Tony Dungy: A message that matters for ALL youth coaches

Tony Dungy: A message that matters for ALL youth coaches


By Greg Bach

The message was delivered by legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll nearly 40 years ago to a young defensive backs coach by the name of Tony Dungy.

And it’s never been forgotten.

Dungy – one of the game’s most respected leaders, a Super Bowl champion, and a Hall of Fame inductee – urges today’s youth coaches of all sports to embrace Noll’s words, too.

“When I first started, Coach Noll told me that you win with fundamentals so if you teach fundamentals that is going to be the most important thing for your players,” Dungy said from his home in Tampa. “And then he went on to say that you always must remember the first three letters in fundamentals are F-U-N, so don’t take the fun out of it. He was telling me this as a professional coach and I think that applies so much more to youth coaches. If we teach them the fundamentals that’s going to hold them in good stead and help them grow. But we always have to remember it’s a game of fun and if you take the fun out of it you’re going to ruin that opportunity for kids.”

During his first season as a safety with the Steelers in 1977 Dungy got another lesson in the importance of having fun while competing from a most unlikely source – baseball great Willie Stargell.

“I remember when I was a rookie with the Steelers and our locker room was right next to the Pirates locker room (at Three Rivers Stadium) and Willie Stargell was the captain of the Pirates and I went in there before a game and they were having such a good time,” Dungy says. “I remember Willie telling me ‘I have played a lot of baseball games and the umpire always starts it off by saying play ball. He doesn’t say work ball, he says play ball.’ We have to remember that this is a game. That is what I tried to remember during all my years of coaching that it’s a game, make it fun, and don’t take the fun out of it.”

When that fun factor is front and center at every practice and game young athletes have opportunities to soak in so many wonderful lessons and enjoy incredibly rewarding experiences.

But it’s up to volunteer coaches to make happen.   

“You hope in youth sports that we’re not just teaching them how to hit the ball better or how to run faster or how to make a tackle better,” Dungy says. “All that is important but there are so many other opportunities to teach them how to be better people and how to grow in life and to me that is the great opportunity for youth coaches.”


Dungy’s tireless efforts to impact the lives of others is beyond impressive. His charity work includes his Dungy Family Foundation along with numerous other organizations doing outstanding work.  

And now he and his wife Lauren have taken on a new project – authors of children’s books.

While he was coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Lauren and several wives of assistant coaches and players on the team would read books to elementary school students in the community.

“After awhile my wife said the one problem they were having was finding books to read to these inner-city kids that had some diversity in it so the kids could see people that looked like them,” Dungy said. “They wanted to read kids stories that were not only fun but that had a message they could talk to the kids about.”

After Dungy retired from coaching his wife suggested that they should write some children’s books – so they did. The Team Dungy series kicked off with Austin Plays Fair and Maria Finds Courage, the first two of eight planned books.

The series showcases the Dungys’ love for children and highlights their desire to make a difference in the lives of young readers. Comprised of picture books for children first through third grade, the stories teach important lessons about character and integrity. In addition, the themes of competitiveness, patience, sportsmanship and courage are also explored.

“It has been a great project for the two of us to get together on,” says Dungy, who goes out to schools with his wife to read to children and promote reading and literacy. “It’s neat to see how they take it in and to have a dialogue back and forth with them and see if they are picking up on the lessons that we hope.”

Tony Dungy Coaching Fun

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