Parents always want the best for their kids involved in sports, especially when it comes to playing time and the ways their child is used within the team structure. So it goes without saying that there will always be some degree of dispute between what parents think the coach should do, and what the coach decides to do based on his or her coaching evaluations. In most cases, upset parents keep their opinions to themselves – but sadly, this is not always the case, as evidenced by a breaking story about a high school basketball team in Michigan.
Regarding this latest story where head coach Wayne Gigante stepped down from his high school coaching position, it’s impossible for us to know all the reasons that led to his decision. Maybe the parents were out of line, maybe his coaching style had inherent problems, or maybe it was simply a bad combination of both. Regardless, there has been a disturbing trend in American youth sports for many years now, one that illustrates the powerful influence some angry parents can have on a team — even to the extent of pushing coaches out.
Assuming Gigante didn’t do anything out of line and was simply trying to use his coaching judgements to get the most out of his players, it’s sad to see him leave because of parental interference. Gigante seemingly reached his “tipping point,” where the enjoyment he got out of coaching kids eventually became outweighed by some parents who lost sight of the effort, dedication, and complexities involved in being a coach. As we all know, it’s a lot easier to “coach from the sidelines” than it is to actually be the one on the front line having to make the tough decisions.
Each year we see fewer adults want to go into coaching, as evidenced by the rapidly shrinking number of teachers who want to coach. In just the last 20 years alone, we have seen a dramatic spike in the number of non-teacher coaches (over 70% of high school coaches today), prompted by the fact that schools in America simply cannot find teachers in the building who find the job of coaching worthwhile when considering all that comes with it. Sadly, if more stories like the Michigan basketball story emerge in the future, there may be even fewer people (teacher-coaches and non-teacher coaches alike) interested in coaching. This is a terrible concern for Athletic Directors nationwide, trust me. With fewer adults interested in coaching, more schools will be forced to consider the unthinkable – the possibility of cutting the athletic team altogether.
Unfortunately, too many parents today are unaware of this changing landscape and the reasons why fewer adults are going into coaching. Instead, there seems to be a modern-day template for some parents that presumes some kind of “ownership” over the team and the decisions that the coach makes. The pressure from parents can be overt in nature (i.e. yelling obscenities from the stands), or covert (i.e. creating some behind-the-scenes backlash against the coach). In either case, it creates a toxic coaching environment.
It’s unfortunate when good coaches are pushed out because of uninformed and/or irresponsible parents, but it’s also becoming more of the norm. Interscholastic coaches don’t make much money coaching — they go into coaching for the love of the job. Sadly, when the “fun” element gets removed (like in Michigan high school story), many good people decide to walk away as a result. Why would a coach making very little money and devoting enormous amounts of time and energy into coaching continue to stay around when the parents involved are doing everything to make his life miserable? Perhaps it’s for this reason that we all need to take a step back and appreciate all that goes into coaching, rather than try and run coaches out of town who don’t coach the way we would like them to with our kid.