Positive Coaching Alliance founder and Executive Director Jim Thompson recently wrote "The High School Sports Parent," which includes the following advice to parents:
■ Focus on the "Big Picture." Help kids take away from sports character lessons that will contribute to their success in life. Lessons include the rewards of commitment and delayed gratification, learning to bounce back from difficulties with renewed determination, and discovering how to support people within a team context. Avoid becoming a "back-seat coach" and leave performance on the field to the athletes and coach.
■ Help your child keep sports in proper perspective by focusing on effort rather than outcome. Focusing on athletic talent rather than effort is a "trap" that can actually harm the player's ability to reach potential. Focusing on talent also breeds an attitude of entitlement. Help your teen understand that hard work is usually entwined with enjoyment and is a gift that will serve him or her well throughout life.
■ Mistakes are what kids worry about most. The fear of making a mistake can paralyze them. Consider the typical reaction from the stands that an athlete hears or sees after a glaring mistake: Many parents groan, slap their heads, frown or yell corrective instructions. Instead, help your teen learn not to fear mistakes and to bounce back quickly, leaving more energy to learn the game.
■ Model "honoring the game." Demonstrate respect at all times for the other team and for game officials.
■ Realize that coaches have to balance competing needs. The playing time "pie" is limited and the coach cannot give every family everything it wants. The team concept requires give-and-take for the sake of the whole.
■ Help your teen learn to advocate for himself or herself. Encourage your teen to think about how he or she wants to deal with a problem. Offer to listen or role-play. For most problems, your child is in charge of his or her own experience, not you.
■ Don't make derogatory comments about the coach to your teen or other parents or members of the team. Undermining coaches behind their backs is rampant in high school sports. This toxic behavior can devastate team culture, divide a team and place high school athletes in an awkward middle between coach and parent. If you don't like the coach, keep it to yourself and don't poison the water.
■ If there's an issue you think warrants intervention, proceed sensibly. There are some situations -- such as physical or emotional abuse -- where you may decide you need to step in.
In cases in which parents decide they must act:
■ Don't intervene while angry; wait until you cool down.
■ Assume that everything you write in an e-mail will be seen by exactly the people you don't want to see it.
■ Don't assume you know what is going on or that your child's portrayal is the only "true" one. Seek confirmation of what you heard from other parents you trust not to feed the rumor mill.
■ Consult with your athlete on your plans. It is crucial that you don't act in a way that undercuts or embarrasses your teen.
■ Act as if everyone is operating out of good will, even if you suspect they are not.
■ Follow the chain of authority. Go to the coach first, even if you think he or she is the problem. You will ultimately get better results with the athletic director if you start with the coach. Similarly, the athletic director should always be contacted before an issue is brought to the principal or assistant principal.
■ If there is evidence of a coach behaving badly or abusing a player, it is better to err on the side of speaking up than to let it slide.
Editor's Note: This article was part of an investigative two-part series on high school coaching in Palo Alto published in the Palo Alto Weekly on May 14, 2010 and May 21, 2010. Additional articles appeared only online.
Here is a complete list of all stories with links to them:
■ Out of bounds? Part 1: In the first half of this special report, published May 14, the Weekly described five recent coaching controversies at Palo Alto and Gunn high schools and explored attributes and examples of positive coaching.
■ Out of bounds? Part 2: In the second half of this special report, published May 21, the Weekly examines how specific complaints were made and handled by school administrators.
■ A confusing complaint process: An article about the confusing administrative maze facing athletes and parents when they seek to raise issues about a coach's behavior.
■ Tips for high school sports parents: Advice to parents of sports-team members from the founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance.
■ Who oversees high school athletics?: Athletic directors have big jobs managing teams and coaches, with little time and no extra pay.
■ Sports Boosters help fund athletics: How Palo Alto parent groups fund major athletic projects and team expenses.
■ Documents and complaints: Complaints submitted by parents, letters in support of coaches, e-mail exchanges with officials and responses of administrators related to baseball controversies at Paly and Gunn, softball at Gunn and girls' basketball and water polo at Paly.
■ The psychology and effects of bad coaching: Uncontrolled emotions combined with old-school coaching habits can leave lifelong scars
■ What makes a good coach good? Complex mix of factors results in outstanding coaching, player experience, experts say
■ Sports and coaches at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools: A comprehensive list of the sports offered at the two schools, plus statistics on the number of athletes and types of coaches who work or volunteer in the athletics programs.
■ The job of coaching: a review of the working conditions high-school coaches face. For many, the work means long hours, low pay, high expectations and shifting personnel.
■ Club sports add challenges to school athletics: how the emergence of private club sports in the past 20 years has created a pool of experienced coaches in high-school athletics -- but also has raised concerns about conflicts of interest and favoritism when a club coach has club players on a school team.
■ Positive Coaching Alliance seeks to eliminate 'poisonous negativity' in youth sports: A national program, based in Mountain View, aims to transform youth sports so sports can transform youth.