Is Your Child’s Coach Playing Favorites?

softballI was livid. My son, the back-up second baseman, had been told by the coach that, if the team had a sizeable lead, he would come into the game in the 5th inning. But here we were, up 20-2, and the coach made no changes. Ok, I thought, maybe in the 6th. Nope. In the 7th? Hardly. Game over and my son never played. I couldn’t even see straight. To make matters worse, later that night, I found out that the starting second baseman had implored the coach to put in my son, and he brushed him off.

Clearly, the coach was playing favorites…or was he?

Most coaches – whether volunteer or paid – are good-hearted individuals who truly want to develop players’ skills and teach them to enjoy the game. In a perfect world, especially at the recreational youth sports level, every player gets equal playing time or, at the very least, the coach follows league or national rules about minimum play or playing time distribution.

However, we all know that the world isn’t perfect and, when your child enters the world of select, travel, or even high school sports, the rules change drastically.

Most of the blatant cases of true favoritism come when the coach’s own child is on the team. While unprofessional and distasteful, it does and will continue to happen until the end of time.

Based on my personal experience, however, there are often other reasons coaches play – or appear to be playing – favorites that parents don’t see or don’t want to see.

Here are some of the reasons I’ve encountered:

  • Winning is everything – This is the most common reason coaches put the same kids on the field or court, game in and game out. Rather than focusing on player development in the long term, the coach is so focused on the short-term results that he cannot bear to make any changes once he has found the “winning formula.” In fact, the coach is frozen with fear of making a change. This is the reason, I believe, that my son never entered that game, even when the team had a huge lead and other players were imploring the coach to put in subs.
  • Pleasing the parent with the dough – A few years ago, my son was on a travel team with a lot of great baseball players – and one pretty mediocre one. And that player had more playing time than anyone else. Why? His father was bankrolling the team; the coach had to put in that player to please the parent and get his paycheck. So while most of the kids made the team based on talent, this child made it because his dad was paying. I’ve seen the same situation occur time and time again, when a parent sponsors the team and his business’ name is on the jersey. Guess who always plays?
  • Getting realistic – Let’s face it. Where our children are concerned, we parents simply are not objective. Is the coach really playing favorites and not playing your child, or is your child just not as good (or reliable or consistent) as that other player who is getting more playing time? Maybe your child has missed a few practices and the other child hasn’t missed any. You might need to take a step back before accusing the coach of playing favorites.

I’m sure there are many other reasons that coaches put in certain players over others that I haven’t touched on in this blog. And I’m just as sure that many of them are unsavory and I wouldn’t condone any of them – just as I don’t condone the ones I’ve experienced first-hand.

Whatever the situation, however, angrily accusing the coach is NEVER the right approach to solving the problem. And speaking negatively about the coach in front of your child only undermines the coach and makes matters worse.

The best approach, if your child is under 13, is to calmly ask the coach – after a practice, not a game – if there is a good time to discuss your child’s role on the team. During that phone call or, better yet, face-to-face discussion, ask what your child can do to improve her skills. Most coaches will be happy to talk with you when you approach them in a calm, rational manner and show that you care about your child’s development. If your child is over 13, she should advocate for herself with the coach. No parents allowed!

Of course, there are those situations where the ‘favorite’ is the coach’s child or the child of the parent with the deep pockets, and no amount of advocating will change the situation. In those cases, you need to determine if that’s the right environment for your child. If not, the only solution is to find another team.

Emily Cohen is a freelance writer living in Berkeley, California. An avid tennis player and swimmer, Emily has a son who plays varsity high school baseball and a daughter who plays varsity high school tennis and club as well as high school soccer. She has been a team manager for a number of her children’s sports teams. You can find Emily’s blog about team management and youth sports parenting here at blog.teamsnap.com. Follow her on Twitter at @emilygcohen or email her at emily@emily-writes.com

Responses...

Ann DeWitt  

Thank you for this post Emily. I too, have seethed in the stands as my child spends yet another game on the bench. It is not in the spirit of youth sports or the best interests of the kids. Appreciate hearing your thoughts on the subject.

Anonymous  

In any sport played by kids, whether house league or travel team, coaches should be playing all the kids equally. End of story. Benching kids kills their confidence, and also makes the kids that ARE playing nervous that if they make mistakes, they could be on the bench next. If they aren’t good enough, then the coach shouldn’t pick them to the team. Money or not.

