BY STEPHANIE COSTOLO   |   PHOTOS BY HABBY GHABBOUR- KAZAM PHOTO

He was frozen in fear. Clutched to the armrest of my folding chair, my seven-year-old son Dominic stood rigid with tears in his eyes staring at the field. It was the middle of July in the oppressive Florida heat and the first day of Junior Fly Football practice for the PPAL league (Pasco Police Athletic League) at the Wesley Chapel District Park. The kids had just begun warming up and Dominic wanted desperately to go out on the field and learn to play the game—but these were new people and this sport was one he had never played. Despite my encouraging, prodding and requesting him to go out there and give it a try, all he could do was stare out onto the field where many of his future teammates were laughing, talking and running drills. Regardless of what I said to try to get him to just give it a try, he resisted. I had learned by this point not to force him to do something he wasn’t ready to do.

This lesson was learned a couple of years ago when he tried out soccer. That season he spent not only the first soccer practice glued to my side, but he spent the first two games there as well, brought to tears by his fear of going on the field. As a younger and less experienced parent during the soccer dilemma, I have to be honest and say that I started out patient and encouraging but eventually became angry at him and tried to force him out on the field. My intentions were good; I felt that if he faced his fears he would feel pride in himself. I thought that if he just gave it a shot, he’d end up having a great experience. But I was also being selfish. I had spent time at the practice fields, I had spent money on him in order to play the game, I had invited family to come watch… and here he was refusing to play. It was infuriating in the moment, but that’s because I made it about me. I, I, I wanted him to play. I, I, I thought that if he just faced his fears he would love the game. I, I, I was wrong to push so hard. Not only was my persistence upsetting him, but it didn’t work. All of those tears from him and frustration from me, and he still wouldn’t budge. My memories of that first game have served as a reminder that I failed him on that day. There’s a quote from John Wooden that says,

“Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.”

I didn’t fully change my ways until close to the end of that soccer season when Dominic was actually playing during the games, because I hadn’t fully understood what was so terrifying to him. Turns out, in new situations, my boy is uncertain about what’s expected of him or what he should be doing at any given time, and this uncertainty sends him into a panic. He eventually gained confidence and, more importantly for him, an understanding of the game and of what was expected of him. The coaches began to understand that Dominic needed extremely clear direction and were accommodating to that, and Dominic began to understand that new experiences become a lot less scary when you choose to step up and try.

As the season progressed he became more comfortable and in the last game of the season, Dominic scored the winning goal! I already tend to be that obnoxious parent, cheering and clapping more loudly than pretty much anyone else, so you can imagine the shenanigans that ensued when my baby scored his very first goal and the final one of the season. My heart burst into a million pieces of sparkling confetti on that field. My boy had conquered his fears, and he had done it in his own time and on his own terms. This was a major lesson for me.

So here we were, two years later, having the same scene play out for his first experience with football. This time, I was more patient as I encouraged him to give it a try. This time, I allowed him to stand next to me on the sidelines while we watched what the other boys were doing, allowing Dominic to get a feel for what was going to be expected of him. We stayed together for three quarters of that practice just watching; we even sat down in their ‘water break’ area together, so he could begin to meet the other kids.  What do you know, he decided to go out and give it a try.  Again with the confetti bursting out of my heart. There’s just nothing that compares to seeing someone you love face their fears, and the pride you feel for them in that moment.

Out on the field for the first time, Dominic met Coach Matt, a twenty-three year old first time Head Coach who was patient, positive and kind with my unsure boy. He’s a coach who deserves recognition. He and the other coaches, Micah Terry, Ron Isaac, Rico King, Shawn Calloway and Adam Wilkes worked with the kids ages five to seven, using positive reinforcement and team building strategies. Although there were boys with prior experience in playing football, there were many who had none. Each child came with his own way of learning, his own physical abilities and his own level of confidence and maturity. Coach Matt and the other coaches worked with each boy as an individual and as part of the team.

