For Coach McRae, it’s all about the kids

McRae enjoys building relationships with his players as much as he enjoys coaching them.

For Coach McRae, it’s all about the kids
January 27
13:50 2021

When a coach takes interest in your athletic success, off the field activities, and how well you do in the classroom, you know they truly care about your well-being. As a youth football coach, Juan McRae not only believes in those ideals, he lives them.

McRae has been a youth football coach for nearly two decades. During that time, he has coached for several organizations around the area such as the South Fork Panthers, Kernersville Warriors, Winston-Salem Falcons and the Winston-Salem Steelers.

Football has been a part of McRae’s life since he was eight years old when he began playing Pop Warner. His coaching career began by chance as he was checking out organizations for his son to play in.

“My oldest son was talking about playing flag football, so I tried hanging around the football field to see exactly what organization I wanted him to play with, because he wasn’t old enough to play yet,” McRae said about his start in coaching. “I started hanging out at the Falcons field and Scott Walker, league representative of the Winston-Salem Falcons, saw me out there looking and said I should coach, and I didn’t even know the guy at the time.

“So, I reached out to my uncle, who had coached before, and he said he would help me. Me, him and another guy got us a little flag team with the Falcons, because they already had the kids and everything and that was the year I started.”

His first year coaching was with five- and six-year-old kids and McRae says he had a lot of fun doing it. By the end of the year, he was bitten by the coaching bug and he was hooked.

“That year was fun, and we did really well,” he said. “We lost a game or two, but we were 6-2 that year. I didn’t know what I was doing, I was all over the place, and that was my first time. 

“After that year is when I really fell in love with coaching and started to strategize. Before that year, we didn’t even have a game plan and I didn’t even know about game planning that year.”

McRae has coached several age groups from kindergarteners all the way up to eighth graders. There are different things he enjoys about coaching each age group.

“The little kids teach you patience and say the funniest things,” he continued. “I also enjoy coaching the big boys because with their football knowledge, you can say something and they will do it, but with the little kids you have to demonstrate everything, and you really have to teach them.

“It’s more fun to coach the little kids, because the things we do in practice they don’t know they are working, they think it’s for fun. We set up obstacle courses and little fun drills, but it’s really helping their skills.”

McRae has also won several local titles throughout the years. He even has a state championship on his mantle as well. The excitement he saw from his players made the championships more enjoyable as a coach.

Developing as a coach and mentor has been a goal for McRae since he began coaching. Over his 17 years on the sidelines, he has matured as a coach as well as a role model for his players.

“I definitely have gotten better on how to deal with parents, knowing what to say and how to bring a team together,” he said about his areas of growth. “Personally, I started out doing a lot of yelling, but each year I try to talk to myself and I evaluate myself and see what things I can do better as a coach.”

McRae says he has seen a lot of teams have problems with parents on the sidelines during games; however, he does not have many issues with parents because he has a preseason meeting where his expectations are discussed with the parents on how he would like them to conduct themselves in the stands and practice.

“We communicate with our parents a lot before the season even starts,” he said. “I just lay down the law and let them know what we expect and try to communicate with the parents instead of being distant with them. We try to do everything as a big family once we are together.

“Even before the season, I tell the parents we are trying to win, but we want the kids to learn as well. I tell them every week that even if we lose, it’s only going to make us better, because we watch film every day. Even in flag, each week we watch film to make sure the kids are getting better and better.”

McRae and his staff pride themselves on how they preach sportsmanship to their players. He does not want his players trash-talking to their opponents and likes when they don’t commit penalties, which shows their discipline.

“I like when other teams say that our team is really disciplined,” he said. “The discipline is what makes me feel good and I like to hear other coaches say, ‘Man, you got those boys right and they’re disciplined.’ I think those things stand out more than winning.”

Being a positive Black male role model for his players is the biggest benefit that McRae gets out of coaching, he said. He knows many of his players look up to him, so he strives to set a positive example every day for his players to emulate. 

“That’s the main thing for me and I’ve seen a lot of kids that I have coached take different paths, but I got a couple boys that I used to coach playing for N.C. State and one plays for Winston-Salem State,” he said. “I have coached almost 300 kids, I’m assuming, from then until now.  

“I try to keep up with the kids after they leave the program because it’s not all about football, it’s about developing relationships. I have so much film and it makes me feel good when kids call me and tell me they need some film and I have to go through my stuff and make them a copy. Just having that relationship with them after football is over is what it’s all about for me.”

McRae plans to coach for a long time. He says there are goals in the world of coaching he wants to achieve, so he has a long way to go.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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