Anonymous  

Calmly discussing with the coach is always the best approach for sure. Here is a frustrating situation which I haven’t figured out how to handle yet: Coach has the favorite FAB 2-4 players and coaches them on the sidelines during games and gives them special pep talk before an after but your child is not treated with the same approach. Your child has started to notice and make comments to you. Any advice?

Emily Cohen  

Anonymous-again, I think it depends on the age of your child. If he/she is younger than middle school, you should find a way to discuss this demotivating action with the coach. If he/she is in middle or high school, he/she needs to discuss the situation directly with the coach.

Matt  

Please do talk to the coach. But expect and even demand (nicely) that the team rules relating to minimum playing time, reductions in playing time for missed practices or how the coach will decide positions on the field are determined. I’m a coach and all coaches have biases. It’s impossible not to. Having agreed to expectations before the season starts. It should be in writing, along with the team goals and expectations.

If you do have to talk to the coach about favoritism, playing time or other perceived unfairness. Do it calmly, rationally and hopefully before the season is almost over. All players and parents deserve to know what to expect. I am sure I have played favorites, but usually it is unintentional. And the bias towards my son cuts both ways. He would say I am hardest on him, that I have the least tolerance for his misbehavior or in attention. Coaching kids is hard, they don’t all listen, many parents use the practice time like babysitting and don’t see the challenges that one or two coaches can have dividing their attention among 8-22 kids. Help the coach and the team in some way if you can. Most good coaches can productively use any parent, male or female that wants to help out at practices. My players would be better if I had 10 parent volunteer coaches instead of 1-2 I usually get.

Also, whatever you do, don’t take out your frustration out on my spouse. One parent did. I don’t think she will again because I did tell her right there and them just who, what and where she could bring up her issues.

Anonymous  

Emily, I also thank you for your thoughts and advice on this important and sensitive topic. I think your advice is sensible but I have different perspectives. I don’t agree with not speaking negatively about the coach in front of the children. If I am convinced the coach is unfair, I believe I should share my assessment with my child. It should be relieving and better for a child’s self-esteem to realize it is not his/her fault or necessarily a negative reflection of his/her ability. Children also might as well learn sooner rather than later that life is often not fair and authority figures are often not fair. Finally, I prefer my child to trust me in being open and honest about whatever situations we encounter.

The other matter about not confronting the coach – I understand it is important to be civil and in most situations your approach is probably the best. But in some situations, it might be best to directly confront the coach and perhaps raise the issue more widely with other parents, the club director, etc. if he/she will not otherwise get the message and to let the coach know there are consequences for unfairness.

Thanks again for your insights.

Matt  

Emily,
And you should have been livid that your son didn’t play in a game where the score was 20-2. You would have been justified to not only say something but make a scene in the process. Sometimes it is ok to get upset at a coach or other adult when there is mistreatment or clearly an unfair situation. Kids need to know that at some point, the right thing to do is NOT to stick it out. Great article and thought provoking. The Positive Coaching Alliance is trying to educate coaches about issues like these.

Rob Vandelicht  

I am sorry to hear about the score and not putting in other players. In some cases I rotate players based on games instead of in and out, but they know that in advance which is not your case. But I agree with talking to coaches on the sides, I make mistakes and will work things out or at least give a reason for doing something. If a parent confronted me in front of others in an accusing manner without giving me a chance to work it out privately, so other parents and all would hear it. The parent would politely be told to take their child home and I would have to find another player. That also reinforces to all the children that high school and college sports as well as competitive teams are about the children working hard to be the best and to realize there won’t always be equal playing time. But they are still a part of the team.

Philip Somjen  

Hi Everyone,

As a basketball coach I struggle sometimes to ensure all of my players get enough game time. When you are playing a particularly strong team, sometimes players do not get played. Something a few of my young people experienced this weekend. (sadly)
I apologized to the players that didn’t get much game time at the end but that still doesn’t help.
As a coach, if I have less experienced players, I try to give them as much game time when we are playing teams that aren’t as strong and try to develop them so that next time I play a strong team, I can put them in, even if only for a few minutes to see how they do.
If the coach isn’t doing this then you should definitely make some enquiries and/or move clubs if necessary. The coach isn’t necessarily at the top of the chain of command either. If you club has a chairman, you can always bring up the issue of them not playing your child and/or playing their own children etc.

Also, note that their are some good apps out there for keeping statistics on your phone or ipad. These stats can include minutes played.

One of the parents helps me as a team manager and records the stats and I can see at the end of each game who I did and didn’t play so I can ensure they play more in the future.

Anyway, good luck to anyone who is experiencing this pain.

