Divert your eyes if you do not wish to hear me rant about coaching, again. It is something I am passionate about and so it certainly does belong on this blog but not necessarily in your mind.
As a coach of primarily girls I sometimes catch myself standing at the back of a boat in disbelief and frustration as a group of talented, hard-working individuals lily-dip their way through a practice. The emotion I feel? Disappointment, frustration, even anger. I have caught myself mid-sentence about to speak from the heart realizing that they’re just kids. It stops there. Despite that, the beginning sentences of my speech still linger in their mind and I am regretful. Coaching was really about sharing what I love. The expectations I have for athletes are high and not all fit that niche. It is through realizing this that my speeches become more and more sparse as I learn that those who are passionate will pull through. The others simply need someone to support them along in their experience until they too find something that they love.
Recently I have immersed myself in a different kind of culture. One that beams with Canadian pride and is the trademark of Canadian children; hockey. I have watched kids come from hockey to paddling and vice versa. I have watched the experience from the outside looking in. What follows is an anecdotal tale that, I am sad to report, highlights so many things that needs fixing in youth sports. Out of control coaches, over-bearing parents and confused, passionate children who just want to play. A toxic tornado of passion, envy, ignorance and lack of education. Now this is not to isolate hockey itself, this happens in every sport. That is the point, why does it happen in youth sports? Hockey is a sport that encompasses thousands of children each year and yet still things go under the radar.
I have cried because of bad coaching and teaching. The crying was not because I was fearful or because I felt that I knew better in a world of adults. The crying was because I loved my sport so much, yet felt so worthless, yet wanted to keep going. I was conflicted. The crying happened because the system works in a way that exhausts the complainer and punishes the athlete. The first thing on every kids mind is, “What will happen to me if I say something?”, “What if they do not believe me?” . Mine was especially, “Oh good Lord, what will my parents do?” (you have to understand my parents got shit done). The truth is, that second question is highly common. I got in the habit of writing things down, mostly because apparently people cannot just take the truth for what it is, you have to document it. It does not matter whether you are in Grade 3 or in Grade 8. You become a writer because you have to.
The worst thing I have heard as a coach is a parent coming to me and justifying their daughter’s emotions. “She cries about a lot of things, just keep pushing her and she’ll get over it.” I am not saying I am the expert on coaching girls but as a former female athlete dismissing tears and upset is the last thing you should do. Must you comment on it every time? No. Must you find the source of the tears? Absolutely. Practices ending in tears are not simply forgotten. They build up and eventually lead to the major breakdown- the one a lot of people blame on over-training and overload. Yes, an overload of unresolved emotion.
This brings me to the point of this post: You have to coach girls differently. You have to discipline differently. Just like I would have to learn how to coach boys more effectively the same goes for male coaches taking the time to learn how to coach girls differently.
It does not matter whether or not girls have played their whole lives in boys sports. It does not matter whether or not she “acts” more like a competitive boy. She is a girl. She sees and thinks things differently.
Tone is everything. Scream at your athletes and that is all they will hear, anger and upset. They have to believe that you want them to succeed. The level of which I am talking about is quite competitive and they are older which is why it is even more important to be wary of the way one coaches. Girls will drop-out and at the age of 13-14, that is the last thing we want to encourage.
There will always be a social aspect. This does not mean women or girls want less competition, they just have a superior understanding that their relationships are important in competition. Pre-practice/race/game rituals that have stuck for years must continue. We always had dance warm-ups, as ridiculous as that sounds, it was important to us.
Girls lead differently. They not only have a strong willingness to lead, they have a desire to connect with everyone. I was once told to not be so available to the girls I coached, they needed to crave my attention. Having the girls know that I was there to chat alongside coaching was the height of our coach-athlete relationship. So obviously that piece of advice was not followed.
There will be emotion. A lot of it. I touched on this earlier but I will discuss it more. Female athletes usually do not just cry because they feel like it. Admit-tingly, the reasons behind the crying might not be too logical but they are still reasons. The problem is that in the flurry of emotion and just trying to get on with the day sometimes conclusions are drawn up by coaches even before talking with said crier. I have believed, “Oh, she’s just tired.” “She’s probably just mad at me.” I have heard, “Trust me, I know my kid, she’s just crying like she always does when she’s mad”. Alright, but who actually asked her directly? The conversations I have with girls often are very different than what I have been told and change the dynamics between us founded more on building a solution together than building a solution for mom and dad or the other coach.
So where does this end? Understanding the responsibilities of coaches, empowering athletes to speak up without fear that their athletic careers will be jeopardized, and providing families with an effective disciplinary protocol. Education. Knowledge is power, know your athletes, know yourself as an athlete, know your child as an athlete-not just as your child, know your rights. Do something.
Anybody can be a coach which is the scary reality. However a coach’s job is to provide a safe environment above all else, and based on how youth sports go these days, not everyone is capable of that responsibility.