“If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”
At some point, unfortunately, all coaches run into problems with players and/or their parents. Some problems are major issues and some minor ones. A well-prepared coach has a set procedure to deal with these occurrences head-on. If problems are not dealt with quickly, assertively, and tactfully, they will boil over onto the field. When this happens, the exact cause isn’t always apparent to the objective eye. Although, the bush league atmosphere will be apparent.
If a player has broken a training rule, has poor grades, has a poor attitude, or has done anything that clashes with team rules or my coaching philosophy, I feel compelled to say something. Sweeping a problem under the rug only allows the problem to fester and become worse. Too often, coaches try to ignore things. I understand that as coaches of young people we must pick our battles, but you know how it goes, “give an inch, they’ll take a mile”. For example, I am a stickler about players being on time. If I ignore the lateness of one player, the message is then sent throughout the program that it’s OK to be a couple minutes late. Pretty soon another player is late. Then, players start coming 10 or 15 minutes late. Talk about “bush”.
I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t handle the situation on the spot. The best way to handle most problems with players is in PRIVATE. Private can be behind closed doors or at practice 20 feet away from the rest of the team. Berating players with a loud, foul tone in front of the rest of the team may work once, but it will soon create an air of hostility. Handling things one on one tells the player that you’re focused on his issues and his correction for the sake of the team, not embarrassment. I have a friend that was also a high school baseball coach. He was a great first half of the season coach. I know this because we used to play his teams twice each season, once at the very beginning of the season and once at the end. When we saw his team the first time they looked sharp. They were focused. When this coach said jump they’d say, “How high?” Then during the progression of the season, his supposedly constructive criticisms became louder and more public. When we’d play them at the end of the season, the players seemed skittish during pre-game warm-ups, as though they were walking on glass. The moment one player would make a mistake this coach would verbally jump all over the guilty party. This continued throughout the game. His players lacked enthusiasm and were having no fun. Rarely did he pull a player off to the side and “talk” to the player. I’m not saying that he had to be a teddy bear, but people run from grizzly bears.
The next scenario is when someone has a problem with you and your coaching. Typically, the problems that I’m referring to are in relationship to playing time. Usually the problem is related to playing time. Hell, I’d be disappointed in a player if he/she didn’t want to play more. My first step is to address the players and parents at the parent meeting at the beginning of the season. I feel that it is much easier to anticipate potential problems and not have any, than is it to not prepare for problems and then have to deal with them. Our team’s procedure has 3 steps:
1) I want to hear it from the player 1st, not the parent. I want the player to approach me one on one, before or after practice. If something is bothering a player enough, he or she should be mentally tough enough to address it with the coach. I will not discuss an issue on the phone. On the phone, people say things they don’t mean. As well, words are misinterpreted via lack of visible body language. If the parent approaches me about a pressing issue, and it is the first time that I’m being made aware of it, I politely tell the parent that their son or daughter has not brought that to my attention. I then add that I would like their son or daughter to see me in private prior to the next practice. Until then, it is not a discussion point.
2) After the player has addressed the problem with me, if he is not satisfied, I will make an appointment to meet with the player and the parent(s). 95% of the time it will not come to this. Most players accept what you tell them during the one to one meeting if you give them honest reasons. But keep in mind that that not everyone shares your perspective, honest or not. The biggest and most important rule in this situation is to not discuss other players on the team during this meeting. If you allow this to happen, the parent will quickly compare his kid to every player in the line-up. As opposed to being a supporter of the team, the parent will tear down the skill and ability of any given player ahead of his/her child own on the depth chart. The proper way to conduct the meeting is to focus in on what his/her child can do to improve.
3) If there is no resolution to the problem at this point, I advise the parent to make an appointment with the athletic director or principal of the school. In a school situation this option exists. It really should only be used for emergency situations. School administrators should have more important things to do than worry about who’s playing 3rd base and hitting 5th for the baseball or softball team. You want to maintain the support of the administration. Only involve them in very difficult situations. They will appreciate it.
By following this procedure, the number of peripheral issues that can distract a team will be filtered. A player will think twice before going home after practice and griping, because parents’ initial reaction will become, “Did you talk to your coach about it?” If the player answers, “No,” then reflection upon the validity of the problem goes on in the player’s head. Upon reflection, if it is still a problem to one of my players I want to help them figure it out. That’s part of building a cohesive “non-bush league” team.