Jenny Hadden  

There is a lot of truth spoken in this article, Emily! As a former NCAA D1 athlete and tri-sport club athlete, my experiences taught me that it’s generally not that a coach doesn’t like you as a person, but rather that the coach likes someone better as an athlete.

A. Moore  

Thank you so much for the valuable advice! Wish I would have found it sooner. My daughter plays for a competitive soccer team and the coach has a reputation for playing favorites, however, until I saw it for myself I didn’t want to believe it. The coach does not have a child on the team (Under 11 soccer), however, 2 her friends’ daughter’s play for the team. One of the daughter’s abilities are very questionable. When I first saw the young lady play I wondered how she ever made the team – until I was informed of her relationship to the coach! There has been numerous times parents from the other team have come to me after games and asked why my daughter didn’t play. She is a great player & has a great reputation as a tough player. Her couch ruined her confidence in herself! My husband & I were at odds about how to handle it. The coach would bring ‘guest’ players to tournaments out of town when she had a full roster! The worst thing she ever did was completely ‘forget’ my daughter was even on the bench! She apologized to us after the game and said she’d make it up to her at the next game! This actually happened twice! After reading your story & the comments, I wish I would have said something to her during the season. We decided that we would keep quiet as we were concerned about the consequences to our daughter if we spoke up. Never again. We have sense changed leagues even though that coach doesn’t coach her age level. My heart breaks every time I think of the damage she did to my daughter. It’ll never happen again. Coaches need to know the valuable role they play on these children’s impressionable lives and parents need to know they have a voice & should use it (wisely).

BASEBALLmom  

ugh it’s so frustrating especially when coach never pulls his own son nor the athletic directors son along w offers. son is basically in the 2nd string but 2nd string has won every game. go figure.

Anonymous  

High school team grades 9-12. Coach has a travel team of 7th and 8th graders they become freshmen and suddenly half of his travel team are starters on the high school team which he also coaches. Displacing many upperclassmen who have given their all for this coach with time and dedication who are also skilled players and have proven their talent many times over during their underclassmen years! IS THIS FAIR

5th year Vet  

This is not my first rodeo. My daughter is now subbing during bracket play after 3 years as a starting infielder with the same team that was built up from basically nothing. 3 newbies that showed up for half the practices during winter are now entrenced in the infield. I agree that with some coaches it is a total ego trip and how it affects the emotions of those who are benched doesn’t matter. The talent level of all team members is high and I fell that bench time for this travel team with such experienced players should be more equitably distributed. We all paid the same amount of $ and devoted an extraordinary amount of time to this endeavor. I do not see how high school age girls can further develop their skill in sport by being pigeon-holed in certain static positions.and with the Coach putting out the same line up when the elimination rounds begin. This also negatively impacts the confidence level of the athlete. Maybe it’s time to move on..i calmly discussed with my daughter that this is probably the last season with this team. I’d prefer that she would not quit in season but she needs to seek out what is best for her. After all, we do this for our kids not for our own ego or we become caught in the same trap in which some coaches operate. Thanks it’s been a tooth weekend.

The Real Truth For Parents  

As a parent of two baseball players – one who played college, the other who just finished Middle School ball, it’s all about 1) politics – undermining good kids for parental favorites – my best story is the kid who made the freshman baseball team simply because he was a big kid and everyone knew his parents and grandparents- funny thing, the kids travel team was 0-7 and the kid struck out every time at bat – sad thing – he was chosen over 5 kids who could hit and play- coaches chose politics over skills 2) money – every kid in our school district whose parents donate sizable amounts, the kid makes the team – one parent’s building company donated a bunch to boosters – at the summer workouts – guess who’s kid the coach knew the best; 3) size – loved the middle school team who chose nothing but the big (over 5’8″ and all sizable weight) for the team – several parents of smaller kids complained but coach said these were all quality players he had chosen – yeah – pretty bad when they went 0-13 in the regular season – size does not matter – skill does and lastly, might be a long stretch, 4) popularity – the kids who are popular amongst the teachers and students always get first look – Travel baseball has become a joke – it no longer is the elite players vying for a team and having to compete with the best – now, when one father gets mad at another father for not playing, they just go start their own travel team. My friend who umpires said travel is so watered down in our area that it’s pathetic watching them play and the many articles support that travel is more important then high school – gone are the days when high school play meant something….so, parents, really want your kids to play college ball – 1) donate money to the school; 2) form your own travel team to ensure travel play; 3) network and kiss butt to all the popular parents and teachers and coaches; 4) keep your kids thin and tall – and THAT is what they don’t tell you about kids in sports!!!

