My adventure now includes a role as a volunteer high school football coach. In fact, my posts haven’t been as regular as I’d like because of the “two-a-days” being conducted at the high school’s field in the Bronx. This post is not going to be profound. In writing it I get to be a little wistful, a little amazed, and a lot frustrated by the experience.
Each time I show up to the school, I enter into an unapologetic man’s world. It’s one of sweat, profanity, chewing tobacco, childish humor, and talk of the glory days long past. My own football glory days were limited as my high school had only enough personnel to field a team for two of my high school years. With the recent revelations about the brain injuries that football can cause, I now believe that my truncated career was a blessing. But I now get to engage in mature reflections about the game and at the same time improve my cognitive function by learning its intricacies.
I’m working as the strength coach and assistant running back coach at one of the largest high schools in New York City. Their four-year graduation rate is under 30%. Despite the challenges, a group of 45 young men show up in the summer for ten hours of daily character-building. In between sprints, pushups, and blocking schemes they are directed to pull up their pants, eliminate the use of the “N word,” to support each other, and to “finish strong.” These tough teenagers look you in the eyes, thank brand new coaches for their advice, and begin to figure out that they should have a cause bigger than themselves.
They don’t know, that despite this work ethic they are developing, that their life choices are being unfairly limited by people they have never met and by circumstances that they had no hand in creating.
This coming weekend is football camp in upstate New York. I’m taking my 9 year-old son with with me but it still means time away from family, close living conditions with the other coaches who are not in touch with their feminine side in the same way that I am (and who also happen to be strong, engaging male figures for these boys), and time away from the marketing that is critical for my fledgling leadership coaching business. However, there are men to build – 45 African-American, Dominican, West Indian, Puerto Rican, and Russian teens who deserve to get a little traction on the path to the people they deserve to become and who are fighting against incredible odds. Stay tuned.