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Nick Stevens

An open note to parents of athletes

Published: 2013-09-18 00:55:00
Updated: 2013-09-18 01:15:11

Sep 18, 2013

Football: Scotland County vs. Southern Durham (Sept. 14, 2013)

FAN CAM: Scotland County wins over S. Durham in a 53 - 31 Victory

Parents. I love you. I really do. But sometimes you make things that are supposed to be fun a headache.

I'm talking about parents of athletes.

Don't get me wrong, most parents are a pleasure to work with. They're supportive, they make sure their kids get to practices and games, and they're in the stands to cheer the team on.

But there is at least one parent on every team that bucks that trend. These are the parents I am addressing in my column today.

Here are a few pointers that all parents should read, remember and practice when they have a child playing a team sport.

1. Stop coaching

Believe it or not, your high school coaches are (sort of) paid to coach. You're not. Coaches aren't going to tell you how to parent, so don't tell coaches how to coach.

When a parent is yelling directions from the stands to their kid, it disrupts the kid, which disrupts the team, which makes the coach mad, which gives you the tag of an obnoxious parent. You're not at practice every day, so if the coach wants your child to make a cut to the ball, to run a fade, or to steal second – I promise that coach is going to give your child that instruction.

A kid is brought up being taught to listen to their parents, so when they hear their parent giving one direction and their coach giving another, who do they listen to? The coach has a game plan, let him instruct the kids on how to execute it. Sit back and support the team.

2. Don't coach at home

An extension of No. 1, when you leave a game and you talk to your kid about how their coach should be X, Y and Z, you're undermining your kids trust in his/her coach. Please, for the love of all coaches who have ever coached, don't do that.

It may not happen immediately, but eventually your child is going to start believing what you say, they're going to start resenting the coach, and that doesn't end well for anyone involved – including the team as a whole.

Parents, your job in this situation is to support the coach, encourage your child, and cheer for the team. If you don't like the coach's game plan, turn in your paperwork, get a whistle, and go coach your own team.

3. Coaches coach teams, not kids

This point is easily taken the wrong way, so let me explain. A coach's job is to coach an entire team, your job as a parent is to parent your child. The coach cannot be concerned only about your child, he must be concerned about the team as a whole.

What does that mean? Well, simply put, the coach is going to make decisions based on the best interest of the entire team. That might mean your child, who you believe is a guard, has to play in the post. Or maybe it means your kid will be more of a blocking back than a ball carrier, even though you think he's a 2,000-yard rusher.

And don't take this point to mean coaches don't care about their individual players, because that couldn't be further from the truth. Coaches go out of their way to help kids for little tangible reward.

I can promise you, your kid may not admit it, but they know why they're in the position they're in on their team.

4. Understand, coaches want to win too

"He doesn't even want to win!"

Yes, I heard a parent yell this at a high school football game recently, talking about the head football coach (who, by the way, has won many more games than he has lost).

I work with coaches every day. I am friends with a lot of coaches, I have coached myself. I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that coaches want to win at least as bad as the players, and definitely more than the parents.

Coaches spend tons of time working behind the scenes, cutting grass, cleaning floors, washing uniforms, studying film, attending clinics, doing off-season workouts, handling recruiting, learning new schemes, supervising weight room activities, and checking academics, just to name a few things. They don't roll the ball out at practice and games and say, "Let's get it."

All of that time means coaches have a lot invested in their teams. They don't do all of that with the intention of not winning. It doesn't make sense. Who likes cutting grass, cleaning floors and doing laundry? No one.

Similarly, players have a lot invested in their teams, and as a result, they also want to win. If they don't, then they really need to consider whether or not they should be playing a team sport.

5. Realize your kid doesn't change

This is one of my favorite lines.

The child you have to tell ten times to clean his room, wash the dishes, or take out the trash – yep, he's the same kid being coached on the field or court. They don't change.

Coaches, like parents, don't like repeating themselves. But your child doesn't simply step on the playing surface and turn into a robot that follows directions immediately. Nope. They have to be coached – constantly.

6. Cut out the rewards

The only reward your kid should need for his success is a win. Plain and simple.

I cringe when I hear about parents rewarding kids for their performances. Believe it or not, there are parents who give a dollar for a point or a tackle, more money for touchdowns or home runs. Other parents provide other bribes.

My first question? Do you take a dollar away for a turnover, a missed tackle, or a strikeout? I'd be willing to bet the answer is no.

That's beside the point though. When you're playing competitive, amateur sports, you shouldn't need those rewards. Winning should be rewarding enough. Furthermore, when your kid knows he can get more money by scoring more points, do you think that might lead to him playing outside the offense? Do you think he may stop playing team ball? The answer is yes, and that becomes detrimental to your child as an individual and the team as a whole. And then guess what? We're dealing with parents breaking rules No. 1-4.

7. It's not about the scholarship

How many parents of middle school football players do you think I have heard from since Aug. 1? I don't know the answer to that, but I know I have received seven e-mails since Aug. 1, about middle school football players who will be Division-I players in college, at least according to their parents.

That's no exaggeration.

High school sports would be a better place if parents didn't know what the word "scholarship" meant. Most of them actually don't know exactly what the word "scholarship" entails, but hey, that's a different column for a different day.

If your child is good enough and fortunate enough to play at the next level, let it work itself out. Don't put that pressure on your kid where they have to have a college scholarship to be successful – especially in middle school. When parents do that to their kids, the sports become jobs, they're no longer fun, and they're going to get burnt out.

Let me give you a little dose of scholarship reality...

