Life isn’t fair on a lot of different levels. Youth athletics is just one of them. I remember when my oldest was in high school. She was set to take the stage in a tennis doubles match. It was toward the end of the season and things had been going very well with her doubles partner. They were jelling, even though this was the first season they had played together as a doubles pair. My daughter had a poor warm up and without notice, the coach replaced her as they were about to take the court. No explanation, no apology, no last-minute side-bar conversation, no empathetic hand on the shoulder in comfort. Nothing, just absolutely nothing. I watched as she was left standing holding her racquet on the outside of the fence. It was heart-breaking.
I was hoping she wouldn’t cry and she didn’t. She was brave and shocked all at the same time. But she didn’t understand and neither did anyone else there that day. All the other parents just turned and stared at me. I shrugged my shoulders.
When my daughter came over to me, I asked her if the coach had said anything to her before he made the roster change and if she knew it was coming. She said “no” to both questions. The range of emotions that run through a parent’s mind at a point like that really can’t be fully encapsulated and certainly can never be put down in print. As parents, we know how hard our kids work and we want only success for them. But what happens when that 3rd person holds the power and their callous decisions hurt our children? Mind you, we aren’t talking about “playing time” here, but rather about simple kindness and the maturity to deliver a hard decision with grace, which is the least we should expect from a high school coach.
First things first, hug your child. Maybe no words, just hugs. Then, as hard as it may be, speak to the coach and even the athletic director if necessary. Often times our kids don’t want us to make waves for fear of being ostracised by their coach, but the lesson should be that they, as athletes and most importantly human beings, need fairness shown to them. It’s not only a need but also a requirement. So talk to the powers that be, even if it means doing it without your kids in the mix. You may not like the message you hear and you may not think it was handled appropriately, but at least you will have the information you need to make decisions about whether you put your child’s best interest in the hands of someone that doesn’t value it. One of the most difficult aspects of parenting an athlete is remaining supportive when you know it isn’t in your child’s best interest to continue on the path that produced the misfire. Especially when your child sees their sport as a ladder to greater things. It’s hard to watch your child’s feelings treated with disregard, but as parents, all we can really do, especially at the high school level and beyond, is to love them through it with the faith that they will come out stronger and brighter on the other side.