By Alex Flanagan
Ron Rivera knew benching his superstar quarterback Cam Newton this past Sunday would cause a huge stir, even though the head coach was only doing what all good coaches, teachers or parents should do … Say what you mean and mean what you say.
One of Rivera’s team rules is that players wear a necktie when they travel. When the seemingly fashion conscious Cam Newton showed up without a tie for Saturday’s flight to Seattle, he was in violation of the dress code. A rule is a rule, and a necktie is a necktie. It doesn’t matter how important you are on the depth chart, explained Rivera when he was asked the day after the Panther’s game about enforcing consequences of dress code violations. “The truth of the matter is I have to treat everybody the same,” said Rivera. “I really do. And that’s all that was. There is no underlying message.”
The quarterback missed one offensive series in the Panthers embarrassing 40-7 loss to the Seahawks. It’s debatable whether or not benching him affected the outcome of the game. While sports talk radio endlessly argues that point, what stood out to me was how Rivera’s relatively ordinary action subtly reinforced a simple, yet essential lesson in both leadership and parenting.
Rivera followed through. He set an expectation and when it wasn’t met he enforced the consequence.
It is one of the golden rules of parenting because, as Jessica Lahey, author of the New York Times Bestseller The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, explained to me, when moms, dads, teachers and coaches follow through on consequences, they actually make kids feel safer and more secure. “All kids – from toddlers to teens – are reassured by knowing where the lines are,” says Lahey. “When parents draw a line in the sand around expectations for behavior, school work, or household duties, and fail to follow through with consequences, kids may be relieved in the moment, but in the big picture, this kind of inconsistency is anxiety-provoking and scary for kids.”
Since, Lahey says, the human brain can’t process information or learn in an atmosphere of fear or anxiety, a lack of follow-though not only throws kids into emotional turmoil, but actually short-circuits learning.
“Consistency in follow-through reassures kids because they know what to expect,” says Lahey.
“All I did was treat a player like I did any other player,” said Rivera of Newton’s benching. But buried in that small action were much bigger, more important lessons for even an adult like Cam Newton to remember … like how little things matter, that individuals aren’t more important than a team and that when you are required to wear a necktie, it means you’d better wear a necktie.
Alex Flanagan co-founded I love to watch you play in 2015. She was flying home from an NFL work assignment when a learning specialist, who was sitting next to her, shared 5 reasons she shouldn’t feel guilty missing her son’s game. She shared their conversation on her own website alexflanagan.com and the response was so overwhelming it inspired her to create ILTWYP to help parents like herself navigate youth sports.