Posts Tagged ‘meagan frank’

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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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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