Dear Youth Travel Sports Coach...

Dear Youth Travel Sports Coach...

Dear Youth Travel Sports Coach -

Since most of you don't have children of your own, I thought I might give you some insight.

  • When my child is late for practice, it is my fault not theirs.  Make me do 20 push-ups or run 5 laps.  The kid is usually 30 minutes early sitting at the door while I'm jumping through hoops trying to get there.
  • Purchasing a $300 technical swimsuit every few months, isn't an automatic option.  Don't tell my kid that they HAVE to have it.  Tell Me.
  • They are children first, athletes second.  When you realize that, you'll get much better performance out of them.
  • Stop yelling at my kid.  I send them to you to get a break from my yelling.
  • Throw us a bone every once in a while.  Give us some unsolicited feedback - EVERY parent wants to know how their kid is doing.
  • While it may not include flights, travel to Madison, St. Louis, Iowa City... is still travel that requires a fair amount of coin.  Do you think you could ask, instead of just assume, we'll go there for our kid?
  •  Don't think just because you don't hear too many complaints that you're the best.  Sometimes you can be a real jackass, but as parents, we're afraid to say anything because we don't want to affect our child's playing time or attention.
  • Only if and when my child is good and ready will they choose just one sport.  Your sport is important, but so are the others.  If you push her too hard, she'll quit yours first.
  • Give them a carrot and a stick.  If you keep just telling them what they're doing wrong, they're going to believe that all they do is wrong.
  • Kids talk.  When you say and do inappropriate things, they will be repeated on the car ride home.
  • I understand it's hard not to play favorites, but try to make it a little less obvious to the kids and the parents.
  • Please lose the "parents don't know anything and are all crazy" attitude.  There are some definite whack jobs out there, but not all the parents are stupid.  Last time I checked, I pay you, which the way I figure it, means you work for me.

The bottom line is, we just want our kids to be better at whatever they're competing at and have fun while doing it.  My favorite thing to hear when I pick someone up from practice is "That was SO hard.  I had so much fun.  I loved it."  I feel very fortunate to have two kids say that about two coaches every single practice, but the other coaches...

Now I realize your job isn't all that easy.  I couldn't do it, that's why I don't.  So obviously you deserve a certain amount of unconditional respect, but I just want to remind you it goes both ways.  Not all coaches need to be reminded of all the points, and I think my kids for the most part, have some pretty special coaches.  Because if they didn't, there's always another club or team that has that semi-perfect coach that we're all looking for.


The Parents


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    I appreciate your insight. I agree with most of what you've said. I only yell at the team as a whole, never at one individual. I use my voice to get the players attention and to hold it. However, you made a point about a kid being late. You are right about blaming a kid who is late. I wish I could get his mom or dad to do 20 pushups or run. Since most of us have very little practice time as it is, I really don't care what you are juggling to get your kid to practice. You and your son/daughter made a commitment to play a travel sport. Respect your kid's coaches and other players and get them to the field on time. And finally, I don't work for you. If I detect any of my parents feeling that way, you lose all my respect and I will more than likely ignore you for the rest of the year. My job is to make sure all the kids have a very positive experience when they play for me. My two cents...

  • In reply to GoBigRed:

    You're right Big Red - maybe that last comment about who you're working for was a little extreme. However, if you look at it, all it takes is to have one very vocal and influential parent to have a team collapse. I'm not talking High School or College, but parents have a lot of influence at the club level. It's really easy to make sure a bad coach doesn't have a job anymore.
    I completely understand your argument on being late. Between my five kids, I've gone to thousands of practices, and can count on one hand how many I've been late. My issue is the coach continually takes it out on the kids that are chronically late, and it's really the parents that don't care if the kid is late or not. That kid obviously has some painful issues happening at home, he doesn't need more grief at practice. It needs to be addressed directly to the parent.
    On the yelling: I went to a lecture by Skip Kenney at Stanford - the winningest swim coach in the country and he told a story about watching a famous football coach running a practice. The coach would periodically call all his staff in, and then send them back out. The next day Skip asked an assistant coach what the head coach kept bringing them in to say. The assistant said, what he reminds us of at every practice "Stop yelling and start teaching". Ever since then, I look at coaching differently - although I do know sometimes you have to yell to be heard, a lot of coaches aren't yelling because the environment is too loud.
    Thanks for your two...