This is about more than a child learning how to tackle and catch a ball. This is about a child learning the value of teamwork, of conquering fears, of pushing him or herself to be better than he or she was the day before. This is about rules and consequences, about safety and strategy, about dedication and determination. Five to seven year olds aren’t too young to begin learning these fundamentals of life; in fact, they seemed to understand these concepts better than some adults.

Resident Magazine sat down with Coach Matt to learn about his background, his family and what inspires him.

RM (Resident Magazine): Tell us a about your background in football.

MT (Matthew Terry): I’m 23 years old and I work at Wesley Chapel Nissan as a warranty administrator. I’ve been playing football since I was a kid. I started playing when I was four, got hit (tackled) one time and stopped playing all the way to eighth grade. It just so happens that the kid that hit me is the starting safety for the Steelers, Jordan Dangerfield. What happened is, my dad signed me up to play with five year olds, and then we scrimmaged with seven year olds. (When he tackled me) I started throwing up, and I couldn’t deal with it. It was more like a shock. I thought I was never going to play again. I never planned on playing again! I did Karate, I did track, I did everything but football. As I got older I’d see all my friends playing football and I’d think, ‘what am I going to do?’ I decided to start playing again, and I didn’t think I was going to be good at it. The coach put me on running back and that was the end of it for me. I played JV my freshman year and for three games in my sophomore year, and then I played Varsity the rest of high school. I had a lot of experience playing with older kids, and I graduated at 17 years old, a year early, so even going to college I was 17 and playing against 24-year-old grown men.

When John Long Middle School opened up, I tried out for the football team and made it and kind of just ran with it. I went to Wiregrass High school and played running back for four years, and I ended up earning twenty-one different scholarship offers, which was cool. I was a running back and defensive end, but most of my recruitment was to play defensive end, and I decided to choose St. Norbert College in Wisconsin. When you’re in high school and you grow up in the town that I grew up in, everybody’s on top of each other so much. Your first thought is, ‘Man, I want to leave home, I want to get away.’ I chose to pick the furthest school away. I thought, ‘hey- Wisconsin, sounds fun, I’ll go there.’ So I went there for about a year and a half, and it was different, and I had some great experiences, but I ultimately decided to come home because I missed my family. The plan was to come home and go to school at USF and finish up my undergrad. I’m a double major; pre law and business administration, and the goal is to finish that up by the time I’m 26.

RM: Have you always lived in Florida?

MT: I’m originally from New York, and we moved back to Florida when I was in fifth grade. Where I’m from is a small surbaban town on Long Island called Elmont, and I lived there for eleven years.  My dad, Micah Terry, coached a league there just like the Wesley Chapel Bulls called the Elmont Cardinals.  He ran the whole organization for about ten years.

RM: Tell us about how you became involved with the PPAL league, Wesley Chapel Bulls.

MT: My little brother Daniel started playing last year with the Bulls. He was 5 years old and it was his first year and at 5 years old, he started the whole year on both sides of the ball. He did great on defense and made it to the Pro Bowl, as the youngest kid on the team.  There’s definitely excitement to see where his future is going to go. As an observer last year, I spent a lot of time thinking about what could be done better and things like that, so when the coaching application went out I decided to apply. I didn’t think I was going to get Head Coach on my first year, but I was blessed to get it.

I’m definitely excited about this next year. I keep saying that I can’t wait till January for offseason trainings, but I don’t know what to do with my time. I’m ready to start today. I really enjoyed being out there; I think that’s what separates me from some of the other coaches. Sometimes they’re parents of the kids and they feel like they have to be out there, but I really enjoy it. The way I look at it is, if my brother wasn’t out there playing, I would still be out there coaching.

RM: How do you describe your coaching style?

MT: My biggest thing is to let the kids know that they’re going to make mistakes and it’s okay. I just don’t want to see a kid make the same mistake. That was one thing my parents taught me growing up; I would get in trouble just like any other kid, but at the end of the day, I knew that it was okay as long as the next time I made a mistake, it wasn’t the same one. Don’t let it be the same redundant mistake.

