Editorial: Coaches serve community, not individuals

Post-Bulletin sports reporter Brett Boese's extensive reporting last week about the "Bermuda Triangle" of coaching should be required reading for anyone involved in youth sports at any level, from kindergarten tee-ball to varsity football.

His articles describe the experiences of several high school coaches in southeastern Minnesota who lost their jobs despite solid won-loss records, division titles and even state tournament berths.

Players, parents, school board members, fans — even coaches themselves — might learn something from Boese's revealing look at the challenges endured by those who walk the sidelines, clipboard in hand.

We're not interested in passing judgment on any specific school boards or athletic directors in southeastern Minnesota, nor in second-guessing any of the decisions they've made to fire — or "non-renew," if you prefer — coaches. In almost every situation involving the dismissal of an employee, there's likely to be more to the story than can be publicly disclosed by the school district.

Furthermore, we're not so naive as to believe that all coaches possess a perfect blend of motivational skills, patience, toughness, energy and sports acumen. Some people who love to coach aren't very good at it, and others who are quite capable of getting the best out of their players on the field, rink or court are less successful as they deal with officials, parents and the emotional challenges of 16-year-olds.


But we're convinced that the challenges faced by coaches are different and much more complex today than they were 15 or 20 years ago.

There are many reasons for this change, but we'd put money at the top of the list.

Families today are spending a lot on sports camps, traveling teams and specialized instruction for their young athletes, and by the time a basketball player or hockey player reaches his/her junior year, the family's total "investment" can be mind-boggling. But because there can only be 10 players on a basketball court at any given time, or one pitcher on the mound, or one quarterback taking the snaps, there will always be some players who can't crack the starting lineup. That's disappointing to the player, but to the parents in the stands, it can be much worse.

Ideally, mom and dad will be realistic in their assessment of their child's skills. They'll trust the coach, tell their teenager to work hard and wait for their chance to prove themselves.

But we fear that all too often, that's not what happens — especially if a team isn't winning. Nothing breeds discontent like a losing record, and if a parent thinks their child should be playing more, they'll gravitate toward other parents who have similar complaints.

A few e-mails later, an insurrection can be afoot, and because the players and parents can't be fired, the coach is sent packing.

The sad thing about situations like this is that the parents believe they're helping their children, but in most cases, they're not. The last thing kids today need is a reason to act like victims, to throw up their hands and say, "My coach isn't fair" or "I quit because my coach plays favorites."

One of the most important traits children can develop through sports is humility, an awareness that in life, there will almost always be someone bigger, faster, stronger, smarter or more talented than they are. When parents blame coaches for their child's lack of playing time or a team's mediocre won-loss record, they're basically telling their kids that when things get tough, the right response is to start pointing fingers.


We understand the desire to see children succeed in sports, both individually and as a team, but the fact is that sometimes a record of 5 wins and 20 losses should be seen as exceeding expectations. Call us old-fashioned, but we don't believe a high school coach's job is to train future Division I collegiate players or to win state championships. Rather, it's to help players improve, and to put teams on the field that represent their school and community well.

The fact is that every time two teams square off, one will win and one will lose. Does that mean that half of all high school coaches are doing a bad job? We think not, and parents, fans and school boards would do well to keep that in mind.


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