High school coaches learn how to help their team "Play Like a Champion"

School coaches are usually the ones in front of the room instructing and guiding their teams. But, coaches from coast to coast became students at a special conference in South Bend.

The Play Like A Champion Today event got coaches talking about tough issues they face with their kids.

The action on the field is only half of what Jay Johnson keeps an eye on as football coach at Washington High School.

"Football is about more than x's and o's," Johnson said. "It has to be about impacting their life."

Somewhere between the team huddles and long practices, the kids turn into men.

Along the way, though, they are faced with challenges. Some of these challenges were not even around when the coaches were growing up - others have a long history.

The Play Like A Champion Today conference gave coaches a forum in which to tackle those topics.

Questions about racism, technology and even sexual assault were brought up to a panel of high school and college coaches.

Different sports with the same concerns in an age where a player's thoughts can become public knowledge in an instant.

"In every opportunity that we get we stress the life moments and life lessons because those are the things that will help get them through situations," Johnson said.

The attendants at a Friday night workshop reviewed scenarios that teams have faced in the past - rape allegations, drinking and social media.

Trouble on a high school sports team is something that the public has witnessed in Michiana after Mishawaka High School wrestlers were involved in assaulting a teammate.

"Make sure they are educated and aware of the situation and consequences that could follow," Johnson said. "Adult situations have adult consequences."

Many of these coaches do more than draw out plays. They create a team culture of family.

"They are occupied with positive things so they do not have time for the bad stuff," said Savino Rivera, John Adams Cross Country and Track coach.

River pairs his athletes up in a Big Brother, Big Sister fashion.

"It goes on through the season and transitions them from intermediate to high school," Rivera said. "The senior is going to mentor the freshman."

Plus, they have team dinners before meets.

"It gives me an opportunity to meet the parents and see where these kids are coming from," he said.

It is an approach that Rivera said made a world of difference for him when he was growing up.

"When I was growing up not having a father figure, the men in my life were my cross country and track coaches that were always there for me telling what to do and what not to do," River said. "They were building my character at the time. I didn't know it, but I see it now."

The Play Like A Champion Today program is having workshops at both Adams and Washington in the coming weeks. If you are interested in bringing the program to your school, just contact the director. Lynn Kachmarik can be reached at 574-631-3774.

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