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Monday, March 8, 2010

When a Dad goes too far

Within the last couple of years, maybe a year or so ago, I'm not exactly certain, I came across a story out of the United States, which indicated that a “football dad” in the Boston area actually slugged his son’s coach.

As the story goes, the coach of the 12 year-old youth team apparently had disciplined the boy, who had arrived a few minutes ‘late’ for practice.

Given what occurred afterwards, it’s hard to imagine this was anything other than a situation that had been brewing for some time. Surely no father, no matter how over-invested they might be, would react to an isolated situation where their son may have had to do laps, or whatever the ‘punishment’ might have been for being late to practice. There seemingly had to be something more to this situation.

While youth coaches often try to instill a kind of overall team discipline, the focus in this instance may have been misdirected.

Clearly, like most youth involved in sports, a 12 year-old relies on busy parents to get to practices at all, much less, “on time”.

Perhaps there were fully discussed “rules” in place that all families had agreed upon. Maybe not. I don’t know the details.

Setting aside this particular circumstance, and speaking in general terms, there are steps a youth coach can take to at least try to prevent disappointment, misunderstanding, bitterness—or worse, on the part of families involved in his or her Club program

For example, the youth coach should host meetings with parents as a group at the beginning of a season, and then individually with parents and their son/daughter.

The objective is to establish the coach’s priorities, as well as those of that particular ‘team’ and the Club in general, so all parties understand and are on the same page. From there, he/she works toward, if it is possible, agreement on mutual expectations when it comes to discipline, attitude, punctuality and all the other things that make up being part of a youth team, whether house-league or “all-star”.

If the family can’t abide by the coach’s program, then it is likely the wrong program for that child and family. There is then time to look for options elsewhere.

But again, it’s important to establish priorities and expectations early on, so everyone is understands specific expectations and individual family limitations and hostile feelings don’t build and build.

There is no way to defend punching a youth coach, even if the coach was off-base in handling a particular situation – whether it was about playing time, foul language, unfair disciplinary methods, whatever.

It’s difficult enough to find good role models to work with other people’s children.

Now, it’s easy for us to make judgments from hundreds of miles away, but some questions come to mind:

1. If a coach has made it clear a player must arrive on time, is that actually reasonable, given the age of the children?

2. Is punctuality more important than the attitude and work ethic of a young player when they are at practice?

3. What were the actions on both “sides” in this situation that preceded the punch-up?

4. How will that 12 year-old look at his dad in future? What has he “learned” about handling disagreements?

5. How will the rest of the team look at the coach? What have they “learned” about handling disputes?

Youth sports organizations exist to give young people outlets and opportunities for healthy activity. They aim to “hire” volunteers with the best approach and skill set to act as positive role models.

They don’t always bring in the right people, and mistakes will inevitably be made.

The more the sports association, local clubs, individual coaches, players themselves and parents communicate their mutual objectives together, very early on, the better off everyone is.

All the parties may not agree, and if they don’t, thankfully parents have the freedom to protest, ask for change, and ultimately leave a ‘club' if it’s obviously not the right club or team for them.

Punishing a young player for being late- and punching out a coach- is never healthy, much less a solution.

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