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Confessions of a Coach #1 – Open Letter to Parents of High School Athletes

Confessions of a Coach will be a new category for this blog.  I spent 6 years as a high school basketball coach for a 4A school in Washington State and had up to 25 student-athletes that I was responsible for.  During the course of those 6 years, I became acutely aware of several factors dealing with high school and junior high sports that spanned type of sport, region, and affluence.  This category will be dedicated to those topics.  My purpose is to help raise awareness of parents, student-athletes, administrators, and the media.  As Denzel Washington’s character (Coach Herman Boone) so eloquently stated in Remember the Titans, “I may be a mean cuss, but I’m the same mean cuss to everyone.”  You may be challenged and even infuriated by my comments, that’s fine.  Here is your forum to agree, disagree, argue and vent.  Just remember to keep your composure and that I do have the “home-field advantage,” giving me the right to delete any comments that are lascivious, vile, or slanderous.  This is after all, a G-rated blog!

Today’s Topic is my Open Letter to High School Parents of Athletes

Dear Parents:

Your kids want you to shut up and enjoy watching them play.

In the past 15 years, I’ve seen a marked deterioration of sportsmanship and respect from fans attending their kid’s high school games. Doesn’t matter the sport – I’ve attended countless basketball, football, baseball, softball, and volleyball games since 1997 at both junior high and high school levels.  It doesn’t matter the affluence or education of parents.  For some strange reason, highly intelligent, enlightened, and well-mannered adults outside of an athletic facility turn into a regular Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde inside of it.  It makes me wonder if Robert Louis Stevenson attended a youth cricket contest somewhere in Scotland where the parents got out of hand and received inspiration for his famed novel.

If you think I exaggerate, test me.  Go to a high school game where you don’t have a dog in the hunt.  Don’t watch the game – watch the parents.  It would be comical if it wasn’t so sad.  I actually had one of my players once tell me that “parents ruin sports.”

So with that admonition in mind, let me give you my 9 “Best Practices” for parents. By the way, most of these have been observed AFTER I left coaching.  When I coached, I rarely heard anything from the stands. I only got details later (usually from the kids). It was when I became an announcer and a fan that I was staggered with the behavior:

  1. Your kid has a coach so stop shouting instruction from the bleachers.  Feel free to clap, groan, be empathetic, and simply cheer the success.  But stop giving instructions on how to shoot, pitch, tackle, or run.  And for goodness sakes, stop shouting out strategy.  You may be sending a message that is opposite of what the coach wants.
  2. Just because you played the game doesn’t mean you’re an expert.  I know that may be a tough pill to swallow for some of you, but it’s the truth.  Having an opinion on the efficacy of playing man-to-man defense versus a zone is fine; however calling the coach an idiot in front of your kid and the crowd doesn’t do any good for anyone.
  3. The referees/umpires are NOT out to get your kid or the team (For best results – Repeat three times).  They are not always good; in fact sometimes they are really bad.  However, they really don’t care who wins the game and who your kid is.  In fact, they are human (debunking a myth among parents) and they might actually not give your team or coach the “benefit of the doubt” in close plays after they’ve been blasted with verbal abuse.
  4. Don’t re-live every minute or inning of the game for your kid.  They don’t want to.  Take them out for ice cream (win or lose).  Tell them how much you enjoy watching them play.  Heck, thank them for giving you the opportunity to spend time watching them have fun.  I actually had a kid stay in the gym shooting around after a game until I was done calling the newspapers.  I was the last one there (or so I thought) and found her shooting baskets in an almost dark gym.  I asked her why she were still there.  She said she was waiting as late as she could to go home so maybe her father would be in bed and she wouldn’t have to talk about the game.  How tragic.
  5. Don’t embarrass your kid. They may not invite you back.  They may also grow to hate the game and quit.
  6. Don’t be a “know-it-all” for your kid.  You know why lacrosse has gained so much momentum in the west coast as a high school sport?  Because the kids know their parents don’t understand the sport and have to simply watch the game.
  7. Don’t poison your kid at home.  Too may young athletes are told by their parents that the coach is terrible, the other players aren’t passing them the ball, they “deserve” better treatment – you get the idea.  You are simply poisoning your kid and the team.  You’ve heard of “cancers on a team” in the pros?  There can be cancers on a high school team and they are usually triggered by you.
  8. The other parents think you’re obnoxious.  Like most things, the majority of parents are there to enjoy their kid playing.  It’s the 10% who are loud, boisterous, and cantankerous.  Remember, I’m not talking about those who positively cheer on the team.  I’m talking about those who incessantly blather loudly through the entire game making all those around them miserable.
  9. Have fun.  This is the most important.  Just like a game, you don’t get the “clock” back on your life.  Don’t spend your later years wishing for a mulligan.  Make sure your kid enjoys their experience and at the same time, make this time a highlight of your life.

