How Telling Off My Kid’s Football Coach Kicked Off A Major Parenting Crisis

AshleyCirque du Today56 Comments

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I never thought football could cause an existential parenting crisis, but this spring, that is exactly what it did. My almost-10-year-old son, Sam, wanted to play flag football for the first time ever, and since he’d had no interest in playing a team sport since he quit baseball a year ago, we jumped on the idea. Sam had played pick-up football games with boys in the neighborhood and at school recess, but he’d never played formally before. Unfortunately, the start of football coincided with a very busy time for my husband, Todd, so it fell to me to take Sam to every practice. Believe me when I say I’m a total football ignoramus, soooo I wasn’t sure I was assessing things correctly, but it seemed to me that the coach wasn’t teaching the team much. He would bark plays at the players he deemed offense-worthy, and shove the boys he didn’t know from previous seasons onto defense, letting them stand there doing nothing for the whole practice. And I’m not exaggerating – they were standing there doing NOTHING while the coach and his assistant worked with offense the whole time.

Is this the way it’s supposed to work? I wondered to myself as I watched Sam’s excitement fade and boredom and frustration take over. Maybe he works with offense one practice, and works with defense the next? Minutes ticked until an hour went by, and still Sam stood there stone-still with the other defense players, totally ignored. The coach called the end of practice, gathering the kids around to say, “We really played like a team today, guys!” I wanted to punch him in the pigskin. How could they have played like a team, when half of them never interacted with the coach or each other? Half of them played, and half of them didn’t! I was baffled and pissed but let nothing show to Sam.

On the way home, Sam said he didn’t think the coach was interested in working with the new kids, the ones he didn’t know from prior seasons. He said he didn’t get the impression the coach liked him. I told him maybe the coach was just trying to figure things out. Next practice would be different, I promised. I knew that if Sam, a kid who battles anxiety every day, got it into his mind that this situation was going to be a negative one, he would try to get himself out of it, any way he could. There is a fine line to dance around when you have a child with anxiety, at least there is in our family’s case. We don’t want to get over-dramatic about anything that could cause Sam anxiety, because we don’t want to fan the flames, but we also can’t minimize the things that make him worry. Even if we don’t always understand it, we try to empathize. It’s an intricate dance—one that we sometimes execute gracefully and sometimes screw up so disastrously that there are bodies strewn all over the dance floor.

The next practice was the last one before the first game. I thought for sure the coach would take this time to focus on his chosen defensive players, but instead, he called over a team of 12 and 13-year-olds, who were practicing on another field, and asked them to scrimmage with our 9 and 10-year-olds! So the whole practice, five of our players were forced to stand on the sidelines at a time—not playing, not learning by doing, not receiving any instruction, just watching a game in which their teammates got pulverized by kids 3 and 4 years older than them. How inspiring. How encouraging. HOW INFURIATING.

 

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SEEMS LEGIT.

 

For an hour and 20 minutes, I saw Sam’s confidence plummet as his shoulders slumped lower and lower, and his eyes glazed over in detachment. My own agitation grew, because I knew I was going to have to drag Sam to the first football game unprepared, uninspired, uninvolved, and unmotivated. What was this coach doing? Didn’t he want the kids who weren’t as experienced to learn? Was he just there to watch a game, instead of coaching a practice?

As if in answer to this internal debate, the coach suddenly plucked Sam out of obscurity, calling him over by pointing at him because he hadn’t learned his name. Because he’d never spoken to him before that moment! After three practices, and without any play time, any instructional time, any word, nod, or acknowledgment, the coach was barking at Sam to run a play. A play he didn’t know.

Sam ran awkwardly down the field, his tall, gangly form zig-zagging confusedly, and dropped the ball when it was thrown to him.

“Don’t you know the play?” the coach yelled.

“No,” Sam admitted in a low voice.

“What did you say?” the coach bellowed.

“NO,” Sam answered, louder.

