Moms Coaching Football
Thanks to an innovative program created and offered by the National Football League (NFL), a group of eager moms tackled the task of coaching 12- to 14-year-olds in the game of football. Taking on the role of youth football coaches, these moms from Somers, N.Y. learned the basics of the sport through classroom sessions and on-field training.
Scott Lancaster, the senior director of the Youth Football Programs for the NFL is the mastermind behind the Junior Player Development Program (JPD), which initially began as a quest to get more children involved in sports. The JPD program is designed to teach children life skills, such as responsibility, goal setting and self-control. His ultimate goal was to give the game back to the kids, disposing of all the negatives and making the game fun again.
On and Off the Field
Lancaster, who lives in Somers, N.Y., enlisted about 16 moms from his town. These moms received 60 hours of training, both on and off the field. Lancaster believes that by converting soccer moms into football moms, these women will teach the game in a way that will foster a lasting love of the game and instill values of sportsmanship and fair play.
"Moms are one of the greatest missing resources in coaching," says Lancaster. "Their approach is very nurturing, very inclusive, but the most important thing is that they listen. They are much more aware of what the kids need in order to make for a better learning experience."
It is Lancaster's feeling that so much emphasis is being put on winning the game that there is a loss of the basic fundamentals of football.
Janet Walker, another resident of Somers, took on the role of site manager. "Scott felt that women needed to get involved in football for several reasons," she says. "Mothers are often the ones who tell their sons that they can't play due to the fear factor, so they need more education – and to get women more involved in the whole football culture."
The town of Somers was chosen as an experimental site for the program, a spin off of the JPD program. "Jerry Horowitz, our coach, lived in the next town and couldn't have been a better guy for the job," says Walker. "Jerry was an ever-patient, compassionate and understanding coach to put up with us."
A total of 35 children signed up for the three-week camp. In that short time period, Walker says she reveled in the transformation of both the moms and the kids. "You could just feel the confidence level rise in the camp," she says. "As for the kids, I do think we made a difference. Some of them even decided to play football this fall because of the camp."
Walker says that some of the children seemed to be less intimidated by the mothers coaching them and that the moms were certainly more attuned to the underdog.
"A few of my children have played sports, and I know how good coaching makes a difference, especially when coaches make the kids feel good about themselves," says Sharon Weiner, a football mom from Somers, N.Y. "When I heard that the NFL was looking for moms to coach, I thought it would be great for the town of Somers, and I volunteered."
Weiner and the other mothers met for training regularly to learn the skills that they would be teaching the children. Having taught tennis in the past, she was unsure of what to expect from a team of a dozen boys between the ages of 12 and 14. She was also uncertain as to how the children would react to having women coaching their football team. "Once we got past the first few days, we all felt more comfortable," she says.
"We met two hours per week," says Walker. "Some of the mothers needed the real basics before we could even begin the process of learning the skills that we would have to teach."
As the weeks progressed, so did the mom coaches, and slowly they became a cohesive group ready to teach the eager boys how to play the game of football.
The First Quarter
"We started out with about 25 women," says Dina McGowan of Somers, N.Y. "Due to busy schedules and a large commitment [no vacationing during three weeks of summer vacation], many moms were forced to drop out. The summer commitment was huge since the camp ran from July 15 – August 1. We usually got to the field around 4 p.m. to set up, and we finished cleaning up around 8 p.m. We all had great support from our families."
The camp was set up with two coaches per team. With a total of six teams – three Giants and three Jets – they were divided into light, middle and heavy weights.
"This makes things equal amongst the kids," says McGowan. "I coached the Jets 'heavyweights' – the older kids." Before camp, the women would run a few drills that they had learned the previous day to ensure they were fully prepared.
Walker's job was to organize each day right down to the minute, as well as act as a liaison for the NFL. She remembers how good it felt to look out and see the dads on the sideline for a change.
"I think the kids and their dads were surprised that we held our own," says McGowan. "It was fun to show them that we really were prepared, and by using correct technique and skills, anyone really can become a 'winner.'"
Weiner says she was surprised at the overall reaction of both parents and kids. It was entirely a positive experience that she recommends to all mothers. It allowed her a unique opportunity to bond with her boys.
"I would encourage moms to volunteer to coach if this program comes to their town," says Weiner. "It is a very organized program and very rewarding. Though I always understood the game of football, I learned so much more and now appreciate what the players have to learn."
The program proved to be a huge success. "It was a dream come true for me," says Walker. "I've always had a real passion for football, and ironically it was made possible by men in a male-dominated sport, who were willing to take a chance and think out of the box."