Dear parent of a female athlete,
Let me start off by saying this: Chances are, whether your daughter is nine or 19, she IS trying.
Sure, there are times her mind wanders; times when she laughs with a teammate or gets off track and starts talking about a boy. But for the most part, when it comes down to crunch time, when she’s at her 190th pitching or hitting lesson and doing the same warm-up drill she’s done 1,059 times, she IS trying.
It’s not easy being an athlete. It’s even harder being a good one. And just because she’s an amazing athlete, doesn’t always mean she’s going to be on it 100%.
She’s going to have her off days. She’s going to have her absolutely, downright, terrible days. She’s going to have trouble focusing sometimes, because, well, she’s not JUST an athlete, she’s also a young woman, a student, a daughter, a best friend, a girlfriend and probably so, so, so much more.
So I’m asking you to cut her some slack. If she’s struggling with something she normally excels at, if she’s having an off-day and not hitting her spots, heck, even if it seems like her head is in another world, just cut her some slack. Be her parent. Be her biggest supporter. But please, don’t be her coach too.
Chances are, she’s got enough coaches. But she’s only one mother, one father, heck, some of them don’t even have both. Be her supporter. Lift her up. Tell her she’s doing amazing and if she has a bad day, it was just that — a bad day — it doesn’t make her a bad athlete, daughter or person. It’s just one day. One game. One lesson. One practice. One session doesn’t not define her career.
I’ve been coaching girls for more than 10 years now. Softball was something I was always incredibly passionate about and still am. As a pitching coach, I get the honor of working with a select group of girls weekly to hone their skills. I teach them how to throw faster fastballs, more deceptive change ups and how to put more spin on all their awesome junk pitches. And because I’ve seen your daughter weekly for the last five years, trust me when I tell you this, she IS trying.
I will never, ever know your daughter the way that you do. I don’t always know how she acts at home, to you or to her teachers. But I do know your daughter on the field. I notice when her shoulders start to slump because she made a bad play; I can see the deep breath she takes when she’s just made a monumental mistake and is trying her best to hold it together and stick it out a little longer. I KNOW who your daughter is on the field. Years ago, I WAS your daughter on the field.
But what she needs from you and I, are very, very different things. Unless you, yourself, have played the sport and position she is playing, then please, stand down some. I can’t tell you how many lessons I’ve been in where a dad or mom coaches their daughter through the drills, and not constructively, but very, very critically. «You’re STILL not doing it right, aren’t you listening to what your coach is saying?» «Why am I paying for these lessons if you’re not going to give it your all?» «Don’t you know what your doing wrong? You’re supposed to step this way, not that way.»
I’m not judging you parents, I promise, I’m really not. I know how it feels to KNOW your daughter is capable of more than she’s currently giving. I struggle myself as a parent to step back when my daughter is on the balance beam and falling down for the 15th time. I fight back the urge to ask her why she’s not focusing more, and my daughter is only five, so trust me when I tell you I understand your feelings. But I also know, from a coaching perspective, I know nothing about gymnastics. So rather than tear her down, rather than question her commitment, I’m going to tell her to keep going. To keep trying. I’m going to encourage her, because that is what she needs from me.
And trust me when I tell you this, parents. As a coach, I believe in your daughter too. I know she is capable of so much, if not even more than you already know, and I want for her only amazing things. It doesn’t matter if I have one athlete or 20, I know them all, I coach them all as my own and when they fail, I fail too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left a softball tournament asking myself what I could have done better, what more I could have provided, to have helped your girls step up their game. To have helped them play better. To have helped them feel more pride.
So believe me, I think about your daughter. When I her head drop because she just struck out and let her team down, it weighs heavily on my mind and my heart. And I know you feel that pain too. I know it breaks your heart to see your daughter hurt, and it frustrates you because you know she is SO much better than that. But before you critique her, before you ask her why on Earth she would swing at something at her ankles, let me ask you to do this instead: love her. Remind her how brilliant she is. Remind her that no matter how she plays, you will ALWAYS be in her corner, because you are her parent and that’s what your job is.
And as a coach, this is what my job is: I’m going to make your daughter better. I’m probably going to give her some tough love, because that’s what a coach is supposed to do. We push your daughters to do more and be more than they think they can. We spend practices, fundraisers, lessons and weekend trips with your daughters learning about them, investing in them, so we know how far and when to push them. As a coach, I’m asking you to trust me, trust that I know your daughter and that when I make a call you may not agree with, I’m seeing something you don’t.
Once upon a time at a tournament, I had a pitcher give up a homerun. She hung a riseball and it was hit over the fence. She turned her back to us in the dugout, but you could see her shoulders huffing up and down, as she struggled to hold back the sobbing feeling she wanted to give into. You told me to pull her. You told me to get her out of there because she was done. And for a moment, I considered it, because that’s your daughter.
But I didn’t. And you probably really, really disliked me that game. How could I leave your baby in there when she was feeling like that? How could I expect her to come back from that? Why would I put her and the team through this when she clearly wasn’t on her game today. And this is where I need you to trust me. I promise I know your daughter too. And not only do I know her, but I know exactly how she feels, because I had those moments as a pitcher. And I also know, that when she comes back from this, which she did, she’s going to be better for it. She’s going to be stronger. And she’s going to be better than if I had taken her out and let her sulk.
Sometimes, I know you want the opposite of understanding. Sometimes, you want us to come down harder on them. I know you want us to tell them to suck it up and play better. And sometimes, we do. Sometimes, we give them a dose of tough love that is a little too tough. But sometimes, we don’t. Sometimes we have to remind them how human we all are. Because sometimes, we see things you don’t when they’re playing.
The pressure to be an athlete is enormous today. It’s not enough to be good anymore, you have to be the best. And sometimes, that pressure can suffocate you. And when your daughter is struggling to catch her metaphorical breath, it’s not my job as a coach to strangle her confidence, it’s not the time to break her down in order to build her up, we just need to keep her together.
And that is exactly what your job should be as the parent of a female athlete. To consistently be their rock. To be their fan all the time, even if you think they could be trying a little harder or doing a little better. Let the coaches wield the tough love, while you bring all the love.
Your daughter’s coach.