Long-time Patriots Coach Offers Advice for Youth Sports Coaches and Young Athletes.
Former New England Patriots assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia spent 34-years with the franchise and helped guide Patriots’ teams to ten Super Bowls. Perhaps best known as an offensive line coach, “Coach Scar” earned a reputation for bringing the best out of his players. In the summer of 2014 during a two-year retirement, the coach appeared with former Patriots players at a Patriots Alumni Football For YOU free youth clinic for boys and girls 11-14. Before that camp began at the University of Rhode Island, Dante joined Chuck Wilson on the field to talk about his approach to coaching and ways to help young athletes get the most of the youth sports experience.
Chuck Wilson on Sports™ features professional and amateur coaches, athletes, officials, and others, sharing insight and perspective from the playing field while discussing issues that impact the game.
Chuck Wilson on Sports and our Peer Into Character® podcast are presentations of Even Field®, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization cultivating integrity, life skills, and leadership, through sports.
Even Field founder and series host Chuck Wilson has been recognized as one of the “100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America” by The Institute for International Sport.
Episode Quotes, an Audio Timeline, and an Episode Transcript can be found below.
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This Chuck Wilson on Sports™ Episode
- Written and Produced by…Chuck Wilson
- Onsite recording by…On the Outs Productions; Don Coyne, Scott Cary
- Multimedia Production by: Reel Video Group and Chris Gemma
- Editing by Jeff Ross and Chris Gemma
- Music by Symphonic Collective licenced through PremiumBeat.com
- Our theme music by Patrick Rundblad licensed through PremiumBeat.com
Our thanks to Dante Scarnecchia and to Pete Brock, President of the New England Patriots Alumni Club, and a Director on our nonprofit Board. Even Field long has partnered with Patriots Alumni on the Club’s Football For YOU free one-day clinics for children and their families.
We also thank Even Field’s Board of Directors and the following, in particular, for their support of Even Field’s mission and this multimedia production.
Thomas J. Skala
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“All five players that are playing in the game at one time (on the offensive line) have to see the game through one set of eyes. They all have to see it the same way, because if they don’t then chaos reigns and you have inconsistencies and all the rest of it.”
“I think you have to convince them that what you’re doing is for their benefit…The more success they have, the more they’re going to buy into what you’re telling them.”
“We put a huge amount of emphasis on effort…for years and years and years, that’s been part of our grading process. How much effort does a player expend on every play, on a plus and minus scale? You can’t play the game unless you give great effort.”
Episode Audio Timeline
• Core beliefs about how he wants to coach (1:50)
• Thoughts on preparation (2:26)
• How to get OL to work together (3:02)
• Lessons he would like to get across (4:18)
• How to help players to maximize their abilities (5:07)
• Learning effort and attitude at an early age (6:38)
• How to help kids develop a work ethic (7:29)
• Advice for parents who begin coaching (8:26)
• Helping kids deal with adversity (9:22)
• Bringing out the best in every player (10:15)
• Keep head-up; play football safely (11:20)
• Treat everyone with respect, kindness (12:01)
• Have dreams; take steps to fulfill them (12:55)
• Making good choices in life (14:30)
In a coaching career spanning 48-seasons, Dante Scarnecchia became one of the most respected position coaches in all of football. He served as an assistant coach with the New England Patriots for 34-seasons and coached in ten Super Bowls.
In the summer of 2014, during his initial retirement, the long-time offensive line coach joined former Patriots players at a Patriots Alumni Football For YOU free youth clinic for boys and girls ages 11-14, held at the University of Rhode Island.
Before the camp began, Dante joined Chuck Wilson on the field to talk about his approach to coaching and ways to help young athletes get the most out of the youth sports experience.
Dante Scarnecchia: Interviewee
Chuck Wilson: Interviewer
Chuck Wilson: You have some core beliefs about how you want to coach and how you want your players to play. How would you capsulize it?
Dante Scarnecchia: Well, I think what you owe the players is, every day, you owe them a good plan and how to play as good as they can play. And you formulate a philosophy of how you want them to play, relative to their techniques.
And equally as important, how much effort you want them to give every day at practice and how you want them to play in the games. And you put all those things together and it starts very early in the process, in the spring, and then carries on through the summer and then to the season.
Chuck Wilson: When you hear the word preparation from a football standpoint, what comes to your mind?
Dante Scarnecchia: Well, I think it starts in the classroom, paying attention as to what’s being said, all the things that are going out to them relative to the things, as we just talked about, that’ll help make them better. And you do that through training reels and things like that. And then, what you expect of them and what they should expect of themselves, is to take all that information from the classroom and then take it to the playing field, the practice field, and ultimately to the game field. So, I think that’s the process that we follow.
“All five players that are playing in the game at one time (on the offensive line) have to see the game through one set of eyes.”
Chuck Wilson: How do you foster the belief in one another on that offensive line and have them work together as a core unit?
