Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘coaches

Youth leagues, you need crisis management public relations

with one comment

So I’m reading about this case in Tucson, Ariz., in which a fight between a parent and his 9-year-old son’s football coach (over whether the child could leave the game early, and whether he was allowed to leave wearing his uniform) ended up with cellphone video of the 9-year-old stripping to his skivvies, which ended up on a local news station, which ended up on CNN, which ended up being bounced all over the ol’ World Wide Web, to spots such as this blog.

I could go over all the particulars, but the only thing that seems to change in these stories are the individual involved, and the subject of the fight. You could make Youth Sports Mad Libs out of these fights. The (adult figure in child’s life) and the (type of sports coach) have a (adjective) (noun) about (noun), which causes (adult figure in child’s life or type of sports coach) to act (adverb), and the whole things gets caught on (video recording device), and sent to (a form of media). The (same form of media) takes the side of (adult figure in child’s life of type of sports coach) who first comments about the incident, and the whole thing ends up a referendum on (issue in youth sports).

In what should be no shock to readers of this blog, I (and my cousin) got busted as kids for filling in Mad Libs with nothing but dirty words, such as our favorite adverb, “nipply.”

There are a lot of things youth leagues need, but believe it or not, access to quality crisis public relations management is one of them. With most of these leagues full mostly of volunteers who have had no reason in their lives to worry about PR, what happens in a case like the football league in Tucson is that everyone is caught flat-footed when suddenly a radio station in, say, Maine, is calling, wondering whether you want to be on their show to talk about why your league (verb) such (negative adjective) (curse word, plural) like (name of coach).

Actually, they’re caught flat-footed in the first place because the leagues make an assumption that nobody cares outside of the coaches, parents and children involved. And most of the time, they’re right.

However, any league, at any time, could suddenly find itself in the middle of a worldwide media frenzy. Say, for example, if it has a coach who writes what he says is a tongue-in-cheek letter to his soccer parents that is interpreted as advocating 8-year-old girls become soul-crushing, steroidal, “Green Death”-delivering animals.

I would expect that most leagues do not have the budget to handle a big-time crisis management firm when big-time crises crop up. I would expect that most leagues would not even know whom to hire to help with public relations efforts. So what I will do now is offer some free advice to leagues that they can use in their first coach’s meetings, just to get the message across:

1. If you don’t not want to stop being an asshole on the sidelines for the sake of the kids, do it so you will not go viral online. Every parents has a cellphone that can record you, and there is no way you can explain away why you were such an asshole. So don’t be one.

2. Leave your ego at the door when a parent berates you. You might be right. The parents might be completely, hopelessly wrong. But when the story is told of your conflict, the parent’s side is the one that’s going to be told first. If a parent complains, you can argue, but be reasonable and professional. Again, every parent has a recording device — but it doesn’t come on until after the conflict starts. So make sure you’re calm, so you’re not on the local news screaming your fool head off.

3. Have the league rules on your person at all times. Consult them when a conflict arises. If you’re not sure, here is the cellphone number of the league president and vice president. Call immediately if there is a problem. Don’t feel you have to solve everything yourself, right at that moment. The cellphone video of you calling the league president is much less likely to go viral than video of you calling the parent a fucking shitbag.

4. You might feel as if you have sole authority over these kids as the coach. The reality is, the parents are paying the bills. You might feel as if you are doing parents a favor by coaching their kid. The reality is, there are parents who won’t feel that way. So can the dictator act, communicate early and often with parents, and make clear that while you have your way of running a team, you are willing to listen if any issues arise. This considerably reduces the chances there is a on-field or on-court incident that puts you on cable news and YouTube.

5. Regarding incidents between coaches: If you have a disagreement, take it to the league president instead of fighting it out, literally, on the field. If you feel an opposing coach is being unfair, is cheating or is encouraging his players to hurt others, try to have a reasonable discussion, and failing that, document what happened (or ask a parent or assistant to document it for you) and bring it to the league president. What we want to avoid is an emotional incident that leads to a fight in front of children — and in front of cellphone cameras.

