retired from coaching in 2012 after 36 years on the sideline coaching
high school football, and in 2017, I retired from teaching. In order
to stay busy, I decided to do some substitute teaching and agreed to
join the varsity coaching staff at a local high school.
my time away from football, I saw many changes in the high school
game. Some of these changes came in the form of administrative
directives and legislative mandates that were enacted in response to
growing safety concerns related to on-field concussions.
changes were accompanied by a decrease in the number of students
participating in football. This drop in participation has resulted in
the disappearance of many freshman teams in our area, and it has also
contributed to smaller roster sizes on the varsity and junior varsity
this time, I also started to see a drop in student attendance at
varsity games and a concomitant decrease in general student
enthusiasm. Although some of this can be attributed to concussion
concerns, it has become obvious to me that there are other factors
contributing to this transformation in high school football.
it is important to mention that these changes are more pronounced in
certain areas of the country than they are in others. Many programs
have high participation rates and continue to field teams on all
levels, but if high school football is going to continue to flourish
on a national level it is important that educators and coaches
nationwide make a joint effort to address these changes.
drop in student attendance is not just a concern for high schools. It
is also a concern that has surfaced at the collegiate level. For the
last few years there has been a growing national trend in decreased
student attendance at football games, and in recent seasons, Alabama
coach Nick Saban has commented about declines in student attendance
and a general lack of student enthusiasm at home games.
changes in high school football are driven in part by a
multigenerational group dynamic that requires an understanding of the
characteristics associated with Generation Z (also known as the
"iGeneration"). Although there are no standard definitions
for when a generation begins and ends, this group encompasses a time
period that spans about 17 years. The oldest members would now be in
their early 20s.
of the important events that impacted their lives included the Great
Recession, home foreclosures, the student loan crisis, different wars
and school shootings. They don’t remember a time before social
media, and most things occur online. They are both tech-savvy and
observations in the classroom are that they want to make a difference
in the world, and are generally very open-minded, respectful and
tolerant of others. They are also highly educated, but this
characteristic has come at a price.
after the onset of the 21st century, I started to notice a few visible
changes in student behavior both on and off the field. Students
appeared to be more stressed by anything that was medical related.
occurrence that became more noticeable to me was that some of my
players were starting to cry when they suffered an injury on the
field. Even a common injury like a sprained ankle would sometimes
elicit this emotional response.
time, I started to see more professional athletes also crying when
they suffered on the field injuries. An additional change that has
become a national concern for educators is the sharp increase in the
percentage of teenagers who suffer from depression, anxiety and other
mental health issues.
coaches and educators, we need to be aware of the possible causes for
this change in our student-athletes’ behavioral profile, and we need
to explore ways to better address their needs. Research indicates that
more than half of all mental illnesses appear between the ages of 14
also know that the brain’s ability to adapt to change is really
remarkable, and this continues even through the ages of 25 and 30.
Coaches and educators must appreciate the fact that adolescence is an
ideal time to identify opportunities for making positive changes.
Schools should continue to work with healthcare professionals to
formulate intervention plans that will positively impact behavior
changes and learning.
growing concern is the youth suicide rate. Since 1980, suicide rates
have increased nearly 130 percent in youth 10 to 14 years old, and, on
average, over 5,000 middle and high school-aged youth attempt to die
by suicide every day.
daily contact with students places us in a position to immediately
take action when warning signs associated with suicide surface.
Research indicates that nearly 80 percent of people who die by suicide
gave some warning signs of their intentions.
of the changes that often goes unmentioned in educator training
courses is the transformation in traditional families in our country
today. Statistics indicate that only about 46 percent of children are
now living in households with two parents in their first marriage, but
I have seen statistics that cite an even lower percentage.
are many single moms and dads who do a tremendous job raising their
children. There are also many grandparents, older siblings, and
relatives who likewise provide adequate parenting for many children,
but the fact remains that there is a big parenting void that exists in
our country today.
void is often filled through internet access and social media.
Unfortunately, much of what we find in this domain can negatively
impact adolescent mental health, and often hinders the development of
our students’ emotional and moral intelligence.
fact, coupled with the increase in social isolation and the increase
in teenage mental disorders, has played a major role in what we are
now experiencing with our youth today. As such, we shouldn’t
discount the important role that teachers and coaches play in this
context. Educators now fill this parenting void in much larger
percentages than ever before.