Anonymous  

My coach told me to get more confidence yet never let me played; however he saw himself in a kid and played that kid even though he made 7 turnovers a game… It got to the point that he played 6th graders that weren’t on the team over me, a 7th grader. I was in for 2 min, had 2 points and a steal and I was taken out and not played again.

coach and parent  

Hi! I’m currently on both sides of this dilemma! I’m coaching one of my kid’s teams and parenting a kid on another team. I’m ready to go crazy!

The Coach Side – I watch all players develop and play the ones who are ready at the positions in which they tend to fit (it’s hard to find a fit sometimes especially at younger ages so I try to have players learn 2 positions) Some cannot adjust and have to learn one well before they can learn another position. I do tell my bench players EXACTLY what they need to do to earn more playing time. One has an attitude issue and fakes injuries, one fails to show up on time for practice or prepared, and another has poor technique that in spite of me working extra hard to help has not corrected much. I do take advantage of their strengths and we tell parents up front that playing time is not guaranteed. I tried to sub my own child out (who shouldn’t be & it’s unfair to her) but when I did the team suffered, then I had an injured player and now can’t do this. Parents keep in mind there are times coaches subbing plans do not always play out as perfectly as we plan in our heads before the game. This happens numerous times to me! Sometimes players also forget to go in when asked.

The parent side – I have a talented high school player who has recently been told that “it’s not about talent” It’s about being loyal to those who have been playing for me for 3 or 4 years. My player has been pulled up to varsity as a freshman and started to be subbed in. BUT due to other parent “meetings” with coach, now is rarely ever subbed in. Coach also told (my player) that they could probably could beat others out of a spot but that the coach was going to play those older players. QUESTION… how is that supposed to motivate my very hard worker who never has an attitude and has a natural talent for the sport?

To top it off this was at the varsity level and my player also plays JV but JV coach also rarely played her until this week. So my player has sat bench JV and Varsity due to too much talent. hmmmm still trying to process this, any suggestions??? My player’s confidence and motivation is on a serious downhill slide. The harder my player worked and the better my player performed the less playing time my player saw while other less talented players got the nod because parents took on the coach, one of whom was related to the coach & who nearly varsity games. (I refuse to have a “playing time meeting” with the coach… How do the kids learn to deal with unfair issues in life when parents fight all their battles)??? Wondering if my player will even play again… How do I keep this player motivated who sees that no matter what my player does it does not earn playing time. (Although had one bad JV performance and got scolded when FINALLY getting real playing time on JV) . Was told (because of one off night), that due to not performing on JV my player did not need to dress varsity. What motivation!!! :(
My player has played on travel teams and never comes out & actually welcomes a bench break on the travel team. She outworks most players I’ve ever seen! But gets to school sports & gets treated like this!!!!!!!! This is killing the parent side of me who tries to teach that hard work, talent, attitude matter. But school sports are reinforcing that the kids with attitude issues, interfering parents and who “make failed plays look like they’re really trying” (worthy of an academy award I might add) and who have less talent are rewarded. I respected so many of these people until recently. Especially the “friends” that had the coach meeting resulting in my player’s subbing in stopped!

I’m being very generic because I’m seriously looking for parent advice not drama if this were to get out. I’m driving myself crazy trying to figure out what to say/not to say to my player. The games make us all miserable!!!

Sorry parents the coach side of me will continue to play my workers with talent & who demonstrate skill development. On my team working hard IS what gets you playing time! (I’ll probably be fired for ticking off a parent of influence). I guarantee if you yell at me about playing time, your child will play LESS.

OK now back to that advice about what to do as the parent… ;) Suggestions welcome

Emily Cohen  

Please email me at emily.cohen@teamsnap.com and I’ll be happy to discuss further!

frustratedparent  

What is your opinion of a parent having a sit-down with the coach? My daughter is a hormonal teen girl who does not want to draw unwanted attention to herself or stand out as different from the rest of the girls on the team. She is however the only athlete of race on the team and so far to date the only kid that has been benched for an entire game.

She hits harder than most the girls on the team and jumps higher than all of them – has a powerful and consistent serve and she typically only errors when trying to hit or recover a wildly set ball.

Unfortunately since joining this team her confidence has plummeted and she actually appears to play worse than before this season.

The coach does not keep any sort of stats and appears to be not concerned with other players who make mistakes consistently but has chosen to make an example out of my daughter.

I hate to be paranoid about racism but I also do not want to be blind and feel that the injustice must be at least confronted but that is a conversation that I don’t feel my daughter should be involved in … what are your thoughts?

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