  • I've coached various youth sports (soccer, football, baseball), and I've come to the conclusion that parents are insane... Not all of them, but enough. Travel and Select teams are the worst. When parents of 12 year olds are talking about scholarships to division 1 schools, that is a little crazy. And tell me why your team has to go to Florida to play in the world series? Until you are the best team in Illinois, why do you have to travel to another state to play other teams? There are plenty right in our state that can kick your butt.

    I'm all for kids sports and competition, but keep it fun. They'll have plenty of time to be competitive.

  • In reply to BigDMcGee:

    I agree BigDMcGee! And yes, a good portion of parents are crazy. So if you can match up a crazy coach with crazy parents, it's a great pair - that is until they have a losing season.
    Unless my kid has big dreams of college and beyond, we steer away from any team that has select or elite attached to it. My 13 year old's (elite) soccer coach started the season meeting by saying,"These are our choices for tournaments: Memphis, San Diego, Phoenix, Miami - we'd like to do two. But we're doing at least one - it's non-negotiable". We went to Milwaukee last weekend and the girls got their butts kicked. I'm wondering if he's reconsidering that non-negotiable part...

  • Kirby,

    As someone who coaches travel sports I can tell you that I agree with most of your points, and our coaching staff follows the mentality that they are only kids. However, as volunteer coaches that are paying the same fees the parents pay, it is acceptable to expect parents to be on time. We spend a lot of time planning, organizing, coaching, we just ask that your child be prompt and ready to go. Things happen and we understand...but if your child is late, please don't have them walk as slow as humanly possible to practice...RUN, show urgency and all is well.

    In any team scenario, it is important that all parents understand that EVERY position is important to the team. As long as your child doesn't need to be the "star" and they understand the importance of the "team" it will be a better scenario for all parties, including your child.

    As many coaches discuss, youth sports would survive and do much better if parents weren't allowed to attend. Get a box of popcorn, sit back, and enjoy your child's experience. If you want to coach them throughout the game step up and volunteer.

    As coaches our job is not to make your child a Division 1 athlete, it is simply to teach the game and give them enough knowledge to hopefully want to continue to play...until someday they will be carrying a breifcase to work, rather than playing on Sundays...

  • In reply to JohnG:

    Well said. I completely agree that if your child is late, they better be running out to that field!

  • Kirby,

    You raise a number of interesting points for discussion. I am a parent with two children that participate and have participated in travel teams (hockey and baseball) for many years. I have coached travel baseball for years and played D1 baseball in college. I am not and never have been a compensated coach. In fact, coaching costs me a substantial amount of money and lost work opportunities every year.

