I have been a high school wrestling coach for the past 21 years. I have coached youth lacrosse, soccer, and wrestling when my kids were young. This is not a bash on parents. I am a parent as well. It is only a justification from a coach’s standpoint on why it makes the “coach’s” job more difficult when parents are coaching their kids from the sidelines.
I am a parent of two kids, who are highly involved in sports. I sit at many games watching from the stands. I, on occasion, get excited and yell instructions to my own kids when they are playing. For the most part, though, I only yell encouragement and the ever so often rant to one of my children to “run” … “fight for the ball” … or “hustle.” Really, that’s about all I can offer to them when they are playing. I haven’t played lacrosse, field hockey, or soccer. There is not much I can say to them outside of the encouraging them to be more aggressive or play with more intensity. I am not knowledgeable enough about the finer details of the game to accurately provide coaching in their sports. Truly, my goal for my kids is for them to play hard and work hard in practice and in the games. I know those two skills alone are transferable to most other areas of life; and if they do those things, most likely their skill in the sport will be adequate — if not excellent — with time and experience and they will be successful.
As a wrestling coach with approximately 40 kids each year, it can be challenging to hear contradictory instructions and coaching from parents. Our program has a specific system in place to not only teach wrestling but also accountability, discipline, and a strong work ethic. We spend many hours developing our system in practice. We fine tune our system each practice. Each day we have a plan in place for what we want to accomplish. It’s rarely, if ever, “winged” or made up on the fly. From 2:30-2:40 p.m., we warm-up with sport related activities. From 2:40-3:00, we work on conditioning. From 3-3:20, we work on technique A and how to effectively execute it in various situations. At 3:20, we work on combining technique A with previous taught techniques of B,C,D, and E. At 3:45, we set up match situations to practice techniques A-E in a “live” setting with an opponent actively trying to resist. I think you get the point, but this is how most practices are run at the high school level and beyond. There is a logical plan in place to teach our kids “the game” with the end-goal being to win and be successful.
When game time, or match time, rolls around, we have spent hours to prepare for the contest. That doesn’t mean we are 100% ready but we try to be to the best of our ability. We begin the game and a funny thing happens. Our opponent also has a plan. They evidently didn’t get the memo that we have a system to run and their plan is negatively affecting our performance. Obviously this is sarcasm, but that’s the reality. That is sport. Two teams competing to win. Things usually do not go exactly as planned. For that matter, there is no perfect plan. Coaches put out their game plan and try to execute it as efficiently as possible with the expectation that mostly likely it will need adjusted throughout the contest. These plans are unbiased. They are not personal in nature towards any player. They are developed with the available personnel in mind to best win the game. These plans can change game to game or match to match depending on the opponent. When our players hear information from the stands that is different from ours, it makes us nervous. The information is not part of the system that we have practiced diligently for many hours. The information is contradicting the time we spent with our players to prepare them for this event. So our preparation, strategy, and plan is highly compromised in a game when our players are hearing different messages contrary from what they’ve heard in practice. It creates confusion to the players and undermines the trust that is created between the players and coaches in practice. Furthermore, throw in a loud crowd, the weather, fatigue, and the general anxiety of a game, often times a player’s performance is hindered, not helped.
In a previous blog post on toughness, I referenced our love for our child that sometimes impedes their maturity and development of grit. I believe what we say to our kids during the game isn’t any different. We want them to be successful. Our vision is clouded with our own biases. We see things differently when our interest goes well beyond an athletic contest. Our kids will be our kids forever. The game might be two hours long but after it is over we leave and go eat dinner as a family. You will always be their dad or mom who loves them and wants them to be successful regardless of the number of goals scored or the minutes played.
From a coach’s perspective, we want as few distractions as possible. We want to execute the plan we have in place. The plan that we practiced day after day. The technique that we drilled all week leading up to the contest. We want our team focused on the task at hand. If adjustments are needed, we will see it and make them accordingly. Hopefully not too late. We see the whole team. Not just one player.
When I watch my daughter play, I see her a lot more than the other players. My focus is mostly on her. I see everything she is doing almost as if I am looking at her under a microscope. “Why did she do that?” “Wow, she just got hit hard.” “That was a good shot!” Then my son. “Why isn’t he running hard!?” ” He just shot from too far away!” “Catch that kid!” It’s almost like no other player exists. You almost forget that it’s a team sport because you follow your child around the field analyzing every move and turn.
When I am coaching my team, I see 40 players and I am concerned about each of them learning our system for us to be a successful team. I am monitoring many different personalities and attitudes. John needs pushed harder. I need to lighten up on Jacob. Tim needs more work with his shot. Jeff’s defense is great, but his top work is struggling. Why can’t Billy get out on bottom!!!!???? Can someone tell Brian that we are wrestling a match and to get ready!?
None of it … I mean none of it, is personal. The question always is, what do we need to do to get better? If I ride a kid, it is only because I felt he could have done better and is capable of more. A coach has a vested interest as well. Let’s not misinterpret when coaches are tough on players. It’s for them. It’s for the team. It is not for any other reason. As a parent, I would be more concerned about why the coach isn’t pushing my kid to be better. What is my child doing to not get pushed? Is he being a bad teammate? Does he have a bad attitude? Does he not listen to feedback? Is he not coachable?
Food for thought.
John Klessinger is a physical education teacher, high school wrestling coach, and fitness trainer. He has been a public high school teacher and wrestling coach for the past 21 years. John has worked in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, and group fitness instructor for the past fifteen years. To read John’s blog, visit https://coachkless.com or visit his Facebook page. He also has an eBook titled “Strong Mind Strong Body: A 21-Day Personal Development And Fitness Guide To Live Your Best Life” that can be purchased on Amazon.