As a coach, I have personally seen situations where parents are undermining and down right hostile toward good coaches. This is not to say this is always the case, and indeed, I’ve seen situations where parents are too supportive of bad coaches. Has the problem of bad parents driving good coaches away become an epidemic?
Any experienced coach will tell you that if you too coach for more than a couple years, you will inevitably encounter a “bad” sports parent in your coaching career. If you’re lucky, that bad parent is just the parent who brings their kid late to every practice. However, far more coaches will end up with worse. Some may end up with parents who are uncooperative. Some may end up with parents who question coaching decisions or think they know better than the coach. Others will encounter downright hostility, threats, and even sometimes unfortunately, violence.
Winning Does Not Cure The Problem
There is a common misconception that winning keeps parents happy. This is simply not true.
Take the story of a coach I know.
Throughout his many seasons of coaching, he has had one losing season. During that season, the team won only one game. Sure they tied a few, but they lost more than they won or tied combined. During this season, he did not encounter a single problem from a parent, spectator, or relative.
On the other hand, during one of his most winning seasons, his parents were absolutely out of control. They would sideline coach, shouting directions to the players. They would give the coach their “suggestions” on where to put players and what formations to use. One parent even threatened the coach physically. This team had 6 wins, 2 losses, and 1 tie at the time and was in first place.
This is certainly not a lone example. Take this example from Newsleader.com:
Earlier this year, during a Stuarts Draft-Waynesboro game, I heard a parent of a Waynesboro player wishing out loud that her team played more like Stuarts Draft, who runs an up-tempo style. I guess it didn’t matter that Waynesboro has gone to back-to-back state tournaments, including a spot in last year’s state championship game.
How does something like this occur? Well it’s hard to say for sure, but many coaches believe it is easier to deal with parents of losing teams. Perhaps it is because no one wants their names associated with losing. So on a losing team, parents fall into line with the attitude of “It’s his team. I have nothing to do with it.” Whereas, on a winning team, everybody wants to “put their name on it”. They want to say, “It was my idea to put that player there” or “It was my idea to use that formation” so that they can feel like some of the success was their doing.
A Growing Problem?
The truth is, bad sports parents have been around since the sports themselves have. So why is it that bad sports parents seems to be a growing issue?
I believe there are two reasons for this.
First, sports parents are nearly infinite, and while coaches in general are plentiful, good coaches are limited. If a bad parent steps away, there will certainly be another one to take his place. However, if a good coach steps away, the pool of good coaches becomes that much smaller.
Second, I believe there have been changes in society that have affected sports parents.
According to account of Greg Troxell, Athletic Director of Wilson Memorial High School in the previously mentioned Newsleader.com article,
“Is it what I call the ESPN factor? Everyone watches ESPN and hears how it should be done and now everyone is an expert.”
I also believe their is a growing defensiveness among sports parents or rather an inability to accept that their child may have made a mistake or even that the team they play on could be at fault.
Take, for example, the story of a woman whose daughter plays high school soccer. While the mother tried her hand at coaching for a couple years and later refereed herself for several years, she could never accept that maybe the other team just had more talented players or maybe her daughter’s team just wasn’t very cohesive. Instead, for anything bad that would happen in the game, she would either blame the refs or the coach. This is a woman who had reffed and coached herself. Yet she still consistently blamed the refs and the coach even though most of the time her claims were incorrect.