Parenting Your Student Athlete

Here is an excellent video from the Connecticut Association of Schools with tips on how to be a good parent of an athlete participating in interscholastic sports. All of you parents getting ready for tonight’s high school football playoff games might want to watch this first!

Coaching Dilemma – Athlete Dilemma

By Dean Hebert

The conflicts between club coaches and school coaches are well-known. On rare occasions the school coach also acts as the club coach for their athletes. However, far more likely the club and school systems are in competition with each other.

  • What philosophy on training prevails?
  • How are competitions treated? Is one put above the other?
  • Are training sessions cooperatively designed in the student-athletes’ best interest or is it a tug of war on what the focus will be?
  • Do one-a-day workouts become two-a-days or three-a-days as a result of coach and team demands?
  • What role do parents play? When and how should they intercede and advocate for their youth?
  • When there are opposing views – who settles them and how are they settled?
  • Is it about egos?
  • Is the athlete penalized playing time or positions if their loyalty to a team is questioned?
  • Is the athlete’s best interest being served?

Let’s just take one example of Mary Cain who lives in Bronxville NY. Not out of high school, this 16-year-old is an elite runner who sought out the highest level of coaching. She is coached by Alberto Salazar in Oregon. She no longer runs for her high school team. She has set national youth and high school records at distances from 800m to 5000m.

A talented high school soccer player who plays both club and school ball: Different coaches. Different approaches. Different training philosophies. Different priorities. Conflicting tournament schedules. The club coach clearly states the only way you will be recognized is through high level club competition. The school coach has college connections and insists on team and school loyalty. (i.e. If you don’t come to practice you don’t play.)

1. Situations are not all created equal. How many athletes are at a Mary Cain level – one. Odds are your youth athlete is not at that level. That means you will more than likely have to deal with several coaches along the way and some of them simultaneously.

2. Only 2% of high school athletes go to college on scholarship. And only .06% eventually go professional – and that only counts the major sports. If you are in an Olympic sport (like track & field) the odds are far worse.

Why do I bring this up? We have to put sports competition – and teams and coaches in the process – into perspective. This helps us deal with competing issues and contentious situations.


  • Focus on what the athlete and parents want; not what you want.
  • Have factual objective data, not your opinion, to back up your side. Whether that is how to train, what competitions are needed, what the future possibilities for the athlete are.
  • Let go of your egos. This is not about you. This about the athlete.
  • Communicate with the other coach and collaborate to make the athlete the best he or she can be. (This is rare but I’ve experienced it.)

Parents & Youth Athletes

  • Parents, focus on your youth athlete. This is not about you. It is not about the coach.
  • Keep perspective. It is not about potential. That is what dreams are about. The odds are clearly that one more team membership, tournament, practice or cross-training session will not get them to the next level.
  • Do not confuse “giving my youth every opportunity possible” with trying to “make something that isn’t there” or “giving my youth something I never had”.
  • Physical health and mental well-being should be the overriding objectives.
  • Keep open lines of communication. By high school the athlete’s wishes should carry more weight than a parents’ or coach’s in this scope.
  • Parents – ultimately you must be a voice of reason. Leave your personal feelings aside (easier said than done.) Use real data (not opinion) if you want to sway your youth in a direction. What is to be gained or lost? This is a learning opportunity for your youth about decision-making and accepting responsibility and consequences (unknown – good or bad).
  • Too much, too soon yields burned out athletes. They not only do not reach any hypothetical potential, they often walk away from the sport all together.
  • Remember that this is not a life-or-death decision.

I coach both club and high school. My perspective is that your high school years are supposed to be enjoyed. Being part of a school team is something almost every athlete looks back on fondly. You are in high school only once. It is where your friends and school-mates are. It does not have to be an either-or situation. If your club and school coaches cooperate you could have a fulfilling time with both. If not, then there is opportunity to take part in club sports when your high school sport is out-of-season. The one thing I know is that when egos and emotions are set aside and the youth athlete’s interest is served – we will have done right by them.

Dean Hebert M.Ed. MGCP is a certified mental games coach specializing in youth athletes and youth coaches. He has authored several books and hundreds of articles. He works with individuals, teams and coaches in all sports as well as performs guest speaking engagements on mental toughness. His website is

Is artificial turf a problem?

Let’s hope not. There are some who believe it may be an issue. See what you think in another article from the Los Angeles Times.

