Coaching the Parents: How Mom & Dad Can Help You
Get Recruited or Keep You From It… Written By Robby Wilson
“Don’t just sit there and watch the third strike, at least go down swinging! If you do that again, we’re leaving you won’t even play the rest of the weekend!” We’ve all heard it, seen it, maybe even experienced it – the travel mom or dad standing behind home plate, arms crossed, looking for the first thing to yell about, whether good or bad. But we’ve all heard it a million times that the parents are an integral part of the recruiting process for more than just finances, family support, and location.
Think about it…put yourself in a college coach’s shoes and imagine you’re recruiting a kid. Imagine the athlete you’re looking to recruit has parents that are yelling such as the situation above, sitting behind home plate tearing their own kid down. Then whether or not you see the dad/mom say something to the coach as well, the demeanor that is permitted with this team tells you that these parents are the type that likely will attack the coach about playing time, playing certain positions, making a good/bad call, etc. What does this mean to a college coach? It means that if he recruits this kid, the parents are going to be more trouble for the next 4-5 years than the athlete may be worth. If the parents have been able to act this way for years in travel ball, attempting to set a standard/expectations once beginning in college ball, not likely to be successful because they’ve built a habit of being able to do and say whatever, whenever.
Recently in June 2014, I attended one of the year’s biggest showcases annually in Colorado. In scouting various games alongside several of the college coaches, I had a couple of situations that were exactly this. Sitting watching game 1 with several of the coaches, they made the comment how well-behaved the parents were, how helpful they were, and how the girls seemed to be enjoying themselves while working hard because there was no “background noise.” BUT, then game 2 rolled around. Two different teams and two totally different sets of parents. The negative things observed in the first two innings:
Pitcher’s dad behind home plate shaking his head and throwing his hands up in disappointment. Mom even told the umpire a few times how blind he was and so forth.
Another dad watches his daughter strike out and as she’s walking back to the dugout, he grabs his keys and tells her “I can’t watch this stuff, just ride with Janey” and leaves.
Another set of parents even GO OVER to the dugout after a kid grounded out, and begins verbalizing their irritation beginning with words that would’ve gotten soap put in a kid’s mouth.
And believe me, I could go on and on about what I saw throughout the week in Colorado. It was very disheartening. The point I wanted to make with this particular time was that as soon as these parents began doing those things, each of those college coaches got up and left. One even crumbled up the team’s roster sheet and tossed it as he walked away. In talking to several of them later that day at another field, they all seemed very disheartened as well. One coach even said
“with so many people not wanting softball to continue to grow, why would the people in the world of softball continue to keep the sport down themselves? If we know these are negatives about our sport, why do we continue to allow it? I simply will not recruit a kid, nor will I recruit from a team where that type of stuff is permitted. I prefer the teams to have the parental agreement some of them have, where they sign agreeing that they will be silent unless it’s in support, they will stay away from home plate and away from the dugout, and enforce a 24 hour rule on discussing things with the players as well as the coaches.”
This really sunk in when I thought about it. And when I talked to several more coaches about it they kept mentioning the similar statement of “coaching the parents”, meaning that the travel organization and/or team coaches should have a set standard and explain the expectations from the beginning and possible even sign an agreement and enforce it.
This is not to say that any parents have bad intentions, that’s 99.9% of the time not the case. The parents love their kids, want them to do well, spend a lot of money and time helping support the kid’s dream of being the best they can be and eventually playing college ball. But sometimes our support, time and passion of the kid’s dream allows us to get frustrated when things don’t always go perfect, and often times it is displayed at the showcase or taken out on the kid. It’s never intentional, but always detrimental. This doesn’t mean the parents have to tell the kids everything is all sunshine and lollipops either. It means we don’t have to say anything at all!
You see, the girls have been playing this sport for 4-12 years. They’ve been trained and taught for moments like this and showcases like this. Normally if they make a mistake, make an error, bad throw, strikeout, these girls are so trained and experienced in the sport that THEY ALREADY know what they did wrong, so why do we need to remind them publicly? We don’t!
From a college scouting perspective I will tell you this…the perfect situation of which I’ve had numerous times and later on, ended up working with that athlete is this:
The kid normally is flawless defensively and is a threat at the plate offensively…the kid makes an error or strikes out. At the end of the play the kid either (1) Doesn’t even look over at the parents, or (2) The kid looks over at mom/dad with a frown on her face but without saying a word, mom or dad gives a thumbs up or a look meaning “dust your shoulders off, you’re ok”. Then the kid smirks a little grin. And for the rest of the game the kid is back in action and never misses a step.
You see what happened there? The parents might have been frustrated that their kid made a mistake, but they kept it inside and instead of scolding her, they gave her some positive motivation and changed the kids attitude and demeanor in one split second. “The coach’s job is to coach. The player’s job is to play. The parent’s job is to be a supportive spectator without interfering.”
