This coaches roundttable is the first of four talking to some of the biggest stakeholders in Washington state high school sports. The roundtables:
Part 4: Academics, with a Tacoma Captains Council student-athlete roundtable.
The panel at the roundtable: Dave Alwert, Wilson boys basketball coach; Jody Coleman, Orting wrestling coach; Randy Davis, Cascade Christian football coach; Thomas Ford, Stadium football coach; Dave Miller, Lakes football coach; Michelle Nixon, Fife softball coach; Todd Northstrom, Gig Harbor boys soccer coach; Rick Tripp, White River boys basketball coach; Matt Whitehead, Rogers baseball coach.
TNT: What are some of the biggest challenges you are foreseeing as coaches going into the new school year?
Miller: I’ll start off since I am probably the oldest guy here.
Davis: I don’t know about that.
Miller: There are a lot of challenges. Randy and I were talking about it in the lobby, it has changed a lot in the 30-some years I have been around and maybe recently more than ever. I think the past five years I’ve seen more changes than any time, just with participation numbers. Football might be different than other sports with the hysteria we face with the media, ESPN and all the different media things and then with concussions and all that. I think the biggest challenge right now is to make sure we are up on all of the techniques so that we can present to our parents how we can make the game of football as safe as possible.
And I’m seeing a lot of freshmen coming in with parents who seem uninformed. Maybe have had little league experience that was glorified a bit and we have to kind of reign them in so that they get back to reality of the daily process it takes to be a student-athlete. We have been fortunate to have a few guys who have gone on after high school and they all worked hard and bought into the daily process we have to get better to get to that point.
Some of the kids lately have come in as freshmen and want it just handed to them because they scored a couple of touchdowns in little league. They are not ready even though they think they are. There was a time you could put them into the process and have some assistants who could help you keep them accountable, but nowadays you see more kids who would just bail and go to another school.
TNT: Is that at least partly to do with the growing nature of select and club sports?
Whitehead: You still have to have standards and hold your kids accountable for what your beliefs are and your values and morals. But yeah, with the select world now, kids are paying thousands of dollars and everyone is select. They tell them how good their kid is all the time and so they come in almost entitled, thinking they are better than they might really be. I think in baseball I’m finding that 10 days before our first game that they have the skills, they know how to play, but they don’t understand the game. They don’t know what to do or where to go. Yeah, they play 70 or 80 games in the summer, but they are not understanding the game itself.
There is a lack of baseball IQ, but some good athletes.
TNT: Do you have to have a good relationship with the select teams and their coaches and work with them or do you try to keep your distance? What is the relationship like between you as school coaches and select teams?
Tripp: I know for us, we have a youth program and we try to tailor it to White River kids. Some of them don’t play AAU. But like Dave said, kids are being told, ‘You are so good, you are going to go here, you are going to get a scholarship playing AAU over high school.’ You see that kind of stuff. And I definitely see that when you get on a kid who thinks he’s better, he’s just going to go to another school because you get on him.
I’ve been fortunate to have kids who are competitive but you can definitely see, ‘Hey, if I get on this kid, is he going to go down to Sumner or Bonney Lake or wherever?’
Alwert: I try to work closely with the AAU programs and I think they got some things that they are doing that are brilliant. They got U-14 and U-15 and keeping it by age. That takes the pressure off of them and the pressure of the kid who feels the pressure of trying to make a U-17 team. Instead we have a C-team, JV and a varsity. And everybody wants to be on varsity. So I think they have that set up pretty brilliantly.
But has it hurt us? Yeah, I think the kids look at AAU and AAU coaches as a means to get more exposure than what us high school coaches can do. That is a difficult part for us.
TNT: Are most athletes getting their college scholarship offers through select and club sports today?
Northstrom: In soccer that is definitely the case. When I first started 16 years ago I would be in contact with some college coaches here and there, but that’s all done mostly through the club system now. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I don’t know.
But I have noticed that trend, as well. We have a C-team, JV and varsity as well and I’m flabbergasted in the last five years of how many kids come in as freshmen thinking they are stepping into a varsity role. And then you talk to the parents and they don’t really see where their kid is really at.
They are used to their club teams telling them how good they are.
TNT: We’ve talked about some things that can come off as negatives, but are there some good things that come out of select sports? Are you seeing a rise in the level of play?
Northstrom: Oh yeah. They make my job easy.
It’s a lot more tactical stuff by the time they get to me. It’s funny because I help coach the girls at Gig Harbor, too, and coaching the girls tactical things was always easier because they would buy into it, whereas the guys were kind of stuck in their individual approach. But holy smokes, these guys now are a lot better than I was.
