Should You Speak Up?

You are at your 8-year-old daughter’s recreational soccer game and you are livid. Why? Because your daughter isn’t getting the playing time you think she deserves. You seethe and stomp back and forth on the sidelines. Should you confront the coach after the game and demand more playing time for Lucy?

Later that day, you find yourself at your 12-year-old son’s baseball game. Danny’s pitching – even though he pitched in the game yesterday – and you are worried that the coach is overusing him, putting his arm’s long-term health at risk. Do you approach thesoccer coach and express your concerns?

Both of these situations occur every weekend – maybe even every day – on America’s sports fields and, while both involve the parent-and-coach relationship, each requires a different response.

One of the hardest decisions for a youth sports parent to make is when – or whether – to speak to their child’s coach. While every situation is obviously unique, here are some guidelines to follow that will help you be the model sports parent whose children proudly say, “That’s my mom (or dad)!” instead of the parent whose children are embarrassed to have them at the field – and quit before they discover a love of the game.

SHUT UP: If you’re upset about your child’s playing time (usually the perceived lack thereof) or the position in which the coach is playing your child, for heaven’s sakes, hold your tongue! If you’re like most parents, you might think your child is more deserving or a better athlete than the others, but you are not exactly an objective observer. Especially in the early years of recreational sports, kids need to learn to respect the coach and be a team player, and the best way to teach them these valuable life lessons is by example: when you let the coach do his or her job without meddling, complaining, or worse, yelling about playing time, you demonstrate your respect for the coach – and the game – and your child will emulate this behavior.

SHUT UP AND LET YOUR CHILD SPEAK UP: As your child matures, she needs to learn how to advocate for herself. This is true on the sports field as well as in the classroom – and in life in general. If your youth athlete is 12 or older, she should develop her own relationship with the coach, which includes advocating for herself in terms of playing time and position. Especially as your child enters the world of competitive and high school sports, you need to hand over the reins of your child’s sports participation to your child herself and just be there to support her.

SPEAK UP: No matter what your child’s age, if the situation involves health or safety-related issues, such as concussion protocol, injury prevention, return-to-play, degrading or demeaning behavior, or athlete over-use, you not only should speak up, you have an obligation to do so. While we all hope our children’s coaches have their long-term physical and emotional health in mind, the unfortunate truth is that some do not, and the only person who can protect your child in those situations is YOU. Likewise, if you suspect any type of sexual harassment, abuse, or inappropriate behavior – or if your child comes to you with any of these concerns – you must speak up. If not directly to the coach, then to your league’s governing body.

As a youth sports parent myself, I try to abide by these guidelines, but I know it’s not easy. Believe me, there have been times in which I have broken my own rules. Likewise, there have been times that I felt my child’s health was at risk and I didn’t speak up when I should have. But mostly, following the guidelines above have helped me be a positive force in my children’s sports experiences.

What do you think? Do you think these guidelines make sense? Do you have other rules you follow as a sports parent?

[This post originally appeared in June 2013]

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 competitive soccer and hopes to play high school tennis in the fall. 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...

Ali_R  

Oh my goodness, YES! Watching from both sides, just the parent in the stands and the wife of the coach – holy cow! I have had to remove myself from the stands more than once due to one particular parent who repeatedly insulted any player in competition with her daughter and must have been wearing blinders because she could not see ANYTHING her daughter did wrong. I tried to pass on some ideas my husband was trying to reinforce with her daughter and she shut me down each and every time. We were ecstatic when crunching numbers and her daughter did not make all-stars!

This is the lesson meddling parents should take home. You push, push, push and you are going to cause a lot of resentment from the coaches. This mother even went so far to complain about the previous coaches her daughter had. Apparently none of them saw her daughter’s talent. This is also a child that insulted other players in the dugout.

Whew! Glad we’re almost done with the season with her.