High School Camaraderie

The Los Angeles Times’ Eric Sondheimer, writes the local L.A. high school sports beat. And while this article is focused on the city he covers, it is applicable to any city where student-athlete transfers occur. We all know that college sports are big money and, therefore, there’s a lot at stake at the high school level and that athletes must do what is best for their careers. But it is also nice to hear stories such as these and think about the fun and purity that can be high school sports.

Response to yesterday’s post

Yesterday we told you about a parent whose child plays high school volleyball and the parents who are coalescing to get the coach fired. We received emails from the parent wondering what to do about the situation. This how we responded:

Thanks for the additional detail. This is a tough one with no easy answers and, without being immersed like you are, I may not be much help. But here are my thoughts:

Have you had a conversation with the woman leading this charge to ask her what it is they don’t like about the current coach? Maybe a discussion might help you get clarity or sway them, (probably wishful thinking on the second part)
I’m wondering why you do not want a change made. Is it that you are worried a new coach might favor the girls who complained over yours? If your daughter is good enough to be named a captain as a sophomore and all the girls already play because of the nature of the sport, is this something to be that concerned about? (If it were baseball or football where a second-stringer now might become a first-stringer and your child would waste on the bench it would be a bigger deal). Is it because you like this coach and don’t feel an ouster would be fair? This is also a legitimate reason to stick up for her.

Obviously your two choices are to either fight this or sit back and let the chips fall where they may. Who knows, the administration might decide not to make a change. But if it is really concerning you because you feel what is happening is wrong I think you are fully within your rights and maybe even obligated to speak with the AD and express your concern for this movement and your support for the coach. Are there other parents who feel as you do? Clearly if you’re not the lone voice your sentiments will have more impact.

That’s about the best I can come up with given the current information. I hope this is helpful and again, appreciate your email.

Another response to Parents and Playing Time

One of our more popular and oft-read articles, Parents and Playing Time, drew the attention of the parents of a high school girls volleyball player. Below is the email they sent in:

I came across your site when I google searched “Tips for parents dealing with other parents that complain about playing time”

In my situation I’m not the coach, but a parent of an athlete.  I will however say that my wife and I are former athletes that played at a high level and into college.  We’ve also coached in the past so to sum it up…”we get it”.  Our philosophy is “The coach is the coach and we are fans”.   Having said that, we’re now in a situation with our daughter’s team where a group of rogue parents are planning an attack to have our coach fired.  Playing time is their entry point to the athletic director, but I can see through the smokescreen to see that they have deeper intentions.

While they will complain about playing time of their kids or their kids playing out of position, their deeper intention is to ultimately try to get the coach fired so that they can make a push to get their coach of choice hired (their club coach) and get their kids into the positions they want them in.  This statement has been observed personally  by my daughter and other players and parents on multiple occasions who’ve overheard those parents and even their children boasting about it.  Unfortunately one of the positions being disputed is one that my daughter plays and she could very well be adversely impacted which is tough for me to witness.

I’ll go on record to say that their children are talented, but so is my daughter.  What sets them apart is:

  • Work ethic/effort
  • Attitude

My daughter puts forth great effort every day (in practice, classroom, conditioning, etc.), is coachable, respectful to the coach/parents/teammates/opponents/referee’s/etc.  We are parents that don’t run to coach when she sits when not performing well in games or has to miss a practice for illness.  These are all statements from the coach to us about our daughter not our own words.  I will say that this does not surprise us though b/c that’s what we teach our daughter.  As a sophomore she’s a 2nd year varsity player and a co-captain this year. (that’s another issue these parents seem to have b/c their children are upperclassmen)

Having outlined above, I’m at a loss as to how to properly go about handling this personally.  If I were the parent of those children, my approach would be (and has been) to encourage my child to reflect and work on their mistakes, work harder, be coachable, respectfully ask the coach what they can do to improve and if they can honestly look themselves in the mirror and say they’ve done all of those things then it may be time to accept that others are simply better or more deserving.  They are not taking this approach.

As a parent of a child who could very well be impacted by this situation, how do I handle it?  Do I still take your advice and let this play itself out and be a life lesson for her or do you feel it’s reasonable to also have a discussion with the AD about this matter in support of the coach?  Approach it in a very tactful and matter of fact tone to bring awareness of this situation and then hope he will do what he feels is the right thing.  I don’t claim to know whether the coach is good or not.  Although I understand the game of Volleyball, I don’t claim to know everything…especially when it comes to how the game should be coached.

Sorry for the novel, but I found your article to be directly in-line with my way of thinking.  The only problem is it addresses the situation from a coaches perspective.  How would you advise another parent who’s battling this type of situation?

