Coach vs. Parent

Hey Coach,

My son is playing flag football with the local recreation league, and he feels like he is not getting a fair chance to show off what he can do. I have attended practices and in my opinion, I believe that the coach favors his son over my own. While I understand that this is only rec ball, I want him to have the same opportunities as everyone else. What is the best course of action?
– Sidelined

Dear Sidelined,

Unfortunately, this is a common concern. The child feels left out, the parent questions fairness, and there may be a (real or imagined) reason for unfair treatment. While I don’t know details of your situation, the solution is straightforward. Understand your role, and play by its rules.

In every youth sports program, there are three roles for individuals: Athlete, Coach, or Parent. Each role has rules to abide by. Conflicts occur when one (or more) of these individuals either don’t know their role, or break the rules.

  • Athlete – Learn the game, be a teammate 
    The athlete is there to learn – about the game, about teamwork, about competition. Good athletes are focused on growth, not glory.
  • Coach – Be the authority, teach the game 
    The coach is there to lead and teach. Some lessons are about skills, some are about winning, some are about sacrifice. Good coaches are good educators with strong vision.
  • Parent – Provide context, model conduct
    The parent is there to monitor development, and is a counselor in both good times and bad. Good parents make sure the athlete has the emotional tools to deal with success and failure.

Your best course of action is to first provide your child context, then to model conduct. In this case, context is to remind him that his role is to learn and contribute, not to get too caught up in play time. Once he understands his role, then you can model conduct for him – meet with the coach to understand how play time gets allocated. Be calm, professional, and focused on developing a path to success. Most coaches will appreciate the discussion and be happy to provide an answer.

Of course, there are some coaches who don’t know their roles very well. On a parks and recreation football league, your coach may be a parent in disguise. If so, the best course of action is to seek out a better coach or program in the future. Ultimately, the best way to determine the quality of coach is to model correct parenting behavior – your athlete will learn their most important lesson from you.

– Coach Grant

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About the Author:

Grant Lange exclusively trains high performance volleyball athletes for power generation, volleyball hitting mechanics, read/reaction defense, and injury prevention. Grant is USAV BCAP1 and IMPACT certified, and has coached volleyball for 20 years at the club and collegiate level. His collegiate career was played at the University of Illinois and Western Washington University; he continues to play in the men’s USAV open division and travels to national tournaments when his schedule allows.