It is good to step away from the weightier issues of life for a while and contemplate absorbing issues of interest. In that light we are there — it is football season. The colorful language of sports is fascinating. The season is approaching when we can expect to hear:

“He’s got to get the monkey off his back.”

“We got into a hole we couldn’t dig ourselves out of.”

“They have to play with their ears pinned back.”

“He has a hot hand.”

“They’re forced to burn a timeout.”

“They are feeling each other out.”

“They have to pound it out on the ground.”

“They need to air it out more.”

“They should throw the game plan out the window.”

“They scratched and clawed their way back into the game.”

“They smothered their opponent.”

On a serious note, the American Football Coaches Foundation recently conducted a survey of NCAA football coaches as to what social issues they need help with as coaches. Four primary areas were identified.

The first area of concern is how to discipline today’s athletes. Often athletics is the only area of discipline in the life of some athletes. Even that beaks down off the field.

Many of today’s athletes lack a father figure. The coach becomes somewhat of a surrogate father figure.

All students, especially athletes, need to be taught respect for authority, manners and inter-personal skills. In general, discipline is needed in all areas of life, not just sports. Often property rights are unknown.

An expectation of entitlementsis the second factor. Athletes feel entitled to perks, pluses, and praise. Juveniles often ask, “Do we get a trophy for being on the team?”

In college, they feel entitled to special favors, recognition, and rewards. They rather expect boosters to covertly reward them. Just being able to participate isn’t gratification enough. This carries over in all of life for them. It is also a trait of non-athletes. Our government and society in general trains youth to expect entitlements.

The third area in which help is felt to be needed is how to help athletes deal with drugs. Ten years ago, this was the No. 1 need. It is still a major need. The lack of self-discipline complicates this issue. The positive results of drug use are thought to be worth the risk. The “positive” results are they develop muscle mass or they make you feel good. They fail to realize the negative consequences of drug use, which are many.

The fourth factor is abuse. Parents’ or guardians’ physical and /or verbal abuse is extensive. I worked with a group of college students from another state this summer at a time they felt freedom to be transparent. It was a catharsis for many. The percentage of them having suffered abuse was astounding. Sexual abuse was prevalent. Relatives were often involved. All the victims spoke of feeling dirty, unworthy, devalued and inferior. We were able to work though some of the issues for some and help restore self-esteem by the grace of God.

Coaches deal daily with these issues. If parents dealt with them more constructively, coaches would not have to be surrogate parents.

The importance of coaches’ influence on high school students was described for me by my friend, the late coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Tom Landry. in this way: “Every day on the average high school campus there is a guy looked at by students as slightly less than divine, and they call him coach.”

Sports matter.

The Rev. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta.


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