6. If an incident occurs that ends up catching the attention of the local media, feel free to answer any questions. Answering questions is better than saying nothing. However, don’t be defensive, and don’t focus on the conduct of the other person. Instead, calmly give your side of the story. Then call a league officer to relay what just happened, and what you said, so the league can formulate a response.

Of course, all of this assumes you have a league president and office that is dedicated to the good of the league, and not to favoring its own friends.

I won’t guarantee that this crisis management on the cheap will keep your league off of this blog. However, an acknowledgement that anything can end up in the public eye at any time might be the first step to making sure that never happens. If this advice doesn’t work, well… hey, I’m just the PR guy.

Advertisements

Celebrating a basketball brawl isn't helping, coach

leave a comment »

In recent days we’ve had player, students and crowd high school basketball brawls in Utah and South Carolina, the latter threatening the existence of a multi-team tournament because the threat of fights makes it too expensive to insure. You might ask yourself — aren’t there adults around ready to stop this stuff before it starts?

No, usually. I can understand why two players might go at it in the heat of battle, but I don’t understand why that necessitates coaches sending their other players to join in, and “fans” streaming down from the bleachers to get their pops. Specifically, I don’t understand why Chipley (Fla.) assistant basketball coach Phillip Adams raised his fists in victory and chest-bumped one of his players as he left the floor during a brawl between Chipley and archrival Vernon.

The video of the fight is here, and the still of Adams’ chest-bump is here. Both were taken by Florida Freedom Newspapers’ Jay Felsberg.

We don’t know exactly why Adams did what he did, and he wouldn’t answer questions when reporters called his home following the game. But for a nominal grownup, there are only two acceptable responses when a brawl starts. One is to keep your kids on the bench and not add to the problem. The other is, failing that, or having secured your bench, help get authorities in to help break things up if they’ve gotten out of hand. If the kid had hit a game-winning shot, then raising your fists in victory and chest-bumping would have been acceptable for what would be an actual happy occasion.

This is not to say that Adams is the only coach who has ever looked like he was celebrating a brawl, or that he was the only coach in that gym that night who was. Coaches aren’t responsible for security, but at least they can set an example and let a team know that brawling isn’t tolerated. If nothing else, you never know when a Jay Felsberg, or a fan in the stands, is going to record your stupidity.

At least, what coaches can do is follow the example of Salt Lake City West coach Bob Lyman, if you feel duty-bound to defend your player.

His player, Gatete Djuma, elbowed a Highland High player on a rebound, and when the Highland player retaliated a brawl, involving players and fans, broke out. In the video here, you can see Lyman and other coaches not chest-bumping players, but trying to keep them from coming on the floor.

Under Utah’s no-fight rule, Djuma was automatically suspended for two games. Lyman said the recent arrival from Rwanda was acting on instinct and hadn’t learned yet about not retaliating. Feeling like he would be leaving Djuma in the lurch — Lyman suspended himself for a game to sit with him.

Whatever you think of what Lyman said, he is acting like an adult, an actual role model. That deserves fists raised in victory, and a chest-bump.

Written by rkcookjr

January 11, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Video shows coach getting toes licked by 14-year-old player on crowded bus

leave a comment »

Via Badjocks.com, your one-stop shop for athletic antics, comes a story from Mooresville, Ind., about a coach who apparently always seemed a little creepy, and then moved into the creeptastic stratosphere when video emerged of him have his toes licked — on a school bus — by a 14-year-old junior varsity softball player. Hey, I thought the school bus was only for 13-year-old girls giving hummers in the back row!

1243377656_710292c101Ha ha! Fooled you, fetishists searching for “toe licking”!

From WRTV in Indianapolis:

A battle is brewing between some parents and the Mooresville Consolidated School Corp. over a teacher some feel is involved too intimately with children.

