“Just because something’s always been done that way, doesn’t mean it should continue to be done that way”

football“But that’s how we’ve always done it.” Who has not heard this–in a group project, at a business meeting, when someone proposes changing the order of a church service–and been incredibly frustrated? Here’s a lesson from someone who decided to do something different.

He’s called “the coach who never punts.” Kevin Kelley is the football coach for Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 2007, he punted a handful of times; in 2008, not at all; and ever since, he’s been winning state championships.

Punting on fourth down is conventional wisdom. Kelley’s teams, though, always go for it on fourth down. No matter where they are on the field. Even when they’re inside their own 10 yard line.

This wasn’t a decision made by impulse, or out of a reflex to rebel.

Instead, Kelley did the research on going for it on 4th down. He then considered the alternative: punting. When his teams would punt, on average, it may only decrease the odds of the opposing team scoring from 90% to 75% than if Kelley’s team hadn’t punted. Kelley decided to see if that percentage difference justified doing something unconventional.

Since instituting the “no-punt” approach, it has changed how his offense plays, and confounded the other team’s defense.

Every other team will punt on 4th down. Teams can prepare, knowing that a 3d-down-and-long scenario is most likely a passing play. Not with Kelley’s teams. Third down is just another down. So on a 3d-and-long, Kelley’s teams are not forced to try to get the first down. Instead, they can do a 3-yard running play, and pick up the 1st down on another running play on 4th down. And, Kelley doesn’t stop there.

About 75% of the time, his teams on-side kick the ball. This is a rarity in football. Typically only done when a team is down late in the game and needs to put together back-to-back scores. But, Kelley on-side kicks because he looked at the numbers.

When Pulaski kicked off, the opposing team typically only began 13 yards further back than if they had recovered the on-side kick. So, Kelley wanted to see what would happen if they did something different.

Pulaski only recovers 20% of their on-side kicks. But when you consider that if they had kicked-off, they would never recover the ball, the on-side kick strategy is giving Pulaski a statistically significant number of extra possessions for its offense.

So, what the heck does this have to do with this blog?

It’s an example of the unexpected happening because someone decided to go against convention. Someone heard, “well that’s how everyone else does it,” and thought, “but does that make it right?”

Less than 100 years ago, everyone was putting children with Down syndrome in institutions. Why? Because everyone knew the mongoloid idiots wouldn’t amount to anything. It was “better for all the world” for them to be warehoused, so the parents could try again to have a “normal” baby and move on with their lives. After all, raising a child with Down syndrome would be a burden on the family. The husband would probably leave. And, think of what would happen to the other children, deprived of the attention that the special needs child would demand.

But then there came a generation of Coach Kelley’s.

They looked at their children and listened to their doctor’s advice to forget about them, to start over, because that’s what everyone was doing, and, instead, the parents decided not to punt. Ever.

They brought their child home. They raised them with their other children. They then said their child shouldn’t be warehoused in a public school’s segregated rooms for the learning disabled. It didn’t matter that that was what all the research said should be done. Instead, they went for it, did the unexpected by demanding their children be in the same classroom as everyone else.

And, unlike in football, everyone won.

Husbands didn’t leave their wives at the near guaranteed rate that was expected–they actually left at a lower rate than couples who did not have a child with Down syndrome. The other children weren’t raised deprived, but considered themselves better people because of the sibling with Down syndrome. And, not only did the child with Down syndrome do better in an inclusive setting, but so, too, did the other children.

In this age of prenatal testing, you are going to hear what everyone does. That everyone gets it, now that it’s safe, and paid for, and we’re in the information age. That everyone (the oft-stated, but incorrect 90% figure) terminates after a diagnosis. And, that families move on and try for a normal child.

But, as Coach Kelley says,

Just because something’s always been done that way, doesn’t mean it should continue to be done that way.

Do the research. Get the information. And then decide what play you’re going to call.


  1. […] If we fear making mistakes, then we’ll never be able to make true advancements. Because in this industry, there is no right or wrong, no black and white solutions, only how things have been done in the past. And just because something has been done a certain way for a long time, doesn’t mean it’s the only way, or even the best way. (http://www.downsyndromeprenataltesting.com/just-because-somethings-always-been-done-that-way-doesnt-&#8230😉 […]

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