As I picked my 10-year-old daughter, Aspen, up from her gymnastics class, I could tell that she was visibly upset. She had obviously had a rough practice, and I knew that as soon as we got in the car I would hear all about it.
“My coach got mad at me,” she said.
“What for?” I asked.
“First, she got mad at me for doing a backtuck instead of a back handspring. Then, when I was doing my kip, she got mad at me for not holding on to the bar right. I started to cry, and so she told me to walk laps around the gym to cool off and wouldn’t let me do vault until I was done crying.
“I don’t like my coach,” she announced. “A good coach wouldn’t get mad. She would see that I was crying and feel bad for me. I want a new coach.”
When she was done talking, I knew it was my turn to say something — and I knew just what she wanted me to say. Aspen wanted me to side with her, completely agreeing about how awful her coach is and that she should never get mad at her.
And as much as I knew that this would quickly stop the tears and make Aspen my best friend for the night, I knew that responding that way would only make things worse in the long run.
So, I took the hard road.
“Aspen,” I said. “Did you do what your coach said?”
“Well, I didn’t hear her right. And when I told her that, she said that I needed to listen better.”
“After you listened, did things get better?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
I went on to explain to Aspen that her coach’s job was to teach her correct technique. I told her that sometimes coaches yell and are hard on you. I told her that her job as an athlete is to listen to her coach, do what she says and not to take things personally.
I wish I could tell you that Aspen was happy with my response, but she wasn’t. She was upset that I didn’t side with her, and it was evident in the pouting that took place over the majority of the drive home — but I knew I made the right decision.
Had I sided with my daughter in this particular situation, it would have set a pretty clear message. It would lead her to believe that it is OK to undermine her coach — it would make my daughter uncoachable.
Too often, parents will speak poorly of coaches in front of their children in an effort to quickly remedy the situation. What they’re doing, however, is causing more problems in the long run.
Always siding with your children in situations such as these makes them unable to take criticism. It makes them believe that they don’t need to listen to their coaches, something that will prevent them from excelling in their sport or in life.
The next time your young athlete comes to you with a complaint about his or her coach, think twice before you undermine that coach. It may be hard, but trust me, it will be worth it.
Arianne Brown is a mother of six young children, and is an Altra, PROBAR, Nuun and Unshoes sponsored athlete. For more writings by her, search "A Mother's Write" on Facebook. Twitter: A_Mothers_Write