Nixon: To go along with the baseball and softball thing, it is convenient that the boys and the girls are going to these extra trainings because I’m not the best pitching coach ever, and if they have someone they can work with who is better, then great. That will help me out at practices for the future.
The one thing that I’m noticing is that they expect to come up to that level. But there are different dynamics for every team. This kid might be starting every game for their club team, and they are sitting on mine. That’s just what it is. And we only get them for a few months.
I can say being a parent of a baseball player, come June 1 and having them play all through the summer, they are exhausted. They are worn out. Their arms are shot, injury risk is huge. There’s pros and cons to it all, though.
Whitehead: Now they are doing all of the strength and conditioning stuff. Kids are getting stronger and faster than they were when I played. I need us to be able to work together, but I’ve heard parents say, ‘My son has been saying this or that about my high school coach, that they don’t know anything.’ I’ve even heard from soccer players that kids who don’t play at the high school level are getting hurt because they just don’t know what they are doing. You are going to tear your ACL or MCL, or they are going to slide tackle because they don’t know what they are doing.
But we have some high school programs getting kids started for younger kids and I think that is where baseball is headed, too, where we are looking to start some youth programs for the younger kids.
TNT: Michelle made a good point about how you only get them for a few months. What are your thoughts on coaching out of season and do you feel you should be able to do more coaching in the offseason, such as running drills?
Ford: That is probably the age-old question. These kids can play year round and to me it’s almost wrong, for lack of a better term, that we aren’t able to coach our kids in our program. Especially in football, there’s all these kids getting all this information from camps, but football isn’t played in a T-shirt and shorts. Too me, I think it does at least a little injustice that we have to be so hands off and are limited to specific training in the offseason.
Davis: I think the intent of that rule, though, is good. I know some of you talked about the advantages of kids being able to play AAU, but for a small school like Cascade Christian, the decline in multi-sport athletes is really hurting us bad. There’s only a finite number of athletes at a small school and some of them are playing basketball only or others are playing baseball only. It really affects the strength of our program.
It seems like I’m battling all of the time to get kids out. It seems like the parents are the ones pushing it, telling their kids that they are going to be the next great football or basketball player. That’s the thing that really frustrates me especially with basketball. There aren’t too many 6-foot white guys that are playing college ball. That’s just the way it is, but they are always told that they are going to get there.
TNT: What are your views on specialization?
Ford: I think it’s asinine that coaches at the high school level would tell Sally, ‘Hey, you should only be playing this.’ It not only isn’t good for the athlete as a whole, but it does create a lot of situations to increase the chance of injuries. Especially with racket sports, rowing sports, those types of things — using the offseason for those types of sports would be incredible, especially if they are using them to work on some other movement.
I know at Stadium, for us, I encourage our kids to do at least one other sport. I don’t want to push anybody to do something they don’t want to do but that’s just kind of the recommended thing. I want to see our guys competing in something else. You can compete in the weight room, you can compete off the field, but not as much as when you are competing for a team against another school in another sport. I definitely think the specialization has gone a little too far at this level.
Miller: It’s gone way too far. You talk about burnout. You see a lot of kids get burned out and don’t want to do anything after high school.
When I got the email for this series about a month ago, I went back and looked at every kid that we’ve had who has gone on to college to play, some of the better athletes we’ve had, whether it’s Reggie Williams, Jermaine Kearse, whomever, they were all multi-sport athletes. Jermaine Kearse was also an all-state basketball player and he (placed ninth in the 100 meters and fifth in the triple jump). He played three sports and Reggie played three.
I think what is happening, quite honestly, is like parenting. Most of you are parents. You can be a good parent by holding your kids accountable or you can be their buddy and let them do whatever they want. I’m going to generalize here a little bit, but what I see from AAU coaches is that a lot of them are not certified, they are not trained, they want to be the kids’ buddies, they want to accumulate a lot of talent, win a few games and make them look like a great coach, whereas we got into coaching because we want to make people better. We want to hold them accountable for being better people, better students and better athletes. We are fighting that right now.
One of the reasons our program was so good for many years is that when kids came in as freshmen, all of the freshmen played together. Nobody played up. Five years ago I started hearing from around the community, ‘I’m not going to Lakes because Coach Miller doesn’t let freshmen play on varsity.’ So I had to relook at things. Where is that coming from? It was good enough for Jermaine and Reggie and all of those guys on the freshmen team. Jermaine wasn’t even a starter on the freshmen team his freshman year. He was a backup receiver. Sophomore year he was on JV and junior year he was on varsity. And that was fine. There is a progression, a process to getting better. And (Whitehead) talked about that, about learning the game. Getting experience. What about confidence? You are thrown in as a freshman and something goes wrong, sometimes you get the turd beat out of you. Where is your confidence? It’s gone.
