Parents: Get Out of the Way and Let the Coaches Coach

It’s time we had a hard conversation about the biggest hindrance to your child’s development: you.

Parents, we need to have a talk. I’ve been involved in athletics for over 30 years now, and have noticed over the last few years that we have a very big problem.

It’s you.

We need to look in the mirror and take inventory of what we are doing, or not doing, for our kids. As a father of three young athletes all under the age of 10, I am on the front lines of the issue. Additionally, as a college strength coach, I am the recipient of the adult versions of these kids.

Parents, we need to have a talk. I’ve been involved in athletics for over 30 years now, and have noticed over the last few years that we have a very big problem.

It’s you.

We need to look in the mirror and take inventory of what we are doing, or not doing, for our kids. As a father of three young athletes all under the age of 10, I am on the front lines of the issue. Additionally, as a college strength coach, I am the recipient of the adult versions of these kids.

What we as parents are doing to our children is a crime. Consider this the official line in the sand.

Cool It With the Advice

On behalf of my coaching peers at all levels, let’s make a couple things perfectly clear.

The good folks who step up to coach your kids do so for two reasons. First, they love the sport. They either played it themselves or have loved the game for their lifetime and simply want to be a part of it. They do it because of passion. They want to give your kids an experience so they can know that same love themselves.

The second reason is because they love kids. Working with young people can be one of the best experiences you can have. The ones who show up ready to work, who are fired up about being part of the team and would do anything to win—they are the reason we do it.

If you think anyone gets into coaching for the money, you are completely lost. Professional sport coaches and head coaches at upper echelon universities are making big dollars; everyone else is barely making a living. The life of a coach is an absolute grind.

Dealing with the multitude of personalities, being a surrogate parent to dozens of kids, and managing a scope of skill levels and attention spans is enough to make a person crazy.

You know those tough mornings you have with your one or two kids, or that evening you can’t get little Timmy to clean his room? Imagine 25 just like him, and you are asking them to focus on a very simple task. Keep your eye on the ball, get your glove down, use your legs, shoot your arms through, and get ready, among an infinite number of other things.

That same kid you can’t get to clean his room, he and two dozen of his buddies are standing in front of some poor coach who isn’t making a cent, but is working her ass off to get them to do the simplest of tasks as a team.

Yes, many youth coaches have limited experience. But they have some experience, which likely puts them leaps and bounds ahead of you.

As your child gets older, that experience for the coaches goes up dramatically. Don’t kid yourself for a second that a high school coach or college coach is hired because they are a nice person. Athletic directors at all levels have one job, and that is to see their teams win. Period.

So before you reach for your phone or keyboard to give a coach at those levels advice, take a deep breath, put your phone down, and shut your computer off. Chances are, you are in no way in their league when it comes to how to coach.

Stick to the Recipe

How many of you have baked a cake before? Made breakfast for your family? Attempted your mom’s legendary meatloaf? You followed a recipe, yes? You decided that you were going to make X, got in the car, and drove to the store. You filled your cart with the necessary items, stood in some God-forsaken checkout line, bagged up your goodies, and headed home.

You then systematically approached the recipe as it was written. You didn’t whimsically mix this with that, put it in a cold oven, remove it, turn the oven on, add two eggs, and then serve it to your family. You followed a procedure that has been proven in the past to work.

Do you think the coaches of your kids are any different? They are following a recipe to get your children in proper playing form.

There is not a coach in America who enters their respective season without a solid plan for how they are going to give the athletes on their team the experience they intend on giving them.

The entire body of coaches who prep for a season in any sport have winning at the top of their priority list, or a very close second. They have tons of evidence with prior seasons that their formula works, and for folks like myself, decades of successes to back up my approach.

From teaching a seven-year-old how to hold a baseball, all the way to winning the World Series, there is a systematic approach to ensure success at every turn. We call them fundamentals in my business. Regardless of the sport, there is a list of things that every athlete needs to own if they want to have any kind of upward trajectory.

When you throw your two cents in, you are asking that coach to violate their meatloaf recipe.

I’m not saying don’t play catch with your daughter. I’m not saying don’t play around the world with your son to help him get extra shots. But don’t do anything that doesn’t vibe with your kid’s coach’s philosophy.

Don’t start giving them advice about things they are not going to encounter anytime soon, like showing your 6-year-old how to throw a change-up when he’s on a machine pitch team.

I appreciate how ridiculous this might sound to many of you. My response is to go sign up to be a little league coach, and soon you’ll know what I’m talking about.

If you want to be any kind of help, attend your kid’s practice, listen to what the coaches are saying, and then repeat as much of that as possible when you are working with your child. No rogue coaching that is going to derail what this poor coach is trying to accomplish.

Your Kid Isn’t the Second Coming

I hate to burst your bubble, but your kid isn’t the angel you think he is. And your daughter, she’s pretty much a pain in the ass. When I’ve volunteered to coach one of the many teams my kids were on, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “This kid’s parents really dropped the ball.”

Jimmy can’t sit still for three seconds, Brian can’t help but play in the dirt, Sara just comes here to hug other kids, and Steven has no business on this team at all, because he’s made it perfectly clear he doesn’t want to be here. Yet, we coaches put our best foot forward and try to mold them into something that resembles a contributing member of the team.