Dante Scarnecchia: The most important thing is to, and Bill says this a lot, is for each individual to do their job. Okay. And if we do that, if we do our jobs, I think that we have a chance to be successful.
What’s really important, especially upfront is continuity, not only in personnel but consistency in how they play. And one of those things that really helps them in that regard is that all five players that are playing in the game at one time have to see the game through one set of eyes. They all have to see it the same way, because if they don’t then chaos reigns and you have inconsistencies and all the rest of it. So we put a huge amount of emphasis on guys seeing the game through one set of eyes and being as consistent as a group as they possibly can.
Chuck Wilson: This Football For You clinic at the University of Rhode Island with the Patriots alumni is all about trying to help young kids in that 9 to 14 age group to understand some of the fundamentals of the game. What are the core beliefs that you would like to see them develop as kids, that will help them both on the field and off?
Dante Scarnecchia: Well, it goes back to what we’ve already said. I’m not going to coach them any different out here today than I did in those 44 years of coaching. And I’m going to teach them about footwork and where to put their hat and their hands and, play with a good base and just, I’m going to coach them. I’m just going to coach them just like I coach those older guys. I’m not obviously going to be harsh on them but I’m going to really try to get them to understand, to pay attention, to try to do the things that we expect them to do. And hopefully, they’ll see the benefit of doing that.
Chuck Wilson: What do you do to bring out the best in players or help them bring out the best in their own ability at any age? What are the keys to being able to do that?
Dante Scarnecchia: I think you have to convince them that what you’re doing is for their benefit. And what I learned a long time ago Chuck, and I learned this in going into pro football. I came after 12 years in college and I thought, ‘Man, I’m going to be coaching these guys and these guys know a lot about football.’ Well, you really are surprised, they don’t know as much as you think they know.
And I also learned very early in the process that they really want to be coached because if you can convince them that you can get them to play really good and maximize their talents, then if they play as good as they can play and maximize their talents, they get to stay in pro football a long time. And, they all want to do that.
So, I think that the whole thing for me was, okay, I’m going to coach you guys like you’ve never been coached before. I’m going to teach you how to play the game the way I like to coach the game, whether it’s right or wrong, and convince them that I think I can help them be as good as they can be.
Chuck Wilson: Coach, we talk a lot about effort and attitude at Even Field. As an athlete on and off the field and in everything you do in life, you control the effort you put into it and the attitude you bring to every single task. Having worked with young and older players over the years, what is your perspective on the value of effort and attitude and learning it at an early age?
Dante Scarnecchia: Yeah. We put a huge amount of emphasis on effort. In fact, for years and years and years, that’s been part of our grading process. How much effort does a player expend on every play on a plus and minus scale? You can’t play the game unless you give great effort. And then attitude, I think that’s something that’s got to come from within. And if you teach a player what it’s like to go out and have a great work ethic attitude and to play in a certain style and with great effort, then I think that they’ll get it and they’ll see the benefits of it.
“The more success they have, the more they’re going to buy in to what you’re telling them.”
Chuck Wilson: We look at effort with young people, they’re going to look at effort differently than an adult does. What do you want to get across to kids about developing a work ethic?
Dante Scarnecchia: Well, I think they just have to understand that it doesn’t come without a lot of work, and being successful takes a lot of work. You can’t just go out and think that it’s just going to happen in one day. It’s a process. And so we just try to build that process from day to day to day.
And what we’ve also learned is that guys, kids, whatever, young men, the more success they have, the more they’re going to buy into what you’re telling them.
And that’s what this whole thing’s all about, and it’s what it’s going to be out there today. We’re going to try to get them to try to improve on every practice snap.
Chuck Wilson: What’s your advice for parents who get into youth coaching, of the best way to be able to work with young kids, get them to enjoy what they’re doing, to have fun, also to learn skills so that they’ll want to continue to play?
Dante Scarnecchia: Well, I think they have to learn the game and don’t be afraid to ask questions of people that know the game or hopefully know the game. And then I think anyone that goes into coaching really has to be themselves. Whatever that is. And there are guys that are yellers. There are guys that are not. There are guys that really nurture and really get the most out of people. But, I think the most important thing is to be themselves. Don’t try to be something you’re not, because that rarely works.
Chuck Wilson: The kids that are out on the field today, as any athlete will, they’re going to have some adversity. Maybe they’re small for their age right now, maybe there are other kids that have grown and are more mature. And so they’re just bigger, stronger at this time. How do kids, at a young age, work through that adversity? What’s your advice for them and for the adults in their lives who are trying to help them work through it?
Dante Scarnecchia: Well, adversity, I just think it’s … And I do this with our grandkids. They’re never able to do things the way that they would like to do them early, but you just keep trying to nurture them and bring them along and try to get them to have more success on each occasion that you work with them. And I think that’s what it’s all about. The kids that have experienced success have confidence. And that’s what we’re trying to do with these kids today.
