“Son, my name isn’t Knight to you, it’s Coach Knight or it’s Mr. Knight.
–Coach Bobby Knight, Legendary Coach at Indiana University
Scary coach, scary man. The notorious Head Men’s Basketball Coach of the Indiana Hoosiers is at the center of legend and lore which includes more than extraordinary wins. He was known to use vulgarity privately and publicly; he even threw a folding chair across the gymnasium playing surface on one occasion. Be afraid; be very afraid.
In an era gone by, misbehavior by coaches was often tolerated, if not expected. A young mom asked me what has changed through the years in sports parenting; in particular how did my parents relate to my coaches versus today’s parents. Most of those I was familiar with, including my parents, kept a distance from their children’s coaches. There was a presumption of the coach’s respectability and his ability to know what was best for players.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not 100 percent on board with that blind trust in today’s culture of youth sports…at any level. As the parent I recommend a partnership with your young athlete and the coach. Your role is not only to communicate with your child, but with the coach. Much of your job is to be proactive in learning about those men and women who will exercise authority over your child in your absence.
In the earlier years, you will be able to be in close proximity at practices as well as games. You can size up the coach’s demeanor and overall ambience of the experience, because you are physically there. As your children get older, you may not be welcome at practices. We instituted this policy because children do not need to have spectators as they are learning more advanced skill sets and strategies. Performance pressure from parents and fans does not have a place in the academic classroom, and we felt it was the same in the sports classroom.
In order for parents to trust us, we demonstrated transparency, provided relevant information, held meetings, established rapport, had regular communication. Our coaches were monitored for their behavior and selected for character traits. They were valued role models and represented our school. Coaches were available to parents to receive positive or negative feedback, with respect. Our community of parents and players gained trust from this proactive approach.
I caution you however. You cannot as a parent assume that every community league, every sports instructor, every school handles their coaches the same. Therefore, do your homework. Meet the coach, and learn more about him/her. Ask for information about prior experience either from the coach or the administrator. Check in with your child regarding his impressions. And if you are concerned, drop in on practice for confirmation. Schedule a meeting with the coach and/or administrator to find out more.
Once you have a level of satisfaction that your child is safe, it is still advantageous to keep open communication with the coach. Refrain from seeking him out after a game to discuss concerns. Avoid comparing other players with your child to the coach, or discussing playing time. Approach conversations with respect and a desire to understand, and with civility.
Each year, at our son’s football welcome picnic, the head coach addressed parents and athletes. He would set expectations for the season, how he would approach issues. I recall a succinct statement he made that set the tone from the outset. He said: “Don’t call me about your son’s lack of playing time. First of all, it implies a comparison with other players who are also vying for playing time. What I tell you will not be something you want to hear, because I will be honest about my assessment of your son’s readiness and ability.” We respected the message.
There are few Bobby Knights lingering today, especially coaching younger athletes. Parents have wised up, and there’s no place for denigrating athletes or dishonoring the sport. You have the right, as well as responsibility, to know your child’s coach well enough to have a conversation about the weather, or about a concern. I am convinced it’s a much healthier approach for coaches, parents, and athletes.