These are turbulent times for coaches at all levels.
It's not because of lack of talent to choose from or because sports have not evolved into a healthy competitive balance brought about by advances in technology and just good old hard work, but because they find themselves under assault by a small percentage of seemingly well-intentioned parents who don't understand the difference between involvement and interference.
The parents find it very easy to point fingers. More often than not, they're pointed in the wrong direction.
They may have the best interests of their child in mind, and that's fine. But when they lose sight of the fact that coaches have to have the best interest of the whole team in mind when they make out a lineup, it becomes a classic example of the few ruining it for the majority.
Bedford County is not immune. In fact, the issue appears to be festering into epidemic proportions. School administrators had better get in front of it sooner rather than later.
Recently I observed a coach, whose team had won a soccer match by one goal with a crosstown rival, become surrounded by a group of parents who came across the field before he could even dismiss his team.
Were they there to congratulate him on a breathtaking team win over a veteran team with a squad full of freshman and sophomores? Negative. The session very quickly turned into a major gripe session with each set of parents whining about their child not getting enough playing time during the match, oblivious of the example they were setting for the players still milling about within hearing distance.
This same coaching staff has received texts during the games asking why so-and-so isn't playing!!!
It's the kind of over-the-top behavior that's increasingly common -- parents running on the field screaming at the coaches, loudly questioning game strategy during games, pulling their kids off the sidelines for one-on-one sessions while the staff has their backs turned, and serving roasted coach every night at the supper table.
One of my favorite people on earth -- and as good a baseball coach at any level you'd ever want to meet -- told me that he forgot to leave his cell phone in his truck during a middle school game this year and it began vibrating while he was coaching third base. He glanced at the Caller ID and noticed that it was a parent of a player and thought that there must be some kind of emergency so he stepped over between innings and answered the call.
Needless to say, that conversation was ended very abruptly.
I could relay numerous other instances but you get the point. It epitomizes the tenuous and often times stormy relationship that exists between coaches and team parents. It has redefined the role of coaching and not for the better.
It happens when well-intentioned parents let their protective instincts for their children overwhelm their good judgment. It's perpetuated when the coaches don't receive the backing they need from school administrators to deal with the problem in a convincing fashion when they become disruptive.
Number one on that enforcement list should be that playing time will not be discussed under any circumstance with parents. That is a matter between the player and the coach. Parents who enter the playing field uninvited, or utilize the extremely dubious method of spreading unsubstantiated rumors and innuendos to smear the coach in an effort to garner support, should be banned for the year.
Mom and dad have to realize that it becomes a big distraction for the whole team and teaches that 'me first is okay' and undermines team cohesiveness and discipline when they decide that they know more than the coaches.
That sense of entitlement is threatening to overwhelm sports. Parents aren't just questioning the coaches; they are demanding their heads on a platter and in at least one notable instance in our county we empowered them by allowing it to happen!!
If we don't stomp this out now starting lineups will be determined by the parents who have the most clout or put up the most fuss.
Coaching is a high-pressured job. Whether the pressure to win is coming from the school, the community, or whether it is self-induced by their own expectations doesn't lessen its effect.
The average pay is about $4,000 per season for a high school coach. Their average workweek is 25-35 hours on coaching duties after their teaching obligations. Who can blame them if they decide that listening to unrealistic parents isn't worth that whopping $1 an hour that they are making and simply walk away?
If you want to coach, go get your degree and apply!! At this rate there will be plenty of openings. Otherwise, let the people who did work their way into the position do their jobs.
Better yet, show some appreciation that there are those who choose to work with our youth for such menial pay.
Parents who really wish to be a positive factor in their child's athletic experience would be best served making sure their child does his or her part. Help reinforce that the team is the top priority and personal goals come second. Playing time is a reward for working hard. It is earned, not entitled.
And perhaps most important of all let's remember that parents, not coaches, set the standard for their child's behavior. Great athletes are made in backyards because they hone their skills when no one else is looking.
It starts and ends at home, folks. Take a hard look at what you have done to advance your child's chance at being a success. How much time did you spend working with your athlete on the playing field, the backyard, or in the gym this week?
How do you want your children to remember your contribution?
Will you be the parent who makes your young athletes' ride home worse than even the most devastating loss after a game?
Or will you be the parent that makes your child accountable for their decisions and help teach them that in life they will be judged by their actions and that hard work, discipline, and accountability have their own rewards.
Either way, just remember that next in life they get a boss.