Two successful Utah high school head coaches were recently asked about the major challenges they face in coaching their sports — football and basketball. Their responses spanned from winning games to being father figures, from disciplining players to dealing with prep politics, from keeping their athletes academically eligible to shoving them away from drugs and alcohol, from controlling soaring expectations to finding enough personal time to save their marriages.
And, on a good day, if they’re lucky, they said they get to actually teach their kids transition offense and how to tackle properly.
The coaches spoke in unison about one of their biggest hardships: parents.
Some parents are crazy, the basketball coach said. They think their kid is better than he is. They try to tell you who to play and what to do. It’s like going to your doctor and telling him how to do his job. People are emotional and they think coaching is easy. It’s not.
The basketball coach once had a dad yell at his wife because his kid didn’t get the ball enough. He had a parent who wanted a guarantee that his son would get a certain amount of minutes each game. He called parents today spoiled. He said he simply tries to be honest with them.
A coach has to communicate, he said, and let parents know where he’s coming from.
The football coach said many parents are fantastic, but there are some who just don’t get it. They have unrealistic expectations. He’s seen parents burst into meetings and complain about the way their kid is being used. And, sometimes, the kids are more mature than the adults.
Both coaches said parents too often focus on their own kid, ignoring what’s best for the team. They want a college scholarship and are bent on getting it.
Fueling the flame, at least in basketball, are traveling teams that take better players from high schools and showcase them at tournaments.
Those experiences usually make kids better, the basketball coach said, but they also create entitlement issues. The people who run those teams tell kids how good they are, how they can play college basketball. That’s what they’re selling, but it’s not always the truth.
He said he tells parents that if their kid is good enough to play in college, fine. If he’s not, that’s fine, too. The problem with some parents is, they think only about getting to the next level. For most kids, it will never happen.
He wants his players to enjoy their high school experience.
A big struggle for coaches, they both said, is the comprehensive nature of the job, especially in a complex society filled with challenges that go far beyond playing games.
They listed violence, drugs and alcohol, grades, family problems and finances as issues they regularly deal with. They said a modern prep coach has to be a parent, a friend, a psychologist, a lawyer, a financial advisor, a disciplinarian and a father figure.
One of the coaches said he had a kid quit because he had to get a job to earn money to keep his family afloat. The other had an athlete charged with a serious crime, and one who got a girl pregnant.
The coaches also said the troubles facing Timpview football coach Louis Wong caught their attention. While they didn’t know all the specifics, they said many of their fellow coaches have deals with sports-apparel retailers in which they get benefits for their business.
They said they put an inordinate amount of time into coaching, and they get frustrated when someone from the outside wants to nickel-and-dime them.
Both coaches said they are paid little for their ever-expanding efforts, particularly because their sports, in one form or another, are stretched across the calendar now. The basketball coach said there are fewer "lifers" in the game. The biggest reason coaches get out, he said, is because of marital and family concerns. The financial remuneration isn’t worth the personal sacrifice.
He estimated prep head coaches are paid by districts somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000. Some make extra cash off summer camps, ranging from $500 to $15,000.
Money isn’t their motivation.
For some coaches, it’s an ego boost, a power trip, a bit of fame. But for most, they said, the excitement of being in the gym or on the field, of winning and working with kids in an environment where they can influence them is the biggest push and biggest reward. Scoring touchdowns and hitting big shots seems like life and death, the basketball coach said. But making a difference in high school kids’ lives is the reason most coaches do what they do.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
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