In a recent article, “Naperville Central junior Chris Bern, fleet of foot in two sports, smooths the path for three brothers in wrestling” former Naperville Saints player Christopher Bern (Class of 2024, Naperville Central High School) was highlighted. As a follow-up we sat-down with his dad, Rob Bern, to hear his perspectives on youth football, coaching, being a multi-sport athlete and more.
This is one busy, active and athletic family. Ranging from ages 8 to 17, Rob’s four sons wrestle and play football. Christopher is the oldest of the four and has a younger brother who is an up-and-coming freshman wrestler and football player in his own right. A third brother is in the wings headed to high school in the fall, while the youngest played 8U for the Naperville Saints in 2022. So we sat down with Rob, for his perspective as a father of four and the impact of youth football on their success - starting with being a football coach.
Rob and his youngest son, 2022 8U player for the Naperville Saints
Bern has been involved as a football coach for 12 years, starting with his now- high school senior Christopher. We asked Rob about the coaching experience and what it has meant to him and his boys. “There is nothing better than kids playing football.” Bern says. “This is a team sport with camaraderie. As a coach, you can make a real difference. Putting offensive, defensive, and special teams in place. Teaching the kids how to work hard, execute a plan, go out and work hard for the win.”
When asked about the top reasons he liked coaching, he emphasized the human side. “The best thing in it for a coach is player development. Seeing the development of a kid who maybe didn’t start out as the best player on the team. Spending time with them to improve their skill set, watching them improve. Even seeing them evolve into one of the best players on the team. It’s really special.I think it’s one of the most important jobs of a coach - to keep the kids moving forward.”
Bern goes on to describe what he sees as a critical aspect of coaching - player retention. “Despite the high degree of seriousness and competitiveness in football, making sure the kids are having fun is so important. I think one key measure of your success as a coach is how much kids want to come back the next season, to have fun with their friends.”
On the topic of coaching, we’d be remiss if we didn’t share what Mike Ulreich, Christopher’s coach at Naperville Central High School, states: “One of the most important things to mention is that Chris is getting the most out of his high school experience. He competes every opportunity he gets and represents our high school and community well in doing so. He is proof that you can be a multi-sport athlete and do it at a very high level. I'm really proud of him for that.”
“As a football player one of the things that stands out is how active he is when not getting the football. We show film every week to our whole team highlighting selfless play and often it is video of Chris working down field to block in run game and after the ball is caught in our pass game. He also knows how to practice at game speed. What it means to improve every day. He’s a fun young man to have around and a great teammate.”
Football requires individual players to come together as a team to achieve success. As a united front, players are playing in a sophisticated and strategic game. As Bern shares, the camaraderie from playing on the same team is unparalleled. “When you see kids bumping shoulder pads, getting each other fired up in practices and games, you see how much they are helping each other.”
As Naperville Saints teammates disband out of the 8th grade and start feeding into their respective high schools, he still sees the love they have for each other. “The kids are just going at each other on the high school fields, doing battle, working for the win. Then after the game you see them hugging each other, congratulating each other. There’s real mutual respect there. One of the reasons the bond is so strong amongst the players is how long they have been playing football together since they were small kids.”
Like many of his team mates, Christopher had several years of youth football experience. He started playing (tackle) football when he was 5 years old. In Bern’s perspective, experience playing youth football has afforded advantages in several areas that help Christoper succeed. “Really understanding the game from playing it at a young age helps tremendously. Blocking and tackling, executing plays, understanding the complexities, being physically and mentally tough. It all comes together to give a huge advantage when kids walk onto the field as freshmen. When the kids from the (Naperville) Saints cross over to high school many are playing on the more advanced freshmen team, and some even playing-up.”
On the topic of experience, it can be tempting for kids to specialize in a single sport from a young age. But some of the most successful football players participate in multiple sports, which has been a contributing factor to Bern’s success on the gridiron.
In addition to playing football, Christopher and his siblings are competitive wrestlers with the Naperville Wrestling Club. As Bern describes, the connection between wrestling and football is tangible. “The number one benefit of wrestling is mental toughness. Kids learn how to fight to get up and keep going because the reality is that the best wrestlers lose 40-50% of the time. Kids are in tears when they lose because they’re fighting so hard and it’s tough - but it also makes them tougher.” In addition to mental resilience, the other carryover from wrestling into football is the physical side with conditioning, quickness and use of the hands - and work. “The work ethic required is real. Hours of sweat, working hard, becoming better. They all come together to help the kids for success in life.”
Thank you to Coach Bern and all Naperville Saints coaches for all you do for our players. Visit our webpage for more info on being a Naperville Saints coach.
Rob with his wife and his two NCHS football players