When I started coaching high school football in one of Sacramento’s roughest areas, I didn’t know some of these kids had no place to live or that they didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. Many had never known their father. They all wanted to play football, even though their school hadn’t won a game in three years. It was a big assignment, but I wanted them to have a male role model in their life who truly cared about them. The football team became “family” for them and they found a sense of belonging and safety.
Many of the boys were failing academically, so I started an early-morning tutoring program. Initially, we were just helping them catch up on their homework. It didn’t take long to find out that they were failing because they couldn’t read. We switched our focus to reading and getting them caught up in the foundational pieces necessary for them to pass their subjects.
We wanted to provide ongoing support and encouragement for kids who had been given such a tough start in life, so Playmakers Mentoring Foundation was born. Through Playmakers, we promote character and leadership to disadvantaged and at-risk kids using football as the conduit. For many of these kids, our program became a lifeline.
You have to be willing to meet the kids where they are. That means going to difficult neighborhoods and broken homes and being comfortable developing relationships with the kids and their families, just as Jesus would. We try to model Jesus by how we carry ourselves, how we live our lives, and how we interact with kids. That’s what being a Playmaker is all about.