A 41-second cell phone video shows a junior varsity softball player licking the toes of teacher Jody Monaghan, a former softball coach, 6News’ Jack Rinehart reported.”There were 14-year-olds on that bus. I know several of them. I’ve known them since they were little girls,” said parent Lenny Adair. “It’s inappropriate at best.”

Let me stop right there for a moment. Given what’s to come in the rest of the article, everything at the beginning sounds like massive understatement. A teacher having his toes licked by a 14-year-old in front of other kids on a school bus is “inappropriate at best”? Dude, with an attitude like that, R. Kelly is going to be stopping over at your house real soon. (To be fair, this was a dad who put a stop to Monaghan texting his daughter at all hours, so R. Kelly should know that inappropriate at best means you should try another house.)

Anyway, onto more of the story:

But that wasn’t the only incident parents consider inappropriate. Superintendent Curt Freeman was aware of another incident in which Monaghan sent inappropriate text messages to some students. In both cases, Freeman said Monaghan used poor judgment, but Monaghan now coaches the girl’s swim team.

Parents said Monaghan has been engaging in inappropriate contact with children for years. Sheila Reecer’s daughter said some of the behavior she had witnessed between Monaghan and her teammates happened to her, too. “She came home and she was real upset and she goes, ‘Mom, I need to talk to you about something that happened during softball,'” Reecer said. “She said she had walked past him in the dugout a couple of times, he would just rub his hand across her stomach.”

Rob Allen said incidents reached beyond the softball field and that Monaghan disciplined his daughter in a classroom in front of her classmates. “He bent her over his lap and spanked her, and I didn’t find this out until later on down the road,” Allen said. Sheila Helton said she pulled her 15-year-old daughter off the softball team after Monaghan began sending her text messages she felt were inappropriate.”She came to me one day and said, ‘Mom, I think my coach is weird,'” Helton said. “11:30, 12 o’clock at night, some of the messages were, ‘What are you doing? I’m bored.'” …

Helton said contact with her daughter went beyond texting and got uncomfortably physical after Monaghan allegedly told her daughter that she didn’t need her knee wrapped, but rubbed. … While Monaghan no longer coaches softball, his new position as swim coach gives some parents pause. “So they go from softball uniforms to girls in bathing suits. Go figure that, and I don’t like it,” Adair said. Freeman and Monaghan refused repeated requests to be interviewed for this story.

In a follow-up story posted today (Nov. 25), WRTV reports that the Indiana Department of Education is investigating to see whether Monaghan’s conduct went “too far.” If it didn’t, except a lot of shoeless teachers on girls’ sports team school buses. And yet, no word on the school itself investigating whether Monaghan’s contact was, well, inappropriate at best. Though I suspect the people running the Mooresville schools are worried about their own heads if they did a Catholic-style, transfer-the-priest-to-another-parish move by taking a creepy coach in softball and shuffling him to the girls’ swim team. Also, there’s no word yet on any criminal investigation, assuming there will be one, related to the video.

One lesson for you parents out there: if you think a teacher or coach is acting a little strange, it never hurts to ask the other parents if they’ve ever seen or heard anything, or see if parents of older kids ever heard of odd behavior, or bring it up to the school right away, even if it as apparently slow to move as Mooresville. Chances are, what you’re seen or heard isn’t the first time a teacher or coach has been inappropriate at best.

Written by rkcookjr

November 25, 2009 at 11:43 pm

'The junior high Paterno'

with one comment

“Junior high Paterno” is the nom de guerre the Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune affixed to one Barry Crust, who is in his last year coaching middle school sports at Hudtloff Middle School in Lakewood, Wash. That’s not because Crust has coke bottle bottoms on his glasses, wears white socks with any shoes, and found late-career success by loosening his recruiting standards to include more criminals. It’s because Crust is old.

