What Can Happen When Parents’ Abuse Chases Away Coaches
By Doug Abrams
The other day, a want-ad of sorts appeared on the computer screen while I was reviewing youth sports articles in the nation’s newspapers. The want-ad was longer than the few-inch ones that typically dominated newspaper classifieds and now appear regularly on Internet sites. In the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, Steve Craig wrote a lengthy, well researched article below this headline: “Help Wanted: Maine’s School Administrators Struggle to Find Coaches.”
The article reported that each year, school districts in Maine and other states suffer high turnover among middle school and high school coaches. In some schools, as many as a quarter of coaching positions open up each year. “Long termers,” men and women with coaching tenures measured in decades rather than months or a few years, seem a dying breed in the United States today.
A Sense of Entitlement
School districts frequently get few applicants — and sometimes none — for advertised openings, even varsity positions. The Press Herald offers several reasons why. The bulk of interscholastic coaches have traditionally been teachers, but greater classroom obligations today leave less time to juggle coaching with family and other personal commitments. Coaching a high visibility sport can demand a 12-month-a-year commitment from teachers and non-teachers alike. Non-teachers may find it difficult to fit afternoon practice and game schedules with their “day jobs.” Coaching stipends remain modest for the hours expected.
But time constraints, year-round commitments, unyielding team schedules, and modest stipends do not tell the whole story. The media also regularly reports about high school and middle school coaches who are driven out of coaching because of unrelenting abuse from some of their players’ parents. The executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association told the Press Herald that “many parents have a sense of entitlement,” and that “some parents apply pressure . . . that makes coaching less attractive.” “As the head coach, everything you do is questioned,” added one high school head lacrosse coach.
School coaches indeed face serious challenges from some parents. When confronted by insistent parents, for example, administrators may countermand the coach’s disciplinary decisions. Unable to recruit, public school coaches typically depend on players developed in local youth leagues, but a coach’s reappointment each year may turn more on parents’ satisfaction with the team’s win-loss record than on the coach’s demonstrated ability to lead the team to its potential by getting the most from the players who try out.
In the community and before the school board, coaches may suffer sniping from parents whose real beef is that their children are not in the starting lineup. In the Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Mich.) in mid-April, sportswriter Chris Dobrowolski reported seeing parents’ “intimidation, harassment, threats and heated verbal exchanges” leveled at their children’s coaches. He says that abuse from parents “happens all the time.”
Face-to-face confrontations create trouble enough, but social media now leaves coaches fair game for parents emboldened by the anonymity of the keyboard. Just last month, the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press reported the resignation of the girls hockey coach at Stillwater Area High School near St. Paul. In 14 years behind Stillwater’s bench, he had compiled a 260-112-21 record and won two state titles, though the team finished 9-16-1 last season. The coach said that he resigned to protect his family from “an unrelenting and vicious personal series of verbal attacks from a group of parents” in emails and on social media. “I will simply not put my family through any more of this.”
The Pioneer Press reported that the Stillwater team’s booster club attributed the personal attacks to “a disgruntled few” parents of current and former players.
Chasing Away Qualified Officials
In my most recent column on Rick Wolff’s blog, I discussed how parents’ verbal and physical abuse can hurt players by driving away some the most qualified referees and other game officials. Particularly in contact and collision sports, shortages of experienced officials can increase the risk of injury because many replacement refs are not yet ready for the responsibilities cast on them. But for the premature departures of so many veterans, many of the replacements would not yet be on the field. http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2016/04/20/abusive-sports-parents-growing-shortage-sports-officials/
Chasing Away Qualified Coaches
Now the Portland Press Herald reminds us that abuse from some parents may also claim qualified head coaches and assistant coaches. Abrupt coaching changes do not usually implicate player safety, but players can lose out on valuable expertise and leadership when qualified coaches depart prematurely and the array of potential replacements remains thin.
In school districts that draw coaches from the ranks of both teachers and non-teachers, we can debate the general virtues of each category. On the one hand, a teacher-coach may combine knowledge of the game with an educator’s keen sense of pedagogy and motivation. A teacher-coach can also help supervise the team off the field because teachers are on the campus throughout the school day rather than only shortly before practices and games. On the other hand, a non-teacher may combine a greater background in the sport with a similar ability for pedagogy and motivation, sometimes drawn from years as a high-level player or an effective youth league coach.
In any school, however, each coaching selection depends on its own personalities. Teacher-coaches range from effective to ineffective, and so do non-teacher-coaches. But one way or the other, players are more likely to be hurt when abuse dished out by some parents leads coaches to quit before their time, leaving the applicant pool with only a few names, or even (according to the Press Herald) with none. Completing a double whammy, further hurt can await in games played without the most qualified referees, whose ranks some parents have also helped deplete.
Coaches chosen from deeper applicant pools are more likely to meet players’ needs and expectations than coaches chosen after school administrators must go begging for candidates to stem persistent high turnover. A buyers’ market remains more likely to produce better coaching selections than a seller’s market.
Source: Steve Craig, Help Wanted: Maine’s School Administrators Struggle to Find Coaches, Portland Press Herald, Apr. 25, 2016 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/24/help-wanted-maines-school-administrators-struggle-to-find-coaches/; Chris Dobrowolski, Parent Behavior Toward Coaches Must Change, Record-Eagle, Apr. 17, 2016; Jace Frederick, Stillwater Girls Hockey Coach Resigns After “Vicious” Verbal Attacks, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Apr. 8, 2016; Jace Frederick, Stillwater Girls Hockey Boosters Decry “Disgruntled Few” Who Attacked Coach, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Apr. 13, 2016.