Commentary: As Parents Continue To Go After Coaches, It Is Time For Schools To Push Back

When was the last time you read about a Spanish teacher retiring because a group of parents took it upon themselves to circulate a survey to help improve job performance? Or an English teacher terminating a beloved career because parents constantly questioned the methods of instruction?

You haven’t. For one, parents seem to trust school administrators to make the right decisions. Second, academics is an area where parents will cede a lack of expertise.

Most will agree the football field, basketball court, ice rink and track are a different sort of classroom. It is a place where coaches instill life lessons while also trying to bring out the best in their students. Like the heads of drama and music departments, they seek to develop perfect collaboration.

Yet it in this environment where a greater number of parents feel it is within their realm to question everything from playing time to strategical decisions. Schools hire experienced athletic administrators to make these calls, but more and more parents treat them as yellow lights, to be sped past in order to enact changes where they erroneously feel more qualified to pass judgment.

Most of these abusive parents have their own personal agendas. Their self interests blind them to the true talent levels of their children. They would never think to second-guess the science teacher, but perhaps a couple of years coaching youth teams, a few hours a week watching SportsCenter or money spent on private lessons or travel teams that demand a return on investment have emboldened them to make the call on whether it is time to go after the soccer coach.

The latest example of a good coach leaving not on his own terms came on Monday, when Staples boys lacrosse coach Paul McNulty, with 50 years on his resume, stepped down. The reason, as you can listen here on the podcast we tapedwas that his current boosters informed him that the incoming group of parents wanted “regime change” or they would no longer support the program.

Emphasis on INCOMING, not current, parents.

Regime change is a term once reserved for political science classes, but now seems in accordance with the way entitled parents think. They of course know better than anyone whether a team has reached its potential, whether the coach should be using a shotgun formation instead of relying too much on the running game, or whether it was wise to keep Johnny on the bench and Jimmy on the field to preserve a 1-0 lead in the closing minutes.

The borders of reason have been crossed, and the onus is now on the schools to put a stop to it. This has to be addressed at the top, and we are no longer talking about beleaguered athletic directors, but principals and superintendents. One has to wonder whether they would allow the social studies teacher to be subjected to the same level of abuses as the lacrosse coach.

These stories are occurring now on a regular basis — one coach only half in jest told me the other day I could have a weekly podcast series with embattled FCIAC colleagues as they share their stories of parental intrusiveness. The majority of good people in towns like Wilton and Westport — currently running 1-2 in the problem poll — are seeing their reputations dragged down by the minority who have become increasingly emboldened with each coach they run out of their profession.

And it should be stressed that while it has been less publicized, this is happening everywhere.

These coaches, with a few exceptions, are not being questioned for abusive behavior or putting children into hazardous situations. Look at all the coaches who have felt compelled to step down in the past year. In most instances, it is because parents have felt the difference between wins and losses is not what it should be. Or that their children’s teams are not playing on equal terms against opponents that in some cases are nationally ranked.

Imagine how big a headache these parents must be for good coaches who chose a profession because of their love working with kids to feel the scales have become so imbalanced that it is no longer worth the aggravation.

The borders of reason have been crossed, and the onus is now on the schools to put a stop to it. This has to be addressed at the top, and we are no longer talking about beleaguered athletic directors, but principals and superintendents. One has to wonder whether they would allow the social studies teacher to be subjected to the same level of abuses as the lacrosse coach.

Many coaches feel the higher echelon of school administrators are too fearful for their jobs to take on parents. Two athletic directors agreed parents right now have far too much access to the coaches.

Everyone is talking about the issue but no measures are being enacted. We are becoming numb to the reruns. The reaction should be anger, not a “here we go again” shrug of the shoulders.

How many school systems have done a study of current protocols, and whether they are in tune with the changed landscape where parents are crossing lines outside normal domain? How hard is it to undergo policy reviews to try and make the job environment better for the employees?

How many care?

That last question may seem callous, but given the run on coaches leaving the profession, it needs to be asked.

Because soon the parents will be running the athletic departments.

And there will be no good coaches left.



  1. Teachers are held to higher standards. Administrators
    make sure of that but drop the ball when it comes to coaches. If coaches were held to those high standards it would police itself. BUT clearly that is not happening…

  2. If the social studies teacher treated students the way many coaches treat athletes, they’d be in a world of hurt. Suspended, fired, disgraced in the profession. But coaches get away with it.

  3. As an ex-athlete and as a parent, I’ve been involved with good coaches and some not so good coaches. I’ve been lucky enough to have some good teachers, and have been unlucky along the way at times to have poor teachers. Hey, that’s life. Now that I’m older and our children are out of school, my advice to these overly anxious parents is to relax as 99.8% of these High School athletes will be playing softball when they’re 25…Or some other recreational sport. They won’t be playing professionally. HS athletics is about an individual learning how to be a team player and developing socially as well as physically.

