In the community

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens didn't win the Super Bowl last season, but Matt Stover won big in his life as a recreational league basketball coach.

It happened during the Lutherville-Timonium Recreation Council's winter league when Stover, coaching his son, Jacob, and other 10-year-olds, guided a team called the Celtics -- because of their green T-shirts -- to an undefeated season.

And Stover, who won a Super Bowl with the Ravens after the 2000 season, found the experience nearly as gratifying as beating the New York Giants at Raymond James Stadium.

"That favorite Joe Namath saying, 'We did it.' Yeah, we did it," Stover recalled recently, sitting by his stall at the Ravens' facility in Owings Mills. "There are some boys on my team that will probably never win another championship for the rest of their lives."

Stover said he told his players that he never was part of a championship team until his rookie year in the NFL, when he was on injured reserve with the Giants in 1990, and it took a decade for him to get back to the Super Bowl with the Ravens.

"I told them that some guys don't ever win [a championship], so whenever you have the opportunity to be part of a championship, whether it's Little League or the pros, enjoy it," Stover said.

Stover, in his 18th NFL season, has been coaching youth sports for a long time, even before he and his wife, Debbie, had their three kids -- Jenna Lee (12), Jacob (11) and Joe (4). Stover began coaching while in high school in Dallas and started up again when he was in Cleveland with the Browns.

While basketball remains his favorite sport to coach, Stover has helped coach his daughter's soccer team and also spends time working with kickers on a Lutherville-Timonium Recreation Council football team before their practices. Being a professional athlete doesn't hurt Stover's credibility.

"My experience and the platform and the immediate respect that you get from your players because of your participation in professional sports does go up, without question," Stover said. "How long will it stay? Not forever, because they forget about you pretty quick."

Stover has experienced the typical travails of a youth sports coach trying to keep his day job, in terms of rushing back from a Saturday walk-through to get to the gym just in time for the opening tip, or keeping in touch with his assistant coach over the phone on the day the team was drafted.

"He was in a meeting and he was calling me every break, and I was telling him, 'Matt, relax, I've got it under control,'" recalled David Kelly, who owns a family insurance company. "He was saying, 'I'm on my way, I'm leaving right now.' I went in and said, 'Matt, I just picked all the kids who weren't rated, so I don't know what we've got.' It turns out we had a loaded team."

Stover admits that while he doesn't try to win at all costs, he does like to win.

"It's not for my personal gratification. My competitive spirit, I leave it on the football field. I give it all on Sunday," he said. "I don't have to go out and win everything I do. What I do want to make sure is that these kids know it matters to me, I care about them, I want them to have that sense of accomplishment. Going out there just to play is good, but they need to get out with a sense of 'Let's get together and win this thing.' "

In the end, Stover said he believes a good youth coach can help build character and confidence among his players.

"I get on them with sternness, but with the same share of support knowing that I believe in the kid and I instill the same sense of belief that he can do it," he said. "There were some kids who didn't get to score a basket and they finally did by the end of the year. I want that kid to experience that accomplishment of teamwork because it wasn't only him who scored that basket, it was everybody around him."

Stover has advice for those thinking about coaching youth sports.

"The best thing a coach can do is get to know the parents at the same time and tell them the weaknesses and strengths of their child," Stover said. "Take the time to not only invest in the kid, but invest in the parent as well because it takes a community to raise a child and the basketball team is part of the community."

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