Anonymous  

Your answer regarding whether to complain to the coach regarding playing time for your 8 year old child (you said to shut up) is, inmy opinion, depending on the situation, wrong. These are 8 year old kids and each player ought to be playing equal time. If the coach is not playing them equally but instead is playing some kids more than others in an effort to win at all costs then a parent should most definitely NOT shut up. Instead the parent should, respectfully, talk to the coach at a practice or at some other mutually convenient time and express their legitimate concerns. The fastest way to get a kid to hate sports is to not allow them to play.

Khandu  

I agree with Anonymous,

As a coach and a parent I understand the play time issues. Talking to the coach at a practice, another setting or even at half time are the preferred situations as to not make a scene on the field.

Some times there are situations that parents don’t understand as to why there isn’t enough play time for some (IE.. Player attitude, Practice attendance, or even the want of the player to play at times) also as a coach I do try very hard to be conscious of play time for all my players however it is tough sometimes you get caught up in the moment and don’t realize (I usually appoint an assistant coach to keep track of that for me).

2 things:

In our league we have both competitive and non-competitive leagues

A competitive league players have to earn their spots and keep them as in life and HS sports (No guaranteed play time)

Non-Competitive players are guaranteed play time (Depending on player attitude as well as practice participation too)

Basically communication is key between the Parent, Player, and Coach.

John  

What a load of bull. Quite frankly, I’m fed up with the fact that most coaches play their own kids in their chosen position whether they deserve it or not, and my experience is that many coaches have their strong prejudices and don’t really allow kids to “earn” their spots as the season goes on. Kids aren’t stupid. When they hear “be a leader in the outfield” they know it means “You are stuck in the outfield.” Also, parents don’t pay a few hundred dollars for little 8 year old Johnny to sit on the bench for three innings while the “favorites” get special treatment. But the leagues don’t give refunds or allow the parents to have their child change teams after the season starts, either, so you’re stuck with Coach Jerkface or quit and eat the cost and have your kid miss out on playing and teach them that quitting is an option.
Not speaking up at all tells your kid that what other people think is more important, that it’s okay to be pushed around, that you should take whatever life gives you. Speaking up respectfully and using FACTS shows little Johnny that you care about them, that you will be there to help them when needed, and that authority CAN and SHOULD be questioned appropriately.
So this attitude of “shut up and take it” tells me that when you are the manager, you exhibit the behavior I’ve listed above. You’re not running a professional team, it’s a bunch of kids who want to play. Only a Coach Jerkface would say, “Don’t even question me. Shut up.”
On the other hand, you can go too far. Parents that gripe at the coaches on the field or yell at their kids on the field make me want to cringe. Use tact. But don’t ever just shut up.

Emily Cohen  

Just to clarify, because some people seem confused. The blog was written with the assumption that A) we’re talking about young kids (6-12) and rec leagues and B) most coaches at the younger ages in rec leagues DO try to give everyone equal playing time and I was addressing those parents who want to get more (read: unequal) playing time for their own child for whatever reason.

Anonymous  

I believe that 8 to 12 year olds should have the opportunity to play different positions to develop their abilities in a sport. When this does not happen and a child expresses disappointment and boredom because he is relegated to the less desirable positions I feel a parent can only go on so long telling the child to suck it up while making excuses for the coach not giving him different opportunities. We have been waiting all season for our coach to make good on giving everyone some time in each position. However, it is very hard to bi-stand seeing my kid drag himself out to the outfield game after game after game. He was encouraged to try out and made the rep team based on some assessment that he could be a contributor. I don’t think my son is a stellar player; however I think coaches bear some obligation to rotate young players. How can one not speak up about something that is affecting their child’s morale?