    First, parents have a choice whether to put their children in competitive travel sports. If you don't want your child to take the game seriously, then house or park district teams are your alternative. If I take time off of work to coach your child and have a specific lesson plan for their practice, they should be on time or push ups and running is appropriate. Indifference from teammates and parents sets a bad tone for the team. If you have an issue or problem, call the coach before practice and then the miss or late arrival can be excused. Talking to family members on the phone or shopping is not a good excuse for being late and is disrespectful to the players. It also disrupts the practice plan. I had a parent, holding his starbucks latte, give your same explanation earlier this season, "Coach, it's my fault that Johnny is late. If anyone should do push ups, it should be me." My response, "I understand and yes, it is difficult to get up on Saturday mornings after working all week (I got up early for practice). Johnny, you have 50 pushups." Johnny will remind Dad before being late next practice.
    I agree with your comment about the costs. Third, as coaches, it is our job to challenge your children to achieve and learn more than they can do simply on their own. A coach should hold a player accountable and challenge them, even if they raise their voice. Abuse, profanity and constant negativity are inappropriate. Telling a player to give effort, stop being lazy and to "MOVE" is appropriate in my view. They only thing they can control is effort so even youth players owe it to me and their parents to try hard every moment of games and practices. "Everything matters". While I can't speak for other coaches, I do not hesitate to privately discuss players performance with their parents (good and bad). I will stop the conversation when a parent criticizes other players. I do not allow players to criticize their teammates and I will definitely not go along with parents cannibalizing other children. On travel, you should talk to a hockey parent or two when you feel your travel is burdensome. However, consider sharing expenses with other parents (rooms, food, driving, etc.) or allow your child to go with another family from time to time. When you sign up for travel teams, you go in with open eyes that there will be travel expenses. If it is too much, maybe a park district program is better for you. Again, I can only speak for myself, but I do not punish players just because their parents are nutty or inappropriate. Playing time should be fairly distributed to the players that earn the playing time. If a parent crosses the line, I warn them. Suspension of a parent from practices or games is also an option for extremely bad behavior. If the parent does not like the rules, they should go to another club where they can be inappropriate and happier. I do agree that some coaches are wrong to insist that players only focus on one sport at a young age. However, if my sport is in season, then we are the priority. Practice for another sport or a game with another team is not acceptable. If you and your child made a commitment to my team, their absence hurts the team. If you cannot make the commitment, you can choose to do something else or play more casually in another program. Positive reinforcement should be encouraged. I completely agree. However, I will not tell players that they played well or "it's ok" when they did not play well or did not try hard. No, it is not "ok" with me. Mediocrity and/or laziness not something I encourage. Lack of hustle or focus will not be rewarded by me. Physical errors are not a problem when there is hustle and focus. If poor effort or lack of focus is something your child exhibits in school or in a competitive sport, then the coach and/or teacher have an obligation to correct the behavior. Favorites or best athlete can be a fine line. If the team is competitive travel, the coach should have the right to put the players in the best positions or situations to help the team. If your child is the 6th best shortstop, he will not start at that position in a game because you feel it is his turn. I have had parents try to negotiate positions over the years. A coach should be firm on discouraging that behavior from parents. If pressed, "Johnny is my 6th string shortstop. It is not appropriate for him to jump in front of the other five. I will put him in the position that best helps the team given the circumstances." A coach should be honest and explain that to parents (especially those without competitive sports experience). Again, a coach should not hesitate to speak with team parents. They should be truthful. "You pay me?" Not in most coaches cases but regardless, the players should be treated fairly. Paying does not mean your child should be given preferential treatment that has not been earned or in the team's best interest. And finally, your kids are my children for the season. I want them to do well, get better, achieve and yes, WIN! If they work hard (I do), then the lessons learned will help them later in life. Hard work makes luck. So don't be afraid to ask questions. The longer you are around sports, you learn more...about everything. If you have a bad coach, give yourself 24 hours to cool off. If a crime was committed by the coach, call the police. But if you disagree with a decision, take a deep breath and talk to the coach or director the next day. I hope your player has a good experience going forward. Remember this too, other parents and even coaches can become lifetime friends.
    Parent and Coach

  • In reply to suburbs:

    You sound like you'd be a great coach. I think it's completely different for volunteer coaches. My husband and I have also coached (soccer, basketball) - some are good, some not so good, but for the most part, volunteer coaches deserve a TON of credit.
    Thanks to all the feedback, I'll be writing a coaching rebuttal to the parents.

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    It sounds like you have had some very negative experiences with coaches. And I am truly sorry for that. I have too. All 3 of my kids have played sports from age 5 through college. I KNOW about coaches who are jerks. But I also have been married to a coach for 28 years and I know that often PARENTS are jerks too. Believe me, coaches don't get paid enough for the garbage they get from parents. My husband kept with it for so long because he truly loves the kids. And most of them loved him. But the parents...geesh, I honestly don't know how he put up with them.

    I guess what I am saying is that usually there's two sides to every situation and we need to take a few minutes to examine things from both sides. Listen to the other side and then ask yourself "what can my child learn from this and how can I help him develop stronger character because of this situation?"

    That's why I write a sportsparenting blog....

  • I hear coaches, current and former, say all the time that the worst part about coaching is the parents. On the flip side, my daughter quit martial arts entirely after her instructor make her do sit ups for being late. Big deal right? But she was mor-ti-fied.The reason she was late was because her brother needed to be dropped off for football first. He was old enough to go a little early (9), but there was no way I was going to flip things around and drop a 7 year old off in no supervision to a public building.

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