Protect the Kids; Honor the Coaches

People don’t buy what they need, they buy what they want. We need to honor our volunteer parent coaches so that they continue to WANT to coach.

Article first appeared as “Protect the Kids; Honor the Coaches” in The Scarsdale Inquirer, September 21, 2012

People don’t buy what they need, they buy what they want.  Powerful influence addresses a person’s reasons for wanting something—not his or her need of it. It’s true for anything people buy or buy into:  cars, watches, and even rules.

NFL Youth Sports Health and Safety

I recently attended the inaugural NFL Youth Sports Health and Safety Workshop, hosted by Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner.   During the gathering, experts from a variety of disciplines presented credible information about the actions needed to make youth sports safer and more enjoyable.

The speakers focused on our need to know about concussions and sport safety and our need to follow the rules of the games we play.   In the end, he, and his collection of experts, stated that we’re really talking about a change in the culture of youth sports.  Clearly something must change if 57% of parents say they are less likely to allow their kids to play youth football.

But remember, we are motivated by our desires more than our needs.  Don’t believe me; think about obesity.  Americans are well informed about the dangers of poor nutrition and inactivity, yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 68% of adults over the age 20 are either fat or obese.

 Poor diets and rising obesity rates among Americans have persisted despite increased awareness and publicity regarding the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.  The model predicts that dietary knowledge will have less influence on food choices in the face of immediate visceral factors. — “Is Dietary Knowledge Enough?  Hunger, Stress, and Other Roadblocks to Healthy Eating” by Lisa Mancino, United States Dept. of Agriculture


Visceral is the opposite of reasoned

The motives for everything we do are based on our emotional desires not our logical needs, therefore before we can create a compelling argument in favor of changing the culture of youth sports, we have to understand the emotional desires of all the stakeholders, starting with the coaches.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

I am grateful to all the parents who generously volunteer to coach.  Without you we wouldn’t have a program, and so it becomes vital that actions taken to increase safety consider the emotional desires that move parents into action.  It’s simple:  If we don’t give the coaches what they want, they won’t want to coach.

What happens if a compelling argument in favor of a new coaching strategy flies in the face of a generous parent’s underlying motive for coaching?  Here’s a hypothetical example:

Stock broker father of a 3rd grade youth football player volunteers to coach. Here are just a few of the reasons he might have wanted to volunteer:

  • Time to bond with son / offsetting busy professional obligations
  • Social opportunity with peer coaches
  • Reliving fond memories as youth player / his dad coached him
  • Recognized in community as athletic, generous, and successful leader
  • Excuse to avoid other obligations
  • Business networking opportunity
  • Fulfills secret dream to be a football coach or youth leader
  • Lacks faith in current coaching program
    • Ensure safety and training effectiveness
    • Ensure playing time and position / no favoritism
    • Ensure child’s positive experience

Now, consider a few USA Football and NFL actions and initiatives:

This is only a small sampling of the actions discussed by USA Football and the NFL.  With growing concussion awareness, I expect there will be more initiatives and possibly a greater emphasis on flag football.  It’s all logically sound and yet youth coaches are resisting.

An Abundance of Ideas

In preparation for the August 22, 2012 NFL event, I educated myself by talking with experts.

  • Field and equipment safety experts talk about science and testing.
  • Youth sport coaches from across the country talk about strategy, pressure, and winning.
  • Former NFL players talk about the tragic price they’re paying now for the former glory of the grid iron.
  • Medical experts providing treatment for kids suffering sports related brain injuries talk about frustration and the growing numbers.
  • Parents of young athletes talk about risk and reward.

Concern is the common message behind all the ideas; concern that youth sports may become too risky.

Scarsdale Wisdom

I spoke to Scarsdale, New York’s, Melanie Spivak, former Middle School PTA President and Vice President PT Council, and mother of two Scarsdale alumni, Russell, now a senior at MIT, starting defensive lineman and team captain for the MIT Engineers, and Amanda, graduate of Syracuse University Whitmman School of Management.  We talked mostly about Russell’s experience in youth sports and she is quick to credit youth football for its role his success.   “He’s a bright and sensitive kid.  Football was dangerous, but it was the best thing he did both academically and socially.”  She talked about discipline, organizational skills, and the energy release that allowed him to focus.  She also talked about the social benefits, “Football gave him the option to be part of a social group as he entered his freshman year of high school and college.”

