Edson: Parents Can Make Or Break A Sports Program

Sometimes it’s not the athletes or the coaches that determine a fate of a high school sports program.

“There have been times when I knew the season was a lost cause before the first practice,” I’ve had more than a few coaches tell me over the last 40 years.

The reason?

Parents who had unrealistic expectations. It might have been expectations about how many minutes their son or daughter was playing. It might have been the team’s win-loss record. Or it might have been something as little as “feeling included” as part of the team’s outer group.

The sad part is that more than a few good coaches have left their jobs or retired because of parents.

As the son of a lifelong coach, plus my own experiences as a sportswriter, I have seen so many good people become irrational parents once their son or daughter becomes an athlete.

Heck, I coached American Legion baseball for 21 years and saw some unbelievable behavior. Luckily, I talked to many successful coaches – including my dad – over the years and learned some lessons that helped me cope with some of these parents.

It all starts with communication. First, between coach and athlete. That’s when you sit a young athlete down and tell them realistically what their role on the team will be.

Secondly, communication between the coach and the parents. Many coaches have a general meeting with a parents group before the season to lay out the guidelines for interacting.

But sometimes even great coaches can feel the wrath of a parent.

I remember 20 years ago covering a boys regional basketball final. The northern Michigan team that won was out celebrating at center court. Everyone was there but the head coach. An irate parent was screaming at him over at the bench because their son didn’t see enough playing time.

It was embarrassing… for the parent. The son was at center court with his head down, ashamed at what his dad was doing.

Most parents think their kids are special athletes. Some of them are, most of them aren’t. But they can all be good role players. The secret is for the athlete and the parents to accept that role.

My dad used to say that the trouble sometimes started around the kitchen table, when a parent would question their athlete. If the athlete is honest, he’ll tell the parent the truth about where he fits in on the team. If the athlete doesn’t feel they are living up to the parents expectations, they’ll throw the coach under the bus.

That’s where the pre-season meeting and the communication comes in handy. If everyone is clear about their roles and expectations, the season goes a lot smoother.

But that’s easier said than done.

If parents could just be supportive of their athlete, their coach and their program, high school sports would be a lot more enjoyable.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.