Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘youth leagues

Youth leagues, you need crisis management public relations

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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.

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Sports radio does something other than call for the manager’s firing

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Millsap, Texas, population 350, was looking at possibly having to shake $20 out of every man, woman and child to pay for the $7,000 theft of equipment from Millsap Youth Athletics. That is, until a talk radio station two counties to the east, in Dallas, took up their cause, what with their good heart and so much time on the air being freed up since Terrell Owens left town.

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Um, that’s Millsap, not Milsap.

The folks at ESPN 103.3 raised $3,000 on the air through bids on a sports ticket package until an anonymous listener called in, off the air, to pledge $5,000.

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

[Millsap Youth Athletics secretary Rita] Switzer was profoundly grateful.

“Whoever this anonymous donor is, I love you, I love you, I love you,” she said.

Switzer said smaller donations have come from residents across North Texas, both pledged on the telephone and sent through the mail.

Switzer said the community’s response to the theft is teaching the children about the good in people and how positive things can come out of bad.

“Before every meeting we have, the first thing we do is we pray. We pray for God to watch over the kids and for him to allow us to be the best we can be,” she said. “I feel this is an answer to those prayers.”

 I was just crying the whole time I was listening. They talked that story up like we were big-leaguers.”

Millsap isn’t the only youth sports organization to get a helping hand in a crisis wrought by theft. The Blue Island (Ill.) Little League has shaken a lot of helping hands after it lost $3,000 in food and equipment in a concession stand burglary. One man gave the whole kaboodle. The Chicago White Sox kicked in $500 and free tickets for the players. Other parents and other leagues kicked in some money, as well.

It’s nice to know that in a crisis, you can find friends in unexpected places. Especially if you can get the word out. Seriously leagues — if you suffer a sudden loss, let the world know so someone can help.

Count him in

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For the youth sports leagues who lost money trusting it to Terry Drayton’s Count Me In, a savior has emerged… Terry Drayton.

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That’s right, bitches. I’m gonna own 2009 after all.

From John Cook (no relation to your humble blogger) at TechFlash, who has done a great job breaking news on the Count Me In saga:

Let’s call it a comeback. Count Me In founder Terry Drayton is leading a new effort to buy back the assets of the troubled online payment processing company.

The move comes a little more than three months after Bellevue-based Count Me In was forced into Chapter 7 bankruptcy by some of its non-profit customers for losing roughly $5 million in registration fees.

Drayton has now emerged as the leader of an entity called Rainier Software that appears to be in the pole position to buy the assets. It’s the latest twist in a saga that has drawn considerable chatter on this blog. According to court documents, Rainier recently made a $200,000 “stalking horse bid” for Count Me In’s domain names, technology, contracts and other assets.

The owner whose incompetence and/or malfeasance (depending on what league you talk to) led his company to bankruptcy and screwed up the finances of organizations across the country gets to buy Count Me in back for a song? This can’t be legal, right?

Oh yeah, it is, though by the time you get through the ridiculousness of how this can happen, it’ll make sense that the trustee assigned to the Count Me In bankruptcy is named Ed Wood, because the process seems as strange as an Ed Wood movie.

Basically, what happened was. On March 20, about three months after Count Me In was forced into bankruptcy, a company called Rainier Software filed something called a financial statement, or UCC-1. It’s filed by a lender with the state’s secretary of state as a means to secure property owned by the debtor. So Rainier Software was saying it lent money to Count Me In, and that Count Me In put up property as collateral — thus bringing it to the head of the bankruptcy line as a secured creditor. Ed Wood was OK with this because he determined that the youth leagues who used Count Me In, and were still using it, would be out more money if the company shut down than if he allowed it to continue on.

Meanwhile, Ed Wood was determining that he couldn’t find a buyer for Count Me In. Ed Wood “determined that businesses of the type and sophistication of the debtor’s are dominated by a few businesses, including the debtor,” according to the latest bankruptcy court filing. “The Trustee has been in constant contact with most of these companies, but only one company, Rainier, negotiated a purchase and sale agreement.”

The operator of Rainier? None other than Terry Drayton.

So for $200,000, less the approximately $49,000 discount Rainier (Drayton) gets for its secured-debt level on Count Me In (Drayton), Rainier (Drayton) is first in line to buy the assets of Count Me In (Drayton). Rainier (Drayton) has 60 days to give the court a list of contracts from Count Me In (Drayton) plans to assume — meaning the possibility exists that leagues that are owed money by Count Me In (Drayton) not only might never see it again, but that they might be tossed overboard by the new owner, Rainier (Drayton).

Of course, a “stalking horse” deal such as this means that others can bid a higher price and take Count Me In (Drayton) out of the hands of Rainier (Drayton) — as long as Rainier (Drayton) gets a break-up fee of $65,000.

John Cook’s story notes that the Washington Secretary of State has gotten numerous complaints about Drayton. But all of this, while crazy, appears to be perfectly legal. Which means your league could soon be perfectly fucked. And that’s why Drayton is a serial entreprenuer who gets on magazine covers, and you are not.

To check for a predator

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The Denver Post has a common story — how child predators slip through the background checks to get nefarious access to your precious children and your possibly even-more-precious money.

2916318241_95227fe423_mUnfortunately, most of us don’t have Chris Hansen of Dateline NBC on retainer to check for child predators. (As an aside, it would be hilariously inappropriate for the Nashville NHL team to have an affiliated youth team called the Child Predators.) So the Denver Post gives a little advice — with no idea how impractical it is.

• Ensure background checks are at a national level. The most reliable is via the state police, and the cost is minimal.

This is advice aimed at parents, but it should be aimed at leagues. What parents has the time or money to pursue this?

• Convictions aren’t the whole story. Plea bargains are not reflected, so more serious charges can be hidden. Check directly with the court.

What court? So now I have to contact some far-flung paper-slinger somewhere to investigate plea-bargains? I’m sure they’ll drop whatever they’re doing to help me. Assuming, of course, I have any idea what court I’m supposed to be looking for.

• Check lawsuits in the county a person has lived in for any judgments or problems.

How am I supposed to get that information? “Excuse me, coach, could you provide me a list of every county you’ve every lived in? Why? No reason.”

• Check credit by requiring coaches or others handling money to provide a current copy of their credit report. Financial problems can be a red flag.

Again, this is advice for leagues, not parents. I guess you can always ask a league whether it does this sort of thing. I doubt it will. It’s hard enough to get volunteers without saying you’re doing a credit check. A lot of people will no problems will be chased away by the thought of the intrusion.

• Ask for three years of tax records for any nonprofit league. They’re usually online at www.GuideStar.org for free, or simply ask the league. It is required by law to provide them.

Not a terrible idea, but given how well-organized most leagues are(n’t), don’t hold your breath that they’ll get to you anytime soon.

• Do the math. Find out what the team fee is, divide by the number of players. If it doesn’t match what you’re being charged, ask why.

The reason: we’re letting future LeBron James and his best friends on for free.

• Check it out. Travel teams are expensive. Don’t just pay for a flight; check the airline price and the hotels to ensure you’re being charged properly. Ask for itemized receipts.

This assumes you’re having the team book it for you? Honestly, I’ve never dealt with a travel team, so I don’t know.

To make it easier, I will boil this down to something easier to follow:

— Get to know who’s running your kid’s team, or your league if you so choose.

— If you suspect there’s a problem, don’t ignore the little voice in your head. Talk to someone about it.

— If people give you a hard time when you ask about a problem, then you should think seriously about yanking your kid off the team.

Perhaps it’s not as surefire as the intensive investigation the Denver Post recommends. But it’s probably more doable.