Coach Buckley: Shaping the athletes of NPHS

The final play of the game is upon them. Whether it’s soccer, football or lacrosse, each athlete has an intense focus on the goal at hand: winning. While for some, this pressure may be too much to bear, however for NPHS athletes, the challenge is gladly welcomed. They have been taught to be calm under the pressure and the stress of the game by none other than Coach Buckley.

For the past two years, Andrew Buckley, former military sniper and NPHS Alumnus, has been coaching the boys’ football, lacrosse and soccer teams specifically pertaining to leadership and dealing with pressure and stress, all of which are extremely common in high school.

Many of Buckley’s teachings come from his own experience in the military, such as his leadership skills. While in the military, Buckley had to learn how to “settle [his] heart rate… settle [his] breathing down, and just be able to lock in and be able to do [his] job.”

Buckley has been quite successful in teaching his pupils  lessons that will help them in the long run which he himself has learned. To Randy Wright, a sophomore varsity soccer player at NPHS, one of the most beneficial lessons he has learned from Buckley is “to stay focused and to not let anybody get in your head on and off the field.”

A main point Buckley tries to get across to the athletes he coaches is that “it’s not all about football, it’s not all about soccer. There’s so many other things that are going on. It wasn’t all about special ops for me. It was so much about dealing with other people and dealing with those things.”

Buckley believes it to be “important to teach these young men how to better their lives outside of the sport.” While football, soccer or any other sport may be a big part of their lives, there is much more to athletes than the sport they play.

All of what Buckley shares is applicable to every aspect of life. At the beginning of this year’s football season, Buckley had some of his students read a book by Dale Carnegie,“How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Daniel McCoy, senior and outside linebacker on NPHS’ football team, describes that he and his teammates learned about “a lot of perspectives and seeing situations through other people’s eyes and just being able to influence them in ways that can positively affect their future.”

Wright agrees, “On the field we have become more aware of what’s going on and different scenarios. And off the field we’ve looked at things differently, in a different perspective.”

During his coaching lessons, Buckley stresses the importance of “How well do you lead from the front? How well do you lead from the back? How well do you communicate with others? How well do you get your point across? How do you take a challenge or adversity? Dealing with the situation, how do you rise above it?”

Nicolas Cellona, senior football player, noticed a difference in the football team after Buckley’s coaching.

“I felt like as the season went on the team had a greater mental strength than we did at the beginning of the season,” Cellona said.

The methods Buckley used to create this team were focusing on “the infrastructure of the team and how they work together.” When Buckley saw “opportunities of growth that [were] displaying themselves, [he would] really go after that area.”

Buckley can spot cracks in the wall of teamwork the soccer and football teams built.

“And it’s not so much a weakness. What it is, is it’s an opportunity for growth. So I look for areas where we can have opportunities of growth, to build the team up stronger so they trust each other, and they work together,” Buckley said.

Another thing Buckley uses to get the athletes excited are coins. “[The athletes] only get these if they display something out of ordinary that displays the leadership and the character and the honor and dedication,” Buckley said.

John Smith, head booster of soccer, can see the impact of the coin-giving Buckley does.

“They really just soak it up; you can see their self esteem rises. They learn to stand tall and I’d say those investments we make now could be huge dividends for them in two, five, six, twenty years from now. They can look back and say that, man I was struggling, I had people believing in me, but I’m a leader now because of what happened on the field to me at Newbury Park High School,” Smith said.

Acting as a high card in a card game, the coins are “kind of game and it’s fun for them, but they can drop a coin and challenge their buddy, and if that buddy has a higher coin, he can drop it and he can trump that coin and he can say you know “buy me a soda” or whatever the case. And the boys really love these things,” Buckley said.

“Buckley pays close attention to “our unity, and how well we worked under pressure, and what we could overcome and what we were struggling to overcome in terms of unity,” Jason Klein, varsity football head coach for NPHS, said.

At the beginning of the season, many of the football players would get angered easily, “but as the season went on and we went through tough things, we learned from our experiences and people wouldn’t get as mad over certain things and we got better control over our anger and our emotions,” Cellona said.

One of the obstacles Buckley faces while training athletes to become leaders was the initial ‘grooming’ of potential leaders.

“The hardest part of being a leader in a high school environment is you’re leading all of your peers. And that’s very difficult, because there’s egos, there’s other things playing in that, so you’re working with how you’re having to implement something, and train them on something, or push them on something, but they’re the same guys you go to school with,” Buckley said.

However, once the issue was resolved, the teams have functioned smoothly under new leaders and captains, with help from Buckley.

Another problem Buckley faces is “if you are not doing your job as a team, and one part breaks down, that whole structure of a team breaks down. Even just one person stops doing their job, it all breaks down.” Everyone needs to do their part well in order for a play to work.

The football team’s motto is “We Are One.” The motto itself signifies the emphasis on teamwork within Panther athletics. Buckley has helped the football team reach its full potential of teamwork and “really helped [it] achieve that goal of being one and playing as one unit, as one brotherhood.”

“He helped us to really focus on the fact that it wasn’t about our own personal gain but about what the team could accomplish together,” McCoy said.

The most important thing Buckley pays attention to is how the athletes react to losing.

“We can all handle wins,” Buckley said. “We can win all day long, and be great. How are you going to be great when you lose? That’s what I’m trying to teach these guys. How do you lose, and still be a champion in your heart? It doesn’t change who you are.”

The most rewarding part of Buckley’s leadership teamwork program is the growth he sees in the athletes he teaches. When some of his former pupils come up  to greet him, he feels pride, as “they are learning that respect, to give back, that kind of stuff.”

“So it’s fun to watch how they grow, it’s fun to watch how they overcome adversity, it’s fun to see their victories, and it’s also fun to see how they are going to handle defeat,” Buckley said.

Buckley’s leadership program has received attention from various schools in the Conejo Valley; however, his heart remains at NPHS.

“I’ve gotten calls from Thousand Oaks and Westlake, inquiring about my program, and I said, no I am at Newbury Park and I’m not going anywhere,” Buckley said.

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