Archive for the ‘high school sports’ Category

I’ve been working on this sports book project for over seven years. I have tried to identify the personal places I need to grow and some of what I’ve worked through has been tough to process. I have avoided thinking or writing about this one…until now.

I am proud of my sports story. I played four years as a Division I soccer player and a year as a Division III basketball player. I achieved recognition in both sports. It is only recently I have been forced to contend with the fact that how I accomplished what I did wasn’t really all that good. There was a lot of pain for that gain, and more than there should have been.

Generally, I pay attention to those things that strike a nerve with me. A pain-filled nerve was struck for me three times in the past ten days and I need to attend to the thoughts that have emerged.

Last week, a friend of mine shared that her daughter had suffered intensely over the winter months of her sport season. The coach was emotionally abusive, but no one wanted to deal with it because the team was winning. It is a difficult position for kids and families to be in. Their choice is to endure the abuse for the sake of the team or stand up for your personal right to health and safety. I always chose the team. Most athletes do. Athletes are encouraged to put team above self and very rarely does anyone consider how potentially damaging that decision can be. Those who stay engaged beyond discomfort, working through humiliation or physical punishment, are lauded and celebrated. Toleration of coach emotional abuse is a complicated issue, but it is high time we begin conversations to change destructive coaching tendencies.

The second thought-provoking instance happened on Facebook. I commented on a shared article post about how NFL coach Mike McCarthy yelled at refs after his kid’s basketball game. I commented that he likely has emotional issues he needs to attend (as does every yelling parent everywhere) and a commenter argued that she was glad she played in a time when coaches were allowed to yell at kids because it made her resilient and tough.

Yelling coaches also made me tough and resilient, for sure. It was my only defense. This instance, however, McCarthy was in the role of a dad. The commenter forgets that a dad’s behavior, even when that dad happens to be a coach, opens an entirely different box of emotional fireworks for his kids.

My drunk and yelling dad certainly contributed to my determination. He was the fuel for my angry energy. His abuse, although explicable, should never have been excused, yet I chalked it up as something that just happens for some fans at sporting events. Too many people say the same thing.

I suffered emotional abuse at the hands of my alcoholic father, a number of times in connection to basketball memories specifically, but I forgive him. I forgive him for yelling at referees during games because he was battling his own demons. I forgive him for drinking four beers in fifteen minutes before driving me and a teammate home from a game he coached because I know he wanted the withdrawal-shaking to stop. I forgive him for showing up drunk at the hospital because I too found it a little overwhelming that I broke both my arm and my leg in one fall. I forgive him for standing me up when he told me he would take me to dinner after a college game and I forgive him for missing my senior season in college because he was in jail.

I forgive him, but I continue to be affected by how those memories shaped me.

I thought I had completely moved past my emotional abuses, and in relation to my dad I’m doing pretty well. I also had pretty decent coaches growing up and aside from one horrific conditioning night, as punishment for an irretrievable season, I wouldn’t say I was abused by coaches.

Coming to terms with the part I played in tolerating and perpetuating my own abuse, however, has been harder to work through.

The third nerve-strike happened when my husband and I were watching an ESPN 30 for 30 show last week about professional wrestler Ric Flair (AKA Nature Boy). I was riveted. He wrestled for forty years. Each day he would abuse his body on the mat and then he would drink five cocktails and ten beers at night. Every. Single. Night. His son was on the same trajectory of becoming a professional wrestler and a raging alcoholic, when he overdosed on drugs and died. Flair’s daughter is now wrestling on the professional circuit, in honor of her brother. I couldn’t turn off the program and I couldn’t get the story off my mind.

I recognized the tendencies, the addiction, and the dysfunctional drive. The question that then arrived was “Can an Athlete Self-Abuse?”

It seems like I should have known the answer to that already. Obviously they can. There are eating disorders, addiction to exercise, and toleration of abuses that should never be tolerated. I’ve recognized self-abuse in others, yet I hadn’t ever turned the mirror to acknowledge that I too abused myself in the name of sport.

You would think it would be easy to write that, “I was abused in sport”, but it’s not easy to admit. The thing is, my abuse was subtle, never criminal, and, disturbingly, mostly at my own hands.

I achieved recognition for playing and I prided myself on the highest level of sacrifice in that pursuit. The thing is, I had no clue what I was pursuing. No one asked me my long term goals and I know for a fact I couldn’t have offered one had they inquired.

Without a doubt, I battled with RED-S Syndrome starting in high school and all four years of college. It is an energy deficiency complication that affects all systems of the body, including the psychological aspects of performance. It was not diagnosed while I was an athlete, but all the evidence is there. I didn’t start my period until after I turned 16, I broke two bones in one fall, I was diagnosed with anemia in college, and I spent more time in the training room than I did on the field.

In spite of injury after injury in college and lackluster performance after puberty, I kept at it. I was tough, resilient, and gritty. I wanted to prove to the world and to myself that I was above my circumstances. I was stronger than anything that might have made me feel shameful and I could prove it. It seemed like a constructive mindset at the time, but in conjunction with everything else I hadn’t taken the time to analyze, this was not my healthiest time.

I tolerated practically anything. I put up with: sexist weight room attendants and coaches, whispers of icky sexual advances by gymnastics coaches, rumors of players sleeping with coaches, having to talk a coach out of his “funk” because he was distraught our 16-year-old captain wasn’t paying enough attention to him, driving a van full of college teammates, as a freshman, back from Nebraska at 90-miles an hour because the hungover assistant coach couldn’t drive, driving 45 minutes one way to coach for my childhood club even though I passed five other clubs along the way, accepting the emergency hire position to replace an emotionally abusive coach, agreeing to clean up his mess even though I had three children under the age of five and I had no aspirations of being a college coach. There is a lot more, but you get the idea.

I was the punchbag clown that kept popping back up after being beaten down in order to prove I could take anything that came my way. I must have thought I deserved to be injured or hurting practically all the time.

