My Vivid Vision for Flag Star Football

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Hopefully, you don’t get to know our company over the internet. Or in a word document. Flag Star Football is meant to be experienced in person -- out on the field and, logistically, via e-mail -- but it never hurts to document a couple things.

The following free-write is based off an exercise in the book “Double Double.” The book (which is an awesome business book, by the way) talks about painting a picture of your company three years from now. And sharing that picture with your employees, customers, and anyone else who might be interested. That’s what I’m doing here.

And while the prompt calls for a picture of “your company in three years,” my vision for that company looks a lot like my goals for our leagues today.

In three years....

Flag Star Football is a well-oiled business/non-profit, providing a top-level sports experience while creating positive social change.

Flag Star Football has the opportunity to be something great. It can shape the youth of tomorrow, influence the parents of today, mold the young professionals of the moment and provide a racial and socio-economic bridge between two massively disjointed worlds. Three years from now, I hope we’re achieving this change and continuing to look towards what’s next.

Flag Star Football should be special. It’s hard to quantify (although our parent surveys should yield data on a high-performing company), but it’s easy to feel. Is the program special? Do people really care about the program? Is it setting itself apart from other parts of people’s lives?

Are people walking off the field pumped up, happy, glad they came out for the day?

They should. And that starts with me as the team captain. We have to rise about the temptation of “just fine,” and provide an experience that shapes the world in the way we’d like to see it move.

Things should be special. In three years, I hope our playing environments make this special for everyone. I’ve always seen us as an athletic safety net for the book-worms, video game junkies and couch-dwellers of the world. We have to provide the energy and the engagement to keep these kids playing sports.

And at the same time, make things challenging. Encourage kids to compete. I’m almost allergic to kids complaining about calls, but I don’t mind when they get upset. If kids cry after a particularly bad loss -- that’s cool. It’s kind of awesome, actually. I’ve cried after more games than I’d care to disclose. And I know our coaches have, too.

Actually, our coaches should be the kinds of guys who’d cry after a particularly bad loss. This year, I went to the senior game of one of our referees and -- after his team lost -- he walked off the field covered in tears. One of our new interns just finished his college career and, with a big smile, told me he was “crying like a baby” after their last game. I walked by the huddle of a championship team and heard our coach say “coach promised he wouldn’t cry…” and continue to congratulate the team while fighting back tears.

I love this kind of stuff. It shows our people have heart. That’s what life is about. It’s what sports are about. It’s what Flag Star Football is -- and should continue to be -- about.

Our referees should be teaching the game, and not just throwing flags and mumbling calls. Every flag should come with a lesson. Our coaches should be learning the kids’ names, putting them through real drills, and working to game-manage -- running a real offense/defense while working to keep everyone involved. Our field managers should know the parents and greet folks with a smile.  

It’s too easy to be average. It’s too easy to let a parent be “kind of an asshole” on the sideline and not say anything to him. But we also can’t say anything to him unless we’re in a place -- emotionally, spiritually, operationally -- where we’re living our ideals of positivity. Are we telling them not to complain about calls because we love our referees, trained our refs, and know they’re trying their best? And because complaining about calls sets a toxic environment for the kids? Or are we telling parents “it’s not a big deal,” because we don’t think it’s a big deal and we just want to get in the car at the end of the day and go home?

We should never be afraid to confront a parent if they’re taking away from the playing environment. No matter the parent -- no matter how influential they might be -- we need to put our mission first. I’d rather lose their business than compromise ours.

But even that is too negative. We should be leading with love, setting a tone of positivity. It should be cool to be cool. Make kindness the norm and the negativity will take care of itself. Except when it doesn’t, and then it’s our job to have that tough conversation.

We should be engaging with young professionals and empowering them to do a great job. We should be employing college athletes, genuine people and young hustlers to keep and manage the brand. They should finish the season and be eager to get back started the next year. Our leagues should be pulling people towards us with a gravity of love and community.

That goes for players, families and employees alike. We’ll know we’re thriving when people are coming to us. When parents tell other parents about their experience. When coaches and referees bring their best friends into the fold.

We should be a family. We should know about each other’s lives. We should have a group of coaches, referees, parents, kids, such that we’re excited to see other people at the field every week. People should be dapping up and saying hello when they see each other. We should be a family.

And we should watch out for our family. Connect our family. We have the privilege to work in some incredibly affluent areas. The parents walking our sidelines are the same folks who are running massive companies, firms, funds. We should be connecting lower-income, racially diverse employees with parents who are willing to help.

We shouldn’t be hyper-focussed on race, but we can never lose sight of it. The reality of this world is that black kids and white kids just don’t mix very much. And that many of the folks who referee and coach for us don’t have the chance to “grab coffee” with C-level executives. I’m convinced in the goodness of our parents -- that they’d be eager to take 20 minutes to sit down and share knowledge with someone of a different socio-economic background. We’re in a unique position to offer that opportunity. We should be making those connections. For everyone’s sake.

I want our leagues to be a mixing pot, including kids from all walks of life. For as long as this league exists, we should welcome every single player. If they can’t afford the whole cost, we should reduce it. If they can’t afford any of it, that player plays for free. We will never turn a player away. And we’ll be respectful of how hard it is for families to talk about money. I’d rather us be push-overs and hand away scholarships than make a single-mother write a three-page letter about how hard things are for her family.

We should be giving people the benefit of the doubt. And we should be seeking out opportunities to share this league with everyone. It’s not enough to write “scholarships available” on the corner of our website. We should be making real connections in the community and encouraging families to take us up on this offer.

And we should be entrepreneurs. We’ll operate our leagues as non-profits (and abide by all governing laws of a 501c3, including financial disclosures), but it takes business-savvy to keep something like this alive.

If we believe in what we’re doing -- providing a positive sports experience, shaping the youth of tomorrow, providing opportunities for young professionals and bridging a racial/socioeconomic gap -- we shouldn’t be embarrassed to grow. Growth, through this lens, means spreading our mission and ideals with a greater group of people. And that’s a beautiful thing.

But while we grow, we can’t dilute. I love the idea of evolution in the company -- referees becoming coaches, coaches becoming managers, managers starting their own leagues -- and we should encourage that kind of development. But any program we offer, whether it’s a new league or a long-time program, should still have that Flag Star Football feel to it. When we become “just another league,” when things are “fine,” it’s time to take a serious look in the mirror.

Which is a good thing. Looking in the mirror is a productive exercise. So is listening to the feedback of our parents. This season, we realized not everyone knew the league rules and this was leading to some confusion/tension. Nothing big, but something was a teensy-bit off.

As a result, we’re making a video with all the league rules, so everyone can be on the same page. If there’s a problem in the league -- and really, it’s pretty easy to identify a problem -- we should engage with the issue and improve the system which caused it.

And, while ‘fine’ is the enemy of ‘great,’ we’ll also keep in mind that ‘perfect’ is the enemy of ‘done.’ That goes for this vision statement as well. It’s not perfect -- we’re not perfect, and still won’t be in three years -- but how boring would perfection be?

In the meantime, let’s work hard and enjoy ourselves.

Get better. Have fun. 

- Carl