Friday, February 17, 2006
Parents, coaches can be combustible
I don't know David Drachman, but I know
how hard it is for a parent to stay out of his child's
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
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 (donaldwalbertson.com) 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
Contact Lonnie Wheeler at email@example.com.
Copyright 2006, The Post