He’s at the thirty, the twenty, the ten … touchdown! And the crowd goes wild! That is, when all goes well in high school sports. Pick the game, you know the experience we feel as parents. We place our children on pedestals when it comes to high school sports. For many, it’s more than a game. High school sports are the center of attention in so many of our communities, be it the small town Friday night or the neighborhood rivals meeting up in a larger urban area. When all goes well, everyone is smiling.
It’s true that sports can help build character. Children learn the ups and downs of victories and defeats. The emotional highs and lows will prepare them for what they will face in the world after high school. Life is, after all, a challenge. And sports are more than a game. They are part of the social fabric of a student athlete’s life. Beyond the game, student athletes learn to communicate with their teammates, understand the group dynamic, and the importance of contributing to a greater whole. At the center of this is the coach. Usually, the coach is the glue that binds the team and their families together. But what if the coach lacks that dynamic? Instead, your child may have the misfortune of a bad high school coach. How do you deal with that?
Let’s not Ignore the Obvious
Our kids, and even us parents, look up to their coaches. To say they are influential in their development is an understatement. However, it is possible to put too much faith in one person. Arguably, we are all guilty of that at some time or another. High school coaches have a huge amount of responsibility on their shoulders.
For beginners, they are teachers. I know what you’re thinking, it’s only a game. But high school sports are more than a game. I would argue that participation in sports is a high school athlete’s first foray into navigating sometimes challenging social circumstances. Look back on your high school days. What challenges did you face? Let’s also remember that, for most parents of today, social media was not a concern in high school. What happened at school, on the field, or at a social event didn’t receive the notoriety it now does. Those events of our past gradually faded away. Now, social media memorializes them forever.
And this isn’t the student athlete’s problem to face alone. The coach feels the same pressures. Off the field, parents and students will judge them. Remember that our high school coaches are often volunteers balancing a full-time career, home life, and coaching all at once. Many do this out of a love for the sport and for their communities. When calling out a coach for his or her behavior, keep this point in mind.
However, all coaches are not created equal. At times, a bad coach will enter the arena. Here are some things to keep in mind if your child finds themselves in this situation.
Patience is Always a Virtue
None of us enjoys seeing our child berated on the field. Or any child, for that matter. Part of the sporting life is to accept criticism. It’s a trait not easily developed, and one that requires patience. But it’s easy to know when a coach crosses the line from criticism to attacking a player. How do you know? First, identify the source of the conflict. Was it a bad play? Is the behavior from the coach ongoing? Finally, is the coach directing this behavior to one or two specific players? Any sport is a mix of play and emotions. It’s important to note that emotions run high in any athletic event.
Remove the emotion from the equation. If possible, attend a practice. Does the behavior extend to practices? Identify if the coach’s behavior is out of the ordinary. You’ll know. Also, listen to other parents. See if they have the same thoughts. It’s interesting how a crowd can witness something, but not speak up. As parents, don’t elevate the coaches to a place of being untouchable. We are all fallible, even our coaches.
Still, remember that a coach is in a position of authority and deserves respect. How would you approach a teacher that is failing your child in the classroom? With tact. Avoid confrontation. After discussing the behavior with other parents, consider approaching the principal or athletic director. Sometimes, a simple request from school officials will get a coach to look at his or her coaching methods.
Talk to your Child
This may seem as a simple suggestion, but as parents we sometimes ignore the obvious. As long as your child is a member of the team, ask them about their feelings. Don’t feel obligated to center on the coach. Ask about how the team is doing. If the season is not going as planned, ask them why they think so. As parents, our children feel our presence most when we are interested. Show an interest in the day-to-day goings on with their team. Chances are, your child will drop subtle (or not so subtle) hints as to how they are feeling.
We were all kids before. Did you always open up? Usually not. The best way to ask a child to say how they are feeling is not to ask directly. It’s to open up conversations that lead to the bigger discussions.
I remember the pressures of performing on the field. I admit to not being the most talented athlete. However, my family had a long standing history in my high school’s athletic programs. I was expected to perform. At times, my parents transferred their expectations to my coaches. By extension, my coach was feeling this influence.
We all want our children to succeed. In light of our own histories, it’s important to realize if our expectations are influencing the coaching staff.
Keep it Close
Outside of a monumental, public explosion at a student, keep your thoughts about the coach close. Don’t berate the coach in public, or in front of your children. Why? Simply put, it’s the fastest way to create enemies. Coaches are influential―both the good and the bad ones. Don’t play a hand that is likely to generate more drama.