“Well what play DO you know?” he answered, exasperated. “John, show him how it’s done!”

John, another player, showed Sam how the play was supposed to work, and I could see Sam’s lips moving. He was talking to himself. This scenario was an anxious child’s living nightmare: being unprepared, being criticized, being made to look a fool, being exposed, being inadequate. I saw my child, who tries so hard to hide his anxiety, about to break.

I was facing a tough decision. Do I sit and watch him suffer through this dilemma without intervening, because he needs to learn how to deal with assholes? Do I potentially embarrass or emasculate him by jumping in and tearing this asshole a new asshole? Do I just wait silently until it all plays out, then comfort and counsel him later?

My own mother pounced all over contentious authority figures, all throughout my childhood. Some would call this protective alter ego “Mama Bear,” but I always likened my mom to a lioness. If any teacher, coach, principal, secretary, priest, nun, parent, or other adult in authority treated any one of her six cubs unkindly or unfairly, the Lioness would shred them into a stuttering pulp. Hackles raised and eyes blazing, she was a fierce sight to behold. Even though she was defending us, and I was glad to be on the safe side of those claws, it was also embarrassing and awkward for me. After the fur flew, I was the one who had to face the carnage. I dreaded seeing those adults again. I dreaded their diminutive, dismissive treatment of me, their eye rolls and head shakes, their whispers about my mom being crazy or being a bitch, their gossip, their open resentment. The teacher never calling on me; the principal singling me out; the parent refusing to let me play with their kid again. I just wanted it all to go away, and most of the time, I thought it would’ve been better if Mom had never interfered at all.

 

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MOM WITH A FRESH KILL . . . .

 

Having borne those experiences in childhood and after making plenty of my own parenting mistakes in adulthood, I try not to judge my mom for making the decisions she did. She was doing her best and following her heart. I know I’m not a perfect mom. I don’t know if I EVER make the right decisions, honestly, and I still don’t know if I made the right one that day . . . .

After more barking from the coach and catching a pass to the stomach that knocked the wind out of him, Sam burst into tears in front of his peers as well as the crowd of adults watching. I knew that it was the LAST thing he wanted to do. I knew if he had a shovel, he’d dig a hole and jump into it rather than face everyone with tears streaming down his face. Crying is a much-needed stress release for adults and children, and it should NOT be shameful. But unfortunately for boys this age, and especially this boy, my boy, to cry is to wear a stigma of weakness, of defeat, of helplessness, of worthlessness. No matter how much reassuring and comforting I might offer later, I knew he would never stop punishing himself for this day—the day he lost to the worst of his demons.

I watched, twisted with my own emotions, as Sam turned his back to the coach in an effort to gain composure. Coach ignored the fact that Sam was crying and just continued to bark plays at him. Suddenly, without thinking, not knowing if I walked or ran, I was beside the coach.

“COULD YOU MAYBE JUST GIVE HIM ONE MINUTE TO COLLECT HIMSELF? WHY DON’T YOU TEACH HIM THE PLAYS INSTEAD OF HUMILIATING HIM? TEACH THESE KIDS, PLEASE! DO YOUR JOB! TEACH THEM,” I boomed.

My heart was pounding, and it was like the world went into slow-motion. I looked around and saw the kids’ mouths agape, Sam’s tear-stained, horror-stricken eyes, the parents looking embarrassedly down at their shoes, and the coach shaking his head. His mouth was moving. He was saying something.

“I am teaching them!”

“When? When? The first 15 minutes of the first practice? Because since then, you haven’t exchanged a single word with some of these players! The second practice you worked only with offense! Today, you scrimmaged a team twice as experienced and let half of your players twist in the breeze! Sam, just go on to the car. We’re done here,” I said, as I walked toward the parking lot with what I am convinced was LITERAL, scalding steam pouring from my ears.

“Why did you DO that?” Sam shouted, still in earshot of all the kids, parents, and the coach. “If he hated me before, he’s REALLY going to hate me now!”

