Just Because You Disagree With My Coach Doesn't Mean He's An Idiot
Dear Mom and Dad –
You know how you like to write me a letter before my sports seasons begin, offering me encouragement, advice and good wishes?
This season I want to turn the tables and write a letter to you, especially since this is my senior year, and likely to be my last time playing organized sports.
I know there have been times before, during, or after my games when you’ve said or done something that has annoyed me. I realize you’ve meant no harm, but I want to spell things out for you so the memories we’ll take from this last year of my playing ball will be good ones.
First, I want to thank you for respecting my wishes by letting me play football, basketball, and baseball, and not making me specialize in just one sport.
The money you spent for me to play on various Select teams wasn’t some sort of guaranty that I’d ever become good enough to play college ball. What my Select ball experience did was improve my skills and help keep me on the right track, instead of drifting off doing who-knows-what with my idle time. I am only guaranteed a chance to play when it comes to high school ball – nothing more.
Look, I know deep down that I’m not going to get an athletic scholarship to college. I’m a good athlete, but I am not the elite, almost freakish one that gets a free ride. I’ve learned something about genetics in Biology class, and I got your genes, which explains why I’m not 6’10”, or 275 pounds, or run the hundred in ten-flat. So don’t blame me for not playing at the next level – look in the mirror. Just kidding. I wouldn’t change a thing about me – or you.
I need you to understand that it’s not just me who gets to have a sports season. But the sports season the two of you get to have is going to be an entirely different one from mine.
I’ll be learning life lessons in the “non-traditional classroom” that high school sports represent. I’ll be learning what dedication and commitment are, not just by playing the games, but by working hard in practice, testing my courage, running until my lungs feel like they could burst, dealing with the hurts and pains that come from sore muscles, bruised bones and scraped knees. By finding out how much I can care about something, how much I’m willing to do beyond what I think is possible in order to help our team be successful, how much I’m willing to sacrifice myself for the good of the team, I’m going to be learning important things about life.
I’m also going to experience the fun times, too, times that you can’t be any part of, like the ten minutes in the locker room right before a game, and the ten minutes in the locker room after a game, regardless of if we won or lost, happy or sad – or the bus rides to and from games, and the silly times in the dugout or locker room when I’m just having fun with my friends, still just being a kid.
This goes without saying ---
While this has never been a problem with you in the past, if for some reason you indulge in adult beverages before one of my games and think it would be a good idea to show up and be loud, abusive, possibly even vulgar - DON’T. EVER. That sort of behavior from you would embarrass me to death, and would become your signature moment, to be remembered forever. And should one of the other parents come to a game in that condition, do everybody a favor and quietly suggest to them that they leave. Or better still, discreetly talk to one of the school’s administrators who are at the game, and let them handle the situation.
I want you to get the other parents on the team to sit together at our games.
You and the other parents get to have fun, too, as you band together and root for us all season. It’s sort of like getting on a ride at Disneyland, with all the ups and downs, thrills and spills.
Here’s a golden opportunity for a couple old fogeys like you to make some new friends, and when was the last time that happened? I’m not saying you have to sit next to that blowhard who is always bragging about his life, who distracts you from the game you’re intently watching – avoiding getting stuck sitting next to him is going to have to be a new move you’ll have to work on this year, I guess. I’d like you to seek out the parents of the new kids on the team, the ones who don’t really know any of the other parents yet, and bring them into the fold. You’re always telling me how some of my high school buddies are going to be my friends for life. Maybe the same can be said for you about other parents on the team. Who knows, maybe you’ll find your next best friends at my games this season.
This year, I want to hear you cheering for my teammates, too, and calling them by name, not just me.
I’d really like it if you went out of your way to get to know some of the other guys on the team. I am not the only story on the team. Every player has his own story worth being aware of. Unlike the college or pro teams in town who you can only cheer for from a distance, you can actually meet and get to know the kids I play with. The more kids you know on the team, and the more you know about them, the more you will enjoy watching us play.
I know you like to root for me at my games. I can hear your voice every time you do – I’ve been trained all my life to listen for it. But I also want you to cheer for my team and teammates so much that a stranger in the gym can’t tell that we have the same last name. With any luck, the other parents will get the hint and root for all of us, not just their own kids.
They’re just our opponents – they’re not our enemies.
It’s also OK with me if you acknowledge a good play or effort by an opponent. You know, those kids are just like me, they just live in a different town than we do. They care about the sport we love, they probably like the same music and movies that we do, and there’s not much difference between them and us, other than the color of the shirt they’re wearing that particular night. At the end of each game, we show them respect by going through the handshake line with them. I want you to show them respect, too.
Just because the call wasn’t in our favor doesn’t mean it was a bad call.
And while I’m on the topic of showing respect, I want you to be respectful to the game officials. I know there are times when we all disagree with their calls, or are at least disappointed when one doesn’t go our way.
It’s OK to disagree with them, but don’t be disrespectful. They are the game’s authority figures, and since you’re always telling me to respect authority, I expect you to do the same.