We asked for more background and sent along this article because of the similarities:

I’m not qualified to say our coach is or is not a good coach.  Likewise it’s very possible that this coach those parents are trying to “set the stage” for is a great coach.  My issue is the method of attack those parents are engaging in and the fact that I and many other parents/players can clearly see that their children don’t work hard or have a good attitude.  Our kids have to walk a thin line too b/c a few (not all) of the problematic girls are African American and would not hesitate to pull the race card out at any time (I hate to reference that point, but it’s very much in play here).  I think our coach is passionate (definitely not a bully) about winning and developing a program that can be successful long term and produce players that go on to do good things in life (build strong work ethic and character).  My wife and I do not associate with her outside of saying the occasional hello and talking with her if there is a concern with our daughter.

Furthermore, in this case their children do get playing time.  It’s volleyball so there is a rather frequent rotation and substitution pattern.  No one plays the entire match, but some get more court time and some get less, but in large everyone does play.  The issue these parents seem to have is that their kids are either not playing as much as they think they should or not playing a position they think they  should be playing.

The scary part in all of this is that the lady leading the charge is the mother of a player that gets a lot of playing time and is positioned appropriately for her size and skill.  Again, she’s a talented player, but could have a better attitude, but that’s a moot point.  The scary part that I mention is that this lady is a high ranking administrator in the school district who happens to be African American and is using her power on behalf of the parents that have the actual issue.  They don’t carry much weight with them and likely (would) be chalked up to being disgruntled.   Honestly speaking, I believe this lady knows their ignorance would get in their way and stop them in their tracks because I see no reason she should have an issue with the coach other than the coach addressing the girls attitude.

Did not include this earlier, but I think are more relevant points to share.

Sorry for the 2nd chapter, but hopefully it’s helpful in allowing you to see the overall scope of my concern.  I want to do the right thing, but not sure what the right thing to do is exactly.  This is a very murky situation IMO.

Obviously a thoughtful email and interesting predicament. What would you suggest? We’ll post our response tomorrow.


What Do You Want From Your Child’s Sports Experience?

If you have children playing sports, or will someday, you may never have asked yourself what you hope they gain from the experience. In the beginning, we usually put little boys and girls into sports simply to see if they like it and to give them an outlet for their energy. But as they get older, Little League, middle school, high school and beyond, it might be a worthwhile question to ask: What do I hope they get out of playing?

There may be, and probably are many answers. One hopes that at the top, or near the top of the list is that they enjoy themselves. We wish for them to look back someday with fond memories – glad they did it. But too often we lose sight of this primary goal. We put so much pressure on our kids, to win – to be the best – to drive themselves, that we unintentionally risk ruining the best part of sports…the pure joy.

At the same time, I’ve written often before about the balance. Sure, some kids play sports solely to have fun and nothing more. And that’s great. However, others, even without parental influence, want more. They want to compete. To improve. To win. And that’s great too. Some of the most valuable life lessons about success and what it takes to attain it can be learned on the field, (or the court – the ice – pick your game).

What else might our kids get from sports? Some of us may wish for our children to learn habits of fitness and good health. Goodness knows that with the ubiquitous electronic distractions facing our kids everywhere, no one could argue the benefit of getting them outside unplugged, and running around in fresh air.

The social aspect of playing on a team can’t be overlooked. All of my children have lifelong friends they’ve made from their teams. And, on the positive side of technology, even after they have moved on from high school, summer or college teams they’ll be able to stay in touch through social media much better than I was able at their age.

I think back to what I hoped sports would do for my kids in their early teens. My only desire was that they’d have a positive structure to their days. I saw too many boys and girls who got to high school, got in with the wrong crowd, had no direction and ended up making big mistakes and potentially screwing up their lives or getting hurt. There is no doubt in my mind that when kids are on a team where accountability and performance are expected, where missteps would be public and have team-related consequences, they are far less likely to stray. Go to school, go to practice, come home. Not too much time to get in trouble with that schedule.

So it is important when we look at the question, “What do I hope they get out of playing,” that we remember we’re asking what we hope they get, not what we get. It is also a good idea to keep in mind that success is a journey, not a destination. Even if our children don’t turn out to be superstars, don’t get scholarships or play in the pros, their sports careers can and should be looked at as successes. If they were positive contributors to a team, became more healthy, figured out the correlation between work and achievement and kept their noses clean, if they made friends and had fun, they are winners.

