Aspiring coach should try to meet with parents, take time to listen


December 18, 2005|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

I'm in my mid-20s and would like to start coaching youth sports. I've always played organized sports and understand most of what is involved in being a coach. My main issue is having the parents respect me as their child's coach even though some of them have other children older than me. Is there something I can do to gain their respect, or should I wait a few years until I can coach my own child's team?

Patrick Evans, Cockeysvillle

DEAR PATRICK If you want to coach, then go ahead and volunteer. Coaches with a background in sport are needed in every league across the country. Yes, there will be many challenges, but that's the good part. Dealing with the parents will be your toughest challenge, but that should not discourage you.

Respect is something that you earn; it is not just given to you. A good start would be to have a parent meeting before any games are played (before practices even). Introduce yourself, give your background in sports and also communicate why you want to coach and what you plan on accomplishing in this year. Hot buttons you'll need to address are playing time and your philosophy on winning.

Prepare for this meeting the way you would prepare for a presentation in school. Write down your thoughts and rehearse. This will give you the best chance to frame and manage expectations. Remember, you won't think of everything, especially if this is your first time. Do your best and then open it up for questions. This is where you'll learn the most, so pay attention and jot down a few notes.

It will be your actions, not your age, that dictate how parents react to you. Coaching is a process, not an event. Be open-minded, make adjustments along the way and always keep an open line of communication with the parents. It's much easier to deal with the little problems right away than to let them grow into bigger ones later.

Just think: by coaching now you'll have more to offer when your own child is ready for sports. My advice is to go for it.

When my son was about 12 or 13 years old (he is now 28), we lived across the street from the Baltimore Orioles spring-training compound. The children from the neighborhood were always made to feel so special by the ballplayers. But I told my son and his friends not to interfere with the athletes and their work, and to never beg for autographs.

I found out recently that my son and his buddies once played basketball with Cal Ripken Jr. During the game, some children rode up on bicycles and asked for your autograph. You kindly gave them autographs and then turned to my son, Todd, and asked if he would like an autograph. He replied, "No thank you, my mom won't let me."

My son takes great pleasure in teasing me about this and I do give it back to him in a fashion, stating, "I told you not to bother them for autographs; I never told you to refuse one if it was offered!"

It seems if too many exceptions to a rule are given, children will find any loophole they can. Yet, parents, like me, that set up too many rules run the risk of creating a timidity that hinders the boldness and confidence necessary in athletics, as well as in life.

How would you advise parents to teach gentlemanly conduct and still encourage confidence and challenging competition?

Sandi Piper, Beverly Hills, Fla.

DEAR SANDI What a great story! I have to tell you that the lessons you seem to have taught your son would serve him very well in all aspects of his life. Teaching respect for the personal space and time of others is wonderful, and it is something that Kelly and I teach to Rachel and Ryan. Regarding the autographs, I was taught a similar lesson from my mom and dad. Because Dad managed and coached in the Orioles system for 37 years, I was around ballplayers quite regularly. My parents would always suggest, instead of asking for an autograph, why not ask a question? It turned out that I loved doing that, because I would be able to ask someone like Brooks Robinson how to catch a ground ball and this was great information that could really help my game.

That being said, I have been known to sign a few autographs and I have always enjoyed it. I always looked at it as a way to connect and spend time with the fans. I loved the interaction and I would get back as much or more than I would give. I always encouraged young teammates of mine to take some time each day to meet some fans and sign a few autographs. It seems to me that you were teaching consideration, not timidity; don't confuse the two. Consideration for others is part of good sportsmanship, but aggression is also part of sports, too. Distinguishing between the two needs to be learned and experienced. The coaches and the parents play a big role in giving that perspective to the kids. You seem to be doing just fine.

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