Matt Birk wanted to give back.
Now there’s an app for that.
Birk reveres high school football coaches. Fellow former Viking Brooks Bollinger does too, so much so that he became one. The two convened a bunch of their favorite high school football coaches recently to talk about football and life and how the former imbues the latter.
Then Birk and Bollinger started thinking about what they could do to help. They know that high school coaches have their hands full, and that high school players usually have phone-filled hands.
Birk and Bollinger hit on an idea. If coaches needed help reaching kids with short attention spans, wouldn’t it make sense to contact them via the very phone with which they frequently distract themselves?
The result is an app called The Greater Game. Birk and Bollinger, now coaching quarterbacks at Birk’s high school alma mater, Cretin Derham-Hall, developed and created it. It’s free. Birk says they are asking for and making no money on the project. They recruited famous NFL players to offer inspirational or educational messages. Now a high school coach can refer players to the app for a daily lesson or affirmation.
“We found that 87 percent of high school players recognize the names of NFL stars,” Birk said. “We also know that high school coaches have about 30 seconds to get a message across to their players before their players start thinking about something else.
“A lot of players are coming from broken families, or families where the father is not invested in parenting. We wanted to create a tool for the high school coach to help him in his mission.”
That’s how Birk sees high school coaching — as a mission, by almost any of the word’s definitions.
“It’s not just a job,” Birk said. “It’s a vocation. These guys don’t make any money. They make a couple of extra thousand to coach football and then they turn around and spend that money on the program anyway. We wanted to help them fulfill their purpose and accomplish their mission by teaching these kids some life lessons.”
Birk played at Cretin Derham-Hall, then Harvard, then with the Vikings. He won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. Now he’s the NFL’s director of football development. He spends much of his time contemplating how he can make football better, and how football made him better.
“You always hear that football is this barbaric sport and that all NFL players are out of control,” Birk said from his office in New York last week. “Those of us who played know that it’s this institution that has endured the test of time because it makes people better. It builds young men.
“We have 1.1 million young people playing high school football today and that’s 1.1 million who are very soon going to be husbands and fathers and hopefully leaders in our country.
“What else has the potential to have as big an impact as high school football on our young men? Who holds a kid to a higher standard than his football coach?”
Birk says when he was a high school kid, his parents couldn’t get him to pick up his clothes or do his laundry. Then he’d go to school and his high school football coaches would ask him to life weights, bang helmets and run sprints, and he would do it all without question.
Birk says the lessons the app holds are invaluable. He’s recruited players such as Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to offer advice and inspirational quotes, filed under categories like “Identity,” “Purpose” and “Character.”
Birk was and is a smart aleck on most subjects. When it comes to high school football, he proselytizes.
“This is just there to assist who I think is the most important person in the entire football universe,” he said. “That’s the high school football coach. If you didn’t have this guy who is so purpose-driven and selfless, the whole thing would crumble.”