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PAINTER: Winning isn’t everything when it comes to coaching

• Nov 27, 2017 at 12:00 PM

I learned long ago that coaching isn’t easy.

This observation comes from my own experiences when I coached my two boys’ sports teams. Like most fathers, I thought coaching my sons would be a good bonding experience, and that I would be able to instill into them some of my athletic knowledge.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out as well as I had planned. I wouldn’t say I was a poor coach, but I could tell from some of the parents’ body language that they weren’t exactly enamored with my coaching skills.

In fact, one day I arrived late for practice, and one of the parents had the team using different drills than I had used at practices.  He obviously didn’t think much of my methods.

I gave up my coaching career to allow my sons to learn skills from other coaches who were more knowledgeable and skilled than me. I became a sideline parent, cheering on my sons’ teams.

Although I never verbally communicated with their coaches, I must admit that I was critical at some of their coaching moves, and I didn’t like when they sometimes would verbally abuse their players. Like some of the parents, I also questioned why my sons weren’t getting enough playing time. But I didn’t meddle.

On the other hand, some parents don’t hesitate to tell coaches what they think. LaVar Ball, father of Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball, UCLA guard LiAngelo Ball and budding star LaMelo Ball, has gained a national reputation for meddling in his sons’ athletic pursuits.

There are other parents just like LaVar Ball, but don’t have the notoriety that he has as a father.

In fact, according to an article written by former Northwestern University football star Garland Cooper for USA Today, “parents are having a significant – and usually negative impact on high school coaches.”

He wrote that 82 percent of the coaches surveyed reported dealing with parents has gotten worse throughout their coaching careers. Garland told about one coach who had a parent come onto the field and threw her daughter’s lacrosse equipment at him, even though his team had won the game.

A major issue for parents, according to the article, is playing time. The survey indicated that 87 percent of the coaches said they had parents complain about playing time for their kids.

As parents, we want to see our children be successful in their athletic endeavors, but our expectations should be realistic. The fact is that very few of our children are talented enough to earn college scholarships.

It’s also easy for us to criticize coaches, especially at the high school level, for not having winning teams.

Yes, winning is important, but we shouldn’t be obsessed with it. There are other factors that should be taken into account, such as the kids having fun, learning good sportsmanship, having good team morale and helping athletes develop self-esteem.

I can look back at my high school days and see evidence of how a coach can have a positive influence on his students.

For example, our ninth-grade football team was very good. We lost one game by one point, and that was to a junior varsity team. Our wins were by large margins.

But things didn’t go as planned in high school. Football was dropped as a sport in our sophomore year because of a millage defeat. By my senior year, we lost several good athletes because of injuries and transfers. We had a losing record.

Our coach, though, wasn’t deterred from doing the best he could in molding the players into becoming successful adults.

I have a high school friend who played on that team and thought so much of the coach that he regularly calls him. He even set up a gathering of former players to honor the coach.

There are many stories just like this one. I know it is easy to get down on a coach who isn’t winning. But if he is having a positive influence on your child, then you should be grateful for his willingness to help mold your child into a successful adult.

— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist

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