Mrs. Head Coach

by Lori Warhop

Mrs. Head Coach

There is a multitude of challenges that women married to or dating someone in sports have to handle because the husband or boyfriend is never home.  Removing dead things in the yard?  There is no shovel long enough.  Broken pipes and no knowledge of where the valve is to turn off the water?  A 3 and 4 year old, puddle-stomping in the laundry room.   Having an opportunity to coach football in Texas because he wasn’t available?  Worth every minute.

When we lived in Dallas and my husband coached for the Dallas Cowboys, I coached my son’s football team.  Yes, I was the Head Football Coach for my son’s football team in the great state of Texas.

Wait. What? Let me clarify.

Our son wanted to play football.  We decided flag was fine, tackle was not.   Off we went to the YMCA to sign up.  We soon learned he might not have the opportunity to play because there was a coaching shortage.  My son looked at me and said, “Mom, you know football.  You could be my coach.”  I thought, “Why, yes I do.” and signed my name on the dotted line.  He was 6 and I was confident.

George couldn’t believe it. I asked him for help with plays, practice tips, etc. and he would only give me two pointers: (1) Teach them how to hike the ball because if they can’t do that, it doesn’t matter what follows; and (2) Make sure they have fun and love playing the game. "This one’s all yours,” he chuckled.

Our first practice consisted of a lot of intermittent running to stop the talkers, pokers, grass pickers, and pushers while I was “coaching them up” on the meaning of LOS and how to hike the ball.  The dads watched me like a hawk.  They stood in a side-by-side, arms-crossed stance along the sideline whispering like professional scouts.  By the end of practice, my team understood LOS, off-sides, and how to hike the ball.  Our offense was taking shape.  Our defensive scheme was under our belt as well.   Find the guy with the ball and pull his flag.  If someone is in your way, push by them and get to that flag. Lombardi’s spirit was with me.

As the fathers made a beeline toward me after practice, things took an interesting turn.

“Sounds like you know a little something about football and competition.  I’m sure you picked up a few tips watching football with your husband on Sundays.”  Well, at least you didn’t call me Little Lady, I thought to myself. 

“I was watching practice and you can’t put “X” at Running Back.  Your best bet is to put “X” here, “X” at Receiver and “X” at QB.  The faster you get these boys in their positions, the more games we will win.”  The worst thing to say to me.  Ever.

“I hope you don’t baby these boys.  This is football; This is a man’s game.”  Ah yes, good to know.  Deep breath, painful smile.

“Where is your playbook?”  I need a playbook at this age?

“What are your thoughts on plays and formations?”  Plays and formations?

“Can we take a look at what you have in mind?” Hmm, I'm not sure about that.

“When are you going to install the offense?”  Install the offense?  Seriously?

I quipped that I would watch the practice tape and get back to them tomorrow.

Welcome to Texas football.

Let’s be honest.  I was well aware I was operating at my highest level of competency.  I was fairly certain it was my debut and farewell season combined.   Given the tone after my first practice, my biggest challenge wasn’t going to be coaching football to 6-year-olds.  It would be managing the expectations of the football Dads.

That night, George and I reviewed my first practice.  “What should I do about the Dads?” I asked.  His response was, “Be firm with your rules and boundaries, look them straight in the eye and don’t waiver.”  Oh, and good luck with that.”      

Our second practice was the next day.  As they say in Texas it was time to “Come-to-Jesus.” I asked the parents for a brief meeting while the boys took a lap to warm up.  I said:

“I feel that some may be concerned about the fact that I am your son’s Football Coach.  I get it.  But I’m the one that volunteered so this is where we are and this is how I would like this to work.  If, after hearing this, you are unhappy with anything I’ve said you are free to find a new team for your son and I will respect that choice.

Here are my rules:

1. I don’t have a playbook and don’t plan on having one.  No plays.  No formations.  It will be old-school outdoor, fly by the seat of your pants, flag football.  Moms smile, Dads eyes roll

2. Every boy will get to play every position including QB, Running Back and Receiver and I don’t care if they aren’t very good at it.  Some Dads began twitching

3. I plan on mailing a notecard to your son after each game highlighting what he did well whether it was showing good sportsmanship or making a good play.  Please read it with him.  Mothers smile, Dads are thinking I’m making their boy soft

4. Before you visit the Complaint Department you must first stop by the Volunteer Department.  Only then will you have the opportunity to say something.  This isn’t strictly about winning games.  It’s about making sure the boys have the best experience playing football and it will be better for them if we all participate together.  Laser eye contact – A few more heads nod

5. There are only two types of coaches:  One rants and raves, making the game so awful and stressful you never want to play it again.  The other makes the game fun, teaches you something, allows you to test yourself and you don’t want it to end.  We have all experienced both types of coaching.  Your boys are here to learn a little football, learn good sportsmanship, and have a lot of fun.  Remember, they are 6 years old and I’m not sure how many of them can tie their own shoes.  Let’s keep this in perspective.”  Relaxed postures and a group laugh  

The boys were back, practice began, and every Dad stepped up.  A couple of Moms, too.  It was fantastic.  Our record was 4-2 that season.  We beat teams whose coaches had color-coded plays on clipboards and screamed out plays and instruction at confused little faces.  A couple of coaches had stomping hissy fits on the sideline when something went wrong.  All could clearly see the boys on those teams weren’t having any fun.

I had to rein the Dads back in just once.  We were 2-2 and one of them made the association of my last name with a coach for the Cowboys.

“Hey, that coach for the Cowboys, Warhop. Is he any relation to you?” he asked.

"Yes, that’s my husband.”  I replied. All the dad-eyes lit up.

 “Do you think he could . . . ?”  Shaking my head no, I cut him off with a smile.  “You are stuck with me,” I said.   

“It’s okay, another Father said.  My son is having a great time and I’m having a great time with him.”   

The same Dad tried again.  “But you know they have a bye next weekend, right?”  

Calling for my job in the middle of the season when I'm in my first year?  The boys and I made him take a lap for that one.   

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