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Former Bronco Steve Watson authors book that is playbook for coaches developing character in youth

Watson was moved by his experiences coaching Pop Warner -- and the infamous Lakewood brawl.
Credit: KUSA Sports

DENVER — A little more than a year ago, a brawl between parents at a Lakewood youth baseball game went viral and drew intense remonstration around the country.

It got Steve Watson, the former Broncos receiver standout and assistant coach, to talking to his good friend Huey Jiron, a disabled veteran, motivational speaker and former Arkansas Razorback baseball player, who lived not far from where from where the youth baseball brawl took place.

Watson talked about his time in the 1990s – between his time as a Broncos player and Broncos coach – when he voluntarily helped coach his son Steve Jr.’s Pop Warner teams.

"I hit on this a couple times when I was public speaking: You have to help people understand it’s only 3.6 percent of high schoolers who go on to college athletics," Watson said. "And it’s only 1.7 percent that move on from collegiate ball to the professional level. So the chances of your kid going past high school...

"The big problem is parents who stand on the sidelines and scream and yell. I’ve had parents want to fight you. I had parents come up to my face and say they were going to punch my lights out, telling me I have no business doing what I’m doing."

RELATED: Kids pay for parents' fist fight at youth baseball game

RELATED: Multiple people involved in Lakewood youth baseball brawl accept plea deal

In a way, the Lakewood incident, and Watson’s own personal experiences at the youth sports level, helped spawn the book, "One Team, The Character Coach’s Playbook," that he authored in collaboration with Jiron. Tom Dillingham, a longtime softball coach at Alameda High School who trains the whole person – body, mind and spirit – for One Team, was also involved in the project.

"You see things like that happen and you start to have conversations," Watson said in an interview with 9NEWS about his book. "And as you have these conversations, it began to evolve a little bit. Was that the real reason? No. It was off of conversations Huey and I started to have in talking about all the things I had been through with all these moms and dads.

"That’s when I made the comment of the void between the parents and coaches and the kids. Yes, this book is for coaches, but it really starts with parents and family. That’s where you teach character to your kids."

The faith-based book is an easy and instructive read – 75 pages segmented in short chapters – with reminders that "character will be developed under the pressure of daily decision making." Because team sports are the ultimate "team before self" endeavor,  the book suggests, "Sport is the most enjoyable classroom to learn the greatest lessons of life."

According to the book’s introduction, "One Team is a movement of athletically minded individuals who desire to serve our local communities by encouraging coaches, families and professionals to teach their players various principles of attitude and character. … It is important for us to prepare these young adults for life through the game and not prepare for the game to be their life. This book challenges coaches, parents and professionals to use their platforms for the purpose of developing the person as well as the player."

Credit: AP
Houston Oilers' Vernon Perry (32) breaks up the fourth quarter pass intended for Denver Broncos Steve Watson (81) in the NFL playoff game at Houston on Sunday Dec. 23, 1979.

Watson has been part of the Denver community since 1979 when he signed with the Broncos as an undrafted rookie receiver out of Temple. He became not only the Broncos’ top receiver, he was one of the NFL’s best during a five-year run from 1981-85 in which he earned All Pro distinction and compiled 5,017 receiving yards that ranked No. 3 in that span, trailing only future Hall of Famers James Lofton (5,804 yards) and Steve Largent (5,242).

None of these impressive exploits are mentioned in this book because that wasn’t the point the humble Watson wanted to deliver. After retirement, he was a Broncos’ assistant for 9 seasons on Mike Shanahan’s coaching staff, then coached at the college level for a three seasons. But it was while he was a volunteer coach at the Pop Warner levels where he realized a “great void” in mentoring character for young athletes. It has chapters on patience, respect, commitment, forgiveness, integrity, confidence, loyalty – 33 subjects in all that relate to building character in young athletes.

Just in time for Christmas, the book is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com and Christian Faith Publishing.