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    Friday, September 29, 2023

    How to cope? Just ask New London’s Bobby Sanchez

    The high school football sideline remains a layered, if not entertaining, societal reproduction, wrought with screaming, teaching, encouragement, profanity, impatience, humor and the omnipresent emotional pendulum.

    In more recent years, the sideline hasn’t merely revealed, but brought down the entire curtain, on a scourge plaguing kids today: the utter lack of coping skills. Adversity triggers inevitable finger pointing and blame assessment — it was somebody else's fault — or complete shutdown. It’s often accompanied by alarming levels of anger, thus preventing kids from absorbing the greatest lesson sports teach: resilience.

    Coaching has never been more delicate, mostly because it requires energy that transcends Xs and Os. It’s become about engaging kids where they are, not where the rest of the world thinks they ought to be. Kids today have difficulty handling failure with any hint of self-awareness. Part of it is because they're kids, who need to be taught. It's what we need to be teaching at home.

    We are failing.

    Rather than allowing adversity to be the teacher, we jump to our kids' defenses and enable them. It's not your fault, honey. It's somebody else's. And then when mistakes happen, the residual effects are scary. Maybe it's parental guilt: knowing you're not truly there enough for them that creates the enabling mechanism.

    But this is why sports are more important than ever in our schools. They offer impromptu college level courses on coping skills. Sports are often about frustration management. Many kids are ill-equipped at the beginning. But with good coaching — that means varying bouts of patience and tolerance — kids can learn that overcoming adversity becomes the greatest life skill of all.

    This is all prologue for a wonderful night I spent last week with the football players of New London High. The Whalers opened the season at Stratford in the head coaching debut of Bobby Sanchez, who was aware from the day he accepted the job that last season’s 2-8 record happened for many reasons, not the least of which was a group of kids whose trials with tribulation were troublesome.

    Sanchez and his coaches have done more than preach positivity. They’ve lived it. And while the Whalers’ 25-2 win suggests a relatively easy night, the truth hovers elsewhere. New London did plenty wrong in this game. But that’s what made it so right.

    When things went amiss … seldom was heard a discouraging word. New London’s coaches made it a point to remind their kids to flush what had just happened and focus on the next play. They are not just words to Sanchez. They are a mindset.

    “We won because of Coach Sanchez’s influence,” junior quarterback Jack Philistin said. “All week long, since the beginning of camp, he has preached that things would go wrong. It’s not going to be easy. But to hang in there with each other and do it together.”

    Sanchez credited assistant coach Lydell Pemberton, who not only calls the plays on offense but remains calmer than a lagoon, even in times of peril.

    “He’s the guy we look to,” Sanchez said. “He’s a rock. I’m not sure he has an idea what he means to us.”

    It’s clear the football kids at New London have a light for their way. This is not just football. These are necessary life lessons, taught through the emotions of a football sideline.

    It is especially important now as the rhythms of nature have changed a lot less over the years than the rhythms of nurture. Our jobs as parents are to accept who and what our children are. To be there, love them unconditionally and provide the tools they need to cope and problem solve. Not try to turn them into what we want them to be because it sounds good around the water cooler.

    Sanchez and his coaches have brilliantly met their kids in that precious place of exactly where they are. It’s why the program is in a good place. Sports beat all sometimes. And they sure do right now in the 06320.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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