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Poor coaching

Original post made by Perplexed on Jan 26, 2008

My wife and I have felt very let down by the kind of coaching we've seen so far at the high school level. Either coaches seem lackadaisical and don't take the job seriously, or, more frequently, they treat the students harshly and provide a poor model of sportsmanship. The last coach my daughter had was disliked by most of the parents and team members because of his punitive, critical coaching style and bad temper, but the athletic director rehired him for next year, despite negative feedback from parents and players. In our experience with other sports organizations in Palo Alto (AYSO, PAGS, etc.), we've mostly come across positive coaching and instruction. Why is negative coaching tolerated on the high school level? Is it because we still assume that it leads to success? If so, at what cost? Also, does this kind of coaching get the best results with adolescent girls? I'd like to hear what other PAUSD parents think and what suggestions you have.

Comments (24)

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 26, 2008 at 1:03 pm

We found that the issue at Palo Alto High School is nepotism. There are stronger soccer players then some of the boys on the varsity soccer team, but the coach picked those kids that hung out in the same crowd. Perhaps he felt that they would work better as a team, even if some of those same kids were not as talented as others that did not make the team. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

I know the boys soccer coach during the 2004-2005 soccer season was harsh and unfair in the way that he approached his job.

The track and field lead coach has been considered a non-coach. He provides little or no training and thereby discourages Paly kids from participating at the level that they are capable.

The athletic director is rude and unapproachable.

It's a shame.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2008 at 1:15 pm

Perplexed, may we ask which school you are seeing this in? As the first poster alludes to, a lot flows from the Athletic Director.

Posted by Perplexed, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 26, 2008 at 2:29 pm

Our daughter attends Paly. Is coaching generally better at

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2008 at 2:34 pm

I don't have a big base of experience but at Gunn I have heard positive things. There does seem to be a "sports performance" culture at Paly that may have something to do with it.

Posted by LL Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2008 at 2:43 pm

Don't know if this is relevant to the discussion, but the baseball coach organizes baseball training camps for younger kids. It seems to follow that these kids do well in baseball at Paly because of their previous relationship with the coach rather than their skill at baseball. These camps are not cheap, but I have heard anecdotally that if my son wants to get on the Paly team in the future, it is a thing worth doing now.

Posted by Kevin, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2008 at 2:56 pm

Parents always whine when their kid doesn't get enough playing time or the proper (in their mind) position. Goes with the territory. Coaches and ADs hear it all the time. Complaining on a public forum about it is over the top.

There are legitimate issues with sports (and other HS performance activities that are competitive), but who is to know which complaint is legitmate or not?

There are some structural things that are wrong, IMO:

1. Out-of town or out-of-distrct boundry performers who move in, primarily to perform. This takes away playing time from kids who are here legitimately.

2. Parents who hold their kids back a year, in order to maximize their competitive chances. This also subtracts from kids who play it straight.

Posted by Perplexed, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 26, 2008 at 4:42 pm

I said nothing about the coaches' decisions as to how much players are put in the game; that is clearly up to the coach. I was talking about negative coaching, which sometimes makes players who have been playing a sport for years choose to quit. Why is bringing that up as an issue "over the top?" Anything which affects the well-being of Paly Alto kids is a topic worth discussing, I believe.

Posted by Kevin, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2008 at 5:03 pm


Youth leagues, prior to high school, tend to emphasize participation over competition, although both are at play in some leagues. However, high school varisty sports are more about competition than participation. This is also true of theatre and jazz band and orchestra. The kids are approaching their 18th birthday, which is an adult, according to the law. At that point, they are no longer going to be babied by society. A tough high school coach, even one rough at the edges, is an important part ot the maturation process. Parents often have a hard time with this transition.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 26, 2008 at 6:11 pm

A coach can be tough and encourage independence and competition without being mean. Some of the Paly coaches are just plain mean and grumpy.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2008 at 6:23 pm

Where can you find an extraordinarily talented person willing to spend from 2:30-6PM 5 days a week plus weekends for 3-4 months a year for $3K? It is very, very hard. Given the hours involved and the low stipends, the hourly stipend for most high school coaches here is not too far north of minimum wage. Most of our Palo Alto teachers prefer to spend their time working on their classroom skills in their non-classroom hours, and not moonlighting as coaches for a few extra bucks. So, we find ourselves in a constant bind to find good HS coaches. The Paly AD (and any AD for that matter) is sometimes just thrilled to find someone with knowledge of the sport. Some sports have a larger coaching pool than others. Some times you take what you can get.

As someone with pretty intimate knowledge of youth sports among multiple different sports, and having a 9th grader in two of the larger boys sports, my feeling is that Paly does a reasonably good job of keeping its programs positive. I would agree though, that Earl (Paly AD) could do a better job with PR in the community. But, I will also say that there is no way any AD in Palo Alto could make every parent happy - Earl does what he does very well, and adapts to change at a slower rate than many would like.

My experience is that Paly does a better job than most private youth sports organizations in maintaining a positive attitude. There is too much parent scrutiny for it to be anything less. Despite a positive environment, there are always things for parents and players to complain about, and that often represent complex tradeoffs among competing objectives.

