Yep, that’s right, I should have been kicked out of the last game that I coached. No, it wasn’t a state tourney game for high school softball; those days are over. I was asked by my daughter’s high school rec softball head coach to be a sub for him because he was going to be out of town on business. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity because I like to coach. I will get to the ejection that never was but should have been, but I have some things I have to get off my chest first.
I knew about it during my 17 years of coaching, but this first year after coaching full time has brought more clarity to the issue. A year in the stands when you aren’t worried about who the next three batters are and what the scouting report and the spray chart says, well, that allows a man to take it all in; gives a man time to ponder. The issue that faces every team out there involves one key item, ROLES. The question that no one asks themselves is “What is my role on this team?”
Don’t mistake this. The players are the least of my concerns as a coach when it comes to roles. Oh, there are players that don’t understand their role or don’t accept it, but there are a lot of people in the realm of sports that don’t understand the role they play.
Here are the roles in sports, and everyone falls into ONE role: Player, Coach, Official, Spectator, Trainer(medical staff). You can’t do two roles or problems happen.
Take for instance the dad (or mom) on the sidelines that is coaching. I can spot this early in games, especially the younger levels – before they get to high school – but it happens there too. A player will look into the stands after a strike out or during a time out or when the ball goes out of bounds on a sideline. If you are this parent, please stop. You are undermining your team. A player should never look to the sidelines or stands instead of a coach or teammate during a game. If they look to you, then they are listening to you when they should be listening to their coach. I understand that you think you are doing something good, but you don’t have a clue about what the strategy is. You weren’t in the pregame discussion. You weren’t involved in practice. You don’t know.
I saw this at a soccer game recently. On a stoppage in play, a player came from the other side of the field and parents (not hers) were yelling that someone needed to get to her side of the field. She hesitated, but ultimately stayed. I later found out that the coach on her original side of the field had instructed her to move across the field. It was the strategy of the coach. So this player was hearing two strategies, the loudest being the parents who didn’t have a freaking clue about what the coach wanted the player to do. Parents need to stop coaching. If you are upset by my example thinking that as a parent you should be hollering directions to players, then quit being a part of the problem. The players need to hear one voice of instruction/strategy during the game, and that voice is the coaching staff.
As a head varsity softball coach, I am accustomed to the second guessing that goes on from the stands, which is another example of parents stepping out of their role and trying to coach. I don’t know how many times I have heard comments like “Why didn’t he bunt in that situation?” or “Why would he steal there?” And every time it was player error because they missed a sign or went on their own accord, not a coaching mistake. Yes, parents, I know it is hard to believe that little Johnny or Janey would take it upon themselves to do the opposite of what the coach has asked of them. It was the player trying to be the coach. Again, when we step out of our roles, teams encounter problems.
One season, it became too big of a problem for me, so I did something that my assistants thought was crazy… I had my players go home and teach their parents our signs. Guess what? My second guessing in the stands almost disappeared. Our parents knew when the bunt was called but the player didn’t do it. Now, that was an interesting second half of the season. Parents, your job is to cheer, support, encourage, laugh, and cry with your son or daughter when they play their last high school game. And every once in a while get on an official, but only just enough to support your coach… because that is the coach’s job to deal with officials.
I harped on my players about how to handle officials. It’s easy as a player. You say “yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, or no ma’am.” A coach is a different story. A coach is the instructor, game manager, personnel manager, and the “facilitator of discussion with officials.” Do coaches cross the line sometimes? For sure. I have been there a couple times. I have also heard parents make comments about how awful the coach was acting while dealing with an official, and usually that complaint is because the parent doesn’t understand roles or the game, or both. In games, coaches often get into it with officials, but it is because that is the coach’s job. Players should never argue with officials. When a coach sees injustice according to the rules of the game, then it is their role to right that injustice. Parents umpiring from the stands just ticks off an official. It has never changed a call, but I have seen it cause an official to make more bad calls. It isn’t because they are out to get that team. It is because when half of the stands are chewing your butt, you just can’t focus or concentrate as easily. I have officiated softball, baseball, football, and basketball. The easiest by far is football because the fans are so far away from the field. I only have to deal with coaches, and they know the rules. Well, most of them. Think about it, when the football ref throws a flag and calls holding, what do the fans in the stands say? They say, “Come on boys, quit holding.” When you watch it on TV at home, you say, “That wasn’t a hold.” Think about it.
Parents, you are not the coach and you are not the official and you are not the player. You are the parent, so excel in that role. Just because you played the game doesn’t make you the expert. I have driven a car for decades, but that doesn’t make me a certified mechanic.
A couple nights ago, I found myself back on the field as a coach, a substitute softball coach. The umpire didn’t know a basic rule of softball, and that was where the “facilitation of discussion” started. What the rule was or what the call was doesn’t really matter. I was right, and she was wrong. Three times I questioned the umpire on three different occasions. The first time, the call was reversed. The second time, the call was not changed, so I said my part and left it be. The third time, she repeated a mistake from earlier and didn’t say my part and let it be. No, I let her have it. In fact, my goal was to get ejected. Yes, sometimes a coach plans to get a technical or penalty or yellow card or in my case, ejected. And she wouldn’t do it! I was trying to get the boot, and it didn’t work. So the game is over, and I look forward to stepping back into my role as parent. Cheer and watch and every once in a while get on the official without really getting on the official. As a soccer parent, I simply holler, “Girls, when the defender grabs your arm while you have the ball, you have to knock her hands away.” Then I see the soccer official smile, and I know I have fulfilled my role as parent. Then when the game ends, we go for ice cream because every player, whether tee ball or high school wants to have some ice cream.
Know your role to achieve your goal!