Dealing with Coaches: Especially the Difficult Ones

Categories: Children's Sports,Coaching,Parenting,Sports | July 28, 2009

The relationship between a coach and his or her players is one of the most important parts – if not the most important part – of a child’s sports experience. The nature and quality of this relationship can determine whether children decide to continue in a particular sport or – if they really get turned off by a coach – in any sport activity for that matter. On the other hand a positive, endearing, and fun connection with a coach can have a profound impact on developing particular sport skills, the foundations of sportsmanship, but more importantly fostering the development of solid character and self-esteem. How then should you relate to a person who holds such a central place in your child’s athletic life?

You might find it surprising that many parents quite unnecessarily take a distant back seat to the relationship between their child and his or her coach. This kind of parental behavior is ironic because it runs counter to the natural instinct of most parents in matters connected to their children to be right in there with them. Many who tend towards this reticence have not been particularly athletic themselves and find the sports experience somewhat foreign, thus they are prone to stay in the background and defer to those with more sports experience – the coaches. Regardless of your own background in athletics, it is very important to strike a balance between being intrusive and pushy, and being under -involved. Rest assured, some involvement with your child’s coach entirely in order.

The basic and most reasonable way to communicate with your child’s coach is to introduce yourself to him or her and tell how excited your child is to play. You might ask if there is anything you can do to help your child with the sport. If you have the time and inclination, ask the coach if there are things you can do to help the team. These activities could range from providing healthy snacks, serving a team-parent, or helping to establish a sportsmanship program such as those provided by NAYS (National Alliance for Youth Sports), the Kindness Counts Foundation or the SAGE (Set A Good Example) program. These programs are frequently initiated by parents and tend to have a very positive impact on the behavior of fans on the sidelines and in the stands.

Interacting directly with coaches in this way can help you to establish a positive relationship with them. It will also give you a gut-sense of what kind of person they are; nice, personable, intelligent and mindful of fostering the overall wellbeing of the children in their charge – or a bit too Type A with a tendency towards vicarious living through their players’ victories. If it appears that your child’s coach leans a little towards the later, if is imperative that you stay close enough at practices and games to observe how he or she deals with the children.

One of the reasons to stay reasonably close at hand is that in some communities, coaches with great winning traditions, especially those in the more aggressive sports such as football and ice hockey, are sometimes given wide latitude in how they deal with their players. Frequently parents and members of the community inadvertently overindulge the darker side of their coaches’ personalities. Screaming, mocking, humiliating, and grabbing a child or teenager by the collar are sometimes part of these coaches’ motivational repertoire. Some might be heard say, “Yeah, coach is a little rough around the edges, but he’s had a hell of a winning program for a long time.” The reality is that no matter the revered status a coach may have, your child has a right to be treated with respect for the person he or she is and should never be subjected to verbal or physical abuse. John Wooden, the legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team demonstrated on his way to helping his players earn five national championships, that treating players with dignity and respect along with firmness and discipline is truly a winning combination.

What do you do if you observe a coach crossing the line of propriety with your child or another child?

Remember:

  1. You have the right and responsibility to advocate for your children at all times. Trust your own instincts rather than routinely deferring to coaches just because of the position that they hold.
  2. You have the right to (respectfully) address the issue directly with the coach. At a time after the heat of the game, let him or her know that you believe their actions were out of line and that you expect that your child will be treated differently.
  3. If you observe the coach being abusive to another child, let his or her parent know and lend them your support in addressing the issue.
  4. You have the right to contact league administrators and/or the governing body of the sport and inform them of the situation – and to expect an appropriate organizational response.
  5. Most leagues are administered by volunteer parents – folks just like you. Instead of merely complaining about how things are or feeling like a victim, consider becoming part of the solution by seeking a role within the league. If you get like-minded, child-centered people to join you in this endeavor, the momentum for change would have begun.

While it is true that to be forewarned is to be forearmed, it is important to recognize that the majority of coaches you and your child will encounter are well-meaning, good-natured individuals who are trying to do right by their child – most are involved because their own child is on the team – and yours. In addition to what we’ve already covered in terms observing the coach and offering to help in some manner with the team here are some general do’s and don’ts when in comes to communicating with your child’s coach.

Do:

  1. Inform you child’s coach of any medical issues that may arise in the course of the sport activity. These might include food allergies, asthma, and psychological and social challenges such as Attention Deficit Disorder.
  2. Periodically check in with the coach to see how he or she thinks your child is doing. This gives an opportunity for the coach to offer you an assessment of your child’s skill development and provide suggestions of ways you can help your child. This contact might also provide a medium for the coach to inform you of any behavioral problems that might be distracting to the team. Or you might simply be the recipient of some gratifying words such as, “It is a pleasure to have your child on the team.”
  3. Ask (not question) your child’s coach in regards to any matter involving your child that truly puzzles you.
  4. Thank your child’s coach and encourage your child to thank the coach after games and practices.

Don’t:

  1. Coach your child from the sideline or stands. Root for them instead.
  2. Ask for more playing time for your child (providing he or she is already getting the minimum amount of playing time guaranteed by league or team policy).
  3. Ask that your child play a specific position.
  4. Criticize the coach for strategies he employs.
  5. Criticize the umpires or referees for any calls you feel they’ve gotten wrong. Chances are they are correct, but in any event, they are doing their best just to be fair.

Youth sports are a wonderful forum in which children can get a feel for a variety of different sports. The sense of belonging and camaraderie that comes with being a member of a team is at least equal to the satisfaction that children get in playing the game. If you are fortunate to find a coach that is warm and encouraging, your children’s experience will be positive and it is likely that they will continue to be engaged in various sport activities as a life-long source of satisfaction and fun. Developing and maintaining an open and supportive relationship with their coach will help you to set the stage for this to happen. Enjoy your child’s experience in sports for it is through sport that they will develop a sense of personal mastery that they will take with them into all aspects of their life.

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