For example, the freshman basketball team has 20 players on it. That a) maximizes participation, but b) makes meaningful playing time hard to give to all players. So, what should give - should you kick 10 players off the team, or let everyone play 25% of each game?

And, then, in the end, no parent is entirely objective about their child in sports. Sometimes what a parent perceives as negative coach behavior is often just a difference of opinion about talent level.

Regarding supposed 'pay for play' camps or teams. This is indeed an issue, especially if a coach is using school facilities for free. However, in my experience, the parents are far more imaginative at convincing themselves that this will provide their kid an advantage than the coaches are at showing favoritism. It would be best if these disappeared, but the baseball coach needs to make a living somehow....and if he delivers good value, it should be fine...

Posted by Kevin, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2008 at 6:36 pm

A coach is "mean and grumpy" when a parent thinks his or her kid is not playing enough, or needs more 'special' emotional support. There are too many parents in Palo Alto who think that their kids are too special. The kids pick up on this message, and it shows on the field.

I don't know any high school varsity coach who would put a weaker player on the field in order to curry favor with the parents, nor one who would sit a better player becasue he/she hates the parents. They want to win. The coaches also sit top players when they don't make grades, or diss the team or the coach. In general, I think coaches are undervalued.

I have never been a coach, but I have observed them in action, and I am, generally, impressed. I have not been impressed with some parents I ahve seen in action, espcially behind the scenes.

Posted by LL Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2008 at 7:04 pm

As I have very little experience with high school sports as yet, I do have a son who is eager to do well when he gets there, so this subject is of interest to me.

It seems sensible to me to think that for a coach to pick the most talented players available for both his team and to give them the best playing time in games. If he didn't do this, then he would be up for any criticism going.

My thoughts though are how he may or may not come to decide which are the best/most talented players. It may seem a moot point, but when the coach spends a few days at tryouts for a large squad of players and only a handful of spots, he has his work cut out to find out who is the best and most worthy. It may seem fair to assume that he can spot outstanding players, but I have no idea how many of them we have in our schools. After the outstanding players have been chosen, how he chooses the remainder is certainly a difficult decision.

It would make sense to believe that other factors come into play when choosing between two players of what may appear to be similar skill levels or similar potential levels. I feel sure that in this case, even without realising it, other factors may come into play. Does this player have a family that would support the team? Does this player have the right sort of attitude towards his sports in general and this one in particular? Does he get on well with teammates?

For these type of reasons, I think it is realistically reasonable to get to know the coach if possible in advance. I would hate to think that there are preferences due to unethical reasons, but to build up a relationship with the coach in advance seems perfectly alright to me.

I know that Little League has had criticisms of nepotism in the pasts and particularly in regard to volunteerism, it is hard to justify not picking a coach's child for say Allstars, is a hard thing to do when the coach has already volunteered his time. But, it does make it difficult for a good player to do well if the parents are not coaching types.

However, in the paid coaching situation of high school where coaches on the whole do not appear to be parents of the kids, favoritism is to be frowned on unless it can be proven that players are chosen for anything other than skill unless it is between equals.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2008 at 10:21 am

My mean and grumpy comment had nothing to do with playing time. It has to do with attitude while running practices. The mean and grumpies are aimed pretty evenly across the talent pool, with the great players and the weak ones getting pretty equal access to the grumps. At least they are fair...

I do agree with the comment on the time commitment (many teachers have their own kids they want to be with from 3-7) and the low pay. Back when I was in HS, all the PE teachers who also coached. We had to take 4 years of PE (another state) so there were plenty of teachers.

Posted by PA '04, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 27, 2008 at 10:57 am

Yes, Terry and Perplexed why would anyone ever want to see a "sports performance" culture intrude into competitive high school sports teams. Let's just award everyone equal playing time and a "participant" ribbon.
As a former player for some mean and grumpy coaches, I have to say I'd much rather face that than the alternative. Parents see mean-ness when in the heat of a game a coach pulls out their precious baby who screwed up royally. Players don't see it that way at all; if anything the players - good ones anyway - are exasperated by the coach who doesn't do anything to address mental errors by a player. We used to laugh at the Gunn BB coach. A few years ago we scored something like 30 points in a row against them and he wouldn't even call a timeout. He must have thought that would upset or embarrass the young boys in his charge. Do you think those players were grateful for that? No, they cursed and ridiculed him behind his back (not laudable, I know, but pretty understandable for 16 and 17 year olds).
There may be some marginal athletes who stop playing sports at Paly because of the "sports performance culture", but a much larger number of excellent athletes at Gunn either quit competitive sports or decided to play only a single sport because the quality of the coaching is so poor. Why do you think that every year half of the our boys basketball team are kids who played football too while no Gunn football players play basketball?

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2008 at 11:36 am

Thanks for your illuminating comments, PA 04. I don't know much about the sports culture at Paly, positive or negative, other than I had heard that it exists. And clearly many fine teams and athletes comes from that school.

Based on your post, though, I would guess that good sportsmanship and respect for others aren't high among the things it emphasized in your own development. That might be fine, but not what everyone is looking for in a high school athletics program.

