The secret problem for high school coaches

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This topic contains 11 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Ryan 13 years, 7 months ago.

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  • #4573

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    The Milwaukee Journal had an interesting article today about the “secret” problem many high school coaches have. They won’t discuss the problem on the record because doing so is career suicide but not addressing the issue, which can be very difficult to do, can be just as dangerous to one’s coaching career. Fortunately, the problem is not as bad in cross-country and track & field as it is in sports like football and basketball. However, we shouldn’t think the problem doesn’t exist.

    What’s the problem? In one word, parents. In football or basketball, it is often the parent of a great role player who wants the player to be more. In a basketball example offered in the article, it would be the parent of a great defensive player who holds the other team’s best offensive player to 5 points. After the game, the coach is happy, the player is happy, the team is happy, everyone is happy. Then, on the way home, the player’s mother comments that he didn’t shoot enough. Next game, he shoots more, focusing too much on offense, and his defense slides. Everybody loses.

    While we might get some of this in track & field, with a parent trying to push an athlete into a “marquee” event instead of the event where the athlete can do his or her best and help the team the most, the problem in cross-country and track & field is more frequently the parent who thinks he or she knows more than the coach about training. The parent either ends up splitting the athlete between two differing training plans or publicly criticizing a coach’s training plan instead of acting more courteously and discussing any questions or issues with the coach privately.

    I’ve witnessed examples of both of these things happen. The former usually results in individual athletes suffering either injuries or burnout and not performing as well as they could have, if at all. The latter sometimes results in perfectly good coaches being run out of their jobs or being forced to change their well designed training plans to fit what the parents want to the detriment of the whole team.

    I have talked quite a bit with a coach who was a victim of the latter situation. He took over a high school team that was in shambles. Injuries were commonplace on the team and performances were far from competitive. Within a few seasons, the team transformed to an area force that was beginning to make some noise at the state level. Injuries were almost unheard of, the athletes were having fun, and school records were being shattered. Then, it started. A few parents got it in their heads that they knew more about running than the coach and started complaining to school officials that he had the athletes running too many miles and not enough speedwork. The parents never discussed their concerns with the coach and gave him a chance to explain his training schedule, they just talked bad about the coach to the athletes and went straight to school officials. He defended himself to the officials with documented evidence of much better performances and much lower injury rates than before he became coach. He also offered plenty of literature explaining his training methods and why they were safer and more effective than the alternative the parents wanted. However, for everyone he discussed the issue with, the disgruntled parents complained to more people. Eventually, he felt that his coaching job was no longer about coaching. It turned into the job of a defense attorney, defending his methods that were proven to be better every time he turned around. At that point, he said it wasn’t worth it and he quit. Shortly after the parents got the coach they wanted, performances were down the drain and injury rates were up again. The best coach the school ever had, someone who wanted to stay for a long time, was run out and replaced with a coach who ran the team into the gutter within a year. The school records set under his tenure still stand and are under no threat of being broken in the near future.

    I don’t know how many of us currently do or in the future will have children being coached by others in any sport, especially in running, but I know there are at least a few out there. I know that those of us here know more about running than the average parent but, to the parents out there, I ask that you show respect to the coaches of your children. Don’t question the coaches in front of your children and don’t take questions about their philosophy to school officials before giving the coaches a chance to answer those questions in private. If you are unsure about what the coach is doing, ask for a private meeting. Ask any questions you have and expect answers. A good coach will be able to answer any questions and offer sources to support his or her answer. Most of all, if the team is performing well with a low injury rate, remembering that injuries to some extent will always happen especially in a team atmosphere with many runners, keep this in mind and consider the possibility that, while you may disagree with the coach, the methods being used are working.

    In the end, remember one thing. If you criticize or try to undercut your child’s coach, it’s your child who is going to suffer. If you truly believe the coach is a bad coach after talking with him or her in person, the best thing you can do is get your child out of the program. Otherwise, let the coach do his or her job. You can do your job, which is cheering for and always being supportive of your child, win or lose.

  • #19441

    r-at-work
    Member

    my kid runs and I don’t know as much as some of his coaches… Michael mentioned that he felt ‘too good’ after his race last week and thought maybe he should have kicked sooner… I told him to “talk to the coach” and that maybe he’s in better shape than he knows and coould possibly change his race strategy…

    last year (winter & spring) the head coach was a bit pompous and my kid stopped running and took up pole vaulting… he had lots of fun but I think his conditioning slipped… I talked to the vaulting coach, nice young man who had placed second in the state (outdoor)his senior year and in Virginia that is something… I said that I didn’t want to tell my kid to run or interfere in whatever they were doing as coaches, he said he made the kids run before he let them vault so I felt better… so my kid hadn’t stopped running, the head coach just quit putting him in races at meets… when ever my kid mentioned anything about it I just defered to the coaches, said that I had no idea how they picked kids for the events…