And, just like that, I was transported back to elementary school, to middle school, to high school. History was repeating itself, except now I was the embarrassing, crazy bitch, and my kid was the one who, after the smoke cleared, would be left to navigate the scarred terrain alone.

After Sam was calmed, fed, immersed in mindless TV, and tucked in bed that night, I let myself wallow for a long while. I drank a good bit of wine. I went over and talked my neighbor’s ear off. I came home and drank more wine. I beat myself up. I let all those shameful old memories from childhood wash over me. I relived that moment on the field when it felt like the whole world was staring at me, judging me, including my own son. I faced the Shadow of my own insecurity, the one who followed me everywhere. The one who was constantly telling me I was doing a shit job, that I was screwing my kids up. And finally, I let it all go.

I never dreamed of being that mom who fought her kids’ battles for them, embarrassing them, and taking away their options of fighting for themselves, but I WAS that mom. I AM that mom. At least for now. At least until Sam has a hold on his anxiety, until he is old enough and confident enough to express himself and stand up to people 4 times his age. At 10, he still has a long way to go, and his 7-year-old brothers have even longer. In the meantime, I’m going to do my job. I’m going to protect them, to stand up for them, and yes, fight for them, because in doing so, I am teaching them how to do all of these things for themselves. Just like my mom taught me.

The next day, my husband and I made the decision to move Sam to a different football team within the same league. We didn’t want to convey the lesson to Sam that when things get hard, he gets to quit. But we also didn’t want to teach him that he has to suffer needlessly through situations that are going to create unhealthy emotional land mines for him. Sam wasn’t happy about having to keep playing football, because combined with his bad coaching experience, he now felt inferior. The sport overall was tainted and fraught with negativity, stress, his own feelings of incompetence, humiliation, and the promise of his own ever-hovering shadow, “anxiety.” Todd and I held firm, knowing we would have our work cut out for us. Knowing we would be dragging him to every game, giving him constant pep talks, taking hard lines alternating with encouraging words, and enduring his anxiety attacks about impending, certain failure.

Last Saturday was Sam’s second game on his new team, which is coached by two kind and supportive high school boys. During the game, Sam took away 4 flags from the other team, made 3 blocks, caught a pass, and did 100 fist pumps, whether he was standing on the sidelines cheering for his teammates, or celebrating from his place on the field. At least for that hour, I saw my kid change before my eyes from a slumping, meek, insecure football player into a towering, assertive, confident one.

And this time, I was the one who was crying.

 

Read more about bullying and  justified outrage in these stories: The Time I Fought Back and The Return of Balboa.

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AshleyHow Telling Off My Kid’s Football Coach Kicked Off A Major Parenting Crisis

56 Comments on “How Telling Off My Kid’s Football Coach Kicked Off A Major Parenting Crisis”

    1. Ashley

      Thank you, sweet friend! I felt a little weird about this one…more vulnerable than most to me for some reason! I appreciate the encouragement. xoxo 😀

    1. Ashley

      Awww, thank you so much, lady! I love that – Mama lions, tigers, and bears! 😉 It’s good to know that you’ve been there, because I do sometimes feel like the only one. Thank you so much for reading. xoxo

  1. Stephanie

    Again, I’ll be watching you and your boys for what will be coming down the road to me. Good job mom!!!!!

  2. Lumina

    The uncertainty and lioness protecting her cubs mode never goes away! As my children have become adults with children of their own it has become increasingly hard to stand by when I feel like one of them is being treaty badly or unfairly. I hope when all is said and done, mistakes and all, they will know their parents always had their backs. You followed your inner lioness and protected your child, for that I say bravo! I admire you!