  4. Part of the idea of being on a team is to buy in to your coach’s philosophy. To be part of a team is to be part of a greater whole. If you don’t want to buy in then you shouldn’t be on the team. It defeats the purpose of a true team to go against a coach and furthermore the lesson of selflessness that comes from sports is lost. As soon as parents have any say whatsoever on what happens on the field is when favoritism and the real crime of playing an undeserving kid is committed. Dave I totally agree that parents think they know much more about sports than they actually do because of sports center and a host of other factors. When kids are doing poorly in school they go to their teacher and ask what they can do to get better. When kids do poorly in sports we are seeing them go to the athletic director and ask for a new coach more and more these days.

  5. For those that think there are no (or very lax) standards for coaches, perhaps you should be directing your attention at the school administration instead of the AD or individual coaches. I suspect there ARE standard, but since it’s not as much of a public issue as Common Core, etc, it doesn’t get talked about. I know my son’s coach is highly trained and is continuously trying to improve himself. Like John O’Neil said above, a lot of these kids are not going to be doing the same sport in 10 years. Heck, most will be lucky to even be looked at by a college, let alone receive some kind of benefit. And even those that do, there’s no guarantee they won’t turn an ankle and ruin their athletic career. Two classmates of my oldest in college sustained significant injuries costing them their full rides. One even dropped out of school entirely.

    Athletics are supplemental to the education. Focus on the education first.

  6. This problem is two-fold: Parents are unrealistic about their child’s ability and they focus on the wrong goals.

    BE REALISTIC. It’s nice to think your kid is a rockstar, but most are not. When it comes to high school student-athletes, only 2% go on to play Division 1 and .08% go on to play a professional sport. But, because there are so many leagues needing to make money off of kids today and are hungry for revenue, they let parents influence coaching and playing time decisions. Parents then start to believe their kid is supersonic, because these youth leagues and coaches tell them that to hook them in. Once these parents reach the high school level it becomes a problem. I had 3 multi-sport high school athletes – 2 went on to play D1 and 1 went on to play Pro. I can tell you each athlete earned his spot by putting the work in off season, soaking up everything they could from their coaches, and having God-given freakish physical ability. They did not earn spots because their parents manipulated coaching situations for them. It doesn’t work that way once you get to a certain level. Coaches play the best athletes because they need to win and typically their job depends on it. No one cares who you are or who you know, so stop kidding yourselves.

    FOCUS ON WHAT MATTERS. There are so many practical life lessons for your son or daughter to gain from the privilege of being on a competitive, varsity athletic team that he/she can never learn in a classroom — humility, adversity, conflict resolution, reliance, loyalty, perseverance, leadership, resilience, sense of brotherhood/sisterhood, trust, respect (for one’s self and others), accountability, discipline. These are the skills that matter in life, they are extremely valuable, and they are free – there for the taking. I promise you learning and taking these lessons away from varsity sports are more important to your athlete’s success in life than playing time or being the MVP in high school.

    Teach your kid to get as much out of every opportunity he/she can, starting with varsity sports, and remember that most high school athletes will not ever play Division 1 or Professional sports (see stats above). And, even if he/she is talented enough to do so, it doesn’t last for long. So, raising a human with a good moral compass and one who achieves goals on their own merit is way more meaningful. That’s all most good high school coaches are trying to accomplish.

  7. I don’t blame the lax coach at Staples for resigning. If you were a coach why would you want to stay at a place that you know you’re not wanted? Even if the school administration stood up for him, he would still feel the uncomfortable nature of the parents and it would stop being fun. Let’s face it, these coaches are not getting paid millions of dollars to coach, so if it’s not fun it really would make one say “Is it worth it?” There are other things you can do in life to make a difference in a teen’s life that doesn’t require having to take grief from overbearing parents who are wanna-be “experts” in the sport. If they don’t like the program they can move out of the district or send their kid to private school.

  8. Here are a couple of thoughts after reading through the material.

    This is not the ‘70s. It’s not as simple as parents “thinking they know more because they watch ESPN and coach.” We all have contributed to the growth of the “Youth Sports Monster” and it starts as early a 10 years old. Travel basketball/baseball/lacrosse for 5th graders. 5th and 6th grade girls traveling to Richmond to play in summer lacrosse recruiting tournaments. Summer baseball tournament travel teams traveling up and down the East coast. Off-season year round high school conditioning. Off season instructional/league programs for high school sports – some year round. The list is endless and they all cost money and time. Whose money, and in most instances whose time? – the parents.