Besides, those guys are right most of the time, and they almost always know our rules better than anybody up in the stands does, especially since the rules can be different for high school, college and pro ball.
The team comes first. Not me. Not any one single player. Certainly not you or any of the other parents.
Our coaches do a great job of instilling in us team values, to put aside any selfishness we may feel in favor of support for our common effort. If any of us are unhappy about our playing time, the position we’re playing, or the way we’re being treated, he wants us to come to him and talk with him about it. All of us are OK with this arrangement. Most of the time, the guys who are second-string understand that the guys ahead of them are better than they are. Our coaches work really hard to nip any jealousies or disagreements in the bud.
The most important thing for us when we’re on a team is …… The Team.
When comments are made by outsiders (parents, particularly) that are critical of us or the coaches, they tear at the very fabric of the team. The louder they are, the more they damage the sense of unity and togetherness we’re trying to establish.
Instead of thinking about the next play or the next game, we wind up spending time dealing with stuff that takes our eye off the ball, so to speak.
But our coaches know more about the game than you do, I’ll bet. When a play doesn’t work, they know – right then- who it was that caused the play to fail, as opposed to the fans in the stands who only know that the play didn’t work.
The coach has earned the right to fill out the line-up card - to decide who plays where, when, and what plays we run.
My head coach probably spends 750-1000 hours a year on his sport, between planning practices, watching game films, game-planning for each week’s opponent, running practices, and actually coaching the games, not to mention attending coaching clinics, dealing with the paperwork side of coaching, and keeping in touch with us players all year round. He spends more waking hours during the season with us than his own family. Fact is, I see more of him each week than I do you during the season. On top of that, you might know only 5 or 10 of the kids on the team. Coach knows each and every one of us. He cares about us, not just as players, but as people.
Just because you disagree with the coach, doesn’t mean he’s an idiot.
Dad, I know how much you love sports, and how much you think you know about them from having played when you were young, and from watching games week after week, year after year. You know a little about a lot of sports. My coach is the world’s greatest expert on the subject of my team.
Just remember that there are three things every guy thinks he can do better than anybody else – build a campfire, grill a steak, and manage a ballclub. There’s an old saying – ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’. There are bound to be times when you disagree with something he does. When that happens, keep it to yourself, please.
I hope you’ll get to know my coach.
If you want to have a relationship with my coach, make sure it’s a non-critical, supportive one. Thank him after the games for his hard work, be appreciative of all he does and be thankful (as I am) that we have him on our side. And while you’re at it, be a friend and supporter of his wife, too. She comes to all the games and roots harder (if only to herself), and cares about it more than you do. While all you parents have a son on the team, she has fifty of us. She hears every comment that gets made up in the stands, and somehow manages to keep her cool when somebody up there says something critical or stupid about the team or her husband. When the game is over and you’re on your way home, the game may not even be on your mind by the time you pull into the garage. I’m sure Coach’s wife lives with the outcomes (especially the losses) a lot longer than any of you parents do.
I know you’ve always told me that my schoolwork is more important than sports. I guess that means that if you’re going to get to know my coach, you better get to know all my teachers this year, too. I want both of you to come to Back To School Night and meet my teachers, maybe shoot them an email afterwards.
As you would no sooner try to tell my English teacher how to conduct her class or criticize her in public, the same probably should be said about your demeanor toward my coaches.
If you want to analyze and re-hash the game in-depth, I’ll do it with you, but won’t it keep until the next morning?
When the game is over, don’t expect me to be all chatty and happy to talk with you, at least not right away. Games are physically, mentally, and emotionally draining for me, for you, for all of us. Everybody’s nerves might be raw and on edge right after a game. Sure, I’ll take your hugs, win or lose, as will my teammates. But give me some time to decompress, to think through what just happened out there and what the coaches had to say afterwards before you start peppering me with all sorts of ‘what happened?’ questions. And don’t ask me to violate the sanctity of the locker room. What gets said in there stays in there – sort of like going to Las Vegas.
Look, if all you want to know right after the game is what was so funny in the third quarter that all of us on the bench started laughing, I’ll tell you all about it.
Playing in games with my buddies, in front of our fellow students with all you moms and dads watching and cheering us on; it might just be the most fun I’ll get to have in my whole life.
I know we’ve talked in the past about what it’s like for me to be playing during the pressure situations that can develop during the games, and how your stomachs get twisted into a knot, and how mom sometimes has to hide her eyes.
But from my perspective, I’m so busy playing, so locked in and focused on what I’m doing, that I don’t have time to think about the consequences of failure, of what happens if I drop the pass, or miss the shot, or strike out.
What you call ‘pressure’ is, for me, pure fun.
Everybody’s always saying how playing sports builds character. You’ve told me that yourself on several occasions.
My coach says that while it’s true, there is a greater truth to be said about sports.
He says ‘sports reveals character’.
As my last year of playing sports begins soon, I hope that the character I reveal will make you proud of me.
And I hope that I’ll be proud of you.
I have to go now. First practice of the season is in the morning.
Here’s to a great season.
There's no question about it.