  3. Nicole Reyes

    I’m so sorry Ashley because I can only imagine how difficult that was for you to sit by and watch what was happening to Sam. It is a tough line – defending/protecting your child or letting him learn, at a really young age, how to deal with difficult people. I am so glad you confronted that coach because he is supposed to be there to inspire and teach the kiddos, not humiliate them and create self doubt. Until our children learn to use their voice, we are their voice.

    1. Ashley

      It was tough enough to make me physically sick! Gah, parenting is hard. Sharing with other parents makes it easier. I appreciate your support, Nicole! I hope all is well with you and your precious family!

  4. Michele C.

    Love this!!! You should never be ashamed of being a mama bear or lioness, and I’m so glad you told that first coach how you felt. Hopefully he realized what he was doing and if not, he shouldn’t be coaching children. So happy for Sam!!!

    1. Ashley

      Thank you, Michele! I didn’t want to seem like I was being an overdramatic female, and plus, I had no experience with football. I just had to listen to my gut in the end, while all the doubts swirled around me. I appreciate getting this kind of approbation – more than you can know! Love you, girl!

  5. Carly

    Of four kids, my eldest is 7. I’m about 110% certain I will be embarrassing him by fighting for him. You go on with your bad self, mama!!

  6. Amy

    I’m so proud of you for doing what had to be done! It took courage and you did it! I’m also sure you not only helped Sam but maybe the other four kids on defense who were probably feeling the same way… Way to find an alternative plan too! Now it sounds like he loves it and he would have likely never reached this point without your intervention! Way to go Mama Bear! xo

    1. Ashley

      Thank you for summing that up in such a positive way – I needed that! Thanks as always for reading and being so encouraging! xoxo

  7. Suzanne M

    We had a baseball season with my ADHD kid whose meds had long worn off by game/practice time. It got to a point for this momma bear that I told my husband that at the next game it was either him or me who was going to say something. God apparently had other ideas because the last THREE games were rained out!

    1. Ashley

      I love when that happens! We had a lot of rain-outs in our transition from one team to the other, so it gave Sam some more time to get used to the idea of a change. (It also gave him more time to complain and argue but I think overall it was for the best to have the extra time)! I’m sorry your son didn’t have an ideal coach either! xoxo

  8. Debs Willson

    Oh boy, do I ever understand how the choices we make for our kids with anxiety is more than a fine line, it’s a moving one, one that holds do much power to make or break. You handled the coach situation extremely well, our kids need to see us draw a line on how we’re being treated and have the strength to stand against it. I’d have done what you done, then marched right to another team, as you did.
    Well done momma!!!!

    1. Ashley

      Thank you for your kind words! It’s so nice to hear from people like you who understand exactly what the anxiety dance is like, but the support overall has just been overwhelmingly wonderful. xoxoo

  9. Drew Clarke

    Unfortunately, some coaches at that level of organized sports are either 1) More concerned about winning and padding their ego or 2) Failed as an athlete when they were younger and coaching is a path to redemption. It is particularly bad when a coach has a son on his team and tries to vicariously live his dreams through his son. I am glad that Sam is thriving on his new team. In my day, you stopped playing flag at age seven and moved to full contact. But, that was before all the new information about concussions was available and even though coaches and league administrators knew that playing contact sports for 16-18 consecutive years had serious musculoskeletal side-affects but just didn’t care, particularly if you were a star player. I hope Sam continues to develop as a player and stays healthy.

    1. Ashley

      I’m not sure what this guy’s exact deal was, but I think #1 would be my guess. I heard he was a high school football coach as well. I think he just wanted to flex his muscles. Flag football goes on into the teens around here – we are against tackle just because we don’t want our kid potentially suffering a lifetime for a few moments of glory on the field. Everybody needs to make the choice that’s right for their comfort/worry levels. Thanks for reading, buddy!

  10. Liz

    Wonderful piece Ashley. So sorry Sam had to go through that but it’s all living and learning, right? For all of us. It’s so hard. But ultimately you went with your gut and so glad to hear he’s in a better situation. ❤️

    1. Ashley

      Thanks, Aunt Liz! 😉 I am so relieved that it worked out, and Laura was here to see the transition last Saturday. She even took the pics. It was an amazing day! Love you!

