Last weekend the high school season ended with the semi-finals and finals taking place, while the official beginning of summer travel softball began for Michigan teams. It can be very chaotic for coaches, parents and players, since in Michigan players are not allowed to play travel softball until their high school seasons have officially ended. I had players taking exams and attending their school banquets Thursday and Friday, missing our pool games and two players playing in championship games for their varsity teams.
Well, this new required training was concerning sexual abuse, mandatory reporting of harassment and abuse and bullying.
I had to borrow players from our 14u team or my 16u team would not have been able to play. Next year, our A teams in 14u, 16u and 18u will not be playing in a tournament that first weekend. It’s just too stressful. Instead, we’ll get our teams together, divvy them up, scrimmage and have a big cookout. That is something we have been doing in the fall and it’s a great experience.
While that will help relieve much of the stress of ensuring we have enough players between the three teams to be able to play, there are other concerns that continue to come up each year. My team competes in ASA (USA), PGF and USA Elite Select. Each has their requirements in order for your team to be eligible to play in their tourneys. It takes an incredible amount of time registering your team and rosters each year. Birth certificates, parents have to login and approve their players, Captain U, ACE Certifications for ASA coaching and team insurance, concussion training, etc..
But, apparently that’s not enough. This year there’s an additional requirement from ASA (USA), which must be met in order to carry our team insurance. Last week our coaches received emails stating we must take the online Safe Sport training. And it had to be completed by June 22. “Hmm, I wonder what kind of training this is,” I thought. Well, this new required training was concerning sexual abuse, mandatory reporting of harassment and abuse and bullying.
So. Let me just start by stating that I am sickened every time I read or hear news about sick SOB’s in our society, in and outside of the world of sports, who sexually or otherwise abuse children. This blog was never intended to be political, so I’ll do my best to keep this post from going there. Yet it is spilling over into the sport. This new training was split into three modules with quizzes and videos. It took me around 2 hours to complete it. Add those certificates to my coach’s notebook I must carry to every tourney.
I am going to share my opinion with you concerning this new training in a moment. But first, a bit more about who I am.
**Note** I am only using myself as an example to make a point in which I have no doubt many coaches out there can relate to.
My mother died in 2004. She was the mom straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. From home cooked meals to patching our jeans, she was the most loving and supportive mother I could imagine. When we needed a hug, she was there for us. Mom just wasn’t afraid to show those she loved that she truly cared about them. People simply did not visit Mom without getting a hug and a “love you”. No one person impacted my life any more than my mom. She was the family rock who encouraged us to chase our dreams and live a good life. Even in her dying days in hospice, she comforted those around her. She just made people feel good, always giving more than she received. Unapologetically, this is part of who I am and how I raised my 3 daughters.
My Dad was the provider, ensuring we never went without. He worked for General Motors on the assembly line until he retired. He’s 80 years old today and doing pretty good. Dad is an old school man. He was raised strict and that’s how he raised me and my siblings. One of my favorite sayings I got from him was, “If you’re going to do something, do it right.” And he lived by it. The biggest impact my Dad had on me came from watching him care for his wife, my mom, for the year that she was slowly dying in hospice in the home I grew up in. That’s love. And it was a side of my tough old Dad I had never seen. And it changed him. He is an old softie these days. I also began to realize the many ways he had always taken care of his family, friends and neighbors. He just did it in his own way.
I share these very personal parts of my life with you, because those experiences shaped who I am. As my youngest daughter was going through her softball career (from youth league through college) I learned so much about the game, recruiting, coaching, etc.. I developed a love for it and in particular for coaching. I decided to start this blog, get back into travel softball coaching and help as many people as possible with their softball journeys. There is no doubt that both of my parents have affected the way I coach. Those who are closest to me can probably see that.
Now for the training
The vast majority of this training was what used to be considered common sense and basic morality. That is, knowing right from wrong. Yea, stuff like a coach inviting a player to their hotel room and making sexual advances towards them. And I won’t pummel you with the hundred additional stomach churning examples I had to read and watch in this training. I’m sorry, but thanks Captain Obvious. I couldn’t help but think this training was the result of a bunch of lawyers deciding they needed to protect the powers that be from the likes of Larry Nassar.
So don’t drape your arm around the shoulder of a player crying from a tough loss, poor performance or injury with her dream college coaches watching her (otherwise known as a hug). Nope. Give her a fist bump coach! A fellow coach who just completed this training laughed about the number of times he saw female college coaches hugging or patting players on the backsides during the college world series. Apparently these coaches did not take this training (Face Palm). It’s ridiculous that we even think about these things now. Have I sexually abused players with hugs or pats on the shoulders? I guess I may have to wait 20 years to find out, since the training made it clear there were no restrictions on time for reporting.
