Wednesday, June 5, 2013

That's Not Coaching...

The incredible Harlan Coben (love his books) recently posted an essay called “That’s Not Coaching.  It’s Child Abuse,” in which he detailed the kind of coaches that exist today in youth sports and why they do more damage than one might think.  If you want to read his take, go here:  This essay resonated with me because we have just finished out modified lacrosse season here, child #2 having had a wonderful year playing for a nurturing and communicative coach who wanted nothing more for the kids to learn, have fun, and become solid teammates.

And to top it all off?  The team had an 8-3 record, something that hasn't happened in a long while in modified lacrosse.  We won.  Many games in a row.  Something we are not used to doing.

I've been through the gamut of youth sports' coaches from the weekend warrior dads (some good, some not so good) to the moonlighting middle- and high-school teachers to the rabid almost-made-it-to-the-professional-level-but-blew-out-their-knee guys.  I have also coached sports myself, namely co-ed baseball at the second-grade level and girls' softball at the fourth-grade level. Coaching children on a sports' team is not for the faint of heart; just ask my teacher-husband who had to take over for me when I was relieved of coaching kindergarten T-ball due to a cancer diagnosis.  (And believe me, that's the ONLY way you get out of coaching kindergarten level T-ball.)  He's still tired, eight years later.

I took a decidedly "it's not about the winning" stance when coaching, something that put me in bad stead with some parents but one that I stuck to. Hey, I like to win more than anyone on the planet; just ask the husband about the time I turned a square dance into a competitive event. But when you're dealing with kids, it's better--in my opinion--to help them develop a love of the game and an aptitude for its finer aspects than pushing winning at all costs.  That, to me, is just not healthy.

Nor is the "everyone is a winner" philosophy that is so prevalent in the suburbs these days.  That is just as harmful.  You have to learn to be a gracious winner as well as a gracious loser.  You're not going to win everything in life so why not learn how to suck it up and congratulate your opponent while playing baseball or soccer or basketball with your friends?

I think you can strike a nice balance between the crazy-competitive and the laissez faire coaches of the world and I'm glad to say that child #2 had a great experience with one of those coaches this year. So, in addition to giving you a link to a very well-written essay on youth sports, I wanted to thank Coach C for his dedication to modified lacrosse and for bringing the proper mix of competitiveness and compassion to a really violent sport.  (Boys with sticks hitting each other?  Not my kind of game.)

Oh, and by the way, Coach:  I owe you that clean jersey.  

Maggie Barbieri


  1. So true, Maggie! Those days are behind me (thank heavens!), but I remember the crazed parents in children's sports. Now, we are learning about the damage, physical and emotional, being done to some kids in some of these sports by these parents and coaches. So glad you had a great coach for your son's lacrosse team.

  2. Linda, we have been very fortunate. If my son continues playing, the JV coach and Varsity coach are both gems. It might not be terrible. :-)

  3. I've worked with a lot of kids and parents who participated in various sports. Not surprisingly, the most difficult coaches were often very difficult parents, rigid and demanding in their attitudes. I agrees with you and with Harlan Coben-these folks simply haven't learned that you catch more flies-in this case, young children filled with energy and joy-with honey than vinegar. With patience than abuse. The coach you reference would be reported in California.