Crust started at Lakewood in 1967 and never went anywhere else, beginning his career one year after Paterno took the head job for Penn State’s football team and never went anywhere else. As the News Tribune itself noted, all Paterno had to do was coach football. By the newspaper’s calculation, Crust has coached the equivalent of 117 seasons — a “baseball coach for 42 years, a wrestling coach for 31 years, a football coach for 26 years, a fastpitch coach for 14 years. Factor in a couple of years of basketball and one each for track and volleyball … .” Crust retired as a physical education teacher in 1997, but he’ll finish his 118th and final season in the spring of 2010 when he coach’s Hudtloff’s baseball team.

The News Tribune asked Crust how kids and sports have changed over 42 years, naturally. Crust’s answers are not what you’d call, well, crusty:

— Girls aren’t just stuck in intramurals anymore, something Crust thought was “silly” and “unfair.”

— Other than being bigger and faster, and having different hairstyles, kids haven’t really changed much over the years.

— The biggest change has been the decline of the all-around athlete.

Crust fears the concept of the all-around athlete has been compromised by a youth-sports culture that demands specialized talents.

“We’ll have an after-school baseball practice from 3:15 to 5,” he said, “and then the kids are picked up for their next practice, which goes until 7. What that means is I’m not their only coach, so I’ve got to be flexible.

“Take bunting. If you don’t know how to bunt, I’ll show you. But if you’ve learned a different technique from somebody else, I don’t want to waste our time trying to undo everything.”

Interestingly, Crust credits spreading himself coaching over multiple sports as a reason why he lasted so long.

Not that Crust bemoans the relative brevity of any junior high sports season. To the contrary, he believes the schedule – two weeks of practice, five weeks of games, everything wrapped up in two months – kept him fresh during the three decades he spent as full-time P.E. instructor and busy-bodied coach.

It sounds like Crust kept some perspective about youth sports and his role in them. No wonder he appears to be retiring happy, and on his own terms.

Written by rkcookjr

November 22, 2009 at 8:46 pm

Do coaches yell more than they used to? DO THEY??????

leave a comment »

Recently University of Kansas officials began looking into allegations from players and their parents that football coach Mark Mangino… well, the Kansas City Star didn’t say exactly what, but it’s widely believed that it has something to do with his temper, which is on display in this oft-seen YouTube clip of Mangino going ballistic (in a possibly NSFW way) on one of his players who drew a taunting penalty after running an interception back for a touchdown.

[youtubevid id=”zmAYpAzNB34″]

Rated “R” for language and threat of violence. No nudity.

So Star reporters Dave Helling and Diane Stafford, riffing off of Mangino, proceed to write a story called, “Aggressive coaching is a growing problem, but how much is too much?” I know reporters don’t write the headlines. But the story promises exactly what the head says — a look at the growing problem of semi-abusive coaches.

Except that there is zero evidence in their story that there is a “growing” number of semi-abusive coaches.

One problem I have with stories like the one in the Star, and with the coverage of youth sports in general, is that it’s always either-or. Either coaches are violent hooligans destroying the fragile psyches of young children, or they’re don’t-keep-score weenies pussifying America.

Of course, both kinds of coaches are out there. I’ve seen no scientific evidence determining what percentage of coaches are hard-asses vs. bleeding hearts, but I do know that since I was a kid, leagues are far more upfront, at least on paper, about making teaching children and getting them to enjoy a sport a greater goal than winning. That’s why I have a hard time buying sentences like these from Helling and Stafford, who, to be fair, are only regurgitating what they’ve been told:

Yet the problem of overly aggressive youth coaching is growing in America. Indeed, three out of four young players quit organized sports before the age of 13, according to one survey, blaming overly aggressive coaching more than any other reason.

“The win-at-all-costs mentality that’s filtered down from professional sports has colored youth sports,” said Jim Thompson, founder of a California-based organization called the Positive Coaching Alliance, which counsels coaches at the high school level and below. “Youth coaches are imagining in their heads that they’re an NBA coach or an NFL coach.”