My work with this book project, including my relationship with sport and finding healthful ways for our family to navigate sports, I am convinced there are healthier ways to engage.

There is a difference between grit and self-abuse.

Self-abuse is behavior that causes damage or harm to oneself.

The definition of grit that resonates most with me comes from Cindra Kamphoff’s book Beyond Grit: Ten Powerful Practices to Gain the High-Performance Edge. She writes, “The leaders I see kill it know their goals, know why they are pursuing their goals, and keep going despite setbacks and adversity. Without understanding why you want to achieve your goals, it is almost impossible to stay devoted in your pursuit.”

As a high school and college athlete, I didn’t have goals or a clear idea of why I was pursuing them. I just knew sports kept me busy, afforded me recognition and success, and was the proof I could offer the world that I was worth something.

Healthy athletes have goals and clear boundaries. They know what exercises strengthen them and what exercises hurt them. They realize they need to push muscles through micro-tears to make them stronger, but they don’t push hard enough to inflict harm or injury.

If you haven’t had conversations with your children or your athletes about goals and boundaries, it is time.

Ask these questions:

What are your athletic goals? What are the ways you are pushed too far past your emotional boundaries?

Keep in mind, stretch and challenge is what grows you, but pushing too far can damage you. It is a fine line.

Emotional abuse is “making an individual fear that they will not receive the food or care they need.” In the context of sports emotional abuse plays on fear of not achieving a place on the team, playing time, or opportunities at the next level. That fear can be imposed upon an athlete or it can be internally driven.

Where is the line between challenging a kid and crushing him?

Where is the line between pushing a kid and paralyzing her?

Where is the line between internal grit and self-abuse?

The answers to those questions are unique and different for everyone. Part of why coaches avoid the “emotions” conversation with teams is because it’s exhausting to imagine addressing the emotional needs of each and every athlete. There is not a playbook that can be shared or X’s and O’s that make sense in the emotional world. Each athlete’s emotional needs and journey are theirs alone and it is difficult to appropriately navigate that journey but oh-so-necessary.

Sports Abuse is real. There is physical, sexual, mental, and emotional abuses happening consistently by coaches, parents and by the athletes themselves. Since we have our kids in sports for their health and well-being, and as exhausting as this work is going to be, it’s time to pursue the complete health and well-being for people who show up to take part in sports, and work to end the abuses we’ve let run rampant for way too long.

Copyright 2019 Meagan Frank

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An Accidental Experiment

I am navigating an inadvertant mess for which I am partially responsible, and it has to do with the fact I think the high school team I coach in the fall will be stronger after the players break up for a while.

The question for which I do not yet have an answer is this: Do teams fair better if you keep the group together year round or can individual growth pull a team along to a stronger place?

I am the Men’s Varsity Soccer Coach for a high school in western Wisconsin. We are a one-high-school town with one traveling soccer team per age group, starting at u10. The highest level we have traditionally been able to compete in club soccer is at the C2 or C3 levels. The conference where our high school team competes has schools that can field teams with premiere and academy-level players. We have won one conference game in six years.

During our post-season exit interviews this past fall, I told a few of the freshmen and sophomore-aged players that it would be worth considering trying out for a C1 team in a neighboring town. My opinion was based off of observations of their play during our season, the level of commitment those players have demonstrated (i.e. involvement in other sports, etc), and because I was of the opinion they were ready to take that step. It was not information I shared with every player because I do not believe every player was ready for that next level.

The biggest problem is I have disrupted the group as a whole. The entire situation, and partially thanks to the challenge of a parent who shared he wouldn’t have guided the group the way I have, makes me feel as though I need to reflect upon and better clarify my philosophies about building players and this particular high school program.

Understanding my philosophies begins with where I’m coming from. First of all, I’m not from here. Here is a small town known primarily for its stellar football team. The town’s philosophy, and often mimicking the successful football program, celebrates a cohesive approach to team building. There is a lot of support for the idea that successful sports programs can be (and should be) grown in town with year-round togetherness.

I do love the idea of that…on paper. In reality, however, it has never worked to advance the development of our high school soccer team. There have been a few factors responsible for that, but I would argue that one of the biggest challenges for soccer development in our town is tied directly to resources.

Both human and physical resources have been generally lacking for club-level soccer in our community. There are a handful of mediocre fields and less-than-a-handful of adults willing to coach kids how to play. Young parents are not traditionally soccer savvy and there are no highly qualified coaches, paid or otherwise, sitting around waiting for a team to coach.

The other factor in my perspective has to do with my experience. My last head coaching gig was as a college coach. I built teams by recruiting players with high levels of skill, character, and game sense. The boys I coach now are all still acquiring those things. I am always looking for ways to help teach the guys from where they are so they can improve. I know I cannot do it by myself and I am dependent upon off-season and club coaching to maintain momentum.

Soccer is a skill sport. Players need fields to play on and knowledgeable coaches to coach them, but also, at some point, the players need the right level of play to enhance confidence and challenge growth. An appropriate level of competition advances skill, creativity, and game awareness.

The in-house, community-team-build approach works with the right recipe of resources and passion. Traditionally, the town’s lukewarm soccer passion matched the minimal soccer resources and the average soccer talent. Now that there is a growing level of passion and skill-level in our community, the need for challenge and opportunity has increased. Unfortunately, the available resources have not kept pace.

Only Time Will Tell

For the high school soccer players in this town, keeping the group together to play in the off-season has not worked to create a competitive team. My guess is, improving five or six players to the next level will certainly enhance the team’s level of play in the fall, but the choice to encourage that is problematic. Most summers it is incredibly hard to scrounge up enough committed players to field even a C3-level high school team, but with players leaving for other opportunities, there are not enough players for an in-town team at all. This was NOT my intention, but I acknowledge it is a direct result of my encouragement for some players to seek C1 programming.

