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Parents: are they the bad guys?

As a coach, I have to ask parents, do you ever feel like the bad guy? No matter what you do? Ever get frustrated and fed up with your kid’s sports program and not feel like helping out anymore?

There is a reason that the “Meet in the Middle” program foundation I use looks at the needs of coaches, players and parents all together.  As a former player, current high school and middle school sports parent, and high school, youth and travel team coach I find myself at any time looking at the needs and challenges of every side of this athletic journey. I live every corner of the triangle often inside of the same day.  There is a vicious cycle between program participants, degrading the experience for everyone. Each side holds a hot poker that riles up the other sides rather than trying to connect and work with them for common goals.

The focus for this post today is on what’s poking the parents and causing tension.  Parents are taking a lot of blame for the climate in our youth and high school sports culture, and undoubtedly there is truth in that. But just as it has become an all out attack on coaches, parents are feeling the squeeze to pressure their kids as well, and it’s coming from the coaches. The chain has to be broken and our common goals must be recentralized.

In the off season, from a coaching perspective, I’d like to see that players are not laying around on the couch or glued to a screen. I hope they pick up a stick, or a ball and perhaps attend a learning or practicing opportunity such as a clinic or league games, watch some games, maybe even try some other sports, and grow.

But from the parent side of things lately, I have been watching as the requests from coaches have become overbearing – and can I mention, full of guilt-tripping, and nagging? Sometimes I feel like I’m being disciplined like a child for our family choices. Do you dread opening that email from the coach or booster? I’m starting to feel that way, and it makes me pay attention to the communications going out to my teams as a coach.  How am I approaching my parents?

In our house, my sons work. They have jobs in the off season and they are earning their way to college. They work hard for a reasonable amount of hours, and they are gaining experience, learning budgeting, and helping to pay for their necessities for going away to school.  All three of my kids spend a significant time studying, straight-A students with high academic goals.  They are involved in various clubs, church activities, and they also have hobbies.  They aren’t running from activity to activity or over scheduled but they do have relatively full calendars. They spend time together with us as a family, and they are physically active on a regular basis, either long boarding, going to the park to kick a soccer ball around or working out in the garage.  We have a rebounder and a goal in our back yard and with all three kids playing lacrosse, they always have someone to shoot on or throw around with.  My daughter plays Soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, lacrosse in the spring and summer and does weekly team gym workouts in the fall and winter. She prefers to be in sports and enjoys mixing it up every season.

I look at their lives and feel that they are well-rounded, well-balanced kids. But the emails and communications I get are telling me otherwise.  If I haven’t signed my boys up for the fall tournaments, then winter league, the tryouts for certain summer travel teams, the after school workouts and participate in year round fundraising events then we are not “committed” to the team.  My boys love playing, they make it to every practice and game, buy and wear their team gear, attend team dinners and events, show up early and often stay late to work on stick work. But they are being told on a regular basis that they aren’t committed to the team. How do we keep kids motivated when the expectations are that they train as though this is a year round job when all they wanted was to be on a high school sports team?

Are parent’s getting a little combative? Are they getting insistent on what their kids get? Could it be that they feel like they are being constantly pressured and now feel like they want some buy-in or return from the coach for the massive amount of time and money they are putting out? Much of the insanity parents are showing is directly or indirectly related to the constant squeeze from coaches to be committed at a level that is impossible, too expensive, and doesn’t allow our kids to have any other interests.  Anything less than that warrants an email about how the players aren’t giving enough to the team, the parents who are already stretched financially and have no free time outside of sports anymore, are being lectured for not volunteering enough hours.  This atmosphere doesn’t breed team unity, more involvement, or more help from parents. Quite the opposite, it stirs a fire that will only grow if the in-season communication continues on the same path.

I know that some parents never volunteer, some kids never show up to anything, and that’s frustrating for a coach and a program. But there has to a be a balance, especially when the team is not in season, that allows families to make other choices so that when the season comes around they are ready to go all-in and get involved.  There has to be understanding that while it’s fantastic to offer out of season options for those looking or it, there can’t be a massive guilt trip for the kids who make other choices with that time.  The last thing we want to start our official season with are parents and kids who are already burnt out. We want them showing up excited to get back into something they enjoy.

When you work on your triangle, don’t forget to look at the needs of your athletes and their families to keep balance in their lives and balance that with the needs of the program.  The difference lies in anticipating the season starting versus dreading it.

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