Veteran Stories

High School Football Coach Attributes Character Training to Team's Winning Season

Nick Bender became a high school teacher and football coach in Snohomish, WA shortly after leaving the Marine Corps. But being a good coach is more than winning football games in his view. It’s about building a team of leaders who represent just as well off the field as they do on it. “Too many coaches focus on the X’s and O’’s or wins and losses,” he says.  “To me if you take care of the character side of things, those other things take care of themselves.” 

Nick Bender Feature Cards2To address  the character element, Coach Bender invited Travis Manion Foundation to ‘train” with his Glacier Peak High school athletes in the off-season using the Character Does Matter program .  Every Friday morning for six weeks in the summer, the players would show up for voluntary practice at 8:00am. There they would work through TMF’s character development curriculum with  seven local veterans who served as mentors. Sessions focused on character traits of teamwork, grit, integrity, perseverance, love, and put into practice the TMF ethos “If Not Me, Then Who…” 

Each week was centered around a character trait, followed by a grueling workout, and culminated in small group discussions where the players were encouraged to be vulnerable, demonstrate courage, and grow as both individuals and teammates. During each discussion, the players were intentionally put in a group that represented all ages of the football team, encouraging them to get to know their teammates outside of their grade level. The six-week course ended with a two-hour community service project at a local park across the street from the high school where players cleared nearly two acres of brush for a future bike path.  

Although the Character and Leadership Course ended two months before the official season began, the work to become stronger leaders, on and off the field, continued on. The Glacier Peak Football program finished their 2018-2019 regular season with a combined record of 23-4 – Varsity 8-2, Junior Varsity 6-2, Freshman 9-0 – one of their highest winning seasons to date. Although Coach Bender couldn’t scientifically prove it, he attributes their stellar year on the field to the work the players put in off the field during the summer, focusing on their character, leadership, and teamwork skills. 

Coach Bender was so inspired by the character development program, that he decided to become trained as a veteran Mentor in the Character Does Matter program himself  so he could implement the lessons into his teaching as well. In the process, he found a connection to an entire veteran community and a way to honor to his past military service. “My military time did not go the way I wanted it to,” Coach Bender explains. After my medical discharge, I had pride in what I did but I also felt a disconnect. Being a part of TMF has really helped with that. Also, if I could not serve in the military the way that I wanted to, the question then became what can I do for society and country. I came to influence a whole new group of kids with the ideals and standards inherent within the military. Through TMF and my job as a teacher and coach I get the privilege to do that."

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