Youth leagues, you need crisis management public relations
So I’m reading about this case in Tucson, Ariz., in which a fight between a parent and his 9-year-old son’s football coach (over whether the child could leave the game early, and whether he was allowed to leave wearing his uniform) ended up with cellphone video of the 9-year-old stripping to his skivvies, which ended up on a local news station, which ended up on CNN, which ended up being bounced all over the ol’ World Wide Web, to spots such as this blog.
I could go over all the particulars, but the only thing that seems to change in these stories are the individual involved, and the subject of the fight. You could make Youth Sports Mad Libs out of these fights. The (adult figure in child’s life) and the (type of sports coach) have a (adjective) (noun) about (noun), which causes (adult figure in child’s life or type of sports coach) to act (adverb), and the whole things gets caught on (video recording device), and sent to (a form of media). The (same form of media) takes the side of (adult figure in child’s life of type of sports coach) who first comments about the incident, and the whole thing ends up a referendum on (issue in youth sports).
In what should be no shock to readers of this blog, I (and my cousin) got busted as kids for filling in Mad Libs with nothing but dirty words, such as our favorite adverb, “nipply.”
There are a lot of things youth leagues need, but believe it or not, access to quality crisis public relations management is one of them. With most of these leagues full mostly of volunteers who have had no reason in their lives to worry about PR, what happens in a case like the football league in Tucson is that everyone is caught flat-footed when suddenly a radio station in, say, Maine, is calling, wondering whether you want to be on their show to talk about why your league (verb) such (negative adjective) (curse word, plural) like (name of coach).
Actually, they’re caught flat-footed in the first place because the leagues make an assumption that nobody cares outside of the coaches, parents and children involved. And most of the time, they’re right.
However, any league, at any time, could suddenly find itself in the middle of a worldwide media frenzy. Say, for example, if it has a coach who writes what he says is a tongue-in-cheek letter to his soccer parents that is interpreted as advocating 8-year-old girls become soul-crushing, steroidal, “Green Death”-delivering animals.
I would expect that most leagues do not have the budget to handle a big-time crisis management firm when big-time crises crop up. I would expect that most leagues would not even know whom to hire to help with public relations efforts. So what I will do now is offer some free advice to leagues that they can use in their first coach’s meetings, just to get the message across:
1. If you don’t not want to stop being an asshole on the sidelines for the sake of the kids, do it so you will not go viral online. Every parents has a cellphone that can record you, and there is no way you can explain away why you were such an asshole. So don’t be one.
2. Leave your ego at the door when a parent berates you. You might be right. The parents might be completely, hopelessly wrong. But when the story is told of your conflict, the parent’s side is the one that’s going to be told first. If a parent complains, you can argue, but be reasonable and professional. Again, every parent has a recording device — but it doesn’t come on until after the conflict starts. So make sure you’re calm, so you’re not on the local news screaming your fool head off.
3. Have the league rules on your person at all times. Consult them when a conflict arises. If you’re not sure, here is the cellphone number of the league president and vice president. Call immediately if there is a problem. Don’t feel you have to solve everything yourself, right at that moment. The cellphone video of you calling the league president is much less likely to go viral than video of you calling the parent a fucking shitbag.
4. You might feel as if you have sole authority over these kids as the coach. The reality is, the parents are paying the bills. You might feel as if you are doing parents a favor by coaching their kid. The reality is, there are parents who won’t feel that way. So can the dictator act, communicate early and often with parents, and make clear that while you have your way of running a team, you are willing to listen if any issues arise. This considerably reduces the chances there is a on-field or on-court incident that puts you on cable news and YouTube.
5. Regarding incidents between coaches: If you have a disagreement, take it to the league president instead of fighting it out, literally, on the field. If you feel an opposing coach is being unfair, is cheating or is encouraging his players to hurt others, try to have a reasonable discussion, and failing that, document what happened (or ask a parent or assistant to document it for you) and bring it to the league president. What we want to avoid is an emotional incident that leads to a fight in front of children — and in front of cellphone cameras.
6. If an incident occurs that ends up catching the attention of the local media, feel free to answer any questions. Answering questions is better than saying nothing. However, don’t be defensive, and don’t focus on the conduct of the other person. Instead, calmly give your side of the story. Then call a league officer to relay what just happened, and what you said, so the league can formulate a response.
Of course, all of this assumes you have a league president and office that is dedicated to the good of the league, and not to favoring its own friends.
I won’t guarantee that this crisis management on the cheap will keep your league off of this blog. However, an acknowledgement that anything can end up in the public eye at any time might be the first step to making sure that never happens. If this advice doesn’t work, well… hey, I’m just the PR guy.