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Dealing With Other Parents Who Berate The Coach About "Coaching Down"

My 9-year-old daughter plays on a travel hockey team. She isn’t the best, fastest or even hardest worker, but she loves it and I love watching her play. She is always supportive of her teammates and that is all I really care about at this age. Recently, some parents on the team were berating the organization and coaches for coaching down to the worst players and complaining about how their daughter has regressed this season because of it.

I remember how good players seek ways to improve regardless of the talent around them. I’d love a specific example if you have one. The way these parents yell at the whole team and their daughter is uncomfortable for everyone, and it’s a struggle to try to find a way to put things in perspective. Thanks.

PCA Response by Joe Scally, PCA TRainer

Here's the biggest problem I read in your question: Parents yelling at a team of 9-year-olds in a way that makes not only their own child, but everyone around them, uncomfortable. That’s simply wrong.  It’s much more likely that their daughter is regressing because of parental pressure and unrealistic expectations than because of coaches "coaching down." Your contrasting approach of loving to see your daughter play and valuing life lessons like learning how to be a supportive teammate is much more likely to lead to success and long-term enjoyment of a sport.

At 9 years old, every player, no matter how good they are at any given time, has a lot to learn. It is the coach’s job to make sure each and every player is given instruction that will help them improve. The coach must plan drills and coach in games in a way that keeps the sport interesting and challenging for the players regardless of their particular skill level.  This can be difficult when players have a wide variation, as your question recognizes, in motivation, physical ability, experience, and training.  This variation is especially common in a team of younger players.

At PCA we advocate that a club provides a Development Zone® where a player can become her best as an athlete and a person with the support of the club, the coaches and the parents. A yelling, demanding parent seriously undermines the development zone culture.  Research shows that young athletes do best in a caring climate where everyone involved is treated with kindness and respect.  Playing in a positive environment has a far greater impact on athletic development than any drill or exercise.

For their daughter’s sake, and for the benefit of the entire team, these parents should be strongly encouraged to stop yelling at games. The club should enforce any rules it has regarding parent conduct. The coach should educate these parents about the opportunity this situation presents for their daughter to learn leadership, patience, and teamwork. They should stop criticizing the coach so publicly, as this puts their daughter in an uncomfortable spot. If they need to discuss their concerns with the coaches they should set an appointment to meet with them.

In the meantime, continue to let your daughter know that you love watching her play, that you admire her positive attitude, and you want her to have fun. By doing this, you give her the opportunity to enjoy hockey or some other sport or activity. This, in turn, allows her to choose the things she is really excited by and put her effort into being the best she can be. When that happens, it won’t matter if she’s the fastest or strongest or biggest.  She’ll learn important things that will carry her a long way.

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