Kip Shaw was once an unwavering college football assistant. Now he coaches at Central High School, where he estimates 80% of his players have encountered alarming degrees of adversity.
“I bend and I’m flexible and I say, ‘Let’s have a conversation,’ ” he says. “I sit him down and say, ‘This is what I’m trying to do. What are you trying to do?’ Once they come in and you ask them that and you have that conversation as opposed to, ‘F you, I don’t wanna hear that,’ then you know you’re starting to make progress. Then you know you have a chance to make an impression on them.
“Any coach worth his salt is trying to do that.”
Coaches can have an enormous impact on kids who have faced personal trauma. They can be adult role models who do more than bark out: “On my whistle!”
Just one person — perhaps a coach, a teacher or a relative — can make a huge difference in helping a young person overcome a high adverse childhood experiences — or ACEs — score, studies show. Shaw tries to be that person for his players.
“I have a kid who is going to be a senior,” Shaw says. “His mom died a few years ago. Dad has had a challenge in raising him. The kid has anger issues.
“Yesterday, we had a conversation about going to college. It wasn’t about, ‘Hey, Coach, why am I not getting scholarship offers?’ It was, ‘Hey, Coach, what am I gonna do when I’m on my own? How am I gonna handle buying groceries? How am I gonna wash my clothes?’ ”
From there, Shaw can try to assure him, “It’s going to be all right,” and then get into the particulars of how and why. But first, he must gain the youngster’s trust. If he does that, it enhances the possibility for a conversation, then other conversations and ultimately meaningful impact.
This can be a task.
“My master’s was in positive psychology. I learned a lot of techniques. Some days, I want to throw that book out the window,” Shaw says. “Some days, I’m like, ‘Man, there ain’t no way in the world I can be positive with him. Let me go find my next college job.’ ”
He hangs in, though, and his kids typically try to hang in with him.
“The one I told you about? It’s to the point now where this kid has texted me a couple times and said, ‘Coach, I just need you to know I love you,’ ” Shaw says. “This is something last year or two years ago wouldn’t have happened. We still have to deal with the anger issues, but at least we’ve made progress.
“Before it was, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ‘Nothin.’ And just storm out of here. So you see the progress you’ve made.”
Central, like so many of Tulsa’s public schools, is besieged by adversity.
“It’s not just athletes,” Shaw says. “Some of the stories I’ve heard here, I’m like, ‘How in the hell do you come to school every day, son?’ ”
They come, though. They have the resilience to do so, to try to manage their adversity and trauma with the help of guidance and stability. That’s where adults like Shaw come in.
“You help one find his way, and you know the next young man is coming and you’re going to have to put your work into him,” he says. “I love it, though. This has been the most rewarding experience of my life.”