Parents typically want their children to be the best they can be. They understand that team sports can provide good opportunities for children to not only develop their physical skills, but also learn important life-lessons that will serve them well as adults. The teams children play on usually have well-meaning volunteers who spend a considerable amount of time “coaching” the children, so it is reasonable to say that coaches influence children in many ways.
Regardless of which team sport they play, children experience things like teamwork, dedication, responsibility, commitment, sacrifice, good/bad character, winning, losing, etc. Parents sign their children up to play a sport and want the coaches to provide them with good, quality leadership. Parents trust the coaches will teach, motivate, and exhibit good character for their children. That’s what coaches are supposed to do. Right?
Well, the good news is that the vast majority of volunteer coaches try to do these things, and most of them even do it well. When they succeed, it makes for a win-win situation for all involved—child, parent, and coach. The child learns, parents are pleased, and coaches have a positive influence on young lives.
Unfortunately, some coaches should never try or be allowed to coach young children. They simply don’t have what it takes for various reasons. These reasons range from lack of knowledge regarding a particular sport to not possessing the character traits that are favorable to work with children in a positive manner. Coaches can’t teach what they don’t know and poor character can be detrimental to young, impressionable minds.
The following is a true story of the experiences a nine-year-old boy had with his coaches. Since I know the child and his parents, I will refer to the boy by the fictitious name, Bob Smith. I witnessed Bob’s experiences as a spectator and was not one of his coaches.
Bob had just completed playing machine-pitch baseball last spring (2014). He loved baseball and did better than most of the other players on the team. The coaches treated all of the players fairly and gave helpful instructions. Bob’s good performance led to an invitation to play on a team at the next level during the summer. He and his parents were excited, and rightfully so. It would be the first time Bob would be facing “live” pitching from someone his age.
As the season progressed, things appeared to be going fine. Bob met some new friends and experienced “real” baseball. He seemed to be enjoying himself, and his parents were loyal supporters of the team. Like all of his teammates, Bob had some good games and some bad, but overall, he had played well.
Unfortunately, things took an unexpected turn. Near the end of the season, I witnessed one of the three coaches for the team berating Bob unmercifully on the field after a game, and in front of his teammates. I believe in discipline, but what this coach did went way beyond what I consider appropriate. I’m talking about ranting, yelling, shaking fingers in Bob’s face, and much more. It was a public display unbecoming any coach associated with nine-year-old kids. I’ll admit that Bob had a tough game, but so did several other boys, including said coach’s son. However, Bob was the only player who received a verbal assault. The coach was definitely way out of line.
Bob was devastated as evidenced by the tears streaming down his cheeks. His parents were livid, and I could have chewed nails. It was the worse display of coaching I have ever witnessed, and believe me; I’ve seen many pathetic coaches in my days as a player and coach. Bob’s love for baseball vaporized in an instant because of one coach’s poor judgment and an obvious lack of good people skills. Bob didn’t want to finish the season, nor did he ever want to play baseball again.
It was none of my business, but I suggested to Mr. and Mrs. Smith that they talk to the head coach about the incident, and file a formal complaint with the league’s commissioner. I also felt it would be in Bob’s best interest if he completed the season since there were only two games remaining. I didn’t want the label “quitter” to define his response to an unfortunate situation.
After discussing the situation with the head coach, the Smiths decided they wanted Bob to complete the season, but demanded the “demon” coach have nothing to do with their son, which I thought was a fair demand. The last two games were tough on all concerned, but one person got what he deserved—the ill-mannered “coach” could no longer coach in the youth league!
The best news of all is that Bob decided to play baseball again in the spring of 2015, but on a different team with different coaches. His struggle to overcome the bad experience with a baseball coach during the summer of 2014 is one no child his age should ever have to endure. The photo shows Bob pitching in a recent game and he is doing well. He has had fun so far and the coaches have motivated the players—as good coaches are supposed to do. However, Bob’s love for the game has diminished and the sparkle in his eyes no longer exists, all because of one man—a volunteer coach.
If you are a parent of a child who wants to play sports, get to know the character of the coaches. If you are satisfied, let your child play, but let the coaches do the coaching on the field. If you’re not satisfied, take appropriate action, but just make sure you’re not being overly protective when you do.
If you are coaching young children, don’t be the type of coach who destroys their self-confidence. Teach them well and give all of them a fair chance, but let them have fun in the process. They will face the realities of life in a few years when they realize not everyone makes the team and there are no trophies awarded for merely participating.
A sport is not just a game—its life being played out on a field, a field of dreams, where kids become adults and adults become kids—all sharing A Time In Life.
What do you think? Have you ever experienced similar situations? Please share your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions. You may help someone avoid a bad situation.
Tom Tatum – Author – 2015
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