Even with my own daughter and keep in mind as a scout, it’s part of my job to be critical…I don’t say a word during her games. I sit back, support, give the thumbs up on good things and give a clap during bad things essentially telling her it’s okay, and I don’t get involved. She can tell me after the game the mistakes she made and what she should’ve done, etc. I simply nod my head and agree. After each game she “grades herself” in the form of A-F and then explains to me why she graded that way. After she tells me those things, she tells me what she wants to focus more on during her training this week. And we leave it at that. No griping, no belittling, no more actual talk about it that night aside from where we’re getting ice cream from. All that being said, my daughter is 8 years old. If she is knowledgeable enough about the game of softball and her abilities to tell me what she did wrong, etc…don’t you think a teenager who has played for 4-12 years can do the same?
A Coach’s Perspective
Imagine being the college coach and scouting the kid mentioned above with the dad behind home plate questioning every call the ump or coach makes, while mom is in the stands gossiping about the team, coaches, and other players not being able to hold a candle to her baby girl. Now if you’re the college coach, do you want to deal with this family for 4-5 years? Nope! Because the minute she arrives on campus if she’s not starting or playing where dad thinks she should play, coach is going to hear about it. Not only that, but the college coach LOVES for the kid’s parents to attend their games because it builds support for the teams and puts rears in the seats! It’s a traveling fan club! But on the contrary, he/she would have to intervene if the parent(s) tried those same antics and possibly consider cutting the kid after year one. There is no kid, no athlete, anywhere, that isn’t replaceable. Some will argue differently, but the good can never outweigh the bad with situations like that. Just because this 2016 pitcher is throwing 60’s, is 6 ft tall, and has stellar academics and a big bat to boot…I have a few of those that are my prospects alone! So how many of those do you think there are out there for the college coach to find? He/She is going to move on, find another, and this one will have supportive parents who understand letting their kid fight their own battles and discover who they are.
On the other side of things, an ideal family as described earlier, is an ideal situation for the coach and can help drive the kid’s recruiting with that coach/school. How? Imagine two different girls, both 2016 pitchers, both great academics, both good bats, but one is hitting 58-60 while the other is hitting 63. But the pitcher hitting 63 has the yelling dad and gossiping mom, while the girls hitting 58 has the quietly supportive parents with the child who understands handling her own business. More stress or less stress? More friction and trouble? Or less friction and trouble? The kid throwing 58-60 is going to win out, every single time, every day of the week. Why? It’s much easier to have your pitching coach work with her and bring her speeds up and/or utilize her movement much more, than to deal with the dad calling you because his daughter isn’t pitching a game or standing behind home plate yelling at her because her drop ball isn’t dropping.
This goes beyond just what you see at the fields during game time. It’s what’s known around town. What the other parents say. What the parent is posting on facebook, twitter, blogs, instagram, and so forth. Everyone has seen the posts about questioning the coach, we would have won if my daughter pitched, the coach lost the game(s) for us, my super stud kid better get some playing time or I’m switching teams, and so forth. Whether you do it in person, in public later, or on social media, the negativity with a sense of “entitlement”, it is going to lose your kiddo many opportunities now and the cycle will continue into his/her adulthood in employment, as well as what they teach their kids.
What I Like To See
Whether the parents shows up in support but stays quiet, or simply cheers for everyone and even compliments the other team on various players and plays, those are the parents whose kids are probably smiling and having a blast while taking care of business on the ball field. I like to see that pitcher that has a homer hit off her and looks over and smirks at dad as if to say “she nailed that one”, and then strikes out the next at bat. I like to see that dad who has pirched up over on the left field fence out of the way because he knows he’s tempted to talk to her during the game and so he removes himself so he can be there in support, but not in mouthing and degrading. I like to see parents who keep it light. You may get tense in nerves because of the game, all parents do, but don’t let it show. Keep it light. Smile, have fun, dance even, but trust me – the fun loving good time will rub off on the girls and believe me, the girls have to be happy to play well.
We could go on for days on end about what to do and what not to do, but it’s actually not that complicated. The athlete playing softball (or any sport for that matter) must also have their “family support” considered by a college coach because it’s not just the kid who will be involved with the university and their program, it’s the family. And if the family is not the family you want around the program or that you want wearing your school colors at the game, there’s no kid too talented to move on.Travel coach should keep this in mind and possibly implement a structure and agreement with the parents, setting the standard on what is and is not acceptable, if you haven’t already. Parents should take a long, hard look at how they are during the games/tournaments. Talk it over with your softball player and get her perspective. Either way, the “family support” is just another piece analyzed in the recruiting puzzle that is widely known, but often overlooked. Hopefully this article goes a long way in confirming some of the things you’ve considered or wondered, but never knew for sure.