Jul 26, 2018
Lessons From the NFL

Kenny King is passionate about teaching life lessons. But he arrives at the task from a somewhat different perspective. Head Coach at Daphne (Ala.) High School, he is an alumni who went on to play at the University of Alabama and in the NFL before returning home two years ago.

Going from a quiet suburb of Mobile to a very big stage was difficult in many ways, and King is committed to teaching his players what he learned along the way. “When you grow up in a small town and get shipped to a big city, there are a lot of things you have to learn fast in order to succeed,” he says. “I was able to fall back on my principles, but I still had to grapple with several challenges, from learning how to talk to the media to money, relationships, and my own self-esteem. My goal is to use what I learned to give back to the kids. I try to teach them how to maneuver through a lot of the pitfalls that are out there.”

With that goal in mind, he initiated a series of after-school character building classes that he put in place last January. During the sessions, King and his coaching staff led the players though a variety of topics, such as decision-making, financial training, dressing for success, talking to the media, having positive relationships, and respecting women.

The inspiration for the program came from King’s own high school coach, Steve Savarese, who is now Executive Director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association. “Coach Sav was always trying to get us to understand that no matter our circumstances at home, we could be better than great,” says King. “When I became a coach, I took that concept to heart and have focused on loving the kids and developing their character so that when they leave this program they are upstanding citizens.”

To start, King says it was important to make sure his players felt comfortable talking about topics outside the norm. Therefore, for the first session, the coaching staff dressed up like certain players on the team and acted out funny skits. Along with loosening the mood, the performances offered some lessons in peer pressure and how to handle particular social situations.

From there, King covered topics that ran the gamut from the practical to the thought-provoking. In one, assistant coaches gave a presentation about interview skills and then asked players to take turns standing up and taking questions from their teammates. At another, coaches taught players how to tie a tie and dress for success. The next day at school, they were required to wear dress clothes to show off what they had learned.

More serious issues are also discussed, such as violence and sexual assault, and King has not had a hard time getting players to open up. “They all feel comfortable because they’re with their teammates behind closed doors,” King says. “Once one person breaks the ice, the rest normally go straight into it.”

King says the classes are relatively simple to put together and he has enjoyed working with his assistant coaches to brainstorm new topics. Costs are minimal — to cover printed materials, gifts/compensation for a few outside speakers, and snacks for players — and funding has come from the booster club, parents, and community members. He has found that people are more than willing to open their wallets for the project.

“It’s gotten local attention because people in the community appreciate that someone like me, who was raised in Daphne and played in the NFL, has come back and is using my experiences to try to give our kids a head start in life,” King says. “And the players love it, so that also helps to sell it.”

He encourages other coaches to initiate similar projects. “It ensures that you’re putting great young men out into society, and it only makes your team better,” King says. “You can have a great athlete who goes off to play in college, but if his character is not there, he’ll never reach his full potential.”

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