Everybody knows elite athletes have speed coaches, strength coaches, position coaches, but communication coaches? One of the most overlooked and underrated areas of the NFL Combine in the past were the player interviews, but today the new trend has become athletes trying to make themselves more personable to NFL managers and coaches. Steve Shenbaum, Head of Communication training at IMG, is no newbie to this trend. He has been coaching athletes with their communication skills for years. Florida Today recent featured Shenbaum in a piece about his work and the impact that it can have on an athlete. From the Florida Today article:
NFL Interviews can boost athlete's value: Former actor says lying or reading script are negative.
By David Jones
BRADENTON â Former Ohio State star basketball player Greg Oden instantly fell in love with Steve Shenbaum, who was hired by Oden's agent to prepare him for interviews with NBA teams prior to the draft.
The thing that impressed Oden, the first overall pick in 2007, the most?
"He said 'American Pie 2' was his favorite movie," recalled Shenbaum, who had a part in the film. "I told Greg, 'Don't ever tell anyone else that's your favorite movie.' "
Shenbaum, a former actor who has appeared in more than a dozen movies (including "Space Jam," "Ed TV," among others) and TV sitcoms such as "Will and Grace" and "Dharma and Greg," usually doesn't tell future pro draft picks to tell a fib, however.
"We do not script answers for athletes; I cannot stand when someone is scripted and who is rehearsed," says Shenbaum, who has prepared hundreds of athletes for interviews at pre-draft NFL and NBA camps. "We don't write down what they should say, but I want to find out their value. So many of these athletes will go in there and not realize being the oldest of seven siblings . . . that's valuable if you make it valuable.
"Or talking about how they were not only a tight end but were also a point guard on their basketball team or ran a marathon. Whatever you can add to the interview that the team may not have known to increase your value, why wouldn't you add that? The training I do with these athletes is no different than I would do with a college graduate who is about to enter the job market."
With the NFL stressing character more and more, the interview process could be bigger than ever.
"I think," says ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., "that intangibles are going to be critical (this year)."
Shenbaum, who also works with the Florida State football team to help prepare players for media interviews, has found it challenging to prepare many talented athletes for the questioning they undergo from pro scouts, coaches and general managers. Most, he said, were never educated properly on how to present themselves in a positive light.
Most athletes, he said, are not properly prepared to communicate while in college because they spend so much time on their craft.
"Society, what's our responsibility?" Shenbaum said. "Here's a young man, four years of college, he's been asked to play football on scholarship yet he's really, really uncomfortable communicating. When I hear some of these young men communicate, it concerns me. I don't put the blame fully on them. My concerns are did the university give the athlete all the tools to improve as a person, you know? And in general, what does it say about the state of college sports. Are they student-athletes or are they athletes who are at a university? It saddens me."
Typically, how a player gets through the interview process can mean a lot -- especially if there are some issues. Niles Paul of Nebraska had to not only answer questions about a broken foot (now recovered) but at the Senior Bowl was asked about possible ties to gangs in his hometown of Omaha (he says there are none) and about a DUI arrest two years ago (he brought it up first with most scouts).
"I went to the Senior Bowl and I showed there's nothing wrong with me," Paul said. "They're going to try (to find something). There's nothing wrong with me, so I'm up for the challenge. I got a taste (of the interview process) at the Senior Bowl. People asked me about my foot, people asked about my incident when I got a DUI. They asked me about that, that was pretty much the focus. And then they asked me about my family, my brothers. A lot of people asked if we were gang members. I don't know, I thought that was a stereotype. "
Paul, who has run the 40 in 4.38, has 12 brothers and sisters.
Then there's Florida's Carl Johnson. He had a legal issue in Gainesville involving a female friend that was later dismissed without charges. But it was too late, his reputation had been damaged when the claims became public.
"Not a lot of people understand an odd duck, you know?" he says of being friendly and outgoing almost to a fault at times. "They are used to seeing a standard type of lineman so I'm trying to welcome into the new millennium, the new phenomenon of linemen that aren't the evil, grimy looking guys. We are the ones that smile and are very personable."
The state attorney's office in Gainesville sent letters to the NFL teams in mid-January explaining Johnson's legal controversy, which should help. But the interviews with GMs and coaches figure to get interesting.
"I can't dwell on the past," he said of the media attention his legal woes brought. "If I live in the past, I'm going to miss my future. Hey, you live in America."
Shenbaum will earn his pay helping Paul and Johnson. His strategy is simple: be honest, tell stories instead of making statements and show your total worth to a team. While there is no material proof that interviewing well can move a player up the draft charts he can help save an athlete's status, if controversy is involved.
"The example I would give is maybe a Darren McFadden," he said. "I wouldn't say I got Darren to get to four (the No. 4 selection overall in 2008 by Oakland). But we helped Darren not drop. We basically said to Darren, embrace everything you did. You have a couple of kids you've had out of wedlock, be honest about that and don't apologize for it. Just prove to the Raiders that you're a sound investment and that you're proud to be a father, it's made you more mature and it's made you more focused on being the best football player you can be -- because it was true.
"By him just sharing that, all the things he did physically alone, the Raiders just made the decision this is a sound investment and it's kind of paid off. He had a really good year this year."
McFadden rushed for 1,157 yards, caught 47 passes and scored a combined 10 touchdowns in 2010.
It can also help the player who is trying to edge ahead of someone else. For example a team needing a tight end in the third round could look at two players with the same skill level and take the one they enjoyed being around better. Some times that's huge, if no other team needs a tight end until 20 or 30 picks later.
"Maybe it comes down to that fine line," Shenbaum said. "OK, there are two guys on the board now and they rank out perfectly even when it comes to skill and physical and there's kind of split in the room on who they are going to go with. Maybe then you go to, OK which guy do you think is a stronger character or which guy is going to have a stronger influence in the locker room or which guy is going to be a better teammate or which guy do you just like more.
"I will say this, when you can communicate better and when you can make a room comfortable or when you can be authentic your chances will improve. And I will say this, human beings in general, we tend to side with people we like. There's where the difference comes. You've got two guys on the board similar in all aspects then maybe (New England coach) Bill Belichick and his staff will go to, which guy do we just like better. That's where I can make a difference."