Colt McCoy, concussions & the NFL’s “parenting skills” – 2nd hit

“You can’t fight the overparenting phenomenon, so run with it”.  Eloquently put by Bruce Tulgan, author of Not Everyone Gets A Trophy and renown management expert on Gen Y.

TFE discussed the need for changes in coaching and handling Millennial athletes in the National Football League; Colt McCoy, concussions & the NFL’s “parenting skills”.

Tulgan calls it “in loco parentis management”.  This type of management style flies directly in the face of modern day coaching techniques that have carried over from past handling of Baby Boomers and Generation X.  But the Cleveland Browns and 31 other NFL clubs could learn a thing or two about “parenting their players”.  Here’s Tulgan’s 4 step process that I think naturally spills over to handling NFL professional football players.

  • Show them you care – As Tulgan says, “you don’t have to love your employees but you may need to usher them through the early stages of working life”.  Show them you care by helping them succeed.  Allowing McCoy to return to the field, regardless of the situation, didn’t do this.  Young players aren’t fully aware of the issues and risks.  Pamphlets and symposiums only go so far.
    • Get to know them – Tulgan doesn’t mean learn their personal lives, but knowing that McCoy was the type of player that might fight you to get back out on the field is pertinent.  A lot of time is spent with NFL players in small position groups or as a team, but not much is really invested on a one on one basis.  This comes from personal observations and feedback from the players.
    • Invest the right amount of time with each Gen Yer – With 53 players that can be a daunting task for any top coach or GM, but with the starting QB it’s a prerequisite.  Tulgan emphasized when faced with a large group to focus on those whose work is particularly high stakes, high impact, or dangerous.  I would think that includes quarterback.
    • Don’t pretend – Tulgan asserts not to “pretend to be their parent” but to focus on the common interest, work.   Cleveland has both short and long term interests in the future of Colt McCoy.  Actions speak louder than words.  Current and former players have told me this irks them the most.  As one Gen Yer put it plainly to Tulgan:  “People are so fraudulent around here.  You know what?  Don’t humor me.  I get it.  You’re in charge.  I’m fine with that.  Stop wasting my time pretending to be my best friend.  Tell me what you want me to do.  Go ahead and tell it like it is.”
  • Give them structure and boundaries – Tulgan writes, “It’s true that some jobs require employees to take risks and make mistakes.  Even in those cases, it is the manager’s job to help Gen Yers avoid taking unnecessary risks and repeating mistakes that others have already made.”  MISTAKES OTHERS HAVE ALREADY MADE!  Would that not include sending or allowing a player to go back on the field after a head injury?
  • Help them keep score – This is done on a daily basis in the NFL.  The very competitive nature of professional sports has players on constant guard or alert for their performance.  But frequently players say they don’t get any feedback until their being “cut”.  
    • The point system – Tulgan clarifies, “Am I saying you should create a point system or start giving out gold stars to your Gen Yers?  If you can think of easy ways to convert the performance you need from your young employees into a point system, then maybe you should consider it.  I promise you, a points system will get Gen Yers focused like a laser beam.”
    • Keeping track informally – Formal gold stars and point systems aren’t always necessary.  As Tulgan puts it, ” You’ll get a similar result as long as you make it clear that you are paying close attention to what they’re doing and keeping score…  Regular one on one conversations where you ask what the person as done since your last conversation… Help Gen Yers keep track of their own work by using self monitoring tools…”  This can be done with products like Eye-Scout and Y Athlete.
  • Negotiate special rewards in very small increments – Off the McCoy subject and on this summer’s lockout resolution. 
    • Traditional compensation versus short-term rewards – The NFL & the NFLPA can’t see past “traditional compensation & benefits” because it’s all they know and it directly affects them.  But more incentive based contracts (on field production & good behavior) would solve many of the current issues.  Performance Based Pay Incentives were a move in the right direction, but Cap rules have made extensive incentives difficult and agents traditionally fight off such rewards because of a feeling they fall outside of the player’s control.  Go figure.  Guess we’ll have to wait another 9 years to find out (end of the current CBA agreement).
    • Negotiating rewards in small increments This goes with the above, but of course we reward in “guaranteed dollars”.  I do have to give the NFL some credit for not fully guaranteeing contracts like some other sports.  

Past techniques of coaching and management will continue to be implemented as long as you have coaches and front office execs born in or reared from that by-gone era.  Teams will continue to play and thrive under the outdated policies and procedures of handling the workforce twenty, thirty and even forty years ago.

But consider this, word travels fast in the NFL.  Even faster today than ever before with Facebook, Twitter and texting.  Player’s who perceive the club doesn’t have their best interests at hand and or aren’t willing to help them “succeed” will eventually shop their services elsewhere and there’ll be more teams hearing from the likes of the Brad McCoy’s in the future.

Just sayin’.

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