SIDELINES: Coaching baseball is fine, but dealing with parents is the hard part

Several hundred youth in Federal Way play Little League baseball for Federal Way National and Steel Lake.  - File photo
Several hundred youth in Federal Way play Little League baseball for Federal Way National and Steel Lake.
— image credit: File photo

It's official: I've taken the plunge into coaching my son's baseball team.

It's not something that I entered into lightly. I have resisted the idea of being a youth coach for a long time.

I had no problem with the actual "coaching" aspect of being a coach. That's the fun part. Teaching kids the sport of baseball — a game that I love and has given me so much — is a dream I have had for a long time. I wanted to take on the responsibility of coaching the sport.

The responsibility I was a little more worried about when I made the jump was dealing with parents. That is the sole reason I have stayed away from coaching my kids' teams for a long, long time.

I have watched countless games from the time they started playing T-ball. I have seen, and heard, the ugly side of parents in the stands. As part of my job, I have also watched hundreds of high school games during my time at the Federal Way Mirror and have seen parents behaving even worse.

I don't know where this all comes from. It seems like the entitlement of some parents, as well as some players, is a recent phenomenon. But that is probably an exaggeration.

As with everything in life, you seem to remember things from your childhood a little differently than they actually happened. My parents told me the proverbial walked-in-snow-uphill-to-school-everyday story when I was young. Now I catch myself telling my kids something similar.

The fact is there always seems to be that one parent or even a group of parents who always let the coach know just how bad of a job he or she is doing with the team. It might not be directly at the coach's face, but these parents make their presence known.

Most of the time, they are parents who believe their child is getting treated unfairly, and they are usually the people who are the least knowledgeable about the game.

I can kind of understand where these people are coming from. As a parent, you will do anything for your kids. That's just how it works.

As a coach, this is something you have to realize and understand, which isn't an easy thing to do. A select few parents just don't understand that they are not supporting their children, but hurting them.

I'm not lumping all parents into this category. Most of them are great and do everything they can do to support the coaches and players. But their voices are never the loudest. They just quietly watch their kids play and don't cause problems.

On the other hand, the upset parent is a nightmare to deal with. Most of the time you have no idea where they are coming from and what has gotten them so fired up. It seems like they are just mad to be mad.

I've said it countless times before: There are only a handful of kids throughout the Federal Way School District who will sign an actual scholarship to play any sport in college. And these kids are just better than everybody else. Plain and simple.

Parents need to understand this. Sports are about teaching life lessons and having some fun and making friends while doing so.

But there are a few things that can be done to combat most of the parents who can tear apart a team. The first is to set boundaries from the very start. Host a pre-season meeting that defines what is going to happen during the year. Explain playing time, explain that the kids are expected to be at practice, and explain the rules of the game.

Another thing that can be done is to give parents a job with the team. Obviously, you took the huge leap and signed up as the head coach, which means you get all the blame when things get tough. But, if given some type of job with the team, parents will take some ownership as to what happens during the season, good and bad.

It doesn't have to be working as an on-field assistant coach, either. There are plenty of other opportunities within a team. Stuff like coordinating the purchase and design of team sweatshirts, setting up a team website, finding a photographer who can take pictures during the season, taking charge of after-game snacks and many more.

Why do this? Because it's harder for parents to be critical of the job a coach is doing if they are part of the process.

The best lesson I've learned in my short coaching career is this — bite your tongue. You have to go into the process knowing that everybody isn't going to be happy with your decisions. Some parents are going to talk behind your back and even right to your face. This is just part of coaching these days.

Coaching, much like being a parent, is a very rewarding endeavor. But it's an endeavor that goes unappreciated most of the time. You have to take the good with the bad and realize that what you are doing will pay off in the end.

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