Parents can resolve conflict with coach by negotiating peace treaty


October 29, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- Our son is an 18-year-old senior in high school. He's had a tough life. Both of his biological parents are dead, but since coming to us as a foster child when he was 16, he has completely turned around his life. Sports, particularly football, have played a significant role in his transformation.

His football team is having a losing season, and the offensive coordinator's coaching style appears to be one of criticism, belittling and intimidation. At a recent practice, our son and the coach had a verbal altercation and our son cursed the coach. After leaving the field, he went back to the coach and apologized. However, the apology wasn't accepted and our son was dismissed from the team. We have tried to appeal to the coaches and athletic director, but we've been told the decision stands.

We would like your opinion on whether the punishment fits the crime in this instance and how we should handle the outcome.

Ann Reilly and Joe Schwartzel, Columbia

DEAR ANN AND JOE -- Football, even at the high school level, seems to be one of those sports that lends itself to emotion and intensity. As an outsider looking in, it appears to me that it is a more accepted practice in football to a greater degree than in other sports for coaches to use the types of motivational tactics you described in your question. As someone who played a sport at the highest level, I would argue that there are better methods of motivating players to give maximum effort and play to the best of their ability while still earning and maintaining their respect.

In your case, as parents, I think the first thing that you have to ask yourself is, "Do we want our son playing for this type of coach?" Obviously, football has been a big part of his turnaround, and since I'm pretty sure you don't want his football career to end on a bad note after all the hard work he has put into the sport, I'm guessing that your answer would be yes.

Certainly, your son should have been disciplined for his actions. Removal from practice and having to sit out the next game would seem like more appropriate punishments for his behavior, especially given the fact that he faced the situation like an adult with an in-person apology.

Since that apology does not seem to be enough for the coach, I would recommend requesting a meeting with him without your son being present. Explain your son's past, including the role that football has played in his turnaround, and how important it is to his overall development and well-being to continue playing. Then try to find out what your son needs to do to be reinstated, possibly suggesting a public apology to the team and coaching staff in the presence of all players and staff members.

DEAR CAL -- What's a good way to start teaching a kid to switch hit? David Janus, Bel Air

DEAR DAVID -- I would just experiment and keep it loose in practice. When your child is learning to hit, I would ask if he wanted to try to hit from the other side. I used to experiment and play games with plastic balls or soft, spongy balls hitting both right-handed and left-handed, imitating people in the big leagues.

Maybe that's a creative way to practice. The next time you are going to play, say "You are going to be the Baltimore Orioles today and I am going to be the Cincinnati Reds." Start going through the lineups, and when you get to a particular person in the lineup, you have to hit the same way that he hits. That will give your son a chance to see if he has the aptitude to hit from both sides of the plate.

It is a developmental process. Hitting in general is very difficult, and you don't want to have your son become frustrated if he can't hit from the opposite side. But, if he has some success, build on that success through practice. Maybe presenting it in a fun, creative way is a good way to get him trying to hit from both sides of the plate.

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