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I recently dug up an article that ran in the New York Times Magazine in 2004 about a coach who had played professional baseball before retiring to a small town to coach baseball. He coached many championship teams, and built a dynasty from a program that had no right to be a dynasty.
Through his career, the kids and parents changed — so much so that the earlier generations of kids revered and respected him, and the current generation ignored and mocked him. Parents who used to support his uncritically have been replaced by those who want to second-guess his decisions and who choose to go straight to the athletic director rather than to the coach when they have a problem.
When did we become so indulgent and so selfish? Why is it that wealth and competition causes such destructive, meddling behavior? I have played on many sports teams in my life, and have coached several — our kids don't grow up in a vacuum, and the coaches and teammates they spend time with develop their character and their will to strive for better. Anyone who has achieved a remarkable feat as part of a team knows exactly what I mean — anyone who hasn't is missing out on life. It isn't just sports, and everything I mean here applies to the drama club and the chess club (indeed, I was a Mathlete in high school … one of only a few with three sports on my varsity letter jacket, and NOT the best Mathlete but always willing to go, try, and learn).
My father was a role model for me. Elected repeatedly to the local community governing body, he was foresightful and forceful — he led the effort to issue bonds to buy the hills surrounding our community, and those hills are now the first undeveloped property along 101 north of San Francisco. My water polo coach (Chuck Metz) was also my math teacher — he worked hard to be a good teacher, but he worked harder to be a great coach. He built a successful sports team, taught teamwork, taught the value of commitment and hard work, and he modeled all of these behaviors — always on time, always prepared, always consistently fair. His funeral service was one of the few times that kids from a dozen different graduating classes got together to share their appreciation, and it was incredibly touching.
So I have coached, and I have reffed — soccer and water polo. I have to say that coaching water polo was an awesome and rewarding experience, but also that reffing is a thankless job that is made miserable by ignorant and boorish parents. It's just deflating to put up with unjust criticism (why can't parents read the rule book if they want to be an authority? and why don't they learn to ref if they want to hold the whistle? and what about being a parent justifies obnoxious, imbalanced judgment (yes, your kid just might be the worst one in the pool … someone's kid is)?
When did parents decide to be actors in the life of their children, rather than the sponsors of the play? Why do parents think that they are coaching their child by yelling at the other team or at the ref? Why do parents think that the competition begins with getting into preschool, and that the parents somehow have to game the system to go to the right private school? We went to public schools, kicked the cans in the street, and somehow did all right. Why isn't that going to be good enough for our kids?
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