There are 341 colleges playing NCAA Division I men's basketball. Each of these schools has 13 scholarships, which comes out to 4,433 total Division I scholarships. You have to assume about 75 percent of them are already being used by players enrolled in colleges, so that leaves about 1,100 Division I scholarships each year for high school basketball players around the country.

Last year, 538,676 boys played high school basketball at NFHS-member schools. That's only NFHS-member schools, and there are an increasing number of private and charter schools who are not NFHS-member schools, especially in basketball.

In North Carolina alone, 10,618 boys played high school basketball at NFHS-member schools during the 2012-2013 school year.

And we've already established there are only about 1,100 Division I scholarships a year.

I don't care what your AAU coach or some random guy on Twitter says. Do the math.

8. Don't compare

This one might be more geared towards the players than the parents, but it can't hurt to reinforce it with the parents too.

Don't compare your child to another child. If your kid scored 15 points, his career high, who cares that the star point guard on the other team dropped 25? 

The only person you should compare your child to is your child. I ask kids all the time, "Is today's Johnny better than yesterday's Johnny?" That's the only comparison you need to make. If the answer is yes, then Johnny is getting better, and that's all you can ask as a player, coach or parent.

The same can be said for kids on the same team.

9. Who's to blame?

It's really easy to sit in the stands and criticize a coach, or to ride home in the car after a loss and talk about how the team would have won that game with a different coach.

Do coaches make mistakes? Yes they do, just like players, parents, teachers, salesmen, lawyers, doctors, police officers, and anyone else who has ever taken a breath of fresh air. But it is very rare that a coach – by himself – loses a game. In fact, I don't know that it is possible.

Before you dismiss a coach as terrible, or claim that a coach has no idea what he is doing, take a step back and ask yourself, "Is it really the coach?"

Even the best coaches in the world need some sort of talent to win. Coaches are only as good as their kids. 

Wrapping things up

You're a parent. Your job is to love and support your child no matter what. I understand that, coaches understand that, you understand that.

It's important for parents to understand that the simple fact that they are parents can cloud their sense of reality and judgment when it comes to sports.

My best advice? Let coaches coach, support the coach, the team and your child, and let your child have fun.

The best part of high school sports are the lessons learned, things that cannot be taught in a textbook. I'm talking about teamwork, leadership, perseverance. These are skills that help kids become adults, and they're skills that everyone needs in the real world, whether you're playing sports or not.

The likelihood that your child will ever make money playing a sport is extremely minuscule. I hate to rain on your parade (actually, I don't mind), but the percentage of kids that become professional athletes is exponentially smaller than the percentage of kids that earn scholarships – and we've already established how small that is.

Realize that high school sports, middle school sports, and youth sports are supposed to be fun, not a job. When they become a job, kids become burnt out.

But it all goes back to item No. 1. Stop coaching, keep supporting, and let the rest handle itself.

Follow Nick Stevens on Twitter @NickStevensHSOT

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Great column Nick
September 18, 2013 7:42 a.m.
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Great advice!
September 18, 2013 7:53 a.m.
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ANOTHER situation where Nick thinks he's an expert....AGAIN!
September 18, 2013 8:11 a.m.
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This column is on point. It's even worse in middle school where parents are in closer proximity to their kids. I have to move my team to the middle of the floor during TOs to keep the team focused on me instead of looking into the stands. And we go over this during parents meetings every season. Eventually you have to have a one on one with that parent and tell them to be quiet in very a firm manner.
September 18, 2013 8:40 a.m.
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Now having passed through this phase of parental life, I can see clearly. I agree with most of the article, but I have issue with some. I do not believe that a Coach is always the best fit, and I think parents stick their noses into situations where it does not belong with coaching. They may hate the coach, but they better ask their kids if they feel the same way. Many times the kid loves the coach and the parent has to accept it. One thing you forgot is... it is obnoxious when a parent screams at other people's athletes should, God forbid, they make a mistake or have an off game. It took all my strength to ignore nasty comments from other parents if my kid struck out, or maybe missed a tackle. I miss those days for sure, but I sure don't miss those parents!
September 18, 2013 9:16 a.m.
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Agree on all points with a couple of caveats you missed (understood since you have not had a kid playing on a friday night). Parents do watch their kids closely on the field, it is human nature. We are also the first to know when our children are playing hurt. It is impossible for us not to have an opinion on if our kid should be "playing through it" but we can't make that assessment from the stands. So talk to your child before hand about making good choices in these situations. The pressure is definitely on them to perform. Second, while high school coaches do work hard, in our program the parents cut the grass, line the fields, call media outlets with stats etc. So you are correct the parents should not be coaching but in a successful program they can contribute.
September 18, 2013 9:25 a.m.
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Very well written article. As the parent of student athletes, I have to remind myself of some of these points from time to time. And LOL @RTPripper: did you not read the ENTIRE article?
September 18, 2013 9:29 a.m.
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Mr Stevens, Your article is completely accurate for the typical situation. But do keep in mind there are always acceptions to the rule. In my son's senior year their coach of ten years left for an offer to better himself which was a wise decision for himself, however, the new coach that was hired had one of the worst Napoleon complex I have ever seen. By mid season 6 starters from the previous years quit as well as my son who had been all conference for the previous 2 years. It was the first year since the school opened it's doors that they went winless in football. So don't try to make coaches sound like Gods, they are not.
September 18, 2013 10:26 a.m.
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Agreed- You should follow this up by addressing some of the boorish behaviour and comments of Football Forum Bloggers.
September 18, 2013 10:41 a.m.
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I'm guessing RTPripper sees himself in this piece and it's uncomfortable. Great article and it applies to a lot more than just sports too. These days every kid is the next Lebron or bill gates or beyonce.
September 18, 2013 10:47 a.m.
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