Parents, you’re about to get drafted.
No, you’re not headed to boot camp, although there might be days when you feel trapped and welcome any relief from the pressures of parenting. I’m talking about the kind of drafting that sounds like this:
“You know, it’s important that everybody does their part to help the kids succeed. Trust us, you’ll love being a coach, and it takes no time at all!”
At this point, you might be wiping your forehead because someone must’ve written “stupid” on your forehead. The idea that coaching a sport – be it Little League, soccer, even a bowling team – doesn’t take time is just silly, and the person saying it knows that better than you do. After all, he got roped into it a long time ago.
Your first instinct might be to politely say no and then run away as fast as possible. But speaking as a fellow parent and former volunteer coach, you might want to give it a try. You’ll spend a lot of time with your kids and their friends, you’ll be out in the sun getting exercise, and you’ll have the chance to interact with other adults. (Okay, the other parents can be challenging, but we’ll get to that.)
I coached for 10 years before going into family therapy, and I might be able to help you through the rough spots. Here are a few things that helped me:
Remember that it’s about the kids. As parents, we want our children to have the best possible experience, but we often lose sight of what that means. Kids want to be challenged but still have fun with their friends; kids don’t have fun when they see adults arguing or hear parents badmouthing each other.
Involve the other parents. This is the easiest way to make sure everyone feels involved (and it also keeps them off your back). Let’s face it, if I never hear another parent telling me why his kid should play shortstop, hit cleanup, pitch all of the important games, and be fed grapes between pitches by his teammates, I’ll be a happy man. But I’ve been on both sides of this; when you’re sitting in the stands, you can’t help but wonder what you might do differently. And believe it or not, some parents in the stands not only feel left out of the fun, but they might have a few good ideas, too.
Don’t let other parents try to take over. If you have three parents helping, and they all try to run things, you’ll have chaos. You have to set boundaries and rules for the running of the team, and you don’t have to be mean or controlling about it. Just lay out your plan as simply as possible and then stick with it. If you’re helping someone coach a team, show enough respect for the head coach that you follow his plan. The team will not only function better, but you’ll be role-modeling for your children how to cooperate with others for the good of all.
Accept that you won’t make everyone happy all of the time. If someone has a complaint, hear them out. They might’ve noticed something that you didn’t. If you like what they say, use it. If you don’t agree, politely thank them for their opinion, then do what you think is right. Don’t – I can’t say this enough – don’t get into an argument. It’s rare to change someone’s mind by arguing with them, and you risk the issue exploding into a larger problem.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Nobody expects you to be the next Tony LaRussa. Just do the best job that you can do, and accept that you don’t control everything about whether your team wins. Your job is to help teach a game to kids who are playing for fun, and nothing more. The more like work it becomes for you, the more like work it becomes for the kids.
Let kids make mistakes. They’re going to do it anyway, so it helps to look at mistakes as learning opportunities. I once had an assistant coach who insisted on yelling out which infielder should catch a pop fly, which just made the kids stare at each other while the ball fell between them. Coach ‘em up at practice, and then give them the chance to perform during the game. They’ll learn from their mistakes, and more importantly, they’ll feel good about themselves when they make plays on their own.
Finally, don’t yell. Don’t scream. Don’t bellow. And one more thing – don’t yell. It scares children and makes you look like an ogre. I coached a Babe Ruth team when I was in my 20s and figured my job was to “motivate” players and umpires to make sure they took their jobs seriously. Only nobody was there to work, and I made the game a lot less fun. One day, a veteran coach pulled me aside. His name was Slats Maple (yes, that really was his name), and he never raised his voice to anyone. He told me, “They don’t hear me any better when I yell, and they listen a whole lot better when I don’t.” I never yelled at my players again. And when I had kids of my own, I tried not to yell at them, either. So far, it’s worked pretty well.
(Carl Grody, LISW-S, specializes in child, adolescent, and family therapy. He has a private practice, Grody Family Counseling, in Worthington, Ohio. For an appointment with Carl, call 614-477-5565.)