A Tender Football Moment · 10 November 2012

Photo courtesy Denise Knoth

One tender moment cannot be the only demonstration of love between player and coach, but it can show the deep bonds of love they can develop through time.

Most people seem to think that we football coaches are unfeeling beasts, who try to draw out the animals in our players. I have found that to be a grossly unjust generalization. Especially, with one coach I have worked with, Coach Jerrell.

Coach Jerrell is as tough as nails. He always wants the best for his players, which means he drives them hard and expects their all. He earns respect by his actions and expectations. When Coach Jerrell speaks, players listen. They love and respect him because he loves and respects them. He shows this love and respect by working them hard to make them better. And like that gross generalization, he tries to draw out the competitive beast in the players so they can be better teammates and consequently, a better team.

To an outsider looking in, it might seem that being tough on young men would drive them away. But in reality, it takes steel to sharpen steel. Young men need to have their mentors expect much from them and hold them to high standards. They need people who will work them hard and show them how to expect more from themselves and their peers. When Coach Jerrell has those high expectations for his players, he is showing them he loves them. When he works them harder than they think they can work, they love him for it. It is an odd concept, but being tough on young men not only makes them better men, it engenders love. At least when it is done correctly.

Coach Jerrell always does it correctly. He knows how much he can expect from each young man he coaches. He can tell when they are giving it their all and when they are slacking because he takes the time to get to know them. When it comes right down to it, Coach Jerrell is loved by his players because he loves them. And he shows this love most by giving them his most precious commodity – his time.

One day, I witnessed a deep demonstration of the mutual love and respect between Coach Jerrell and one of his players.

This player needed to have surgery, but he decided that he would postpone it until after his senior football season. He figured he could get back to being healthy by baseball season, and he did not want to miss his last year playing football. So he played the season injured. One day, he came to practice and talked to Coach Jerrell for a few moments. Not many words were spoken, but a deep conversation took place. As the player was walking away to where he needed to be for practice, Coach Jerrell gave him a little hug. It was really just a hand on the helmet drawing him close, but it was a hug. A hug that said more than any words could convey about heartfelt condolences for an unexpected missed senior baseball season.

A few days afterward, I talked to Coach Jerrell about his conversation. I kept it light, telling him that I had blackmail material on him that I would certainly not reveal. He looked at me funny, until I told him that I saw him talking to his player about his surgery. We laughed a little, and after a few moments of silence he said, “I love that kid.” A tear came to my eye even before he continued, “I love ‘em all.” We joked a little more as men do when they want to move from a subject that is too emotional. Or when they just need to gather their thoughts and feelings.

It is easy to see Coach Jerrell loves his players. That they are his kids. He treats them with respect and helps them to understand that striving for greatness is the only way to live. He is hard on them and expects much because he loves them. Yes, he tries to draw out the animals in the players, but only because that is the nature of the game of football specifically and competition in general. But he shows his love in tender ways as well. Like he did with the hug.

I am glad that I was able to witness and write about a moving exchange of love on the football field. And even though one tender moment is not enough to get and receive love, when the love is already present that moment is certainly enough to show the deep bond that can develop between player and coach.

© 2012 Michael T. Miyoshi

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