Posted by James, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 27, 2008 at 11:59 am

I don't want to have that "unsportmanlike" comment left unchallenged. Both of my kids played sports at Paly. I have seen a few coaches go off in the middle of battle, but the kids seem to compete with pride, then shake hands afterwards.

I think Earl runs a good program over there. He is old school, but that is a good thing, IMO, in these overly permissive times. I would not want his job.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2008 at 12:05 pm

To be clear - my reference to sportsmanship was not meant as a dig at all of Paly, merely Paly 04's comment about laughing at the other team's coach. I am sure there is good sportsmanship displayed among many of Paly's athletes.

Posted by PA '04, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 27, 2008 at 1:06 pm

Terry -- get your posts straight. Your first one said there was a sports performance culture at Paly (implying that this was something harmful). In your next to last post you admit that you don't know much about the sports culture at Paly other than you heard that it exists. Why are you posting about something about which you have no knowledge or experience?

My point was that most parents (you included) don't have a clue about what the high school athlete wants out of his or her coach. Parents may want a coach who will say nothing but nice things and never criticize their baby, but a competitive athlete wants a coach who allows that athlete to COMPETE. There are lots of other opportunities for high school kids who want a less competitive outlet or who simply want someone to tell them how wonderful they are. I suspect you don't know much about that either.

Posted by Paly track parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 27, 2008 at 4:46 pm

"Where can you find an extraordinarily talented person willing to spend from 2:30-6PM 5 days a week plus weekends for 3-4 months a year for $3K?"
At Paly!

The track coaches - girls and boys teams, sprinting, distance & field - are all excellent! I wonder if there are mini-cultures within an athletic department? This set of coaches are the most professional, motivating, encouraging and talented group I've seen. The coach-athlete relationship on the track team is strong, with plenty of mutual respect.

Give credit where credit is due, and keep the complaints directed only at those who are (arguably) deserving.

Posted by Perplexed, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 27, 2008 at 10:11 pm

I think we've all had the good fortune to come across some coaches who are super-competitive, are good at helping students improve their skills and have extremely high expectations, while managing to stay positive. Players respect and love them and push themselves harder because they're happy to be on the team. Basically, I was saying that I wish there were more of them. Coaches who belittle players (not talking about playing time, but about their manner/style of interaction with players) and those who punish the whole team for something one player does to annoy them should be replaced whenever possible, along with those who don't know how to teach (or don't want to bother to teach) players how to improve. I understand that coaching is a hard job and that coaches are terribly underpaid, but if students are spending 11-15 hours a week in practice and at games, they deserve decent treatment and good instruction.
I certainly didn't mean to give the impression that I favor the "Let's all just get out there and play and have fun" approach at the high school level. My daughter has encountered that and finds it disappointing and insulting. High school athletes put a lot of time and energy into the sport and deserve serious, high-caliber coaching.

Posted by Athlete Mom, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2008 at 6:15 pm

I don't know why people seem to equate a hollering profane coach with a good coach. The effective coaches I've seen set a good example by their conduct and demand as high a performance of themselves as they do of their athletes. My son had a hollering profane basketball coach but he stayed on the team for his fellow players but left the sport for good after the season. He does well at other sports where the coaches are good men but also excellent athletes and coaches. Can anyone tell this thread where such coaches may be found at the high school level and in what sports? Young people learn so much more from such a coach than just the sport.

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 31, 2008 at 4:53 pm

This is an example of an informative thread! I had no idea what was going on in the sports program at Paly. I can assure you, though, that uber-competitiveness has infiltrated other areas of youth life, too, beyond sports...

Posted by Paly track parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 31, 2008 at 5:36 pm

"Can anyone tell this thread where such coaches may be found at the high school level and in what sports?"
I did - two posts before yours. They're at Paly, coaching track.
Several of them are fairly recent Paly alum. One was an Olympian, another is a math teacher. And one took a semester off from MIT to coach. It's an impressive lineup and a great team of coaches - incredibly supportive -- and competitive, too.

They've got some excellent runners on the team. Even more exciting is watching some of these kids go from barely skilled to extremely competitive. That's what I like to see in high school athletics: all the team improve to their individual best. Even so, the coaches play to win. They place the kids in events & relays according to how they'll win meets. As someone wrote earlier, kids respect coaches who play competitively. When it's clear they're winning a meet, they might change the later relays to allow other runners a chance.

There's an interesting bio-like article about these coaches at Web Link. Read about one of their more exciting meets here Web Link - you'll get an honest sense of the coaches through their interviews.

From what I read here of some other sports, they could learn a few things from Paly's track team about recruiting a solid coaching staff.

Posted by great results, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 1, 2008 at 11:09 pm

What I have seen and heard from the coaching at Gunn for the most part has been "good to great". Several of my children have played several sports and they have been happy with their experiences.

Both schools have experienced success in sports. According to the CCS website both schools are in the top ten schools for CCS titles. Gunn is the #5 school at 152 CCS titles and Paly is #7 at 128.5 titles. Seems you have good sports opportunities at either school. You can find the results at .

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