High School Sports: Parents Raging Out of Control, A Common Theme

Man, I have just about seen and heard it all. Parents yanking a younger, highly skilled athlete off the field in the middle of a game because their kid was played in a position the parent felt they should not play (and not only off the field in the middle of a game but completely off the team, walking  their young athlete away in tears), a father marching across the field to confront a coach and almost ending up in fisticuffs over the playing position his daughter played during a tournament match, abusive jeering from parents on the sidelines directed at referees who may have missed a call or two, mothers and/or fathers trying to remove a coach from a program because their kid did not play enough or was cut from a team, and even bringing a case to court against an athletic program after their son or daughter was legitimately found to have been in violation of their athletic code. You name it, it has probably happened.

Many of these above statements are the main focus of Suzette Rhee’s report Adult Anger In Youth Sports, at FOXCHARLOTTE NEWS @ 10.

There are a lot of good points throughout this video, however, a key theme presented, one that really stands out for me, is the concept that youth sports is a financial investment which should bring back some sort of financial “payoff” to the payee in return. It is an attitude I find too many parents seem to have adopted these days.

Now before I continue, I have to fully disclose that both of my kids played sports through their younger years, through high school and through college. They both were fortunate enough to have received athletic scholarships for the efforts they put in. And yes, their sports experiences did come at a considerable financial cost to our family.

However, and this is HUGE, never, ever, did my wife or I view those sports expenses as an investment toward some type of expected financial return, for them or for us.

Oh sure it was an investment, but a completely different kind than the one portrayed in Ms. Rhee’s piece, the one that seems to dominate many parents’ thinking.

For us, it was the type of investment that would give our kids the opportunity to develop some level of discipline, learn how to set proper priorities, gain time management skills, and cultivate leadership skills.

We wanted them to learn what it really means to be committed to something, even if things don’t work out the way you planned, to stare adversity right in the face and say “YOU WILL NOT BEAT ME,” thus, become educated regarding what it takes to persevere through difficulties.

It is these intrinsic components and traits, in addition to others, that we wanted our investment to bring back to our kids. The kind of things that have great value and meaning far beyond the athletic arena. Was it nice to see them accomplish what they wanted? Yes, of course. Was it great to see them earn themselves a way to pay for furthering their education? Absolutely!!! But they would have had to do that anyway since I never planned on, or believed in, fitting the total bill for college. They had to have some “skin in the game” as my father might have said.

In short, I agree wholeheartedly with Charles Brown in the video, problems usually result when parents expect an “extrinsic payback,” some sort of financial gain, on their time and financial investment. Better to take pride in the fact that they, your kids, are willing to give their best efforts and let them be the judge of whether the payback was worth it.


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  • I agree that some parents are over the top. However, there's plenty of legitimate blame also to be placed on the environment in our high school athletic departments, particularly in private schools. The emphasis on winning has created a culture of illegal recruiting, "pay for play," and exploitation. A winning program brings attention, accolades and most importantly, more tuition-paying students.

    State rules and regulations prohibit recruiting and scholarships in high school, but in order to win, schools regularly bend and in many cases break the rules by recruiting inner city kids who excel at basketball and football with promises of playing time and free or reduced tuition thinly disguised as "leadership scholarships." Wealthier parents are donating cash to schools in exchange for playing time for their son or daughter. The schools oblige because winning, after all, is second only to cash. Their stated mission of developing young men and women is a farce. In one case, a suburban Chicago parochial school made the playoffs this year, largely riding the talent of its star running back. He just happened to have an ongoing consensual sexual relationship with his Spanish teacher. The relationship was well-known among the student population but when a parent complained, the teacher was fired and arrested. The school did everything they could to keep the player from leaving and as a result, the football team had their best season in years.

    The same school lured a 7-foot eighth-grader from Chicago with financial incentives to his family and a promise to play varsity as a freshman. The young man can barely get down the court because of knee and leg problems resulting from abnormal growth. When I mentioned to a coach that it's painful to watch the boy run so awkwardly, the coach agreed but commented that he was "good for the program" because he draws the attention of college scouts. He plays not because he's a good player, but because his extraordinary height lures scouts to the school's games and allows other kids to be seen. He is essentially fifteen-year old, seven-foot bait.

    But who pays the price for all this? The kids who live in the community, practice every day and deserve a shot at playing for their high school's team, but ultimately sit on the bench watching mercenary athletes brought in and coddled by administrators and coaches whose only concern is winning, whatever it takes. It's easy to point to parents and accuse them of being "out of control" but perhaps there's a reason. Maybe, just maybe, there actually IS injustice, hypocrisy and the stench of corruption in our high school athletic departments. Maybe parents who complain that their son or daughter isn't getting a fair shot are upset because in fact their son or daughter isn't getting a fair shot. Of course, an anomalous growth spurt or a few more zeroes on that tuition check might change all that.

  • Hey Cotto,

    Thanks for chiming in. Couple of really good points. Especially the one about "winning at all costs." Personally, this is a lot bigger than the high schools, even the private ones. It is actually one of the motivations behind my writing of "Becoming a True Champion," my book out in May from Rowman & Littlefield. That "winning at all costs" has permeated into our sports culture at many levels. It is an underlying factor in the "cheating" going on at the professional level in sports (Steroids, HGH, and other performance-enhancement practices).

    I also agree with you that there are those who hide behind the ideal of developing young men and women and do engage in unethical types of behavior for the sake of trying to win. However, I don't believe this is the majority in our high schools. I am in the public school system and the majority of coaches I know do follow the rules. Most are passionate about what they do and are concerned about the "character" of their athletes and their program. I cannot say that about all, but most.

    Being as objective as I can, I have been around the block al little (32 years), been involved in sports at all levels in some capacity, parented two athletes from park district through college, and the majority of situations where a student athlete has not gotten the "playing" time the athlete (and or their parent) feels "they" deserve, it was simply because they were not good enough, that was all. Are there cases that, that is not true, absolutely. But, looking at it from all sides, in most cases, my experience has taught me that current entitlement and "it's not my fault" type attitudes are an underlying factor in too many cases.

  • Really, the bottom line, is that even on the worst team, at the worst school, playing for the worst coach, in the most corrupt system - there are valuable INtrinsic life-lessons for a student-athlete to learn. IF they have a *Second-Goal Parent*!

    When we understand that sports has TWO goals, the 1st being to strive to win and the 2nd to learn life lessons, a Second-Gowl Parent focuses on the life-lessons learned by their child.

    When THAT is the motivation that guides a parents conversations, rather than the player developing the habit of looking for excuses, deflecting blame, and lack of accountability...it ensures that the student-athlete can leave with a positive and character-building experience.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Coachlok:

    Nobody needs to deal with an abusive coach! This does not build character! Screaming in kids faces, players quitting, playing favorites and head games, throwing chairs, raging at players and ref and losing his gum in the process, benching a kid for attending his grandfather's funeral and missing practices to do so, etc. etc. etc. some coaches should not be role models. There are no excuses to treat players badly!!!

  • Tiredofabusivecoaching,

    Thanks for your comment. Agreed, however, this is not the norm. Yes, there are no excuses for treating players badly. I don't believe any of what Ray said referred to supporting abuse by coaches.

  • Agreed, well said Ray. No matter the difficulties one may face, the learning experience one gains through facing and working through those adversities gives one usable tools that go way beyond the athletic arena.

    And yes, life-lessons are where it is at when discussing youth and youth sports. Too many get lost in the superficial, making it very difficult to see the forest through the trees. To me, winning is an outcome, reaching for your potential and all that comes with that is where it is at. John Wooden new this very well.

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