Kids and competition CAN be a healthy mix

. October 17, 2012.

As the University of Findlay’s head football coach, Rob Keys sees some tough competitors and dedicated athletes on a daily basis. As the father of three daughters, he sees that same “toughness” in his girls. They may not be hitting quite as hard, but the Keys ladies have developed resilience through sports and the rigors of having a college coach in the family.

“My oldest daughter, Katie, is 13. She was born in West Virginia and has lived in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, New Hampshire and now back in Ohio,” says Keys. “In her younger years she was very shy, but now she is confident and can adapt to almost any situation.”

Keys joined the University of Findlay as head coach of the NCAA Division II team in December 2010. The family spent the 2010 season in New Hampshire where he served as defensive backs coach. Keys can also add special teams coordinator at Slippery Rock and a 4-year stint at the University of Findlay as co-defensive coordinator and special teams coach to his resume.

Positive competition

Katie Keys is a gymnast and her sister, Casey, nine, is a competitive swimmer. The jury is still out on whether Kaylee, two, will follow in either of her sisters’ footsteps. 

Coach Keys feels his daughters work as hard at their sports as many of the college players he’s coached. He jokes that Katie has a t-shirt that reads, “If gymnastics was easy, they’d call it football!” Kidding aside, he admits he’s impressed every time he walks into a gymnastics facility, or watches Casey’s swim practices. 

“I can’t believe the time commitment that some of these kids make to gymnastics at such a young age. The ones I see don’t look like they’re being pushed. They seem to enjoy it,” he adds. “You can foster competition in kids in a very positive way,” says Keys. “Sometimes I think the Little League philosophy of ‘everybody plays’ doesn’t encourage kids to work harder. It diminishes the work ethic.”

Is your child a superstar?

The son of a high school football coach, Keys didn’t play the game until the 7th grade. His dad wanted him to have good, experienced coaches and felt middle school was early enough to start. During his early years, Keys learned to play golf, ran track and wrestled. He admits he was in pretty good shape by the time football entered his life. Keys eventually played at West Virginia in the 1990s, helping the Mountaineers to a 1993 Big East Championship.

“I played for my dad in high school and he was honest with me about my abilities,” adds Keys. “He let me know how hard I’d have to work if I went to a larger college. And I worked harder than I ever had.”

How can parents tell if their own son or daughter has exceptional athletic ability?

“I think someone else needs to tell them,” Keys adds. “A coach or professional trainer can often spot real talent even in young kids.”

If your child isn’t on the road to the NFL or the NBA, he or she can still enjoy or even excel at a sport that’s the right fit. You need to be honest with your kids if you feel they’re just in the wrong sport. There could be a perfect match out there if you can get your child to give another sport a try.

Family not football-centered

Keys has been married to his wife, Jenifer for 14 years. A registered nurse, she is employed at Blanchard Valley Hospital in Findlay. No stranger to the world of sports, Jenifer played high school volleyball and basketball. Apparently, she also excels at moving and even re-located the family twice in one year.

“She’s endured a lot,” muses Keys. “She told me when we moved back to Findlay this time that she’s not moving any more belongings or furniture. I guess if we ever move again, we’ll have to buy duplicates of everything we own to avoid moving anything.”

Do the Keys daughters attend games and cheer on their dad’s teams?

“They know when my team is playing and Katie will even watch some of the games,” Keys smiles. “If you ask Casey whether she’d rather go to a game or stay home, I’m afraid she’d choose staying home over watching football.”

The University of Findlay Oilers held their first practice with Keys as head coach on Monday, March 21.  For team and schedule information, visit