Kliff Kingsbury: the NFL’s New ‘Cool Dad’

At a recent NFL league meeting, newly hired Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury announced that he would provide “social media breaks” during team meetings. Predictably, his plan has been met with varied response.

Some have applauded his efforts to meet a team of millennials on their own virtual turf. Others have condemned it in a manner that is, perhaps, unnecessarily grumpy.

One thing is certain: Kingsbury is playing the part of the cool dad. He is more concerned with being accepted by his players than taking the more difficult path of adjusting their behavior. He is giving his kids dessert before dinner. It’s easier that way.

Kingsbury states that he has observed “hands twitching and legs shaking” in the absence of social media. He has identified the players as addicts. The remedy for addiction is not indulgence. That will only make it worse.

Kingsbury’s announcement is resonant, in part due to its timing. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently stated that players are experiencing increased anxiety which is “a direct result of social media… they are truly unhappy.”

A recent article in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions refers to “the invisible addiction” of cell phones, and acknowledges that we must “identify the activities that push cell-phone use beyond its ‘tipping point’ where it crosses the line from a helpful tool to one that undermines our personal well-being.” Kingsbury is unwittingly crossing that line in an effort to gain acceptance from his players.

kliff kingsbury clapping

In the ever-present context of financial and psychological difficulties faced by former NFL athletes, it seems that now more than ever we need to take a close look at the struggles these men are facing, and make efforts to prepare them for life after sport. They’ll have to teach actual life skills – less about being tough, more about navigating the complexities of the modern environment.

NFL players will have shorter careers than other major sports. The average salary for NFL players is lower as well. They will play and be paid less than their NBA, MLB, and NHL counterparts. In other words, they will reenter society as regular Joes far earlier, and with significantly less in their bank accounts.

Research suggests that the ability to focus, pay attention, and delay gratification will lead to longitudinal success. That sounds like something NFL players – all of us, really – would benefit from. Kingsbury might want to take note.

If Kingsbury’s goals include setting these young men on paths to lifelong success, then social media breaks are a step in the wrong direction.

Admittedly, Kliff Kingsbury is under no obligation to educate these men. But he is under contract to coach them, and pandering to their social media addictions will further undercut their already low attention spans. So if the ethical discussion is not compelling enough, he might want to consider the fact that the average NFL game lasts 3 hours and 12 minutes. If he wants to win games, the Cardinals will have to learn to harness their attention.

cell phones

Kingsbury’s policy sets a slippery precedent.

What’s next? Will Cardinals players pause practice to Tweet between drills? Will there be cellphones on the sideline during games?

That might sound unbelievable, but it is not. We are on a slippery slope. It sounds just as unbelievable as taking a break from a team meeting to post a selfie on Snapchat would have sounded to Reggie White or Mean Joe Green.

Kliff Kingsbury and the NFL’s newest crop of young coaches are writing the script for the NFL’s future. Unlike writing an Instagram post, this script will require them to slow down.

They should not be caught up in the twitching hands of today, but designing for successful lives in the future. They will have to challenge their players. They will have to be deliberate. That will require focus.