Alwert: And you are also protecting the kid. Dave Miller and I coached for a while together, but you are also protecting the kids from those 18-year-olds that their parents think they can beat.
TNT: Outside of the big sports – football, basketball baseball, and softball for girls – do you see some of the other sports suffer from these types of expectations that ‘I’m only going to play one sport’?
Coleman: Well, I think at our high school, wrestling has been good for a long time. I think it’s kind of reverse. Like, I got some big kids that I’m trying to talk into playing football. They don’t want to get hurt, they don’t want someone falling on them on the line. I got a couple of boys who are like 220 pounds and they have every reason to be out there and I can’t talk them into playing football. But they are built to do it.
Then I have some other little guys who are like 5-foot-6, 130 pounds and they want to play football. And I’m like, ‘OK. If you want to play, that sounds good.’ But maybe expectation-wise, think about cross country, track like – because these kids can run like nobodys business. And they got that mindset. If they wanted to attack you, it would be like a Chihuahua, but they are like 130 pounds. I know that life, look at me.
I try to direct them into doing sports to work on their skill level, but at my school it works a little opposite sometimes where I’m like, I know our left tackle, he’s going to be a heavyweight. North Carolina is looking at him. He doesn’t want to play football. He’s 270 pounds. Best athlete in the school. He plays football, but he’ll just show up in August and be like, ‘All right, Coach, I’m here.’ He doesn’t want to do any of the spring stuff.
TNT: Where does the notion come from that if you play one-sport year round that you are more likely to get a college scholarship?
Davis: I think it’s the camps and clinics they go to. The parents don’t realize that you are paying them money, so they are going to tell you what you want to hear. ‘You are the greatest thing coming. Come back next week and pay me your money again.’
Alwert: One of my players who just graduated was Keun Palu-Thompson. We really try to stress for our kids to play multiple sports and Keun did and he had seven return touchdowns and was and All-Area player and he even had a Division I offer from Idaho. And we have another guy, Montre (Lofton-Brown), who just got his first offer for football from Eastern Washington University. And this will be his first year playing.
As a basketball coach, I want football players. That goes back to my Lakes days with Dave. I think football creates a tougher kid. Not just a better athletes, but a tougher kid. And I think that is what it takes.
Davis: How about physical development? You have to use different muscles for different sports.
Miller: I think the other thing, (Alwert) and I coached together at Lakes about 10 years ago or so. We had a really good relationship of working together. I don’t know what you guys find, but I’ve been fortunate to have some basketball coaches who felt that way and I felt that way, especially with wrestling. When coaches work together, I think it helps the kids and I think sometimes when coaches isolate themselves and tell the kids, ‘No, I don’t want you doing that.’ That hurts everybody. It’s not good.
Like Randy said, you have to share the athletes and not even 3A schools have enough to just specialize. We still need kids to play. And cross training is good for everybody.
TNT: It seems like all of you are against specialization. But are you seeing coaches, maybe even within you schools, who encourage focusing on a single sport?
Alwert: It’s tough. When you got the kid who is sport-specific, but you know he is going to go to a high Division I school and you know he’s going to have to work. It’s hard to tell him, ‘Yeah, I think you should go play different sports.’ If he is already committed and he is at that level, then no, we don’t want him going out and doing something else.
When it’s all said and done we want these kids to be able to have a free education and whatever can get these kids a free education, that’s what I’m a proponent for.
Miller: Here’s the thing I always tell our kids: What about the high school experience. I know you have aspirations to go on, but what about just enjoying high school? We had kids who when they were a junior knew that they were probably going to be a Division I football player, but they still went and played basketball because they wanted to be a part of it. They had fun doing it. They wrestled because they had fun doing it. I tell kids, ‘Have fun in high school as long as you possibly can.’
The colleges will tell you what you are. We’ve had kids when they were freshmen think they were basketball players and they go on to play football and vice versa. I’ve talked kids out of quitting basketball because they thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to be a football player.’ No, play basketball, too. So I just think, whatever happened to having fun as a high school kid. It’s one of the best times of your life. Because at the next level it’s a business. It’s a different game.
Tripp: And one injury and you’re done. My daughter – all-state basketball player and all that kind of stuff – she’s had nine concussions. And she’s done. She had a tremendous high school career, played for the national championship in basketball, but someday it ends. Even if you go play professionally. So like you said, you got to be able to enjoy it while you are doing it.
