InSideOut Initiative aims to 'reclaim' purpose of youth sports

CLEVELAND — Browns offensive lineman John Greco can still remember the impact his high school and college coaches had on him on and off the field. And there's something about Hue Jackson that reminds him of the men who helped mold the now 10-year NFL veteran.

"The way he carries himself, you're willing to do anything you can because you don't want to let him down," said Greco, who spoke Monday at a workshop for the InSideOut Initiative, which aims to change the current win-at-all-costs culture in high school sports.

"And that's the thing, if you have that care and commitment to your players, your students, whatever it is, I think you're going to get that back in the long run."

That's the kind of approach co-founders Jody Redman and Joe Ehrmann have stressed over the past few years. Instead of a narrow, scoreboard-driven focus, the InSideOut Initiative promotes intentional development of the educational, social and emotional well-being of each student-athlete across all sports.

"The youth sport industry is now an $8 billion industry and it has refined really what the purpose of education-based athletics is all about," said Redman, a former college athlete who also serves as the initiative's executive director.

"It's no longer about kids having an experience around a game that they love but it's become an industry that really is centered and focused around more on adults than it is kids. So we're here today to reclaim the education purpose of sports."

Indeed, the InSideOut Initiative maintains winning is an important goal, but not the purpose of education-based sports.

And as such, the movement looks to empower school communities to become aware of the true purpose of high school sports, align around this purpose, provide education to stakeholders and hold all involved accountable with clearly defined expectations.

That's why athletic administrators and coaches across Ohio gathered at FirstEnergy Stadium earlier this week to help take that blueprint back home. The InSideOut Initiative, which is supported by the NFL Foundation, launched a partnership with the Browns, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ohio High School Athletic Association, and the Ohio Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association last year.

"The OHSAA is part of this program and what we're doing is getting school coaches and administrators involved to really go through the real purpose of what high school sports is all about," said Bob Goldring, the OHSAA's associate commissioner for operations.

"Obviously people get caught up in the wins and losses — and this program isn't saying winning isn't important — but we're trying to emphasize that very few of the participants go on to play collegiately and obviously less play at the pro level so let's have them with adults that really talk about the values and traits that they can take with them the rest of their lives."

Added Bruce Brown, the executive director of OIAAA: "We talk about ourselves as being education-based and with our society and culture the way it is, often times with school sports, it's gotten skewed with this mission.

"So what this initiative really does is allow the key audiences — in particular the administrators — to get back to true north if you will. Why are we doing what we do with our students."

Ehrmann, author of I*nSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform *and a former NFL player, described InSideOut as a "reclamation of sports for the human growth and development of young people."

"You have to challenge this win at all cost mentality. We ought to be creating men and women that are great citizens, people of great character and contributors to our society."

Greco said that's the point of coaches.

"That's the thing, a kid's going to have a memory or something that lasts with them forever," he said, "it's going to help them grow and be better."​

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