WHEN ASKED TO PREDICT the outcome of this year’s Sandpoint High School football season, head coach Satini Puailoa will not talk about wins and losses. “It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey and how do we get better every day,” said the SHS coach who has a winning record at the school of 70 – 53 along with seven playoff appearances.
Puailoa shares that his focus is on the development of not only young athletes, but of the students’ moral character and establishing a good work ethic in the young men he coaches. “The rest then falls into place,” he said.
It is Puailoa’s philosophy and his commitment to his players that had 50 to 60 young men showing up all summer at 8am to lift weights and condition at the high school weight room. Anyone who has a teenager knows that getting him or her out of bed and out the door by 8am during the summer months is no small feat.
Since returning to the helm two years ago, Puailoa has seen the players continue to grow and bond as a team. “Relationships have to be built. They don’t just happen.” The players have been through a great deal together, both adversities and celebrations, and that has translated into a group of young men who Puailoa says get along very well.
While Coach Puailoa can tell you who his potential starters are on the varsity team, he said that can change in an instant. “Several of these (starters) could change tomorrow. There’s a lot of battling going on,” said Coach Puailoa. “Each day there’s a different kid that emerges.”
Puailoa and his staff have been amazed at the level of competition they have seen already this year among the players. “The good news is we are going to play a lot of kids this year,” said Puailoa of his large pool of talent from which to choose.
Coach Puailoa said the squad he has assembled has many strengths it will bring to the game this year, but at the top of that list is the team’s experience, leadership and the commitment the players have developed over the last couple of years.
His team’s greatest weakness? According to Puailoa it is proving they can get over the hump. But he is optimistic.
For the last two years Puailoa said he has worked on developing positive attitudes in the young men. “We teach them how to prepare, how to commit, and how to stay focused,” explained Puailoa. “For anyone, not just teenagers, that’s a long drawn out process.”
He explains that the process is one that is also perplexing. “Do you win and then have great camaraderie or do you have great camaraderie and then win?” questioned Puailoa.
Coach Puailoa and his staff have focused on developing what he refers to as the “inner game.” Each player is given a playbook, but it includes much more than just Xs and Os. It also has life lessons. The coaching staff sets time aside a couple times each week to discuss these character building lessons as a team and in small groups.
“It is geared towards helping the players see what they need to do to not only be a better player, but how can they also be a better teammate. We want each player to start thinking in those terms and once you do, you create magic,” said Puailoa.
Some of the lessons include topics such as what it means to be a self-starter, defining “class,” a champion’s manifesto, and believing in miracles. “Everything we do is about trying to find the good. Winning is just a byproduct,” said Puailoa.
Each grade level has a leadership group. He said this year’s seniors have already shown commitment to their teammates. If a player does not show up at practice, the leaders of the class are in contact to see what they can do to assist that teammate. “They don’t punish them, they see what they can do to help them,” said Coach Puailoa.
The team makes it a point to end each day with finding the good. And so far there is a lot of good to be found. “The biggest change I see this year as opposed to the previous two years is that these guys are paying more attention. They want to do well and they know what they have to do,” said Coach. “They are competing together as a group.” He said the players are finally able to see the ripple effect as it relates to the big picture. They realize that if they do not do their job on and off the field, the consequences extend to the team as a whole. “They do not accept failure as an option.”
The students are progressing more each day and seeing the football practices, weightlifting sessions, and training as opportunities as opposed to chores. It is seeing that evolution that Coach Puailoa loves about his job. “I love working with student athletes and giving them the tools they need to develop into successful young men,” he said.
So as you head out to Memorial Field to cheer on the Bulldogs this season, pay close attention to not only what is taking place on the field, but on the sidelines as well. As the players support and learn from one another, Coach Puailoa predicts that cohesiveness is sure to translate to success as the team travels on its journey. “We’ll catch the magic along the way,” said Puailoa.
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