A survey by the Citizenship Through Sports Alliance gave youth coaching a C- grade in 2005, calling the lack of focus on effort, skill development, positive reinforcement and fun “unacceptable.”

“Youth sports has lost its child-centered focus, meaning less emphasis on the child’s experience and more emphasis on adult-centered motives, such as winning,” the group concluded.

The Positive Coaching Alliance and Citizenship Through Sports Alliance do some wonderful work, but if they believe youth sports has “lost” its child-centered focus, they’re not looking at the same world I see. If anything has changed, it’s not that coaches yell more. It’s that youth sports has grown more professionalized as a result of parents willing to pay big bucks to get their kids, the centers of their lives, everything they could possibly want and need for that elusive college scholarship or pro career.

The story of the reaction to Mangino and others allegedly like him is not that coaches yell more. It’s that a coach who motivates through fear and yelling stands out much more than he or she used to — a point Helling and Stafford make later on, thus contradicting the thesis of their story:

Complaints about overly aggressive coaches aren’t limited to big-time college programs. Raytown South basketball coach Bud Lathrop lost his job after more than 40 seasons [in 2003] after stories surfaced that players were paddled for missing free throws.

At the time, some of Lathrop’s fans defended his approach, which they said was considered perfectly acceptable 30 or 40 years ago. …

Every management guru in America preaches that collaboration is the best way to get good work out of the “team.” Even the military, the bastion of top-down, do-as-I-say leadership, has tried to tone down the archetypal drill-sergeant abuse.

Yet society generally casts a more permissive eye on successful coaches who behave badly. Bob Knight and Woody Hayes were legendary for outbursts, physical and verbal, although it eventually got both in hot water.

Yeah, about that hot water. Hayes, Ohio State’s legendary football coach, was fired in 1978 after punching an opponent who was forced onto his sideline after returning an interception.

[youtubevid id=”HmoIjMr1BZs”]

Woody Hayes, losing his shit.

Knight, the legendary Indiana basketball coach, was fired in 2000 after he violated a zero-tolerance policy put on him after numerous controversial incidents regarding his behavior.

So let me ask this. If aggressive coaching is so much more of a problem, why are aggressive coaches being tossed out? Why are youth sports leagues emphasizing to their coaches the importance of teaching over winning? Which is it, Kansas City Star — are coaches being allowed to run wild, or are they being told to hold their temper? You’ve got a serious mixed message when you’re trying to send a firm one about the prevalence of abusive coaches.

Of course, as I mentioned before, it’s not an either-or situation. A lot of youth coaches, whether they yell or not, are focused on winning. Often, the parents whose kids are on that coach’s team emphasize it as well. Indeed, a recent study by a University of Washington professor found that children whose coaches emphasized mastery of skill rather than winning had less “sports anxiety” and were more likely to stay with a sport.

I think where reporters like those at the Star get the mistaken impression that coaches are yelling more is because there is so much emphasis from organizations like the Positive Coaching Alliance to make sure ALL coaches are creating a positive environment. By the way, that’s not as simple as praising everyone. In the coed fifth- and sixth-grade team I coach, sometimes you have to give ’em a carrot, and sometimes you have to be more forceful about what you want. Some kids respond to the carrot, and some kids need the stick. What I try to do is make sure they know I’m doing what I’m doing because I care for them and want them to get better. I don’t use a paddle.

Does winning matter? To me, no. But I know from my experience that if kids never win, or don’t win much, that’s as discouraging as an environment that is only about winning.

The big problem with youth coaching, and where organization like Positive Coaching Alliance prove valuable, is that because coaches are drawn from the ranks of parent volunteers, you have people who don’t know how to coach. So, they draw on who their old coaches were — yellers, like back in the day.

