I am a parent of 2 boys, one 14 years old and one 11 years old. Both boys love to play sports - sports is a huge part of our lives and a huge part of relationship. We love to play sports, love to watch sports (on TV and better yet, live in person), and we actually love to talk about it. We are a very sports-oriented family, but I have become fed up with what I see as increasingly bad coaching.
The story a few months ago of the Rutgers' basketball coach yelling at and physically assaulting his players during practice was revolting to watch and made everyone who did rightly call for his firing. Now, unbelievably, Rutgers, it appears, has hired a Director of the Athletics Department who did the exact same thing to her players while a head coach of volleyball at Tennessee. The calls for her resignation will grow in the coming days and I join those calls. There is no place for such behavior by coaches towards players at any level. It is an abuse of power by the coaches and counseling should be made available to all players at the expense of the coaches involved and the institutions that hire them and long-term, if not permanent expulsion from coaching should be the result for coaches who engage in such outrageous behavior.
The problem of bad coaching is solved right? Wrong, I am afraid.
Bad coaching has become epidemic. And by bad coaching I don't mean teaching poor fundamentals to the sport or employing wrong situational strategy (both of which happen far too often as well). By bad coaching, I mean making that which is ancillary primary. As a parent, my primary hope for my children as they play sports is enjoyment of the sport. In fact, that is my only hope. Do they enjoy winning more than losing? Of course, who doesn't? But my kids have lost plenty of games where they also enjoyed the game, they enjoyed competing, and through proper perspective (what I would like to call good coaching), they valued the experience of losing. When it comes to youth sports, I don't believe winning is everything, or winning is the only thing. Winning is just a thing; just a part of the overall experience. Enjoyment of the sport is the only thing that matters.
Now, don't get me wrong. I do not believe in giving every kid who plays a trophy and saying every game should end in a tie. I believe all kids should feel the wonderful taste of victory and I believe all kids should feel the bitter taste of defeat. Both are necessary experiences for the full enjoyment of playing sports.
But coaches, and all too often parents of players, make winning primary above enjoyment and i believe this is to the detriment of the kids and their long-term enjoyment of the sport. I have seen coaches yell at 11 year-old kids about missing blocks, shooting the wrong gap on defense, running through a sign in baseball, swinging at a bad pitch, and the list could go on and on. And when I say yell, I mean yell - a grown-up voice loudly yelling at a eleven year-old who made a mistake. I have been involved in little league sports in some way, shape or form ever since I was a youth pastor in Denver City in the early 90s and I honestly cannot imagine any context in any sport that would require a grown-up yelling at a 11 year-old child. Not if the child's enjoyment is the primary focus of coaching.
I have coached and have helped coaches in both football and baseball. I know it can be frustrating to teach a child something repeatedly - sometimes weeks on end - and to see that child make the same mistake time after time after time. But the primary focus of children and sports is not perfection - it is enjoyment. Now, enjoyment does tend to follow increased mastery of the sport. It always is more fun to get a hit, make a catch, or make the play that you could not have made earlier in the season when you first started.
I remember, as a youth pastor in Denver City, helping out with little league games, being the official scorer and often times, stepping in to help coach teams when coaches couldn't show up or there was a lack of coaches. I remember one kid named Charlie on a team I was helping out with and I worked with him at every practice. Charlie, who was eleven but had never played baseball before, had an awkward throwing motion and had never hit a baseball when he started the year. It took a lot of work but Charlie persisted and by the end of the year, he was a good little second baseman and he got more than his share of hits. Not once did I, or the head coach of Charlie's team, yell at Charlie for making mistakes. And you know what? Charlie loved baseball. I saw good coaching when I was in Denver City because the coaches at all levels focused on the kids' enjoyment of the sport.
But I have become fed up with the coaching I am seeing all too often now. Of the six total years both of my boys have played football I can say that they had quality coaching one year out of the six. The result? This year neither wants to play football. It's not worth it. The coaching is that bad. Screaming and yelling by so-called coaches has killed their love for football and they played a combined total of six years.
And it isn't just the screaming and yelling that kills it. It's the constant stream of 2-3 hour practices well after the season is under way. It's the 20 minute post-game speeches that some of the ego-maniacal coaches seem to think they have a right to give after eleven year old have just spent 2 1/2 hours playing a sport and still have to go home and finish homework. What the hell needs to be said to children beyond, "Good game guys, see ya Tuesday!"?
But I am done with it. No more. In fact, I have been done with it for quite some time. If coaches aren't going to make the child's enjoyment of the sport the primary thing, then I am going to - nothing else matters. When too many practices are scheduled and they interfere with school or church, or they already have games more than twice a week, then I am not letting my boys go. Enjoyment is more important.
And when coaches want them at the game 45 minutes prior to a game, then the game goes two to two and an half hours long, no postgame speeches unless you morph into Knute Rockne (and even then, he knew well enough to give the rah-rah speech ahead of time and to do it quickly). I pull my kid out before the soliloquy even gets started.
And yelling? Absolutely no way. Not at my kid, not in my lifetime. Last year, when my youngest was playing football, he had a coach who regularly yelled and screamed and name-called and berated his players - ten and eleven year-olds. I confronted him a couple of times and finally told him I didn't want him speaking to my son for the rest of the season. That could be the last season my son will play football - a sport he loved and is good at.
I encourage other parents to do the same. Parents and coaches should make the enjoyment of the sport the only thing to focus on for our children. Wins and losses simply do not matter when it comes to kids' sports - only enjoyment does. Just think how much fun our kids would have if their enjoyment really was our primary concern. Just think how much fun we would have if their enjoyment was our only concern.