By Ken Reed

The following is an excerpt from League of Fans’ sports policy director Ken Reed’s book Ego vs. Soul in Sports Joe Ehrmann is a former NFL All-Pro football player and founder of the InsideOut Initiative, a national movement to promote purpose-based athletics by connecting student-athletes to transformational coaches, in a nurturing community, for their human growth and development. He is the author of InsideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives.

As a kid, I picked my sports idols based on how far and how dramatically they hit home runs (Reggie Jackson), how cool-sounding their names were (Roman Gabriel, Bob McAdoo), how sweet their uniforms looked (Roger Staubach), and how many championships they won (Bill Russell).

But I now have a new sports idol, one that transcends that illustrious group. In fact, calling him a sports idol is demeaning. This guy is a champion human being. As good as it gets. His name is Joe Ehrmann and he’s a former All-Pro lineman with the Baltimore Colts — but that’s the least of his accomplishments in life.

Ehrmann once was the stereotypical pro jock. He partied hard and defined himself by his athletic accomplishments, sexual conquests and the amount of money in his bank account. His turning point was the premature death of his younger brother. Ehrmann began a quest for the true meaning of life. He gradually transitioned from self-centered hedonist to other-centered humanitarian. Eventually, he would start a foundation called Building Men for Others and become the defensive coordinator for Gilman School in Baltimore.

I discovered his remarkable story by picking up a book called Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx. I’m thankful I did. It’s simply one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. I was only up to p.33 when I realized this wasn’t going to be your typical book about a macho football coach. Ehrmann began his speech to 200 high school coaches by stating that the most critical issue facing our society is the distorted concept of what it means to be a man. He then began to rip what he calls the “false masculinity” pervading our culture; the three components of which he described as athletic ability, sexual conquest and economic success.

After discounting that model, he outlined his paradigm for being a man. First and foremost, according to Ehrmann, true masculinity is about developing and maintaining relationships. Greatness is measured by the impact you make on other people’s lives. His contention is that the problem with males is that we compare and compete but we don’t really connect.

Here’s Coach Ehrmann in a nutshell:

“[Masculinity] ought to be taught in terms of the capacity to love and to be loved. It’s gonna come down to this: What kind of father were you? What kind of husband were you? What kind of coach or teammate were you? What kind of son were you? What kind of brother were you? What kind of friend were you? Success comes in terms of relationships. Life’s about relationships and having a cause bigger than yourself. Simple as that.”

How does that philosophy translate into a coaching style? Listen to Ehrmann send his players on the field before a game:

“What is our job as coaches?” he asked.

“To love us,” the boys yelled back in unison.

“What is your job?” Ehrmann fired back.

“To love each other,” replied the team.

What would Vince Lombardi think of that exchange? Didn’t Lombardi always believe you had to treat players like dogs to reach the pinnacle of success?

“God gives each person X amount of talents,” explained Ehrmann.

“The question isn’t really how many talents you’ve been given. That’s the sovereignty of God. The real question is what you do with the ones you have. Some of us get paralyzed when we feel we don’t have ‘as much as’ or [aren’t] ‘as good as’ someone else. But the person we really want to honor is the one who maximizes whatever it is he has.”

Toward the end of one practice, Ehrman told the boys, “You’re practicing like you really love each other. You’re pushing each other, helping each other get better … finally practicing like you really love each other. It makes all the difference in the world. And it makes me really proud of you.”

Imagine. A coaching philosophy based on love. Powerful stuff. The world of sports – and the world at large – certainly needs more of this.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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