Impacting young lives as a coach

by Jack Warren, editor and host of Top Coach Baseball podcast

Well documented in the news this past week was the post-Super Bowl press conference with Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton. Given the hordes of media outlets covering the event, there were, of course, reactions and opinions everywhere you turned. Additionally, social media has made it possible for everyone to weigh in, regardless of the size of their microphone. The preponderance of evidence, it seems, points to the vast majority of observers assigning some degree of immaturity to Mr. Newton.

The very next day, Newton held an impromptu press conference in which he pretty much said to anyone who could hear him, “Get over it” and did in fact say, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” The interesting aspect to this post-press conference press conference was that many talking heads began to chide those who dared to opine negatively on the issue that there were good reasons for him to act the way he did and, furthermore, who are you to sit in judgment?

Let me just state up front how I’ve felt about this issue since the initial press conference. I hope that, like all young people who’ve come before him (yes, even Johnny Manziel), he learns and grows from this experience. I feel no ill will toward Cam Newton and hope that he looks back in five years and notes how this was a turning point in his life.

This brings me to my main point. In my weekly interview with coaches, I often ask the question, “What is the position of extra-curricular activities in shaping a young person’s life?” The answers are always fascinating, but never really surprising. From that standpoint, not much has changed since your father was wearing the short shorts for his high school basketball team. Most athletic coaches (and band directors and club sponsors and choir directors) see these voluntary activities as a way to help mold good behavior, habits, and citizenship. The consistent answer I get when I ask a baseball coach why they chose the scholastic/amateur route over the professional route is, “Because of the impact I can have on a young person’s life.”

Unfortunately, our “win at all costs” mentality has often led to us overlooking in top athletes what would not be tolerated in lesser athletes. Instead of teaching a lesson early on when it could still have an impact, behaviors and attitudes are swept aside, so as not to, in any way, impede the progress of the team. Of course this only leaves the job of correction or adjustment to future coaches, teachers, neighbors, friends…or judges and law enforcement officials.

Another factor here is the successful athlete who’s rarely had to deal with failure. I got a chuckle out of the pre-Super Bowl commercials with Cam Newton, in which he repeatedly refers to “the doubters.” I chuckled because he’s known nothing but success in his athletic life. He attained the rarely given 5-star designation in high school, was recruited by almost every major football power In the country, won a junior college national championship, won the Heisman Award, won the national championship at Auburn, and was a number one draft pick in the NFL. He’s got amazing athletic skills, is a great looking guy, and has an incredibly magnetic personality. All that to say, Cam Newton has rarely had to deal with failure, so when it hits, it hits hard – and I’m not quite sure he was prepared to deal with it.

I hope that we, as coaches, never lose that leverage that we have in young people’s lives. At an age where we can still wield influence, don’t take that task for granted. Teaching a young person to deal with adversity, trials, and difficulties now will save others from having to deal with it later – and quite often on a grander scale or in a more serious siutation. While others may dismiss boorish behavior as someone just “keepin’ it real”, it is incumbent upon us to remain steadfast in doing the heavy lifting when others will not.

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