Veteran coaches from around the state discuss differences in coaching kids today, yesterday

Changes to practice guidelines, weight training and outside influences among challenges

A lot has changed in high school football during the decades. Marist’s Alan Chadwick notes there are more social-media opportunities and outside influences pulling at athletes. Brooks County coach Maurice Freeman raised similar influence concerns with personal weight trainers. Fellowship Christian’s Tim McFarlin said competing for the attention of his players is getting harder. Dublin’s Roger Holmes and Lincoln County’s Lee Chomskis have seen practice guidelines change dramatically and not always for the best, in their opinions. Jefferson County’s J.B. Arnold believes today’s parents are passing responsibilities onto the school instead of teaching discipline to their kids.

These coaches have a combined for 161 years of head coaching experience, totaling 1,923 games, a 1,400-518-5 record, 53 region titles and 11 state championships.

In their own words, here are the biggest differences in coaching today’s kids compared with earlier in their careers.

Alan Chadwick, Marist

38 seasons, 489 games (412-77), 20 region championships, three state titles

“I think biggest issue is all of the social media opportunities that they have at their fingertips, 24/7. It’s a challenge for us, trying to keep them grounded and in the present, and to focus on things that really, truly matter to them. Their ability to be exposed to so many different things, a lot of them not very positive, is a big concern and something we have to address on a regular basis. Kids today still want discipline, structure, leadership and consistency. It’s harder to get our message across to them now because of the outside forces they’re exposed to. We have to communicate with them much more heavily, on many more issues, on a regular basis. We have to assume there are outside forces working on them, and not always in a positive direction, and you have to overcome that.”

Roger Holmes, Dublin

32 seasons, 370 games (252-117-1), nine region championships, two state titles

“I think the biggest modifications that we’ve had to go through are the health standards that have changed in the game. There’s the WetBulb Global Temperature and other restrictions on contact throughout week. Those type things have created the biggest change. The school calendar has changed greatly. Teams used to be able to go off to a football camp and, for the team, that was always extremely beneficial. Now, schools start first week of August. If you have a two-a-day now, you can’t have but one practice the next day. In the old times, you practiced three times a day — four, if you wanted to count the morning run at 6. Two hours each in morning, in middle of day and at night. Now, if you try to do two-a-day, especially in South Georgia, and start the first one at 8 a.m. and get done at 10:30, you have to wait three hours to practice again. The concern there is the heat index, but the limited amount of work you can do in the preseason now has created a lot of changes. It hurts the installation time. With spread offense, the physicality of the game has changed, especially up front on offensive and defensive lines. For the kids themselves, the biggest issue is not going outside and playing the game of football the in backyard anymore. There’s a huge difference in understanding the game if you’re playing. Instead of the backyard, though, they’re playing on a computer. That doesn’t develop skills.”

Maurice Freeman, Brooks County

29 seasons, 348 games (239-109), five region championships, two state titles

“One of the biggest changes is, as coaches, you’re competing against personal trainers. They’re not talking to the kids as a team, and sometimes what they’re saying goes directly against what we’re trying to do as a team. That makes it extremely difficult. That wasn’t something that was happening 15 years ago. Now they’re all over the place. They’re changing the mindset of kids, too. ‘I want to play quarterback, or I’m not playing.’ Before, they’d play where you needed them. Now, they’ll leave. I don’t try to manage (the player-trainer relationship). You’re on my team or you’re not. Whatever you’re doing with the trainer, fine, but it’s not going to affect your time with me. If you’re missing (team) time with him, then you need to play with him on Friday.”

Tim McFarlin, Fellowship Christian

22 seasons, 268 games (208-58-2), 10 region championships, four state titles

“I started my coaching career at Roswell in 1981, and things have changed a lot. To me, there are two big differences. First, as coaches we have to work harder and harder to fight for our players’ attention. That’s multifaceted, but social media and these young people living in and on their phones has been a huge battle for us, because there’s so many things readily available to them. No. 2, we have these outside agencies fighting for the kids’ wallets. There are many trainers and other people available now. You have to be careful and help kids guard against who they’re working with. The difference is coaches aren’t asking for extra money, and we’re not making much anyway. A lot of these players and parents pending a ton of money on outside people who may not be helping. And that’s also what I mean by fighting for our players’ attention. When I first got into this, you worried about classroom achievements, sound academics, and discipline, but we weren’t battling for their time and attention like now. Another thing that could be good, but could also be a challenge, is the level of parent involvement with players we’re coaching now. What you hope is that the parents and coaches on same page, working toward the same goals and moving in same direction. So many times that’s not the case. A young man goes through a struggle, and rather than work through it he looks to go somewhere else. At end of day, I don’t know if that’s always in the best interest of the child. There are all these opportunities to stay the course, grow and develop. That’s what I got in this business for. Not just to teach a player, but a future husband and young man who will contribute to society.”

Lee Chomskis, Lincoln County

18 seasons, 195 games (122-73), two region championships

“The difficulty in me being in this thing 35 years are the changes in the game. The hitting restrictions in practice, the heat restrictions. Not being able to do two-a-days consecutively, which pretty much took away camp. I felt like that was a critical part of what we try to do. It builds unity. Camps are tough and adverse — three, four or five days away from home, practicing three times a day. You can’t do that now, and you can’t have full contact practices more than two days consecutively. But not going to camp is the biggest adjustment because we lost a big opportunity to develop toughness. Back then, you either had to sink or swim. It’s taken the kids here at Lincoln County a little time to build a work ethic in the weight room, but they’re doing it. Those Vidalia kids worked hard. (Chomskis’ previous coaching stop.) I saw that transition take place. Those other rules weren’t in place there, so we did things we’d done for years. Having an Oklahoma drill, and doing those kind of things on consistent basis. You can’t do that anymore because of limited contact. At high school, we’re trying to teach toughness, and a mentality to grind and fight through things, which is so important. But we’ve been hampered. I will say some of the rule changes have been good. Heat restrictions are one because we have to be careful and take care of young people. But I feel the toughness of the game has been more difficult to teach in probably the last eight years as the new rules have slowly been implemented.”

JB Arnold, Jefferson County

22 seasons, 254 games (167-84-3), seven region championships

Overall, throughout the state, when I think about what’s changed, I think about this cartoon I saw not too long ago. It had a set of parents, a child and a teacher. The older-generation parents were all over their child about grades. The newer generation’s parents are facing the teacher, all over them about, ‘Why are you making those grades?’ I think that the best way to describe the way people’s values and morals have changed. There’s no discipline being taught. I think today’s kids have too many opinions, and they’re voicing them more. ‘I don’t like this, I want to be moved here, etc.’ Back in the day, where I lived is where I played. Now, the child is talking to the parents and saying, ‘They’re not doing me right, let me switch schools.’”