Last week, I had an opportunity to speak with Bob Ladouceur and Terry Eidson, the coaches portrayed in the new movie, When the Game Stands Tall, starring Jim Caviezel and Laura Dern. It’s the story of an impressive high school football team that held twelve consecutive undefeated seasons, setting a national record winning streak of 151 consecutive wins. I spoke with the movie-inspiring coaches about faith, family, and football.
What advice could you share with parents of young children who want their kids to be involved in sports?
BL: Go ahead and get them involved in sports early, as they want to be involved, if they ask to, and then back off. Let them do what they can do. I think it’s a great learning experience no matter what happens, whether they’re doing well, or even if they can’t hack it. However, when parents get involved trying to micro-manage, it just turns into a mess. It doesn’t do the kids any good to have their parents fighting battles for them. They’re going to have to learn how to lose and be disappointed. That’s a part of life.
I love the way that this movie uses Bible passages to subtly illustrate, without being “preachy.” What role did/does your faith play in your coaching, and in your life?
BL: It’s infused in every part of your life if you call yourself a Christian. If you try your faith on like a shirt, take it on and off in different situations, that’s pretty lame, not being true to your faith.
TE: One of my favorite professors in seminary said, “Once you understand Scripture, there’s only one way you can act.” That’s always behind the curtain of everything I do.
One of the things that seemed to make your teams strong was the love the players had for each other. How did you encourage this attitude with your players and within your own family?
BL: Kids in middle/high school around the ages of 14-18 are searching for identity, a place to belong. They sometimes have a tendency to be narcissistic or myopic about it: What’s in it for me? What am I getting out of it? We tried to teach the kids that having that attitude is not how you make connections, not how you improve yourself as a human. It’s about understanding the other person, reaching out to other people and showing real concern and empathy for them. This comes in teachable moments, in listening to your kids and the way they speak to each other. We made it a point to stop and correct. “Is that building someone up or tearing them down?” As coaches, we spent an inordinate amount of time reinforcing this.
TE: Respect authority, be thankful for what people do for you, clean up after yourself, think about others. For parents, teachers, and coaches, it’s also not about being the good guy all the time. A greater love is always out there to learn.
I live in Alabama where football is a way of life and high school football is huge. How can families maintain the perspective that football is “just a game”?
BL: No matter what you’re doing, when it’s all said and done, just say to yourself, “Does this really matter?” The important things are God, family, kids, loved ones; all the other stuff, it doesn’t matter much.
TE: I think it’s great that families go to games together. Have a passion for your team, but keep the perspective that what’s really important is who you are, not the team you root for. Families can be inspired by a team’s playing and effort, but at the end of the day its important who you are.
Do you think non-football fans will enjoy this story?
BL: It’s not just about football; it’s wrapped around the human lives. The human lives are not wrapped around the football, it’s vice versa.
LE: It’s about building a team, and family is a pretty important team. In the focus groups, the film was very popular among women and mothers, even those who did not like football.
Any last words for parents of children ages 3-11 trying to balance work, family, and fun?
BL: When you do get that rare free time, try to make it family-time. When my kids were younger, I always tried to make it a point to read to them or ask about their day. Hearing some sacred thing in their lives was important. This season doesn’t last forever.
This applies to marriage too: I think one of the most important things is to never leave each other or go to bed, without telling your kids you love them and hugging them. It makes a huge difference. I think that’s critical, that human touch and connection.
When the Game Stands Tall opened in theaters on August 22. It is rated PG.