The Youth Athlete Bailout!
Defeating the victim mentality in sports
Forget the wall street bailout, the youth athlete bailout is taking over the headlines and our youth sports culture. There are three responsible parties in our programs, the parents, the coaches, and the players; and a parents misaligned role can be a seriously negative contributor to the very issues we are trying to fix. We see it in schools, and we see it in sports – a lack of accountability and the safety net of parents creating a barrier to real and natural consequences and fairness. I call it the sports victim mentality and many of our kids are plagued with it.
The exception these days have become the athletes that show up in full competition mode, focused and excited to be challenged, and the norm has become entitlement and a poor work ethic. It’s not that one kid you end up with that doesn’t want to work hard anymore, it’s the entire team that won’t work hard and the one or two kids that make coaching worth while because they are actually coachable. It’s the inability of players to receive correction even when done kindly and positively because so many of our kids are easily offended if they are told they aren’t doing it perfect. We are babying our kids from the start – from gym classes where kids are not allowed to run because the gym floor is too hard (true story) to athletic trainers taping phantom ankle injuries on more than half the team before every practice to avoid liability because they complained of ankle pain, our kids are training to be dependent and worse, full of excuses.
Even the most delicate of coaches will run into this brick wall season to season. As a parent I completely identify with wanting to protect my kids, but am I really protecting them if I deny them natural consequence and accountability? Sometimes it may even be real frustration and not imagined unfairness, maybe they really worked hard and deserve more playing time but they aren’t getting it.. won’t the coping skills they learn from this challenge benefit them as adults? Can we parent our kids by talking through it with them but not interfering as long as it’s not physically/emotionally abusive? Can we empower without stunting their ability to cope with the world?
Most coaches aren’t looking to make a player feel bad, but there’s a time after they reach high school, when a player won’t do what is necessary and another player may step up into their position. The natural tendency will be for that player to be upset, and sometimes, that’s ok! They are coming off of an “everyone plays” youth team and this adjustment is part of stepping into the next phase of competing. This is an great opportunity to drive and build the resiliency so necessary for success for the rest of their lives. Yes son, daughter, I remember that feeling, it was awful, I identify with you and Im hear to listen. On the other hand, it’s also possible to shield our players, rush in and force the coach to give our kids what they didn’t work for, to bully, call athletic directors, start talking and riling up other parents in the stands – virtually destroying the team from the inside out.
What happens when parents yell direction from the side of the fence, overpowering the coach’s voice, conflicting with the coach’s instructions? Who are we training the kids to listen too, how can they respect the coach if their parent clearly doesn’t? Or do we not care if our kids respect authority anymore?
Coach, no one is giving me the ball, they are ball hogs! But a quick review of film show’s the truth of the matter. With 40 plus turnovers in a lacrosse game the opportunity to scoop a ground ball, intercept, ride and defend to turn a ball over, get a shot rebound are happening almost every minute. But the players who cry ball denial are the very one who don’t hustle to get the ball themselves. They want the players who do hustle to hand it over after they do all the work. We’re building this culture.
Sadly, as we know, accountability is rarely well received anymore. I see more parents in a meeting because I followed through on consequences that were clearly outlined at the start of the season than any other reason. But once we start bending to demands for exceptions – we lose, the kids lose, the program loses and the snowball is unyielding.
What is this doing to our sports culture and to our kids?
We’re losing good coaches to the insanity of having to cave to parent bullies or dealing with constant threats, meetings, inquiries. Coaches are distracted from what they should be doing, they are dealing with forces from the outside instead of focusing on the kids and the game. They are struggling to be fair when certain parents are making them miserable.
Kids are listening to the talk at the “kitchen table” about coaches not doing what the parents want, and they are losing the needed respect for the coach’s decisions. That kitchen table talk can tank a team and destroy a program in a single season.
Many of these kids are dreaming bigger than ever, but working less than ever. As they over commit to activities and show up less to practice, mentally check out at practice, jog through drills, have lists of excuses, always injured during conditioning but healthy on game days, but still believe they deserve to reap the rewards of the work they didn’t put in because they believe that wanting it very badly is enough.
Our parents are controlling our coaches like puppets, not having the full story but jumping in with their solutions and insisting on compliance.
So how do we make the best of our own programs?
Clearly outlined expectations and consequences at the start of the season, reviewed with parents and players, handed out and reminders of the way we do things on this team throughout the season.
Willingness to address issues as soon as they begin, before they get out of hand
Getting the administrators and other members of the program completely on board and in support of team policies.
Team philosophy clearly stated so that parents know what kind of program and features they are signing up from the beginning, allowing them to choose one that aligns with their goals for their child. (such as – all kids play – developmental focused more practice than games, or we only take the best-play the best- ad mostly do tournaments-etc)
And for any other coaches out there feeling the pains of where our youth sports have gone, here’s a few parent interactions I’ve had that may sound all too familiar.
My Top TEN Things that make a coach say HMMMMM Moments:
We are going to the beach the week of tryouts, when will my child’s personal tryout take place, before or after we go? (regarding varsity team tryouts)
My daughter doesn’t like the uniform colors, can she wear something different?
Would it be ok if my child only goes to games? She doesn’t like practicing as much as games.
When you don’t start my child, she feels like she isn’t as good as the girl who does start. (Varsity players parent)
SHOOT IT!!!!! (from a parent to their child while standing on the opposite side of the sideline, the child is BEHIND the net and the crease)
My child is too good to play with her own age, she gets tired from having to score so many goals. I want her to play with the 8th graders. (4th grader parent)
Do you know of a personal lacrosse trainer that can work with my daughter? Her stick work is terrible. (3rd grader parent)
I scouted the other team for you last weekend and here’s the game film (U9 team parent)
Why do you keep playing that kid, she can’t catch, she’s ruining the whole team. (k-1 grade parent)
Do you have Cathy Reese’s email address? We put together some highlights to send her so she can be keeping an eye on our daughter. (6th grade players parent)