Moms tackle football coaching
By Pauline M. Millard
NEW YORK -- Margaret von Heyn is a busy mom in Somers, N.Y. She has three athletic teenage sons, works in the technology industry and is active in her community.
And for almost a month this summer, she also was a football coach.
Von Heyn was one of 16 mothers in her suburban town north of New York City that took part in a new program organized by the National Football League that put mothers at the helm of their sons' football clinics.
Somers was picked because it seemed like a typical "soccer-mom" town, the kind of place where the only involvement mothers had with their sons' recreation was dropping them off and picking them up, says Scott Lancaster, the senior director of NFL Youth Football.
At the clinic, the roles were reversed: Dads sat on lawn chairs watching the games as the women coached.
"At first we were wondering if they (the dads) were there to watch the kids or to watch us, the coaches," von Heyn says. "But whatever feedback we got from them it was always positive. They were amazed we knew so much."
Lancaster, who wrote "Fair Play: Making Organized Sports a Great Experience for Your Kids," says the point of the program is to expose mothers to coaching tackle football and to let kids see a different coaching style.
"I think that moms are one of the largest missing resources in coaching," he says. "Their approach is very inclusive."
He feels that teaching kids to master many of the fundamentals of football, such as passing and blocking, is being lost in traditional settings because so much emphasis is put on winning. He felt that women, with their eye for detail, would be perfect to teach these types of skills.
Lancaster says many of the women had experience in other sports, such as field hockey or volleyball, and they all wanted to continue to be involved in athletics.
Sharon Weiner, a stay-at-home mom, had taught tennis before but didn't know what to expect from a team of a dozen 12- to 14-year-olds boys.
"I think the hardest part was trying to convey to them the skills we wanted to teach them," she says. "And keep them enthusiastic."
Weiner says that the kids were unfazed by the fact that their coaches were women instead of men. She says that their desire to learn and play trumped any issues over who their coach was.
Weiner has always been a football fan -- and she looks forward to Sundays and Monday nights in the fall. She says her father and brother loved the game and she spent 10 years living in Miami, a city full of Dolphins fans. She also just got back from visiting the New York Jets training camp.
"My husband always tells me I would have been a jock's dream," she says. "He's not into the sports as much as I am. I think he's happy when football season is over."
Long before she started coaching, football was a common topic of dinner conversation between Weiner and her two sons.
"I have a close bond with my sons because I understand their sports," she says. "I think they are proud of what I've done."
Mothers might make football more approachable to boys getting into the game as older children. There was very little yelling and their approach was non-confrontational, according to Lancaster.
"I had some players who had never played before," Weiner says. "But football is the kind of game where if you practice enough you can become a great player and that can really boost the confidence of a kid."