I continue to work with our youth board to create a solution for all the players stuck in no-man’s land, interested in playing this spring and summer. I still firmly believe every player on our team has the capacity to come in next fall improved from where he ended last season. It will always come down to what work a player is willing to do on his own, what pick-up games he is willing to find or organize, and what opportunities offered he is willing to pursue. It doesn’t have to look like the traditional youth sports model.

If I’ve learned anything in this it is that I need to be more transparent about offering opportunities. If players/families want to know how I think a player would fair in a higher-level tryout, I will offer my honest feedback. And then it will be up to the families to decide what off-season experiences they want to pursue.

The parent who challenged me to think harder about this decision illuminated a difficulty I may face when this group of players convenes next fall to compete together. Team building after they’ve been broken up for a while could be hard, but I think he knows what I do, that this is a great group of kids who care a lot about one another. I am supremely confident they will work hard to come together as a team, every chance they get, because that’s what good teams do.

Copyright 2019

No, seriously, check your feelings before you walk out the door. Decide which emotions are useful, to you and to your sporting child, and leave the rest at home. Intentional presence will positively enhance every part of your day, and has potential to be a game changer for you as a sports parent.

I’ll expand on that in a second, but first I want to tell you about a celebration we had in our house last week.

Middle Sprout had a horrible hockey game. I’m not kidding, it was like the worst game she has maybe ever played. On the heels of a really emotional week for her team, after two days of finals (including her hardest test the day of the game), she struggled to focus like she usually can in net.

As a goalie, she is vulnerable to the extremes of emotion. When she plays out of her mind, stopping every shot she sees, she is on cloud nine. The days she is mucked up with distraction, or over-exhaustion, she usually doesn’t perform well and it feels pretty horrible.

The unwritten rule of being a goalie’s mom is that I am supposed to feel how she feels.

This is a flawed rule, and I have worked hard to break it as often as I can. It is not easy, but it is so worth it.

There are a lot of goalie moms (and dads) who feel what their kids do. It’s my suspicion many parents discourage their kids from playing goalie because they do not want to have to navigate the emotional minefield (oh yeah, and pay for all that gear). Goalie parents don’t hold the corner on emotional attachment to athletes, however.

My disclaimer is that I am not the typical sports parent.

I work hard to be in my own emotional space when it comes to our kids’ sports experiences, and I choose for that space to be a positive one. It helps me to be a better mom for them. I contend that the entire youth sports environment would be vastly improved if people were willing to engage in personal emotional work.

It Matters that Parents Rise Above Emotion, Not Become It

When our goalie daughter has a rough day, if I am in the muck with her, how do I support her? If, at the end of a tough day, I need a hug more than she does, how does that help her?

The same applies when I coach. I work on maintaining control of my emotions. If I am overwhelmed by emotion I cannot make the best tactical or instructional decisions. Objectivity is the regular victim of undisciplined emotion.

I have practiced understanding and controlling my emotions for a really long time: as an athlete, as a coach, as the spouse of a coach (yes, even as a spouse: it’s tough to hear unfair things said about a person you love) and as a parent of athletes. All sports endeavors are filled with emotion, so I have had LOTS of practice. (forty-something years worth)

I have also been intentional about my study of emotions and how to navigate them. While researching for the book I am writing Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It, Feeling My Way, I have uncovered nugget after nugget about the power of emotional health, and it has changed my relationship with sport, enhanced my relationships in my family, and it has improved my ability to coach.

I was happy after last week’s awful game. Not because our daughter struggled. Not because the team lost 10-1. Not because there was plenty of hurt and upset for the girls and their parents. I was really happy because I have actually found a way to separate myself from the emotions that used to govern me. My strategy last week included concentrating on the parts of my presence at that game that brought me happiness:

  • Our entire family was together in the same room.
  • Teachers from the high school were there supporting the team.
  • I felt good about organizing the celebration for the seniors and their parents.
  • I had my camera in tow and I love taking pictures.
  • And, we had a short trip home that night.

The things that made me happy were not huge things, but concentrating my thoughts on those positive aspects of the evening, influenced my mood significantly.

After the game, as I prepared for the hug I knew I would need to deliver to a sad and disappointed daughter, I smiled and laughed at a funny story. I was still smiling when another hockey parent stopped me. He asked me how I could be so happy all the time. (I know he was referencing the hockey mom rule I like to break) I take his comment as probably one of the most extreme compliments I have ever been paid. I am increasingly happy because I have put a lot of energy into self-reflection and legitimate work into understanding and processing MY emotions around our kids’ sports.

It’s true. I have been working through and writing about emotion since I started my first Choosing to Grow project. A few highlights of the ways I have written about and exposed my wounds as they pertain to emotion in sport are:

I would say that the majority of people would rather avoid the “feelings” talk, and especially in sporting arenas. It is deeper and more painful than most people want to engage. My hope is to move the needle past that status quo. People will benefit from introspection, relationships with the children in our lives will improve, and if we are going to have any chance at positively impacting the youth sports landscape, we have to start paying serious attention to the emotions we carry.

Answer these questions honestly: How emotionally tied are you to the outcome of a game or to the performance of your child? When your kid makes a glaring mistake, how do you feel? Really think about it…which emotion do you feel most? Anger? Sadness? Frustration? Shame? What about when your child succeeds? Joy? Excitement? Happiness? Pride? How would you describe your level of emotion when you watch your children compete?

STEP ONE: Acknowledge the feelings you feel.  Feelings are never wrong and they are always trying to tell us something

STEP TWO: Identify the trigger for your emotions.

The second step is figuring out why you might be feeling the way you do. What is triggering your emotion? And don’t take the easy way out and say, “Well, obviously I’m pissed because my kid sucks.” I contend there is more to it than that. Why do you care so much if your kid makes a mistake? You’re not the one who failed. What else might be making you angry?

One of the women I interviewed for my book told me that watching her kid play is like watching her heart out there running around. Well, that sounds pretty vulnerable. Could being angry be a defense mechanism? Could something else in your life be an underlying reason for anger?

