InSideOut Best Practices: Indiana’s IHSAA Foundation Builds Sustainability

When Matt Wolfert stepped into his first day on the job as IHSAA Foundation president in August 2017, the organization rolled out the InSideOut Initiative in partnership with the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. “Then Commissioner Bobby Cox had a vision—to create a foundation that would help protect, sustain, and nurture education-based athletics for future generations,” Matt told us. This vision inspired Commissioner Cox to not only create a separate foundation entity from the association, but to dedicate a full-time staff member to it—an unprecedented, sustaining commitment to supporting education- and purpose-based athletics long term.

Prior to the rollout of InSideOut, the IHSAA had already invested in work to determine how they could protect, sustain, and nurture education-based athletics for future generations. “InSideOut came along at the exact moment when we were working on fundraising to help keep education-based athletics active and alive here in Indiana,” Matt shared.

Fundraising Leverage 

When Matt and his team talk with potential donors, InSideOut has been a tremendous tool to help tell the story about why their investment is critical.

Through the InSideOut Initiative, the NFL Foundation provides funding for three years, or four phases. Throughout that time, educational and athletic leaders from across the state are invited to participate in training, free of cost, with the additional support from the NFL market team. “It doesn’t cost anything, but it’s not free,” our co-founder Joe Ehrmann likes to say. Making the investment of time and energy into an initiative like this requires commitment—something the IHSAA already had in droves. What they didn’t have, necessarily, was a platform—a framework upon which to build their approach to nurturing education- and purpose-based athletics for the long run.

In his earliest conversations with donors, Matt remembers them asking, “can you tell me if my school is doing that program?” Donors saw the value immediately, and wanted to ensure that their local athletic leaders were active and engaged. Beyond the three-year covered period, it provided an opportunity for individuals to make investments that were applied to their community directly; for example, a donor could contribute the $279 entry-level fee as a restricted gift to get their school active on the online learning platform where they could get fully trained on the InSideOut System and Philosophy. 

Path to Sustainability 

When the NFL Foundation’s funding expires, local leaders are left to build their own strategies to sustain the work long-term. While the progress made in those three years is a tremendous start, it’s not a “one and done” approach. Programs sit on shelves; the InSideOut Initiative is called an “initiative” for a reason: it represents a fundamental shift in the way the entire system thinks about and manages education-based athletics programs.

Matt and the IHSAA Foundation’s approach to sustainability has helped the Initiative stay alive and active, reaching new ADs and coaches in Indiana each year. Donors make financial contributions to the IHSAA Foundation, and those funds help support ongoing training and development for new athletic leaders. 

Integration is Key

Here are a few of the ways Matt and the IHSAA team have integrated the teachings of InSideOut into their ongoing efforts:

  • They include the Four Questions in the hiring process for all ADs and coaches, and train ADs on how to conduct a hiring process that attracts transformational coaches.
  • They conduct a new AD workshop at the IHSAA office each summer. Matt reinforces that his role via the foundation is to support them, and the #1 thing they do is the InSideOut Initiative—teeing them up for ongoing trainings and conversations.
  • Matt shares Joe’s Book, InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives, and asks them to read it so they understand the overall picture.
  • ADs and coaches write their Transformational Purpose Statement in their first year.

Retention Results

During a time when AD turnover has never been greater, investment in their satisfaction and development is critical. “I personally feel like our ADs who are invested in becoming an InSideOut leader actually like their job more,” Matt told us. “They have better job satisfaction. They’re creating a common language for their school community, hiring transformational coaches; once they start surrounding themselves with these types of people—those who are doing it the right way and for the right reasons—their jobs are more enjoyable.” 

“The InSideOut Initiative is helping Indiana refocus on the real purpose of education-based athletics. Thanks to the InSideOut Initiative and the support of the Colts, we have administrators, coaches and ADs refocused on being transformational and not transactional – they are refocusing on why we do what we do on a daily basis,” Matt reflected. “The InSideOut

Initiative is truly changing high school athletics in all 92 counties here in Indiana.  We understand that being an InSideOut leader isn’t something you ‘do’, it’s something you ‘become’.”