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Don’t call me “Coachman”! Leonson Lewis urges youth coaches to demand respect

Make the mistake of calling St Benedict’s College and W Connection youth team coach Leonson Lewis, “Coachman”, and be prepared for the possibility of punishment by push-up.

That’s just one of the strategies in the arsenal of the former Trinidad and Tobago star forward as he moves to bring good old-fashioned discipline and  professionalism into football and coaching.

Lewis recently signed on as football coach at St Benedict’s College in La Romain following the departure of former coach, Dexter Cyrus. His charges include the Under-13, Under-15 and Premier Division teams.

Photo: Former Strike Squad star Leonson Lewis (right) talks to the media after the 2014 Wired868 Football Festival in UWI. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Former Strike Squad star Leonson Lewis (right) talks to the media after the 2014 Wired868 Football Festival in UWI.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

“[My first question] when I was asked to coach St Benedict’s was Why me?” Lewis told Wired868, “especially with [former coach] Dexter Cyrus’ past performance [at the school].

“The school told me [Cyrus’] contract was up and that they wanted somebody who could spend more time with the team and have more of a developmental role [which] Cyrus was not able to give due to his job and limited time.”

Lewis, who is a full-time coach and former Portugal-based professional, accepted the challenge and says his mission is to develop players not simply to train them. He intends to do this with the three Ds: Discipline, development and dedication.

At St Benedict’s, he aims to transform the very idea of coaching as the development of raw football talent, into personal development through football.

Observing that students come onto the field steeped in the attitudes at large in the wider society, Lewis has devised a strategy for tackling the challenge from every quarter, starting with language:

Photo: W Connection youth team Leonson Lewis (top left) talks to his players at a training session. (Courtesy Leonson Lewis)
Photo: W Connection youth team Leonson Lewis (top left) talks to his players at a training session.
(Courtesy Leonson Lewis)

“It’s like a culture thing now where kids are calling their coaches ‘coachman’. It’s not to disrespect us, but it’s up to the coaches to stop it. I am not their buddy, but a member of authority. When they call me coachman they immediately have to get down and do push-ups.”

As a young professional in Portugal, Lewis said he would not dare to address his coaches as treinador—or coach in Portuguese. Rather the players would refer to their coaches as senhor—Portuguese for Mister—as a respectful gesture towards authority figures.

Lewis’s time playing internationally taught him all about the importance of development in social skills rather than technical skills.

One 13-year-old who addressed him as ‘coachman’ via text message got a sharp response: “I told him to delete my number if you’re going to call me that name. He told me he didn’t realise that was wrong and from them on he’s never referred to me as ‘coachman’ again.”

While he has found older students more resistant to change, Lewis is encouraged by the responsiveness of the younger footballers and remains hopeful for all:

Photo: St Benedict's College attacker Marlon Phillip (right) tries to find a way through the Fatima College defence during 2015 SSFL action. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: St Benedict’s College attacker Marlon Phillip (right) tries to find a way through the Fatima College defence during 2015 SSFL action.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

“They’re growing up in a society that has no boundaries or any role models to look up to.”

Lewis, who stressed that he gives players time to adjust before even considering using push-ups as punishment, is concerned not only about player attitude but by attitudes to coaching that devalue its professionalism. It comes from the personal experience of not being paid for two years while coaching the national team:

“We would get something now and then which is why I left because I think when you’re doing a job, that job requires payment. I am totally against these coaches coming into the national teams and saying that they’re coaching for free.

“When you do this you are taking away a paying job from someone else who is more equipped to coach a national team.”

In motivating his young teams, Lewis often draws on his club experience in Portugal and on the heroes that inspire them:

“Many of my young players love Messi and Ronaldo and admire a lot of foreign players, so why not learn the language? If you met Messi, could you tell him anything? I speak fluent Portuguese. I lived there for 13 years and I taught myself the language.”

