Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Over at the Positive Coaching Alliance, the sworn enemy of the Negative Coaching Alliance, there is an interesting conversation going on inspired by this question:

My 7th-grade son has played very competitive soccer and basketball for years, always supporting his teammates. Recently, his coaches in both sports challenged all the players to improve on specific skills, but some players are not trying very hard. As a parent, how can I help my son demand vocally (even angrily, if necessary) that his teammates strive for their potential and do so without alienating himself?
— Phil Carragher, Glencoe, IL

Well, Phil, it’s interesting that you bring this up. My brother-in-law and I are coaching a basketball team of seventh- and eighth-graders (and my son, a sixth-grader), and as coaches we’re wrestling with the same problem. As a team, we have a problem with every kid going all-out every practice and every game. In fact, after winning our first game, we’ve lost every one since as a direct result of a lack of team hustle. As coaches we take responsibility as well because we are charged with putting our team in the best position to win, and better yet creating an environment in which everyone is relaxed and having fun so they can feel comfortable going all-out and unafraid to make mistakes. Unfortunately, when you’re losing, that goal becomes harder to reach.

Phil, let me ask you this first: is your son unequivocally recognized by his teammates as the best player? Or at least a major contributor to the team’s success? Otherwise, there’s no hope. In my experience, other players will take praise and criticism more seriously from the best player than they will someone who is not.

Also, what are the personalities on the team? I encouraged our best player, who does hustle all-out, to feel free to praise and criticize on the court, to position players, and to otherwise lead by example. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be working, though such a strategy has worked for me as a coach before. Particularly at the junior-high level (and I don’t have to tell you this, having a son in junior high), kids at that age are far more likely to blow off you and peers.

A kid who is not predisposed to hustling, who does not see it his duty to play well for his teammates’ sake, and who does not see the connection in how being lazy in practice means poor results in games — you’re just going to have a hard time getting through. No matter what your son says, a player like that isn’t going to respond. In fact, that player will probably go into a shell.


And to back it up even further, Phil, it’s not your job as a parent to get your son to help him to demand vocally (and even angrily) that his teammates step it up. I don’t know your son’s personality, but some kids are just not comfortable with doing that. You can’t make your kid into something he’s not.

I understand your frustration, and your son’s, at being stuck on a team where it appears everyone is not interested in trying their best. I know it’s driving me crazy with my team right now, and I’m having to take a good, hard look at how I’m coaching to make sure I don’t make a tough situation worse. I recommend, Phil, that you and your son suck it up, that he focus on improving his game and being the best teammate he can be (no matter what everyone else does — perhaps the more he shows he trusts them, the more they might respond, maybe), and that you and he realize that soon enough he will be on another team that might not have the problems this one has.

Oh, and Phil, don’t complain to the coach about it, either, if you were thinking of that. The coach knows. Trust me on this one.


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