By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck
(The following is part of the Supportive Parent online presentation available at www.SupportiveParent.com)
Spring is the time for new beginnings. As winter recedes and our local parks and fields thaw, new soccer, baseball and softball teams are forming in communities everywhere, which means coaches are meeting new players, and kids are meeting new coaches. What should we do if our child comes home from practice complaining that they don’t like their coach?
Whether we are talking about the high school level, or community youth recreational sports coached by volunteers, adult coaches have a significant influence on the lives of our children. And, unfortunately, there was only one John Wooden and the rest of us fall somewhere short of the standard he set. But that doesn’t mean that if your child says they don't like the coach, that it is necessarily because the coach is bad. I had two sons who had the same high school coach back-to-back seasons and one loved him, the other wasn’t a big fan. Did the coach change from one season to the next? I doubt it. Some people just get along better with others and that applies to kids and coaches too.
So how can we help our children through a tough situation, especially if they say they want to quit because the don’t like the coach? First, it might be useful to examine the reasons for the friction and discuss them.
Is it possible that the issues your son or daughter are having are playing-time or position related? In other words, would they like the coach a lot better if they were playing more and at a different spot? If so, maybe it is time to examine why the coach is putting them on the bench and not immediately assume it is because he favors others or doesn’t like your child. Encouraging them to work harder and correct mistakes they’re making in practice would be more appropriate than trying to influence the coach by pressuring him or sending emails to his superiors.
If playing time isn’t the issue, then what is? Does your child complain that the coach yells too much? It is important to teach your child to listen to the intent behind the yelling. Sometimes coaches have to yell to get a point across, either because they want everyone to hear, or because they are hoping to get players’ attention. Different coaches are more vocal than others and good ones know when to use raising their voice as a motivational tool, and when it is more appropriate to speak conversationally. However, if the message is positive and encouraging, (“Keep hustling!” “Great play!”), yelling probably won’t bother a child, but if it is demeaning, (“That’s terrible! “How could you let that happen?”), then it wouldn’t really matter whether it was yelled or whispered, would it? It would probably make sense to attend a practice or two, and some games, and listen objectively to what the coach is saying and how he is saying it. Is all of his criticism directed squarely at your child, or does he pass it around equally? If you hear a coach say things such as, “You can do better than that,” or “You got to try harder,” parents and children can easily get offended. However, if your child could perform at a higher level, could try harder, isn’t it the coach’s job to point that out?
Clearly, if a coach ever gets physical with a player, they are crossing the line. However what we’re discussing here are more nuances and are subject to interpretation. There are two things to keep in mind when your child is upset and doesn’t like the coach.
1. The coach’s job is not to make everyone like them. And depending on what level of sports your son or daughter plays, (i.e. travel vs. rec; age level, etc.), they may not even be as concerned about everyone having a blast at each practice and game as he is with trying to improve every player. Obviously, if we’re talking about pre-teen recreational sports the emphasis should be on having fun.
2. The rest of your child’s life they will experience interpersonal relationships and will not always adore every teacher, co-worker, boss or associate. Learning to cope and deal with different coaches and their personalities at a young age will be helpful down the road. They won’t always have you to rush in and rescue them.
When our children experience anguish it is in our nature to want to do anything and everything in our power to make it all better. However letting them learn coping skills and providing them with the tools to be able to fend for themselves will often produce more valuable results – in the long term.
Brian Gotta is a former professional recreational youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is President of Help Kids Play, a collection of companies whose mission is to further the development and enjoyment of youth sports.