I will warn you, introspection will change the way you watch games. It is admittedly a bit of a buzz kill for those parent-fans who enjoy the emotional roller coaster. I chose to work through these things because I wanted to improve my relationships with our kids and I wanted to learn how to best parent them through youth sports. That may not be a priority of yours, but know that choosing the fan experience over the parenting one could make the navigation through youth sports more negative and difficult. Plus, it really doesn’t help your kid in the long run.

If you are able to identify the trigger for your emotions, STEP THREE: is to Do Something Positive.

Okay, so let’s say your kid swings and misses, spins and falls. You get pissed and are able to admit to yourself that you feel embarrassed. Maybe you figure it has to do with a similar experience you remember as a kid and you were made fun of. Whatever the case, knowing the emotion and the why doesn’t exactly make the feeling disappear. So, what then?

Now comes the harder work. Find something positive to do. Decide to set the feeling aside, on purpose, and do something positive. Seek out ways to help someone else. Go for a walk. Knit a scarf. Pick up your phone and try to take a picture that you know you’ll want to use for your kid’s graduation table. Or better yet, start lugging around a camera and literally change your focus at the games.

If your emotional experience at your kid’s games is impeding the experience for your kid, check your feelings and put in the good work to be intentionally and positively present. Please and thank you. (from a fellow sports parent and coach who happens to be…choosing to grow)

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2019                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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Fight? Flight? Neither. There is a better way.

I’ll get to the strategies for disarming disgruntled parents in a minute, but I want to first lay a backdrop for where pitchfork parents are born.

Do you know what age groups seem to have the craziest sports parents? Well, in my findings, there are two hot spots for emotional craze: when kids are about ten or eleven and then again when they are in high school. There are certainly other times in a child’s athletic journey that can be difficult, (8th grade for instance…probably because it is a transition year) but by and large, those two age groups seem to be the most emotional times for parents.

Why is that? I think it is because there are windows of development, advancement, and opportunity that are opening and closing, and parents know it. Whether they acknowledge it out loud or not, they know that those two chapters in an athlete’s story are pretty important. One is the first chapter and the other is usually the last.

When kids are about ten, they are at the age where they can actually start to look like competent athletes. They are generally really excited and passionate about what they are learning to do and the growth on the learning curve is significant. Parents start to see potential. Many parents do not have a good grasp on the big picture, or patience for the entire story to play out, but they do become involved heavily at these ages. Parents are generally as passionate and excited as their kids when they reach about fifth and sixth grade. Anything that seems as though it might be an obstacle to the trajectory of where kids are headed at that point, can rile up parents incredibly fast.

The high school sports parent craze is multi-faceted. The development of a kid between freshman and senior year is incredible. If you have ever taught or coached in a high school, or raised teenagers, you know the maturity, the confidence, and the growth of independence happens with leaps and bounds throughout the high school years. This can be incredibly emotional and difficult for parents.

If families struggle to have solid communication, if they are challenged to respect a child’s autonomy, or if they are unable to healthfully encourage the independence kids are pursuing, dysfunctional emotion can spill over in buckets around sporting endeavors. That and high school sports are riddled with drama, injury, higher level of competition and rows and rows of parents who are still as passionate and excited for their kids’ athletic pursuits as they were when the kids were little. Maybe more than anything, everyone loves a happy ending and not all sports stories end well.

It matters that coaches pay attention to the emotional phases of the athletes and families they coach. When faced with emotional conversations, it is best if coaches communicate well, because the fight and flight responses are ineffective.

The Fight Technique of Coaches

I, with a few other concerned moms, requested a parent-coach meeting when our oldest son was ten. He was on a Squirt A team for hockey in Minnesota and I had observed some rather disturbing coaching decisions. One incident included an assistant coach being ejected from a game which then led to screaming and ranting his entire trek to the locker room as well as when he was leaving the building. The other incident involved a physical punishment for the chronic tardiness of a player. As each player (who was on time to practice) took to the ice, the assistant coach instructed them to skate sprints until every skater was out of the locker room. The punishment stopped as soon as the late offender arrived.

Now, it should be noted that I was a parent of a kid in an “emotionally-charged stage” where emotions (including my own) were running higher. The coaches we approached for a meeting were parents of kids in that same age group. I was unprepared for the high level of emotion that landed in the room.

,The coach came in with gloves raised. It was made clear very quickly that the coaches were the authority in the room and they were confident in the decisions they were making. The head coach could hardly wrap his head around being accosted in such a way, disregarding most of what I, or anyone else had to say.

I do remember at one point there was an exchange that went something like this: Coach: “What makes you think you can effect any change with a meeting like this?” Me: “Because the boys are still little enough that the coordination of adults can have an effect.” I believed we could have had a group approach that would have been positive for those boys, but the coach fought parental involvement to the bitter end. He lost the respect of many parents that night.

The fight technique continued through the season, including monologue emails, contentious one-on-one conversations and eventually the coach’s was the only voice being heard by the kids. (except for the confused and frustrated conversations happening in everyone’s homes) It was a growing experience in our house, but it truly did not have to be as negative as it was.

Coaches who intimidate or run roughshod over parents can sometimes maintain that posture, but eventually it denigrates the culture of the team or program and causes more harm to kids than good.

The Flight Technique of Coaches

I attended another hockey-parent-called meeting last night, this time for our sixteen-year-old daughter who is a goalie on the high school team. I was more prepared for what I believed would be another emotionally-charged evening.

Initially, the meeting was announced (not by me, I might add) via email. My husband queried whether the coaches were invited. The parents said that they had tried to talk with the coach, but he did not want to talk to them and had directed them to the Athletic Director. The question was then posed about the Athletic Director’s attendance and when an open invitation was sent to the AD, he replied, cc’ing the coaches that he could not attend. Everyone was aware of the meeting.

