Back in September, a high school football coach did something quite unusual. Matt Labrum and his coaching staff at Union High School actually suspended 41 of the varsity and junior varsity players for bad behavior ranging from skipping classes to bullying (this was all of the players on the team that were sophomores to seniors).
“We felt like everything was going in a direction that we didn’t want our young men going,” said Labrum, an alumnus of the program he’s coached for the past two years. “We felt like we needed to make a stand.”
So the coach and his staff gathered the team together after Friday night’s loss to Judge Memorial Catholic High School and told them he was concerned about some of the players’ actions and behavior off the field. He then instructed them all to turn in their jerseys and their equipment. There would be no football until they earned the privilege to play.
The coaches told them there would be a 7 a.m. meeting the next day where they would have an opportunity to re-earn a spot on the team. (For more on the story click here.)
In the letter the coaches passed out on Friday, they outlined the activities for the following week that would give them a chance to get back on the team, which included performing service projects instead of practice and attending a class on character and writing a report about it. 32 of the 41 did the required activities and got their jerseys back.
The support for the coaches’ efforts has been overwhelmingly positive. I applaud them as well.
I especially like their recognition that football is about something greater than winning.
“We looked at it as a chance to say, ‘Hey, we need to focus on some other things that are more important than winning a football game,” Labrum said.
The list of those other important things was quite impressive – humbleness, thankfulness, humility, respect, courage and honor. Building these qualities into young men is a different kind of winning, a greater, more lasting winning.
Sports are a great laboratory for building character. The question is what kind of character.
If more coaches adopted this coach’s attitude about winning, we would see a reversal of the trend in the last 30 years pointed to by researches such as Sharon Stoll of the University of Idaho for the direct relationship between the degradation of the moral character of an athlete and the length of time they play a sport.
This staff’s efforts show we can turn the tide. We can be involved in fixing this brokenness in sports.
Matt Labrum – may your tribe increase!