The next time someone writes a story about yelling coaches, I’d like to see either a study showing that indeed more coaches are abusive, or something that reflects the reality of youth sports today — where some coaches yell, and some don’t, where some kids are in professionalized programs, and some aren’t. Just because Mark Mangino yells doesn’t mean most coaches do, or that just because he yells he represents a growing trend.

The story really is that if a coach does cross the line toward abuse, parents, players and others in the outside world are much more likely to call the coach on it.

Written by rkcookjr

November 19, 2009 at 11:33 pm

Where the women coaches at?

with 3 comments

One out of my 6-year-old son’s five T-ball coaches is a woman. Various studies say that sounds about right for that level — depressingly so. However, I’m not so sure the researchers are 100 percent right as to why 20 percent would, in most cases, be considered a fairly high ratio of female-to-male coaches.

3154176261_7784ce4c5fA rare sighting.

On Wednesday night (or tonight, if you’re reading this on Wednesday), the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport is hosting a discussion on why the number of female coaches is so low, especially given we’re almost 40 years into Title IX throwing open the doors of gyms and gates of fields to girls.

Given the guest list, the answer is going to be: because the Man is keeping them down. The guest speaker is University of Southern California sociology and gender studies professor Michael Messner, whose research has purported to show that the lack of female coaches in youth sports has to do with men’s effort to keep old-time gender roles ingrained. This is the abstract from “Separating the men from the moms: The making of adult sex segregation in youth sports,” published in the February edition of Gender & Society:

Based on a multiyear study, this article analyzes the reproduction of adult gender segregation in two youth-sports organizations in which most men volunteers become coaches and most women volunteers become “team moms.” We use interviews and participant observation to explore how these gender divisions are created. While most participants say the divisions result from individual choices, our interviews show how gendered language, essentialist beliefs, and analogies with gendered divisions of labor in families and work-places naturalize this division of labor. Observation reveals how patterned, informal interactions reproduce (and occasionally challenge) it as well. We show how (mostly) nonreflexive informal interactions at the nexus of three gender regimes—youth sports, families, and workplaces—produce a gender formation with two interrelated characteristics: an ascendant professional class gender ideology that we call “soft essentialism” and a “gender category sorting system” that channels most men into coaching and most women into being “team moms.”

If you have absolutely no clue what that means — try dropping a few “(mostly) nonreflexive informal interactions” and “soft essentialisms” at the next soccer board meeting — maybe this excerpt from the first chapter of Messner’s latest book, with the dripping-with-irony title “It’s All for the Kids,” will make things clearer. Like most youth sports books, it wouldn’t exist without the Shocking Moment involving My Own Kid:

Back in 1995, when we arrived at our six-year-old son Miles’s first soccer practice, I was delighted to learn that his coach was a woman. Coach Karen, a mother in her mid-thirties, had grown up playing lots of sports. She was tall, confident, and athletic, and the kids responded well to her leadership. “Great, a woman coach!” I observed cheerily. “It’s a new and different world than the one that I grew up in.” But over the next twelve years, as I traversed with Miles, and eventually with his younger brother Sasha, a few more seasons of AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization), a couple of years of YMCA youth basketball, and over decade of Little League baseball, we never had another woman head coach. It’s not that women weren’t contributing to the kids’ teams. All of the “team parents” (often called “team moms”)—parent volunteers who did the behind-the-scenes work of phone-calling, organizing weekly snack schedules and team parties, collecting money for a gift for the coaches—were women. And occasionally I would notice a team that had a woman assistant coach. But women head coaches were very few and far between.

The research findings stretched me beyond a simple study of sex segregation in youth sports coaching. My observations and interviews led me to explore how youth sports fit into families and communities. I gained insights into how peoples’ beliefs about natural differences between boys and girls (what sociologists call “gender essentialism”) help to shape men’s and women’s apparently “free” choices to volunteer (or not) for their children’s activities. I discovered ways in which gender divisions of labor in families relate to more public displays of masculinity and femininity in activities like youth sports. And the study gave me provocative hints about how gender beliefs, family structure, and youth sports are key elements in constructing symbolic boundaries in a community that is defined (often covertly) as “white” and “upper middle class.”

