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As a running back in college football, Bruce Scifres had a reputation for being a hard-nosed competitor who dove, hurdled and crashed into opposing players with a relentless and often reckless disregard for his body.
In his younger days as the head football coach at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, Scifres made winning state championships his top priority. From 1993 through 2004, his teams earned six state titles—an accomplishment that currently puts him in a fourth-place tie among Indiana high school football coaches for most state championships.
Yet, while Scifres still stresses winning and hard-nosed football, he says they “have moved down my list of priorities” in recent years.
“Teaching kids how to play and win is very worthwhile, but I firmly believe that the next task is far more important and also more difficult,” notes Scifres, now in his 22nd year as Roncalli’s head football coach. “The main job of a coach is to teach his players how to live their lives, and how to strive to be the kind of people God created them to be. When this is done well, this is by far the most rewarding of a coach’s responsibilities, and it should be regarded as the priority in coaching.”
While those words reflect an evolution in Scifres, he seeks a similar transformation in young and older men through his recently published book, A Real Man: A Guide to Becoming the Men Our Wives, Children and God Want Us to Be.
“There has never been a greater need for the men of this country to step up and be real men,” writes Scifres, a father of four who has been married for 24 years to his wife, Jackie. “Extensive research has been done on the effects of not having the presence of strong male role models in the lives of both young males and females.
“The most common denominator for young men in prison is not the color of their skin, ethnic background, where they are from or their family’s financial status. The most common trait is the lack of a strong and loving father figure in their lives! Likewise, young women who grow up in the absence of a loving father figure are much more likely to seek male attention through promiscuity or other forms of misbehavior.”
Scifres then shares some sobering statistics—63 percent of teenagers who commit suicide, 71 percent of high school dropouts and 70 percent of juveniles in state-operated institutions are from fatherless homes.
“I believe that many of these issues could be solved if men would commit to prioritizing their vocations as men over their occupations as men,” notes Scifres, a graduate of Butler University in Indianapolis.
The coach believes there are four qualities that ultimately define “a real man”—being a great husband, being a strong and loving father, being a good role model and a positive leader in the community, and developing a strong faith relationship with God.
Throughout the book, Scifres offers examples and advice on how men can develop those qualities as cornerstones of their lives, starting with an emphasis on faith. Viewing himself as a “lifetime coach,” he uses that focus on faith as the first of the four priorities that he has established for the Roncalli football program.
“Priority number one is faith development of our players and guiding them on their paths to eternity,” Scifres says.
That approach includes teaching his players to pray, insisting that there be no cursing by players or coaches, and having senior players take a turn each week to pick a Scripture verse, share it with the team and explain why it is important to him and his teammates.
Character development is the second priority of the program, followed by an emphasis on academics. The fourth priority is developing good athletes.
“Interestingly, what I have found over the years is that if we do a good job with the first three priorities, our kids are going to become pretty good football players,” Scifres writes. “If they have faith, character and work hard in the classroom, they will have great attitudes and work ethics. Ultimately, this will transfer over to success in athletics.”
The true essence of coaching for him is no longer about championship trophies, Scifres says. It’s about the number of lives he can touch, change for the better and lead to Christ. He emphasizes how “we have the ability to bring ‘pieces of heaven’ to others during our time on Earth.”
“Part of my vocation as a husband and father is that I need to be a spiritual leader in my household,” notes Scifres. “Through my actions, I want my children to see that it is important each day to thank God for the countless ways our lives have been blessed.
“I want them to learn that our faith can be an incredible source of strength, both in good times and bad, as we live our daily lives. I want them to understand that Jesus was sent to us to be an example of Christian behavior. I also want them to realize the depth of his love for each of us as he suffered on the cross. Ultimately, I want them to appreciate the significance of his resurrection and ascension into heaven.”
Scifres seeks to share similar glimpses of heaven in his roles as a teacher and a coach.
“I want all of our players to love and honor their parents, and to eventually become faithful husbands to their wives and loving fathers to their children,” he notes.
“I want them to realize that their success as men doesn’t depend on what they own, but it should be measured instead by their capacity to love and be loved. I want to teach them that there is a purpose for their existence in this world, and that God had something very special in mind when he created each of them.”
Sharing those glimpses of heaven will eventually lead “real men” to the real heaven, Scifres believes.
“The better job we do of bringing glimpses of heaven to others during our time on Earth,” he writes, “the closer we are to entering God’s kingdom when our last day on Earth is complete.”
(A Real Man: A Guide to Becoming the Men Our Wives, Children and God Want Us To Be can be ordered through the website at www.arealman.org. The book costs $14.95.) †