Kids, coaches, parents and sports

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By Ken Begley

This is probably the most difficult, but I hope not controversial, articles that I have ever attempted to write.

All juvenile sports programs are difficult to run and frequently lead to clashes between kids, coaches, and parents. By juvenile, I’m talking mainly about grades one through eight. These clashes tend to leave everyone involved with hurt feelings that may take years to heal due to things said in haste at the heat of the moment.

My kids have played various sports for years. I tried to estimate how many games and practices I’ve sat through over the past eight years. This may surprise you, but it numbered somewhere in the neighborhood of four to five hundred.

No kidding.

That still doesn’t make me an expert on the above subject, but there are some conclusions that I’ve drawn that might be worth further discussion.

My five kids never had a paid coach. Volunteer coaches are the backbone of Washington County‘s sports programs. It’s a very tough and, unfortunately, sometimes thankless job. I think everyone agrees with that statement.

Everyone wants the kids to have a good time. So why do these athletic programs sometimes take a walk down the wild side of controversy?

Because we’re all different.

We’re all different in the way our parents raised us. We’re all different in the way we raise our own kids.

Some families are raised in a very competitive atmosphere where winning is very important, especially in sports. A lot of extra effort is exerted by the kids and parents to be the best, and that is where they derive their pleasure.

Other kids and parents believe the primary focus is just to have fun. Winning is nice but not particularly important.

The result of the above is instant conflict. Are we here to win or are we just here to play a little ball?

The second conflict comes from whether a sport is developmental or competitive. Developmental means all players get equal playing time regardless of ability so they can learn the game. This is generally in grades five and below. Competitive means that more skilled players will get a majority of the playing time. This is generally in grades six and above.

Again, the result is instant conflict.

I think this is because of small families. We tend to have fewer kids nowadays and we’re more spread out than ever before. As a result, kids frequently don’t have anyone to play with like we did in the old days of my youth. So, they turn to organized sports to fill the void.

Think about it.

When’s the last time you ever saw a group of kids get together to play any sport or game without an adult supervising the activity?

Now, if your kid is playing in a competitive sport, then this may be the only time he will get that vital interaction with his peers other than in a classroom. If he sits on the bench the whole time, then he’s denied that opportunity.

What do we have again? Instant conflict.

Another conflict is how we talk to and punish our kids.

Some people are very tough on the raising and expectations of their kids. Others take a very liberal approach and feel that’s the way to go. Each side scratches their head in disbelief at the other’s approach.

A strict, tough, volunteer coach may end up with kids raised under a softer approach.

You guessed it. The result can be fireworks.

The final conflict is how fired up everyone gets during these kids’ games. You might not have but only 10 people in the stands, but parents and coaches will say and do at times the most embarrassing things. I include myself in this group and still look back with a red face on some of my own actions.

Still, the result can be fireworks.

So what’s the answer?

I don’t know, but how about this.

How you raise your kids is your own business. Many different approaches do end in the same results. Very seldom is one method totally right or totally wrong.

Maybe all volunteer coaches and parents should step back away from the game occasionally.

A coach of one style may work well for several years. Then suddenly a coach gets a different set of parents, or their beliefs evolve, and they have a completely opposite approach. A coach shouldn’t feel bad about stepping back and letting another take over that is more in tune with the parents.

Also, maybe a parent is out of step with all the other parents and the coach. In that case the parent might need to step back and find something more suitable for their child.

I think sometimes we all need to learn to agree to disagree and try not to hurt each other in the process. Then we press on. After all, this really is about the kids.

What do you think?