Our basketball program, we go hard, almost year round, but I let kids do other stuff. ‘Hey Coach, I got football or baseball. OK.’ But when it’s July 5 or whatever, we’re done. Go be a kid. What do you need?
Miller: And I want kids to be able to have a summer, too.
TNT: Those are all great points and I think you all touched on all of the issues, but Michelle, what do you see from girl athletes? Are they facing some of those pressures?
Nixon: You hit on a few, but again, you talk about the whole what Tripp was saying. The best thing I could have done for my program was coach at the seventh-grade level. Because we have the advantage of playing in the fall. So I have got six weeks of seventh graders that I’m already conditioning for the high school program and talking to their parents at that age. So I am already grooming them for that level.
But you start to realize at 12 and 13, especially with girls, who really is honing in on fastpitch or soccer or things like that. And you might need to work with them but they are already working with their summer programs. Look, I’m not an educator. I’m working in Corporate America. So I’m trying to get out of work to get to practices and I don’t get to see the girls all day long. I don’t get to see what goes on during the school day. I will hear stuff from my husband or whatever. But my 17-year-old kid is done with baseball. And I’m sure that some of my other girls are done with softball at this point.
But I just think at some level they get tired. And I’m with you guys – they need a summer. In fact, right after state, I don’t even talk to them. I’ll touch base, but it’s not about softball. Some of you know with girls, maybe some of you have daughters, but most of them – it’s about the experience.
TNT: Todd, you’ve coached both. What’s been your experience with the rise of girls sports over the last couple of years?
Northstrom: From Gig Harbor I come from a very competitive region. But I’m starting to see more and more of, not really with the guys program, but certainly in the last few years with the girls a lot of girls not playing because they are worried about injuries or some just, when I did my three-year stint with the girls about eight years ago, there were a couple that just quit club but wanted the high school experience. And so you see that.
But as far as the skill level, I’m interested because I’m co-coaching with Stephanie Cox this year, the former national team player. I’m just curious of the expectations of these girls on themselves and her input back to them and how they will react to it. But like I said, with the boys they are a lot more sophisticated. And it happens. But a lot of times the girls are tougher than the guys. So you have different stories.
TNT: What about female coaches? Are there enough opportunities for female coaches in high school sports?
Nixon: I think there’s the opportunities, but it’s whether or not they have the confidence. Even when this job came to me about five years ago, I thought, I don’t know. I got a family. My husband is already there. But I already knew most of the staff. But I think jobs are available for women, I think they just need to put themselves out there. It’s not different than any other job. But are you willing to take the time to go to the clinics and learn more.
But I think coaching is really about, I want them to walk away from my program and have some life skills and I want to know that I helped them build themselves. I want them to interview for a leadership academy that I will offer for them. I want to know that they can go into a job interview when they get older and kill it. Anybody can teach drills, drills, drills and skills. But I think there is something more psychological to being a coach than just the Xs and Os.
TNT: That brings the question of what it means to be a coach today and how it has evolved over the years. You are all at different points in your careers and you’ve seen the different dynamic of kids coming in. Do you have to change your coaching style to accommodate the style of athletes we are seeing in today’s age with the social-media savvy, modern club playing athletes we are seeing more of? Have you had to change the way you coach?
Miller: As coaches, you have to get better every day. If you are not getting better, if you are not keeping up on the relationships with the kids, cutting-edge techniques, whatever it may be then the game is going to pass you by and the program is not going to evolve and you are not going to evolve as a coach. I don’t think you change your core values, like Matt said, or your core beliefs. But you have to adapt and adjust.
Randy and I were talking and one of the biggest things as a head football coach over the years is being able to replenish your staff as you lose coaches to promotions or changes or things like that. But I think you have to get better. We tell our athletes every day to get better in the classroom, in the weight room, on the field or court, but we have to get better as coaches, whether it is clinics, or whatever.
Davis: I completely agree. Xs and Os for us might change, but building character should never change. That’s as old they go back. You should always strive for that. Like Michelle said, we have to prepare these kids to move on.
Miller: I think one of the things that has changed over the years, we used to have these kids who had high, high expectations at home. When you got on a kid a little bit more maybe 20 years ago, they didn’t freak out because they were getting that at home. Now we have a lot of kids where there are no expectations at home. We will have parent-teacher conferences and parents will come in and they don’t even comb their hair. They got sweats on and flip flops. I’m like, ‘Really?’
That tells me that there just aren’t many expectations at home. You don’t back off from what you believe, but you start more positive and you start from scratch a little more to get to that point.
