We have received several items in response to our request for blog articles and topics. The following is a letter from a player to her coach about what she would say if she could. We are posting this because we feel that it might help other players and their parents if they are faced with the same situation. If this impacts you, please share it via social media using the Facebook and Twitter logos at the end. Thank you!
What I would tell my coach if I could.
It is only two weeks into the travel season and I already want to quit. We both know I can’t quit- that none of our team can quit - because we all have plans to play in college. But if I could, I would. I started softball because it was fun. But you make me hate it. Not only do you make me hate softball but you make me hate myself for not being whatever you expect.
When you tell us over and over how much we “suck” – I believe it. The other girls seem to let the words roll right off their backs- but I can’t. Maybe it is because they have been with you much longer - maybe I will get there too. But right now I am not and because of that I don’t feel part of the team or even that they feel I’m worthy to be a part of their team.
Most games I dread being up to bat- something I used to love. I dread it because I know most likely you will be yelling at me in between each pitch- telling me how bad my decision was to take the pitch or swing at it. I used to have a plan for hitting depending on the pitcher and how many strikes she was throwing or what pitches she seemed to throw. I actually used to be pretty good at making decisions at bat. But not now. Now I question everything. In between pitches when you yell at me to swing or to be more aggressive- that does not help me. It only makes me afraid. Afraid to use my judgment. Afraid that the pitcher is going to take your comments as an open invitation to throw me a ball knowing I will probably swing. Afraid that I will swing and then you will yell at me for swinging at a ball- even though you just told me to be more aggressive. Or afraid that I will swing and miss and be yelled at for that. Or afraid that the hit won’t be good enough – like the ones you said were just “lucky hits”. Please know it is not easy to be successful at bat when you are afraid.
Not only am I afraid to bat, I am afraid to fail in the field. The way you yell at players- both during and after games- for making mistakes is something I have not experienced. The way you have gotten so angry you shake or the way you get right up into our faces. Or the time you threw dirt at one while you were telling her how bad she was playing. That does not help me play loosely and aggressively. It makes me nervous and scared- almost paralyzed because I am afraid of making a bad decision or a mistake-afraid of the consequences. Yes, they are only words- but those words hurt. They hurt my ego and my confidence in my ability and my love of the game. I also hurt for the things you say to my teammates – especially comments like they will never get recruited or they blew any chance they had with a coach, or they should go find something else they are good at. The recruiting process is hard enough – why make it harder and add more stress to it.
I know you are upset because we can all play better than we play sometimes. But contrary to what you think- we get upset too- and we don’t make those mistakes because we aren’t trying, don’t practice and don’t care. I am pretty confident – whether or not everyone will admit it- that when we are not playing our best it is because we are not happy. Instead we are afraid and stressed. Yes, we can still play well enough to win games playing this way and will still even make some great plays. After all, we didn’t get this far because “we suck”. But I am pretty positive that we can play even better if we weren’t so afraid, stressed and we felt like you were on our side and believed in us. And we might even have a good time doing it.
Our Follow up to "Dear Coach"
From the Stay in Softball Board of Directors:
Because of the serious nature of the letter, we wanted to get some advice on how parents can help their athletes who might be faced with a similar situation. Therefore, we contacted Ryan Virtue at the Cleveland Chapter of the Positive Coaching Alliance. We asked Ryan what kind of advice he would give athletes and parents in a similar situation.
First off, Ryan said generally it can be very difficult to change a coach- especially one that has coached this way for a long time. However, the first step should be empowering your child (instead of the parent intervening) to approach the coach early on when they start to recognize the coach’s negativity. Having the athlete express to their coach their desire to improve and put in extra work often times develops a better relationship. This way of proactively approaching difficult situations translates into off-field success as well, whether it’s in the classroom approaching a teacher, or in the work place later in life approaching their boss.
However, if approaching the coach does not work, you should also try to seek change from those around the coach and also change your response to the situation. In most situations, the coach is only part of the culture. There is also the team’s or organization’s leadership, the players, the parents, and other coaches.
Therefore, parents can work with these other individuals to try to address the general culture of the organization – if not the specific coach. We will provide some resources below regarding this. If that does not work, a family must decide for themselves what their options are and how much they are willing to jeopardize their child’s love for the game and future in the game by staying in the situation. Ryan indicated that it is important for everyone to remember that ten years from now, players will remember how a team and coach made them feel much more than how many games they won.
We also had a discussion regarding positive versus negative coaching. Ryan relayed how a player’s “emotional tank” fuels their performance. Players whose “emotional tanks” are full perform better and are able to withstand obstacles and difficult times better. A player’s emotional tank can be filled by their coaches, but also their parents and teammates. Therefore, when faced with a “drainer coach” (one who drains a child’s emotional tank) the parents can work with other parents (and players) to try to establish a culture that encourages actions that help fill the players’ emotional tanks – despite the negativity of the coach.
How is that done? In the PCA article (see link below) Filling Emotional Tanks, the author says
“First and foremost, try to avoid some natural human tendencies (frowning, using sarcasm, being
overly critical, etc.) that contribute to emotional tank draining. In fact, research shows that optimal
performance occurs when people receive about 5 pieces of positive feedback (tank fillers) to every 1
criticism (tank drainer). We call this 5:1 the Magic Ratio.”
Ryan also added that it is important to teach players that mistakes are ok. This doesn’t mean that players don’t try to correct them and work hard so they do not make mistakes or are not accountable for their performance and practice time. It just means that players have to be in an environment that lets them play without fear of making a mistake. He noted that “just like any adult in their professional career, making mistakes are one of the fastest ways to learn. Youth sports is not professional sports. It’s intent at the core is to be purely developmental, and not just with on-field performance (little picture) but with the life lessons that are taught through the field of play (big picture).”
The PCA website below has a wealth of positive coaching resources and is a page all players, organizations and coaches should bookmark. We have also listed a few of their articles specifically dealing with this issue.
Thank you to Positive Coaching Alliance and Ryan Virtue for your time and expertise! If you or your organization would like to contact Ryan or have him speak with your organization, you can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
PCA resources link: https://devzone.positivecoach.org/
Filling Emotional Tanks
The Coach as a Positive Partner
Steve Mariucci: Don't Embarrass Your Athletes
When A Coach Embarrasses Their Athletes, It Makes The Coach's Job Harder
The Importance of a Caring Climate at the Youth and Pro Level
Erin Chastain: Too Much Yelling Has No Place In Youth Sports
Discussion Guide: Whiplash