Anonymous  

I agree that up until a certain age kids should respect the coach regardless of the parents personal prejudices. All studies about why kids quite soccer show the coach typically as one of the last reason. Top 1 or 2 reasons is always the overbearing parent who projects adult feelings onto their kids. If you have any level of college education you probably know that kids don’t actually naturally know the difference between winning or losing until they are 11 generally. All they want to do is explore and learn. If you are teaching your child to compete, complain and question authority before they are 12 then all your doing is stealing their youthful naiveté from them and turning them into war hardened adults like yourselves. Relax parents, bad coaching, bad teaching, bad bosses they are all part of life. Don’t steal their youths from them by projecting your own adult ego’s onto their pure minds. It saddens me to see such righteous ignorance, you have no idea how damaging your really are to your kids. Trust me as a coach and parent of kids I don’t coach, and a CEO of 3,000+ employees it is the ones who learn how to get along and succeed even when the deck is not stacked in their favor, by turning authorities into their fans that really rise in life. The ones who push to get something short term they think they deserve usually find themselves loners in life, with no support base.

Anonymous  

Its simple teach your child to walk up to his coach and ask the following question: “How can I help the Team, Coach?” every day. Also remind your kids to thank the coach after practices and games. Nothing puts more pressure on a coach than a kid who deeply cares about the success of the team and appreciates being a part of it. This is the player coaches go out of their way to develop and the ones that make the team when its a close call.

Anonymous  

Not all parents who intervene on behalf of their children are over-bearing. Life is not always fair. Too bad kids have to learn it at such a young age. The fact that things are unfair does not make them right.

Anonymous  

What I think parents should do is encourage there children more because some parents just sit around and say if you are not going to ask don’t get it instead of saying you know what it’s okay to be shy but you cannot live in the shadows or live scared all your life.

Si Si  

Yes you should maybe the coach is not putting her/him on the field or pitch because they don’t think that they are strong enough but the truth is there have never really seen them play so what is the point of putting them on and risking losing so you go and march up to the coach and give him/her a peice of your mind on your behalf and your child’s behalf and tell who is boss of your child and even if it means 10 minutes of play time he/she still got the playing time.

El Memo  

Should playing time be the same at U8 when there is a clear lack of commitment from the kid / parent? I’m not saying that is always the case, but to say they all should play the same amount of time, is not 100% correct either.
I’ve been a parent coach and I’ve tried to get them to play equal time – really have. But its hard when the kid is not into it or the player misses signficiant amount of practices – where there is a pattern.

Jodi Murphy  

Learning when to hold your tongue and when to speak up is a hard lesson for any parent to learn. If you feel like your child is in actual danger for any reason, or the coach is being abusive or bullying their players, than by all means speak up! There are some battles kids should not have to fight on their own. On the other hand, you can’t swoop in to save the day every time something is “not fair.” Give you kids the chance to stand on their own two feet and they might just surprise you!

Hmmm  

So many moving parts. I have coached REC and competitive sports and found parents to in general be understaning except those that don’t show up for practices, never add anything to the team dynamic arrive 3 min before a game and then comaplin. Like most things one gets out what they put in. That said one has to advocate for your child and the 8-12 year old has a pretty goos sense of how much playing time they get but would rarely go to a coach on their own. Even major s stars have Agents….

SoccerDad  

This is a nice article that reminds parents to enjoy watching and not try to micromanage the coach. I’ve been coach and dad, and in 99% of the situations the coach is very sensitive to balancing playing time for young ones. I always appreciated the parent who told their kid “listen to coach” and when I had a parent who griped on the sideline about playing time I secretly hoped their kid would be on another team the next season :)

Every time I subbed a player out, I tried to give them one piece of “playing advice” and to be thinking about executing that when they go back in. This made getting subbed out (and back in) less of a punishment and more of a, “hey, notice how the middle of the field is open, when you go back in we need you to push forward in the middle” (or whatever).

I also appreciated the writer’s advice to allow kids to speak for themselves once they turn 12. Of course you can speak up in extreme situations, but the writer said that.

