Ask almost any coach at the middle school and high school levels, and they?ll tell you the parents of their players can make almost as much difference between a positive and negative season as the players themselves.
A survey of area coaches revealed that positive parental involvement is the rule in most schools?but even a few parents who cross the line between parental involvement and parental interference can have an impact far beyond their numbers.
?The examples of parental support far outweigh the instances of parental interference,? one coach said. ?But it only takes a few instances of parental interference to make an effect on a coach.?
Another coach said that if any one thing would drive him from coaching, it would be parents interfering with the way he does his job.
So, when does a parent cross that line? Consider these examples from the memory banks of our coaches:
n A parent is so vocal from the stands during a contest that the athlete-child is embarrassed.
n A coach finishes a post-game talk with the team and finds a parent waiting outside the locker room door to complain about the team?s performance or, more likely, the amount of playing time his or her child got.
n A parent yells criticism of other athletes on the team during a game.
n A parent gives technical instruction to his or her child about the sport that contradicts the coach?s instruction?or is just flat-out wrong.
n Parents ?gang up? and discuss the inabilities and faults of other athletes on the team.
n Discontented parents, whether individually or even as a group, go over the head of a coach to air their complaints to the athletic director or principal?without even talking to the coach first.
n A parent bad-mouths another player on the team?or criticizes a coach?s strategy?in the presence of his or her child.
n When the athlete comes home, a parent berates him or her for mistakes made during the game.
Damage that results from that kind of behavior often extends beyond the relationship of the parent and coach or the athlete and coach. The chemistry of an entire team can be infected when a parent undermines a coach?s effort.
?When a kid is getting those two mixed views, they have to start doubting somebody,? said one coach. ?If a kid is going to doubt someone, the kid will usually side with the parent. That kid starts talking to other kids and suddenly you have discontent on the team.?
?Children reflect what is practiced at home to a great extent,? another coach noted. ?It is more likely that a child will be confident and hard-working if this is the attitude portrayed at home.
?A coach may not always know everything,? the coach added, ?But athletes must believe the coach?s actions are for the betterment of the team and individual.?
Without question, the No. 1 thing that pushes parents across the line from involvement to interference is concern about the playing time their children are getting.
?Nobody thinks their kid plays enough, whether the kid starts and plays the whole game and you take them out because they need a break,? one veteran coach said. ?The more you coach, the more you realize that.?
Without exception, coaches agree the last thing they?d ever purposely do is limit the playing time of an athlete who has superior abilities.
?Parents need to realize coaches are trying to make their team as successful as possible,? said one coach. ?They are human and make mistakes. But whatever it is they are doing, they are doing with the intent of improving the team.?
Coaches said they try to diffuse potential parental interference by communicating clearly to the athlete what his or her role is on the team.
?My philosophy on coaching has been that I cannot always please the parent, but as long as the kids know where they stand?even if they don?t like what they?re doing but they know their role?then I?m OK,? said one coach.
Another frustration of most coaches: Parents who talk behind the backs of coaches instead of coming to them.
?I think that?s my biggest frustration as a coach?if a parent has a problem, they don?t give us a chance to defend ourselves,? one coach said. ?They talk to everybody else except us. My thing is, if I could talk to a parent, I think that I could answer most of the questions in their mind.?
Coaches said parents need to realize that in most cases an athlete doesn?t want a parent to confront a coach because it embarrasses the athlete. If a conference with a coach is deemed to be necessary, a parent should be discreet about it.
?You have to keep in mind that a child cannot help who their parents are, and we are worried about the child, not the parents,? one coach said. ?It helps us to know what is going on at home so we can understand the attitude of the athlete.?
The best way a parent can make a positive contribution to a child?s athletic career?and an entire program?is simply to remain positive about the child?s involvement.
?Parents should be supportive of their child even if they aren?t playing a lot,? said one coach. ?Be at their games. And when they do get in, compliment them about the good things they did and encourage them to keep working at it.?
?I think parents need to be positive with their kids and let us do our job,? the coach said. ?I know that?s hard, but if they can do it, that?s a good thing.?