Uncoachable parents produce uncoachable athletes. I know, it may sound strange to look at it that way, but many parents in youth sports are uncoachable. Now, you may be thinking as a parent why do I need coaching given I am not an athlete? In actuality just as athletes need coaching in specific skills of a sport. Parents need coaching in the proper etiquette of youth sports in general. If you have ever sat in on a practice regardless of the sport, you realize parents violate many of the unspoken rules of being a sports parent.
As a coach, I have a saying about parents. “If you want to ruin anything positive about youth sports put parents in the middle of it.” If you have read my previous blogs, you will know that I find dealing with parents the most challenging aspect of being part of any youth organization. There is something about human beings that once we become adults many of us become stubborn and self-absorbed. These parents morph into stadium stands coaches living vicariously through their children. They become certified Google experts in coaching and believe their ability to watch endless youtube videos on gymnastics drills has somehow made them equivalent to the certified coaches that train their children. They assume that just because they were “pretty good” athletes in high school, they know what it takes to be a successful coach. Before you continue reading this blog if you embody this type of parent remember the goal of this blog isn’t to disparage you but to make you aware of how coaches typically view your behavior and more importantly why your method of interacting with your child at practice may not be as effective as you think. Although we are not here to rag on you, I wouldn’t recommend wearing any opened toed shoes or flip-flops because I might be stepping on some toes.
STOP, BREATHE AND BACK AWAY FROM THE GLASS WINDOW
You hear it all the time from stadium stands coaches, “straighten your legs,” “go completely into a handstand,” “point your toes,” “we practice this at home,” and the list goes on and on. I am not talking about the standard run of the mill parents that essentially are whispering pointers to themselves because they are talking so low as not to be a distraction to the athletes. I am talking about the over the top parent that is in every gym. These parents become exasperated with their athletes at practice as if a college scholarship or a bid to the Olympics was on the line. Parents silently mouth pointers to their gymnast thinking that it will help their athlete master whatever skill they are currently working on. It won’t, first understand you are parents which by kid’s definition means you know absolutely nothing about the sport. Ever get this response when you try to give your child advice about something they were doing wrong in practice “well coach told me……”. What they are saying to you is nothing that you say will override the training and feedback they are getting from their coaches, and that is how it should be. In all honesty, if you could “coach’em,” you would “coach’em” but you can’t “coach’em” so don’t try to “coach’em.” If parents could coach their children efficiently why opt to spend the thousands of dollars in fees to pay for something they could do themselves for free.
Parents concoct various excuses for needing to coach their children from the sideline. The explanations range from the coaches are not doing their job to the athlete needing additional guidance but it is rarely the parent’s fault. Just recently I heard a parent justify holding a conversation with her child while on beam by saying she was just giving her child the feedback she requested. Parents, if your child is asking you for input in the middle of training as opposed to the coach, that is just wrong. That means that your athlete values your opinion more than they value the coaches opinion. If after every drill your athlete looks over at you for approval then you have successfully short-circuited the coach’s ability to train your child. If you feel this behavior is appropriate, then you also must be prepared to own the results on competition day. Also, if you think giving your child detailed feedback in the middle of practice is warranted, then you need to have a conversation with the coach regarding the disconnect between their expectations and yours. Finally, if you think taking your athlete’s attention during practice is not disruptive just ask the coach but be prepared for the truth. I have seen parents give hand signals to their athlete to identify good or bad execution of a skill. Okay, so who made you the expert? I often wonder what qualifications outside of a WAG(Wild Ass Guess) do parents have that allows them to accurately determine whether their gymnast executed a skill correctly or not.
Parents view issues from a very siloed viewpoint of their child, but then they apply that issue globally. What they don’t realize is that often, not being able to get a particular skill is more of a symptom of a more significant problem than the actual problem itself.
For example, when many of the girls in my daughter’s gym hit level 4, they struggle with learning the kip. The reason why they struggle with the kip varies from athlete to athlete, but to parents, they only see that a group of gymnasts is not getting the kip and it must be the coaches fault or something is amiss in training. This line of thinking mistakenly makes the issue global, but in actuality, it isn’t. For some of the gymnast, the issue revolves around not being strong enough, others not mature enough, while others it is a conditioning issue and for others, it very well may be a coaching issue. Needless to say for the number of girls not getting the skill there is possibly that same number of different problems that are causing the issue. Therefore, there is no single solution to solving the problem and any solution put forth by a parent is typically only related to their child and not scalable to the others.
By no means am I saying all coaching techniques are created equal, or that coaches never get it wrong. To the contrary as a coach, I have made several mistakes in training over my coaching career but it is much easier to identify and address flaws in my coaching if I know the athlete isn’t receiving outside coaching from someone unqualified.
I don’t think parents realize that more often than not they are wrong in their evaluations. My daughter is a Level 6 gymnast, and I have watched the same vault for the last three levels, and I still have a hard time deciphering good vaults from average vaults. Parents giving athletes wrong information can be hugely damaging to the athlete’s chances of success. Parents should ask themselves what happens when their feedback doesn’t match the coach’s feedback, who wins? Ideally, it should be the coaches but too many times parents let their ego get in the way and will make statements that essentially disregard and discredits the coaches’ feedback. I can’t tell you how many times parents have praised their athletes for a subpar performance just for the athlete to turn around and get their bubble busted by the coach. That is very deflating for the athlete and sends mix messages. It is all due to an over-zealous parent. Parents tend to view their athletes through rose-colored glasses and see their athlete’s potential as their current performance level which typically conflicts with the reality of the situation.
STAY IN YOUR LANE
Look, I get it! Even myself being a coach albeit another sport I often find myself wanting to give cues to my daughter when she is practicing although I know how damaging it can be. As parents, in our minds, we believe we are helping our athletes but in actuality, we are not. Honestly, we are more of a distraction for our athlete and robbing them of opportunities to learn not only from their coaches but their peers. I say to my athletes “you don’t only have to learn something when I am talking to you.”. If I correct the athlete next to you for the same thing, you may be doing wrong use that as an opportunity to learn from me correcting them.
Instead of being a “sideline coach” a better use of a parent’s time would be to assist in teaching their athletes how to absorb all the information around them even if it is not directed at them. Athletes can also learn from watching their peers and their competition. I tell my runners “if someone passes you in a race look over and see what they are doing that you are not.” I know that is unrealistic and too simplistic, but the point is to learn from your peers and your competition and not only from your coaches.
As parents, we need to understand our time has passed and it is incumbent on us to create the opportunities and environment for our athletes to be successful. Many times to help our athletes we have to get out of the way and let them be coached. We have to understand we often view situations through the jaded eyes of our life’s experiences. We also need to understand we are not as smart as we would like to think we are as parents, and the best way to contribute to our athlete’s long-term success is to understand the role of being a parent and act accordingly. Next time instead of mouthing instructions and looking like you are playing charades while trying to give coaching cues to your athlete just sit back, relax and chill. You could always spend more time reading my priceless blogs(shameless plug)