Former major league pitcher Mitch Williams lived up to his "Wild Thing" moniker when he was recently tossed from his son's youth baseball tournament for engaging in a face-to-face, profanity-laced outburst with an umpire. Unfortunately, Williams' behavior is indicative of youth sports parents and their tendency to vent about everything: the coaching, deficiencies of their child's teammates, the opposing coach's tactics, and the game's officiating.
College coaches take note of parents who behave badly, because they fear it will continue at the next level in some form, thus affecting individual and team performance and chemistry and influencing the external perception of their capabilities as coaches.
What does the coach think when he observes inappropriate behavior by a parent, and how does he or she weigh the potential future ramifications on his or her own coaching situation?
"Is it worth it?"
"Will this harm my job security?"
Is it really worth it to bring in an athlete whose parents might disrupt the team and raise concerns among the administration and fans regarding the coach's ability to lead? Coaches want to win and also keep their jobs. When they see this sort of insidiousness, it makes them wonder if parent behavior will detract from their ability to coach and win—possibly getting them fired. Thus, if two athletes are relatively equal in ability, and one has parents who are a handful, the coach will opt for the safer recruit every time.
As an athlete, how can you can best deal with a parent who is behaving in a manner detrimental to you, your coaches and team? Don't be afraid to let them know how you feel. For example, tell them you don't like it when they yell at the refs, because it doesn't help you and it takes you out of the moment. If your parent's behavior distracts you from your focus on the field, it is obviously impacting your ability to perform to the best of your abilities.
Communicate how your parents' behavior can negatively affect your recruiting. Make sure you let them know, because your parents truly want you to do well. Tell them, "Let's figure out a way you can still root for me, be there to encourage me and be a parent first."
How should coaches manage parents? These days, it seems, you have to coach the parents as much as the athletes, particularly at the middle school and high school level. It's important for coaches to lay down ground rules at the beginning of the process and hold parents accountable. Make it clear there will be consequences—their child won't play or won't be a part of the team, or they will be banned from the games, period.
Start this approach early by drawing a line in the sand from Day 1 and prohibit your parents from watching practice. Practice is coach time and athlete time. Parents don't add anything by attending practice. It just puts pressure on their child by distracting them when they should be focused on getting better. Athletes should not be worried about their parents dissecting their practice on the car ride home or, worse, engaging the coaches after practice regarding similar issues. The reality is no one knows the team as well as the coach, who often has a plan and purpose for practice situations and resulting athlete shortfall, part of his or her strategic and individual development plan and experience.
Athletes and coaches: take charge of managing parents so they don't negatively affect your performance and recruiting opportunities.
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