We all know who BYU Head Coach Kalani Sitake is – the bruising BYU running back who played for Lavell Edwards and later was a long-time assistant coach for the University of Utah and Oregon State University. Since he has become BYU’s Head Football Coach, he has begun to change the culture of the program – with an emphasis on helping his team and Cougar Nation feel like a family.
We’ve been BYU football fans since we were little kids. Coach Lavell Edwards, Steve Young and Ty Detmer were all legends that we looked up to. So when we had the chance to go the BYU football offices to meet with Coach Kalani Sitake, walking past memorabilia, posters and gear, we have to admit, we were pretty starstruck.
We’d never been in a football coach’s office before – let alone BYU’s Head Football Coach. As we waited for Coach Sitake, we met several assistant football coaches and saw young football recruits walking down the hallway. From around the corner, we heard Coach Ty Detmer’s unmistakable Texas drawl as he was showing them around. Before he could turn the corner, we were called in to Coach Sitake’s office. Guess we’ll have to wait until next time for that photo op! We were nervous, but Coach Sitake’s calm demeanor and attitude helped put us at ease and we instantly felt like members of the BYU football family.
While we met, Kalani shared with us what motivates him as a football coach; that one of his purposes is to help shape his young athletes to serve others and help them think about more than just themselves. Coach Sitake was open about how this desire led him to start something to accomplish this–the More2Life Foundation.
A few years after his parents’ divorce, at an elementary school assembly put on by BYU athletes, Kalani was deeply affected by the kindness of a BYU player. “He sought me out and asked me my name. He embraced me and it was beautiful.” That moment was monumental. “I felt I had a purpose. It changed my life. I was already a BYU fan, but now I was going to die a BYU fan…that experience has impacted me for 30 years.”
“The whole purpose of our mortal life is to help encourage others and to serve…with an intent to help young people whether they are disadvantaged in any way, whether it be physical, mental or financial. Simply giving people money isn’t enough… give them motivation and help them find passion. For us in our football program, there are two sides of it. Service brings the best out of people. When I was younger and growing up, helping others brought me a lot of joy. In college things tend to get selfish. In football, you’re worried about fitness – losing and gaining weight. We have a lot of missionaries who are just returning home who play football and utilize the platform we have. It is an obligation for us to help others. Our players are consistently serving others.”
Kalani expressed a desire to see this type of service-oriented program start at every major sports program across the country and hopes to get other football coaches on board. Kalani emphasized, “what good we could do if all programs were able to do something like this.”
One of the main initiatives of the More2Life Foundation is to inspire others to serve. Kalani often does this through events like recent visits to underprivileged children in Harlem and LA. There, they held activities to help children and coaches through lessons about life, competition, goal-setting and of course some football too. Kalani feels “the big events get a lot of attention. We hold events every month that maintain a lot of momentum and it’s not limited to just football. What if the BYU football team shows up to a service project? That would have been huge for me as kid. I would have gone to do it.” So would we!
The True Blue Hero program, another More2Life initiative, partners with BYU football to honor children who are overcoming significant challenges at one of the weekly football practices. One of our colleague’s nieces was a recipient of this program before one of the games last year.
“We are hoping to motivate others to serve,” Kalani stated, “Even though we put on football clinics – it’s not just limited to football. During these clinics, we also emphasize service projects and important life skills, such as making care kits for others and setting personal goals. We’ve received great feedback.”
We asked Kalani how people can support the More2Life Foundation. ”Time!” he responded. “If people want to donate money, they can. It helped us take 32 players to Harlem and 34 players to LA. But donating is not just about money. Some people may not be able to donate money, but they can donate their time to help. Some have donated a few hours a week to organize. It’s not money that makes things run, it’s people.”
“During the foundation’s first year, I’ve been impressed with our players. It’s humbling for them to see the effect they have on these kids. Some of our players haven’t served LDS missions, but they’ve been able to catch the vision of service.”
“I don’t know how many wins this will get us, but I’m not really worried about that. The name of the foundation is that there is ‘More 2 Life’ than just football. I’d like to think you can win games through more than just x’s and o’s and working out.” Kalani states that if you serve together as a team and as a family, that is a victory in itself.
“Get out and serve,” he advises, “Help others to not focus on their own issues by serving and by seeing that their worth is valued by other people and that it has a lot to do with giving their time and energy.”
Let’s follow Coach Sitake’s counsel and go out and serve others.
To read more about Coach Kalani Sitake’s More2Life Foundation, visit the website at www.coachkalani.com
Phil and Triston are owners of the Center for Couples and Families in American Fork, Provo and Spanish Fork and provide marriage and family therapy to clients.
Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine