Archive for Parents vs. Coaches

PARENTS V. COACHES: Still the Biggest Issue in Youth and Amateur Sports Today – and Getting Worse

If there is one trend in youth and amateur sports that continues to rise in this country, it’s the issue of more and more HS coaches leaving the ranks. No matter where you live, whether it’s in New York, California, Texas, Florida, Maine, or any of the states in between, the rate at which HS coaches are resigning their jobs has become an alarming epidemic.

What’s the reason for the mass exodus?

The answer is pretty simple.


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PARENTS VS. COACHES: Why Parents Feel Compelled to Meddle

A most interesting conversation with Bob Cook from Forbes Magazine this AM. Bob, who writes a youth sports column entitled Your Kid’s Not Going Pro, was talking about why so many parents feel empowered – almost entitled – to meddle with their coach’s HS or travel coach.

Of course, most coaches have rules in place regarding parents. That is, no talking with the coach for at least 24 hours after a game…or parent can set up a formal office appointment with the coach….and in some cases, the coaches insist that the youngster himself or herself talk with the coach and not the parents.

But most parents feel – especially after they have invested a lot of time and money in their kid’s sports education – that the HS coach needs to be doing everything he or she can to promote the kid’s talents so that he or she can shine on the varsity, be named to All-Star teams, and ideally put together a stellar athletic resume that will attract college coaches.


So if the kid is not getting enough playing time, or is playing the wrong position, or is not named as a team captain or All-League, then the parent begins to develop a growing unease that he needs to talk with the coach and to “enlighten” him or her as to just how talented their son or daughter is.

Bob agreed, and took this step one further: basically, by the time your is 16 or 17, they probably already know whether they’re one of the top stars on the team. And they also know what their realistic odds are of playing in college.

Problem is, the parents don’t pick up on any of this. They see their kid as being one of the best, if not the best, athlete on the team, and as a consequence, with a little extra boost or promotion from the coach, the youngster should be attracting college scholarships.

But of course, it doesn’t work out that way. As we know, very few HS kids are good enough – or for that matter, even have the desire – to play at the next level. And as a result, the real disappointment ends up with the Mom or Dad who have been the last 10 years hoping and spending their way to help insure their kid gets one of those golden tickets.

Invariably, it’s the parent who feels that their dreams are being crushed….not so much their child’s.

Too often, this is a sad and disappointing outcome, but unfortunately, it happens all too often.


PARENTS V. COACHES: The Time Has Come to Reinvent Our Relationship!

Of all the questions I’m asked when I do sports parenting presentations, the one topic that far surpasses everything else is: as a sports parent, what’s the best way to approach my kid’s coach about…..(fill in the rest of the question here: playing time, position, being made captain, etc).

There was a time not that long ago when coaches were never approached by parents. About anything. Coaches were put on a pedestal, and for better or worse, parents never went to complain. That kind of act was seen as being totally off-limits, and if a youngster had an issue with the coach, it was up to the boy or girl to approach the coach on their own. That took tremendous courage, and as such, it was rarely done.

Any issue that involved the coach was usually seen as the sole responsibility of the Athletic Director to keep tabs on the coaches, and if things were out of sync, it was the AD who stepped in, quietly, and talked to the coach. There were no parental complaints to the school board, or principal, or threatened lawsuits.

Now, clearly those days are gone. And while I am not so naive as to think that everything with old-time coaches was truly wonderful  back in the day, the fact is that, these days, friction between coaches and parents continues and only grows worse. Every week I read of more and more quality coaches quitting, not because of the kids, but because of the interference from Moms and Dads. And more and more parents complain that coaches just aren’t very good any more.

So on this AM’s radio show, I opened the floor to suggestions on what we can finally do to straighten the ship and start heading back in a positive direction. There were some excellent suggestions which I recap below:

1 – BETTER COMMUNICATION: This is a concept that everybody agrees with, until you get down to specifics. But one idea that everybody seemed to like is that the AD and head coach of each varsity team should meet with the players and their parents in a mandatory meeting before the very first tryout. The AD should run the meeting, introduce the head coach, go over the coach’s credentials, experience, etc., and then talk about the coach’s philosophy towards tryouts, cuts, underclassmen playing more than seniors, and on and on.

The point is….it’s better to give voice NOW before the first practice to let all concerned exactly what the coach is all about. And yes, parents can certainly and should ask direct questions.

2 – ANONYMOUS SURVEYS: Such a simple but effective way of communicating. Have two such surveys- one at the middle of the season in which team players AND their parents can fill out a form which basically grades the coaching staff, not so much about their won-loss record, but on how their son/daughter is enjoying the season or not, what could be improved, other concerns, etc.

Another similar follow-up survey should be done at the end of the season as well. The surveys have to be done anonymously in order not to invite any retaliation against a player or their family.

3 – LET COACHES REACH OUT! Another good idea was to suggest that the head coach take the initiative and reach out a player’s parents if the coach and his staff sense that an issue is developing. In other words, rather waiting for the athlete and his parents come to the coach, why not tell the coach to make the first move?

The idea here is to show parents that the coach is a sensitive educator, and that he/she can see some friction may be developing. By making the first move, the coach will both impress the parents as well show that he/she wants to nip any problems in the bud.

These three ideas, I feel, are a step in the right direction, mainly because they are specific and offer some positive action. I’m curious as to any other ideas you have. By the way, if you’d like to hear the original show from this AM, you can always go to and find the link for Rick Wolff’s Sports Edge podcast.

PARENTS V. COACHES: Star HS Pitcher Dictates to His Coach His Playing Time

I found this bizarre story in Collegiate Baseball last week. I can never recall a high school athlete – even a top one like this kid – ever pull a stunt like this.

Here’s what happend, and you make your own call.

This occurred in a league game this past April between two Tucson HS teams. One of them – Sahuaro HS – is led by a top left-handed pitching prospect named Alex Verdugo. On this day, playing against rival Salpointe Catholic HS, Verdugo – who is a potential first-round draft choice this year – was cruising along with a 1-0 lead after the first five innings.

When he got to the bottom of the fifth, Verdugo informed his coach, Mark Chandler, that he would not go out and pitch in the sixth.

Why? Because even though Verdugo and his arm felt fine, he had already thrown 92 pitches that afternoon, and with the MLB Draft coming up soon in June, Verdugo didn’t want to jeopardize hurting his arm.

Chandler, the coach, was stunned and upset with this fait accomplit – he couldn’t understand why his star pitcher would voluntarily stop pitching in a key league game. 

As the bottom of the fifth ended, Verdugo – who is also a top outfielder – grabbed his glove and headed to center field. Coach Chandler, outraged, ordered Verdugo back in the dugout, and told him he was done playing for the day.

Meanwhile, all of this is playing out in front of the fans, including Verdugo’s father Joe, who was incensed with his kid being benched. As the game concluded, with Sahuaro  HS – Chandler’s team – winning 2-1, the father of Verdugo screamed obscenities at Chandler, finally getting to the point where he confronted Chandler and forcefully shoved the coach in the chest.

To his credit, Chandler – a former Marine – did not retaliate. Two police officers walked the father to his car, and gave him an assault citation for his actions.

I think this case fully illustrates the perfect storm of parental expectations versus coaches.

Consider this: the young pitcher, perhaps minding the advice of his Dad or perhaps a sports agent (family advisor), may truly feel that throwing 90 pitches or more jeopardizes his arm, especially in this day and age of so many Tommy John injuries.

But the way Alex Verdugo presented his situation to his coach was quite unsettling — in effect, “Hey coach, I’m more concerned with my own self best-interests than the team’s” sets a very poor tone. And then he reinforced it by simply assuming that if he’s not pitching, then he heads out to the outfield.

And of course, Verdugo’s Dad was way off-base attacking the coach after the game.

So what do we make of all this?

Well, it would have been smarter if the head coach had sat down with his star player earlier in the season and made sure he and the coach were both on the same page. No coach wants to ruin his star player’s career – and the best way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to talk early on about how the coach will use the kid during the season.

But for a kid in a very prima donna way inform his coach that I’m finished pitching today…and now I will go play in the outfield” is NOT the way to do it.

Meanwhile, Verdugo was drafted in the second round by the LA Dodgers (62nd pick overall). I’m quite the Dodgers scouts are well-aware of how Verdugo treated  his coach this past season, although there haven’t been any mentions of this incident in the press coverage so far.

We’ll see how this youngster develops in the years to come.


PARENTS V. COACHES: What Should the Boundaries Be Regarding Parental Conversations with Coaches?

Ideally, we want our kids to learn how to stand on their own two feet, so that if they have an issue with a coach, one’s son or daughter will have enough personal courage and gumption to address the coach. The youngster may have an issue with one’s playing time, or the position they’ve been assigned, and so on.

But the everyday reality is that many sports parents don’t wait or even encourage their youngster to take matters in their own  hands. Rather, hawk-eyed parents will spot other Dads chatting up the coach after a practice session, and in our ever-competitive sports world, ambitious Dads will want to chat up the coach as well.

Now, lots of HS coaches and travel coaches have become proactive about these situations. As one of my WFAN callers mentioned this AM, he has adopted a 24-hour “dark” policy. This is a very popular approach in which no parent can call or email the coach for at least 24 hours after every game.

If your school or program doesn’t have this policy in place already, I urge you as a coach to adopt it right away.

However, there are still those coaches who make it clear that they never want to interact with the parents. They tell the kids on the team at the first practice sessionthat they (the coaches) are there for the athletes – not for the Moms and Dads.

While that policy may work for some coaches, it’s my opinion that Moms and Dads should have the right to talk with the coaches. After all, coaches are educators, and just as you can reach out to your child’s teacher about your child’s academic performance, sports parents should be able to make appointments to see the coach as well.

However, that being said, there are some strict guidelines. Besides the 24-hour rule, if you do call or see the coach in person after a practice, PLEASE bear in mind that the coach probably has their own family to tend to. As such, DO NOT converse with the coach for more than 10 minutes. Ask your question, and then listen to their answer carefully.

PLEASE DO NOT try to “sell” the coach on your perspective. That is, don’t try to convince him or debate with him on the merits of your child’s abilities, and why they should start or play more in the games. Ultimately, you are not going to be successful in your attempts.

If you want, you can opt to email the coach. Just be very, very careful what you write in your email. Understand that the coach will now have a written record of your point of view.

And most importantly, NEVER put down another kid on the team. That’s not only unfair, it’s wrong. So, if you’re tempted to “explain” to the coach why your kid should be starting over this other kid, you have now crossed the line. Most coaches won’t even respond to this kind of email.

One other thing to consider. Lots of sports parents feel that if they don’t talk to the coach on behalf of their kid, who will? That is, they feel they have to be youngster’s advocate.

But lots of kids will then turn to you and say, “Dad, how could you go and talk to the coach about me? Don’t you know he absolutely hates that? Now I’ll never see the field!”

In other words, your best intentions may backfire on you. Bottom lineL even if you are hellbent to talk to your kid’s coach, better check with your son and daughter first. Or at least get their views first.

PARENTS V. COACHES: Major Lawsuit Pits Old-School Coach Against Today’s Active Sports Parents


A major lawsuit was filed just recently which, to me, seems like a kind of “perfect storm” between HS parents and a HS coach.

Now,I don’t have all the details in this case yet, but on paper, this sounds like a classic confrontation between an “old school” tough HS football coach whose in-your-face disciplinarian ways are being challenged by some of the parents of his players.


Here are the basics. Rich Ward is the head football coach at Marlboro HS, which is up the Hudson River. He is admittedly tough with his players, but he has also won. In four seasons, the team has gone 40-5, and has won three straight Section 9 Class B championships.


But now a lawsuit contends that during 2011 and 2012, Ward told his players to physically injure some opposing players (such as break their fingers, target their knees, and so on) and an one occasion, that he wanted to see their opponents go out in “body bags.”


There are also claims of Coach Ward, in a playoff game last year, of grabbing his QB by the facemask, jerking the kid’s face and neck when doing so and screaming at him. The QB in question has declined comment.


There are also claims of heavy-duty profanity, and even maybe evidence of a racial slur.


Now, the lawsuit was filed by a former Marlboro HS coach, as well as some parents of some former Marlboro players. Named in the suit were Coach Ward, as well as the Marlboro Superintendent and the School District.


The school superintendent says that these allegations have been checked out numerous times, and are all unfounded. In short, they are fully behind the coach.  

In light of the Mike Rice case at Rutgers, as we have discussed on this show, more and more coaches are being put under the microscope. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

In fact, I would argue that 10-20 years ago, old school coaching tactics like the ones I just described – well, no parent would have ever dreamed of filing a lawsuit.


But clearly times are changing. We’ll have to wait and see how this Marlboro case plays out, but certainly if Coach Ward and his school district lose, it will be most interesting to see what kind of ripple effect that decision would have on coaches nationwide.

PARENTS v. COACHES: Holding a Middle School Football Dinner at Hooter’s?


When A Coach’s Decision Clashes With Parents’ Values

By Doug Abrams

“[I’m] not allowing myself to be bullied by a vocal minority,” Corbett Middle School football coach Randy Burbach said defiantly last week, adding that he was fighting a “war I want to win.” The coach dug in his heels after parents of some of the Oregon team’s 12-14-year-olds objected to his decision to hold the post-season awards dinner at a nearby Hooters, the restaurant chain that features (as a local television station aptly put it) “chesty waitresses in skimpy outfits.” 

Some parents said that their sons would not attend the awards dinner. The school’s athletic director said that when he requested Burbach to move it to “a different venue so that all of the athletes and their families could attend and feel comfortable about the location and enjoy the season,” the first-year volunteer coach was “unyielding and emphatically said no.”

The AD explained that Hooters “objectifies women” and thus “send[s] the wrong message to our young men,” but Burbach responded that the boys themselves requested Hooters when he sought their input. Explaining that his own children had a positive experience at Hooters when they were 12, Burbach added that the restaurant was an “OK venue” for the dinner. The AD announced that the dinner was not an official school function.

Regardless of any accomplishments during the season, Burbach misperceives a coach’s role with other people’s children. When they decline to expose their young sons to “chesty waitresses in skimpy outfits,” parents exercise their prerogative as the primary stewards of their children’s upbringing. The parents may be right or they may be wrong, but the final call is theirs, and not the coach’s.  And, contrary to what the coach told the media, parents who objected to Hooters did not “bully” him or wage “war” with him.

Parental Prerogatives

When parents enroll their son or daughter in a sports program, they grant the coach a tangential role in the child’s upbringing. Most coaches take this responsibility seriously, often providing leadership and direction that parents themselves cannot readily provide alone. When coaches meet the challenge, players remember for the rest of their lives.

Parents, however, do not cede their primary childrearing role to the coach. Some team decisions rest with the coach, some rest with the parents, and some rest somewhere in the middle. Corbett’s concerned parents did not challenge the coach’s starting lineup or practice agendas, or some other decision relating to strategy or technique.  Whether to patronize Hooters with their young boys is a family decision that squarely rests with parents because responsibility for childrearing begins in the home and not in the locker room.

Any middle school coach should know the difference between Hooters’ “chesty waitresses” and a family restaurant with banquet rooms.  With any degree of foresight, Burbach should have anticipated that some parents would hold sincere objections to Hooters, and he should have remained sensitive to those objections. It is no answer that the 6th-8th-grade boys made or contributed to the selection. Declining to give children everything they want is the essence of responsible adult leadership.

Burbach says that he used to bring his own 12-year-old children to Hooters for a positive experience, and that is his prerogative as a parent. But it is also every other parent’s prerogative, based on their own values, to decide the appropriateness of Hooters for their own young teenage sons. No family – not even a “vocal minority” – should face the peer pressure and social ostracism that may accompany non-attendance after the players had been together all season. Each family earned the opportunity to attend the dinner at a venue they would find suitable for their children.


By claiming “bullying” and “war,” Burbach demonstrated both recklessness and disrespect. Two weeks ago, I wrote that when adults misuse the term “bullying” in the public school context, they risk trivializing official efforts to combat true bullying and cyberbullying, which victimizes nearly half the nation’s elementary and secondary students before they graduate.  The risk is greatest when misuse comes from the lips of a teacher, coach or other school official.  Burbach is a volunteer, but he assumes the role of school agent when he coaches the middle school team.  

Bullied and cyberbullied students typically face genuine physical and emotional scarring unlike anything a coach might face when parents happen to disagree with him about where to hold an awards dinner. Careless use of the term “bullying” – particularly by a school agent – threatens public support for in-school initiatives that protect vulnerable students from physical and emotional intimidation.


