Lives off the field can influence play on it

info@islandpacket.comNovember 4, 2012 

I just finished writing a feature column about a high school football player who last weekend celebrated his 1,000th rushing yard for the season and holds the school record for career yards.

He also has a learning disability.

Writing the article reminded me that we, as coaches and parents, often forget that the children we coach or watch from the bleachers might have "bigger" issues off the field that can negatively affect their performance on it.

This running back, a senior with aspirations of playing in college, has struggled with reading his entire life. But he isn't hiding it. Instead, like the would-be tacklers he so often dodges or runs through, he is facing the disability head on.

Too often we assume that a child who is an exceptional or even average athlete on the field can't possibly have academic problems or social issues off it.

I learned this lesson the hard way while coaching a baseball game, when, after several unsuccessful attempts to get a player to hustle out to his new position at the end of an inning, I unfairly yelled at him.

I found out later the player has attention deficit disorder, which in his case made it difficult to follow directions. His indecisiveness to take the field wasn't due to laziness, but rather because he was trying to analyze the instructions given to him. Today, he's one of the top 10 players in the country at his position.

I was reminded that day of my old rule of thumb when coaching teams: Always ask the parents at the beginning of the season if there are any "issues" their child has that the coaches should know about.

The issue might be minor like a reading disability or ADD; or it could be something major like a child watching her parents get arrested for dealing drugs (true story learned during my teaching days) or being stuck in the middle of a divorce.

As a coach I've dealt with all of the above, plus a child who was deaf, one with Down syndrome, more than one with some form of autism, and one who had a restraining order against his father.

And as spectators, we must remember the next time a player isn't hustling as much as we think he should be, maybe it's because his parents just announced before the game that they are getting divorced.

We never know the negative circumstances our players face off the field, but if we take the time to find out, as coaches it helps us make sure their experiences on the field are positive ones.

Contact Jon Buzby at and follow him @JonBuzby on Twitter.

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