I hear people comment that athletics is not an important part of
education or call for the curtailment or elimination of certain sports
for financial or "safety" reasons, I simply ask the
question, "To whom are these kids going to turn to for
who are part of a traditional family will continue to rely on both
parents, but those who aren’t as fortunate will be pushed into a
higher risk category of children who are relying on the internet and
social media for parental guidance. Increased social isolation must
also be factored into this dynamic.
Jean Twenge at San Diego State University has done some pioneering
research into smartphone use by the iGeneration and writes in The
Atlantic that "It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as
being on the brink of the worst mental crisis in decades." She
notes that this generation of children spends more time on their
phone, in their room, alone and often distressed.
was recently speaking to one of my former players who is now an
assistant football coach at a Power Five conference school, and he
told me that in his 30 years of coaching he has never had an easier
time supervising his players. He said his players were very easy to
coach, worked hard on the field and did everything asked of them in
the weight room and in meetings.
added that once they left the training complex, they generally stayed
in their rooms and weren’t socializing as much as prior generations.
My brother was a California parole officer for many years, and he made
an interesting comment to me.
asked him why statistics are showing that there is less juvenile crime
now than there was in prior years. Statistics from 2017 show that law
enforcement agencies made 59% fewer juvenile arrests than they did in
2008. He pointed out to me that kids are not hanging around as much in
public places like they did in the past. I decided to visit places in
the neighborhood where we grew up, and he was absolutely right.
students that are coming through our school doors today have distinct
learning styles, and many of them are not as interested in things that
prior generations enjoyed. After the Super Bowl was played this year,
I substituted at a local high school, and their teacher left an
assignment that instructed the students to write a Spanish language
commentary on the game.
polled the students in two classes, and out of 51 total students, only
12 watched the Super Bowl. These results surprised me, and I went on
to ask how many of them attended their school’s varsity football
games. Only four said they went to a game.
results call for a further investigation into the multi-generational
setting that we now work and coach in. As a teacher I have come to
realize that about two-thirds of the students that I now come in
contact with are visual or kinesthetic learners.
days of standing in front of a room and lecturing for 50 minutes are
part of the distant past. Coaching is no different. I was recently
speaking with a local reporter who asked me why I thought a veteran
offensive coordinator had been fired by an NFL team in midseason last
told the reporter that his dismissal might have been related to his
teaching style. This coach is very knowledgeable, and I knew his
mastery of the X’s and O’s was not a problem. The reporter told me
that this was interesting because the new coordinator, who was
younger, immediately decreased classroom meeting time in order to
spend more time instructing the players on the field.
this multigenerational educational and coaching setting, one must
remember that all generations bring something that is of value to the
classroom and the field. The Traditionalist Generation brought
decisive leadership, loyalty, dedication and commitment to the
workplace. These are characteristics that will always be important.
baby boomers have a strong work ethic and bring mentorship to the
workplace. They look for respect and work hard to secure it.
Generation X is independent, innovative and are risk-takers. They are
goal oriented, think outside the box and want to manage their own
time. Millennials are confident, upbeat, full of self-esteem and
willing to accept change. They are also very tolerant towards
multiculturalism and internationalism.
educators and coaches, we need to provide psychological classroom and
workplace safety for all the individuals we work with. We must
communicate clear expectations regarding the work to be performed, and
we also need to examine and promote the team’s organizational
strategy. Creating and maintaining an inclusive learning environment
is also important.
we need to look for ways to encourage the iGeneration to become
involved in more group activities, and this includes football.
E-sports are here to stay, and school teams and leagues are being
the use of video games for physical activity, is one of many emerging
innovative disciplines that are making their way into the 21st century
classroom. High school coaches and athletic administrators should
discover ways to tap this talent pool.
we should look for multisport student-athletes who will compete in
e-sport competitions on Thursday, and on Friday night take the field
against these same opponents in the traditional football game.
need follow the lead of our Generation X colleagues and start thinking
outside the box. The athletic and coaching landscape in our schools is
rapidly changing-not only in how we work, but also with whom we work.
Chris Morris, a CNBC writer specializing in video games and consumer
electronics, once said: "It is sometimes easy to forget that the
king of the hill isn’t a permanent position, and companies that seem
invincible might not be around forever in their current form — or,
in some cases, in any form."
reminds us that icons fall, and this could happen to high school
football if we fail to heed the warning signs.