We have all been there as parents or coaches; the feelings of disappointment, anger, dejection, blame, confusion or any and all of the above. You have spent time, money, and resources, which are in short supply, to hone your child's skill level. You have signed them up for all the expensive camps, personal coaching, and travel teams that you could afford so much so that you gave up the pool in the backyard or the trip to Disney World. You just cannot understand why your child is not playing or even staring in a role that so many others "guaranteed you." We are going to spend some time today talking about some steps that you can take to effectively have that conversation with your child’s coach or even to make you feel better and insert a different perspective into things.
- Understand that your child's coach, more than likely at the high school, level is an educator first. A vast majority of coaches today have received some formal training on how to deal with children and adolescents effectively. It is illogical to assume that coaches would be awarded playing time for any other reason than what THEY perceive to be their best option to win. In my over 20 years of coaching, I have yet to come across a coach that was purposely and willfully not playing someone that was markedly better without reason.
- Coaches today just like you: they are all strapped for time between family commitments, job requirements, requirements of the team, and the responsibility of overseeing a staff of coaches as well as a team of 30 or more athletes. While your child takes priority in your life as it should understand you and your child are part of a much larger and more complex unit.
- Playing time, especially in football, is not always clear cut from an outside perspective. For example, your son may be the fastest kid in 9th grade, but that does not mean he starts at WR; there is more to it than that. Can he block? Can he catch? And, here is the big one, can he remember the plays? Many NFL players have had careers stalled because their ability to cognitively obtain and interpret information was not on par on with the expectations.
- Sitting in the stands and speaking negatively about other players or coaches on the team will work against you. I can assure you that comments that are made, always make it to the person they are intended for. Keep in mind you never know if you are sitting near the QB you are criticizing for not getting your son the ball. It could also be the parent that overhears your criticism. We as parents must set a positive example for children.
At this point, let's discuss some ways you can positively address your coach if you are still seeking answers.
- Start with your child first. Before you involve the coach, ask your child how they are performing in practice. Athletes are usually pretty honest. Ask them if they feel they are outperforming other players at their positions consistently.
- Email the coach to ask for a few minutes however best they would like to communicate: whether by email, text, phone, or in person. Keep the conversation strictly on your child. For example: "Coach, what does my son need to work on, in your opinion?"
- Understand, when a coach answers your questions, do not expect numbers. For example, it is unrealistic to expect a coach to say your son is consistent catching 67% of the passes thrown at him in practice. There is not the time nor is it reasonable to expect those answers. Coaches see performance every day in practice. They know when a child is ready to play more and when they are not. Keep the conversation on your child, on the progress they are making, and the progress you both would like to see over a period of time.
- In the game of football, almost every position on the field demands a level of physicality and aggressiveness. Blocking and tackling are still the fundamental aspects of the game. If your child struggles in those areas, it is very difficult for their playing time to increase on the high school level. This is especially true with teams with a large roster. This does not mean they cannot improve over time, but from my experience, generally, the athletes who are more physical or more aggressive will play more.
If a meeting does take place, understand that what you see and what your child's coach sees may never be exactly the same. But, each of you has to share the same goal of wanting what is best for your child while also helping to improve the team. Teamwork and sportsmanship not only are played out from the locker room, but they also need to be played out between the coaches, parents, and community.