  11. Mike Cruse

    I completely understand your feelings from your past (had the same kind of mom)…but I hope you know you are a GREAT mom, and you did the right thing. I’m proud of you my friend. You’re killing it!

  12. Steph

    The lioness—yes. Perfect metaphor. And I feel you AND your mom; it’s incredibly difficult to watch an adult treat a child unfairly. It’s even more difficult not to intervene on the kid’s behalf. I would’ve done exactly what you did. Whether that makes us right or wrong, I don’t know. But at least we’re not alone 🙂 xo

    1. Ashley

      Thank you, girl. I guess we never know if we’re right or wrong – we just have to follow our hearts. I’m glad to be in your company!

  13. Tina

    If there were a better way to handle that, I don’t know what it would be. I especially love that Sam, as upset as he was, still managed to be angry with you for stepping in…I hope that doesn’t sound ugly. I just mean to say that he is strong enough to know that he doesn’t want someone fighting his battles for him – even in a situation where it really was necessary. So great that he’s thriving with his new team.

    1. Ashley

      No it doesn’t sound ugly – that’s a great point. I hadn’t thought about it that way, because I was too busy feeling like a hot-headed idiot in that moment! Thank you for pointing that out – it makes me feel good! And thanks so much for reading, lady.

  14. Liv

    You are awesome – you absolutely did the right thing and I’m so glad it worked out for your son. I wish I was half as brave as that.

    1. Ashley

      Gosh, Liv – thank you, but I don’t know if it was as much bravery as it was “act now, think later.” That’s why I had such a hard time with it. I was like WHAT HAVE I DONE?? But this positive feedback would’ve been wonderful to have then – would’ve made me feel like less of a lunatic. It’s still really damned nice to have now, so I thank you! xoxo

  15. Jake

    Didn’t realize the whole story, but really happy that Sam is finding his groove with the new team! Looking forward to cheering on both of our boys during the next game (whenever Mother Nature decides to cooperate)!

    1. Ashley

      Thank you for stopping by and reading this, Jake! Yes it was a terrible cluster for a while, but I am SO relieved it had a happy ending! Can’t wait for the boys to play again – Sam has been practicing! 😀

  16. Real Life Parenting

    Oh, Friend. I feel you so completely. You’re an amazing lioness mama, I promise. We do what we feel is best for our kiddos. Sometimes it’s to let them fight their own fight, other times it’s to step in and protect them. You might doubt yourself, but I don’t. Sam learned a VERY important lesson from all of this–you have his back, you’ll stand up for him, and–even more–you won’t leave him hanging out there to deal with the aftermath.

    Brava.

    1. Ashley

      Thank you, friend!! The approbation is welcome and needed, believe me. I sweat my decisions every day, and the knee-jerk reactions are usually the ones I end up regretting the most. Thanks for your support, mama!! xoxo

  17. susan

    Phftttt you think that is bad wait until your a grandmother lol im a bloody nightmare mamma bear lol ,, always stick up for your children ,, trust me its in the job description lol xxx

    1. Ashley

      Oh boy, I can only imagine how it’s going to be when I’m a grandma bear! And you’re right – it IS in the job description! xoxo

  18. Amanda

    Good job. I have to admit, I am that mom that will jump to my children’s defense every time. However, my children have learned that I will also be the first one to call them on their bs. If they are in the right, darn straight I am going to battle for them. I am that mom that when I see any child on the team getting treated wrong or injustice happening whether it be my kid or your kid, I will speak up. I feel all kids need to have someone have their back. A lot of parents now days are just not comfortable speaking up for fear of upsetting their child or the coach. I have had multiple parents over the years stop and thank me for sticking up for their kids, telling me that they just weren’t sure if they should have said something or not knowing what to say. So I say you did the perfect thing and it’s sad that none of the other parents followed your lead.

