Coaching Conversations: The power to influence young lives
By Greg Bach
A volunteer coach’s words wield enormous influence – when kids have respect for those delivering the message.
Just ask David Sloan, who played nine seasons in the NFL at tight end, compiled more than 2,000 receiving yards, scored 17 touchdowns, played in multiple playoff games and started in a Pro Bowl.
Sloan recalls in vivid detail a conversation he had with his youth football coach during his elementary school years.
It grabbed his attention.
And forever altered his approach to the game.
“One of the most impactful things that happened to me was when I was in elementary school I had a coach call me a prima donna,” says Sloan, in his seventh season as the tight ends coach at Rice University. “I didn’t know what that meant but I knew it was something derogatory, so I had to go home and ask my parents to explain to me what that was.”
After he heard what it meant he made changes in his behavior.
Because he respected his coach.
“That was the first time I really self-evaluated and it changed the way I approached the game,” Sloan says. “I was a ball hog and I would yell at the refs and all those negative types of things and it just took that one comment from a coach that I really respected because he did take an interest in me; he did help me; and he did positively encourage me. It took having respect for that kind of man because he built that relationship for me and for me to go ‘wow, if he’s saying that about me then it must be true so what can I do to change that?’”
When Sloan looks back at his journey from the youth playing fields to the NFL stadiums where he spent his Sunday afternoons, he’s thankful for the coaches he played for along the way who not only taught sports skills, but those incredibly valuable life skills, too.
“I was fortunate to have some pretty good role models all the way back in elementary school,” Sloan says. “It’s pretty important at that age when you’re in elementary school and junior high level because you’re pretty impressionable and you start putting some foundation in place for how you are going to react to certain things going on and what your work ethic is going to be like. Obviously, your parents and your family are going to instill those qualities and have the greatest impact on you but the next best thing when it comes to sports is the coach. If he’s a guy who believes in promoting positive energy and trying to help young men that can have a huge impact on how you turn out. And I was fortunate to be around that.”
Sloan loves the game of football.
He loved playing it at a very high level in college, and in the pros, too.
He also loves working with young players – teaching, encouraging and making a difference just like his coaches did for him.
“When you can help a young man either learn or do or execute something that they couldn’t do before it’s an amazing feeling,” Sloan says.
He encourages volunteer coaches to take advantage of the opportunity they have to make a difference for their players.
And remember what youth sports is all about while working with them.
“Remember that this is a game and these young men are not going to get a scholarship, they’re not going to go to the pros, they’re not going to do any of that type of stuff right now in this time of their lives that you have them,” Sloan says. “So make it fun; make them excited about sports. Yes, you can teach them how to work hard and do all those things that coaches should instill in young men, but you still have to make it fun and you still have to make it where kids want to be out there by choice, not because they are being forced to.”
Jamie Clarke has climbed the tallest mountain on every continent and worked with elite athletes on the mental side of the game. Use his insights to elevate your leadership skills and take your young athletes on a journey they'll never forget
3-time Olympian Allison Baver overcame gruesome injuries throughout her career to excel on the world stage. Use her insight to help young athletes overcome fears lurking in their minds
Team USA’s Kendall Coyne cherished her childhood where her parents didn’t pressure and push. The result? Her love for hockey flourished, and is as strong as ever these days
Curt Tomasevicz, Olympic champion in the four-man bobsled and former football player at Nebraska, on helping young athletes conquer fears, stay focused, and perform at their best when the pressure rises