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Repairing America one child at a time

Star-Tribune - 6/14/2017

I had a friend in coaching many years ago to tell me when you start looking at other people as being responsible for the problems you were facing, you needed to look home first, or in other words, see if you were part of the problem.

In last week's column, I wrote about the problems in the Danville area with gang violence and I encouraged all my readers to take a look at what they were doing concerning the problem and what they could do to improve the situation.

I am not immune to that discussion. I didn't write that column just because I wanted other people to pitch in to cure our ills, but because I wanted to make sure that I was doing the same. After all, if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.

In the study mentioned last week done by Stanford University, the recruitment of youth into gangs is a valid starting point to curbing gang violence. Gangs provide those qualities of life that the individual is missing; friendship, camaraderie, family ties and a sense of accomplishment he can't find elsewhere.

As a high school basketball coach, I come into contact with a lot of young men that are in a very vulnerable time in their lives. While often too proud to verbalize their needs, they are still needy and the greatest of these needs is love. They need to know that somebody cares for them for no other reason than they are a child of God. They need to be loved unconditionally.

A few weeks ago, my nephew, who is a high school football coach in North Carolina, sent me a book entitled 3D Coach: Capturing the Heart Behind the Jersey. The author of the book is Jeff Duke, a high school coach in Florida, but a one-time assistant coach to Bobby Bowden at Florida State. Duke is a National Coaches Training Director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

In 3D Coaching, Duke explores the idea that the realm of coaching must change with the times. In coordination with Dr. Beverly Yerg at Florida State University, Duke traced the societal history of our country and how coaches must change to keep up a different culture.

Duke pointed out that when he was coming through junior high school and high school as a player, coaches concentrated on the job at hand, which was to develop the young men on his team into better players. That was accomplished through hard work and driving the student athlete as hard as you could. Players did what they were told to do and asked few if any questions.

Yerg said this was a carryover from the World War II era and the group known as "The Greatest Generation." According to Yerg, this generation practiced "blind obedience." Someone in a position of authority ordered a task to be done and it was done. This was the way children were reared in their homes and they followed suit wherever they were.

This is what Duke referred to as coaching in the first dimension. Coaches make demands of players and if players fail to live up to those demands, then the coach would make a phone call to the home and the parents would ensure the player did not have this happen again. The next generation was more complicated.

Duke said the blind obedience was replaced with entitlement. Players no longer followed guidelines because they were put in place and the idea of doing something became more of a question of how was it going to help the individual player instead being the right thing to do.

In what Duke describes as our "broken culture," the America that the previous generation grew up in is no longer relevant in today's society. The parent that warned the child that getting in trouble in school meant getting in more trouble when you get home has been replaced with one that places responsibility for failure on the coach and the school, but never on their child.

A greater problem today is how often the player grows up in a home where either one or both parents are not part of the household. Duke points to statistics where 50% of marriages end in divorce and 72% of second-time marriages are a casualty of divorce. Only 28% of homes find both biological parents in the home.

Duke said these changes have required coaches to not only be the coach to his players, but in many cases, he has had to fill several other roles. That is where the three-dimensional coaching comes in. Duke said coaches today must go beyond the coaching of the body (physical) and delve into the second and third dimensions, coaching the mind (emotional) and the third dimension, the spirit or dealing with the players' spirituality.

Another important aspect of Duke's 3D Coaching is a connection with the parents. Duke said that many parents in today's society are too busy with their own lives to show any interest in what their children are doing. The child senses the lack of commitment and when the coach pushes for commitment to the team, the child finds it difficult to pledge commitment when he has not seen any commitment from his own parents.

At the other end of the spectrum is the hyper-involved parent. The hyper-involved parent thinks sports can fix the child's problems and the problems the parent cannot deal with are passed along to the coach. Sports is looked at as a means to the end. Sports will lead to scholarships, better opportunity for professional sports and financial security.

Duke told the story of his own son, Cameron, who is also a high school coach in Florida. Duke said the head coach that Cameron worked for required that all players receive a 15-minute in home visit by a coach on the staff.

Two of the players that Cameron was to visit were brothers that lived in a low economic area. When Cameron told the players he was coming by to visit, they immediately balked on the idea and told the coach that wasn't necessary. Despite their wishes for him not to come, Cameron took the boys home the next day and stayed for two hours talking with their mother and aunts and cousins.

The younger brother, who had missed 23 days from school the previous year, never missed another day. He ended up receiving a scholarship to play football at Alcorn State University.

What Duke and other coaches like him are doing is letting kids know that someone cares. Rebuilding our broken culture will take time but it must start one child at a time.


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