    League/travel team and tournament directors dare not tell parents their young athlete would be better served learning the Tuba – parents are their meal ticket. I have witnessed this first hand countless times. So now we have parents/families who have spent thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars traveling the East coast all in the name of player development while being told their “kid can play” and we are shocked when some parents “rock the boat.” And contrary to the party line these programs are not inferred nor perceived to be “optional.” Certainly by no means an excuse, but you are surprised ?

    High school sports have instituted “pay for play” and Booster Clubs as a way to subsidize their programs. Makes sense as they need additional revenue sources. Once again schools are asking parents to provide financial support and they are stunned when some parents do not posses the perspective and balance to act accordingly and appropriately. And as with all things in life more and bigger is not necessarily better. When athletic departments/coaches expand their off-season programs and in some cases travel which require more money (from the parents) it always begs the question, “Who are they doing it for.” Regarding the issue of parents threatening to take their money elsewhere the proper response should be, ‘Thank you for your past support which has been greatly appreciated. We wish you and your sons the best of luck in your future endeavors.” Now that would be a real life lesson for the parents and children – “Decisions have Consequences.’

    Speaking of life lessons, sports do not have a monopoly on “teaching life lessons.” John Wooden often extolled, “Sports do not develop character, they reveal character.” If anything in today’s world, sports promotes and tends to encourage entitlement. Sports serve as an opportunity for young athletes to challenge themselves. No different from the young student competing in the classroom, the musician in the school band or the young actor in the school musical. Many working hard to reach for their dreams. To infer that the athletic experience offers a young student a more valuable life education is not only unfair to the non-athlete but elevates sports to more than it is.

    The bell curve for parents is no different from the one for doctors, teachers, lawyers and coaches. Solving an issue of this nature requires a recognition and understanding of the many dynamics and a willingness to address all aspects and contributing factors. I’ve been involved with coaching several high school sports the past 10 years, while siting in the stands the past 4 years watching our daughter play 3 sports. Based upon my experience and interaction with coaches and parents it would be more than easy to throw both groups “under the bus” for multiple reasons. However that wouldn’t be beneficial to providing a solution to this issue. As I stated this “is not the “70’s.” If we are to begin to address this issue let’s agree that the commitment and involvement have drastically changed for everyone involved. Would be a good place to start.

  9. I feel sorry for the new Westport coach, look at the ****show he is walking into. Brameier wouldn’t take this crap. Our son played D1 in college and our daughter was supposed to, but she said 15 years was enough and now it is time to learn so she could get a great job. I have coached both of them for years. We stayed in the local/house league so long that when they went to travel, everyone was shocked that we could not (and didn’t need to) provide a release. The parents were crazy wherever we went. Like it says in the article, I just shrugged my shoulders in disbelief – every parent thought their kid was going to the show. Parents need to realize that the kid’s skill will only go so far, but it is grit, hard work and determination that gets them father in sports and in life. If these parents think that bullying a coach works, then wait till the kids get a job. SURPRISE. With that in mind, even Starsia was asked to move on.

  10. Dave, how much worse or different do you think it is in Fairfield County compared to other parts of the country?

    On the one hand, we’ve all read about helicopter parents leading the blocking for little millennial Junior all over the country.

    On the other hand, because Fairfield County has so many parents who have been successful professionally and/or made a few dollars along the way, perhaps the parents here feel more entitled to voice their opinions and then act upon them.

    Do you think it’s worse in Fairfield County? I have a good friend who sold a house he loved in one FCIAC town to move to another. When I asked him why, he replied casually, “Too many do—e bags.” Should he have moved out of Fairfield County altogether?

    • As someone who has lived in the county since fourth grade except for college and a job for a month in North Carolina, I favor staying.

      I think this is a national problem but I can’t comment on how it compares here to other areas. One thing that makes it different: because of the affluence more kids have access to travel teams and tutors and I think, misplaced, parents feel they should be getting a return on investment with playing time at the high schools.

      I also think you have more parents in high-power jobs and I think there is some correlation to the amount of bullying coaches receive here. Entitlement is without a doubt a big factor.

      I don’t know how this has played out elsewhere, but a lot of what has happened in this area has found its way into the media, especially some extreme cases. And I think slowly coaches have reached the point they are a little more willing to speak out in their own defense.

      I can’t tell you how many coaches in many sports heard the Lisa Lindley podcast and told me she was saying what they wish they could, but were fearful of the repercussions.

      This has reached a point where I think the higher level of educational administrators have to do internal reviews and put policies in place. Coaches think principals and superintendents are too scared of the parents. I tend to agree.

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