by Brittany Bell
Graphics by Gabrielle DiPietro
Ahh, Little League. The fondest memories of childhood, laden with dirty socks, smelly jerseys and post-game snacks. Nothing could possibly dampen this wonderful experience...except when little Johnny gets an exorbitant amount of playing time just because his dad is the coach.
Anyone who played youth sports knows this story all too well: parents will coach their kids’ teams so they can ensure that their children will get ample playing time, experience and the spotlight. Then, the rest of us whose parents either had no idea what they were doing or were too busy at work were left to ride the pine because of the unfortunate coincidence that you played the same position as the coach’s kid.
No matter what sport you play, girls’ soccer, boys’ football, co-ed tee ball, it happened. And it happened enough that one would inevitably become frustrated, leading talented young players to seek experience elsewhere or quit the sport entirely. This, my friends, is the terrible problem that plagues many youth sports. This, my friends, is what is potentially destroying youth sports.
The Boston Globe featured an article in 2014 titled, “How parents are ruining youth sports” that discusses the problem at hand. The author, Jay Atkinson, wrote that “too much money, too much parent involvement, and too many brokenhearted 6-year-olds. (Not to mention too many well-meaning adults who have no clue about all of the above.)”
To expand upon what Atkinson said, the increasing cost of youth sports (equipment, field time, league fees, etc.) is leading to parents deciding to become more involved in this “investment”. This then leads to the inevitable search for a coach that almost always ends with the election of a parent as a coach. From there, the downward spiral begins of the parent coach focusing on their “investment” (i.e. their kid who they’re spending all this money on), rather than concentrating on what’s really important: teaching ALL the kids on the team how to play a sport.
Now, not all parent coaches are terrible. In fact, there are some awesome parent coaches out there that really help youth programs and their players. However, many experiences (personal ones included) are the victim of the overzealous and biased parent coach.
As with all issues, one must present possible solutions as well. The obvious solution would be to not allow parents to coach teams that their children are on. However, the issue with this is the lack of interest in coaching youth teams in adults that have no relation to any of the kids on the team—let’s be real, who would voluntarily coach a youth team full of kids no one has any personal connection to? So, although this solution would work, it probably would be hard to come by and not completely realistic.
Educated Sports Parent is a website dedicated to informing parents about the issues that plague youth sports. In their discussion about parent coaches, they recommend that, “If you are going to coach your child’s team, there are several things you can keep in mind so that the experience is a positive one. First, it is necessary to separate the coach-parent roles as much as you possibly can so that you treat all athletes the same. This may be difficult, but it is necessary. Second, force yourself to treat all players equally and fairly. While you are coaching, think of your child just as you would any other team member.”
The more logical solution given by Educated Sports Parent is one that could prove to be effective in the long run and could improve the experiences of all youth sports participants. Though there is no clear solution to the parent coach discussion, with more education, awareness and dialogue, parents as well as coaches can only get better as well as the athletes that they hope to support.