There is nothing more disturbing than sitting in the bleachers watching your son play baseball while angry parents sit beside you and second guess your team’s coaches. I’ve heard some ugly comments and criticisms about our coaches over the years. Never mind that one of them is my husband, and that the parents providing the commentary don’t realize who I am, nor do they realize that I am well within hearing range of the condemnation and damnation being launched directly toward my better half.
“Hey, take it easy, cut him some slack,” I want to fire back. “You’re not supposed to yell at him - that’s my job, and he gets enough of that at home.” But rather than violating the golden rule, I sit there in silence, try to tune out their sniping, and focus on watching my son live his dream and cheer on the team.
In today’s competitive society, parents seem to value winning more than their children’s well-being and the benefits obtained from playing competitive sports (can you spell fun?). Baseball is not the only sport that parents become wannabe coaches. I’ve seen some of the worst behavior during soccer games, when parents who aren’t coaches actually run on the field to bark instructions at their child.
To establish a healthy relationship between players’ parents and coaches, youth baseball should take a page from the youth soccer playbook. Some leagues require parents to take an on-line course and obtain a parent certificate before they are allowed to participate in their children’s soccer activities. The educational program includes material on how to deal with the child’s coach. Other areas designate “Silent Saturdays” when parents are restricted to polite applause – no yelling or coaching from the sideline is allowed.
Perhaps youth baseball does not need to go to these extremes, but it might be a good idea for coaches to lay out the ground rules to parents when their son joins the team. These rules should be documented and can even be used as a basis for a contract, with the players’ spot on the team conditional based on the parents’ behavior. Alternatively, conducting a parents’ meeting to go over these rules and expectations will help hold all parents accountable. Stating expectations up front will go a long way in preventing issues between parents and coaches down the road, not the least of which is critiquing the coaches from the stands.
The parent-coach agreement should include information about the coaching philosophy. For example, if the primary purpose of the team is to develop players, then the coach should state his intention for minimum playing time and assigned positions for each player. However, if the team is competitive, then the coach should state his intention of putting the best 9 players on the field, with no minimum playing time guarantee. Based on my experience in youth baseball, I’ve observed that unrealistic expectations about playing time is clearly the #1 issue parents have with coaches.
Using lessons learned from youth soccer, the agreement should also include expectations for positive parenting both during practice and game situations. Respecting the coaches and umpires and encouraging the players is the expected behavior of all parents.
The agreement could also include monthly dues requirements and expectations for parents’ involvement in fundraising activities.
None of this will totally eliminate complaints from parents. A coach should be proactive in dealing with parents’ complaints. One approach is to provide regular feedback on the player’s performance directly to the parents – this may help explain the rationale of why their child is hitting in the #8 spot instead of clean up, pitching in relief instead of starting first in the pitching rotation, or sitting the bench instead of hitting the field. Another approach is to establish a complaint moratorium, in which parents are not allowed to complain to the coaches about anything until the moratorium is lifted. Within the span of 3-5 games, the parents’ complaints are usually overcome by events, saving a lot of heartache on everyone’s part.
Parents will always have a tendency to want to coach from the sidelines. Entering in a parent – coach agreement, with ground rules and expectations stated clearly up front, helps parents channel this tendency to become more supportive and respectful.
I’ve always wanted to tell the parents-turned-coaching critics, “If you think you’re so smart, why don’t you go out there and coach yourself!” And I’ve always wondered what kind of response I’d get. If the wannabe coaches took a step back and considered the time commitment and dedication required to be a youth baseball coach, then maybe they wouldn’t be so critical after all.
By Author. All Rights Reserved. Date
January 16, 2007
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