Lewis knows the power of being able to converse with one’s hero:

Photo: Brazil legend and one of the greatest to play the game, Pelé. (Courtesy Marca.com)
Photo: Brazil legend and one of the greatest to play the game, Pelé.
(Courtesy Marca.com)

“One of greatest joys that I remember to this day was when I won the most goals trophy [at the Caribbean Cup] tournament in the Cayman Islands. I was playing professionally in Portugal at that time.

“They flew in Brazil legend, Pelé, to present the winners of that tournament with their trophies and when he handed me that trophy I spoke to him in Portuguese.

“He asked me with surprise ‘how can you speak Portuguese?’ I told him that I was a huge fan and that I learnt the language to be able to converse with him.”

Working with today’s teenagers, Lewis is having to develop new techniques for coaching youngsters who come from a different age of technology:

“I do see the raw talent but their co-ordination needs improvement. Long ago we used to climb trees and hop and skip, which they don’t do now because you have the video games, the parties and the internet.”

With his back-to-basics strategy, Lewis has set a top three finish as his goal for this season while he works on the all-round development of his young players. He gave every one of them a copybook to track their progress, both on and off the field.

Photo: St Benedict's College midfielder Tyrik Eastman (left) tussles for possession with Fatima College midfielder Kyon Williams during 2015 SSFL action. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: St Benedict’s College midfielder Tyrik Eastman (left) tussles for possession with Fatima College midfielder Kyon Williams during 2015 SSFL action.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

“If they respect the game,” he said, “football can take them far because football gave me what I have today.

“The skill is only 30 percent. The rest comes from mentality.”

About Tia Vialva

Tia Vialva
Tia Vialva is a student at COSTAATT currently pursuing her BA in journalism. She has been published for the Trinidad Newsday and CariFin Games and enjoys creative writing as well as video editing in her spare time.

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  1. Lasana any up to date scores from today?

  2. 3rd straight loss by St Benedicts College…but doh call him coachman…..i have some nice three and four letter words I could refer him as now inno smfh Lasana Liburd Dexter Cyrus Vachel ‘tallo’ Thompson


  4. Jan Steadman was my coach at Benedicts we called him “Jan”….. he yelled ….he screamed but we loved him because “we knew” he loved us. I pulled my hamstring after I was told to ease off the weights in season …. of course I didn’t listen.
    He walked up to me glared at me picked me up on his back put me in his car drove me home took me upstairs and complained to my mom for 30 mins lol. That’s how you earn respect …. you can’t demand someone like or even respect you ….different personalities require different levels of finesse or roughness. It’s like America demanding you salute their flag despite its history and threatening to persecute you of you don’t. It’s a choice they have that you earn in merit 🙂 …. (can’t believe I went there …been a long week lol)

  5. Okay to be as fair as possible to Leonson, he has explained that players don’t get push-ups everytime they call him coachman. It only happens sometimes after repeated use of that word.
    And he doesn’t feel disrespected by his players at all. But he insists that they call him “Coach” or “Coach Leo”.

  6. U will never hear foreign players calling their coach “coachman”

  7. “Coachman” has nothing to do with disrespect it’s just a culture thing. In the US they call coaches by their first name. In the UK they call them gaffer. You will not get respect by trying to change ones culture.

  8. Respect is not a gift it has to be earned!

  9. Wow……….those who dont know the politics of the school… leo is a puppet in a grand game of shame the Dom. In as much as cyrus not putting his foot down to inform management of their role when infringement on his is happening, the lack of communication between players and coaching staff has lead to the assumption of poor discipline if player ( least we forget the exodus of senior players/students who transfered to other southern schools) read between the lines (commons, state of school properties, catholic board’s input)..you sir are wishful in your thinking, you arevthe replacement to a system that was working, contract up no coachman ,hence the lack of respect towards you the new coach..#Dflagman

  10. He’ll simmer down ….. think he’s looking for a lil respect himself but for the record….. if leo ever told any kid of mine to lose his number for calling him coachman …… I’d advise him where he could put that number. He’ll learn but on occasion he’ll have to be checked…. 🙂

  11. I think coaches need to demand more respect from administrators..we can handle our charges even beyond the call ,but the most coaches know the truth .they don’t respect the profession .