Instead, confront the coach in private if a personal meeting is necessary. However, this should probably be the last step. Unfortunately, coaching changes don’t typically happen mid-season. What does your child have to lose? Are they a top athlete universities are scouting? Or, does their love of the game exceed the drama on the field? Keep those ideas in mind. Likely, you will have to weather the season before a change can or will happen. Even then, it’s hard to gauge if it will happen.
Rather than further the conflict, at times it is best to keep the coach in your sights. Let them know you are watching. Be a visible parent on and off the field. Get involved when you can. For example, take part in fundraising events. By making yourself valuable as a parent and supporter of the team you will be helping your child find success on and off the field. Weathering the season is sometimes the best route to take.
Keep Your Eye on the Ball
Remember, this is a game. The purpose is to play the game and play it at your best level. Sports teach many things, and one of them is the fact that group and personal success can coexist. If your child gives their best effort on the field, it will show. They’ll take pride in their achievements. If the team as a whole does this, then the team will enjoy success. That is the mark of good coaching.
Sadly, we sometimes teach our children to avoid obtaining personal success on the field of play. Why? In a team sport this can be understandable. However, if the team is lacking in leadership, success for the whole is unlikely. When possible, show your child how their success can build up their teammates. In sports, sometimes we have to carry the load in order to bring others along. Such is life, too. Their success can excite their teammates to go the extra distance.
Even if a coach is failing their team, personal successes can lead to team successes. All it takes is for one player to assume a role of leadership. Parents will see this. And so will the coaches. Sometimes a failing coach is what it takes to nudge our children to take the driver’s seat in their own circumstances.
That being said, don’t forget the pressures involved. It’s quite a bit to expect from a high school student. Bad coaching will make for a bad experience on and off the field. It’s your duty to steer your child in the right direction. We may not right the ship, but we can keep it on course. Carry the ball to the next marker and move on.
Take a Step in Coach’s Shoes
Remember how we mentioned earlier what coaches sacrifice to coach? Take a moment to see things from their perspective. Yes, even the bad coach.
Admittedly, bad coaches are a source of consternation to parents. We expect as much from them as they do from their athletes. What’s the best way to beat an opponent? Get inside their head. Your child’s coach is no different. Get inside the coach’s mind and see the team as they do. Once you do this it’s likely that your approach to the situation will change.
And with that shift of perspective you will learn how best to deal with this adversary. When our children are involved, taking on the individuals that influence them on a daily basis can be overwhelming to a parent. It’s true: our actions will impact them. Sadly, we’ll have to deal with the actions of the bad coach and the reaction to our response. It’s not fair, I’ll admit.
A coach benched my friend’s daughter during the final basketball game of her senior year. Why? Because my friend complained about the coach’s methods. In the end, it was a futile attempt at vanity on the coach’s part. My daughter’s friend went on to play for a state university that had recruited her. Indeed, the coach’s behavior was a prime example of a power play. Looking back, my friend regretted the decision. It made for a more difficult situation at home than it did on the court.
When a coach exhibits poor behavior, keep in mind that anyone is a fair target. Even their best players.
Playing for Keeps
As parents, the proverbial ball is always in our court. Unfortunately, bad coaches will enter the field of play as our children age. Throw in the emotions and pressures of high school sports, and it’s literally a game changer. Without a doubt, we are placing more stress on student athletes and their coaches. A great mindset to keep when judging the high school coaches you entrust your children to.
Still, there is no excuse for the behavior of some coaches. Because we value sports in our society as much as we do, we are often too quick to give bad behavior a pass in athletics. That is a failing on our part as much as it is in the coaches.
We can fight that mindset by setting boundaries that start with our very presence at athletic events. Be an athlete off the field. Then display good sportsmanship to the coaches that test the endurance of your patience. Escalate gently when necessary. Look ahead to the next play in your child’s social circles. Game plan for changes that make the most impact on and off the field. Often, it’s our character as parents that will make or break a bad coach. Being a game changer isn’t always easy or popular.
When all is said and done, it’s your call that matters most.
Emily Anderson is a mother of three children, ages 8, 6, and 3. Located in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, Emily is a full-time mom and part-time blogger, jumping in front of the screen when the kids are occupied. She can be reached through the Contact Us page.