Cincinnati Post
Friday, February 17, 2006

Parents, coaches can be combustible mix

I don't know David Drachman, but I know how hard it is for a parent to stay out of his child's affairs.

I don't know Deb Gentile, but I know that she was very successful and highly respected in 27 years of coaching girls basketball at Wyoming High School.

I don't know all that happened between them, or who ought to win the lawsuits she has filed over her dismissal and his alleged harassment, but I know that bad situations usually get worse when a parent confronts a coach.

I happened to see the Wyoming girls pull out a tense victory the other night in their first-round sectional game. They had an advantage, that being the considerable experience they've acquired this year in tension. They also have scrappy guards and a conspicuous lack of height in the post, a commodity that was to be provided by Jackie Drachman, a 6-foot-2 senior whose season ended prematurely in a spate of she-saids and impetuous replies.

It's all very complicated, which high school sports have generally become. For that, parents are largely responsible. They're the ones who transfer their children to better programs and pay for their extra training and carry them to faraway tournaments attended by college recruiters. It is with a corresponding sense of entitlement that they observe their young stars in the high school setting.

To an undeniable extent, they, the facilitators of youthful talent, are indeed responsible - perhaps as much as the coach - for a measure of whatever success a particular prep team may ultimately realize. For this, the coach should be mindful and appreciative. He or she should not, however, and cannot, permit the parents to run the program.

Inevitably, the adoring moms and dads will try. They've watched this group grow up. They know what the kids are capable of. Especially their own.

"That's where sports rage comes from," said Donald Albertson, a former youth coach and league commissioner who has just released a novel ("Catch a Rising Star: The Adult Game of Youth Sports") that revolves around the subject. "Parents have such a strong financial and emotional commitment in their kids' sports, and they expect to see results. Unfortunately, the one who's bearing all that is the kid. They haven't reached adulthood yet, and yet they're bearing the emotional responsibility for the whole family.

"You're fighting against a parental mentality that is very self-centered and very focused on their one star. And they tend to see everything else circling around that. They're probably thinking that he or she is the only one that's going to come out of this town. It's often very hard to reason with such parents."

Even so, reason remains the best option in this discomfiting scenario. Silence can work, as well. Some local high schools go so far as to forbid parents from speaking to coaches about playing time; but such an unbending policy can also fester the frustration and exacerbate the bickering behind the coach's back.

I've often found it peculiar that schools routinely schedule parent-teacher conferences, but rarely provide for regular dialogue between parents and coaches. Wouldn't the vexations be relaxed by occasional, pre-arranged chats in an edgeless environment?

"What I try to tell people," said Albertson, a New Jersey resident who frequently speaks on such topics and whose Web site ( provides links with related information, "is you have to talk to one another. Parent-coach sessions may very well be an answer.

"When you have a problem is when there's a knee-jerk reaction. The first thing is to respect the coach's position. Maybe the coach can give the parents another perspective on the situation. Often not. Maybe the parents might plant a seed. Communication can be a very good thing."

It is almost certainly not a good thing, however, if it occurs in the emotional aftermath of a trying game. Nor can it be constructive when a parent, in the absence of rapport with that impervious figure whose mystifying moves have ruined yet another night, pollutes the player's temperament with familial disenchantments.

The resulting attitudes are the kind that can taint a promising team and cause a good coach to abandon the profession, as many have; voluntarily and otherwise.

Contact Lonnie Wheeler at

Copyright 2006, The Post



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"It is clear that Donald W. Albertson has identified important issues and dynamics associated with "family involvement" in youth sports…. With the individualism, "family values," and "focus on the family" of today, parents see that nobody has their backs, so they better get in the face of everyone who does not do right by their kids-in fact, they now feel that it is their moral obligation to do so. If Tom Anderson helps people realize these things, it may be possible to bring about real change."

- Jay Coakley, Ph.D.
author, Sport In Society: Issues and Controversies



As a sport's mom of three children (ages 6, 9 and 11), I am on the soccer and softball fields for practices, games and tournaments more than I want to admit. My exposure to youth sports began about five years ago. Each year I keep seeing more parents and coaches becoming more vocal and out of control. I don't know where Mr. Albertson (the author) coached, but I can almost bet that he is in my own town, as I think I can identify these characters as people in my town.

Sports mom "Julie" (Cedarburg, WI USA)