Lessons For Life Earned Not Granted

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A coaching friend once said half jokingly and half truthful, "the best coaching job in the world would be at an orphanage."

What he meant is that well-meaning, but over-protective parents can make a coach's life miserable.

Most parents are supportive, but a few malcontents can create a hostile atmosphere that makes a coach's job almost impossible to do.

Parental concerns usually center on one child. Coaches must look out for the welfare of the entire team.

The friction created when parental concerns clash with coaching judgments has cost Payson High and many other schools around the country some very fine coaches.

Rather than exposing their families to the criticism, they simply step aside.

Last week, I had the opportunity to watch a fine man work with youths in an environment, the VisionQuest wagon train, where there can be no parental pressure or interference.

At the Payson Event Center where the wagon train camped for three days, I sat down with the wagon master -- Captain Neibors.

He reminded me of many of the good coaches I've come across in my career. He's a no-nonsense kind of man who doesn't shy away from the challenges of setting boundaries and limits for the youths in his charge.

He might best be described as stern and a man of Spartan-like discipline.

Former Longhorn wrestling coach Dennis Pirch would describe Neibors as "Old School."

VisionQuest, of course, is for troubled youth. But I wouldn't mind my grandson "Little Max" someday going on a wagon train with Captain Neibors.

The youths assigned to the wagon train I visited called me "Sir" and were always respectful, polite and courteous.

During the three months on the wagon train, Neibors will hold them responsible for personal hygiene, taking care of the animals, setting up and taking down camp and attending school.

He'll also set the standards for behavior, dress and language.

Because the teens were assigned to the program by judges, probation officers and sometimes parents, Captain Neibors can go about his job without worrying about parental interference.

From my observations, Neibors is firm, fair and has the teens' best interest in mind.

But that doesn't mean he's an enabler. He knows it is his job to teach the young people self-discipline, cooperation and help them find new directions in their troubled lives. He also hopes to develop teamwork and camaraderie in the groups he works with.

If the teens step out of line, it's his job to discipline them. I also don't think Captain Neibors spends much time worrying about how he can boost a youth's self-esteem. He knows self-esteem is not doled out in a counselor's office. Rather, it's earned. Neibors understands, if the teens complete the wagon train experience, they will have gained esteem.

Public school provides youth many opportunities to earn self worth -- academics, sports, band, drama, cheer squads and service organizations.

But, sometimes the efforts of those in charge, like coaches and teachers, are thwarted by misguided parents.

Sadly, I believe that Captain Neibors might suffer the wrath of some parents if he were a public school coach.

But it's men like him our children need to learn from.

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