“Who is the President of (the University of) Alabama?,” asked Grassfield High assistant football coach Anthony Smith to a group of 30 or so in attendance at his character education seminar at last weekend’s Nike Coach of the Year clinic., held at the Dulles Westin in Herndon, VA.
As the room sat in silence, Smith presented another question. “OK, who is the football coach at Alabama?” This time, several attendees were quick to verbalize the answer. “Nick Saban.”
Smith’s point had been made. Coaches are powerful figures within their institutions of learning, and in many cases, better known than the people they work for.
From this baseline, the coach of 21 years explained the R.E.A.L. Man program. In its briefest version, the acronym stands for:
R: Respect all people.
E: Especially women.
A: Always do the right thing.
L: Live a life that matters.
Smith, who lived in public housing as a young man in Virginia Beach, played football for Joe Taylor as an athlete at Hampton University. He used Taylor as an example of a man dedicated to building character and culture throughout his program. Inspired by his mentor, Smith transitioned into coaching after his playing days were through, but found rough sailing as a young coach, particularly at his first school, Indian River.
“We lost four starters due to crimes,” said Smith, adding that of the 20 people he played ball with as a youngster, only he and one friend graduated from high school and only he went on to college. The retrospective memories showed the loss he endured. “We just lost them – one by one,” adding that drugs or street violence was usually the cause.
Statistics back up his life story. Smith noted that the number of children living without fathers has skyrocketed, from about eight million in 1960 to over 20 million today. Seventy-one percent of pregnant teenage girls live without a father, as do 85% of incarcerated youths.
But there is an answer, said Smith, looking around the room while pronouncing that “Coaches are father figures.”
Smith went on to tell the story of Frank DiCocco, a young man who seized his coaching job as an opportunity to develop athletes off the field. DiCocco died at the young age of 29, but through his book, he laid out the steps of character development, affectionately called “Frank’s Mission.”
So why teach character? As coaches, Smith said, “it is our job to do more than just win games,” encouraging them to use their positions of power to influence our student athletes and help them succeed in life.
The obstacles are real. “There are three downfalls of man,” said Smith – “Sex Drugs and Alcohol.” His next point grabbed the attention of the listeners. “If weed isn’t addictive, then why do some athletes lose their million dollar contracts, just for a 15-minute high?”
Smith, who has been involved with R.E.A.L. for eight years, also gave an explanation of the program, noting that each year, the H.O.P.E. Foundation offers its scholarship at a public ceremony.
“It’s all about mental toughness,” said Smith in a final message to his fellow coaches. “By mental toughness, I mean, having the ability to face adversity and failure with a positive attitude and enthusiasm.” For coaches, involvement with R.E.A.L. Men could offer a chance to become transformational. “It is the number one attribute for a coach.”