A Message From Our President | Campaign Lessons Learned From My Son's Flag-Football League
When the 2020/2021 school year finally begins, my son will be starting 7th grade. For the first time, he will be playing tackle football for the Beebe Badgers. This means my experience as a volunteer coach of flag football may have come to an end.
As I’ve tried to come to terms with the fact that I will soon have a teenager, I’ve started to notice several similarities between coaching flag football and helping campaigns win elections. To be fair, I should note that some might say I’m decent at one of those things. Most would argue I was pretty awful at the other.
Nevertheless, after six seasons of leading or helping 8 to 12-year old’s who were excited to be the Lions, Colts, and 49ers, there is a lot to compare.
Everyone Gets To Participate
Like with most youth sports, there is a rule in flag football that says if a kid misses every practice but shows up on game day, the coach must let them play. Another rule says a coach must ensure equal playing time for each child, even those kids that don’t want to pay attention in practice and then don’t know what to do on the field.
These rules make sense. Youth sports should be fun for everyone, and most would agree if a child doesn’t make it to practice, it's typically not their fault – they can’t drive themselves there. That said, when either of these scenarios play out, it can be very frustrating for the other players. Those that show up, try to get better, and play hard on game day, don’t always appreciate those that haven’t.
During Election season, any registered voter can cast their ballot, even those that may know nothing about either candidate. This becomes more of an issue the further down the ballot you go. Nearly everyone can tell you why they are voting for a candidate for President or U.S. Senate or Governor. But there are always some voters who vote for local elections based on Party affiliation, position on the ballot, or just because they like a name.
Youth coaches overcome this issue by offering to provide transportation to and from practice, making practice fun, and rewarding good behavior and plays. Similarly, good candidates find ways to ensure more voters know about them before they vote.
Because this is a real issue for candidates, it's important to run a professional campaign no matter what office you are seeking.
Be Careful With Your Words
It should go without saying – don’t lose your temper with kids and avoid voicing the four-letter words that are screaming in your head.
I screwed up on that last part once. After an exasperating practice with eight 6th grade boys who spent the whole time acting like, well, 6th-grade boys, I let it be known that if we wanted to win on Saturday we had to get our **** together. I was embarrassed. They all giggled. I got lucky because that was the end of it, and nobody brought it up again.
In campaigns, showing your temper or saying things that are off base for the electorate are big no-no’s. While running for office, you want people to see you have the capabilities and right mindset to be a leader. You should strive to control your emotions and be able to discuss controversial issues without bickering or sounding like you left your tinfoil hat back at home.
In fact, learn some lessons from our current top Presidential candidates: If you’re going to forget what you’re supposed to say or how you should answer the question, don’t do the interview. If you’re upset about something, maybe avoid Twitter until you’ve calmed back down. You are not President Trump or former Vice President Biden. Be assured, you won’t be able to get away with those sorts of mishaps like they are.
Wait. We Have A Playbook?
The subtitle speaks for itself. As a coach and campaign advisor, you work hard to develop a game plan. When you finish, it deserves an honorary spot in the Library of Congress for future generations to discuss your wonderful intelligence. Everything is going to work out perfectly and you’re going to get the win you deserve.
Then that player goes deep to the middle instead of a short slant to the outside or that candidate decides to go fishing instead of making those fundraising calls. As the coach/campaign advisor, you mumble a few of those choice words discussed in the last section and spend a week sulking about how everyone can’t just do what you say.
The Blame Game
It’s easy for all of us, both kids and adults, to let our emotions get the best of us. I’ve seen it play out in flag football several times. You’re losing and the kids are getting upset about it. Then a team member misses their block or runs the wrong route and suddenly, the rest of the team is yelling and getting mad at that one kid saying we are only losing because of them. 99.9% of the time, that is completely inaccurate and unfair.
When things start to go wrong on the campaign trail, you hear blame be placed on campaign staff, volunteers, the media, and even the candidate. Sometimes that might be right. Most of the time there are multiple factors at play.
Passing the blame around is not productive. Good campaigns, like good teams, sit down and work together to identify the real problems and to develop solutions for solving or moving past those issues.
Stop Thinking There Is No Contact
My first year of helping coach the directors of the league pushed on the new coaches the fact that this is not tackle football. Not only would a player get penalized for intentionally putting their hands on another player, but if they kept doing it, they could be removed from the game.
Over the first few games, I was increasingly disappointed to find out that those rules were often ignored. It took me a while to learn, and then teach, ways to effectively block, get flags, and be aggressive without putting hands on another player. What I had to accept was that no matter how well they play, two players connecting were impossible to avoid. The refs knew that, and if it wasn’t intentional, the ref left it alone.
In politics, just like in football, contact is hard to avoid. Sometimes, it might even be needed. This does not mean physically touching someone or getting in their personal space. But in a competitive campaign, attacks are going to happen.
Just like I had to learn how to play defense without touching opponents, a campaign must learn how to attack or respond to an attack without it backfiring on them. A few suggestions to help with that: never make something up; make sure you stay on message and provide the facts to back up your claim; respond quickly to attacks leveled against you; and most importantly, don’t be dumb about it. Compare and contrast is ok, flat out personal attacks rarely work.