Thanks for the article.

mommacoach  

For those who said the coaches always play their kids….that is completely dependent on the coach. Of all of my 3 kids, I have only had one coach in the multiple teams they have been on that fit that stereotype. In most cases, the coaches kids are extremely talented and sit just as much or more than the other kids just because the coach doesn’t want to come across as favoring their own kid…also parent-coaches tend to be harder on their own kid/player than the others.
As for equal playing time…there are extenuating circumstances when kids in rec leagues don’t play the same amount (again in most instances) The number one reason, is lack of commitment-and most of that falls back on the same parent that is complaining about lack of playing time. If you don’t show up for practice, you don’t play. If you are late for practice, you don’t start.
Some sports is a safety issue for having kids play in different positions. Baseball/softball is the example I’ll use-If the opposing team is known for their hard hitters, do you want your 8 year old in the line of fire if they are not able to catch a line-drive? I agree with every player trying every position, but IN PRACTICE.
Parents if you have concerns about playing time for your young child-GO TO PRACTICE and watch your kid. Are they enjoying it? Are they paying attention? Do they listen to the coach? Do they have a good attitude or are they always screwing around? Do they know the fundamentals? Be honest with yourself and honest about your child’s ability.

Anonymous  

Eh, I totally disagree with this article.

My son signs up to play soccer because he thoroughly enjoys playing the forward position. He’s typically a top scorer, although usually THE top scorer, in every game he plays. He’s gone through five (5) different coaches now, and every single one of them wanted to make him a mid-fielder right off the bat. My son is a pure sprinter– very fast short-burst runner, but mid-fielder is more of a “long distance” running position. My son despises playing middie, and with every single coach I’ve had to speak up and explain this. And sometimes argue about it. Why take your best scorer out of the position he loves and put him into one he hates? Coaches aren’t gods… I know, I am one — and I welcome any input about the player’s feelings and the parents’ feelings.

An Actual Certified Soccer Coach  

The advice about playing time is WRONG! There’s a reason over 70% of youth quit playing sports by the time they reach Jr. High, and most of the blame lies with the coaches and the parents that tolerate their behavior.

The Official recommendation from US Soccer: “Playing time: Each player SHALL play a minimum of 50% of the total playing time.”

If your kid isn’t getting to play at LEAST 50% of the time, then the coach is doing your child a disservice. Kids don’t learn to play soccer by sitting on the bench and watching. I prefer EQUAL playing time for all.

Also, you don’t know how these kids will develop over time. Your clumsy 8 year old that can’t get out of the way of his own feet to save his life might turn in to a graceful athletic 13 year old once puberty hits… But you’ll never know because he quit playing soccer because he was always warming the bench.

P.S.: Showing up late to practice isn’t a valid reason to punish the kid with playing time, unless he’s the one doing the driving.

Lily  

My comments are for hockey, but I think it applies across the board.

I disagree with the posters who say unequal playing time is ever justified for young athletes, e.g., at elite levels. The line should be drawn on the basis of whether the player PAID to play, or whether the player is getting PAID to play. Everybody who paid their fees should get equal time. They’re there to play and learn, not to be used by some coach as fodder for a winning record. And yes, that goes for AAA or bottom of the House leagues – all of these players are still in development, and the coach’s main job is to develop them.

If the player is getting paid (and yes, some 9-year-olds get paid or funded), then the player is doing a job, and I can see the rationale for benching or short-shifting.

If a coach is actually short-shifting or benching and it’s contrary to league policy, then take steps on that basis (ie draw coach’s attention to policy, then league’s to infraction if it doesn’t get better – but be polite!). If you’re trying to get your kid EXTRA time because you think he’s better than his teammates, then I agree, you need to shut up. That’s the coach’s call, not yours, and parents are notoriously biased. Just the fact you’re trying to get more time for your kid shows you’re not a team player, so likely your kid isn’t either. For all you know, everybody else might think your kid who you think is a star is actually a big liability because he won’t pass.

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