TNT: Do you think the drill-sergeant approach just doesn’t work anymore?
Miller: Like Randy said, you still have to give them the same medicine, you just have to mix it in with some other stuff. You got to be more positive nowadays.
TNT: We spoke with one district athletic director who said there is more of a tendency for kids to just quit. Or, like (Tripp) said, just transfer to Bonney Lake. Is that something you’ve seen as well and does that change the way you discipline?
Miller: There is more of that, but I think you still have a line that you can’t go below. I think there are more times though when you take the kid aside and you say, ‘Listen, I’m trying to help you here, I’m trying to make you better, but you have to buy in to what we are doing here and you have to try.’ So I think there are more of those one-on-ones whereas before there could be more my-way-or-the-highway.
Tripp: You definitely can’t do a group, like lashing. Because kids don’t want to be embarrassed in front of their friends. You do that and sometimes you lose them.
Ford: I couldn’t agree with that statement more about kind of the openness of challenging of a kid. Sometimes instead of criticizing the player, it’s OK to put your arm around them and say, ‘Hey, this is not correct, this is what you need to do.’ Because I do see that a lot with our kids — if it gets hard, you might not see them for a couple of days.
TNT: Do you have to have more social skills as a coach, too? Especially in keeping up with their Twitter lives and what they are doing in select sports?
Alwert: You have to wear different hats. A coach isn’t just a coach anymore. A coach is a philosopher or a councilor sometimes. You got to build the relationships with the parents, the players the AAU programs. You just have to wear so many different hats compared to in the past.
That’s the evolution I think Dave Miller was talking about. We have to evolve as coaches and that means you got to build your pedigree with more than just being a coach. We’re a coach, a teacher, a lot of things.
Miller: I think what I’ve seen the past few years is a lot of guys my age that got out because they didn’t want to deal with things we have to deal with nowadays, they didn’t want to evolve.
TNT: A pair of hot topics in high school sports today are transfer and recruiting. But what is the big deal about high school recruiting and why is it so dangerous for a kid to want to go to a school specifically for its football program or basketball program or to play for Coach X?
Miller: I think it’s what we talked about earlier. We already talked about entitlement. If you are going to put yourself in a position where you are going to go recruit a kid, you’ve just created that right away. You’ve just told him, ‘You’re special and I want you to come play for me.’ Now you are going to try to discipline that kid and make him accountable? That’s a reason I would never do it.
The other reason is it’s illegal, it’s got so many bad ripple effects and Randy and were talking about this, the reality is that if you have a really good program and you get exposure and there’s things that happen, you are playing in the Tacoma Dome, your kids are moving on to other levels, kids are naturally going to want to come play for you. You are right. And if the parents want to move and they physically move and there has been no recruitment and they just do that on their own, it is what it is, what are you going to do about that.
But what is happening is there is more and more of the other way around. I don’t think there are many high school coaches recruiting, I really don’t. But I think the AAU coaches are involved in it, I think these training centers that are going on, they’ve got guys leading people in different directions. I’ve heard that from kids and I’ve heard that from parents. So I think those problems are rising.
Ford: I think a lot of that has to do with a lot of these camps. It seems like there’s camps my kids are going to every weekend and every day. Kids are talking to each other, saying ‘Hey, I don’t like my situation at X school.’ And someone says, ‘I really like my school.’ ‘Oh, I want to go to that school.’ That’s where, like Coach (Miller) said, that entitlement comes in where they weren’t getting the love they were deserving of so they want to go somewhere else. When you look at the statistics, probably 70 percent of the kids who go to a different school don’t play. They just weren’t that good.
TNT: Is that one of the issues, as well, with schools being known as a football school, or wrestling school or some other specific athletics program? Maybe schools get too known for certain athletics?
Coleman: I think with us, we get a lot of kids on to the next level. And so it creates and image and a stigma. Whereas some of the other sports in our building, those coaches are working hard, too. But the foundation isn’t there with the youth program. So the foundation with the basketball team at our school, they’ve struggled. There is no little-kids program. So the foundation isn’t there.
But in wrestling, the little kids at a very young age, even my boy is in there now. He’s five. And that group of kids will make friends and they will bond and they will travel and they will stick together. In wrestling you get these weird groups of people where they are like buddy-buddies. They travel all over the country together. In our school, if there was that foundation established in other sports the same things would happen. But I just do wrestling, so I worry about me.
TNT: Another topic is injuries. There’s the rise of concussions in football and that is becoming more prominent. Now we’re learning about soccer and heading the ball and how that is causing concussions. Do you feel like high school athletes are more aware of their health and that has changed what you have to do to them in educating them about their sport and are you finding that it’s maybe keeping people out of sports?
