It started with me asking, “which one is your son?” and ended sometime later having uttered five sentences, at most. By then I was well versed on how incredibly gifted his son was, every team and coach his son had played for, and how every one of them had mishandled him. Even if I discounted everything by half, his son had played for six different clubs. The kid was 11 years old.
All I kept thinking was the kid would never play on a team I coached. I could envision the countless phone calls and meetings with his father regarding his son. Imagine the litany of questions he would ask: Where he was playing? Where is he batting? Why isn’t he playing first base? I could picture the disdain coming from the sideline whenever the kid didn’t bat in his father’s preferred spot. If none of the other umpteen coaches had handled the kid to the father’s liking, what would make me the lucky one? Nothing. It’s a shame too. The kid was a good ball player.
Whether we like it or not, our actions and demeanor as parents of young athletes have as much impact on coaches’ decisions as our children’s abilities. Here are three reasons why:
No one likes one and done
Persistent team hopping is usually a sign the parent has inflated ideas about their kid’s ability. The parent is chasing some imaginary “golden” ticket to the pros and will never be satisfied with any coach or any program. As a coach, I’m not interested in one and done. A lot of time, effort and money goes into working with a player. The reward is seeing that player develop over time. It is a much harder investment to make when you know the kid will not be playing with you for long. And unless this kid is pitching, playing shortstop and batting third, he definitely won’t be because his parents will be shopping for a new team.
It trickles down
Players pick up on the vibe when the parents deride the coach or the team. We are teaching them by example that this is an appropriate way to behave and they project it back.
A parent on one of my 9U teams was overheard on multiple occasions saying his son should be pitching, that he was as good as our number one pitcher. The player didn’t pitch more because he had a 40% strike ratio and walked 13 batters and hit another three over the two and two-thirds innings I had him pitch. After the season, the player asked his close friend who was better, him or another player on the team? When he received an answer he didn’t like, the player, who was one most well-mannered kids I have ever coached, called his friend an offensive name. He then went on to say he was the best pitcher on the team and should have pitched in all our games. Where did that come from?
When a parent tells me how every team has mistreated his kid, I worry that player is going to be a prima donna. Is he going to take instruction or think he knows better than everyone because all he’s heard at home is how great he is and how wrong his coach is? Is he going to mope on the bench and blame his teammates when things don’t go his way or he when isn’t playing his preferred position, or is he going to accept it and work harder?
A toxic sideline
In a previous post, I wrote about a coach’s responsibility to create a successful environment for the parents of their players. I am a big proponent of taking the time to listen to and address any concerns parents may have. But the concerns of a parent who believes their child is better than everyone else can never be addressed satisfactorily. That can turn the sideline, a delicate ecosystem to begin with, toxic.
At the high school level, the effects can be career threatening for a coach. This past August, a high school coach was sued for not playing a kid. The movie Trophy Kids, a worthwhile watch about over-the-top sports parents, ends with the true story of a tenured basketball coach’s firing after a group of disgruntled parents lobbied for his dismissal. These are just two examples of what is at stake. At younger ages, it can be a constant distraction (or worse) for both the coach and the team.
As much as coaches want good players on their team, they also want to be able to focus on player and team development. That is harder to do when being forced to deal with the drama of parents who have unrealistic expectations. And no coach wants drama.
Brian Sieger is a father of two, husband, volunteer baseball coach and author of the blog 8U Travel.