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It's Our Turn: Parent-coach clashes affect the athletes, too

The parent-coach relationship in high school sports has long been a contentious one across the country.

Every coach in every sport has to deal with parents upset with one thing or another. Whether it's playing time for their kid or the way a coach handles his players or instills a game plan, there is always someone who thinks they have the answer.

I'm reminded of this issue because of an article that ran in the StarTribune earlier this week after Roseville boys' hockey coach Jeff Pauletti resigned after allegations from parents that he bullied players. Pauletti has since taken a platform to fight for coaches' rights.

Are there coaches out there that don't belong in the profession? Absolutely. But the fact is that a lot of good coaches are lost because they don't want to deal with the headache that comes along with the job anymore.

What these parents also need to realize is that it's not just the coaches that they're affecting. The kids are the ones that become a victim in a lot of this. I watched that first-hand growing up playing basketball in a small community.

We were a team that had expectations on us from the time we were in 5th grade. All we heard at that age was how we were going to be the class that led our town to a state tournament when we got to high school - all because we won a few games as a bunch of 10-year-olds.

The big issue at that age and through middle school was whether or not the team should play to win or make sure everyone saw the court. It created animosity, not only among the parents, but also us as players.

Things only got worse at the high school level. It started as freshmen as a couple of the better players in our class got called up to varsity. They deserved to be there. They were the best players regardless of class, but that doesn't matter to a parent whose son is a senior and losing playing time to a freshman.

It finally reached its boiling point by our senior year. One of the best players in our class was also the coach's son. In the midst of a disappointing season, he became the punching bag for a handful of parents.

I remember vividly the harassment that he had to deal with on the court from a few of our own fans. We played in small gyms, exactly like the ones at the Class A level around Douglas County, where every word someone shouts is heard by everyone in attendance. He couldn't block it out every time a parent screamed at his dad to take him out of the game after he missed a shot. No kid could have played through the verbal garbage he dealt with that season.

A group of adults, people who are supposed to set an example to 17 and 18-year-old kids, had taken basketball away from him. We spent countless hours playing pick-up games in driveways growing up. That's when the game was fun. With a few weeks left in our senior season, he wanted to quit because he dreaded taking the court.

This was a kid who never brought any of this on himself. He was the antithesis of what a lot of athletes are stereotyped as. He was quiet, never cocky and graduated as the valedictorian of our class. The only thing he was guilty of was being the son of a coach who became a scapegoat when we didn't live up to expectations.

Those kind of stories are a dime a dozen across the country. I've seen instances when parents have called head coaches demanding that they play their child through an injury, even though playing wasn't in the best interest of their kid.

At school, kids know whose parents are the ones going to the coach demanding that they get more playing time. Trust me when I say this can create animosity among the players.

Is it worth it? That is the question I wish the small percentage of parents who are the problem would ask themselves. Surprisingly enough, high school sports are supposed to be more about having fun than anything else. Too often, it's adults who need to be reminded of that.


"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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