THE POWER OF A COACH: TO MAKE OR BREAK A KID…
From the mailbag:
Our child was bullied by a dad coach in a sport that she loved early on as a child. Fast-forward to age 12 and now you are one of the “good” players in a larger school and you get asked to play for a combined team of “good” players. The only drawback is we questioned whether we wanted our child to play for this team because of the intensity of one of the dad coaches. We talked with our child about the dad coach and how we felt about his coaching style but in the end agreed with hesitation to be on the “team”.
The season started out great, it was fun, and the kids had a good time. All along we were waiting for the monster to rear his ugly head. Were we wrong? Had we misjudged him? Nope, not so much. The first tournament game, things were fun, kids played well. The second game of the tournament, here it comes, the ugly head. We see our daughter sitting on the chair by the coach, slumping, and upset. We knew something had happened. What had happened?
Here are the comments made by a dad coach that wanted his child to be the star when my daughter asked to go into the game: “The good kids are on the court, just wait.” The best hitters are on the court, just wait.”
Then I hear the comments from his daughter on the court: “Why did you hit the ball over the net, you need to pass it to me so I can hit it over”.
I want to call the coach, but my daughter pleads with me to not say anything because it will cause problems with the kids on the team and she would be embarrassed.
She goes to the next game, plays well but with little playing time. But the damage was done. She hated playing on that team. We made her finish the year. She sat on the bench most games. She didn’t want to make a mistake that would result in getting pulled out of the game.
The season finally ended and we left the team. But the agony was far from over. The next year of school started and it was time for volleyball season. She had been friends with these kids since first grade. Some of them no longer would talk to her, and made her feel like a loser. So add insult to injury, now you have no social network.
We have endured hours of sadness. This experience forced us to consider moving to another town. But what would we be accomplishing? She had to grow up fast, too fast. Present day, two years later. She has found a different network of friends. Her personality has changed, her free spirit and energy has been lessened. She doesn’t want to stand out in the crowd. She no longer plays the game she loved to play. She seems to be happy, but does not attend any school sports functions.
We are here to tell you as parents; stand up for your kids. Go with your gut feeling. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t feel guilty, angry and sad that we didn’t stop it. As a parent, it is uncomfortable confronting this kind of bully. It is awkward. You don’t know how to do it constructively. No one has the right to treat your kid unfairly. No one has the right to determine his future, or his attitude towards the future. We failed at going with our gut. The damage is done.
It is obvious that you love and care for your daughter deeply. It is difficult to see the effects a coach, teacher, or someone in authority or in a role of power has on our kids. You are correct in saying that it is important to go with our gut and stand up for our kids, confronting the real issues and protecting them when we see it will bring lasting damage. Because it is often difficult for us to be objective with our kids, this takes a lot of discernment and courage to communicate and humbly address what we are seeing while listening to wise counsel.
My hope is that every youth coach gets a chance to read this. The power of influence that an adult coach has on a child can greatly shape the many years to follow.
It is also important for us as parents to walk through these journeys with our kids and be the mature helper along the way. It is heartbreaking when youth sports cause more damage than good. The intention is for fun, growth and development and when we lose sight of this, great harm can be done.
If you have comments or questions for Tom Kuyper, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.