Not to minimize the problem of a lack of female coaches, but it sounds to me like under academic trappings, Messner has done what just about all of us involved as parents and coaches in youth sports do — take our own experience, combine it with our ingrained biases and determine This Is How the World Works.

Not to say that Messner, or the Tucker Center, is completely off-base in saying there is an old-boys’ network that exists in youth sports. Their first mistake is assuming any boy can get in it — or that a woman cannot. Being involved in youth sports coaching and management is much like getting involved in politics. Those who are involved are really, really involved, and oftentimes make decisions based on their own interests. If they happen to benefit everyone, well, all the better, but that’s not always necessary. I’ll admit, I have no academic basis — that’s just my own observations ladled with my biases, probably.

Nicole LaVoi, the associate director of the Tucker Center, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that leagues tend to ask the dads, while women are saying, “Ask us. Invite us.” From the article:

In her study of mothers, LaVoi discovered that many would like to coach — and they had concrete, workable suggestions that could bring more women into the ranks.

Some said they wanted to feel more competent before taking the responsibility of leading a team. Training clinics expressly for women would help, they said, by providing an unintimidating and welcoming environment in which to develop their skills. They also advocated female mentors and co-coaches as ways to build confidence and make it easier for women to get into coaching.

Others said having fewer games overall and more in their own neighborhoods would ease the time crunch that keeps some off the sidelines.

All of these are wonderful ideas. However, in a youth sports environment that is mostly volunteer-run, the chances of any and all these ideas being put into place is quite slim.

Again, reflecting my own experience, I don’t believe that leagues are intentionally trying to keep women out. Believe me, most leagues are desperate to get anyone who passes the I-didn’t-molest-children background check. Most leagues either don’t have the time, resources, or organizational ability to set up training or mentoring programs for anybody, women or men. I’m fortunate my baseball and softball league hosts one session with the local high school coaches to share their wisdom with us parent coaches.

Plus, forget fewer games or games closer to home. The schedule isn’t going to be rearranged for anyone’s convenience.

And that takes me, finally, to a major reason, one offered by my wife and other women I know, as to why they aren’t coaching: they don’t have time. After all, they’re busy at work, raising kids and juggling everything at home. Not that dads aren’t doing the same, but it ain’t the same. Last year for my daughter’s softball team, I wanted to get for an assistant a mom who had played softball in high school. She sent her husband instead — she said she was busy at work, raising kids and juggling everything at home. If there’s some soft essentialism going on, it’s that these particularly busy women didn’t want one more goddamn thing on their plate, while men were more apt to see coaching as something they could make time for (probably because their wives were doing everything else, but that’s for another gender study.)

Here’s another theory I was given by a female sportswriter friend of mine: As women’s sports have become more popular, more men have found it acceptable to coach them.

I agree with Messner that it’s great to have a female coach. I would agree that perhaps leagues can take steps to attract more female coaches — something, anything to send the signal that they’re not just looking for guys.

Where I split from Messner is that I (and maybe it’s because I’m a man in a War Against Soft Essentialism) don’t see this as an issue of the Man keeping women barefoot and pregnant at home. I also believe that women (in most cases) are indeed making a free choice, not some unconcious decision made because men have somehow brainwashed them, or some such thing. If we are to have more female youth sports coaches, league officials, coaches and parents need to realize that individuals have their reason for not coaching.

I encouraged the mom to coach on my team, mainly by making it clear you didn’t have to be a baseball genius to coach T-ball. (I did the same thing with the dad coaches, too. After all, I am no baseball genius.) All I know is, each woman has her individual reason for not coaching. Assuming there’s only one reason isn’t going to grow the ranks of female coaches.

