Aug 31, 2018
Life Lessons

Coaching is all about practice planning, strategies, and helping athletes excel on the field. However, the best coaches also take time to develop athletes’ life skills. Monte Robinson is a case in point.

When Robinson was hired as Offensive Coordinator at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh in 2006, the once dominant program had fallen on hard times. Not only was the team failing to win games, players were involved in a number of off-the-field issues, leading to school suspensions and even jail time.

“I noticed that it wasn’t necessarily a football issue. It was problems outside of football that were causing our lack of success,” says Robinson, who was promoted to Head Football Coach in 2008. “So I decided to focus on everything non-football related, such as character development, social skills, discipline, regulating emotions, and helping these young men become more productive citizens.”

The result of these efforts is a program titled Men of the House: Transforming Boys Into Men Through Athletics. And a transformation has certainly taken place. “We have seen improved outcomes across the board in terms of academics, attendance, and fewer suspensions,” Robinson says. “And the success on the field speaks for itself. We’ve turned the program around so now we’re one of the top teams in the league. It’s really beginning to pay off.”

Men of the House was developed by Robinson, who is trained as a professional counselor for families and individuals. The program is divided into four areas: academic support, social skills/character development, health and wellness, and community service. Each of these components are bolstered by community partners that provide either resources or funding, including two local social service agencies, Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAC) and Homewood Children’s Village, where Robinson serves as Community Schools Director.

Every day after school, players gather for what they call the fourth quarter, an hour long study hall with tutors from Homewood Children’s Village. In addition, all juniors and seniors work with staff from Homewood to receive SAT prep and explore college options.

Once a week, time is carved out of the study hall sessions to focus on social skills/character development. A local United Way chapter and PAAC provide the curriculum, and Robinson and his coaching staff often use the teachings to launch important conversations. “Along with specific lessons, we have open discussion about a variety of topics, from issues going on in the community to violence, relationships, careers, and how to interact with one another,” he says. “We are trying to groom our guys socially so they can be productive once they have left our care and are out in the real world.”

The health and wellness segment focuses on nutrition, educating the players on healthy food options, getting enough fuel during the season, and best choices for meals and snacks. For this element of the program, Robinson collaborates with the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine, whose students come to Westinghouse and provide workshops. Pitt benefits by collecting data regarding the athletes’ eating habits for its own research.

To round out the program, every member of the football team is required to participate in at least one community service project each year. That often comes through volunteering to help Robinson organize a 5K fundraiser for Homewood Children’s Village. “The athletes help set up and break down, pass water to the runners, and hand out medals at the end,” says Robinson. “Beforehand, they distribute fliers and help recruit people from the community to participate. We’re looking into providing more community service options in the future.”

Players, parents, and those in the community have all become big supporters of Men of the House, and Robinson hopes to expand it to other teams at Westinghouse. For coaches in similar situations, he offers some advice. “Spend just as much time developing the character of young men as you do developing great football players,” Robinson says. “If you develop a productive and successful person, the rest takes care of itself.”

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