Every year, from the end of August until (really the Super Bowl) the end of October, our life is ruled by the sport of football. Yes, because we are huge fans of the sport and tend to watch all the ESPN, NFL Channel, etc. talk shows, listen to sport analysts on the radio, read sports writers on the internet, participate in Fantasy Leagues a-plenty, but mostly because …
We have a son who plays youth tackle football.
(He’s pretty good at it, too, and that’s not just Mom talking.)
We’ve had some problems, though. Last year, and now extending into this. We have coaches who play favorites. Coaches who especially play favorites with their own children. As a non-coaching parent, it is extremely difficult to watch and keep your mouth shut. In fact, so far it has simply been impossible. We have a large coaching staff and many of them have multiple kids on the squad. The 2nd best person to be on our team, if you are not a coaches kid, is to be a neighbor of a coach, because whatever starting spots are leftover after the coaches kids all get their shots are filled by the neighbors. Everyone else, well, they get fit in where they can, when these delightful coaches remember them.
I am on the Board of Directors. At the beginning of this season, when it came time to vote on and choose coaching staffs, I was vehement that we should not “hire” these men again. However, when they are the only people standing up and volunteering to coach, it’s awfully hard to win your argument. I didn’t. They’re back. Things have not changed.
My son, who really loves playing on the defensive line. He doesn’t want to play quarterback, receiver, running back .. none of the glory positions. He wants to hit on the line and hit hard. He enjoys knocking people into the ground. (Yeah, his other sport is boxing … but at least flexes his delight of a good hit on the field and in the ring and not on the playground, right?) He’s one of the strongest kids on the team, but not the fastest. He could care less about running, so he’s not going to push to be first back after laps. He hats push-ups, but does them. He’s getting better (Thank you Coach Bernie and the Roc Boxing coaching staff!) He’s not going to wow you during warm-ups. But, by golly, give him a chance and he’ll wow you on the line
Unless, repeatedly he sits on the bench and watches other kids get the start because of their relationship to the coach. Enough of that and he quits trying real hard. I mean, why bother? It doesn’t make any difference.
I am so unbelievably angry with this group of coaches. They have taught my son exactly the opposite of what I had hoped he would learn in regards to team play. They have taught him that it is who you know and not what you do that gets you ahead in the world.
And they have ripped the heart right out of him.
I’ve written two letters to the coaching staff. One was at the end of last season, and the other was just last week. I have not sent any of them, because my son does not want me to. He is afraid it will make things worse for him, and since I can’t deny it is a possibility, I have acquiesced. But I am still putting these letters out there, into the universe, because I believe that every person who teaches children should be aware of what they are doing. Cognitive of the lessons they are teaching. And the lessons we parents often strive to un-teach.
Stop screwing up my kid!
Dear Coach 2011
I am the parent of the kid you keep “on the bench”. He’s the quiet one, the one who works hard each and every practice, who gives you everything he’s got, and then goes home tired. Never once have you heard him say “give me the ball!” or “I really, really want to play such and such a position”. You also never hear him complain. If he isn’t put into a game, he won’t say a word. He’ll just stand there, on the sidelines, wondering what he did wrong, why you don’t like him, why he doesn’t get a chance to hit hard out there on the field like he does at every practice.
For a while, he’ll try harder at the practices, hoping that it will get him noticed by you. After the number of great, hard hitting practices rack up, and the number of plays in the actual games do not, he starts to lose hope. He begins to become discouraged. He comes home and says things like “I suck. The coach hates me. The team hates me. I’m no good to anyone out there … and they don’t want me.” He stops believing his parents who tell him he IS good, and the coach does NOT hate him, nor anybody on his team. Eventually he stops wanting to play the game at all, since he comes away feeling discouraged and insecure. And after a while, he quits trying so hard in the practices. After all, it doesn’t make a bit of difference.
I’m the parent of that incredible kid. I see in him the huge potential, the heart, and the strength of body and of spirit. I entrusted him to you because I believed that you would help draw out of him that talent, that you would teach him what sportsmanship, teamwork and working hard at something means. You coach the sport he wants to learn, yet you left him on the bench during the games. Not just some of the time, ALL of the time. You taught him that sometimes it does NOT pay to work hard and be a good sport. You taught him that being on the team means you’d better be a coaches kid or you are not going to get to play … no matter how hard you work. As the parent of that kid, I am heartbroken, disappointed … and angry. I entrusted my incredible kid to you for a season, and now I need to undo all the things you taught him, because they were not the things I hoped he would learn.
This particular kid never wanted to be a ball handler. He only wanted to knock people down. He liked hitting hard, and he was good at it. I cannot comprehend why you would not take advantage of that desire. Teach him the techniques to do it better and more efficiently and then let him play. One of the strongest kids on the team, one who never quit, sat on your bench during most of the games.
He wasn’t the only on, there were quite a few others. Kids who don’t understand why they didn’t get to play and parents who have to try and explain it to them. Parents who now do not know if their child will want to come back next year and aren’t sure if they should press the issue when the result of this season was hurt and disappointment.
I’m the parent of the kid you kept on the bench. You, the coach, are the parent of the kid you put IN the game. How would you feel if the situation were reversed?
Angry? Disappointed? Frustrated?
Yeah. That’s how we feel, too.
Dear Coach 2012
I saw something yesterday that took my breath away. And I do not mean that in a good way.
Our team was struggling immensely against an able opponent. Half time rolled around and it was obvious there was to be a battle during the 2nd half for domination and the ultimate “W” the team strives for. Offensive coaches, defensive coaches, line coaches … all gathered their players into groups to discuss strategy and plan out the battle about to unfold.
And about 10 boys sat in the middle with no invitation to go to ANY of those groups. These boys were left alone, isolated, without a place where they belonged on the team. Ignored.
As a parent, I was appalled.
I realize that you have players you have deemed as starters. I recognize that you have favorites, people you decide to turn to when you believe the game is on the line.
What I don’t understand is how, yet again, the 2nd year in a row, you decide that those kids you leave on the bench are not only not worth playing, they are not worth teaching.
Should not each and every one of those children be given the same opportunity to learn the positions you throw them into, at the last minute, to get their “5 plays per half”? Shouldn’t they be given the same opportunity to learn your secret strategies, your plans? Or does it suit your purposes better to leave them in the dark, without instruction, so that when the time comes and they fail to live up to the expectations they have never been made aware of, you can justify your decision to leave them on the bench. To give credence to you decision to only play them when you have to, to fulfill the league obligations. To appease your sense of guilt (because by God, I hope you do feel guilty) for destroying the dreams and HEART of the boys you leave out.
Honestly, from a side line perspective, NONE of the kids you have as starters are so glaringly better at their position than any one of the kids you choose to leave on the bench. In fact, any amount of improvement in their play might be because of the extra time you focus on them, not because they possess any greater talent. If you spent the same amount of time teaching ALL of the kids on your team, you might find much more success on the field, as you have a full team of trained football players to choose from, who receive equal time both on the practice field and on the playing field. A team where all the kids are coached equally and given equal opportunity to learn would be a force to be reckoned with.
It would certainly be an improvement on the team you currently have. We might actually win. Go figure.