"First time, long time" is a classic cliché of sports radio, it’s used for first time callers to a program who want everyone to know that they’re not some newbie. They are newbies, obviously, but they feel their listening makes them qualified to join the discussion.
That’s pretty much the way I felt about coaching high school football. I played football in high school, "played" being a pretty loose term. I never actually played much, but I had four years of fun and made friends that I consider some of my closest to this day. I may have told people my position was "left out," but I never forgot what I learned from those four years. Not only about the game, but the self-discipline to focus on success and the will to sustain the effort needed to attain it.
Remembering the values and memories of my time in high school and the two-a-days in the August sun, I got an insatiable itch to be around football again. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to play at whatever the next level is, my best bet was to search for a coaching position in the area.
Considering my history of participation in the game, I had some "first time, long time" hubris going into my search. Luckily, Coach Jim Tietjen in Whitefish Bay had an opening he thought would work perfectly for a first timer such as myself. After meeting with both Coach Tietjen and Whitefish Bay High School Athletic Director John Gustavson, I became the offensive and defensive line coach for the freshman Blue Dukes.
Excitement abound, I made plans for what I was going to do and how I was going to coach both lines considering I only had experience on the defensive line and the offense was not a system I was familiar with. Shortly after that excitement hit, I promptly forgot every drill I was ever put through. The first practice, I was able to get by on nerves and simple play installation. It was the second day in which I fell flat on my face.
I never want to sound like a "back in my day" kind of guy, but the game has changed a lot in four years. Practice is far more mental, as opposed to the overtly physical practices I was preparing for, and the conditioning is less than I had expected as well. Whether these changes make a difference in the quality of the product on the field, I’ve yet to see, but I’m almost certain they’re a product of the litigious society we’re in. Any injury inflicted, in a game or in practice, can lead to litigation. That fear has been the catalyst, combined with the very real concern about concussions, to change the nature of summer practices.
Another major issue we’re working through as coaches, is the uncertainty of which coaches are going to be available and when. My duties will be scaled back dramatically when I return to class on September 4, and we recently lost a coach to an increased work schedule, an understandable but unfortunate circumstance that leaves a shortage of coaches at our freshman level.
The realization set in that this was going to be far more work than I had anticipated. A trip home gave me a chance to talk with my former coach. It was a conversation that prepared me for what I would need to do to succeed. Sometimes coaches never stop preparing you, and Coach Scott Mallien is one of those coaches.
Since that first week, practice has gotten better, and so has the team as a whole. By now, we’ve got our starting lineups set, and we’re looking forward to our scrimmage on Thursday. Only then will we see what we’ve really got. No matter what, however, I’m having more fun and learning more about football than I ever have before.
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