Last week basketball practice began for my youngest daughter Julia. On Monday her coach (Coach Fitz) requested all the parents attend a mandatory parent meeting which involved observing the last 15 minutes of the first practice. When the parents arrived he lined up all the kids along the bench and asked the parents to stand on the opposite sideline. He brought one player named Maddie to midcourt, handed her the ball and called out instructions to her. Immediately upon hearing his instructions she confidently dribbled 20 steps down the court and made a layup. Blindfolded.
Then he brought Maddie to midcourt again, put the blindfold back on her and this time told the players and all the parents to join him in directing her to the basket and telling her when to shoot.
With 14 kids and at least 25 parents yelling an assortment of instructions at her, Maddie wandered around the court like a blind squirrel trying to find a nut. She double dribbled, tripped, ended up just past the baseline, throwing a shot up which hit the side edge of the backboard and bounced back squarely into her face.
Coach blew the whistle, took the blindfold off Maddie and brought all the players over to the side of the court where the parents were sitting. In front of all the parents, he asked Maddie why she had so much trouble the second time. Her response was priceless “I couldn’t hear your instructions over all the parents and kids shouting to me.” Then he asked her what about the first time made it so easy. She explained that “All I had to do was listen to your coaching.”
Coach Fitz then explained to the parents that there were two acceptable things they could do at games: clap and cheer. No yelling at the opponent, no questioning the officials’ calls, no coaching from the bleachers, and absolutely no calling out instructions to their kids on the floor. I loved it, the message and way he illustrated it were perfect. I just hoped every parent heard that same message loud and clear.
I introduced myself to Coach Fitz after practice and told him I really appreciated the point he made. I assured him I wasn’t a helicopter parent or one who lived vicariously through his child’s achievements. Having been a college coach for many years and walked a mile in his shoes, I told him I’d be the most supportive, hands-off parent he’d ever had in his program. Looking rather unconvinced, he just smiled and thanked me.
Fast-forward to Saturday, we are at my daughter’s first game and she’s nervous as heck. On the first possession, the other team turned the ball over and after Julia’s teammate brought the ball across midcourt I noticed something odd. Julia was still guarding the girl on the other team. I got frustrated, thinking “Do they not teach these kids the difference between offense and defense? That’s so basic!”
Instinctively I yelled out, “Julia, you’re on offense now NOT defense!” She stopped dead in her tracks; looked at me, looked at her coaches on the sidelines and froze. I immediately wished I could take back those words and cram them right back in my mouth, but I couldn’t with my foot firmly placed in there. Then Coach Fitz shot me a look and shook his head. I raised my right hand acknowledging my mistake while covering my mouth with my left hand and then shut up for the rest of the game.
I was embarrassed but I was more disappointed, in myself.
In the heat of the moment, I had convinced myself it was somehow the coach’s fault. (Today more than ever coaches and teachers seem to be convenient targets don’t they.) Then the longer I sat there reflecting, I remembered that I had a player do the same thing on my lacrosse team once. Only he wasn’t in 5th grade, he was a junior in college.
Often in the workplace and even at home we’re guilty of doing what I had just done. We become judgmental arm-chair quarterbacks, question decisions and overstep our boundaries because we think we know better than someone else even if they’re a trained expert. Some of the time when we do this the intentions might be good but the behavior is still wrong. When someone is “flying blind” or nervous they need ONE trusted, go-to voice of expertise to guide them; not a bunch of self-proclaimed wanna be’s or judgmental figures.
Isn’t it amazing how quickly and easily our inner voice of judgement kicks in instead of pausing to empathize and consider what it might be like to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes? It’s almost a default setting. I’m proof of that, I’ve walked more than a mile in the coach’s shoes and on Saturday I was still guilty of shooting my mouth off and then judging. I hope I’ve been a cautionary tale and it helps you to refrain from judgment or criticism and instead offer support to those around you.
It’s very fitting that this week my alter-ego, Coach Morgan Randall, is releasing his very first book. It’s titled Everything Parents Know About Coaching and is amusing to say the least. As loyal readers, I’m offering you an opportunity to pre-order it before the formal launch begins. It makes the perfect stocking stuffer gift for the coaches and sports parents in your life. He and his co-author, parenting expert Dr. Chelsea Hornblower will both sign it for you.
P.S. Here’s that link to the new book in case you missed it. https://coachbru.com/product/everything-parents-know-coaching/