Neither the AD nor the coaches attended. Several parents noted disappointment in that fact.

I was relieved when, right at the start, a few voices of more seasoned parents calmed the room so that emotions could be somewhat settled and reasonable discussion was possible.

One of the main complaints in the room had to do with communication from the coaches, both with the players and certainly when any of the parents approached for a conversation. I cannot say I completely blame the coach for being hesitant to engage in conversation with some of the parents because he has had heated, in-your-face screaming encounters with a couple of them. He is younger than probably everyone who gathered in the meeting and, at least from my perspective, he is not comfortable with conversations that might be emotionally charged.

However, when it comes to dealing with sports parents, the avoidance technique is as ineffective as the fighting technique. Flight may work for self-preservation, but it is a disastrous coaching technique. One of my friends put it best when she commented on a recent Instablog post: “I often think communication, or lack of…in fact, cutting the parents out of the equation exacerbates these issues.”

Positive Communication Disarms Pitchfork Parents

Ok, so here is the scoop, in brief, for how I address parent communication with my high school boys soccer team and my approach has been generally well received.

Open, honest and consistent communication is key.

  • The pre-season meeting is important. It lays out expectations and philosophy. I make sure I stay consistent with the information I present there.
  • Parents are invited to get involved with a number of in-season activities and then they are assigned tasks as requested. I thank them profusely.
  • I try to be transparent about efforts the staff and team are making throughout the season: explaining some of what we work on throughout a week, what we are facing in our opponents, and plans to address challenges.
  • Most of my communication is delivered in Sunday night emails. They take me about an hour to compose and will lay out the schedule for the week as well as any issues that might be bubbling.
  • I engage in conversation with athletes regularly. When there is a change in lineup, a plan for subbing or an expectation with opponents, I make an effort to talk one-one with the players most affected by those decisions. I explain my reasoning, field questions and seek input.
  • I actively listen to the feedback from players and especially from the captains. Where it is appropriate, I will allow the players to influence decisions that affect them as a team. (i.e. violation of team rules, etc.)
  • I have an open door policy. I do not shy away from conversations that have potential to be difficult. As long as we are not in the 24-hour window post-game, I invite parents to bring concerns to me. Except for rare circumstances, I request the presence of the player at any parent-requested meeting. Many times they want to vent frustrations and I work hard to engage well when they are emotional.

Now, even though I am trained in communication and have studied it extensively for the books I write, even my approach is not a perfect system. I am getting better with experience and practice. I don’t know whether what I do will work as well for other coaches, but what I do know, without a doubt, is disarming emotional sports parents starts with a coach’s willingness to become an effective communicator.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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why my husband quit coaching

Someone recently reminded me about this piece originally posted in 2016 on a site that has since been removed. I felt compelled to post it again because I want to enable coaches to seek and provide for one another the resources needed to keep good coaches in the game. It helps me to know that what I do as a high school coach is actually really hard. For any high school coach struggling with the challenges of coaching high school athletes and their families, I just want you to know you are not alone.

 Coaching high school teams is hard…possibly the hardest kind of coaching there is. I do believe it is possible to enjoy the journey, however, and I sincerely hope more and more high school coaches begin to believe that too.

Several years ago, my kids and I were saying our goodbyes to my husband in the parking lot of a youth hockey arena. My son, who was probably nine at the time, hugged his suit-and-tie-clad dad, patted him on the back and said, “Hey dad, say hi to your girlfriend for me!” My husband and I laughed as he then walked over to me for a goodbye hug and kiss.

More than anything, I wish I had had a camera to capture the dismayed look of the couple who had come out of their car right when we were saying our goodbyes. They looked so confused. They obviously didn’t know the truth of our situation and I wish I had been able to explain that it was a goodbye that made perfectly good sense to us.

My husband has had a mistress since well before I met him. Her name is HOCKEY. She is a seductress and apparently capable of lifelong relationship. Not having known her as a child, I have spent much of my adult life trying to understand her.

It didn’t take me long to figure out she’s quite a drama queen. She evokes such passion from the people who love her. I observed often how passionate my husband was about the sport that so fully defined who he is. I began to note the power she had over him when the only times during the winter months when he shaved, cut his hair, and got dressed up in a coat and tie were in direct correlation to the time he spent at the rink. It’s true she has made her way into our marriage bed too…on the heels of a tough loss or on especially emotional outings.

His love affair started when he was a young boy. She would entice him from a frosted window when the city water trucks would flood the neighborhood rink for their winter tryst. She made him feel so good about himself as he slid to an identity in and out of organized meetings. Passion grew with him and when he began to have a lot of success and recognition for his abilities as a teen and into early adulthood, her hook was set.

They did break up for a while- when the course of their relationship was tested with the arrival of injuries and a new coaching staff in college. For the first time in his life, he was told what sort of relationship he was going to have with hockey, and it was from the sideline. This experience was possibly one of the most painful of his life.

That was when he and I met.

You would think I had power enough to help him to forget his first love, and for a few years I managed to be enough. I could tell that he was like the circle in Shel Silverstein’s book The Missing Piece and he was rolling around the world looking for something to make him feel complete again.

I take blame for the rekindling of his relationship with hockey. I felt somewhat obligated to help him pursue love that had left a gaping hole in his life…it’s what spouses do, right? I honestly didn’t know what a decision like that was going to mean for my life. She has changed everything.

I became the great enabler. I packed boxes and moved small children several times, I single-mothered most Friday and Saturday nights or trekked the three kids out in the snow and ice to watch him pursue his passion. I then became the enabler for the kids too as they showed interest in getting to know her. They’ve been lured into her sticky web and they each navigate a path of childhood that includes relationship with her. I helped make that happen.

Recently, something quite drastic has happened to his love for this lifelong mistress. I don’t know if he has outgrown her or if he struggles with the way other people have tarnished her in his eyes, but the glow has nearly vanished.