Miller: I think it’s all positive the gains we have made. I don’t think there are more concussions. I think we deal with them in a more up-front way. I think the media has made a bigger deal about it. There’s probably less concussions now because of the proper techniques that are taught, removing the head from tackling. We do the rugby tackling like Pete Carroll. So I think that has really helped. We have a full-time trainer in our school. I’m not sure how many have that, but that has been good, but we also have athletic-training classes that kids can take.
TNT: Are the athletic trainers something new?
Miller: That’s probably the past 10 years. The athletic training classes are probably the past three years. But I think all the gains in that area are positive that I see. But I do think that at your parent meeting that you have to talk more about those things, that you are transparent and encourage kids to come forward when they are injured and also talk about the differences between and injury and an owie.
TNT: Rick, you mentioned your daughter’s concussions. What was your personal experience having your child go through that?
Tripp: You know, old school (laughs). No, but, it definitely was a progression and it got easier for her to get a concussion and that’s ultimately why she quit. But I think we as parents have to be educated. Like Dave said, is it an injury or is it an owie. I see that all the time where a kid sprains an ankle and ‘Oh, I’m done for the season.’ We can deal with things like that. But with concussions, I think there is a fine line. There were a couple of times where would get a headache and, ‘Oh, that’s a symptom of a concussion.’ But everything else was nothing. Well, is she injured or is she hurt? Can she compete or not? There’s just, I see that a lot at our school, the injury or hurt thing. I remember playing and you played a lot of times hurt. I’m sure Dave has had some big-time athletes where you play hurt. You go to state, you wrap up and ankle or a hand and you don’t see that now.
Coleman: That goes to their mind. You’ll have your standout player on your team and I bet you his mindset is he knows the difference between injury and owie. I got 35 other kids but I don’t know them all on a personal level. So some kids think they are hurt and they can’t compete because they think it.
Davis: I think the educational awareness for concussions is awesome. I agree totally. We are much more aware. I think the Lystedt Law was the greatest thing there was. Because that takes it off of us.
What I do have a problem with, and I think the media overdoes it: so I get moms who aren’t going to let their kid play football or whatever. There’s way more concussions riding bicycles than there ever was playing football but yet you never hear a mom say they are going to ban their kid from riding a bike.
TNT: (WIAA executive director) Mike Colbrese talked to me last week about helicopter parents, or parents who hover over everything their child does, and then now there’s this upside down helicopter parent, called the lawnmower parent, who is so ultra-involved with their kids. Have you heard or see of these kinds of parents more around your programs? And how do you deal with them?
Whitehead: I just think, for me, you got to be the best you can to be proactive instead of reactive. The more I educate parents or players, whether it is a side conversation about playing time or whatever and telling parents, ‘In the real world, you are probably not going to be talking to your kids’ boss, I hope.’ Maybe they will nowadays (laughs). I just think being proactive is key and giving them more and more information. And you still have parents that won’t stop preaching to you until you do it, so it’s not like you are ever going to get rid of it completely.
Miller: I totally agree with Matt. Randy had a good point, too. I think if you don’t have a proactive parent meeting at the beginning where you set the expectations then you are really setting yourself for a problem.
The other thing I think is that to you need to continually be transparent and be consistent. I see a lot of younger coaches that just go by the seat of their pants and do one thing for Johnny and another thing for Billy. You have got to be consistent with every kid. Because then when a parent comes it, you say, ‘Same rule. It’s no different for any other kid. Here’s the expectation, you signed the paper, here we go.’ You have got to set the expectation and communicate.
And the days of my way or the highway are over as far as that goes. But if you are consistent, but if you got your ducks in a row then you are going to be in a good shape.
You’ve got to communicate with parents and develop relationships with them. My son is a college coach and he came back for a couple of weeks and was watching me and he said, ‘Dad, you are way too open with the parents.’ And I said, ‘No, I’ve got to be.’ Because for me, that’s the way I can handle things is they have got to know me and why I am doing this and doing that. So I invite them in. I’m wide open to them.
Ford: I agree with Coach. At our place, we really set those ground rules for our parents pretty early. One thing I’ve noticed that the helicopter parents will try to do is try to circumvent the head coach – try to talk to an assistant or other coordinators. We have a policy on our staff that if there is a question about a player that has anything to do with playing time or anything like that then it’s got to go to me. I don’t want my coaches having these private conversations with parents because then you get this weird system where the parent feels like they have an ally and you circumvent the head coach who has procedures in place.
