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Preconceived Notions Are Your Enemy In Pee Wee Football

Preconceived notions

We all seem to have preconceived ideas about people, places, and things based on information we have been exposed to or often based on the perspective of those in our immediate environment. In youth football, I cannot count the number of times I have been pleasantly surprised by the play and actions of teams and coaches. Very often the reputation of these Pee Wee teams and coaches was the product of others, just the aggregated frustration and greed of other youth coaches, nothing more than sour grapes. Unfortunately, in the world of youth football coaching, these impressions and attitudes are pervasive, widespread and often WRONG.

To be open minded

When I coach Pee Wee football, I try to approach these situations with an open mind and a soft 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 competed in actually became a trusted friend and confidant. His organization went out of their way to treat us well and in turn we went out of their way to do the same for them. Now our organizations enjoy a strong but respectful rivalry and we look forward to competing each year for the right reasons. Would we have felt the same if we had listened to others and entered the game with one toe in the water? Probably not.

Big mistake

Unfortunately, I too succumb to making judgments about people I know little about and in many cases those judgments are 100% wrong. I had the opportunity to meet and hang out with Rick Neuheisel from UCLA last weekend at the Clinique des Champions in

Reno, Nevada. Coach Neuheisel gave a very pointed presentation on his version of the 2-minute offense and how UCLA will break through it this fall. I knew Coach from his Colorado days, his Buffalos were always a big game when my beloved Cornhuskers were on their schedule. Of course, Coach Neuheisel’s unorthodox attitude to the “outward” West Coast was diametrically opposed to Nebraska’s blue-collar, no-nonsense, physical ground attack attitude. The coach was not a well-liked man in these areas, the west coast character, passing attack, surfer character, etc. Then there was the controversy at the University of Washington with an NCAA Hoops tournament, a pool, more bad publicity. For some reason, while no one here knew the guy, he was known as “Skippy” and generally polite Nebraska fans seemed to enjoy ridiculing this man in the papers, on the radio, and in daily fan chatter. .

While you can’t get too much out of spending a few hours with someone, you can get a feel for that person in my opinion. Coach Neuheisel started his presentation with a bit of background, he didn’t talk about his college head coaching record of 66-30 or his championships, he talked about some humble moments he had as a player and how we could relate that to our teams and our children. Little did I know that Coach walked to UCLA as a very undersized quarterback who was given the number 24X as a rookie. X meant you were a duplicate number and you would probably never get dressed or enter a game. Number 24 by the way that year was Freeman McNeil so obviously they didn’t think the coach N was going to enter the field. At that time, they weren’t doing redshirts to freshmen at UCLA. Luckily for the coach, one of the other freshmen got homesick and quit, so the coach got this player number, #20. Coach N was never in the game program that year, in fact the other child quit so late that Coach N was known by the original name of No. 20, not his own, as the game programs had already been printed.

UCLA and Coach Neueheisel

As the season progressed, UCLA was having a very bad season and the coaches were trying to get a spark on the special teams. The coaches offered a chance to anyone who would volunteer to play against special teams. Coach N volunteered to play and to his surprise the coaches at UCLA assigned him to the kick return squad, where his job was to block L4 on a type block trap. At just over 195 pounds, Coach had to block linebackers from other teams who weighed 230-250 running at full speed with mischief in the hearts of their kicking coverage teams. The coach had a number of very self-deprecating stories to tell, including one where he was knocked unconscious and his face mask smashed during one of those comebacks. He did not say it in a way to boast, but to instruct and to make fun of himself a little. A quarterback playing special teams as a designated blocker, that impressed me. He never mentioned his Rose Bowl victory at UCLA or his Rose Bowl MVP award, nothing like that.

In the Speakers Suite post-session mixer, Coach Neuheisel couldn’t have been different from what I imagined. He was shy, cordial, not outgoing at all, friendly, humble and very willing to offer help and advice to anyone who asked for it, even a humble Pee Wee football coach like me. He went out of his way to offer his support and appreciation for what youth coaches do for football. He looked you in the eye, gave you a firm handshake, and listened intently to what you were saying, asking good questions and asking for clarification along the way. I came away from that experience with a very different opinion of Coach Neuheisel. He had absolutely nothing to gain by spending time with a young coach from Nebraska, none of my children are recruited by UCLA and I am certainly not a potential donor for UCLA.

Lesson learned

On the way back to my room, I felt a bit ashamed to judge someone so badly without the benefit of more information or personal experience. I sure hope I’ve learned my lesson, because my biases have so often been so wrong and it’s incongruous with how I want my own kids or players to act. I had the same experience with high school coach Steve Calande from Pennsylvania, I was 200% wrong about him too and now we are fast 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 football coaches and parents. Keep an open mind and they might surprise you.

I myself have been on the other end of these situations. I can’t count the number of times guys have come up to me after a clinic and then said they couldn’t wait to hear me speak I was very different (in a positive way) from what they expected. I am not a win at any cost Pee Wee Football Coach in any form. Our premise is: you can win, have fun, play with the kids, be great athletes and teach great fundamentals too, these are not mutually exclusive goals.

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