He took a head high school coaching job three years ago, after spending the majority of his coaching career at the college level. Probably from day one at the high school level, his passion for the game has dwindled. I’ve worked hard to support him through some of the harder discoveries he has made over the last three years, because that’s what spouses do, right?  Here are some of the things I’ve observed:

  • Most high schoolers don’t yet have a full-fledged passion for hockey (or for anything really). They are growing into the passions they will follow and it takes patience to wait for those passions to emerge.
  • My husband’s college coach demeanor on the bench was quite often misinterpreted as indifference. What people didn’t realize is he has spent a lifetime learning to control his emotions and no one will ever really know how much he truly cares about the kids and the game.
  • It is heavy to carry the weight of responsibility for the parents of teenagers who have ideas about how passion should be taught and fostered. Each person requires something unique. My introverted husband is not equipped to navigate that minefield.
  • He hasn’t enjoyed the 30 varied opinions about who hockey is, how hockey should be loved, or whether hockey becomes a passion for the young men on his team.

I’ve thought a lot about why his passion tanked like it did and one thought I had is that, likely, as a college coach there was no need to navigate relationships like this, because college men who play hockey have firmly established that they are sincerely passionate about hockey. Those who make it to play in college have a passion and commitment that my husband recognizes, and when they gather in the locker room they can see in each other’s eyes a kindred spirit.

If it is time for my husband and hockey to have a final break up, I’m okay with that. She’s done her work to mold and shape a large portion of our family phase of life.  I can see in my husband he is ready to put his energy into other things, like the relationships with all the children in our home. He acknowledges what I do, that their time here is coming to a close, and I am so glad he doesn’t want to miss it. He is also expanding responsibilities for his job and he is at the point in his life where he has to choose how to best expend his energy.

Hockey has served him well. She’s served all of us well, and for one or more of my kids she may remain an important part of skating through life. She can be a fantastic vehicle of connection, and a catalyst to incredible personal growth. I don’t hold any grudges against her.

I know my husband had hoped he would have had a chance to take their relationship to even another level, but he is fully grateful for the gifts she has granted. She brought us together, she has been an integral member of our family, she has been the reason we’ve met so many wonderful people, and she is the reason we live in a place we love with a lifestyle we adore. That’s enough for him.

There will be people who don’t fully understand this good-bye, because they don’t know how much more there is to the story. Just know, it makes perfectly good sense to us.

For the record, my husband still coaches our daughter a couple times a week at the goalie practices for her high school team. 

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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Coaches need to stop punishing and start disciplining for accountability.

There is a difference.

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“Keep running, and pick up the pace,” my coach said. Next lap around we tried to get his attention, but he was deep in conversation with the assistant. Our captain managed to ask, “Are we done?” He didn’t look at her, or at us. He simply shook his head no.

We kept running.

We had been running a brutal conditioning drill where one line of the team sprints around a shortened field to catch up with the other line that is slowly jogging…switching roles as soon as the first group got back. We had been jogging/sprinting for twenty minutes at the end of an intense two-hour practice, the day before one of our last games, at the end of a losing season.

None of us dared stop running (except the one player who slid behind a bush to vomit). We knew the punishment was coming because we had lost the previous two games. He wanted to light a spark in us so we could finish out the season with better performances. It didn’t work. We lost all the remaining games anyway.

That’s why coaches punish, right? To effect some sort of change in a team’s behavior or to create a level of accountability. Sometimes team punishment achieves a desired change, i.e. the Miracle hockey team of 1980. (there is a reason that entire story was rather miraculous though)

It is an honorable thing to employ discipline with the end-goal of accountability.

Physical punishment to affect behavior is timeless. Militaries use it, parents use it, and certainly sports coaches use it. The problem for some coaches is they misuse it. Physical punishment is a powerful tool and must be wielded thoughtfully.

There are functional uses of physical punishment that make sense to me as a natural consequence, and there are horribly dysfunctional uses. I’ll stick with the dysfunctional ones.

3 Dysfunctional Uses of Physical Punishment

  • Team punishment for an individual’s infraction.
  • Because a coach has run out of ideas to develop a team further.
  • Because a team loses.

Team Punishment for an Individual’s Infraction

I see this ALL the time. I even highlighted a ridiculous example of this in a post I wrote five years ago. This DOES NOT build team cohesion. It rarely works to even hold the individual accountable for whatever he/she did.

People buy into a team mentality, they cannot be bullied into it.

There is honestly no real-world scenario where team punishment makes even a little bit of sense. I’ll use some extreme examples. In the “punish the team” model, the entire group of tv hosts/hostesses for the morning show where Matt Lauer worked should be fired for his transgressions. OR, my whole family should have been jailed because my dad made poor choices and, obviously, because we are part of his family, we should pay for his behavior too.

If you are about to dole out a team punishment for something one kid or a couple kids have done, take some time to think about whether you are doing that because it will enact accountability or because you are lazy. It takes energy and creativity to work out the right consequences for wrong choices.

It is choices we want to influence after all. Choices to be a team player, choices to behave with integrity, choices to show up on time, or compete well. There is nothing wrong with wanting to influence behavior when there is a choice, but there are ways to do it better.

My very favorite use of physical discipline for accountability was my husband’s approach to his hockey team’s penalties. The day after a game, at the very start of  practice, the players who had posted penalty minutes the night before would come before a jury of their peers to be judged. My husband taught them that there are “good” penalties and “bad” penalties. The “good” penalties happened with a player was playing hard and got tied up, resulting in a penalty, or as a last resort did what he needed to do to stop a breakaway. “Bad” penalties were any that included unsportsmanlike conduct or a loss of emotional control.

The player with the infraction would plead his case. Sometimes. Sometimes he would acknowledge how dumb the penalty was and just skate his punishment- (4 cross-ice boards per 2-minute penalty). If he wanted to be judged, the team would vote and determine whether a punishment was valid. If there was a tie, my husband would be the deciding vote.

