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Metaphorically Speaking: Interview with Ed Homer

by Amy Rose Dobson

Christchurch School football coach Ed Homer.
Football season has come to a close for local high schools, but that doesn’t mean Ed Homer’s job has eased up at all. As teacher and coach at Christchurch School for the past 18 years, he knows the off-season is when he needs to start preparing for next fall. In the following interview he talks football, philosophy and English literature. All in a day’s work for someone who wears as many hats as he does.
Coaches often talk about “locker room losses” where a team thinks they will lose before the game has even started. How do you try to prevent those?

Homer: High school football is replete with locker room losses. At this age sometimes emotion is more a determinant than physical preparedness. In college I learned about the term “high-mindedness” that Aristotle talks about and this is what I try to instill in our players. Is there any way kids could emulate high-mindedness? I doubt Aristotle ever thought a teen could reach that level of confidence because he could not have the experience and wisdom to possess it. The truly special player is the one with the right kind of confidence.

How do you bring out the right kind of confidence?

Homer: There is a coach at Penn State, Bill Kenney, who tells the kids that they have to be ready to meet the monster Grendel when they go out on the field. I tell his story to my players during preseason too. If you want to beat Grendel, you have to turn into Grendel while you’re on the field. You have to become the opponent you want to beat.
Since you mentioned Grendel, lets take it one step further. The story doesn’t end with Grendel being killed. Beowulf then has to go and kill Grendel’s mother. One interpretation of this is that in order to truly slay something you don’t just go after it, but you also have to attack where it comes from. Is there a parallel in football?

Homer: Tackling. When a player tries to block another player he isn’t just tackling the guy’s front. He should be hitting him so hard that he is tackling all the way to his back. You don’t hit him. Instead you hit through him.
It has been said that championships are won in the off-season. We can see how someone can stay in physical shape, but is it possible for players to stay in mental shape?

Homer: If there is a secret, it is finding an activity that resembles what they are going to do in the fall. It isn’t just about lifting weights, it’s about whether you spend all day on the couch. Some young players understand the game as well as I do, but they learned it from John Madden Football, a video game. They know what a slip screen is or a hot receiver, but they don’t know how to block it. That’s dangerous if that is all you know. I need a guy who doesn’t necessarily know the lingo but knows how to block what he sees on the field.
There is a saying that in high school sports kids are “playing for pride.” But sometimes pride can get in the way too. What is the right balance?

Homer: You have to raise their confidence, but not make them a holy mess. If you look at the NFL with a guy who changed his name to his playing number, we have reached a proportion where the ego has long left where it is valuable. I don’t want to get political with the saying “speak softly and carry a big stick,” but . . . speak softly and carry a big load. That is where the scary football player is.
So it’s not the guy doing the dance in the end zone?

Homer: This is where it gets hard. I don’t like to disparage a sport I love and that I think is a great lesson for kids. But this is what we are really getting at. When I see someone prancing around and trying to make himself bigger, I think there is a hole there. A lack of the real “what am I worth” thing. Each one of the kids I have seen who has struggled with this the most has missed out on that true confidence with themselves. Academically, for example, they don’t feel like they are up there. When I see someone acting like that the first thing I think is, “Poor kid. What was he missing?” When a guy makes a play, all he did was what he’s supposed to do, what people have trained him to do, begged him to do, and really helped him to do. He just happened to be lucky enough to be the one out of 11, since all 10 other guys did their job, he got to be the one whose name got called. This is what all of my colleagues who are older than me hate about the NFL.
High school athletes are often said to be “playing for pride” since they aren’t getting paid. Yet, pride can often get in the way too.

Homer:I would bring it back to ‘high-mindedness’ and Aristotle. My professor in college really got my attention when he said the perfect example of that is Larry Bird. Bird knew he could dominate, but if the other team overplayed him, he was unselfish enough to pass the ball to the open man. High-mindedness is earned. It is all inner strength, but it is born of all the preparation. If you are ever jumping up and down after a big play it is because your best friend was the one who made it. That is the right kind of pride. ©2009

Look for more football-related interviews as the season winds down, including one with a Virginia Tech coach.

posted 01.11.2010

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