Conflict With New Coach
My son is a sophomore in high school at a top rated program. The new JV coach came from the local middle school and seems to favor the freshman, his former players over the sophomores. Other players have told me that he treats the sophs bad and is verbally abusive. Other soph parents have heard the same. The Freshman are not better players and my son has pretty thick skin from years of football but says he won't play next year if he has to put up with this. What is the best approach to dealing with this situation???
Thank you so much for taking the time to bring this up. I understand your concern very well. I am sure many families will relate to your situation.
I am going to give you my opinion. Please remember that I am not there. You need to do what you feel is best for your kid, regardless of my opinion. With that understanding I have a lot of experience with these type situations, so I will share my views with you.
Also to protect your son, I have removed your specific location and name details. If you really want them included after you read my response please just send me a note from the contact us page, and I will add it back.
First off, Unless you are convinced that your son is at risk, please talk with your son and work with him to stop talking about not playing. Quitting should not be an option unless he is in danger. Then by all means do what you need to protect your son. This is a great sport and he has two years to go. Don't let him rob himself of that time because the current situation is hard.
Lets realize that this is the JV Coach after all, and he will be playing with the Varsity coach next year. Don't let him start to form ideas of quitting, just because the situation is hard. Life is hard and often not fair. We all have situations that we have to deal with in life that we are not happy about. Bosses we hate. Jobs that suck, and so on. Learning to deal with situations that are difficult in a positive way, is a life lesson. Kids today don't have as many opportunities to learn these lessons. They play video games and as soon as they are not winning they reset and start over. This becomes their programmed response to everything. Just reset and start over. You as a parent have an excellent opportunity, to make this situation a blessing, and use it to teach him how to persevere when things are tough. Don't let quitting be an option.
Ask him and yourself what are your options? How can you make the best of the situation as it is? What are the positives? Will it be the same next year?
In terms of favoritism it is natural for a coach to form bonds with players they have had before. Those Freshman kids understand what the coach expects going in. They know his system. They know his personalty. They have earned his respect. It therefore isn't hard for me to understand why there is the perception of favoritism from the older kids. Check to see if the Coach is giving the older kids as much attention in practice. Good coaches look past the kids they know and reach out and teach the new kids in a positive way each year. This is in the best interest of the overall program. Inexperienced coaches often have not learned how to do this. They are biased in their approach which is to the detriment of the team.
As far as abusive behavior goes, this is of much greater concern. Negative reinforcement is rarely productive. Coaches who are not good teachers get frustrated and yell. Positive coaches use every situation as an opportunity to teach. And in my experience staying positive works far better than beating kids down. Thats not to say that it isn't ok to yell from time to time to get their attention, but it is never ok to be abusive. To say something like "you are stupid", "You suck", "I hate you" etc.. those kinds of things are never ok. That is abusive.
Instead Coaches need to focus on what the kid needs to improve. "You need to work on your stick handling." "That was a poor decision, the correct decision would be this, and this is why." "You just need to learn to work harder and I am going to help you do that." "This is the result of poor work habits, that is my responsibility as the coach to correct, and we will work on it together." Those kinds of statements are proper coaching technique.
Before we get into your options, please don't react on emotions. Sometimes it is very hard not to immediately react to your kid. You have to make sure you have all of the facts. It is possible that what you are hearing is true, that the Coach is really being abusive. Before you do anything else you need to personally make sure that what your son is saying is in fact what is happening. Watch silently for yourself. With an unbiased eye. I know you will find this very hard to believe, but kids very often misinterpret things and see things differently than how they are. Whether you like the coach or not, whenever you can support the coach with your kid, do so. Undermining the coach doesn't help the situation, or your son. Tell your son it isn't ok that the coach is being abusive. It is ok for you to point out the areas where the coach is weak. Tell your son, he is human and he needs to work on some things in his coaching, but he is right about this, that, and the other. Automatically siding with your kid when your kid is wrong, can be worse than what ever the coach is doing. It reinforces negative behavior and response from your kid. You are the adult. Make sure your kid is being completely objective and fair in his view of the situation and not just reacting to less playing time than he wants.
Now what to do? If you confirm what you are hearing, and the coach is truly acting inappropriately, then you have a couple of options. Most of them are risky for your kid so be very cautious before your act.
In the order of preference:
1. You can choose to support your son and say nothing to anyone else. Tell him that the situation is temporary. He will survive. Make the best of it. Work hard, and keep a good attitude. Point out the areas where the coach is right. Maybe the older kids have decided that they are being treated unfairly and now they collectively have an attitude. That is poison. Try to work out a way for your son to see the coaches perspective. Have your kid, (not you) ask the coach what he needs to do to improve. That is the way I would start.
2. Write an anonymous letter to the varsity coaches or athletic director. If you feel very strongly that something needs to be done. A good option is to send a letter. Make sure you are very objective with specific examples (leaving out names of kids) of things that you have personally witnessed and are concerned with. NO generalities. Parents are regularly not happy with playing time. Those complaints will not be heard by the coaches. But abusive behavior is a different matter. The last thing you want to do is have that letter tie back to your kid. Only if you can express your concerns anonymously would I take this approach.
The two options above are the only ones I would consider pursuing if you want your son to continue on in this program with no bias.
If you feel the situation is abusive, and your kid and the other kids are at truly at risk, you can consider the following actions:
3. You can get the parents all together. Including the Freshman parents and discuss your concerns. If there is truly an issue that the parents agree on you have your best chance of making a difference. But this is very risky. Once you go to the parents you have to assume word will get back to the coach. And nothing good rarely comes from that for your kid.
4.You could go to the Varsity Coach and tell him that you don't want this to go anywhere else, but you have concerns. You can ask him to keep it confidential. You just want him to know as a concerned parent what is going on. Again this is risky. Maybe that coach takes your input and applies it to make his program better. Maybe he takes a look at the situation and privately addresses the Coach and maintains your request for confidentiality. The risk is that he doesn't see it your way. Protects his coaches and feels less about you, and your kid. I don't like this approach either, unless you have no choice.
5. You can go to the Athletic Director or School and make your concerns known. Again the chances of this resulting in any real positive actions will more than likely be at the expense of your kid.
6. If you go to the Coach directly and tell him your concerns, this usually doesn't work. The Coach will probably defend his actions. And form a negative opinion about you and your kid. Rarely will the coach see it from your perspective. And your kid will catch the bad end of the deal.
I hope my insights are of benefit. If you would like to discuss this in greater detail please feel free to contact me using the contact us page. I would be happy to discuss this directly.
I hope that you can work through this season, because Lacrosse is truly such a great sport. I would hate that your kid will not be able to enjoy it because of one unfortunate situation.