“I think what you owe the players, and what you owe everyone in the organization, is a full day’s work for a full day’s pay.”
Chuck Wilson: And lastly, you’ve had so many incredible success stories… You’ve been able to connect with each player, sometimes in different ways, but you’ve somehow found ways to pull the best out of them. And I wonder, what’s your approach? What is it you learned over time about the best way to do that?
Dante Scarnecchia: Honestly, I never really have thought a whole lot about it. I think what you owe the players, and what you owe everyone in the organization, is a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. And I think what we’ve been charged with in coaching is to bring players along and maximize their skills. And I think if they see that that’s what your intentions are and that’s what you’re after, I think that they will embrace it. If they’re smart, they’ll embrace it and hopefully improve going forward.
But you’ve been charged to coach them all and give them all a chance, and that’s the part of coaching I really like, I love in fact, is trying to develop players. And I think that that’s what I’ve always prided myself on. And I like it. I like teaching the game. I’ve always liked teaching the game. And I think that that’s why you sign up for the job.
Chuck Wilson: He’s been one of the best in the business. Dante Scarnecchia. Coach, thanks so much.
Dante Scarnecchia: Thank you, Chuck. I appreciate it.
At the conclusion of the Patriots Alumni Football For YOU clinic, Dante Scarnecchia addressed the young campers.
Dante Scarnecchia: How many of you, when you were in your position drills, heard your coaches say keep your head up?
Number one, this game is played by seeing your opponents, hitting what you see, and protecting yourself by always keeping your head up. That’s number one. Okay? That’s the most important thing. You never drop your head in blocking. You never drop your head in tackling. You always keep your eyes on the people that you’re blocking and tackling. It’s hugely important.
The second thing is this. How you want to be treated will be directly related to how you treat people. Treat everyone around you with dignity, with respect, with great kindness. Okay? And it will come back to you tenfold if you do that. Respect all, okay. Respect all.
In our offices with the Patriots for years, we had trainers, we had equipment people. We had people in the dining hall that served our players. We had janitors that cleaned our building and we all knew their names and we treated them all with dignity and respect because that’s how we wanted to be treated ourselves. Very, very important to us all. Alright.
Then the last thing and this is really for me personally, Chuck talked to you about the fact that I’ve been able to coach football a long time, 44 years. When I was around 12 years old, I knew what I wanted to do. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a coach because those are the people that made the greatest impact on my life outside of my home, my mom and dad. So, I wanted to be just like those coaches and that was my dream. I was able to live that dream every day.
So what I would tell all you is this. Have dreams. Understand what those dreams are. And most importantly, take the steps that go along with achieving those dreams.
I’ve been so fortunate because I’ve lived my dream for 44 years and I’ve been able to go to work and do exactly what I wanted to do every day. So when Chuck talks about coming in early and all the rest of that, that wasn’t like, it was a job. It was like, man, I can’t wait to get in that place because that’s what I wanted to do.
So, you know none of you have to figure out what you want to do in life. But as you see things that you really like and would suspect that you would want to go forward with those things, figure out what the steps are that are necessary to achieving those dreams. Talk to your parents, talk to your mentors, talk to your teachers, but do those things. You’ll never regret that.
Chuck Wilson: Good advice. What would you like to say to the guys about the friends you choose and the choices you make early in life?
Dante Scarnecchia: Yeah. I think this. I heard this comment one time is that making choices isn’t really the hard thing or making decisions really isn’t hard. It’s learning to live with the consequences of your decisions. There are a lot of great decisions and a lot of choices that you’re going to make that are really great and that please a lot of people.
And yeah, you’re going to make some decisions that aren’t very good. It’s a lot easier to go through life, making the right choices and the right decisions. And I would just leave you with this. If it doesn’t feel right, if the choices you’re going to make don’t feel right, then you need to talk to somebody about those choices and they will help you. Okay.
Talk to people who know a lot more than you do and it usually starts at home with your parents. I’ve had plenty of discussions with our two kids when they were younger. We used to call it table talk. If I felt like they weren’t going in the right direction, it was time for a table talk. And we’d gather up around the table and talk about things. And, I really encourage you all to do that, as far as making choices and going forward with your lives.
We thank Dante Scarnecchia for providing his insight and perspective.
If you enjoyed hearing from Dante Scarnecchia, you are invited to check out a more recent 1-on-1 interview Chuck conducted with the coach. That interview, recorded in 2020, explores in greater depth, areas of interest for youth sports coaches, parents, and athletes.
You can listen to that 2020 conversation here.
If you would like to help us bring you more of these conversations and you are in a position to support us, a donation of any amount, big or small, would be appreciated.
Even Field is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Donations to Even Field are tax-deductible to the full extent allowed by law.
Founder & Executive Director
Chuck Wilson is an award-winning host, interviewer, and commentator. He was an original host on ESPN Radio and was with the network for close to 17-years. In 2007, Wilson was named one of the 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America by the Institute for International Sport. He is the founder of Even Field.