I encourage women (and men) to comment. Like most, I’m basing my conclusions on what I’ve seen in my own immediate circle. I’m curious to hear what others’ thoughts and experiences might be.

How can parents hold coaches accountable…

with one comment

…without being an asshole about it?

I wrote the last portion of that question, but that’s a statement often implied when someone is, say, turning to the Positive Coaching Alliance to get an answer to the thorny questions of youth sports. In this case, an anonymous parent wondering, basically, why everyone else has to sign a code of conduct promising to be a goody-goody while the coaches get to carry on like Bob Knight with a case of flaming hemorrhoids.

3125518865_b1e16afd10_mPossible case of ‘roid rage.

The exact question posed to the readers of the blog of the Positive Coaching Alliance:

My daughter goes to a very competitive public high school with a winning tradition. However, some of the coaches with the best winning traditions are also some of the worst coaches when it comes to how they treat the kids. These coaches are allowed to scream and yell at our children with no consequences.

Our kids are put down amongst their peers and even cursed at in public. Yet the teams win and nothing is done. A few years ago our school implemented a Code of Conduct for all athletes and parents to sign. The Code is not strictly enforced, even though athletes and parents must sign a new one for each new season or sport.

What kind of Code of Conduct should the coaches be held accountable to? When the Code is broken by a coach, how should it be dealt with? Our coaches are also teachers in the school and they are part of the union, which makes it difficult for parents to question a coach’s tactics and behavior because of the fear of retribution not only to the athlete (playing time, etc.) but also to the student and their grades. I cannot sit on the sidelines any more and something must be done. I need your help!

Here is my answer, which I have submitted to the PCA blog:

You know what you can do about this? Most likely, shut up and take it.

That’s not the answer you wanted, and that’s not the answer I want to give. But if you’re at a competitively public high school with a winning tradition (like my old high school, where I for a while ran track and cross country for a coach with multiple state championships), these coaches are beloved by many for their results, and that support includes many alumni and fellow parents, as well as the current school administration. If you want an indication of the loyalty a seemingly over-the-top coach can engender, go to Support Our Stinson to see the massive amount of love pouring out for a coach facing a reckless homicide charge after one his players died as a result of one of his practices. The teachers’ union is the least of your problems.

If you (and your child) find the coaches too much, you have one relatively easy option — taking your child off the team. I say “relatively” because I presume you fear some sort of backlash from coaches, or some negative change in your child’s social circle. At the least, your child can finish the season, then quit the sport and concentrate on intramural, rec league or club-level competition.

Otherwise, if you are planning to fight what is going on with the coach, the first thing I would recommend is taking your emotions out of this. Yes, it’s your child, your baby. But you have to ask yourself — is there a reason the coach is acting the way he or she acts? Talk to other parents whose child has played for that coach, for example. Don’t ask, “How could your child stand such a tyrant?” Ask, “What did you think of that coach? What did you think of the way that coach handled players?” If you don’t want to be seen as the crazy, overprotective parent, don’t act like one. If you sense a lot of anger and upset among the parents, then you can come to the administration as a group. The administration might not do anything, but it can’t ignore a large group of parents making the same complaint.

Also, there’s nothing wrong with asking to talk to the coach. Again, it’s about approach. If you introduce the conversation as one where you want to ask the coach why he’s such a jerk, prepare to be brushed off or patronized. Instead, introduce yourself and ask if there would be an opportunity to chat one-on-one as a new parent wishing to get to know him (or her) or the program better. The coach is probably still going to be nervous that you’re some crazy, overprotective parent. But a good coach will make a little time and explain why he or she does what he does. You might not agree with it, but at least you might understand it better.

One other thing you can do: talk to your child. Does the coach’s conduct bother your child? How do teammates respond to it? What is the team morale? If your child feels like the coach is coming from a positive place, then maybe the best thing for you to do is back off.