May 2023 – Student athletes can never know what game day holds in store. What they can control are three ingredients crucial to success: their own preparation, attitude and effort.
Thomas Propson, varsity defensive line coach for Edina High School football, shares this truism with his squad on a regular basis. He also stresses that this same principle holds true beyond the field – to tests, college applications, job interviews and any other challenge young adults are likely to face. "Preparation, attitude and effort are always your key," he said.
This holistic view nicely encapsulates Propson’s philosophy toward coaching. “The goal of Edina’s varsity program is to win every game. However, the purpose of our program is to help our players grow as people equipped for success out in the world.”
Coach Propson, 59, can speak to the life-changing potential of youth sports from firsthand experience. “I come from a family of athletes myself,” he shared. “I graduated high school in Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1982. Over my four years, I played multiple sports, including football defensive line.”
In hindsight, Propson has come to appreciate what a formative experience this proved. “As a defensive lineman, you’re trained to be a team player and to play competitively … but not to expect much credit for things.” Propson says that teamwork and humility, coupled with a healthy competitive streak, remain core to his self-identity more than 40 years later.
Formative though it was, Propson stepped back from football after graduation – until the cycle eventually came full circle.
“My wife and I moved to Edina about 25 years ago and started our family here,” he recalled. “When our son Tommy started playing flag [football] in second grade, I offered to coach. I then began to remember how much I loved the game and the learning experiences it offers.”
Propson coached his son’s teams through ninth grade and became similarly involved with younger daughter Helen’s budding Hornets career.
“After Helen graduated Edina High School in 2020, I recognized that I was going to have some additional time,” he shared.
When they reach this crossroads, most parent coaches wind down their active involvement in youth sports. Propson took a different tack.
“In coaching football, I see an opportunity to pay it forward. Our children received an unbelievable education through Edina’s schools.” (Tommy is now pursuing graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and sister Helen is a junior at the same Boston area university.) “Teachers and staff at Edina Public Schools set them up for their success. My hope with coaching is that, in some small way, I can now positively impact the lives of other student athletes.”
Propson models his coaching after an approach outlined by NFL defensive tackle and "coach's coach" Joe Ehrmann.
“In an incredible book [InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives], Ehrmann talks about transactional versus transformational coaching,” he said. “Transactional coaches are in it to pile up championships and stoke their own ego. Transformational leaders try to actively inspire positive change in players because they realize the lessons we can all learn from sports.”
As both players and colleagues will attest, Propson has come to exemplify the latter in Edina Public Schools. In recognition of his passion and contributions to date, the Edina Community Foundation honored Thomas Propson with its Connecting with Kids Leadership Award in March 2023.