Addressing Issues With The Coach
Fellow readers, I am happy to announce that after months of hard work, we are ready to release our new clothing brand GDN Apparel(Link). GDN stands for Gymnastics Dad Nation. Our goal at GDN Apparel is to offer new and unique gymnastics swag to parents and gymnasts. Dads, we made sure not to forget you in our designs. I grew tired of the dad shirts that show the old cliches like “she flips I pay” and “my gymnast’s ATM.” I wanted something different that didn’t revolve around me sacrificing an arm and a leg for gymnastics. Moms and Dads, I guarantee you that we have something that will have you saying “yep, I can rock that.” Make sure to sign up for the newsletter and follow us on Instagram @gdnapparel and @gymnastic_dad to stay in the loop with new releases, discounts, coupons, and contests. Now onto our regularly scheduled programming.
Dealing with coaches when an issue arises can be some of the most challenging terrains to navigate in youth sports. I decided to write this blog based on a conversation I had with another parent whose child does gymnastics. Their issue was with the development of their gymnasts or the perceived lack thereof. She wanted to talk to the coaches but was struggling with finding a way to broach the conversation. She also struggled with if it was appropriate to discuss her concerns with the coaches because she wasn’t sure how they would receive it and if there would be blowback for her gymnast.
Parents, I am a coach, and as much as it pains me to say it, coaches do get stuff wrong. We are humans, and therefore we are flawed. We get lazy, careless, and complacent. We have favorites and also have athletes that we don’t care for, which impacts how dedicated we are to those athletes. The difference between good coaches and bad coaches is that a good coach understands the nature of being human and consistently works against the natural negative tendencies that come with that. Therefore, it is not unrealistic for a coach to “drop the ball” periodically, and it is also not unrealistic for a parent to catch it and question it. A parent has every right to seek knowledge from a coach. Notice I alluded to seeking understanding and not doubting the coaching which is two completely different things. I have a saying as a coach “if you could coach ’em you would coach ’em, but you can’t coach ’em so don’t try to coach ’em on my watch.” What I am saying is although parents shouldn’t question training techniques, parents have a right to seek understanding in regards to the development of their athletes in general.
I know coaches who tend to want parents to have a hands-off approach when it comes to training, development and any other oversight when the athlete is under their direction. Limiting parents is smart but coaches, be careful what you ask for. If you request that parent to be hands-off then also be prepared to handle the blowback if that athlete isn’t as successful as the parents expect them to be. In my opinion, parents serve as another set of eyes for me at practice. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a parent scream out “why are you walking <insert name here>.” Instantly, I turn around and look at the athlete like “you know you messed upright.” (menace to society fans). I know track and field and gymnastics are entirely different sports, but the same logic applies. How many gymnastic parents have had the proverbial “Come to Jesus” conversation when their child is caught goofing off at practice. I don’t need parents to help me coach their athletes but I do value them letting me know when kids are not on task.
If you read my blog(Bucket of issues) you know that as an owner of a team I have learned that parent issues tend to fall into four buckets. Those buckets are education, communication, expectation, and personality. Whenever and issue arises, I try to assign the matter to a particular bucket which drives the way I address the issue. In most cases, issues revolving around training usually fall into the education and expectation buckets. The education buckets and expectation buckets are the reason why I believe every parent has every right to request a certain level of “understanding” regarding training and development from a coach. Some problems are easy to resolve with a simple clarification of the development process. Sometimes I have to tell parents something as simple as “look dawg, they are only ten years old” and that backs parents off of the edge. Often, I have to tell parents that they are not seeing their child through a realistic view at this stage in their development.
I stole this term Triple Constraints(TC) from the field of project management. In project management, TC refers to the conditions required for a project to be successful. The TC of project management is time, resources and scope. As one aspect changes the other two much adjust accordingly. In youth coaching, the triple constraints refer to the three pieces that need to be in place for an athlete to be successful. Those pieces are parents, coaches, and athletes. My theory is, that for an athlete to indeed be successful, the coach, parent, and athlete all need to be on the same page and have the same set of expectations. In a perfect world, all three should march to the same drummer, but at a minimum, the coach and parents need to be on the same sheet of music because typically as long as those two are on the same page, the athlete will follow suit. Having an open line of communication with the coach is imperative for TC to work. Asking questions and seeking understanding aids in building that relationship because it also helps to level-set expectations.
Knowing what you don’t know
Growing up I ran track for my high school and honestly I was pretty good. This is usually around the time when a parent would start exaggerating about their former glory as a high school athlete, but truthfully I was a pretty good runner, seriously! When I started coaching, I realized very quickly I didn’t understand anything about track and field. As a coach, I had to learn terms like dorsiflexion, zero-step, penultimate step, power output and soon I realized how un-informed about the sport I was. Being a “former” superstar has nothing to do with being a good coach, becoming a good coach forces you to take your level of understanding regarding the sport to a new level. For parents, it is always good to have a basic knowledge of the sport your child is in but in all honestly for an in-depth understanding of the sport, that is what your coach is for. Knowing what you don’t know is the first step to building a line of open communication with a coach because it helps you to understand what questions to ask.
Approaching The Issue With The Coach
Approaching a coach many times feels like a dangerous proposition. One of the best terms a coach could hear from a parent is “help me understand” or “am I looking at this correctly.” These terms lead the coach to the opportunity to educate a parent. Good coaches are inherently teachers at heart so having the opportunity to inform parents is often relished by good coaches. The more educated a parent becomes, the easier it is for a coach to develop their athlete because what is being taught at practices will also be reinforced at home.
Accepting the Answer
Lastly, parents need to be okay with the answer to their question. When a parent asks a question, they often have a preconceived notion of what the answer should be. As a parent many times we fail to understand that a solution to an issue may be specific to our athlete but may not be scalable to the whole team. Coaches do look at athletes as individuals, but in a team environment coaches must implement process changes that are scalable to the entire team. Being cool with the answer doesn’t mean you like the answer, it doesn’t even mean you agree with the answer but it means you respect the answer and can move forward.
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Until next time, peace and soul….