Dealing with Difficult Coaches May 1, 2013

Tom Curry

Be observant, be patient and be an advocate for your child. Remember that above all it's, "Play Ball"! Play denotes fun and children do learn from play.

(From EP Magazine – May 2013)

By Tom Curry

In light of recent events at Rutgers, it's a good time to reflect on our roles as coaches given the privilege of working with today's young people and student athletes. Youth sports should be participation based, while high school athletics is Educationally Based. The behavior exhibited by the Rutgers coach has no place in any school and in any youth sports program at any level. I am sure we can all agree that we desire positive, professional behavior at all times for our children. The coaching profession, paid or volunteer, is under a microscope, and it's a good time to reflect on what good coaching is and how we, as parents, should react when we observe behavior to the contrary.

Good coaching is above all GOOD TEACHING! All coaches model behaviors for our athletes each and every time we step on the field, in the gym or anywhere else. Profanity is never permitted. Racial or sexist remarks are never permitted. Physical contact is never permitted. Bullying is never permitted.

It is important to recognize that coaches must criticize and learn to be adept at giving such criticism. One way is to sandwich that criticism with a good word or two placing the critique between the good words. It's always best to remember that whether it is a beginning youth player in his or her first soccer or tee ball practice, a middle school student or seasoned high school senior, they are children! Many of us went into coaching because of the positive influence that a coach had on us as a student. We learned from that coach traits that made us want to pass on those values and habits to our athletes under our watch today. That is our greatest challenge. Winning is not the ultimate challenge facing these adults who decide to coach. Yes, it is difficult at some times, but the coach must be up to the task. The kids, students, parents and, now, even the media and others are watching.

I am convinced that these things occur when coaches have not been trained and monitored. In youth sports, many times it's a dad or mom who is volunteering their time to help. Ethical standards and coaching training may not have been discussed. It never dawns on these volunteer coaches that there are other values besides winning that must and should be emphasized. There may be some kids who may require some extra help or special attention. These volunteer coaches may not be ready to deal with these kids. Whether they realize it or not, these coaches are role models for the young people on their teams. Whether experienced or beginner, the coach must realize the powerful place he or she has in these children's lives.

As a parent, be observant as to what is happening in practice and in games. Is there learning going on? Is it organized or chaotic? Are the kids being abused verbally? Is everyone participating? Are kids quitting? The kids who are lucky are the ones with parents who have an interest in what is going on without interfering at every practice or game. Volunteering is not enough anymore. Training should be required by each recreation program or youth sports team for all coaches who work with kids. With the power to turn kids off about sports or turn them into passionate athletes with a desire to participate and really learn as much as they can about the sport, the coach has the ultimate responsibility in a child's life to make a big difference in their development.

So you have seen a problem. You know what's happening is not right. What are you going to do? It's never simple or easy. The coach may be a good person who just doesn't get it. He or she may be entrenched in the community or school and have gotten away with poor coaching behavior in the past. Quite honestly, that is not your concern. Your child's welfare is most important in your mind. Here are some hints on how to address these issues with a coach who is exhibiting poor behavior.

  • Meet with the coach privately. Public discussions usually backfire. At this meeting, begin with telling him or her that you appreciate their efforts and time given to helping these young people. Then suggest that whatever the problem is (language, sportsmanship, etc) needs some improvement. Maybe your child has used some poor language and you found that he is learning that at practices and games. Or that some behavior in school is being learned at practice. Your concern is that all the good he or she might be doing is outweighed by the poor behavior that comes out at times.
  • If that doesn't work, talk with league or school officials privately about your concerns. Ask for the coach to be at that meeting. Come up with a simple plan for a change in the behavior. Remember, it is the child's best interests that should be foremost in everyone's mind and actions.
  • Ask the league or school official what the goals of the program are. Is the coach's behavior in line with the goals of the program? If not, what steps are going to be taken to get the behavior in line with the goals of the program?

Finally, you do have the right as a parent to remove your child from a program that is not in your child's best interests. It's the last resort and not your first option. But, if you as a parent see more harm than good, it may be the best decision for your child.

Be observant, be patient and be an advocate for your child. Remember that above all it's, "Play Ball"! Play denotes fun and children do learn from play. Let that be your guiding principle in dealing with difficult coaches and situations.

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