They say the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
When we talk about youth sports today it is almost impossible to escape discussions about helicopter parents toting stop watches, Gatorade and video cameras. Horror stories abound about over-bearing parents trying to ensure their child has the perfect athletic experience. I have taken my fair share of swings at these parents and their misguided attempts to insulate their children against the pitfalls of life. Most recently I condemned the increasingly popular “parental firing squads” that continue to shoot down coaches at an alarming rate.
Recently the perfect storm of resignations struck as I ended my run as head hockey coach at Wausau East. That same day the Milwaukee Journal opted to print my opinion piece on the aforementioned “firing squads.” As my resignation went public I was at a junior varsity golf meet and then quickly off to a AAA tournament in Minneapolis. Holding out as one of the last civilized people to not own a cell phone, I was unavailable for comment. My resignation went on without me.
Jumping to conclusions, something we are all great at, caused many to assume that the two events were related and that I had indeed been run out by “uncomfortable” parents. Nothing could be further from the truth.
After eleven years at Wausau East I had compiled a record of 111-132-11, my teams never won a conference championship, a Marathon Cup or a Keuhlmann Cup and had not defeated West since we had a republican in the white house. Those are facts and figures that will get you dismissed in most places, but at East I was repeatedly assured that keeping my job was not dependent upon winning games.
Last year a very few squeaky parents got loud enough to get the attention of my administrative superiors. It wasn’t my won-loss record they came after but my accelerated GPA requirement and a few other unique team rules. As the flames grew, I feared my coaching career at East was about to incinerate.
My wife, who has been the best counselor anyone could hope for, tossed the first bucket of water with an e-mail that brought a fire department of supportive parents and players. They rallied behind me in a fashion that humbled me like nothing before in my career. Phone calls, letters and e-mails came in like Red Cross disaster donations and the fire was squelched, the squeaking stopped.
In a day and age of unrealistic parent expectations, the core of my Wausau East parents understood there is more to high school sports than winning and losing. In short, they get it.
Character building has always been the cornerstone of my coaching philosophy. The regrettable mistakes I have made as a coach have always been the result of putting winning first. It is a gauntlet that all coaches face. I have heard the humorous banter from some local cynics after a tough loss, “well at least they still have their character.”
On the Eastside of the red line we take that as a compliment.
I have always believed that it would be parents that would drive me into retirement. Now I am finding this core of parents so inspiring that I am anxious to find more just like them. There will always be squeaky wheels, but the actions of these Eastside hockey parents verified that you can drown them out.
And for that support I will be forever indebted. For now—there is no grease required.