Sports teach life lessons I doubt can be learned anywhere else. My kids have all had incredible moments of exhilarating joy in their athletic accomplishments. They have also experienced devastating failures that no parent would wish on any child. But you know what? They’re still here. And they’re still playing. And I have to believe that later on, when they eventually hang up the cleats, the way they survived the worst times on the field might end up being the most valuable lessons of all.

Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels which can be found at He can be reached at

Play high school sports, be fit for life?

A new study brought to us by our partner, PHIT indicates that those who play high school or club sports have a better chance of being fit fifty years later. More reason to encourage your teens to get involved in a sporting activity, even if they don’t have aspirations of turning pro or playing in college. Read the study here.

Are sports ruining our high schools?

The cover of the October issue of The Atlantic reads, “How Sports Are Ruining High School”. Author Amanda Ripley’s article, “The Case Against High School Sports” outlines the costs, financial and otherwise, incurred as a result of high school sports programs. She brings up some valid points. But there’s a lot she gets wrong.

If you would like, you can read Ms. Ripley’s article here. To summarize, she believes that our American culture is so obsessed with sports that we are more focused there than academics. She opines that not only does that focus detract from classroom performance for those who play, it causes students not involved in athletics to suffer as well. Money spent on sports programs could go to scholastic enrichment, she says. Less-qualified teachers are hired, only because they can coach. Ripley sites statistics from nations that do not emphasize athletics in high school that are out-performing the United States in graduation rates. She points to other cultures where parents are at home “practicing” math with their children instead of sports, and driving them just like a coach towards academic achievement. The author assumes that this is something inherently better for the child and for society.

The flip side of this argument of course, is what about the students who may not have a parent at home waiting for them after school with a plate of warm cookies and an open math book? We have all heard of inner-city students whose only guidance came from a coach or a sports team. These may be at-risk kids who would have no reason to stay in school were it not for the athletic programs offered and the fact that they had to perform at minimum grade standards to participate.

Most people believe kids should be well-rounded, not one-dimensional. Is it healthy for a child to get up early to go to tutoring, take a full day of the most challenging high school classes available, followed by an afternoon of SAT prep training then a late night of Advanced Placement homework with no outlet, no focus on anything other than academics? Of course, sports are not for everyone. And Ripley makes the argument that while it is a minority that plays sports, the entire student body is affected for the reasons mentioned above. But even then, plenty of non-athletes still enjoy their schools’ athletics as fans. Attending Friday night football or basketball games, cheering for the team with friends, can be a fun and memorable part of the high school experience. Perhaps The Atlantic feels those children would be better-served if they spent that time alone at home on their computers. And the article did not mention that there are plenty of schools that offer athletic programs and still boast incredibly high graduation rates as well as tremendous college placement results. The extremes – on both sides of the spectrum – are what we should take care to avoid.

Are there high schools in the country that might go over-the-top in their football programs and funnel too much money and attention there, when they should be thinking more about academics? Probably. But I’m not buying that the reason the United States ranks twentieth in the world in high school graduation rates has anything to do with our sports. Just four months before this issue, The Atlantic published the “surprise findings” that our nation’s high school grad rate had reached it’s highest point in forty years. And we all know that also increasing over the past forty years to its highest point ever has been our interest and participation in high school sports. Statistically speaking, I’d say that makes a pretty good case that sports are not ruining, but enriching, our nation’s schools.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times’ Eric Sondheimer, The L.A. Union School District has discovered a striking correlation between students’ participation in interscholastic athletics and their performance in both attendance and in the classroom. According to the study, the 35,000 student-athletes in LAUSD attended an average of 21 more days of school per year than their counterparts, while they also sported GPAs some 0.55 to 0.74 points higher than non-athletes.

“[The study statistics] prove what has generally been assumed, that participation in high school athletics, on average, positively enhances the student’s academic progress in comparison with the rest of the student body,” LAUSD commissioner of athletics Barbara Fiege said in a memo to the districts schools, obtained by the Times. “I believe that a large part of this,” she continued,  “is due to the intervention and guidance provided daily by qualified coaches, who understand the relationship between academic and athletic success.”

When my children were in grade school I used to pray that they would be on a team – any team, all the way through high school so that they had something positive to do, to aspire to, and would not be like the teenagers I saw just “hanging out” and doing who-knows-what. Throw all the statistics out the window. I can tell you from personal experience seeing the impact sports has had on my kids and their clean-nosed friends who are also teammates, we should be finding ways to ensure there are more athletics in our nation’s high schools, not fewer.

Brian Gotta is President of CoachDeck LLC ( He can be reached at