I’ve talked with thousands of coaches over my career thus far, and I’ve heard many frustrations about athletes, but what I’ve really never heard are the words, “I hate this player.” We actually care a great deal about our players. Some we don’t click with the same as others, and some bring a higher level of frustration. But when it comes down to it, there’s a much higher likelihood of a miscommunication or translation failure in coaching style going on than any kind of hatred towards a player.
Ironically, the statement, “My coach hates me.” is muttered, shouted, whispered on many teams around the world becuase it’s the way the athlete actually feels. Perception really is everything, so we can’t just brush it off, something has to give. A player who feels unvalued and hated by their coach will turn into a player with parents who give their coach a few more gray hairs. It’s not a good scenario for anyone.
Where’s the disconnect?
Ironically, the athletes that coaches are most frustrated about are the ones we lay awake worrying about at night, the ones we spend the most energy on trying to reach, the ones we are consistently baffled about not being engaged with us. The ones who have massive potential but don’t seem to realize it or have the ability to access it. What players sense as hate, is often pure frustration becuase coaches want you to be better but are stuck, or are inexperienced and trying to recreate how they were coached, or out of ideas on how to connect.
The disconnect is a 3 way intersection. It involves the coach, the athlete, and the parents. Here are a few tips to dig deeper and find out what the real story is, and how to avoid this mess in the first place.
COACH: What’s your communication style? Just because it’s true doesn’t mean that saying it, at that moment, in that way, is in the best interest of getting the best from your player or building a bond that will form trust. Have you been strictly correcting your players, or have you also instilled your unwavering belief in their ability to grow? Have you noticed when they do make improvements and called it out? Are you ignoring the players with less talent becuase you know they are just “fillers?” Have you assured them that you are not on opposing sides but that you are there to build them up, support them, and guide them? Do you tell them and show them in your responses that they matter and do you take time to check in, listen, and tell them you care individually? Have you ever given just straight up praise, with no correction so they can enjoy their success for a moment without feeling that sting of the “BUT….”
ATHLETE: Is there any truth to what the coach is saying? Is it a matter of how it’s being said and you are deflecting the message behind it? Have you demonstrated behavior below what is expected or brought negativity and complaining into the team? Have you put in the work, the time, and the commitment you have promised? What does your behavior and body language communicate to the coach and your teammates? Is it possible that you have communicated something that is not true to how you feel and that you have room to express your commitments better? How’s your mood? Is it possible you brought a bit of a chip on your shoulder to practice because of something else going on? Are you open to correction and doing it another way? Have you asked for a one on one meeting and been honest about how you feel?
PARENTS: An open mind is critical. I know no one likes to hear this, but our athletes go home and complain about the coaches sometimes. Did you know they also come to practice and complain about their parents, and their teachers, and their friends? There’s a bit of teenager-ness involved in this transaction. Coaches have to keep an open mind when they hear things and parents should also. Not everything that comes home as a vent is worthy of any more attention than letting them air out some frustrations that have built up throughout the day. Ongoing issues need to be addressed. Massive misunderstandings need to be addressed. Occasional griping is relatively normal, though not productive, and passes. As parents we often go straight into protective and fix it mode that lasts long beyond when our kids have gotten over it. There’s a good chance if they came home in a bad mood, they were a bit of a pill at practice too and the coach may have lost their patience and said they had enough. On an already frustrated kid in a bad mood, that can translate way off base in the retelling at home from what really was going on. Ongoing issues however are a red flag that signal a communication issue that needs to be addressed with player, parent, and coach (and athletic director if that doesn’t go well.)
While there are legitimate issues that arise from coaches, parents and athletes that can truly need intervention on a higher level, many can be cleared up with a 3 way approach to finding the truth and deescalating what doesn’t need any more energy. The way we look at the situation, the way we take into account all 3 sides, is going to greatly affect everyone’s experience and future as a building program. Any one of those 3 parts can make an entire season miserable for the others if issues aren’t addressed. Teams are often like family – we don’t always get to chose who’s in it, who’s leading it, who’s a part of it. Find a way you can all get on the same page so you can get back to loving the game.