  12. Guys everyone has their ways …if it works more power to him. I’d like to think he just demands the discipline ….alot of kids get a little lackadaisical if they feel you’re too easy going with them…. so he may have a point but only time will tell if his approach works.

  13. For disobedience a player can take you to the equal opportunities commission ..hahahahaha

  14. My attitude would be I don’t care what you called your previous coaches just don’t call me coachman. I am in charge and you will do what I say as it relates to coaching. Psychologically it ought t work on the mind of players that this man means business and we can’t fool around.

  15. This is certainly an interesting article. I am wondering how this end up to be the focal point of the interview. I doubt Lasana went to talk about the audacity of the term ‘coachman’

  16. The manager (name removed) slapped a player named Mickel Holder and when that story was published the ex Benedicts Captain, Taryl Coutou told me that another player named Caleb Gasper was repeatedly slapped until his mouth started bleeding by (name removed) on a maxi after a game bcuz he told him to hush and the kid kept talkin.
    After allllllllll that (name removed) then proceeded to put Caleb Gasper out the maxi to walk on the shoulder of the highway.

  17. Lasana Liburd, he is full of self… I would like to know what name he wants to be addressed by… I have been coached by top class coaches and I called them ‘Coachman’. I’m sure he’s the only coach in this world sees that as being disrespectful

  18. I dislike athletes calling me Sir … I tell them to call me Coach or Mr. … its dependent on the age group …. but definitely no Sir …

  19. Leo that is failure ,bro focus on performance standards and real professionalism ,coachman is culturally respected as yes coach ,no coach ,you want them call yuh gaffer ,steups ,colonial garbage

  20. I coached Saints for 11 years.
    First day of practice i told the guys: “Don’t call me ‘Sir’ because I don’t teach here. Call me by my name, call me whatever you want. Just be to practice on time and play your heart out and we’ll be great.”

  21. What I personally took from it was he wanting his system implemented where he goes. So clubs or schools know that is what he will bring. If he leaves the kids can call the other coach by that. Don’t think a pretty would refrain from sending their child to the college for that season. So for me the article is about highlighting a coach’s philosophy.

  22. Lets see if we can put this whole ” Coachman” thing into perspective.
    If you are hired to Coach a football team, then you are the “COACH”.
    From the day after your 18th birthday you become a “MAN”.
    So lonnnnnnnng before anyone calls you by that name, you are a “COACHMAN”.
    The other angle is, you become a “MAN” before you become a “COACH”.
    So maybe Leonson want to be called “MANCOACH”

  23. Please teach them some courtesies and manners ,apparently some parents do not know same,therefore cannot impart.

  24. Lasana, based on what you reported a while back regarding St. BENEDICTS, it would seem that the disciplinary problem regarding that program existed with the management and not the players. Where I coming from, the outcome of that lawsuit would have been massive. That program is lucky to be playing SSFL football this season…

  25. ..In South and Central America the coach is called “Profesor”. In Britain, certainly in professional football, he is called “Gaffer”. In USA he is called “Coach”. What’s the problem with ‘Coach man”? Ok . So if Leo doesn’t want to beo called that – fine. That’s an idiosyncracy. But in no way does the term convey disrespect for authority..

  26. Hannibal Najjar

    Rules are crucial to any successful person, team, or effort. Without rules, kiss everything goooooooooooobye! What is important is that no rule should be too inconsequential that people almost quite rightly bypass them. Too, and very important is, that no rule either, should be too severe that you, the rule giver, cannot enforce them.

    Go for it Leo, go for it; Coach supports the idea and if your current batch of student-athletes is short of certain basic “manners” that you deem can have serious damaging effects and long-lasting reverberations, then apply them. When they have served their purpose, we can then loosing the “tightness” and eventually, be removed for another day and team.

