This article was written by:
former Head Baseball Coach
University of Kentucky
Recently, when coaches talk to me about the most pressing issues concerning their baseball programs, ranked near the top along with gender equity, scholarship reduction, and finding a quality left-hander, is the increasing problem of parents interfering with the coach-player relationship.
Fortunately, in most cases, parents train and support their young players; and then at the high school and college level, they turn them over to professional coaches. It is a wonderful thing to see a parent teaching a seven-year-old how to catch, throw, or hit a baseball, but it is downright embarrassing to see a parent yelling instructions from the stands or coaching behind the dugout during a high school or college game.
Everyone, except the parent and especially the player, is embarrassed by this type of interference. Even more out of place is the parent who complains to the coach about playing time or where his/her son should be hitting in the lineup. The conversation usually end with, "I would not want him to know we discussed this."
Why don’t they want their son to know ? Their son wants to be a man and handle his own problems, if there really is one; unfortunately, some parents want to "fix" everything for the son, not allowing him to grow up. I wonder how many calls Gen. Schwarzkopf received from parents discussing the strategy of using thousands of 18 and 19-year-olds during the Persian Gulf War ?
One coach of a national championship team recently shared with me a story about returning victorious from the College World Series in Omaha only to receive a phone call as he was walking in the door of his home from a complaining father about the lack of his son’s playing time and playing time and possible transfer.
Whatever happened to the team concept ? I have had other successful coaches share similar stories. One very successful Division I coach recently resigned, citing parents with unrealistic expectations and interferences as one of the major problems. He said, "IT JUST WASN’T FUN ANYMORE."
We all have roles to play in the development of these young athletes. As coaches, we are so blessed to be a part of their lives. Our role as a coach is to provide an opportunity for the athlete to fully develop the skills needed to become the best he can possibly become while fulfilling the important task of fitting into a team concept thus ensuring success for the team.
Some suggestions for coaches who may encounter the "Parent Syndrome":
1. Communicate openly with your players about potential problems. Let them know that you choose not to discuss strategy or playing time with their parents.
2. If parents call or write, let them know immediately of your policy not to discuss strategy or playing time with them. Also, make sure you make the parents aware of your desire to discuss academics, or any personal problem that may help you work with their son.
3. Alert the player that any phone calls received from the parents that concerns playing time or strategy will be discussed with the player. Also let them know that any negative letters received from parents will be shared with the player.
4. Treat your players the way you would want your son treated. Make fairness to players and parents priority. Remember, the young man in your program will be your player for just a few years, he will always be his parent’s son.
Some suggestions for parents dealing with your son’s baseball career:
1. Baseball gives a young person an opportunity to compete and play within the framework and guidelines of a team concept. Encourage your son to be a team player. Spend as much time discussing the team as you do his individual performance.
2. Help you son to grow and mature by allowing him to handle his relationship with his coach by himself. Unless the coach is placing your son in danger of hurting himself, let him handle his problems. You may suggest to your son positive ways to approach his coach and the respectful way to discuss the problem, but don’t interfere. If a coach is forcing your son to play with a serious injury or allowing him to throw too many pitches on too little rest, they you have every right to step in.
3. Talk to your son more about effort and less about performance. Otherwise you are expressing conditional love, i.e. "If you go 2-for-4, I love you. If you go 0-for-4, I don’t love you."
4. Praise a positive attitude regardless of performance. Make your son aware of negative attitude and negative body language regardless of performance. Attitude is a choice, performance isn’t.
5. It is encouraging for a player to see his parents in the stands cheering for team. It is embarrassing for a player when his parents try to help coach or when they try to get too close to the coach. Peer pressure can be devastating if your son’s teammates see you as someone wanting special favors from the coach.