coaches in the area know each other pretty well (familiarity breeds contempt.) When it was decided to put together a team to represent Northwest Louisiana my incredible pedigree and stature in the profession naturally made me a candidate to fill the final remaining position on the coaching staff. That and the fact that all the really good coaches had already said no, and all the average coaches were avid hunters and didn’t want football to cut into their time in the woods, and all the suck coaches were too lazy to answer the phone. I am not lazy. This is how I found myself on a practice field just before Thanksgiving surrounded by the greatest collection of 13 and 14 year old football talent in the northern half of Louisiana.

As any youth coach in any sport will tell you it is practically impossible to field a team of real deal, no bull, run through a wall, kill or die trying kind of players. Pick up a roster of 30 kids, weed out the clover pickers, the momma’s boys, the ones with daddies shoving them out of the car for practice, and the ones that have the desire but fall over for no apparent reason due to a lack of inner ear balance and you are left with five, maybe six kids that will be playing football on Friday nights in the coming years. Out of those five or six you may have one, and usually none, that have the potential to play ball in college.

This team would not have that problem.

Ten minutes into our first practice and I’m thinking, Holy crap. There isn’t a hole on this team that needs filling. These guys even warmed up like it was game time. Our first “light contact” scrimmage at the end of practice looked like the Coliseum scene in Gladiator. I walked up to our head coach and our OC. They were pie eyed. So was I. Everyone was trying to sort out who the gamers were so nobody was backing down an inch.

Mike the HC: “Maybe we should slow it down a bit. Before somebody gets, like, injured or something.”
Me: “Injured? We keep this up we’re gonna need six pallbearers and a backhoe.”

I walk over to the defense side and give our all-world strong (SAM) linebacker the good news. J.B. is what linebackers look like in movies. Blonde. Fast. Tall. Built like Urlacher. Mean like Nitschke.

Me: “J.B., we gotta slow it down. Somebody’s gonna get dead. No more tackling to the ground.”
J.B.: “Coach, we haven’t been tackling to the ground. We hit ‘em and they just kinda fall over.”

Can’t accuse the kid of being dumb. The 14 year old made a 27 on his ACT. Go ahead, read that again.

Things settled in after that. The boys started to realize that what was on the helmet was less important than what was in the heart. The kids from the two bitter rival private schools exchanged props. The private school kids watched the magnet school kids and saw that being smart doesn’t mean you can’t ball. And everybody was growing to love the country cousins from the east that were all day nasty but all about team.

Life lessons more important than any football game.

If we, a bunch of Louisiana boys, nobodies from nowhere, look like this, what will the big dogs look like? Texas, California, Florida? How much bigger, faster, stronger is it possible for a kid to get?

According to the bracket we wouldn’t see those teams until at least the third round. If we made it that far. Southeast Louisiana and Arkansas stood in the way.

We didn’t know it yet, but the journey that started on that practice field in November wouldn’t end until January, at the FBU National Championship in San Antonio.

Next up: Part 2, The Dog Catches The Car

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