But that was just module 1. The second was about harassment and abuse. Again, physical/verbal abuse falls under the common sense category for me. You don’t slap a player in the face or call her a derogatory name for any reason. You sit her on the bench. Module 3 was about bullying. You don’t single out a player with a bad attitude by making her do burpees for the entire 3 hour practice. You sit her on the bench. If the nonsense continues, you tell her parents they are better off finding another team. And then there was an example of players bullying another player by sticking tampons and pads on the player’s locker. “Is this bullying?” the quiz asked.
But guess what? What if a coach looks at a player wrong or says something she finds offensive? You know, like after repeated instruction to call the ball, she fails to do so and continues to run into other players causing injuries and errors. Put your happy face on coach and don’t mumble a choice word, because that could be abusive. And to further stress the matter, coaches are told we are required to report to the police such incidents of harassment or abuse (that is the suspicion of sexual, verbal or physical abuse or bullying) and without first or ever confronting the coach in question. Failing to do so could result in our being held responsible for the matter in the court of law.
A collage of these new certifications
I wonder if parents and spectators will be forced to take such training before attending sporting events in the future? You know, like to prevent cheering for their team when a player from the other team makes a throwing error to lose a game. They could call this Parental Sensitivity training. And while they’re at it, they may as well include Umpire Sensitivity training for coaches, players and parents. Abuse is abuse you know and umpires have feelings too.
The work place has an infinite number of examples of this approach to managing problems. For example, Betty is not getting her job done, because she’s constantly using social media on her phone. Rather than address the issue with Betty, the boss makes a rule than nobody can use their cell phones during work hours. It’s the Bad Apple rule, where one bad apple spoils the bunch. It’s the same approach with travel softball coaching now (and likely other sports) as apparently annual background checks aren’t good enough anymore.
There was a widely publicized and disturbing story from the west side of the state a few years ago that involved a travel coach having sexual relationships with his daughter's friends and teammates. I'm sorry, but I don't need to watch videos, read slides and be quizzed to know that that is sick and wrong! But, I had to do just that with this training.
The 16u players I coach know that I am 100% committed to each of them equally. And that’s what I expect from them towards the game, practice and the recruiting process. This requires a simple trust between the players (and their parents) and me. A parent just asked if I could drive their daughter home last week, because they had to work. In school ball there is a rule that a coach cannot leave the field if a player has not been picked up by their parents yet. They are to wait with them. “Yea Sally, you’ll have to wait up there and I stay down her until your folks get here” or “Well, I guess she’ll have to miss the games.” Seriously? I also frequently exchange texts, phone calls and emails with my players. According to this training, that’s a big no-no. How dare I treat them like young adults, holding them accountable, while trying to improve their communication skills.
My office wall - My daughters, my Dad and players from the past couple years. Every spring I try to get out to their high school games.
Numerous former players I’ve coached still text or call me, whether they’re still in college or graduated. I just saw several former players during the past couple of weeks and they walked up to me with their arms open giving me a big hug. And I’ll be damned, so do the parents of these players. These are players I have pushed to their limits trying to help them be the best they can be (the Dad side). They’re players who sometimes needed a hug or extra encouragement, so that’s what they got (the Mom side). And I have seen plenty of coaches over the years do the same, who also enjoy the same relationships with former players and parents. The vast majority of these coaches had daughters who once played the game, often through college.
When you’re coaching and you go on the road 7 extended weekends during the summer with the team, you really get to know each other. Whether you’re all sitting at the hotel pool or inside playing Euchre (a Michigan thing) and having a few beers with the parents or going out to dinner, you spend a lot of time together. We talk about our jobs, families, life experiences, etc. We form friendships. The players bond with each other and do their teenage things. It’s a heck of a lot of fun! This is not just about hugs or pats on the shoulder (that's just the most obvious example), it's about the constant push to remove the human side out of coaching (or teaching and other careers involving children). Some societal progress we've made. Maybe future coaching will only be handled by artificial intelligence (face palm)?
Sorry, but I for one will not remove the human side of coaching from my ways. I am not a damn robot! Again, this isn’t just about me. I simply used my story as an example. I know a lot of great men and women who volunteer their time (and money) to coach various sports. And there have been many coaches who have had positive impacts on the lives of my daughters; most of which are still coaching. It disgusts me that we must be treated as ignorant, insensitive or even guilty by forcing us to endure this kind of ridiculous training. I hope all of this politically correct nonsense does not get to the point where good coaches, in particular male coaches, begin to walk away from helping young ladies learn the game, life lessons and someday to play college softball. That would be a damn shame!