Lakewood High School defensive coordinator Rodney Peebles is well aware of the different socioeconomic backgrounds of his players. He estimates that roughly half of his athletes don't have a father figure at home. As a 2-sport coach and a strength …
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Lakewood High School defensive coordinator Rodney Peebles is well aware of the different socioeconomic backgrounds of his players. He estimates that roughly half of his athletes don't have a father figure at home. As a 2-sport coach and a strength and conditioning coach, he's around his players a lot and is happy to fill that role for those who need it.
"Our young men are with us, especially 3- and 4-sport athletes, are with us more than they're actually even at home," said Peebles. "I think it's important to grasp them as youth and definitely see them mature from boys into young men. That's something that I pride myself on, definitely. Not only building a great athlete, but teaching these guys how to become great young men."
Peebles said the key to building relationships with his players is understanding from where they come. That allows him to learn how he needs to care for each athlete and build trust.
"A majority of our kids now, what we have to understand is that they come from broken homes, they come from a hard life and the biggest thing you have to build with them is trust," said Peebles. "I think that's huge in getting athletes to play hard for you, but not only that, also show them you care. Once they know you care about them and care about their well-being and knowing what they're doing in sports and outside of sports, I work very hard on that aspect.
"I try to teach and take care of kids in a fashion that I want someone to take care of my son, as being a coach and a father figure and a role model," continued the Lakewood coordinator. "It's huge when it comes to coaching."
Once Peebles has that understanding, he tries to help kids however he can. That may be as simple as keeping snacks in his office or knowing which kids he needs to check in on.
"We do little things for them, we show them that we care about them spending a lot of time away from their home and away from family," said Peebles. "I feed them, I keep food in my office. That probably won't be the best thing during COVID-19 (pandemic) and the things going on around us now, but doing those little things to show them you care. Call them and check on them, asking them how their home life is and having an open door.
"My office is always open, especially when kids have issues and want to talk. I'll be the first one to let them know that everyone is going to go through problems. Coaches go through problems. They're going through things in life, but it's how you respond."
Lakewood has kids of every economic background and that's something that Peebles has to consider when it comes to coaching. He realized that sometimes its not as simple as a player skipping practice or being in a bad mood.
"One thing I had to understand is that our kids come from a lot of different economical backgrounds, and they may be acting out today because maybe he didn't have dinner last night or maybe his parents haven't been at home in a couple of days, and he's there to basically raise his siblings," said Peebles. "We run into that a lot. Kids miss practice because they have to babysit and things like that. That really crystalized my thinking and my approach to how I handle the kids."
The racial background of Lakewood's players is also important. Lakewood has a lot of black athletes, which leads to a lot of important discussions in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Peebles thinks those are important discussions to have, but he doesn't want his kids to draw a line between the different races on the team.
"We have to know and understand and what we have to teach our kids that there's a lot of stuff going on around us. I read the book by (former Ohio State head coach) Urban Meyer. It's called "Above the Line." E+R=O. You're going to have events going on around you. How well you respond is going to have a direct impact on your outcome," said Peebles. "You don't see color, you see people. That's one thing that I love about being able to coach kids from many demographics, but also being able to work in different areas.
"I've lived in Tennessee, I've lived in Michigan, I've lived in Florida. The biggest thing you have to teach kids is you don't see color, you see genuinely good people and that's what it's all about. You treat them all the same, you keep them on a level playing field and that makes them feel respected and in turn you teach the kid to respect people.
"That's one thing I think we're losing, I would say, in our environment today," continued the Lakewood defensive coordinator. "With the Black Lives Matter movement, every life matters, but we have to know and understand that if you're black right now, you might be susceptible to certain things that kids of other races might not be susceptible to. It's about knowing how to handle yourself, knowing how to be respectful, be a good citizen and that in turn will keep you out of a lot of things. We just have to teach the kids that we love them and love them hard and hopefully they pick up those traits so they love everybody."
It's difficult to have those teachable moments right now for Lakewood, because the Gators have been kept off the practice field by the coronavirus pandemic. Peebles and the Lakewood coaching staff have done as much as they can to keep up with their players, but that's a little tougher when they can't get together as a team.
"It's definitely affected us heavily. I would say No. 1 is there's a lot more conference calls going on, a lot more group texts going on from coaches and players," said Peebles. "It's been very tough, but what that's allowed us to do is we use social media very heavily, we use our group texting very heavily. It's really made us work in a different form. Without meeting, it's made us really get a hold on calling and checking in on each other more."
The Gators don't know when they'll be able to take the field together again, but Peebles is looking forward to seeing his kids soon.
"It's just going to be a great feeling just to get back into the midst of the kids, even though we have to social distance," said Peebles. "It makes you gain a different love for the game, because a lot of us haven't had this much time in between not only dealing with the kids, but with football period. Football allows us to display those fatherly figure traits, so to speak. So when we get ready to take the kids back, even though it's going to be with a lot of different parameters and a lot of different rules and things like that, it's just going to be big for us period to get them back in the same place."
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