Coaching school sports is not just about the plays, the practices and the wins. It’s also about really listening to and getting to know your student athletes.
Mike Stine leads by that example as head football coach at Naperville Central High School. As part of the public interview process within the football program, players are organized in small groups with their position coaches for honest, confidential discussions. The coaches and players discuss five questions about family relationships and any problems or good things happening in their lives.
“When you give the players the platform to answer those five questions, you can truly find out where they’re at in their lives right now. And the things that they will share with you when you can find out? I shake my head (because) I’m yelling at this kid because he’s not running fast enough, and he’s got this going on at home with mom and dad.
“If we don’t know what they’re carrying with them, we can’t help them. So I encourage every coach to get away from the X’s and the O’s. They’re way overrated. We’ve won a few football games at Naperville Central, but I’m most proud of how we’re able to affect the young men’s and women’s lives in our school’s program.”
Stine shared that advice on Oct. 8 as emcee of “Game On,” a sold-out event for area coaches, athletic directors and school counselors about the importance of addressing behavioral health issues with student athletes.
Rosecrance sponsored “Game On” at Maggiano’s Little Italy in Schaumburg. More than 100 people attended the presentation, which was opened by former NBA player Chris Herren.
Herren, fresh from his appearance at Rosecrance’s Chicago benefit the day before, delivered a powerful speech about his success in the sports world and how that success was overshadowed by his addiction. Herren realized his dream of playing basketball for the Boston Celtics but struggled with substance abuse for more than a decade. He’s been sober for seven years and now travels the country speaking to schools and communities about his experiences.
Herren emphasized the importance of communicating with children and teenagers and giving them safe places to express their thoughts and emotions. He said he wished someone would have asked him as a teenager why he was drinking and abusing drugs on the weekends and why being a successful, popular basketball player wasn’t enough to make him happy.
“I would have said, ‘I like going down in people’s basements and forgetting where I came from. I like drinking way out in the woods so I don’t have to remember what I’m going through. You think I like the taste of alcohol and drugs? I just like how it makes me forget,’” Herren said.
“I wish somebody had told me, ‘Be a pro at being you, Chris. Be a pro at being you before you play in the NBA. Because if you can’t love yourself, if you can’t be yourself, your dream doesn’t come true.”
Herren fielded questions from audience members about advice for working with students and their families. The event also featured presentations by Marc Anderson, a licensed clinical social worker and coach who runs Mental Performance Sports, and Dr. Thomas Wright, Rosecrance’s chief medical officer.
Rosecrance partnered with school athletic directors, high school coaches and social workers because behavioral health issues among student athletes are sometimes overlooked with the teens being such high-achievers, said Janis Waddell, senior vice president of marketing. Rosecrance has worked with several suburban Chicago school districts for similar presentations in the past.