I grew up the daughter of a coach. I played for a variety of coaches, including my father. I played softball from 7th-10th grade. I played volleyball as well both in high school and on a national traveling team and truly considered it my favorite sport. I was most known for my basketball skills, however, and played both in school and on a traveling team. I then accepted a Division I basketball scholarship to Western Kentucky University where I played for Paul Sanderford and then Steve Small. I also had the opportunity to be coached by assistants Mary Taylor Cowles and Jeff Walz.
Then I got married and became a coach myself. I was the assistant coach for Franklin-Simpson High School's (FSHS) girls basketball team. I was a head coach for their volleyball and soccer teams.
For the most part, I had good experiences with the parents that I dealt with. However, one moment still stands out.
It was the first year that FSHS had ever had a volleyball team. No one in the town understood volleyball. In fact, many parents questioned whether a rainstorm meant we couldn't play. (Umm ... we play indoors.) Another parent suggested I leave my big girls in the front row the whole match. (Yeah, I would love to. But that's not how volleyball works.)
Kentucky sports allowed for girls to play both JV and Varsity. You could play a girl the entirety of both matches on any given night if you wanted. I didn't do that. But I did allow my best JV players to sit the bench during my Varsity matches. They were "back-ups" in case of an injury.
I played a young girl the entire JV match. She was one of the better players. So I invited her to sit the bench during Varsity matches. It was considered an honor. A way of saying, "You are too young to play Varsity, but you are really good. Keep working hard."
At the end of the match, I turned and this young girl was gone. We were huddled up, and she had disappeared. I called her name and instead heard her mother yell from across the gym, "She ain't coming to your huddle!"
After I said my closing words, I walked over to the stands and stood by, calmly I think, as the mother proceeded to chew me out for making her daughter "sit the bench."
Because she had chosen a public place to chew me out, I was forced to respond in public, a whole group of parents and players watching our exchange.
The mother was, obviously, completely in the wrong. Firstly, she didn't take into account that her daughter had decided to sit the bench. She was given the choice. Secondly, she didn't see it as an honor. Thirdly, she chewed me out in public. It was humiliating for both of us.
I left that evening sick to my stomach. It was terrible. It literally made me sick.
To the mother's defense, at the end of the season, she apologized to me at our end-of-the-year-banquet. She told me that her husband, a former college football player, had explained to her that she had made a huge mistake. But either way, the damage had been done. She embarrassed her daughter. She hurt my feelings. Our relationship was always strained.
She didn't care that I was making less than fifty cents an hour to coach her daughter. She didn't seem to take into account all of the counseling and encouragement I did for all of the girls I coached on the side. (Oh if I had a dollar for every break-up, pregnancy scare and pregnancy reality, divorce, or girlfriend spat I listened to and counseled.)
I have watched parents go ballistic when their daughter didn't win an all-tournament award. I have witnessed shouting matches and cuss-outs and pity parties galore. I saw my father deal with it. And then, for some strange reason, I chose to deal with it too. And so did my brother.
I coached for five years before I decided it was just too much time, too much stress, and truthfully too much parent to want to continue.
Sports are supposed to be fun. Very few high school athletes go on to play college sports, let alone become a professional athlete.
People cannot believe it when I tell them that I don't care if my children ever play a sport. I really don't! If they want to, great. If they don't, great. But I don't plan to interfere with the coaches in any way, shape or form. I will support my child, encourage them, and if they are having an issue, teach them how to go to the coach and talk about it.
What sports did for me was teach me about life. And if my children choose to play sports, that is what I hope it will do for them. I hope it will help them learn to live an active lifestyle and learn about life.
But I learned those lessons because my father did such an amazing job guiding my athletic career. Here he was, coaching one of the top centers in the United States at the time, and he still managed to keep things real. He still managed to keep the big picture in mind. His daughter would most likely only play basketball for less than a fifth of her life! He wanted me to be a good person not a good basketball player.
Two examples stand out to me. The first was when, due to a coach purposely removing my father's nomination, I was left off the All-State team. This coach, instead, took her own player and purposefully did not put me on the ballot. It was a totally unethical thing to do, but there was nothing my Dad could do about it after the deed had been done. I remember he sat me down, gave me the news, and then said, "And you know what we are going to do about this?"
I waited. [This is where parents help mold children. If he had told me to beat someone up or cuss them out or pitch a fit, I would have listened. But he didn't say any of those things.]
"We are going to simply shake this off and move on. We know, you know and I know, that you deserved to be on that team. What that coach did was wrong. But we are not going to make a big stink about something that, in the grand scheme of life, does not matter."
The second instance was when, during the incredibly stressful recruiting process, I collapsed in a crumpled mess, crying. I was so tired of phone calls and recruiting visits and interviews and school and practices and training. "What if I just want to quit?" I asked him. "Or maybe what if I just decided to go to a small school and not do all this?"
"Well then I'd be very proud of you," he said. "This is completely your decision and Mom and I will support you in whichever direction you choose to go."
I am not sure what I would have done without a level-headed normal human being in my corner. I remained an incredibly confident but un-cocky athlete all my days. I was kind and respectful and had good sportsmanship and effort always.
I feel for kids who are navigating athletics with poor role models.
I recently read an article online entitled "10 Things Parents of Athletes Need to Know."* Included in that list were some great tips. I share them with you here that in the hopes that if you are guilty, you make your confession and STOP! Just allow your child to enjoy their sports days. Even if, like me, they go on to play college sports, it is just a small fraction of their life that sports will play a role. So much of their life will be after-sports. You are trying to raise a successful adult -- not an award-winning athlete.
So remember ...
- It’s not about you, its about them. (Your sports days are over!)
- Never talk to a coach about your child’s play time. (If it is important enough to your child, then THEY should go and talk to the coach.)
- NEVER yell at referees. (Have you ever tried to referee? It is NOT EASY!)
- Do not coach your kid from the sidelines (Too many voices. And most likely, you don't know as much as you think you do.)
- It is EXTREMELY UNLIKELY you are raising a professional athlete. (I promise you.)
- Kids should play the sport that is in season until they are in middle school. (Don't make them focus and play a sport year round until you are sure that is necessary.)
- If you have nothing nice to say, sit down and be quiet. Don’t be “that” parent. (Your kid is embarrassed!)
- If you are losing your mind on the sideline of game, it’s time to look in the mirror and figure out why. (Isn't this supposed to be fun?)
- Let them fail. (Gulp!)
- Your kids are watching you. (Make them proud!)
I am sure my dad didn't realize how much I was going to be impacted by those two small events. They are watching you! Make them proud!
My Dad and I when we shared the spotlight -- he won Coach of the year and I won athlete of the year from the Miami Herald (Broward County).