Homer vs. Flanders

In Leadership by Brock Bourgase

When Springfield experiences an epidemic of childhood obesity (again), the town turns to Pop Warner football to encourage kids to exercise more. Like they previously did with minor hockey, the adults abuse their positions of responsibility and monopolize the activity. Homer and Flanders take turns coaching the team and offer two contrasting coaching philosophies. While the team wins the championship at the conclusion of the season, it can be attributed more to the talent of the players involved than their coaches.

The team is initially coached by Ned Flanders – who is motivated by his community spirit and his desire to keep Rod and Todd away from girls and rock and roll music – and the practices show how even an exuberant coach with the best intentions could benefit from some coaching courses. Flanders provides feedback which is somewhat specific but primarily based on outcomes, not process (“A little higher.”). He rightly provides more encouragement to the weaker players on the team to keep them engaged (Ralph remembers that he’s “special” throughout the episode). Team status is also determined based on some quantitative standards (the starting quarterback is determined by throwing the correct ball hard and accurately).

The Springfield Wildcats create an inclusive environment at first, permitting players of both genders and all abilities to participate. The positive environment is somewhat overwhelming, to the point of gimmickry (“Okely dokely, let’s put on our game faces.”) and cliché (“Are you reading to give 110%, take it one game at a time and go the whole nine yards.”) but this seems to suit the players, who are in the Learn to Train stage. Athletes at that age play for fun, socialization and fitness so athlete retention is important, a fact that Flanders realizes but Homer cannot comprehend.

Homer’s jealousy towards Flanders manifests itself in poor sportsmanship and abusive heckling, leading to the coach’s resignation and forcing homer to “volunteer” for the vacancy.

Homer should have provided non-judgmental objective feedback privately, perhaps after a practice, instead of behaving rudely in public. Homer Simpson may be a satire of the average person taken to the heights of absurdity but his behaviour is all too realistic in this instance.

Firstly, Homer should model the way and inspire others to follow his example. Unfortunately, his incompetence in the workplace, questionable morals and poor personal fitness seem to disqualify him from any leadership position in the town. Football ultimately proves to be another example of the Simpson family’s inability to consistently follow an exercise regiment.

Secondly, Homer becomes far more concerned with what plays the team should run rather than the fundamentals behind them. All leaders should not only articulate their ultimate objective but the strategies that will be utilized to achieve that goal. In this case, the purpose of an offensive play is to move the ball down the field and score, rather than running the play itself. Coaches should never employ plays that they do not understand thoroughly. Players should understand the rationale behind each scheme so they can apply those principles to various situations as they occur in games.

Homer insists that Bart serve as the team’s quarterback, ignoring hundreds of anecdotes from the course of the series which suggest that the boy’s rebellious exterior is an attempt to overcompensate for his poor self-esteem, weak academic abilities and lack of athleticism. The coach put his own interest ahead of the team (“My father never believed in me! I’m not gonna make the same mistake. From now on I’m gonna be kinder to my son and meaner to my dad.”) and overlooks empirical evidence to the contrary.

Change for the sake of change never pays dividends in the long-term because it requires one to play catch-up and deal with the symptoms of the problem one at a time rather than the root cause. The Chicago Bears and Philadelphia should develop their offensive lines, the Arizona Cardinals and the Eagles should alter their play calling and the St. Louis Rams and New York Jets need to instruct their quarterback to make more accurate reads before rushing to make a change. In the case of the Springfield team, there was a more capable player ready to step in and lead the team and a switch should have been made.

Assuming the coaching title mid-season precludes Homer from creating a Yearly Planning Instrument and focusing on Long-Term Athlete Development. Consequently, his decisions are very reactive and tend not to follow any sort of realistic plan. When Homer becomes overly concerned with exercising his authority, he makes cuts purely in order to soothe his ego. Steven – a glue guy who was acknowledged by Homer for his hustle – was cut for no apparent reason (“That’s why it was so hard to cut you.”). When the team faced adversity, a player who always worked hard and made plays could have lifted everyone’s spirits.

Bart attempts to improve his throwing arm with practice but is unable to create the intensity and quality in his repetitions that makes dedicated practice. Homer is too ignorant about training to assist him. Even some rudimentary knowledge about nutrition or recovery and regeneration would have helped the team but Homer is unable to contribute anything of value (“You doctors have been telling us to drink eight glasses of gravy a day.”). Joe Namath arrives to provide some help but his vague and incomplete explanation shows that great players do not always become great coaches.

On the bright side, Homer assumed a professional appearance, wearing a houndstooth hat which harkened back to the days of Bear Bryant and Tom Landry. Homer proved that fashion only allows one to emulate the greats rather than attain an elite level of coaching without putting in the required work but he made a good impression and demonstrated to players that the game is an important activity, demanding full effort and attention to detail. Homer finally makes a realization that requires personal sacrifice for the team’s success at the end of the episode. Also, the episode didn’t include the worst football play ever featured on the show.