Instead of defending them every minute, how about teaching them the lessons at home that will make them effective teammates on the field?

If your child acts like an ass at home, it takes a lot of nerve to pawn them off to a coach to try and fix them. “It isn’t fair that Billy doesn’t get to pitch.” You know what isn’t fair? Forcing some unpaid mom or dad to get your kid’s act together.

Help us by teaching them how to listen. Help us by showing them how to be respectful to adults and other kids. Help us by insisting on things like order, hustle, and effort.

If your kid lays around your house all day after school with some device in his hand, what makes you think they are going to understand or relate to their coach when they are barked at to pick up the pace?

There’s a Good Reason They’re Yelling

Which leads me to the crux of this article. How someone coaches is none of your damn business. This is the previous three sections rolled up into one uncomfortable climax. Get used to the idea that coaching comes with yelling. Coaching comes with insisting that things be done a certain way, with no wiggle room.

To put it bluntly, the coach’s philosophy is more important than yours. We don’t progress kids to step B until they own step A. If they can’t focus long enough to get good at A, expect frustration, changes of tone, and perhaps—just perhaps—some shouting.

If there is, rest assured that that angel of yours has earned the “strong tone.” Before you immediately jump to their rescue, ponder the notion that this coach is not some rage-aholic. Sure, one in every million coaches might have some issues with their temper, but the other 999,999 coaches are simply trying to be heard.

My wife is a volleyball coach. She’s the head coach at the private high school in town and a 7th and 8th graders club team. She’s amazing at her job.

She knows volleyball at a level that I can’t begin to fathom. She is one of the sickest athletes I have ever been around, and can coach circles around most every coach I’ve ever encountered, regardless of sport. Truly gifted, this one.

Her policy is to never scold because of physical limitations. She won’t get on her kids for things that they simply cannot do. But she absolutely prohibits crappy effort, lack of enthusiasm, and an unwillingness to listen.

She’s made it very clear to her kids that she isn’t in the business of getting on them for things they can’t control, but effort, caring, and give-a-shit are all non-negotiables.

A couple weeks ago, a parent reached out to her via email. The team had returned from a weekend tournament where they finished somewhere in the middle of the pack.

As is my wife’s style, the second the kids began to show a wane in effort, her tone changed and she’d call a timeout and bark at them. She also praised the pants off of them between points, and when they were doing things well.

Anyhow, in 11 paragraphs, this mother went on a thesis about how my wife’s yelling is killing the spirit of the team, how the only communication she should use is positive reinforcement, and basically “atta-girl” at every moment. She’s worried that any other approach is going to ruin the experience for her daughter and rob her of her love of the game.

In short, a parent who has never participated in organized sports wrote my wife, one of the most talented coaches around, a fantasy-laced field manual on what she’s doing wrong and how to correct it. Unacceptable.

How to Become a Better Sports Parent

In closing, I want to leave you with some parenting tips, from a parent who also happens to be a coach:

  • Let your kids fail. Let them experience losing. I can tell you as a coach who works with college kids, we have created a community of people who don’t know how to deal with losing. Our need to pounce and protect has created a culture of ill-equipped adults. What’s the scariest is since they haven’t “lost” in youth sports, they have no emotional relationship with it once they get to me. They are like lobotomized robots, and it’s not a good thing.
  • Short of a coach getting physical with your child or calling them a fucking idiot to their face in front of others, let the coach yell. Allow them rattle your kids by coaching their faces off. Let them be demanding with your kids. Athletics build leaders. Leaders aren’t built with hugs and kisses. They’re forged in hard times, during conditioning sessions where they would rather be dead than run one more step, when the clock is ticking and we have to score or all is for nothing. Let them be coached hard.
  • Never, ever, call, text or email a coach with anything that isn’t dire. Don’t contact them to talk about playing time, your kid’s feelings, or your ideas on what they should do. I promise you, you do more harm to your child than good. The vast majority of coaches are very protective of their methods, so when you impose your ideas on them, they likely will take it out on your kid, even if they aren’t doing it consciously.
  • One of the most important things you can do for your child in the pursuit of developing a responsible adult is to back their coaches as they play. Taking your kid’s side on everything does nothing for them but keep them immature. Back the coach. Never badmouth the coach in front of your kids. Let the coach be the authority figure, and do your part in enforcing their rules for the team as acceptable and something to support. That level of backing will pay off for the kid later in life.
  • When you are in the stands, you are a cheerleader. That’s it. Don’t yell at the coaches, the refs, and especially the other kids. You make your child look bad, and yourself look ridiculous.
  • If you don’t have any experience in the sport your child is playing, don’t try and coach them on the sport. Instead, coach them on sportsmanship, hustle, being aggressive, and being a great teammate. I know nothing about baseball, but have been an assistant coach for my son’s baseball team for five seasons now. I am the hustle coach. They know with me, I’m going to make them run off the field, give their best effort, clean the dugout after games, and demand they make eye contact when our head coach is talking. I don’t need to be a baseball coach to provide value to the team. Neither do you.

If this article has upset you, good. It was probably you who it was intended for. You are in the way if you become the opposition to your child’s coach.

This is not a negotiable thing. Help all of the coaches in this country develop our kids. It’s those individuals who are helping mold our sons and daughters in to the men and women we hope them to become.