JUNIOR HIGH SPORTS
Point to Ponder #3
October 1, 2012By Tony Uggen of Northfield High School
Point to Ponder #3
This edition comes via a suggestion from a parent who caught me at school and said “ I wish you wrote something about athletes who look into the stands.” Always up for a challenge I accepted.
We have coaches for a reason. They are there to teach their athletes the game they love to the best of their ability and to be role model for our kids. Obviously, based on experience, some can do this better than others but deep down most are truly trying to do the best that they can to take adolescents of a wide variety of abilities and mold into a team. Believe me, that’s quite the challenge sometimes.
The first few weeks are spent teaching and molding these kids so that the parts, little by little, fall into place. The first few games go well. The parents watch their sons or daughters play hard and the results are positive and the coach and the team is feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment.
The next game rolls around and the coach is in the midst of a tight game and the crowd is in to it and the kids are fired up and you call time out and to the coach’s astonishment he sees one of his better players looking up into the stands. And his heart sinks. He know instantly who they are looking for….that coach in the crowd…..their parent(s).
Now, don’t get me wrong. Something can be said about the importance of having a parent at a contest and looking up and feeling loved and supported. Believe me nothing is quite as sad as a kid who never has anyone there to support them. In fact, I remember and still feel bad for a kid I coached for three years and never SAW his parents…EVER! I am sorry, but I don’t understand that, but it’s true. I will save this for another point to ponder.
I am talking about the kid who is being instructed from the stands, who, in front of everyone in attendance, is basically stating by their actions that “my dad (or mom) knows more than my coach.” And at that moment, “team” becomes “me” and the break down begins.
It happens. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this because someone has obviously witnessed it already at NHS this year. This is demoralizing for a coach because at that moment he or she is no longer coaching the team. The team is fragmented. And when one (team) becomes many (individuals) a whole new battle begins and as Abraham Lincoln said (borrowing from Mark 3:25) in 1858 “a house divided cannot stand.” Same holds here. Once a team divides the result is inevitable unless a coach can rope them back in. But you have to realize that now the coach is spending time putting out a fire rather than preparing the team.
That all said, the intention of the parents may not be to embarrass the coach but that’s what occurs (that and a lot of frustration to be honest). Sometimes, some families are just close and the eye contact in the stands is more of an affirmation thing as in “hey, you are doing great!” Sometimes, it is the parent trying to live through the child. I read an article recently (sorry, can’t remember which one) that called this “reverse-dependency” to which most of us know as “living through their children.” They just want their kid to be the star (often that they weren’t) whether they truly have the ability or not. Though I can understand this a little…who doesn’t want their kid to be a star?….it still creates fragmentation among the team and causes the coach unwarranted grief and embarrassment.
Finally, there are just some who can’t let their kid be coached by anyone else so “look up here so I can tell you how things should be done.” It just doesn’t work and is certainly not fair to the other players, the coach, the fans or anyone else associated with the team and will eventually create alienation among all involved and yet one more fire the coach has to put out.
And what does this teach our kids? It’s not about team. It is about me. Well, I’m sure it could be frustrating to be a D1 player (and remember….there are few of those!) with teammates who can’t carry their weight no matter how hard they try but last I checked the name on the front of the jersey says “Northfield” (in our case anyway). Your name is on the back (if at all). There is a reason for that….you are part of your team. And when all the parts work as one, great things can happen. Just try to take the spark plug out of your car’s engine. Doesn’t run too well does it? Now take your “spark plug” out of your team and see what happens? Same result.
So what can you do then to help your coach and team? First of all, explain to your athlete that everyone plays better as a team. Encourage them to be supportive of their teammates and to show the coach the respect that they deserve by making eye contact with them. After all, you are playing for the coach not whoever you are looking at in the stands. And don’t forget, you are sending a message to that college recruiter who just happens to be in town that you put yourself before team. You think that’s what they are looking for?
Remember, a house divided cannot stand. There’s a lot to take away from such a simple expression. And when we work hard to stand together everyone will have a more enjoyable experience, most likely more success, and will create memories (positive ones) that will last a lifetime.