USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level.
Garland Cooper, was a three-time NFCA All-American (two-time first team) and Big Ten Player of the Year at Northwestern University. In 2012, Garland was inducted into the NU Hall of Fame having helped the Wildcats to a pair of Women’s College World Series appearances. She was also a first-round pick of the New England Riptide in the 2007 National Pro Fast Pitch College Draft.
Garland is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
High school and youth coaches are speaking out—and it’s not necessarily about their players. Syracuse.com recently published a survey asking high school coaches about their experience with the changing parental culture influencing athletes. The coaches surveyed represented five different sports, including soccer, basketball, football, baseball and softball. And their responses are pretty straightforward: Overall, parents are having a significant—and usually negative—impact on coaches in high school sports.
The data show that coaches feel more stressed and pressured by parents than ever before
The way that parents interact with coaches has changed, and not necessarily for the better. In fact, 82 percent of the coaches surveyed reported that dealing with parents has gotten worse throughout their coaching career.
One coach elaborated, “During a post-game meeting with my team after a big win, a parent came onto the field and threw her daughter’s lacrosse equipment at me and called me every curse word she could think of in a 60-second tirade. The outburst was caused by her belief that her daughter should play more.”
If you think that this explosion about playing time is an isolated occurrence, you might want to reconsider. About 87 percent of surveyed coaches stated that parents complaining about playing time for their child was a serious problem. Nearly 67 percent of coaches revealed that unsportsmanlike conduct among parents was also an issue. In fact, 60 percent explained that they’ve recently had to speak with a parent about their conduct.
One coach said, “Two parents of players on my team were fighting in the middle of the filed after a game. I had to break up the fight.”
The ramifications for these actions are significant, as it’s actually causing coaches to leave the game. Fifty-eight percent of the coaches said that they had either considered quitting or had quit because of parents.
Parents want to help their athletes be successful, but it may be backfiring
This influx of parental misbehavior is rooted in parents’ desire to ensure their student-athlete is successful in their sport—and has the opportunity to compete at the college level.
Sue Enquist, UCLA’s winningest softball coach who ended her 27-year coaching career with an .835 record, points out that, while many parents believe getting overly involved is the ticket to success, it’s actually the opposite.
“Parents of high-performing athletes provide independence for their child,” she says. “Being a helicopter parent is extremely attractive, because in highly competitive sports, it seems like the helicopter parent gets more, creates more. But in the long-run, they do a disservice to their athletes.”
She adds that helicopter parents, or parents who are overly protective and take excessive interest in their children’s activities, prevent their children from gaining crucial life skills. When these athletes go to college, they aren’t able to manage their own time, solve their own issues or think independently, because their parents have been doing it for them. And she’s seen this happen firsthand.
These overprotective measures are trickling over into a student-athlete’s recruiting. When a college coach comes to evaluate a recruit, they certainly notice the parents who contribute off-color comments and aggressive displays.
“People don’t realize that the college coach is evaluating the family in the parking lot. I want to tell every single parent, please pay attention to how you think, speak and act, because the college coach is taking notice,” Enquist says.
Granted, the data captured by Syracuse.com doesn’t capture all of the positive behaviors that parents exhibit both on and off the field. There’s a lot of room for coaches to supply comments about the positive influence parents have had on their athletes and teams, while also calling out some of the behaviors that need to change.
There are simple ways to avoid exhibiting bad behavior
Enquist points out that the first step to correcting inappropriate behavior is to identify it, which may be more difficult than it sounds.
“The helicopter parent doesn’t know they are a helicopter parent until it’s too late. We need to be really clear about what it looks like in its infancy. If you are the parent walking with your youth coach to the parking lot or calling them up to talk about playing time, you are a helicopter parent.”
She explains a few key ways for parents to exhibit the type of positive behavior that college coaches are looking for when evaluating recruits and their families:
- Be affirmative in your support from the stands. Enquists says that the parents are a guiderail for their athletes, and if they show personal accountability, college coaches will see that reflected in their athlete.
- Teach your student-athlete how to communicate with the coach. Enquist uses the example of confronting coaches about issues like playing time. “If you have an issue with playing time, teach your athlete how to talk about that with their coach. Then they have that tool in their belt for all time,” Enquist says.
- Let your student-athlete plan their own schedule. “Teach them how to use the digital calendar. Teach them to figure out what to pack on a trip. Teach them to be organized and carry their own equipment. Once we do this, we get a real resurgence out of the amateur sport experience,” Enquist explains.
At the end of the day, the coach, the player and the athlete should all be on the same team. Coaches are doing their best to create the conditions for athletes to be successful, while parents are working hard to ensure their athlete has the best athletic experience possible.
Enquist concludes that if parents, coaches and athletes observe the boundaries of their youth sports, we will get a resurgence in the amateur sport experience.