    ANYWAY… new head coach for this winter… former assistant coach (a former NCAA guy and alumni of the HS)that ALL the kids love, as my son said “till he makes us work hard”… that was another reason they didn’t like the other head coach, he eased off the workouts and times slipped… so my son will still vault, but he is already talking about running between seasons so he can “be at his best” for the “new” coach…

    this secret problem has many sides… just yesterday my son was left off the roster for the big “away” XC meet and a freshman got on the list… the problem is my son runs 7-8 at most meets and I guess the totals left him in 8th… I can’t say a bad word about the XC coach, he’s the best, what could I tell my kid… I hugged him and I told him I loved him and that sometimes life is like that… fair isn’t always the easiest thing to live through when you’re 17…

    -Rita

  • #19442

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Rita,

    From what I’ve seen, most cross-country/t&f parents are like you, good parents who support the coaches and, if they would have questions, would probably proceed with them in a cordial manner as it sounds like you did during t&f season. Most importantly, of course, parents who support their children, win or lose. Unfortunately, all it takes is one or two parents of the other type to make a coach’s job impossible.

    Of course, there is a certain responsibility that the coach has also. I’m not saying parents should always blindly believe the coach no matter what happens. If you are uncomfortable with what is going on, the coach should be willing to meet with you to discuss it. If the coach can not or will not answer your questions, that should be a red flag that the coach is not holding up his or her responsibility. At that point, depending on what question isn’t being answered, maybe it’s time to consider leaving the team and looking elsewhere for coaching.

    For example, in your son’s situation, you should be able to ask his coach how the selection of the varsity team is done if you wanted to (in all my experience, it has been fastest 7 from the previous meet but I know some coaches do it a bit differently). The coach would then hopefully explain his selection process (maybe your son was 8th at the last meet, maybe he was 8th more than 7th, maybe something else). You would either like or dislike the answer but, unless you and your son decided this is big enough of an offense to warrant leaving the team, you would accept it and support the coach’s decision.

    If/when I move on to the world of coaching, which is something I really want to do some day in order to give back at least a little of all that has been given to me by the wonderful coaches I have had, I will plan on opening the lines of communication with the parents right away. While I was running at lunch, I was thinking about this. What if a coach had a voluntary (of course) parents only meeting at the beginning of the season? Especially with cross-country being a sport where the team is so close, this would be a chance to reach out to the families of the athletes to build that close community that cross-country teams thrive on. More importantly, though, it would be a chance to lay out the coaching philosophy that is being used, from training right down to things like selecting who runs on the varsity team and everything in between, letting the parents ask questions, and encouraging parents who still had questions to meet individually with the coach. Most importantly, it would open the lines of communication so the parents would feel more comfortable talking and working with the coach instead of doing things behind the coach’s back that will in the end hurt the athletes more than anyone else.

  • #19443

    r-at-work
    Member

    I’m sure my son was 8th as much or more than 7th… I really trust this coach and so does my son… but it hurts just the same… and dropping XC is the last thing I think my kid wants to do…

    but I can see how if we didn’t accept the ‘rules’ that the best 7 would go then it could get ugly… heck it could get ugly for ANY reason…

    I taught horsebackriding right after I got out of College, for four years and had two ugly “falling out” things happen with people, and once it was a falther and the other time the mother, I was lucky in that the kids didn’t hate me, just misunderstandings that actually got started by a third party and the respective spouses of the angry parents both appologized but said they couldn’t help the situation since they had to live with the angry spouse… whatever…

    but back to my kid… I just hope he can learn that he can survive utter disappointment and move on… and if this is the worst thing that ever happens to him he’ll be the luckiest person that has ever walked the earth, but right now he is REALLY upset… and I don’t want to trivialize it for him by throwing plattitudes at him…

    -Rita

  • #19444

    ksrunner
    Participant

    This is an interesting topic.

    When I was in high school and later in college, I didn’t know about the coaches training philosophy. I just did the workouts because coach said to do them. Years later, when I started running again, I had to read to learn how to train myself.

    Now, looking back, I see that there are lots of things that I missed out on — especially in high school. Cross country was not really a team sport while I was there. There were some individuals who were pretty good runners and then there were some guys who were running to be fit for basketball season. We never really had a race strategy or anything. As far as workouts, I think that we did fairly well, though I wish that there had been some advice or guidance about what we might do to improve ourselves in the off season. It might have helped to have one coach for cross country and to coach the distance runners in track.

