This past weekend, the Hey Coach Tony show on a local Connecticut radio station devoted an entire hour to discussing one of MomsTeam's most popular articles: the one listing questions to ask youth sports coaches at the pre-season meeting with parents.
In case you don't know about Coach Tony, he is what I would call a "guy's guy": a tough-talking "shock jock"-type of radio host who tends to shoot from the hip, and with a reputation for disdaining political correctness and for using outdated terms for people he doesn't like (I cringed while listening to an earlier show when he used the word "retarded" and "retard' more than a dozen times to describe a person he did not care for).
Listening to Tony discuss the article with his guest, a local high school coach, gave me the chance to hear how it was viewed from the perspective of two male coaches in Connecticut.
Based on that input, I have now updated and added to the original article listing the questions (expanding the list from twenty to twenty-one questions), and updated and substantially revised a second, companion article to include some additional background for, and the rationale behind, the list of topics that I believe should be discussed at a meeting between parents, coaches and players before every sports season.
All in all, Tony and I agree on many things, but on some I am left scratching my head. Saturday's show shed some light on Coach Tony's views on issues where we do not agree. Particularly instructive was the way he chose to end his show: by reading an email he received from a listener saying that parents who ask questions such as the ones suggested in my article will be labeled as troublemakers.
That parents wanting to talk with the coach about what I believe to be essential questions about safety and coaching philosophy will be viewed by some, perhaps even the majority, as asking for trouble is itself extremely troubling.
That Tony chose to end his show with what amounted to a warning shot across the bow to parents, suggesting to them that they might want to keep their head down and not make waves or risk having their kids suffer the consequences made it clear to me that Coach Tony and all the Coach Tonys like him around the country are more part of the problem than the solution to what I think is wrong with youth sports today: a lack of accountability on the part of coaches, a culture that is adult-centered, not child-centered, and that is more about winning at all costs - even if at the risk of injuring children, not just physically, but emotionally and sexually - than it is about safety, having fun, skill development and learning life lessons.
While his attitude may well reflect that of many of his fellow coaches, as well as his listeners, it is definitely not the way I look at, and have been looking at, youth sports. I started MomsTeam almost a dozen years ago with the mission that I still work towards every day: making youth sports safer, saner, less expensive and more inclusive.
My original articles have prompted quite a few emails over the years, thanking me for tackling the thorny subject of the parent-coach relationship and being willing to suggest that parents be brave enough to ask coaches some very tough questions.
In updating my articles, in having to explain why it is important to ask questions, and in admitting that it takes courage for parents to ask them, that they risk being ostracized by the go-along-to-get-along crowd, that their child may end up suffering more emotional harm when they find themselves, through no fault of their own, riding the bench because their parent is considered pushy or a troublemaker, is not only extremely ironic but very sad, as is the fact that it is a reality which needs to be acknowledged.
But it won't stop me from fighting for change, even if means calling out all the Tonys of the world.
Brooke de Lench is the author of HOME TEAM ADVANTAGE: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (Harper Collins) and the founder of MomsTeam.com
UPDATE: In September 2012 "Hey Coach Tony" was dropped by ESPN Radio where he had an hour long show.