  27. Well, partly based on the professional culture in Portugal, he seems to prefer ‘Sir’. That’s what I get anyway. Tia, want to add anything?

  28. What is wrong with “Coachman”? I know most players use this in a most respectful way, at times even lending to more than Coach, player. We have to remember that for most of these players, young men, this Coach is the male role model, the only father figure in their lives. If Leonson has an alternative, he should advise players. No disrespect for Leonson as I consider him one of our better players to pass they.

  29. Lasana Liburd when was this interview done? After the dismal performance against fyzabad I question the timing of this article if it was in fact done after these two games. I would have thought after d issues with d change of coach and losing key players to southern rivals that more of an effort would have gone into team performance not what they should call him. I have no problem with discipline…I’m just not buying into the idea that this is totally discipline or whether there is a sense of self gratification

  30. I don’t see where or how folks are getting the impression that Lewis thinks ‘coachman’ is disrespectful, especially when he is quoted in the article as saying it’s not taken to mean that

  31. As it pertains to the concept of winning locally, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to want your players to seek success in games that they play. The distinction I try convey to youth players locally is that we would always seek the best result possible, however, that result should never come at the expense of playing the game the right way. In other words if your youth team is encouraged to win games as a result of kicking the ball long more often that not, then as a coach you are doing those young players a disservice. That said, a winning mentality is something that I think we lack here locally…there are days when you do not play well, but a winning mentality ensures that the magnitude of your effort is never questioned – win, loose or draw.

  32. I think it’s really the respect you give your players is what you’ll receive, I’m not saying he doesn’t ok don’t get me wrong it’s a general statement,I’ve coach for the last 14yrs from ages 5-35 and I’ve been addressed as coachman, Coachy, coach sean and not one player ever disrespected me male or female, so your personality really dictates how your team relates to you and you dictate how relax they can be, so setting your boundaries early will set the tone for respect and discipline.

  33. SSFL is “a results based business”….pure madness and garbage and encapsulates the problem with TT football and society at large. Leonson Lewis is trying to institute some very basic discipline from a young age and we have the audacity to say three points is what matters and he should focus on winning games. Smh. In a school’s competition…not a professional youth Academy competition. Lewis himself said that it wasn’t interpreted as a disrespectful salutation but he just wanted the youths to respect authority….but let’s forget that because nothing is more important than 3 points in the ssfl

  34. Is the term “coachman” considered derogatory? It’s definitely a Trini thing – my players in the States addressed me by my first name, however, they are all some of the most disciplined youngsters I have ever encountered. I understand the point he is making though….

  35. Lasana, if all the coaches take this approach I can assure you that football and footballers in this country will reach much much further. I am not sure if a lot of the coaches appreciate that they are like teachers in a school who can shape the lives of their charges.

  36. Leonson was also one of my fav S.S. players and he scored what I still consider to be the BEST goal EVER scored on local soil.

  37. Semantics…We’re preoccupied with bloody semantics. He’s not demanding their attendance at school or grade average…he wants proper form in how he’s addressed.

    • Totally agree with you on this. Further to that, there are different types of coaches that use different ways to get the best out of their players. Some choose the disciplinarian angle another would befriend his players. What is sad is that so much local coaches think one way is better than the other. A good coach must be a good man manager and must analyze his players to ascertain which it the best method to use.

  38. Leonson was one of my favourite players back in the day

  39. It may help if he tells his charges how he wants to be addressed because you are dealing with persons from different backgrounds and if they do not know better, it is unfair to punish them for trying to do the right thing but following what you consider to be the wrong example.

  40. Never had an issue with the term. I don’t see it as disrespect and I didn’t get from the article why he sees the term as disrespectful!

  41. my Alma mater… I expect great things

  42. Stupes he should focus on winning games not what they call him….two games two losses and imagine fyzabad beating us Stupes