    In track, the focus was all on quality. I doubt that I got over 25 miles per week ever. Only twice did I receive pre-race advice. Once when an older runner who had chosen baseball over track his senior year gave me excellent advice at the league meet my sophomore year. He was familiar with how all of the top competition ran and really helped me to have a good meet and to calm any nerves I might have had. A second time, my coach told me not to lead a 3200m race (which I never did anyway my only strategy was to follow the leader and then kick). It turns out that the coaches were trash talking before the meet. It was a more distant meet than normal. The coaches at the host school were wishing that another guy from our league had come so that their guy could have some competition. (I had been winning against that runner more than losing that season.) After I had won the 1600, my coach wanted to make sure that I did not do anything stupid because he wanted me to win the 3200 also. We had planned to try tripling that day running 1600m, 800m, and 3200m as an experiment to see if I would be able to do it at regionals and qualify for state in all three, but coach cancelled the 800m so that I could focus on the 3200m. He did not let me know why until after the meet. Now, looking back, I think that my coach’s advice was more for his own bragging rights than to benefit me. In hindsight, it would probably have been better to get a bit more 800m experience before the state meet where I did run three events but did poorly in the 800 for lack of experience or pre-race strategy advice. I got boxed in at state and made bad decisions.

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to make this a bitching session about my old coach.

    Ryan, your plan for a pre-season meeting with parents is definitely a good one. I am sure that you will make an excellent coach.

    I think that I could also enjoy coaching someday. Although unlikely, it is possible that if my daughter gets interested in running competitively has not decided go to public school by then (We’re homeschooling now.), I could get some opportunity to be coach or assistant coach and I have given some thought to how I might go about it. I hadn’t thought about the pre-season parent meeting though.

  • #19445

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    That brings up an interesting question. What do you do when you truly believe the coach is a bad coach?

    I would still say first start by talking with the coach. How are you sure the coach isn’t good and that you haven’t just experienced a case of different but both effective philosophies? Can the coach explain the reasoning behind the philosophy and offer evidence that it is a sound philosophy? If not, maybe you can respectfully offer an explanation of your philosophy. Maybe the coach will listen to you, maybe the coach will even ask you to help out with the team. It’s not unheard of.

    If not, if the coach truly is pushing an ineffective and/or potentially problematic plan, what do you do? Well, do you want your son or daughter on such a program? There are two other options. You could put your son or daughter on a separate program and have him or her following two training plans, which is even worse, or you could work with your son or daughter to find another coach and leave the high school program. Just be careful with the idea of being that coach. While the Coe family and others have proven it can work, it’s extremely challenging to coach your own child. There are certain things a coach has to do that can be very difficult for a parent to do.

  • #19446

    Anonymous

    When I think about it, I am not totally comfortable with the idea of coaching my daughter. I think that I could do it for a time, but at some point, I would want her to step into a different program. I think that I could prepare her for that.

    Right now, she is only seven. She enjoys running as part of play and I do not want to push her in any direction at this point. Although I am sure that eventually, she will come to some 5Ks with me. I do not know that she will ever be interested enough to train specifically to race. She has expressed some interest in soccer. I am quite certain that she will enjoy that. She is also interested in horses (via her mother) and we are encouraging that through riding lessons. She will be tall. She will no doubt have people trying to interest her in volleyball and basketball.

    I am not sure that she will be able to participate in high school sports. She and my wife are homeschooling. Perhaps since they’re doing it through a school district program, there might be options available when she gets there. If not, I know that there are youth sports clubs that she could join for whatever sport she is interested in.

    Although my first choice would not be to be head coach for her team, I would do that if that is what is needed. I would prefer to be an assistant.

  • #19447

    Ed 1
    Member

    The thought of trying to coach my daughter makes me shiver . . not my son though. And I don’t know why.

    I guess I would have a harder time being appropriately forceful with the daughter more so than the son (if resistance was given).

  • #19448

    Bart
    Member

    One interesting thing is that parents don’t need to even understand the sport in order to take issue with the coaches. My daughter played on a soccer team. I’m a typical American of my generation; in other words, I know nothing about soccer. The coach of my daughter’s team was a former professional player from Mexico. Even with the vast differences in our knowledge base, there were a lot of times that I found myself questioning his coaching (mainly about strategy during games), and then I’d have to remind myself that I don’t know anything about the sport. Fortunately, I never approached the coach with my concerns.

    I have a question for those of you who ran cross country or who have kids who run/ran cross country. At the high school level are most of the coaches knowledgable about the sport? I know at my high school the cross country coach was the basketball coach, who also happened to be a runner. The track and field coaches and wrestling coach were mostly football coaches who also participated in the other sports when they were in school. I assumed that due to budget cuts a lot of the coaches for sports other than football, basketball, and baseball were teachers at the school who were runners, former tennis players, etc, etc. Or was that just at my underfunded high school?

