Last week a Texas volleyball coach resigned as the head coach of the high school where she played 12 years ago after just one year on the job.
In the wake of that resignation, a debate erupted about the litany of issues facing coaches of youth and prep programs. News stories pointed to parental complaints about playing time and a lack of support from the school’s administration.
The outcry was nothing I haven’t heard repeatedly in the last 18 years of covering high school and college sports.
Fault-finding, quick-to-criticize parents are not new.
Administrators who would rather keep parents happy than back a coach’s decision are not some recent development in high school sports.
Coaches have been losing their jobs over “politics” for as long as sports have been a part of the high school experience.
But there are things that make these modern situations different from the ones I witnessed as a high school athlete.
First is the frequency of the attacks on coaches.
The job has always involved listening to a lot of parent grumbling and complaints.
But in the last 10 or 15 years, more and more coaches have experienced a real effort to have them fired. The worst part is that it isn’t because they’re incompetent or abusive. It’s over playing time or win-loss records.
Our society is quick to extol the virtues of playing high school sports for all the right reasons, including studies that show students who participate have better self-esteem, better grades and tend to see college as an important life goal.
But while we’re talking about all the reasons high school sports can enhance the lives of our children, we’re also creating through our actions an incredibly toxic situation that saturates them in all the things we hoped sports might help them avoid – entitlement, ingratitude and selfishness.
Go to any high school game and sit in the stands. You’ll hear perfectly good people in any other setting screaming insults and obscenities at just about everyone participating – officials, coaches and even other children.
Second is the way social media makes it a very public event. Now when parents want to target a coach, they have a half-dozen ways to find co-conspirators. I remember flyers being distributed at a local high school calling for the firing of a football coach who’d been on the job just one year.
Now from the privacy of their homes, critics can paint a devastating picture through online message boards, comment sections, Tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts that cause real pain for coaches, who, by the way, are lucky if their wages equal anything near babysitting money most of the time.
And third, prep sports has become big business. Programs need money to compete, which makes parents with money even more powerful than they’ve been in the past. That dynamic does a few things – makes an administration more willing to listen, a coach more likely to succumb and other parents more inclined to “fight for” their child.
It isn’t just playing time on the line.
It’s publicity, awards and scholarships.
And while public interest and scrutiny has increased, the demands have also exploded. Coaches used to just teach the fundamentals of a game, and then draw up plays or find a strategy for those kids they taught to win enough games to make a run at a title.
Now coaches are also responsible for offseason programs and development, as well as monitoring student athletes' grades and making sure they get scholarship opportunities. They have to recruit their own players to attend the neighborhood high school, convince their players not to transfer and offer what the winning programs are offering.29 comments on this story
The evolution of prep sports has created a lot of ugly realities. Some of those mirror similar changes in other aspects of our lives, like a general sense of entitlement, lack of respect for authority and an unwillingness to experience failure.
But no reality is more unsettling than this – talented coaches, who also happen to be quality human beings, are abandoning the profession at an alarming rate because of these shifts.
As they leave, ask yourself how you would fare in the world we’ve created for our children and grandchildren.