Regardless of the sport, the gender, the age group or corner of the country on any given Saturday millions of sports parents will be dissatisfied with their son or daughter's coach(es) and/or team.
With the expectations for performance so visibly sky high for all youth sports in 2013 is it any wonder that parent/coach conflict is the norm rather than the exception?
As a coach and sports parent myself I ask you this question: Are you part of the problem or the solution?
Now I fully understand that there are numerous situations where, as a parent, you may be fully justified in being upset, bewildered or disappointed in how your athlete's coach runs their team or handles your athlete's playing time, etc. And you certainly have the right to expect an acceptable level of competency and decorum from your coaches during practices and games.
On the flip side you might be the kind of parent expecting nirvana, perfection, an idyllic season where your athlete, team and coach do no wrong in your eyes. Be truthful...how often has that happened before at any level? Being realistic of your athlete and their team's potential is critical for any sports parent.
So let's look at what being part of the problem or the solution looks like. Which category do you fall into (or your spouse)?
Here's what being a part of the problem looks like:
1. You keep track of game statistics and each players participation time to justify that the coach isn't treating your athlete fairly. Furthermore you will go out of your way to throw these stats at the coach to intimidate or manipulate his or her game day decision making.
2. You stand behind the backstop or in the stands verbally bad mouthing your athlete's coach or, worse, other players on her/his team; whether about his/her game strategy or player usage. This type of behavior is the worst kind of poison because it serves to undermine team unity, respect and support for team and coach; particularly if these verbal snipes are within eye shot of players, other team parents and coaches.
3. You share your displeasure with your athlete's coach with your athlete in the car from a game or at home. This serves to undermine the coach's efforts and plants the seed in your athlete's mind that his/her coach is incompetent or purposely treating her/him unfairly. She/he may then share your views with their teammates and team unity is then shot...leading to poor effort and game day performances.
4. You say nothing but are constantly pacing during the game or hovering by the dugout or bench in an attempt to hear what the coach or coaches are saying to the team. You are the proverbial fly on the wall, the pest the coaches can't wait to avoid at all costs (I have even seen players cut because of parent behavior like this).
5. You put your athlete on a pedestal, myopic to his or her true athletic ability. You can't understand why she/he isn't playing over Tommie or Tammie because she/he is clearly better than them (when the truth and stats clearly don't support your position). You maintain "small picture" thinking, without regard for team or individual player development.
6. You publicly confront your athlete's coach(es) immediately after a game in a quasi emotional rage making a fool of yourself in front of fellow parents, players and other teams...causing extreme embarrassment for your athlete and team, and risking permanent alienation with his/her coach(es).
Here's what being part of the solution looks like:
1. You express your frustration or disappointment in your athlete's coach(es) in a constructive, non-emotional way.
2. You approach your athlete's coach(es) at an appropriate time when neither of your emotions are high; at practice or in a private meeting set up by phone or email. You might find your athlete's coaches far more approachable and far less defensive if you proceed in this manner with any questions or problems you have. If you can cultivate a relationship of mutual respect with your athlete's coaches you'll likely be heard a whole lot more. Remember the old saying..."sugar catches a lot more flies than vinegar."
3. You communicate positively, but realistically to your athlete regarding her/his coach(es). You might say something like this, "Even though we may not agree with some of your coaches strategies (or you playing time/position) we need to respect his decisions. You can't control what your coach does (other than the player seeking out the coach to discuss concerns) so don't let it affect your attitude or game performance."
4. Maintain "big picture" thinking. You recognize that your athlete's coach(es) may just have a longer range plan for player or team development that you are not privy to. At the bare minimum maintain the perspective that it's youth sports: that where ever your athlete and their team are today is not where they will be in a year or two. Comparing their performance to that of professional athletes and teams is silly and psychologically destructive to all involved...most notably your own athlete.
5. Because you do maintain "big picture" thinking you keep your emotions in check before, during and after your athlete's games. You give your athlete and her/his coaches "room" during games keeping your physical and verbal distance.
6. You recognize that coaching is not an easy job. So much more goes into what a coach has to do on the field or court than what any parent sees during a game. Coaches are constantly evaluating their athlete's during practice for effort, attitude and skill mastery (far more closely than you are able to observe). A good youth coach is always doing his/her best to put the team in a position to play their best while being mindful of each player's game and emotional development. Having to deal with irate parents in the stands should not be part of the job description!
The bottom line is your athlete and his/her team is comprised of kids who are, by nature, works in progress. Their coach or coaches may be volunteers or minimally paid individuals who, like their professional counterparts, are prone to making mistakes in strategy and judgment from time to time.
Now, that being said, there are bad coaches out there...absolutely. I am certainly not going to defend them. But even bad coaches deserve your respect for their effort; even if you don't understand or like the outcome. If they are verbally or physically abusive (like the Rutgers coach who was just fired) you have every right to confront your athlete's coach(es).
In any difficult situation in sports or in life you can choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution. The key is in recognizing which behavior leads to which result. You can be in a perpetual state of aggravation and frustration over your athlete's coach(es), spreading your venom where ever you go on game day...or you can be the adult and find a way to affect changes that might result in a positive solution to your problem (which might even include accepting the situation or even changing teams). But beware of "team hopping" because of your dissatisfaction with your athlete's coach(es); the grass isn't always greener on a new team and your athlete's being ripped away from his/her comfort zone may adversely effect performance.
[If your coaching issue is involving a high school coach I understand that transferring schools is likely not an option so, again, if you have no control over it why fume? If need be express your concerns to the school Athletic Director or Principal. High school coaches can be stubborn, especially if they also teach at the school. At least travel or competitive coaches know that if you aren't pleased with their performance you always have the option of leaving.]
Soon enough your little athlete will be out the door to college (whether playing ball there or not), so enjoy watching him/her play while you can. These are precious moments that will never come again. Do your best not to spoil them with misplaced anger and ego. Remember...be the solution not the problem!
What do you think? Share your thoughts or coaching/sports parents stories with me below.
Thanks for reading!