As the wife of Dr. Jeffrey Spivak, Director of the NYU Langone Hospital for Joint Diseases Spine Center, she is well aware of the risks and dangers of football.  The decision to allow Russell’s play was carefully considered by the Spivak family.  Melanie Spivak isn’t so different from any other parent I spoke to.  The biggest concerns are about control: the powerful control of a coach  “Once the kids are under the wing of the coach, it’s all about the coach.  Many times I’d have a question about something or something just didn’t sit well.  I found out that even though parents matter, the coach tips the scale.”  She advocates two strategies to help parents feel better about allowing kids to play:

  1. Stiffen rules and the penalties for infractions to support parents, players, and coaches.
  2. Find a way to simulate the experience of traumatic brain injury.  Much like the drunk driving simulator sponsored by the Scarsdale Task Force on Drugs and Alcohol, in which  high school students can experience driving under the influence of varying amounts of alcohol, Spivak thinks coaches, players, and parents would willing use greater caution if they could experience concussion first hand.

While I don’t believe the technology is available just yet, I believe the idea honors the vital role emotional desire plays in cultural change.

Honor the Why in the Buy

Coaches are people first.  Without honoring the person behind the clipboard we ultimately can’t honor our kids.  A change in youth sport culture starts by first understanding why people engage in youth sports and helping them want to play safe.  Sure, this will take time and be contentious; it’s nonetheless vital. In the meantime, I’m grateful that we have organizations like NFL and USA Football, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and outspoken parents, like Melanie Spivak, stepping out to lead us into the future.

“We accept the role of leadership and we believe we can make a difference.” –Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner

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Author: Lorraine Esposito

Lorraine Esposito 914-410-7502 Lorraine Esposito is a certified professional life coach, mentor coach, owner of The Center for Coaching Mastery at Westchester Community College in New York, and nationally recognized author of The Peacemaker Parent, Solving Problems for Today, Teaching Independence for a Lifetime, Lorraine is the featured life coach for a popular New York radio station, WFAS 103.9 FM and is in collaboration with and featured blogger for the National Football League and USA Football adding a ‘coach approach’ to coaching youth sports. Lorraine’s client base includes CEO’s in the entertainment industry, White House and Capitol Hill public affairs staff, entrepreneurs, global TED speakers, award winning writers, new coaches just starting out, successful business women between 40 and 55 looking for more out of life, and parents needing a little help making good on their parenting promises. Lorraine’s career matches the diversity in her coaching practices. Starting out in the rural mid-west, Lorraine has owned four small businesses; the first, an automobile repair center, started at age 16. Her corporate experience is mainly in negotiating multimillion dollar contracts as the buyer of domestic in-flight food and beverages for Trans World Airlines and then as a procurement manager for the New York City Transit Authority. Lorraine’s strength has always been creatively finding solutions to even the most complicated goal. In addition, Lorraine’s 30 years as a professional fitness coach continues to add depth to all her endeavors. She has been featured in various print, broadcast, and on-line media and is a public speaker regarding personal leadership to community and school-based audiences. Lorraine lives in New York with her husband and two teenage sons.

4 thoughts on “Protect the Kids; Honor the Coaches”

  1. Great stuff as usual Lorraine! Question I have is…… Why do you call your blog ” The peacemaker” who is the peace between? How is that connected with Influence? Is there a difference between “persuasion” and influence?

    1. Great Questions, Avi! Truly Great! Let’s see . . .

      A peacemaker is a person who establishes or creates peace. Peace meaning harmony. Peace and harmony are
      vital ingredients for courage and leadership.

      Who is the peace between? It’s not really “between” as much as it just “is.” Peace between two people is more like the answer to a particular problem while creating an environment of peace is the sustainable solution to so many problems.

      How is peace connected to influence? Peace creates the space for leadership. The more at peace a person is, the greater the opportunity for personal leadership. I believe it’s impossible to think clearly, take risks, and grow in chaos. Since we influence
      others as they watch us in action, peace is linked to influence.

      The difference between persuasion and influence is like the difference between motivation and influence. Motivation, like persuasion, is agenda driven and manipulative while inspiration, like influence, affect others subtly by touching the other person from the inside. Influence guides with an open hand.

      Thanks for the questions Avi. I hope I’ve answered them well..

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