How well do you know your kids coach?
This is a question that looms large in the light of the incidents at Rutgers University concerning the Head Basketball coach Mike Rice. This post is not going to be another rant on who did and didn’t do what at Rutgers. As much as I think the actions and reactions of all the involved parties are despicable, I would like to spend this time to discuss your kids and their coaches.
I have been saying for years that a youth athletic coach has more influence in a child’s life than parents give them credit for, or pay attention to. When a young athlete is a part of a team, playing a sport they love, and are committed to, they are eager to learn from and please the person they think can help them increase their skills. That person is the coach. The coach has all of the power to decide what type of playing time they get. What positions they play, and even what those players will be taught about the game. Yet parents rarely know anything about that coach.
When your child goes to school each day parents have the comfort of knowing that their teachers have qualifications to teach their kids. They know that these adults have been trained in the disciplines they are teaching. They know that teachers have to be scrutinized by their school districts and trust those teachers to teach and care for their children.
Let’s look at youth sports. How many coaches are actually trained in the discipline of coaching? Most “coaches” work some other profession during the day and then coach as a volunteer or part time job after work. Few are trained in the disciplines needed to effectively teach athletes how to become better. Such as communication, cognitive learning types, personality types, sport specific fitness and nutrition and many more topics that are crucial for athletes to increase their skills at the sport they love. Many coaches rely on information and styles they were watching when they were young athletes. Or they have played the sport and are now watching their kids grow up with it. Playing a sport in your past does not qualify you to be a coach. Yet many parents do not ever ask about the coaches qualifications.
Most parents simply drop off their player at a practice and return later to pick them up. It is common for parents not to know what is being taught and how at their kids practices.
The incidents at Penn State and recently with the Rutgers Head Basketball coach are clearly the greatest forms of abuse. But there are many lesser abuses that take place everyday from many coaches that go unrecognized or unchallenged. To demonstrate what I mean by that I am going to describe several coaching styles for you.
- The coach that plays favorites.
This person usually does not know how to coach. The reason they play favorites is because some players are easier to deal with than others. There are some kids that do take to his/her coaching. Those kids tend to have the same cognitive learning type as the coach. He/She can only teach that type of player and the others are not given opportunity to grow. To disguise their inadequacies this type of coach will only play his favorites in an attempt to win games and look like a good coach. For those players not part of the clique, they begin to doubt themselves and their abilities. If the favoritism goes on for too long the “outsiders” will simply quit. Sounds like abuse to me.
- The coach that doesn’t know how to teach mechanics.
All sport is movement based. Regardless of your child’s favorite sport they need to be taught competent movement skills. Especially at the younger ages. Many coaches are not trained in anatomy or neurology, and cannot understand how the human body adapts to movement at different ages. This is understandable. But there are many coaches out there with players who do not even know how to teach the specific mechanics of the sport they are coaching. Such as how to properly throw a football, or pitch a baseball. How to swing a bat or tackle a player safely. Most times these coaches are fearful of teaching something that might create injury. While that is noble it does not make them qualified to coach that sport. To disguise their inadequacies this type of coach will only play the more competent players at crucial positions in an attempt to win games and look like a good coach. For those players not yet as competent at the mechanics they sit the bench, and begin to doubt themselves and their abilities. If players sit for too long they will simply quit playing the sport and lose out on the opportunity to grow and learn through the game. Sounds like abuse to me.
We have all seen this coach before. The type that wants to” break them down first, then build them up.” These coaches use harsh words and demean players with very critical and uncalled for statements, in a feeble attempt to motivate. I have personally witnessed a baseball coach call his 12-13 yr. old players idiots, stupid, retards and worthless. All this coach managed to do was create fear and anxiety in the players. Once the players feel anxious and afraid they cannot do well while playing the sport. Then the coach will sit them “until they learn how to play better.” This type of coach will justify the behavior by saying it makes the players stronger and the ones that can’t take it probably shouldn’t be playing the sport. Players will never succeed in an environment where they are afraid to make a mistake. This type of coach should never be given permission by any parent to coach their player. Sounds like abuse to me.
- The coach that labels players based on current competency.
This coach also does not know how to coach. They are simply throwing the mud on the wall to see what sticks. The kids that “stick” play and the others are thought to have no talent. Physical coordination and competency takes place at different speeds for all people. It is ridiculous to believe that because a player is not good at a physical activity today that they are not talented. Or that they cannot improve at the skill enough to be an asset to their team. This type of coach labels his players and sometimes those labels will follow a player all the way into high school and beyond. Sounds like abuse to me.
These are just a few examples of the wrong way to coach youth athletes. If your player plays for someone like this they do not have a coach. A youth athletic coach is a communicator, a mentor, a provider of information for the purpose of developing a young person. As a parent you should always be aware of the techniques and practices used by your child’s coaches. We seem to be very protective of our kids in every area but sports. Too many people will allow their kids to be coached by folks who are harmful to the development of their child. Nobody would accept that from a teacher at your local school. So why would we accept that from a coach?
There are many reasons for this phenomenon.
- Parents won’t speak up because the coach may not play their kid if they do.
- Parents don’t want to be labeled as a complainer.
- Parents don’t want the coach to be harsher to the player in retaliation.
- Players don’t want to be social misfits because their parents got involved.
If the possibility of any of these reasons being real truly exists, your kid is playing for the wrong coach. I have also heard, “well he is the only coach around what can we do?”
Or, “the league (or school) chose this coach. We don’t want to go against the grain.”
Parents, the proper development of your youth athlete is crucial to your family, the community you live in, and the future of our ailing country. If that is not worth speaking up for I don’t know what is. Advocate for your greatest resource; your children. Do not let any person, let alone a coach, abuse and stunt your child’s growth.
Abuse is abuse regardless of the severity, and should never be accepted from someone you are trusting to teach and mentor your youth athlete. Ask about the coaches qualifications. Ask to see their resume. Meet one-on-one to feel out this person. Don’t ever take for granted that because they have been assigned to your kids team that they are automatically the right person for the job.
If you become aware of issues with your player or another player do not be afraid to speak up and try and help find solutions. Any coach, athletic director or league official who tells you to mind your own business is not the kind of person you should allow in your kids life. Today’s kids are tomorrows’ leaders. Let’s give them the education they deserve, and need, to be a part of tomorrows’ solutions, not tomorrows’ problem.