Posted by: malechallengemedia | April 4, 2010

Pip Cornall presents the views of Coach Joe Ehrmann

Pip Cornall and Joe Ehrmann

The following article presents the views of Coach Joe Ehrmann

Joe, like myself, believes that sport, for many boys, can be a community where true male values are taught.

Joe Ehrmann –

How sport brings out the worst in boys and men, and what to do about it.

Sport often promotes destructive notions of masculinity, perverting whatever virtues the experience might offer. But sport—especially when assisted by conscious and loving coaches can be a powerful nation-wide platform from which to launch notions of a healthy masculinity.

The greatest myth in Australia or America is that sports builds character. It won’t do that unless a coach teaches it and it’s intentional. This is not to blame coaches—they are under incredible pressure—we’ve reduced sports to winning at all costs, at every level. Most studies show that the longer a child is successful at sports, the greater the ethical corners he’ll start cutting

Sport is actually an incredible way to teach character, but it’s got nothing to do with role models.

The three myths of masculinity: that men need to possess athletic ability, that they need to have sexual conquests, and that they have to have economic success. Athletes have all three of those lies embedded within their lives. As a society, we have to start moving against that, because none of those myths has anything to do with masculinity or creating a good person.

There’s probably not another venue in Australia or America where we can address our deepest social problems. Sport is really the main religion of both countries. It engages more individuals, families, and communities than any cultural institution we have. And the high priest of that religion is the coach. The football codes really should be viewed as a tool for teaching. The problem is we’ve lost sight of sports as a way to teach. Sports should be the last class of the day. If it’s not an educational activity, what good is it? Why do schools even have sports teams? Why should taxpayers be funding it?

The biggest predictor of a child’s success is self-esteem. You can’t teach kids in this age without teaching about racism, relationships, and other things that make them aware of how people have treated each other, or how they should treat each other.

For me, the success you have in being a man or woman comes down to two things: Can you love and be loved? It’s about building relationships. Coaches have an amazing amount of power to teach that because every boy who plays wants to please that coach. Kids are tremendous. They want someone to look them in the eye and tell them they have value. If I realize that I have that kind of platform, I can speak to them about important values and about why many of the cultural messages they receive are wrong.

During practices and before games, we teach them about poverty, racism, gender inequality, violence. Two of our primary topics are relationships and how to become a good man. How do you define that? We teach them the three lies of masculinity, how to be empathetic and gentle. During Homecoming Week, we’ll teach our guys about how to date a girl. We’ll say: ‘That girl you’re dating isn’t there to be disrespected or used by you. She’s her parents’ prized possession. Treat her like you would your mother or your sister.’ I’ll teach kids about the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision that said black men weren’t constitutionally protected, how racism affects poverty. There’s no reason why coaches across the country can’t do something similar for young people.

I’d like to see coaches be required to develop and turn in lesson plans, like teachers do. They would have to tell administrators what lessons they’ll be teaching, including ones about morality, citizenship, and relationships. When I give seminars for coaches, I have them write down on an index card why they’re a coach, why they coach the way they do, and what they want to get out of it, among other things. I try to get them to locate their core values and think about ways to relate them to their kids. What I’ve learned is that with coaches and any other adult, they can convey those values if they’ve made sense of their own lives—created a meaningful narrative from it. My wife— who is a psychotherapist —and I call it “mindsight.” It’s the capacity to understand yourself and others. It’s not real complicated.

But sports ought to make you racism-proof. I know I became much more aware of social ills because I got to meet and work closely with people from a wide range of backgrounds. Even if that were all I got out of sports, it would have made it well worth it.


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