Another challenge, says Cupp, is those pretty young mamas who want junior to play quarterback or some other glamour position. "They're not always subtle about it—they can come on pretty strong. When I see it coming I always start talking about my wife and kids, but I've known it to get pretty rough for some guys. Mama comes around in a tight pair of pants and a halter and wants to engage in a philosophical discussion about football. At her place.
"Fathers try to influence you, too, but they have to do it the hard way. Some of them lug big coolers of beer around and stash them behind the stands on a hot day so the coach can sneak back for a short one now and then. A couple beers and the coach is calling for his kid, to put him in."
Cupp says he has not escaped the behavioral pattern of kids' league coaches in one respect; no one seems to be free of bad temper. "I let my whole team have it after a loss a few years ago because I thought they'd given up, the one thing I told them I wouldn't tolerate. I chewed 'em out pretty good. When I got home afterward my son handed me his jersey and said he was now an ex-linebacker. He said he couldn't play for a crazy man. I got the message.
"In another game, on the very first play, a coach sprang a sneak play on us and scored. One of those sideline passes without a huddle. The receiver was all by himself. A sandlot play, but legal, and great. I should have just laughed. Instead, I blew my top. Ran out on the field, complaining and yelling at the ref. A regular buffoon. My ego had been hurt, see. I'd been had. And I wound up getting my kids so riled up they just poured it on and won 39-6. The other coach hasn't spoken to me since, and I don't blame him."
Cupp believes that "coaches and their personalities, the way they relate or don't relate" is the crux of what is wrong with little league football. "Coaches don't get along, don't even try. It rubs off. The drive to win is so great the kids don't learn anything. The Lombardi philosophy is ridiculous at this level. Losing isn't death, winning isn't everything. The idea is to have fun. Period. If a kid isn't, if he's not enjoying it and quits, the coach should ask himself, 'Would he have quit if I'd done a better job?'
"Last year in our league I proposed a selection process to make our teams more nearly even. The idea was foreign to everybody, but my boys had won everything the year before, so the other coaches listened. We had a get-acquainted clinic, and all the coaches rated all the kids on a scale of one to 10. Then we sat down with the commissioner, right out on the field, and drew for teams. And something happened to those coaches. We got along great the whole year. The league was tight, and I think we all had fun. I know my kids did. You'd see 'em during a game running back to the huddle and sliding in on their knee pads. It didn't look like the Dolphins, but it was fun.
"Our practices were chaos. Half the time I'd just tell 'em to go over there and play pickup. They should be playing more and practicing less, anyway—playing three or four games a week instead of seven or eight a season. Practicing one-on-one, hitting dummies—that's a drag. A kid wants to play. Lord knows, he's going to find less time for it later on."
Cupp believes that if everyone involved would step back and take a look at what is going on, most of these problems would be solved. Parents, he says, should stay home. At least in the lower levels of kids' football. "A preadolescent has a great need to please his parents, and his failures shouldn't be scrutinized. Just being watched puts pressure on a kid. Maybe by the time he reaches the ninth grade he can bear it. Maybe."
Fathers, suggests father/coach Cupp, should not coach. Not if their sons are in the league. "Fewer coaches would be better all around. At the youngest level one good coach could easily handle four teams. Two coaches at the most, providing encouragement, teaching a few techniques, refereeing the fights. Even officiating. Coaches could be impartial referees if the parents weren't breathing down their necks. And kids should get the idea that games can be played on the square without having to pay a policeman. A lot of our officials are just in it for the money, anyway.
"After kids advance to the older leagues, they still don't need more than two coaches per team. Qualified guys, though, who've played the game, who know at least enough not to teach them things that could hurt. The idea is to let a kid learn more on his own. Developing talent is really a kid's responsibility, not an adult's. A kid learns by playing, by imitating. The last thing they need is an unqualified coach messing them up."