    1. Ashley

      My kind of woman! Amen. Thanks for the solidarity – I really appreciate it. Keep on doing what you’re doing – we need more like you! xoxo

  19. Life With Teens & Other Wild Things

    Way to go Sam!
    Way to go, Mama!

    While it’s true we shouldn’t pat their little heads and hand-hold and over coddle, it’s also true that our kids NEED someone who has their backs, and who calls bullshit what it is. How else are they to know when someone else is wrong and they are right? How will they know when they really are a victim of unfair treatment, if we don’t stand up and call it out? Balance, that’s the key. They need to know how to stand up for themselves, but they learn that by seeing Mom and Dad stand up for them when necessary.

    You did good, Mama. ((hugs))

  20. Brenda Butler

    I love to read stories like this. This would be my son going through grade schools, being ridiculed by not only students but Teachers. I had eight teachers at a meeting telling me what was wrong with my son. And how they can fix him my son was never broken(Only one of these teachers ever had him in their class) to say that meeting did not go the way they wanted it to. My final words to these so called educators I would not leave my blind dog in your care. Not till Jr High and one great Principal and Vice Principal did my son change. Now a Sr in High School and JROTC this kid is amazing. He has been back to his grade school teaching younger youths about the Flag and a proper edict of the Flag. There were few of these teachers left at school their jaws dropped to the ground seeing my son. Yes, Momma Bear came out yet again “Yes that is Christopher, an Honor Student an Officer in JROTC. The kid who you all thought was a looser” Always be there for your kid they are worth it.

  21. Kate

    Me personally, I think you did the right thing. I’ve never done that (yet, my son is only 2) but I remember doing that with my little brother once. A very similar situation, but it was an after-school game. I ended up shouting at the coach for ignoring my brother and ended up with a near suspension.
    These things happen.

    1. Ashley

      Wow, I love that you were defending your brother at such a young age! I did the same for my siblings. Thanks for reading and for the encouragement!

  22. Eli@CoachDaddy

    I’m a coach, Ashley. It made me nauseous to read how he treated Sam. Sometimes, my players accidentally call me dad (which is cute) or teacher (which is poignant.) We are teachers. We’re there for the kids, not our warped sense of glory. Men who volunteer to coach so that they can stroke their egos on game day don’t get it.

    Sam and all the others are part of a team. A team works together, learns together, succeeds and fails together. It’s one of the most important lessons we coaches teach. When a coach puts a kid on an island and casts verbal coconuts at him? That’s the worst.

    I’m glad you spoke out. I’m glad you stuck up for not only your son, but the other kids neglected in training. A measure of a coach’s success comes in how his players love the game. It’s not about wins on Saturdays.

    I don’t know Sam’s team’s record now, and it doesn’t matter. The victories he’s experiencing with coaches who care about his development and well-being above all else will elevate those men to rewarding experiences – and translate into life lessons Sam will apply in many aspects of life.

    Maybe even, someday, as a coach.

    1. Ashley

      Thank you so much for your words of support, Eli! I wish Sam had had YOU for a coach. But it did end up working out in the long run. He loved playing flag football and is signed up now in the spring (again, blindly, without knowing the coach). Hopefully the experiences will all be positive from now on. Thanks so much for reading!

  23. Crystal

    I did manage not to make a scene in front of everyone, but I did call my son’s coach once and chew him out. I cried because that is just what I do when I am really pissed off and my child is devastated. Unfortunately, we have a small town with only one team that travels hours to play. I was 8 months pregnant driving 6 hours round trip to watch my kid go stand on the field for a kick off a couple times a game. Infuriated didn’t even begin to describe it!! My next son has had a rough time with his baseball coach this summer too, and will have to hold myself back if he doesn’t get to play next year because he is actually pretty good, he is just quiet and doesn’t draw attention to himself.

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