The coaching life is so challenging. The time. The emotions. The sacrifices left and right as we pour ourselves out in the name of the passion to develop young people. Young people we love and pray for and care about … but who aren’t ours.
They belong to someone else.
In coaching and teaching, “the parents” has almost become a shuddered phrase. Sadly, it takes little more than a quick Google search to find scores of stories about parents who have gone outside of the bounds of appropriate behavior on their child’s behalf.
And I get it. Really. The childhood worship, spare no expense, pave the way for my kid’s favor and prosperity has gotten totally out of hand for some folks. It has entered my home with late night phone calls and the occasional vicious e-mail and I know it has yours too. Because you are a coaching family and that is part of the world of sport. And, it’s not going away.
It’s not going away. So we might as well figure out how to manage it.
Our natural inclination as human beings is to protect ourselves. Anytime we sense a threat, we are programmed to put up our defenses to protect ourselves and our people. It’s normal.
However, in our service as coaching families, we also have to occasionally look at those same defenses and see if we have possibly raised them higher and wider than necessary. When we close ourselves off completely, we may protect ourselves from the negative but we also don’t leave any room to let in the light.
And the light is what heals us and gives us hope.
Our family is closing in on two decades of coaching. We have been a part of a state championship run and we have been fired. We have had some very painful experiences with parents of our players, both in winning and losing seasons. Difficult parent experiences are some of the deepest coaching wounds we have. Those experiences make you want to retreat into a nuclear bunker where you hope you will be safe.
But, you know who has also been at the heart of some of our most incredible memories? You know who has hugged us, protected us, loved us, prayed for us, comforted us, pursued us, invited us to their children’s weddings, brought us dinner, loved our children, cried as we left a community and welcomed us to new ones?
With the fall sports season right around the corner, I want to offer three thoughts that may help us manage our hearts and our reactions as we experience the spectrum of humanity that comes with coaching.
- For the handful of parents whose behavior reinforces the negative stereotype, we need boundaries. It’s part of our job to protect our hearts and our children. It usually doesn’t take long to figure out if someone is a “friendly.” Set boundaries on those relationships as necessary. Utilize your administration if needed. Be cordial and kind but sit elsewhere. It is not your job to change their mind.
- Remember that we coach in their sacred spaces. We are coaching the people they have loved, raised, cried, and prayed over long before we got them. For some, we are coaching their validation of self. I’m not making excuses for poor behavior, I’m offering a space for us to gather some empathy for the seemingly extreme reactions. All of us have pieces of our life that are prone to making us think and act uncharacteristically. Our coaching intersects with some of their most precious heart space and occasionally, that makes people act in ways they might not otherwise.
- Lastly, I want to encourage us to leave margins in our hearts for all those other parents. To believe in and be blessed by the people who don’t reinforce the stereotypes. To not lump “them” all together out of a fear that comes from previous difficult experiences. Is it possible to still get burned? Sure, we’ve all had that happen. But it’s also possible to be blessed and we don’t want to be so closed off that we miss it. The majority of the parents we’ve had over the years are wonderful, kind, supportive people, and I want to leave space open to love them and offer our gratitude for their support. It is these parents who are usually the rule, not the exception, and for that I am grateful.
My fellow coaches’ wives, I’m praying for our hearts this season. I’m praying for our protection when we hear something difficult or get asked a question that makes us hurt. I’m praying that our children stay naïve to the challenges of the coaching life as long as possible in their innocent little worlds.
But I’m also praying that we are open. That we are open to the incredible kids and incredible parents in our incredible communities. Because they are there. I am praying that we can be wise enough to recognize them and open enough to be blessed by them.
Lord, thank you for “the parents.”