The teams my husband has coached are among the most disciplined I’ve watched play. The boys knew they would be held accountable and it influenced a number of their decisions.

Because a Coach Has Run Out of Ideas to Develop a Team Further

I think this might have been my coach’s misuse of punishment. It happened over twenty years ago, and it is still among one of my most memorable practices. (and not for the right reasons)

For coaches who measure their successes on wins and stats, if the season is a rough one, they’ll grasp at anything to try to put things right.

Maybe if my coach was able to acknowledge the truth, that we really weren’t that good, he could have utilized our practice time more productively.

Because a Team Loses

Too many teams lose games twice. They lose on the scoreboard and then they lose any possible lessons because the response to a loss is physical punishment.

“Oh, man, coach is going to run us so hard tomorrow.”

“Why?”

“Because we lost.”

“Ok, but you were playing the number one team in the country.”

“That doesn’t matter, we always run when we lose.”

This might be an attempt at consistency, but this sort of punishment is neither disciplining nor holding anyone accountable.

Losses happen. Teams play flat and uninspired. Physical punishment in response is not going to change what happened in that last game.

Should you talk to your teams about how playing uninspired lessens their chances of success? Sure. Should you encourage their feedback about what works to influence their enthusiasm? Absolutely. Should you run them into the ground? No.

Conditioning is a part of every practice I run, as it should be for all sports coaches. It’s just not part of my response to a loss we have already fielded as a team.

Questions to ask yourself about whether to utilize physical discipline:

  • Is it fair and appropriate to the choice the player(s) made?
  • Is it going to influence the behavior in a desired way?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Is this the best way I can think of to discipline?

It’s a shift in thinking and a shift in semantics. Athletes should know that physical discipline is crucial to their ultimate success. The best coaches inspire kids to work hard at that discipline, and if coaching is really happening well, the players will seek out the physical discipline for themselves. If it’s punishment, they never will.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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captain

One of the captains for a team of mine peed on every soccer field before every game. Yes, peed. She would gather the team around her so she could inspire us (and hide what she was doing) by performing the feat of pulling her shorts to the side while she squatted low enough her stream would not spray her socks.

I was never impressed… nor inspired.

She wasn’t a good leader and I was not a good follower. I wasn’t the only one who struggled to follow her lead, but if our coach had asked, we could have told her.

The one peeing was the coach’s pick for our captain. The team had chosen another player who had been injured in the offseason and, when a coaching change happened that summer, the new coach assigned a replacement captain without bringing a choice to the team.

It didn’t go well.

There is solid argument for trusting the captain choice to the most experienced and wise person on the field. (I sincerely hope that is the coach) Young players on teams have a tendency to vote along popularity lines and that is a struggle for coaches who truly believe that leadership matters for the chemistry and efficacy of a team. (and it does!) Coaches generally have a good idea of who would be good leaders for the group, but making a unilateral decision about a team’s captain can backfire.

Choosing a captain should be a group effort, and the team will more likely follow the lead of the players they choose.

I tried a different approach this year and I really liked it.

As a coach, I guided the selection of the captains, but the team ultimately decided.

I introduced a rather lengthy selection process for assigning our in-season captains. I contend that this approach is likely most appropriate for high school-aged teams and older. (I have ideas for how to grow captains in younger teams, and I’ll cover that briefly later)

Captain Selection Process

Step One: Captain Application

Players interested in being chosen as a captain must submit an application that consists of the following questions:

  1. What is the role of a captain?
  2. Why do you want to be a captain?
  3. What are your leadership qualifications for this position?
  4. What leadership activities have you participated both in school and outside of school?
  5. Explain how you would be proactive in confronting peers who violate team rules, school policies or league regulations?
  6. What impact would you make on our team as a captain?

My coaching staff reviewed the applications and because of the number that submitted we let them all take part in the next step. My plan, if there are many more applications in the future would be to select five candidates to present to the team.

The application process is an important one. The thought that goes into crafting their responses raises their level of awareness that we as a coaching staff value leadership. It also gives us a chance to see what their leadership values are.

Step Two: Speech

Once the captain candidates were selected they were each given one minute to explain to their teammates why they wanted to be the team’s captain and what value they could offer.

Step Three:  Team Vote

After the speeches, the team selected their top three choices. I like having three captains because there is better balance with three voices.

Step Four: Captain’s Pledge

To really emphasize my expectations of those selected as captains for our team, the players chosen and their parents have to sign a Captain’s Pledge.  It looks like this:

Captain’s Pledge

I, ___________________________, realize the honor that goes with the many responsibilities involved in serving as a Captain for MHS Boys Soccer. I need to be a leader both in and out of the competitive setting (on and off the field), before the season starts, during the season and even after the season has been completed. Unless I am dismissed from this role, I will always be known as a Captain for the MHS Soccer team.

I am very proud that I have been selected to serve in this capacity. I realize that I must be mature, take initiative, and at times I may need to make unpopular decisions. I will keep the interests of the team first and I will always demonstrate good sportsmanship.

I must remain drug and alcohol free and I will do my best to ensure that all of my teammates are doing the same.

I realize that I need to work closely with the coaching staff to make our season successful. I will treat my teammates with respect and give them extra help when they need it. My integrity will never be questioned, since I realize that people will remember me more as the type of person I was, as well as the reputation of my team, much longer than any of my personal accolades.

I, _____________________________, agree to all of the above and pledge to uphold the philosophy and live by these guidelines. I know that I must resign as Captain if I fail to live up to these expectations.

Captain’s Signature___________________________________  Date____________

Parent(s) Signature__________________________________  Date__________

Soccer teams are among the few sports teams where captains are more than just an honorary title. They have work to do on behalf of the team. They represent their teams in the coin toss, they are the identified player rep for conversations with the referees and I utilize them in decision-making as player representatives. (voices from the trenches) They have an important role in the chemistry of a team and in the identity of a program. It’s a big deal and worth the extra effort to put the right players in place.

