The culture of football has recently been under the microscope in the national media. The situation revolving around Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins has blown the top off NFL locker rooms and the way the players of the sport interact with one another in general.

One local football program is striving for the opposite of what has taken place in the Miami Dolphins locker room and across the NFL. For Stanfield Tiger head football coach Steve Sheller, building his program on the tenets of common decency and respect for players and coaches alike has proven to be a successful model for on and off the field.

“Every year our teams have the same conversation at the beginning of the season,” Sheller said. “We talk about what’s stronger, love or hate. What wins? Love or hate? We try to build our program based on love and respect.”

Sheller said the bonds his players have formed with the program and with one another come from a place of respect, not dominance.

“There are really two types of programs you can build,” he said. “You can build a program of dominance, where there is a divide among players and between players and coaches. You can also build one where everyone respects one another. In that situation you have a “we” outlook instead of a “me” outlook.”

Sheller said he believes building his teams up as opposed to breaking them down produces better football players.

“Would you rather play for a coach and a team that treats you poorly or a team that treats you with the respect you deserve?” Sheller questioned. “We’ve found that guys play harder when they like their teammates and their coaching staff. When people enjoy the environment they are in, they are more productive.”

Sheller said his team doesn’t eliminate all aggression from the game of football, however.

“We’ll still knock you down,” he said. “The difference is we’ll pick you back up. It’s about finding the right balance between being a total disciplinarian and a push-over. Football is a tough game, and you have to be tough to play it. We still yell and hit hard, but it’s a matter of if those actions are coming from a place of respect or hate.”

Sheller said his older players have traditionally done a great job of mentoring the younger players.

“Our older players have always been kind of like big brothers to the freshmen and sophomores in the program,” he said. “That’s a much healthier situation to have instead of having some sort of divide between the younger players and the older players. Plus, the older players need those younger players to play well because it helps the team, overall.”

Sheller said he has learned many of the basic principles he instills in his players from military veterans.

“Ask any veteran who they were fighting for during war, and they’ll say they fought for the guy next to them,” Sheller said. “That’s the type of culture we have tried to establish here. Once again, that comes from respect and love for one another.”

That camaraderie among teammates is one of the biggest reasons for his team’s success, Sheller said.

“When the guys on the team like each other, they’ll play harder for each other,” he said. “Fortunately for us, that means we’ve won a few football games along the way. That’s a nice by-product of the culture and the young men we are trying to build here at Stanfield, but it’s not the end goal or result.”

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