Champion Bulldogs coach shares insight into success
December 15, 2011
Head coach Vincent Whitehurst's 85-pound central-2 division Belvoir Bulldogs culminated a perfect 9-0 football season Nov. 12, clinching the 2011 Fairfax County Youth Football League championship title.
The Bulldogs dominated the field throughout the season, turning in three shut-outs and four games in which the opposing team failed to put more than single digits on the scoreboard. Belvoir took the first-round playoff victory from the Gum Springs Panthers 19-6 and then ousted the Reston Seahawks 32-12 in the title match-up.
Undefeated seasons result when a coaching staff blends raw talent and drive with preparation and focus. And they result when players and coaches maintain a mutual respect and a dedication to operating not as individuals but as a unit of equals.
Whitehurst approaches the leadership role by placing the emphasis on building character in his players while he and his staff are teaching the basics of the game.
"My assistant coaches and I focus our efforts on teaching football fundamentals which include fitness and endurance to play hard for the entire game," he said. "We stress sportsmanship and maintaining a positive attitude because in this game the momentum can shift very fast. Being a good sportsman and maintaining a positive attitude is part of being a great football player."
Whitehurst points out that participating in youth sports often has a lasting positive impact on players.
"Sports and athletics teach lessons like control, teamwork, responsibility, focus, physical fitness, how to deal with adversity and how to be humble in great victory," he said. These are keys to the positive development of our youth and thus our society as a whole."
And Whitehurst maintains a simple approach to the process of getting young athletes to work as a unit towards a common goal and to develop mature attitudes towards one another.
"At the beginning of the season I tell the kids that we start out as fingers on a hand and as we progress through the season we slowly form into a fist with the capability of knocking out the competition (metaphorically speaking)," he said. "As the kids move through the season they slowly form into a cohesive, very competitive team supporting each other through success and adversity.
We have a rule on the sideline which is not to scream at the players when they make mistakes on the field. I expect them to make many of them because they are young kids still growing and learning this game. What we stress is the ability of all to learn from the mistakes made, to quickly recover and continue to move forward in the game and in life."
Being in the head coach position has been a source of pride for Whitehurst and he finds the work to be consistently fulfilling in seeing his lessons applied to endeavors off the field.
"My reward is watching the players develop and realize their potential on the football field and improve their performance in the classroom," he said. "It is very rewarding to hear parents speak highly of the coaches and our efforts and discuss their kid's improved focus and dedication to their school work. Additionally it is very rewarding to see the players come back year after year to eagerly participate in the program."
Whitehurst added that he looks forward to seeing these transformations each year and that it is satisfying to see the changes take lasting root.
"I challenge the players to be responsible for managing their time and responsibilities between the football field and the classroom and I've seen many of these young players do this very successfully," he said.
Since he began coaching his son Zachary in the Anklebiter division (who has since been selected for the 2007 Fairfax County Youth Football League 75-pound All-Star team and now plays with the Hayfield High School Hawks), he has seen several of his players achieve special recognitions, including FCYFL athlete of the year.
Whitehurst said that because of the many rewards he has experienced as a Fort Belvoir youth football coach, he highly recommends the job to others.
"Coaching is a great way to give back to the community and aid in its positive growth," he said. "As the population on the post grows due to base realignment and closure and normal permanent change of station moves, so does the number of youth participating in the various sports programs on Fort Belvoir. This increase drives the need for more coaches dedicated to ensuring that the kids learn the fundamental skills, rules, and sportsmanship required to compete and become successful in the program."
He added that while coaching can be demanding, its ultimate dividends make coaching more than worthwhile.
"Youth football is very time consuming and it can be very challenging at times," he said. "It involves developing plans for both practices and games, working with parents, managing team time, tracking the weather and its impact on practices and games, maintaining equipment, coordinating with other coaches and teams in the FCYFL for team scrimmages and the list goes on. The bottom line is the players will give you all they have on the field so as a coach you should do no less in your preparation, planning and coordination for the team."
In spite of his successes and the personal fulfillment he has experienced as a coach, Whitehurst maintains that every reward is the result of a team effort.
"Coaching for me has been very rewarding thanks to the dedication of the players, the support of the parents, assistance coaches, team managers and most importantly my family," he said. "They ensure that all of the details are taken care of so that the coaches can focus on coaching and developing the kids into well-rounded, competitive young student athletes."
Whitehurst has been coaching football and basketball at Fort Belvoir since 2004 and in 2008 transitioned to head coach at the 85lb Central level. He retired from the Army in 2010 as a Lieutenant Colonel, and has since focused solely on youth football.