    Bart

  • #19449

    Ryan
    Keymaster
    Bart wrote:
    One interesting thing is that parents don’t need to even understand the sport in order to take issue with the coaches. My daughter played on a soccer team. I’m a typical American of my generation; in other words, I know nothing about soccer. The coach of my daughter’s team was a former professional player from Mexico. Even with the vast differences in our knowledge base, there were a lot of times that I found myself questioning his coaching (mainly about strategy during games), and then I’d have to remind myself that I don’t know anything about the sport. Fortunately, I never approached the coach with my concerns.

    Unfortunately, some parents in your situation do. Often, as was the case with the coach I referenced above, it’s the parents who know nothing about the sport who cause the biggest problems.

    Bart wrote:
    I have a question for those of you who ran cross country or who have kids who run/ran cross country. At the high school level are most of the coaches knowledgable about the sport? I know at my high school the cross country coach was the basketball coach, who also happened to be a runner. The track and field coaches and wrestling coach were mostly football coaches who also participated in the other sports when they were in school. I assumed that due to budget cuts a lot of the coaches for sports other than football, basketball, and baseball were teachers at the school who were runners, former tennis players, etc, etc. Or was that just at my underfunded high school?

    That’s an interesting question. I was very fortunate to have extremely knowledgable coaches in high school. Yes, our coaches were also teachers at the school but they also were current or former athletes in the events they coached. Throughout the conference I competed in, things were about the same. While the coaches were also teachers at the school, most knew what they were doing. Maybe that’s why our conference was such a strong conference from top to bottom, though. Around here, there also seems to be good coaching. Most of the coaches I have talked with have run in college or have some other kind of competitive experience. Everyone I have talked with seems to know what they are doing. Again, the performances are good around here. I know there are bad coaches out there and I’ve heard stories suggesting they are numerous in some places. I guess I’ve just managed to avoid those places.

  • #19450

    ksrunner
    Participant

    I see now that I posted as guest earlier. I hope that won’t be too misleading.

    I am not certain how the interview/application process for teaching positions goes, but I would hope that they would look first at teaching credentials and second at whether or not they could coach a sport or sponsor some other extra-curricular activities. If that is the case, it seems likely that sometimes a school or district would find that they do not have any qualified coaches on their staff. Or, perhaps to get a job, an inexperienced person says, “Yes, I would be willing to coach .” Smaller school districts probably have a harder time finding a qualified coach among their staff than larger schools. I imagine sometimes an unqualified person might educate themselves and eventually become a good coach, but that would take time. So long as the coach is not causing injuries, it is probably better to have an unqualified coach than to eliminate the opportunity for the kids to participate and compete.

    Where I went to school, we just had some guys filling that role. They definitely were not the best coaches, but they probably were not the worst either. The current coach is pretty good. He was a year behind me in high school. He competed collegiately in the decathlon and he was a good regional cyclist. He is not a pure runner, but he definitely understands how to get fit and how to train for endurance events. This year, his team has won a couple of meets. The exciting thing for him is that I believe he still has a fairly young team. He had a good group of freshmen last year and their top runnner is a junior.

    I think that when the focus of the school is education first and extra-curricular activities second, you will not always be lucky enough to get excellent coaches and that is probably as it should be.

  • #19451

    Ryan
    Keymaster
    ksrunner wrote:
    I am not certain how the interview/application process for teaching positions goes, but I would hope that they would look first at teaching credentials and second at whether or not they could coach a sport or sponsor some other extra-curricular activities.

    I would certainly hope so.

    ksrunner wrote:
    If that is the case, it seems likely that sometimes a school or district would find that they do not have any qualified coaches on their staff. Or, perhaps to get a job, an inexperienced person says, “Yes, I would be willing to coach .” Smaller school districts probably have a harder time finding a qualified coach among their staff than larger schools.

    I’m sure this happens and the law of averages suggests this would be an issue at smaller schools more than it would at large schools. Maybe those in my conference, all small schools, were luckier than I realized.

    ksrunner wrote:
    I imagine sometimes an unqualified person might educate themselves and eventually become a good coach, but that would take time.

    It shouldn’t take too long. One can get a fairly good idea of what to do with one summer’s worth of reading/research.

    ksrunner wrote:
    So long as the coach is not causing injuries, it is probably better to have an unqualified coach than to eliminate the opportunity for the kids to participate and compete.

    This is probably true.

    ksrunner wrote:
    I think that when the focus of the school is education first and extra-curricular activities second, you will not always be lucky enough to get excellent coaches and that is probably as it should be.

    I’m sure this is true.

    Going back to my original point, though, be calm and intelligent about what you are doing. Before stepping in and causing problems for the coach, talk with the coach one on one. A coach’s job is hard enough without parents causing problems. When parents cause problems, it’s the athletes who suffer the most. Keep that in mind before you do anything and keep it in mind if you see another parent causing problems.

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