Every Parent-Coach in America Should Read This

Consider the plight of the parent-coach. Always first to arrive at practices and games and last to leave. Part instructor, part hand-holder, and part sherpa, the parent-coach must contend with not just impressionable/whacked out children and hormonally-imbalanced young adults but with their vested and (sometimes) neurotic parents. In the best of times, the parent-coach is hailed as a role model and mentor. The worst of times, players snicker (and parents bicker) behind their back — and often to their face.

As the father of four, I coached youth sports for thirteen years. Coaching baseball, basketball, and soccer, I saw my share of inside-the-park home runs and muffed fly balls, fast breaks and air balls, beautiful goals and whiffs inside the eighteen box. I coached boys and girls teams, butterfly chasers and future college athletes, teams competing for district championships and teams racing to the bottom.

I didn't coach alone — volunteer coaching is rarely a solo pursuit. I had the good fortune of coaching with dozens of well-meaning parents sharing their passion and zeal for the game and making a positive difference in kid's lives. On the other hand, I coached with (and against) some real doozies — former athletes pining for their glory days, coaches obsessed with their eleven-year-old making it to the pros, and unhinged adults who yell and scream and equate self-worth with batting averages, goals, and three-point baskets. I've seen it all, and then some.

At the end of the day, volunteer coaches don't always get the respect or recognition they deserve. Why? The biggest problem — and challenge — to overcome is the perception that parents coach for the wrong reason. As one father remarked, “You can always pick out the coach’s kid: they’re wearing number seven, playing shortstop and batting third.” In other words, nepotism is a stigma that has tainted parent-coaching since the first papa (or mamma) left the stands and stepped onto the sidelines. “There’s a reason why they’re called parent-coach, not coach-parent” the father added.

He had a point. I've seen coaches anoint their son or daughter as team captain, others label their kid a “starter” before the first day of practice, and still worse, offer nothing but denunciations and demeaning epithets to other players but break into a full-throttled cheer and practically jump out of their socks when their progeny accomplishes the most mundane task like sending a dribbler to third base or sinking a foul shot. It's as embarrassing as it is inappropriate.

Despite the sticky conflation of the two roles of parenting and coaching, youth sports would be far worse off without dads and moms stepping up to the plate to volunteer. Paid coaches are the domain of club sports — and “pay to play” is a hallmark of social-economic inequality. Youth sports would be inaccessible to a majority of children whose families can’t or won’t ante up stiff fees for club sports. As one parent is fond of saying, “Parent coaching: You can’t live with ’em, and you can’t live without ‘em.”

All hope is not lost. Tomorrow's parent-coaches can get better and learn from the previous generation’s mistakes. To gain long-lasting respect and confidence of youth players (along with their parents) and achieve real success in the pitch, field, or gym (not just on the scoreboard) future parent-coaches should make the following pledges:

After years of lugging equipment, sending late night email reminders, and valiantly striving to instill young players with a love and appreciation for sports that could last a lifetime, following one particularly grueling game a dad caught up with me while I was packing up the gear. “Good game coach. By the way, which daughter is yours?” I reflexively looked around the field. “She wants to play catcher like every game, but today I put her in left field,” I answered with a smile. “Really?” he said. “I never would have guessed.”

That was one of the greatest compliments I ever received.

— Jay Solomon is a writer, restaurant owner, youth sports coach, and father of four. He lives in Denver, Colorado. He can be reached at jaysgourmet2go@gmail.com.

Writer, satirist, youth sports coach, dad, and owner of www.JAYS2GO.com, a dinner delivery service in Denver, Colorado.

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