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Preconceived Notions Are Your Enemy In Pee Wee Football
It seems that we all have preconceived notions about people, places and things based on information we are exposed to or often on the perspective of those in our immediate environment. In youth football, I can’t count how many times I have been surprised by the performance and behavior of teams and coaches. Often the reputations of these Pee Wee teams and coaches were the product of others, nothing more than the accumulated frustration and greed of other young coaches, nothing more than sour grapes. Unfortunately, in the world of youth soccer coaching, these perceptions and attitudes are pervasive, pervasive, and often WRONG.
When coaching Pee Wee football, I try to go into these situations with an open mind and a soft heart and let the team and other coaches make mistakes. One of the most disliked and misunderstood coaches in the two different leagues my teams competed in actually became a trusted and trusted friend. His organization went out of their way to treat us well, and we in turn went out of our way to do the same for them. Our organizations now enjoy a strong but respectful rivalry, and we look forward to playing each other every year for the right reasons. Would we feel the same way if we were to listen to others and jump into the game with a finger in the water? Maybe not.
Unfortunately, I also make judgments about people I know little about, and in many cases those judgments are 100% wrong. I had the opportunity to meet and spend some time with UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel this past weekend at the Clinic of Champions.
Reno, Nevada. Coach Neuheisel gave a very detailed presentation of his version of the 2 minute offense and how UCLA will drill it this fall. I knew Coach from his days in Colorado, his Buffaloes were always a big game when my beloved Cornhuskers were on the schedule. Of course, Coach Neuheisel’s unconventional West Coast “outside” attitude was the complete opposite of Nebraska’s no-nonsense, blue-collar, physical ground attack attitude. Coach wasn’t a very likable guy in these parts, West Coast personality, passing attack, surfer personality, etc. Then there was more bad publicity at the University of Washington with an NCAA Hoops Tourney, pool, and more. For some reason, while no one here knew the guy, he was known as “Skippy” and the average Nebraska fan seemed to make fun of the man in the newspapers, on talk radio, and in everyday fan chats.
While one cannot spend more than a few hours with someone, you can develop some feelings about that person, in my opinion. Coach Neuheisel opened his presentation with some background, he didn’t talk about his head coach’s 66-30 college record or his championship, he talked about some of his humble moments as a player and how we can relate that to our teams and our kids. did I didn’t know Coach was walking on UCLA as a very undersized quarterback who was given the number 24X as a freshman. The X meant you were a repeat number and would probably never qualify for the game. Meanwhile, No. 24 that year was Freeman McNeil, so they didn’t think Coach N would make it. They didn’t redshirt freshmen at UCLA in those days. Fortunately for the coach, one of the other students burned down the house and left so the coach took this number #20. Coach N was never in the game program that year, in fact the other kid dropped out so late that Coach N was known by his original name of #20 and not himself because the game programs had already been printed.
UCLA and coach Neuheisel
As the season progressed, UCLA had a very poor season and the coaches were struggling to find a spark on special teams. The coaches gave everyone who volunteered a chance 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 the L4 in a trap type block. Weighing in at just over 195 pounds, Coach had to make other teams’ linebackers, who weighed 230-250, run full speed in their coverage teams with grudges in their hearts. The coach had a number of very harrowing stories to tell, including one where he passed out and had his face mask broken during one of these comebacks. He didn’t say it to brag, but to admonish and tease a little. One quarterback played special teams as a designated blocker, which impressed me. He never mentioned his Rose Bowl win at UCLA or his Rose Bowl MVP award, anything like that.
At the post-session mixer at the Neuheisel Coach Speakers Suite, it couldn’t have been more different than I imagined. She was shy, sincere, not at all polite, friendly, humble, and very willing to help and guide anyone who asked, even a Pee Wee football coach like me. He went out of his way to offer support and appreciation for what youth coaches do for the game of football. He looked you in the eye, gave you a firm handshake, and listened intently to what you had to say, asking great questions and asking for clarification along the way. I came away from this experience with a very different opinion of Coach Neuheisel. He has nothing to gain by spending time with a young coach from Nebraska, none of my children are being recruited by UCLA, and I am certainly not a donor to UCLA.
On the way back to my room I was a little embarrassed to judge someone without more information or personal experience. I believe that I have learned my lesson because my prediction has been wrong many times and it does not correspond to how I want my children or players to behave. I had the same experience with my high school coach Steve Kaland from Pennsylvania, I was 200% wrong about him and now we are fast friends. My opinion changed after meeting him at a coaching clinic in Pennsylvania in 2002. The moral of the story is that people, including players, youth football coaches and parents, make their own decisions. Keep an open mind and they may surprise you.
I have been on the other end of these situations myself. I can’t count how many times guys have come up to me after the clinic and told me they were looking forward to hearing me speak, I was so different from what they expected (in a positive way). I am not a winning Pee Wee football coach in any way shape or form. Our proposition is this: you can win, have fun, play kids, be a great sport and teach great fundamentals too, they are not mutually exclusive.
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