Coaching for Healthy Manhood: Beyond the Game

Every man who is a coach is a man of influence. Picture a football team — high school age boys, all on one knee in a circle around a coach at the end of a game or practice. At that moment, he’s the most important person in their lives. He’s the center of their world. And for me, I imagine this scene and think, “What a wonderful time to talk about something other than football.”

Athletic coaches have an incredible platform to nurture, model, and normalize healthy, respectful manhood. They are men whom other men look up to. When they speak, we listen. Their influence could span thousands of boys over decades, which means each coach has the potential to nurture a critical mass of men who embrace respectful manhood.

Engaging with coaches has always been a cornerstone of our work at A Call to Men. Coaches who understand their role beyond the game, who see sports as a vehicle to develop young men of character, are vital to building healthy, respectful communities. One story that stands out to me is from David Williams, former athletic director at Vanderbilt. He once told me, “I had some great teachers, and I’m sad to say I can’t remember most of their names. But I could tell you the name of every coach I had since I was a little boy.” I know I can relate to that sentiment, and I think it speaks volumes about the lasting impact coaches can have.

Coach Ron Rivera once shared that his job is to develop young men of character. Yes, winning is important, but at the end of the day, it’s really about character development. Even in my own experience coaching youth sports, the relationships and the lasting influence we have on these young men go far beyond the win-loss record. They come back, they share their lives, they stay connected. Our investment in their development is huge.

For those coaches who want to start conversations around healthy relationships and healthy manhood but aren’t sure where to begin, the first piece of advice that I’d offer is that building trust is about more than just giving directives. This generation of young men needs explanation, communication, and vulnerability from their coaches. It’s about demonstrating that you’re in it with them, that you’re willing to give of yourself as well. It’s about collective transformational work, not just transactional expectations.

At A Call to Men, we focus on reaching the hearts of men. That journey from the head to the heart can be long and challenging, but it’s essential. Transparency, vulnerability, and humility are key in this work. This next generation of boys and young men is pushing us towards a more meaningful, relational approach, and that’s a direction we need to embrace.

If you’re a coach looking for community, advice, or a listening ear, we’d love to have you drop in to our monthly A Call to Coaches Huddle Ups – 30 minute virtual sessions with top coaches from around the country to share learnings, answer questions, and share space with other leaders who work with young folks. You can sign up to get updates and be part of the group right here. 

Let’s continue to leverage the powerful influence of coaches to shape the next generation of men—not just as athletes, but as respectful, healthy individuals who lead with character.

–Tony Porter