In 2008, several parents approached four-time Gold Glove catcher Mike Matheny and asked him to coach a Little League team that included his 10-year-old son. Matheny outlined some “rules,” which eventually became the “Matheny Manifesto,” a candid, seven-page peek into his perspective on parents’ role in youth sports.
“I always said that the only team that I would coach would be a team of orphans, and now here we are,” Matheny, now the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, writes at the beginning. “The reason for me saying this is that I have found the biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents.”
As volleyball becomes more and more popular, the scholarships, stakes and pressures increase — and parents struggle to cope with the pressures.
“We have a lot less (drama) now than we had in the beginning years,” says Paul Schiffer, the club director of the Academy Volleyball Cleveland. “But we still have our moments, and any club has their moments. And anyone who doesn’t probably isn’t telling you the truth.”
In most parts of the country, highly competitive volleyball isn’t local or even regional anymore, which translates into higher costs. In addition to the aforementioned reasons, the financial aspect of the sport emboldens parents to want to “get what they pay for,” i.e. playing time and role within a team.
Here are three challenges club directors from around the country are dealing with:
1) Setting an example — Steve Suttich, the club director of Oregon Juniors Volleyball Academy, tells parents there are four roles on every team: Player, coach, official and fan. “You can only choose to be one of them,” he says. “And our definition of a fan is someone cheering their daughter or the team’s good play, not cheering the other team’s errors.”
The club develops a card that reminds parents of this and hands out two to each parent. “Then they can give one to a parent who might need a reminder,” Suttich says. “Texas Legacy Volleyball Club provides on its website nearly 600 words on “Parent Expectations.”
The club insists parents notify the head coach first before the club director and to wait at least 24 hours before expressing any concerns. “Under NO circumstances shall a parent approach a coach during competition or when other players or parents are present.” And like teens, adults are susceptible to outbursts and accusations on social media. The 24-hour rule, in particular, can be helpful in avoiding a post that a parent will later regret. The Texas Legacy Volleyball Club also bolsters that good sportsmanship isn’t limited to the court. “Parents should be setting an example as well,” the policy states. “Please refrain from arguing or questioning an official.”
2) Promises, promises — Many markets are very competitive, which means players — and ultimately their parents — have some choices. And with choices often comes expectations. But does a parent really want his or her daughter to play for a program that promises them a specific role or playing time?
Jeff Smith of 692 Beach in San Diego says honesty is his best policy. “There’s no games with me,” Smith says.
Kelly Crowley of Tri-State Elite Volleyball in Cincinnati says his club doesn’t make promises. “We are really, really lucky,” Crowley says. “I can count on one hand the number of parent interactions.”
3) Empower your child — Abbie Hughes has committed to play indoor volleyball at Florida International University next fall. Hughes, who has played at NextLevel Volleyball in Cincinnati, believes one of the best things her parents did for her was to give her space, as it relates to sports.
“A lot of parents are pressuring their kids too early,” she says. “My parents always gave me a chance to do something else,” noting that she played soccer, volleyball, softball and basketball. “I tried to play every sport I could. I have friends who are burned out in indoor (volleyball) by senior year.”
Though growing in popularity, a parent micromanaging his or her student-athlete can have debilitating long-term effects. How does a child learn to solve a problem, if mom or dad always come to the rescue? As Bruce Brown of Proactive Coaching says, “Release your child to the game!”
In fact, Crowley says coaches at Tri-State Elite are up front with each player early in the season about their role. “The kids have to drive the conversation,” he says. “We don’t let parents come without their kids.”
Academy Volleyball Cleveland, Oregon Juniors, 692 Beach, and Tri-State Elite are all members of the Junior Volleyball Association. To learn more about the benefits of a JVA membership, click here.
For related reading for Club Directors click here.
About the Author
This article is written by Sean Jensen from SportsEngine, the official technology partner of the JVA. SportEngine offers special pricing and packages exclusive to JVA member clubs. More than just a website, SportsEngine can help you solve serious challenges you face with tryouts, billing and collections, team communication, tournaments, and more. For more information click here.
Sean was born in South Korea, but he was raised in California, Massachusetts and Virginia, mostly on or near military bases. Given his unique background, he’s always been drawn to storytelling, a skill he developed at Northwestern University and crafted for the last 16 years, almost exclusively covering the NFL. He’s earned distinctions from the Illinois Associated Press, Minnesota Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists, Pro Football Writers of America and Associated Press Sports Editors. In 2006, he received a special achievement award from the St. Paul Pioneer Press. In 2014, along with BroadStreet Publishing, he created The Middle School Rules children’s book series, which tells the inspirational childhood stories of famous athletes such as Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, Skylar Diggins and Jamaal Charles. He is a passionate author, speaker and content creator, working with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and YMCA. Sean lives in a Minneapolis suburb with his wife, two children and dog.