I don’t like being that ‘mean guy,’ it’s just not me. Yelling at them is going to do what? Just make them break down. I think I got into it with a referee once all season, but it wasn’t because of a call he made; it was because we had a holding, and he didn’t call it. Instead of telling me, ‘hey this player is holding,’ he yelled at the kid. Don’t yell at my kids. When I’m out there, I’m there for them and I’m going to represent them. A referee can come to me or throw the flag – pick one or the other. The kid has five coaches, a team mom and a sideline full of parents that are yelling. He doesn’t need any one extra yelling.

I was really excited during this season because it was clear that they were getting better. Even Dominic, he went from not wanting to get out there in the beginning of the season to standing at our side during the games, asking over and over again to go in on defense. The hunger came into him and made him want to get involved and help his teammates. That’s the biggest thing with football, is them wanting to protect their teammates and be there for their teammates. At practice we would run a lap and one kid would be in the back, and as the kids finished, rather than one of them going back to run with the last kid, the whole team would go and finish the lap with that kid. That was awesome.

Another thing I did was try to instill the idea that it’s ok to ask for help. If we were doing a drill, and everybody was in the line, there were times I would have a kid get to the front of the line and they’d just look at us. I wouldn’t say anything except, ‘do the drill.’ I wanted them to be able to say, ‘hey coach, I don’t understand.’

It’s okay to ask for help.

If you don’t understand something, I’m not going to punish you for not understanding. My biggest goal is to get them to trust me. If they didn’t trust what I’m saying, there’s nothing I could tell them.

RM: Do you have any prior coaches who stand out to you as someone who affected you in a positive or negative way?

MT: I think one of the biggest impacts in my life from a coaching standpoint has to be my basketball coach in high school. I was never a great basketball player, but in high school, I was just an athletic kid, so I’d use basketball for conditioning. Coach Jeremy Calzone at Wiregrass High School was a big impact on my life. He pushed me in the classroom, and, between he and my mom, they didn’t let me get below a ‘B.’  If I did get below a ‘B,’ he would pull me out of class, and say ‘you’re not practicing today, go to study hall.’ I was always good academically, but he was always there just to make sure; just in case I decided I wanted to be lazy that day. He was one of those people who cared about me more than what I could produce. As far as on the basketball court, I wasn’t a player who was going to win a game for him. If I had never played basketball, his seasons would look exactly the same. I didn’t benefit him in a way that he benefitted me. They had basketball conditioning during football season, so if I didn’t have a ride home from football, he would take me home, even though I wasn’t even in his sport at the time.

He genuinely cared about my well-being, and who I am as a person; what Matthew as a person could do rather than Matthew, the athlete.

Every time I see Coach Calzone, he asks what I’m doing now and how I’m doing, and he actually wants to know the answer. He actually cares. From a coaching standpoint, he plays a big role in how I treat my players and how I want to be known as a coach. His big thing was respect and teamwork. In practice, we’d all have our shirts tucked in and no one was allowed to wear armbands or anything like that. It showed uniformity and that no one was different than anybody else. Those are little things that I try to pick up on and teach the kids. His favorite word was adversity. He would teach us about how you handle adversity, and how that’s what really shows your character. He taught us that it’s not about how easy something comes to you, it’s the failures in life that are really going to show you the person you are. That really stuck with me. Jeremy Calzone definitely is at the top of the list as far as coaches I admire, and I will always have respect for him.

Another person I admire is Coach Sean Calloway. I’ve built a great relationship with Coach Sean, the director of the PPAL league, and he’s played a big part in showing me the different ways I could do things as a coach. He’s always been an ear that I could turn to and I want to give him credit for that. Anytime I had a question or something I didn’t understand; maybe if there were issues with a parent or a certain kid, I always had him to turn to. He took a load off of my shoulders as a first-time head coach and made it easier for me to focus on just coaching the kids, and I appreciate him for that.