Now, before you get all hot and bothered too much, this is a synopsis of years of watching and coaching sports.  If you just saw me at a game last week, don’t assume I’m talking about you.  However, if you look in the mirror and can see yourself in my examples, I implore you to make a change before it’s too late.

If you don’t stop this boorish behavior, you risk alienating your kid, harming your reputation, and losing the opportunity to enjoy what should be wonderful memories.  However, if you commit to implementing my 9 best practices, you will find that you will have more fun, your kid will enjoy you being there, and the pressure of the games completely dissipate.

And, as Forrest Gump once said, “That’s all I have to say about that…”

Dan

© 2010 Dan Weedin – All Rights Reserved

6 thoughts on “Confessions of a Coach #1 – Open Letter to Parents of High School Athletes

  1. Again – you’re right on with your observations. Having been both a coach and a parent spectator, I’ve seen many of these things as well. In little league, I’ve seen a lot of parents yell at volunteer umps for everything and anything, but when they are asked to help out, they always have some excuse. This is not the pros, these kids just want to have fun.

    1. Jay – you’re right to include Little League sports. I didn’t even mention them. Some of the worst behavior I’ve EVER seen anywhere is watching my nephew play Pee Wee football about 6-7 years ago. One father actually cursed at a kid for dropping an interception. The player was a “veteran” 9-year old. Who really is the child?

      Dan

  2. I’d like to add that besides alienating yourself from your kid, you also risk alienating your kid from their teammates. Players don’t like the parents who are “loud, boisterous, and cantankerous”. Other players may be sympathetic but they also wish that those parents didn’t come to the games, and I’ve known players to voice these opinions to the kids of the “know-it-all” parents. In team sports, especially, an alienated player doesn’t play at their best and could lead to disharmony on the field of play. I hope that these parents remember what it was like to be a student-athlete or any athlete for that matter, and just learn to enjoy watching the game regardless of the score.

    1. Note – this is a great perspective, not because Mindy is my daughter BUT because she spent three years as an athletic medicine trainer during high school. She spent 9 season (3 per year for 3 years) on the sideline of at least 5-6 different sports plus practices. I consider this an “insider” viewpoint.

  3. Here is real life example in Little League Baseball where a parent ruined the experience for his son. I was playing first base on a team with 11-12 year old kids. When we were batting, one of my teammates struck out to end the inning. His Dad proceeded to yell at him and tell him he was a loser and other bad names. When he went out to play shortstop, he was crying and he was really upset. When I threw him the practice grounder to warm up, he threw the ball way over my head. My Dad was an assistant coach on my team and my Dad and other parents told the father to leave. When he did not, someone called the police and the police removed him from the field. I was worried what was going to happen to my teammate when he got home. Scary for me and everyone else to witness. This is related to one of your points but the key message here is do not criticize your children in a negative manner when they are playing sports. They are young and they will make mistakes. Sports are supposed to be fun and if the parent causes their child to not enjoy playing sports, they will end up quitting and will blame you for it.

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