(Feature Image: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
As Tevin Coleman caught a pass in the flats and scampered into the endzone for a 28-3 Falcons lead early in the 3rd quarter, I had a number of questions running through my head.
"Should I eat another cookie, or is six too many?"
"Did I replace the cat litter this morning?"
"Where did they purchase that circular piano for Lady Gaga's halftime show, and does is actually work?"
Anything and everything other than the outcome of Super Bowl LI posed a serious question at that point in time. Thankfully, two hours and a handful of cookies later, I had plenty more to think about.
After witnessing the greatest comeback and first overtime in Super Bowl history, I sat in awe as Tom Brady raised the Lombardi Trophy for the 5th time - the most of any NFL QB. I am not a New England fan, and was rather content with watching the Falcons alliance destroy the Patriots empire, but when sports organizations reach the pinnacle, you'd be foolish not to take a second to admire it.
People naturally tend to reflect on their own lives when they see a momentous occasion like this. For me, I instantly thought about youth sports. I spent a couple of minutes reliving my "glory" days, but then I started to think about my current role, which involves working with youth sports organizations. I couldn't help but wonder how many kids, coaches, volunteer parents, and administrators watched that game, and the lasting impact it could potentially have on all of them (whether they realize it or not).
Here is what I think Super Bowl LI can teach us about youth sports:
1. The Power of Sustained Relationships
How long have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick been working together? Answer: 17 years. That's about 68 in NFL years. Yet, somehow, that number still seems low. Regardless, the relationship and shared success between these two might be proof that certain people are just meant to meet in life.
The power of sustained relationships doesn't end with just one pair, though. It takes a network of people for an organization to be successful. The New England Patriots serve as the shining example for what you can accomplish when you are surrounded by the right for an extended period of time. Ever since Robert Kraft purchased the Patriots in 1994, he has undoubdtedly been able to create a palpable winning atmosphere in Foxborough, MA. However, the foundation for that winning culture is an open-door policy and a caring leadership team.
This same approach should be adopted in youth sports organizations. One thing that immediately comes to mind is the rising bureacracy in youth sports. With bureacracy, comes relational obstacles. Cutting through that red tape can help build relationships, establish transparency, and maintain the purpose of youth sports: to learn and have fun. When the members of the organization feel supported, they'll stick around for a long time.
2. The Impact of Role Modeling
(Image: Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)
I have always been amazed by athletes who, in recent defeat, can pick themselves up off of the ground in order to congratulate their opponent. This is hard enough to do for the high school "high-five line" after a meaningless non-conference game, but then add in the significance of the Super Bowl and the weight of an historic comeback, and it's an unenviable challenge. Though many Falcons were gracious in their defeat, Matt Ryan deserves a special shout out (and a medal) for his journey through the sea of reporters to pay respects to Tom Brady at the center of the universe.
Professional athletes, coaches, and staff are constantly in the public eye, and thus, under a microscope when it comes to their actions on and off the field. Like any kid, I had my fair share of role models growing up. That being said, when I think back on my experiences in youth sports, you know who else I viewed as role models? Local players.
Some of my favorite memories at practices and camps were when players from our high school teams would volunteer their time to show us the ropes.
I wanted to wear that jersey. I wanted to have those skills. I wanted to be them.
We often think of professionals as the ones who make the biggest impression on kids, but the best role models might be right down the street -- and they're accessible. Tap into the local network of athletes and coaches and invite them to your youth sports organization.
3. The Significance of Establishing a Brand
(Image: Charlie Riedel/AP)
When you hear "New England Patriots," what immediately comes to mind? The number of championships? The widespread fanbase? The Imperial March theme?
Word association is extremely important when it comes to creating a brand and establishing it as the gold standard. Think of some of the top organizations in professional sports: New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Lakers... all of these brands elicit feelings of pride and joy. It's the reason why free agents want to play there, why families want to live close to the arena, and why entire wardrobes are comprised of nothing but the team colors.
Youth sports organizations also need to create their own brand. While they may not be signing major partnership deals or showing hilarious Skittles ads during the games (hands down the best Super Bowl commercial, in my opinion), you can definitely bet that people are paying attention. You can also bet that parents are comparing all similar sports organizations in the area, as they try to figure out the best place for their kids to play.
Make it easy for people to find your sports organization online. Make the logo and team colors attractive so fans will want to wear them. But most importantly, make your brand one that current members want to share with others. If you build it, they will come.
P.S. Don't let your brand become THIS.
4. The Importance of Making Memories
(Image: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Move over, David Tyree's helmet catch, because I still can't believe Julian Edelman did this at the end of the 4th quarter. Physics lied to us for a couple of seconds last night, and I, along with the other millions of people who watched it, will never forget it.
What's great about the Super Bowl is also what's great about youth sports: the lifelong memories. I can distinctly remember certain games, team gatherings, road trips, etc. from two decades ago, and I've found that my former friends and teammates also remember them, just as vividly. Nostalgia is great, but the cool part is that some of my friends are now parents, and their kids are playing on the same teams we did when we were younger.
My suggestion here? Whether it's putting on an awards banquet, posting pictures on your website, or sharing stories on social media, help make the little things memorable.
Every. Single. Thing.
Even it the details slowly fade away over time, the feelings won't.
What else did you learn from the Super Bowl?
Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.