Also, Mike Pavlikovic, Flyweight Head Coach has always been a guy who I can throw ideas off of. He coached this age group the pervious year and found some success. It’s great to have him in my corner.

RM: Tell me about your family and their involvement with the PPAL league.

MT: I have my dad, who lives in New York, but did manage to come to one of the games. My mom, Yvette Jaime, was our team mom. My older brother, Micah Terry Jr., was the assistant coach. My stepfather, Mike Barned, was a big part of this year. He does a lot of helping set up and behind-the-scenes work that people don’t always see. My little brother, Daniel was on the Junior Flyweight team this year. It was a whole family thing; we are all really involved. It was cool during that game that my dad made it to, to see my stepdad, my father, my mom and my brothers – all of us on the field at the same time. That, for me, it’s just like, wow, what more could I ask for.

My mom has invested so much time and money into these kids by having potlucks and stuff like that. She’s just the kind of person that even if she has nothing, she’s giving to people and that taught me a lot growing up. She will grab kids off the sidelines and hug and kiss them like they are her nieces and nephews, and I’m just like, ‘mom, leave the kid alone!’ (laughs). She really enjoys it, and it’s exciting to see the whole family involved. My grandfather, Charles Terry, played for the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL, my mom was a track star, cheerleader, she played volleyball… she was definitely a multi-sport athlete and MVP from almost every team she was on. It’s definitely a family business now as far as just being involved in sports. We told Daniel that whatever he’s going to do, the whole family is going to be there. If the whole family is not in it, we’re not doing it.

RM: Do you have goals of coaching older players or in larger organizations?

MT: I miss the kids already. I lose track of time when I’m out on the field; it’s definitely enjoyable and I plan on doing it till I can’t anymore. At some point, I would love to get a High School coaching job. My whole life I was told that I was going to make a great lawyer, but after coaching this year, I found what truly makes me happy! I did the whole law thing in college, and I thought it was fun to argue my point and give presentations and things like that. But now, just watching a kid go from not understanding, to the excitement of wanting to do it right, and you see that glow in their face like, ‘coach I did it!’ You can actually see the impact you’re having.

Being a lawyer, I’m sure there’s plenty of good you can do, but these kids are the future. There’s so much more I can teach them about how to approach life through the game of football. As a lawyer, you usually get involved in a situation when it’s already negative, and you’re trying to clean up a mess. Out here, you’re preventing a mess.

I’m definitely excited to see what this coaching venture has for me. I don’t know what it has in store for me, but I do know I’m going to keep coaching and see what happens.

RM: What’s the last thing you read?

MT: I haven’t finished reading it yet; it’s The Mentor Leader by Tony Dungy. Another big inspiration to me is Ray Lewis; I probably watch him once a day and in my office, I have different quotes from him all over the place. One of my favorite quotes from him is actually a re-quote from Winston Churchill that says, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Coach Matt admires those who have genuinely cared about him, and he passes that on to the kids he coaches. Some kids struggle with math, some with focusing, some with reading, some with sports. Some children grasp scientific concepts easily while others understand how to strategize to whom to pass the ball in a football game. They all have unique talents to be proud of, and they all have areas within themselves that require some extra effort. It can be challenging as parents to let go of our preconceived ideas about how our children will act and what their interests and talents should be. It can be challenging to step back and allow our children to learn in a way best suited to them, rather than how we learn. I, and the other parents from the Junior Flyweight football team, thank Coach Matt especially but also Micah Terry, Ron Isaac, Rico King, Shawn Calloway and Adam Wilkes. We thank them for the positivity they used with the boys, for the team environment they created and for understanding that each child learns and perceives situations in his own way. For Dominic, this coaching style made the difference from fearfully standing at the sidelines, to confidently striding onto the field like a boss by the end of the season.

This holiday season, I ask that you give your child the gift of patience, of allowing them to be exactly who they are, of encouragement to grow while allowing space for them to take some of the steps on their own. This gift will last far longer than any present under the tree.

For information on the PPAL league, or to sign your child up, visit http://www.pascopal.com.