Really the key for me and in my experience at Stadium has been really positive is the respect I get for this policy, which includes that if you want to talk about stuff, wait 24 hours. Because more than likely 24 hours later they are not going to have that same issue or they are going to have a much better way to approach some of these issues that come up. I know a lot of times with these helicopter parents, they want to know more than just playing time. They want to know why another kid is not playing, or why are we not doing this structurally or program-wise. I just think if you set those expectations with parents early, you will have a lot less headaches.
Miller: I think there’s been a lot of times where I’ve had to mentor parents and try to teach them how to keep things in perspective. But I think the thing we all realize is that we are not going to be able to keep everybody happy. If you have 130 football players and 11 play, there’s going to be people not happy.
You might have a kid playing linebacker who thinks he is a defensive end. Well, who knows better? The coach probably knows better. He might go to another school because he thinks he’s a linebacker because someone at an AAU camp said, ‘Hey, you’re a great linebacker.’ Whereas I’ve been coaching him for three years and he can’t get to the sideline but he can get up the field as a defensive end.
Northstrom: That brings me to a point about soccer, and it’s a dumb sport (laughs). But over the years you get a parent meeting and the kids sign contracts and so do the parents and they all know what’s going on and I get a Sunday night email telling them which kids are on JV and varsity and when the team dinners are and I put that all out there. And I’ll put a little statement in there about ‘Remember, don’t talk to the coaches about playing time or our playing style and all this other stuff.’ And for the most part, yeah, it’s good. You are going to always get that one person. You are going to get that. Sometimes they will come to your house, or all these other things. I’ve had everything. But you have to be transparent and open up to parents.
Alwert: I think the most difficult thing as a coach is helping the parent and the player learn to accept the role that you are offering them. I think it is going to be scary in football l with this seven-on-seven passing league rise because nobody is going to want to get on the (offensive or defensive) line.
Miller: That has become our AAU.
Alwert: So that is the difficult part is how do you help the parent understand what roles you want their kids to participate in that year? And that is a big difficulty from my side.
TNT: How do you keep drugs and alcohol out of your programs and is that more of an issue now, less of an issue?
Miller: That’s always a concern but for us it’s zero tolerance. I always talk about giving second chances and we give kids a lot of chances with a lot of things but that is not one of them. That has to be something where the kid needs help and he needs out of the program. It’s zero tolerance.
Coleman: And sometimes, too, just off suspicion, sometimes you’ll have it in waves where you have to worry about certain groups. Because you’ll have bad leader in the group and he could be one of your best players and he wants to pull kids astray. Sometimes that is your best athlete and you just have to cut them off. The same rule goes for him, even if he might be your best athlete. But these are the rules, so you got to go. So once you take the head of the snake away, the other guys fall back in line.
Ford: That’s so right. You can’t treat kids different based on talent. Because that also sets the precedent. Hey, if we’ll get rid of him, we’ll get rid of all of you. You hit it right on the head.
Miller: Nobody is bigger than the team.
Tripp: I think that gets back to the parents, too, and (Randy Davis) can probably relate to it like I can. We are in small communities. I hear of parents who have bought athletes alcohol and they go have a party. Well, how am I supposed to defend against that? ‘Hey, don’t have parties, don’t do this or that.’ But the parents, they want to be buddies and not the parents. And they’ll say, ‘Oh, Johnny, you’ve worked so hard this year and you’re playing so well, why don’t you go blow off some steam.’ It’s real.
Some of the city schools it’s different, not trying to stereotype them. But it’s different. You go to a small town like an Orting, Buckley, Eatonville or Fife and it’s wildfire how rumors spread. And social media, helps that.
Whitehead: That’s the thing, back when I played people still partied, but people didn’t have their phones there taking videos and Vines and Snapchat and all of the stuff they are doing now. I tell the guys, ‘Don’t be stupid.’
Nixon: What I notice, too, it’s amazing when you say the Snapchat things. Some of these kids will rat out each other. I’ve got that several times in the past four or five years. ‘I saw this or that.’
Tripp: If I can get the linebacker in trouble for partying, hey, now I’m the new linebacker.
TNT: We’ll try to wrap it up with this question: What are your thoughts on the health of high school sports. There was a recent report (by Up2Us Sports) that predicted that by 2020, 27 percent of high school sports programs won’t exist. What is the future of high school sports?
Miller: I think one of the things that is going to determine that is the administrators. I don’t know how you guys are, but we are very lucky to have administrators who understand the value of sports. All of us in this room are who we are because of athletics. The kids we coach are who they are because of athletics. And we all know that if we don’t have athletics kids aren’t going to grow to be the people they can be.