****Captains for Teams Younger than 14

For younger kids, I think captain of the week works well. Assign a pair of players the job of leading warm-ups or end-of-practice cheers the week they will be assigned captains for the game. Leadership takes practice too. Talk to the players about leading well and following well, pointing out the behaviors you most value in your leaders. (and your followers)

 

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                     www.meaganfrank.com                                                                             @choosingtogrow

 

b-w-team-huddledI’ve been a part of teams for over 35 years and I know that one of the most important parts of being on a team is showing up. Showing up for off-season lifting and pick-up games, showing up for practices, for film sessions, for team meals, and then for games. The thing is, there is more to it than just showing up… how you show up matters most.

I’ve had the privilege of showing up as a player on elite, winning teams, and I’ve had the challenge of showing up on teams that go winless for an entire season. There is a very real shift in psychology when the excitement and hope of a season fades into the frustrated reality that opponents are going to be tough and the work that lay ahead may not provide the results the team truly desires.

Players want to play and teams play games to win. Period. Putting forth exhausting effort to come up short time and again, starts to weigh on players and ultimately on teams. The psychology of an athlete and a team is challenged at the extremes. The players who experience consistent playing time and winning are challenged to stay focused and humble. The players on teams experiencing losses are challenged to see a point in working hard, they have to navigate personal, ugly emotions that come with sitting on the sideline or losing. They either give up trying or they use a lot of energy to determine ways to keep fighting and to help their teammates do the same. It is much harder to be a part of a team that is in defensive battle mode.

The hardest thing to keep in mind is that true winning (competing well each and every outing) is always possible. It’s a decision to show up well.

This is not an easy decision, however.

The team I am currently coaching is 2 and 9 and facing the back half of a season with the same opponents who have already beat up on us once. We are experiencing the hardest part of being in battle mode.

This is where the true character of these players and the heart of this team will be tested most.

There are countless ways the guys can decide to respond. Countless ways to show up….or not. I’m challenged to help them to dig in and to find value in competing well no matter their record. It’s for pride. It’s for building upon the groundwork we are laying. It’s for sharpening the character tools in their toolboxes as they prepare to go on to college, or jobs where what they’ve learned about competing well will matter.

We need to continue to show up well:

  • Show up early (or at the very least on time)
  • Show up ready (bring all gear necessary)
  • Show up positively (find the good in other players and the fun in the game)
  • Show up focused (leave other thoughts off the field and bring mental focus into the task at hand)
  • Show up ready to work hard (no matter what you are able to do in a day, do your best)
  • Show up ready to learn (see each day as an opportunity to grow as a person and as a team)

Showing up happens on an individual level, but it is layered with an awareness of what showing up means to the team as a whole.

I’d like to say, after all this time on teams, that I’ve perfected the showing up thing. I haven’t. I am equally challenged to show up well and I need reminders to stay the course too. It is a daily decision and I need to come back to the decision each morning because, for me, any time I have the opportunity to be part of  a team I have made the implicit agreement to show up well.

 

Meagan Frank is the author of the Choosing to Grow series, a national speaker, athlete, coach, and mother of three. A 1997 graduate of Colorado College, Meagan was a four-year starter and senior captain on the Division I women’s soccer team and lettered in Division III women’s basketball. She has coached recreational, high school, elite, and college-level teams for both boys and girls.

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Copyright 2016       Meagan Frank   Choosing to Grow         http://www.meaganfrank.com

 

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The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.  -Vince Lombardi

I think Lombardi has it right. You pay for success with hard work, dedication, and a decision to offer the best of yourself each and every day.

The real challenge is knowing how to measure whether you succeed.

In a competitive world, it is the simple thing to measure in wins and losses…in points on a scoreboard…in stats we can count. We’re told repeatedly that only winners are successful.

I disagree. It is much more complex than that and I am challenged to stay mindful of what true success means.

Last night, on the way home from my first conference game (a lopsided loss) as the head coach for a boys’ high school soccer team, I had an interesting conversation with a couple of my assistant coaches. One coach commented about how there is a successful 17-year-old phenom who is playing professional soccer as a goalie. He lamented the fact that he is just a college kid, who isn’t playing goalie anymore, and who now has the goalie coaching job for fledgling goalies in a re-building program. Not newsworthy, in his opinion.

Another assistant coach, who is an incredible chorus teacher at the high school, also commented about colleagues who have “made it” and are big-time conductors with doctorates and incredible opportunities.

If success is only possible for the elite few who “make it”, or for the winning programs  and star athletes among us, then what is the point for the rest of us?

The point for the rest of us is the last part of Lombardi’s quote. “We (need to) have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” How we apply ourselves is to compete well. The definition of “compete” is to strive to win.

The point for the rest of us is that we learn how to compete well…always and in all circumstances. Competing well is how we succeed.

For that 17-year-old phenom, the best of himself is obviously incredible athleticism and goalie expertise. It’s going to matter how his stats add up. The task he has been handed is to compete with the world’s best.

We’re not all asked to succeed at that task.

For me, and my coaching staff, the task ahead of us is to build soccer skill, to build teamwork, and to build a program that can compete better in an incredibly tough conference. We need to show up every day with those tasks in mind.

For the players who play on our team, their task is to show up with the best of themselves each day with an attitude prepared to learn and grow as soccer players and as people. They can count themselves successful if daily they strive to compete well as individuals and as a team.

The world may not do a great job of measuring our successes, but if I’m stepping up to the task  I’ve been handed, I sure will.

Meagan Frank is the author of the Choosing to Grow series, a national speaker, athlete, coach, and mother of three. A 1997 graduate of Colorado College, Meagan was a four-year starter and senior captain on the Division I women’s soccer team and lettered in Division III women’s basketball. She has coached recreational, high school, elite, and college-level teams for both boys and girls.

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Copyright 2016       Meagan Frank   Choosing to Grow         http://www.meaganfrank.com