How Troublesome Parents Can Hurt Their Player’s Chances in College Sports
Early last month, I had an interesting telephone conversation with the men’s soccer coach at a small western university. He told me that before he recruits a high school player and communicates with the admissions office, he tries to size up the young man’s parents by meeting and talking with them.
Nothing unusual so far, but then the conversation continued. The coach said that if the parents appear troublesome, his enthusiasm for the player may diminish. In an extreme case, the coach might even strike the player from the list to avoid future hassles with the parents.
In 2008, the Los Angeles Times did a story on Pete Carroll, then the head football coach of the University of Southern California Trojans, one of the nation’s most prominent college programs. The story described the phone calls and emails he routinely received from USC players’ parents about various issues, including injuries the player sustained or academic choices the player might be wrestling with. But, according to Carroll, the parents “basically call me about playing time.”
Last month’s phone conversation with the soccer coach was an eye opener because, as a youth hockey association president for 11 years, I always urged the board of directors to distinguish between parent and player when it considered disciplining a parent for misconduct. It seemed unfair to make an innocent player assume the consequences for what his or her parents did.
Should a similar approach, grounded in individual accountability, apply when the college coach weighs a recruiting (and thus, an academic) decision that will likely affect the future course of the player’s life? Coaches must answer that question for themselves, but I can understand why some might tread carefully when their antennae tell them that signing a player might bring four years of meddlesome parenting similar to what many youth league and high school coaches face these days. The player may have been a star on the high school or club team but, unless the player is something special, the coach’s list might include other players with similar talent. Taking a chance with helicopter parents just might seem like a prospect worth avoiding.
Whether or not an athletic scholarship is at stake, college recruiting sometimes compels coaches to draw fine lines, make close calls, and heed their instincts. On the one hand, the coach should expect parents to remain engaged by asking penetrating questions. Coaches should welcome this engagement because parents do not stop being parents simply because their player commits to a college. Choosing the right college is serious business. With the student away from home for a sustained period perhaps for the first time, parents rightfully expect the coach to take safety, academics and socialization seriously because the college’s obligations extend to student-athletes.
But the player has almost always reached the age of majority by the time the time he or she matriculates. Parents accustomed to micromanaging relationships with youth league or club coaches since elementary school should demonstrate willingness to ease up on the reins. Pete Carroll told the Los Angeles Times that he understood the delicate balance: “I talk to [parents] just like we’re sharing this responsibility to help this work out for the kids.”
Parents do their player a disservice when they take chances that might dim the coach’s interest during the recruiting process. Conversations with the family might raise warning signs, particularly where the parents appear overbearing or try to monopolize the give-and-take before the player can ever get a word in edgewise. Perhaps the coach can dismiss domineering as healthy enthusiasm from parents who simply want the best for their player, and perhaps not.
The recruiter’s conversations with the player’s high school or club coach can sometimes tell much about the parents. Private conversations can turn quite candid when the coach, thinking toward the future, wants to maintain credibility with the college counterpart.
Nowadays the college coach might also find clues on the Internet and the social media. If the parent’s name has reached the local newspapers with violence or other misbehavior during youth league games or practices, the coach can retrieve the article with a keyboard and a name search. Parents also sometimes vent on the social media. Some college admissions offices reportedly watch the Internet and social media for telltale signs, and we should expect similar due diligence from coaches who are charged with assembling a talented, harmonious team.
Rick Wolff has talked on the air about how today’s technology can preserve a permanent, indelible record of public misconduct. Players must watch with their words and deeds, but so must their parents. The bottom line is that parents who cross the line in high school or club sports may hurt their players, not only in the short run, but also in the long run.
[Source: Gary Klein, The Xs and Os of Dealing With Parents, L.A. Times, Oct. 22, 2008, p. D1]