I’m absolutely gutted. Have you ever felt this way about coaching? I have felt that gnawing wonder of how much a coach can take before the mission goes from serving, caring, leading and teaching to martyrdom instead. But never so much as I feel now.
This is a stray from my usual blog subjects. But the power of parents to control coaches, the powerlessness of female coaches being pushed around or being held to a stricter standard, and the corruption of boards is universal to so many involved in coaching and I know that my story needs to have a voice. Our coaches are being chased out in record numbers, and the turnover is going to ruin the experience for our programs and our kids. Every year programs are being “rebuilt” because we can’t keep coaches around. There used to be coaches who had been with programs for 20+ years, but those coaches are becoming extinct, now its a new coach every year with new ideas, new expectations, new rules and confused kids. So many others are either walking away or, as I am choosing to do – fighting back against what has become a warped system of politics that once was about our kids having athletic opportunities and enrichment.
In a move across the country once again, my family and I hoped to bring our kids back to a strong school system, to their friends, and become a part of a community where we spent 7 years building our lives. I was excited to accept the position coaching at my old high school. The place where I lead a combined two school team in my first year as head coach to the state tournament for the first time in the program’s history, moving from 46th in the state to number 4. In the following year, because the program was so successful and grew in number, the team split into the respective high schools and I chose the school that felt the most like home to me to continue coaching.
We went through growing pains, building pains, splitting teammates up pains, and so on. But we grew through it, we remained on top, and we developed athletes that were quickly being recognized as some of the best in the state. One year after splitting and rebuilding as a team we were back in the top 5 state rankings, numbers steadily climbing, stands filling up. We were a young team giving the best in the state a run for their money almost taking out the number one with a loss of one point just before the final horn blew. The players were learning what it meant to be a team, what it meant to be athletes, and teammates, to be accountable, and responsible, and I was learning how to figure out my coaching style and philosophies, something I continue to work on today.
Due to a job transfer for my husband we packed up and moved our family to Georgia, where I had the privilege of working with two fantastic high school programs, and where I really started to sharpen my team building and leadership skills. But no place felt like home the way it did before we left and we were excited for the opportunity to return 4 years later.
As we were settling into our new home, a long trek across the country finally accomplished and piles of boxes in every corner, I received a phone call. I had been interviewed by booster members and a player, the Athletic Director, approved by the Principal, and gone through background checks and passed through the District Office’s approval. I had been checked off as a rehire, left on good terms when I resigned to move. I fully believed my hire was complete as do all coaches at this juncture.
But somehow, I was told on this phone call, the school board who has since the inception of hiring coaches just rubber stamp approved mass groups of recommended candidates, over a hundred at a time in a routine part of the bi-weekly board meeting, suddenly decided to do something different.
A single board member pulled my name from the pile, something before now completely unheard of. He then convinced the other board members that, from his personal experience and no other explanation, he didn’t think I was the right choice, and my hiring was unprecedentedly revoked. This board member had a daughter who played for me years ago. I don’t know the nature of his complaint as he won’t say. What I can say is that politics at the coaching level are bad, but when a parent tries to use politics and has the power of being a director on the school board, it goes into uncharted areas of manipulation and corruption. Could it be a grudge from his daughters playing time? Could it be that his daughter coached on the staff last season and I was replacing her position? Could it be influence from another parent who was upset about which team they were put on or how much playing time they got, or that they had to face consequences for drinking? No one knows, all we can do is guess. All we know is that another coach who loves their job and excels at it has just been wrecked by politics.
Not only did this board, without reason, deny my hiring, but a member of the board took it upon themselves to block me from being added to the candidate list to even get a chance at being voted on as an assistant coach – a move so far below their authority level and intended job description that it shocked even the administration.
The board did however approve, without discussion, the next coaching candidate that came through. A dad who loves the game but had no lacrosse or coaching on his resume. A wonderful person who stepped up because the board’s actions left this program with no coach in an area where coaches are impossible to find. In an area with only a handful of experienced player/coaches where they suddenly had a qualified, proven, approved for rehire, recommended by administration, requested by the teams parents and booster board, with letters of recommendation from programs around the country coach that they were thrilled to bring on, but that they couldn’t have because of the grudge of a parent who happens to sit on the school board.
I have faced discrimination as a woman coach, I don’t know many female coaches who haven’t. I’ve been made the assistant coach to a dad who’s never played a team sport before or coached more times than I can count just because “it’s a dad’s job to coach.” I’ve faced parents who are unable to accept that their child is not above the rules and must serve the consequences for their actions, or that not everyone can have a starting position, and I’ve faced manipulation and abuse of power. But this one is above anything I’ve faced before.
The local lacrosse community came before the board, along with the players, asking them to revote, with a petition with over 150 signatures, and asked that board to make me their coach. The board answered by blocking my name on any further employment recommendations. Their only reason? It’s personal. I agree, this is personal. It’s a personal attack on my integrity, my life’s work which revolves around growing teams, culture and confidence in young women, and on my reputation.
All of this has put my own background into question. Surely, people will assume, if the board denies a coach and blocks employment where it has never been done, there must be something there that no one knows that is quite awful. What the board is not telling people is that I was cleared, highly recommended, fully vetted by the administration, have a positive personal file and was checked for rehire. They won’t tell the public that the board member driving this is a disgruntled parent of a former player and former coach who was replaced.
The actions of this board have not only robbed a program of a coach, but put my reputation into question, taken away an opportunity with a team that I moved back to serve, and robbed me of a much anticipated year- where finally after years of coaching other kids- I would have my own daughter coming through the tryout pool. Now the program she hopes to play on is in question and in turmoil.
I could walk away. I have plenty of opportunities elsewhere. I could take some time off and work on finishing my pile of writing that I’ve been neglecting. I could start a travel team or put on tournaments. I could throw in the towel.
But for all the coaches out there who have been bullied, shoved out, emotionally exhausted, manipulated and threatened, while doing nothing but putting themselves whole-heartedly into the development of kids, athletes, and programs- I cannot walk. I cannot turn and let this rest. Coaches must stand together with one voice and remind everyone that we are here for the kids. That personal agendas must not be given in to. So for everyone who has been there, done that, I’m in this for all of us.
If you want to add your voice to this, the email to the Lakeville Board of Education is firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to call attention to this growing abuse of power against coaches, please share – put it in your local paper, your blog, your twitter, your facebook. And if you’re being bullied yourself, speak up and we will stand with you.
Thank You! (and now back to your regularly scheduled blogging….)