When American troops are fighting in harm’s way, we on the home front should respect their service by reserving the term “war” for the real thing. Burbach is not alone in his loose language because, at one time or another, many of us try to score points with armchair invocations of armed conflict. President Johnson’s 1960s “War on Poverty,” and the more recent sustained “War on Drugs,” for example, demonstrate that even the nation’s leaders frequently speak too loosely. But describing as “war” a coach’s disagreement with parents about a middle school football team’s awards dinner rings hollow while men and women serve in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. 


The Supreme Court is right that parents hold primary responsibility for “inculcation of moral standards . . . and elements of good citizenship.”The calculus does not somehow change when parents enroll their son or daughter in a sports program.  Parents do not shed their personal values at the locker room door.


[Sources: Oregon Middle School Coach: Hooters a “Fine Venue” for Football Party, (Nov. 6, 2013); Hooters Picking Up Tab For Fired Corbett Coach,–230573061.html (Nov. 5, 2013); Hooters Middle School Party Is Still On, Despite Corbett District’s Objections, Nov. 4, 2013); Hooters Party For Middle Schoolers: Corbett Coach Says He’s Been Fired Along With Brother, Son,]

PARENTS V. COACHES: Meddling Parents at the College Level

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.”

Individual Accountability

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.”

Warning Signs

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]

Should New HS Varsity Coaches Be Allowed to “Build” with Younger Players?

This happens more and more, and it’s worrisome.

Let’s say your kid plays basketball. He’s paid his dues right up the ladder: sat on the bench pretty much all of his sophomore year, played more in his junior year but didn’t start, and now as a senior he’s expecting to finally get a real shot to be a bona fide starter.

Problem is, over the last few years, the team’s record has been around .500, and the long-time coach decides to step down. The new hired coach is in his early 30s, and he decides that the best way to reinvigorate the program is to focus on the freshmen and sophomores, let them become the starters, and while they take their lumps the first year, all that extra playing time will pay off down the road.

Problem is, such an approach doesn’t do much for the seniors and the juniors on the team. The coach tells them they can linger on the bench, or if they want, they can quit.

Imagine if this happened to your son or daughter? What would you do? What would you tell your kid?

But as noted, this pattern  has become very commonplace, and amazingly, seems to getting the blessing of HS athletic directors.

Look, I understand how college coaches  — who are strictly judged by their won or loss record – might use this kind of appraoch. But I find it very disturbing when it’s put into place by a HS coach. Because that signifies to me that the new coach is all about putting his or her career at the top priority – that if I can build a winnning program in a few years, maybe I can advance to a better job, no matter what happens to the feelings or dreams of some of my kids.

In short, the coach is trampling on the dreams of the veteran players. That doesn’t sit well with me, and quite frankly, this is one of those rare times in which I do think that a parent and their kid have a right to ask for an appointment with the school’s AD to determine if this new approach is going to be the way the school’s sports program is going to be run. Communication, as always, is the key in such situations, and it’s essential that the new coach truly understand what the school’s true priorities are.


The Battle Between Helicopter Sports Parents and Their Kids’ Coaches

“Coach, I don’t think you understand….my son was the star on his travel soccer team last spring and summer. Maybe I ought to have his travel team coach you directly….”

“Coach, my son spent all winter working out with a pitching coach. According to that coach, my kid should be one of top players on the HS team this spring….”

“Coach, I don’t understand your game strategy. If you want to win some games, you might want to consider giving my kid more playing time….”

You get the idea. Lots of sports parents feel that the only way they can insure that their youngster doesn’t get bypassed or overlooked by their HS coach is for the parent to speak up and intervene, i.e. hover around the coach like a traditional helicopter parent.

But what too few parents understand is that coaches are much more focused on the entire team, not on individual players. Parents understandably see their kid’s progress through their own tunnel vision. But coaches see the big picture, or at least try to.

Besides, what coach in the world wants to hear from a parent who insists that the coach talk with the kid’s travel team coach or personal instructor? That’s both insulting and demeaning to the HS coach.

Parents…at some point in your son’s or daughter’s career, you’re going to have to learn how to stand back and let them fly on their own. I recognize that can be very difficult. And yes, some coaches are better than others.

But if your youngster works hard and has real talent, every coach will eventually pick up on those two qualities. Interfering or hovering will only end up making the coach dislike you, and even worse, dislike your kid. Don’t make that mistake – it ends up being a lose-lose for everyone involved.