Visions of an Orchestra in Coaching Football

By Zachary Clarke

FullSizeRenderAt 16, I was the youngest coach in a tiny room with loud, overly competitive men fighting to grab the best players for their teams. The prospects were 11 and 12 year old boys in a flag football league. Welcome to my Community Service requirement.


Judging from the intense demeanor of the other coaches, I thought I was actually entering the NFL draft. They were all over 40 and most had a son in the league. I was a high school sophomore barely older than my players.


After the first day of tryouts, I checked my list to see who I was going to pick. I looked at the 40 yard dash times, Shuttle times, passes catched, and other football drills that were recorded during tryouts. The competition was tight and the other coaches were taking it maybe a little too seriously.


Nico was the player that caught the other coaches eyes. His speed and agility was unmatched by the other players and I was thrilled that he was my first choice.


Near the end of the Draft, after all the most athletic players were picked, I started to look for the sleeper pick–the hidden gem that everyone missed. On my sheet, I spotted Aden, a player who was taller than most of the other 11-12 year olds. Awkward, gangly, with wild curly hair, he was one of my last draft picks. He was very clumsy and barely able to catch a football, but I thought he might have potential.  Boy, was I right.

Beyond the draft, the experience turned the football field into a classroom.

“Nico, what are you doing?!” I yelled in the second game. My team was on defense and I told Nico to protect the middle. Unfortunately for me and the team, Nico decided to go after the quarterback.  Like a matador dancing around a bull, the opposing quarterback took one step to the side and Nico, running full speed, missed his flag and ran past him.

By the end of the season, I accepted that some players like Nico, despite their talent, were headaches.  Others like Aden were ripe to become talented players, like I was primed to become a strong saxophone player when I was Aden’s age. I have been playing saxophone since Seventh grade. Initially, I had tremendous trouble reading sheet music. My teacher, Mr. Udden, worked with me diligently. He appreciated my strengths and diligently worked with me in my areas of weakness.

“That’s not the right rhythm; play it again slower and take it one note at a time,” he would say. It was a very time consuming process. As a coach, I exhibited similar patience with Aden. I constantly encouraged him to channel his aggression into becoming a strong defensive player. Aden’s long arms could reach out and knock balls right out of the air. His physique and shy personality were deceptive. I saw that Aden, with encouragement,  became a stronger player just as I became a stronger musician.

Today I read music without struggling.

Coaching enlightened me to the responsibilities leadership: to bring out the best in my team. Through coaching,  I also learned to see talent beyond the surface. Aden and I both had major weaknesses, however, since our teachers found our strengths, we succeeded.  I gained new insights into what a coach or musical conductor needs from a member of the team or orchestra turning me into a new musician and athlete. Baseball is actually my favorite sport. Who would have thought I would become a better pitcher through coaching football?


Near the end of the season, Aden saved the day. In the 4th quarter we led by a touchdown. The opposing team was on their last down. Aden, doing what he does best, hopped up and slapped the ball to the ground. He flashed a winning smile as his teammates dogpiled him after that game-winning play.


Zachary Clarke, a graduate of the Packer Collegiate Institute, is a freshman at Morehouse College.