Coaching kids, changing lives
By Greg Bach
Former Green Bay Packer linebacker and Super Bowl winner Brady Poppinga played for a lot of great coaches throughout his NFL career – and a lot of special volunteer coaches during his youth, too.
“Youth coaches really do have a huge impact on the kids that they interact with,” says Poppinga, who enjoyed an eight-year NFL career and is the author of The True Spirit of Competition. “Some of my best memories are with some of the youth coaches I had. Fortunately for me I had great parents and so it was just another way to hear the same thing my parents would tell me, but from my coaches in a competitive environment where I was more apt to listen to them. So it was a great supplement and complement to what my parents taught me.”
Poppinga played just about everything growing up and excelled in football, basketball and track in high school before a successful collegiate career at Brigham Young University that was the springboard to reaching the NFL.
From his youth sports experiences in Evanston, Wyo., to stepping onto Lambeau Field, he’s experienced the highs and lows of competition at all levels and knows first-hand the life-shaping impact coaches can have on kids’ lives.
The following is Part II of our conversation with the former linebacker, who tackles winning, coaching kids the right way, playing with Brett Favre and which NFL stadium was the toughest to play in, among other topics. If you missed Part I click HERE.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: In your book you talk about the passion to win versus the obsession with winning. What’s the difference?
POPPINGA: The passion to win is your fuel to the fire; it’s that energy, it’s that desire to want to come out victorious, which is perfectly healthy because that’s what motivates you to wake up. It’s what motivates you to do the work. It’s what motivates you to enter into the competition and to accept the challenges that your opponent has placed before you.
The obsession to win is a different force that overtakes you and it’s a force that becomes all about you. It’s more of a selfish kind of deal and it basically drives you and controls you to the point of even doing things that are regretful and hurtful.
So the difference between the two is the passion to win is a force that you grab hold of and you control. The obsession to win is something that is all-encompassing that grabs hold of you and most times than not leads you to doing things that you regret that are potentially harmful and hurtful.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How can coaches deal with the pressure to win that often comes from parents?
POPPINGA: The best way to do it is to focus on the small day-to-day victories that come in the form of skill development and progress. Two years ago my son was in Little League baseball and he had a hard time throwing the baseball from second base to first base. When he was finally able to take a ground ball and throw it from second base to first base on a nice throw that’s the victory. So be alert to where your kids are at in their individual skill sets and levels and then whenever there’s improvement celebrate it. Everyone is on differing levels of skill so the biggest thing is to acknowledge their different skill sets and then acknowledge their progression and their improvement and make it a big deal, make it like a victory because in fact it really is.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How do you get coaches to embrace this concept rather than being simply focused on the scoreboard?
POPPINGA: It’s important to redirect the focus from the result of winning to the process of winning. You do that by keeping in mind what’s the purpose of youth sports? Is winning all that matters? Is that what the end all objective is? Or is the end all objective about the kids, their progression, their experiences, their growth? And learning teamwork, hard work, how to get along, how to face challenges and embrace those challenges that catapult them forward for greater successes. So you have to first acknowledge why are we here? By doing that, you're now engaging yourself in the process of winning. By doing so you are making the experience more about the kids and them having fun, and at the same time you're also putting your kids in the best position to win. Any sports performance coach will tell you that a processed based approach only increases the probability of winning versus a results based approach.
Coaches have to realize that the scoreboard at the Little League level is not the greatest priority. The greatest priority is the kids. Now, obviously you want to win and you want to put your team in position to win and you’d like to see that happen, but that shouldn’t be ultimately what determines the quality and the time that you have with those kids. It should be their experience; let it be theirs. We’re here for the kids; we’re here so they can learn, grow and utilize competition as a way to enrich their lives. And from there we’ll see if we can win some games, but that’s a by-product of the process.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: You do so much great work to help others, and during your playing days you were the Packers’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Why is it important to give back?
POPPINGA: I’m a product of my community. I’m a product of all the church leaders and all the coaches, and fortunately I had more positive experiences than negative ones. Any way I can give back and help and to hopefully do the same for others that was done for me, that’s what ultimately drives me because youth sports programs were really a huge part of my life. So whatever I can do to help and support them I’m going to do it.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What was your welcome to the NFL moment?
POPPINGA: It was during my first OTA. A lot of the running backs will run downfield after a play just to pretend they broke through the line. So I wanted to see if I could catch Ahman Green, who had world class speed and had run a 4.18 in the 40 for the scouts. Anyway, he just turned on the jets and he was gone. I had run a 4.5 so I was a big, fast guy, but when he took off I was like “oh my goodness” and he weighed like 220 pounds so just that combination of size and speed was something I had never faced and that was the moment I realized this was not college football anymore. This was the NFL.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What was the toughest stadium to play in?
POPPINGA: CenturyLink in Seattle. It’s so loud and deafening to the point where two days later your head is still ringing. But to be real honest, it’s fun to play there too. But it’s the toughest because you can’t function because of the noise that’s so deafening it really causes your head to ring.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Who was the toughest running back to tackle?
POPPINGA: Stephen Jackson. It seemed as though every time we’d hit him and we thought we had him stopped for no gain we’d look up and he’d moved the ball four yards.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What was it like to have Brett Favre as a teammate?
POPPINGA: It was great, because he’s a great teammate, a down-to-earth guy. He never put himself above the team; he was always on par with everybody. He was a fun guy to play with and one of my favorite teammates to ever play with in my entire life.
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