If administrators understand that part of the educational process, who will fight for it and fight for funding then we will battle through it. But I think it’s a concern. Especially at schools where administrators don’t understand how important it is. It’s easy to just say, ‘Let it go away’ and we won’t have it. And that’s scary.
Northstrom: And what some don’t see is that high school is kind of like the mini camp for the student-athlete. They have to be able to balance that and this is their first shot. So if a kid is supposedly going to go on to the next level, they are going to be able to have to balance that and to follow codes of conduct. High school presents that opportunity with coaches that hold them accountable and making sure they are also the best student in class, person outside of class and not to mention that element of you could blow your knee out any time. It’s a cliché, but that would be the shame in losing high school sports programs.
Miller: We’ve had so many kids over the years, as many of you have, and I can say this about myself. I probably wouldn’t have graduated without athletics. High school. We have a lot kids who if they aren’t doing football or basketball or wrestling then they aren’t coming to school.
TNT: But do you think that there is still a level of – there’s obviously a rise in test scores and pushing for education and competing globally in the classroom, but do you wonder if administrators specifically sees sports as the candy bowl of the buffet table, as something to keep away from and get more of the meat and potatoes of education because athletics is only the dessert? Is there more pressure to compete academically than athletically?
Davis: That is the danger. If your administrators are looking for cuts in sports to help economically, I think that is a big danger.
Alwert: That is going to destroy the discipline of the school. If schools have the most coaches as teachers that are involved in school somehow your discipline is usually better throughout that entire school. You are going to destroy that process.
We are all here talking about wanting athletes who will do multiple sports, but the reason is that when a kid specializes, the time he spends not doing that sport is when his grades drop tremendously. That’s my experience. So I want my kids doing track just because they are going to be that much more disciplined and have a coach lead them and hold them accountable. That’s what I see with the whole education system falling apart is that if kids don’t have that apple at the end, which is sports, will they even show up? Or will they just quit all together?
Tripp: When you talk about the state of the sport, I think Dave Alwert said it. There is a lot less in-building coaches. I’m not a teacher. And it’s hard filling in your staff. I always try to have somebody on my staff who is in the building because that makes a huge difference and I haven’t had that the past two years. It makes it tough.
Miller: I think it speaks to who really wants to be a coach, though. Because if you really want to be a coach, it’s a sacrifice to come in, quit your job, put the time in. I think a lot of teachers are getting out of coaching because of some of the challenges and they don’t want to get involved and they don’t want to do the extra things we have to do.
Tripp: The real point I was trying to make was, when you talk about the state of sports – teachers and administrators are pushing for academics with all of these standards that the state is pushing out. They don’t want to go spend 2-3 hours after school doing that. They want to be grading or doing this. Then, oh wait, there’s the out-of-season stuff where they might want to take their break all summer. My wife is a teacher so I see that part of it.
A lot of teachers just don’t have that time. They are trying to do all of their curriculum. Not that we are not, but it’s different. They don’t want to deal with kids anymore.
Miller: I heard a story that’s exactly to what you are saying. I heard a story about a buddy of mine in Eastern Washington, who shall go nameless. They just hired a new young teacher. He was a football guy and they wanted to hire him as a head football coach. The principal said, ‘No, there’s too much to worry about for him right now with teaching. Let him teach for 3-4 years and let him think about it.’
When I started, they asked me, ‘How many sports can you coach?’
Whitehead: I also think that being a teacher, your day doesn’t end when the final bell rings. You got to update grades, communicate with parents about grades or this or that. Then on top of that, too, I have two stipends to pay people for their time. I got varsity and a JV. Six or seven years ago there was a third stipend that you could split or you could use and they got rid of it and it’s valuable time that you’re asking people to come out for all of these hours for nothing. And suffer your wife and costs.
And the hours you have to put into it if you want to be successful, like for weight room and offseason stuff that I’m getting into now in my fourth year that is going to benefit them and their strength and everything. But I don’t get paid for it.
Tripp: That’s the thing I see is you talk about the focus on academics vs. athletics. At certain schools, like Sumner is crazy. They believe everything revolves around athletics and they have super strong academics. I just bring that up because I’m right there. So you have those environments. But then you have Clover Park for example. Mel (Ninnis, the Clover Park boys basketball coach) is trying to keep his kids eligible because that’s the only thing they got but then they can’t because their math standards are so high and they got 80 percent of the school with Fs.
Miller: We just went to assessment based so where it’s now all based on their test. It’s tough for kids.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
Part 4: Academics, with a Tacoma Captains Council student-athlete roundtable.