By Greg Bach
David Pollack – a three-time All-American at the University of Georgia, former NFL first round draft pick and volunteer youth coach – has a fantastic message for parents and coaches of young athletes.
“I have three things that I tell my kids,” says Pollack, a father of two and analyst on ESPN’s enormously popular College GameDay. “Did you have fun? Did you try your hardest? And I love you.”
Pollack, who terrorized quarterbacks during his playing days – he’s the Bulldogs’ all-time sacks leader – coaches youth baseball, basketball and football in Georgia.
And it drives him crazy when adults fail to grasp what sports are all about at these young ages.
“After the game I don’t get in the car – and this is a place where a lot of coaches and parents fail – and I don’t tell them what they did wrong,” Pollack says. “And you know what else I don’t do? I don’t get in the car and tell them ‘great job on that home run’ because it’s not about a home run. It’s not about a strikeout. It’s not about what they did great and it’s not about what they did poorly. Can you work on that stuff they need help on? Absolutely. But if you reward your child for home runs and stolen bases and touchdowns and all that stuff, that means that defines what is successful for your child. That’s not what’s successful for my kids. If he plays as hard as he can and if he has a heck of a lot of fun, that’s what’s successful for me.”
FOCUSING ON EVERY CHILD
Pollack has seen quality coaches who truly understand the responsibility that comes with overseeing a team and focusing on all the kids, as well as those volunteers who use the position for entirely selfish reasons.
“Youth sports drives me nuts because a lot of coaches seem to think that all these kids are going to the Major Leagues or their kids are going to the Major Leagues and it’s all about winning for them instead of being about the kids and playing time,” Pollack says. “I coached a youth football team with a bunch of coaches and I can’t be there on the weekends (due to ESPN commitments) and we had coaches that wouldn’t even play the kids the minimum playing time requirement and that’s a joke. That is unbelievably selfish and it’s self-centered around a coach just wanting their own kid to succeed. Youth sports to me is for everybody. And we have to make sure that we incorporate everybody. It’s not about who’s the best, it’s about getting them to love the game. It’s about helping them cultivate that passion. Coaches have a responsibility to the kids to be upbeat, to be positive, not be a yeller or screamer, and most importantly to pour into every single kid who is on the roster.”
COMBATTING CHILDHOOD OBESITY
Pollack and his wife Lindsey are passionate about health, nutrition and helping others, which led to the creation of the Pollack Family Foundation that is focused on raising awareness and fighting childhood obesity.
“I was a big kid and I vividly remember swimming with a shirt on because I had issues with how my body looked and it wasn’t a lot of fun,” Pollack recalls. “It strikes a chord with me because I dealt with it. Health and nutrition are big passions for me and my wife. We’ve always wanted to be in position to give back and do things for other people and there are a lot of things that we want to get accomplished.”
While Pollack was coaching youth football a couple of seasons ago there was a youngster on his team who was 20 to 30 pounds overweight and unable to finish any of the drills.
“We started talking to him just a little bit about nutrition and poured into him and loved him,” Pollack says. “And you know what happened the next year? He came back about 20 pounds lighter, he’s finishing every single drill and he told his mom he didn’t want sweets in the house anymore.”
All it took was a caring coach. One who focused on every child on the team, not just the most talented.
And it changed a life.
“It’s just as simple as taking time to pour into these kids, getting to know them, getting to know what makes them tick a little bit, but helping encourage them,” Pollack says. “It’s not about being a discourager, it’s not about perfection and it’s not about winning. It’s about helping these kids love the game.”
Now that’s a message to remember.