Every year it’s the same thing. During their school seasons, players tell their travel coaches that they are ready for summer. In the middle school years players may simply be excited to play the higher level of softball. But during their high school years, there are often numerous issues that can cause players (and their parents) to just want it to be over.
This raises the question: What is the responsibility of the travel coach when a player tells him/her about issues she’s having with school ball?
My perspective may be slightly different here, since I coach varsity and travel softball. ***Disclaimer*** Please understand I am not stating that all school coaches are incompetent, egotistical or mental (LOL). Nor am I stating that all travel coaches are better than school coaches or are perfect. This is just something that I see every year during the school seasons.
Be a Good Listener
Let them talk/text. Give them time to express their concerns. Don’t complete their sentences or thoughts. Let them explain. Many times girls just want to vent to somebody and there’s no better person than their trusted travel coach. And often they will be fine afterwards.
Your players have different personalities. Sometimes you have to ask them for clarification (aka pry it out of them) in order to understand what they’re issue is. For example, one of the biggest problems every year is dealing with drama on their teams. It’s hard to give advice if you don’t know the details of this drama. If it’s something more serious than gossip, you may need to think it over before giving knee-jerk suggestions.
Don’t Get in the Middle of It
It may be tempting to call the girls school coach and discuss the issue. However, a better solution is to advise the player to talk to the coach themselves. Regardless of the outcome, the girls can learn valuable life lessons by leaving their comfort zones to approach an authority figure about their concerns.
Check the Ego
When players and parents give you respect and praise, it’s a great feeling. Knowing that you’re making a difference in people’s lives is awesome. That said, one of the most admirable character traits a person can have is humility. Don’t allow yourself to be placed upon a pedestal so high that you can’t possibly live up to it. Stay humble and try to avoid trash talking her coach and/or player she has issues with.
What She Needs to Hear
It’s always easier to tell your player the things she wants to hear, rather than the things she needs to hear. For example, your player complains about another player or her coach. After you listen to her describe the issue, you realize that she is partly to blame. It sure would be easier to echo her sentiments than to be even slightly critical of her.
Rather than pacify her, you need to let her know that she shares some of the fault. Even if you’re empathetic to her situation, you should remind her that she is a member of a team and/or that the coach is in charge, followed by suggestions on dealing with it.
Instead of enabling the player to be the victim of circumstance, teach them accountability. Teach them how to deal with their problems, how to properly confront people and when to let things go. Teach them how to make the most of bad situations.
The bottom line for travel coaches is to try to teach their players to handle their problems themselves. You can give them guidance on choosing which battles to fight and which to let go. Often in asking questions you may find that they’ve figured out a solution during your conversation. Being honest with and holding them accountable can be the best medicine.
There are of course more serious situations that could require a more stern approach. Parental intervention might even be advisable in certain cases, possibly getting the athletic director or even the school board involved. However, many of the less adverse issues provide real world teachable moments for the girls, where they can learn to go to bat for themselves, while developing extremely valuable communication skills in the process.
While finishing this article, I became aware of an example of one of the more serious problems that happens with coaching in general. I have seen this issue many times in little league, middle school, high school, travel and even in college softball. It can be an impossible situation to deal with. I am talking about Bully Coaching.
This is a topic that I recently read about on a blog. I've not used the term before. But, it perfectly describes the situation that many players have to deal with (in all sports). When it comes to dealing with it in travel softball, if the problem cannot be resolved, the player and parents can walk away. It's not so easy concerning school sports.
What is bully coaching? When a coach belittles or personally attacks players, treats players with bias and disrespect, inconsistently applies rules to the team, etc. I'm not talking about yelling or being a disciplinarian. It's more complex than that as good coaches yell or must discipline their players from time to time.
An example would be a coach who takes a player aside, tells her she just cost them the game and maybe she should consider giving up the sport or her position. A coach who might say something like, "Oh that's great Suzie....way to lose the game for us!" in front of the entire team. A coach who makes Suzie run sprints for being 5 minutes late, while Sally doesn't have to do the same when she's late.
Understand that those are mild forms of this problem. I know many real examples of far worse. When I see this type of behavior from a coach, I think, "Why is this person even coaching?" This problem has provided me with the inspiration for my next article: How to be a Great Coach. I hope to have post it by next week.
Thanks for reading and sharing! ***The pictures above are of me with some of my travel players at their school games. It is one of the highlights of coaching school ball for me.***