Dear Snowplow Parents – Stop Ruining Sports for Your Kids

If you are wondering why a personal finance blogger is writing about sports and snowplow parenting, just bear with me.

I was actually a coach for a good portion of my adult life and most of what I have to say comes down to two things:

  1. Parenting – specifically snowplow parenting
  2. Parents chasing unicorn like athletic scholarship dollars

But as a coach, there was one thing I have always wanted to say to parents… but I wasn't allowed to…

Snowplow Parents: Stop Ruining Sports!

For five years, I was a varsity wrestling, football and lacrosse coach at the high school level. I followed up my coaching career as an assistant athletic director for 2 more years, bringing my total experience in high school athletics to 7.

As a former athlete, youth sports participant, referee, athletic director and coach I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that there is nothing in the world that I love more than sports…

In fact – SPORTS had such a positive impact on my life that I went to college to become a teacher and coach!

But there is a serious problem in both youth and high school sports…

Coaches don't want to coach anymore.

Blame the parents, blame the time, blame the sport. It doesn't really matter who you blame, at the end of the day coaches are resigning like crazy.

And honestly, can you blame the coaches?

A simple Google search of “High School Coaches Resigning” and you will see letters and articles about coaches not wanting to coach anymore.

  • Some coaches say it's the kids who lack heart and grit…
  • Some say the time required is just too much…
  • Some will say administrative support is lacking…

But just about every coach will agree, over-involved parents in youth and high school sports is one of the worst problems in athletics. 

And worst of all – more kids just don’t enjoy sports anymore.

Kids are caught in the middle of the ongoing tension between coaches and parents. Quite honestly, it is hurting not only sports, but the future adults we are grooming our kids to be.

Related Content: Dear Parents, Let Your Kids Learn to Fail

Snowplow Parents Are Hurting Sports

I don’t pretend to have all the answers when it comes to sports & life in general…

Even as a former coach and AD I don’t pretend to know when we went from a society that thanked coaches for pouring into our kids to a society that makes coaches lives way harder than they have to be.

But if you understand what the phenomenon of “Snowplow Parenting” is it makes sense:

Snowplow Parenting: A snowplow parent is a parent who constantly forces obstacles out of their kids' paths, like a coach or a bad teacher. With their eyes set on the future success of their child or those college scholarships, anyone and anything must be removed.

Also referred to as bulldozer parenting or lawnmower parenting (think of running things over) you might be asking, “But snowplow parenting cause more harm than good in the long run?”

Absolutely.

At one point in my coaching career, I spent 27 of 34 Saturdays with student-athletes in some capacity – either on the field, in a gym, or driving to off-season tournaments up and down the east coast.

My girlfriend at the time, (Who is now my wife) admired my commitment but was worried about our future as a couple and if I was going to dedicate my life to athletics. Rightfully so.

I wasn’t coaching for the money, (When I did the math it was less than minimum wage per hour) I was coaching because I wanted to pay it forward.  I truly loved the impact sports had on my life and I hoped others could experience the same.

And for many of the kids I coached we had an amazing time and I still have unique bonds with former athletes.

Growing up, my mom loved my coaches. She thanked them for giving us rides to practice and helping out when maybe she couldn’t. The coaches did things they didn’t have to to help my brother and I out.

In high school, my coaches were my heroes. I looked up to them and wanted to be them. I pushed myself harder every day to impress my coaches and earn their respect.

Heck, I even based my career path on my high school experiences.

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    Coaching vs Parenting

    I quickly realized things had changed when I became a coach for the first time.

    I remember vividly when a wrestler quit during my first season coaching. The idea of quitting to me was so foreign I was shocked, but he wasn’t the last to quit that year. In fact… he was the first of many.

    It wasn’t so much that he quit, or that his parents didn’t make him finish what he started, it was his reason:

    “I figured since I wrestle JV I will probably never get a scholarship, so I am quitting.”

    And that my friends, is why I think everything has changed.

    What youth & high school sports should teach:

    More snowplow parents are in search of scholarship dollars or making sure their child's environment is always focused on them, instead of realizing the true life lessons and values sports teach us…Values like:

    1. Losing (Something we will all experience)
    2. Losing with pride
    3. Not everyone wins or gets a trophy
    4. How to fail forward
    5. How to overcome and persevere
    6. Learning not everything is instant gratification
    7. Handling objections and feedback
    8. Working together
    9. Being selfless instead of selfish!
    10. Learning to trust in a process
    11. Being grateful

    From learning that not everything will always go your way, to persevering through being a backup and learning to work harder, sports were not designed to just serve as a way to make college free.

    • Sports are meant to create memories of camaraderie and build our kids self-image
    • Sports are meant to teach the tough lessons of life like handling adversity, identifying area of improvement
    • Sports WERE NOT designed for everyone to be equal, but to work to become unequal
    • Sports WERE NOT meant to have parents dictate playing time and every aspect of the sports environment!

    (On a side note – even if you think your kid is the next all-star athlete, chances are higher you can receive an academic scholarship before you ever get an athletic scholarship).

    But where did we go wrong as a whole???

    Eat Dirt – You’ll be ok.

    When we were little kids we played outside. The only time we were inside was when it was raining. And when we played outside we fell, got back up, and sometimes we even ate dirt when we were little kids.

    There was no purell to sanitize our hands and make sure we were germ free.

    Yet, these days more parents see their kids fall down or eat dirt, and before they can shake it off and keep playing, they are there to swipe them up and make it all better.

    As Simon Sinek said so eloquently in his amazing book, Leaders Eat Last,

    “A growing body of evidence suggests that parents of the Millennial Generation may have erred on the side of over-coddling their kids.”

    The real issue with over parenting.

    Snowplow parents are really just those who over parent. The more a parent rescues their child now, the higher the chances are they will be rescuing them later in life too.

    More and more every year, I see an entire group of kids (as both as a teacher and coach) that can't handle the simple daily pressures life throws at us. In fact, 20 years ago they weren't pressures, it was just what you did.

    More and more kids are not able to persevere and overcome when faced with challenges!

    Our kids turn 18, and the trophies aren't for participation anymore, they're for actual accomplishment (adults we get rewarded directly for our output, not just showing up).

    However, what is worse is that receiving an award for something you didn't earn actually has a negative effect on self-esteem. When you are last you know you are last.

    With more and more parents wanting to control every environment and situation for their kids, it is not a surprise that it has trickled to sports. But over parenting is not just a problem in sports, its a problem in the adults we are creating.

    As a whole, Millennials are less prepared for the workforce, entitled, and have difficulty following through or being resourceful. Julie Haims a Dean at Stanford asks,

    “Did the safety-conscious, academic achievement-focused, self-esteem-promoting, checklisted childhood that has been commonplace since the mid-1980s and in many communities has become the norm, rob kids of the chance to develop into healthy adults?

    In other words, did over parenting actually hinder your child? Did complaining about the coach and playing time make your child think they are owed something?

    Youth Sports Real Value:

    The minute privatization and specialization hit youth sports there became a conflict of interest.

    Kids as young as 8 were being told they needed to do this, train here, and play there in order to get their “athletic scholarship.”

    Parents start paying thousands per year at a young age for travel sports and specialized coaching in order to ensure that their child gets their college scholarship.

    Heck, in 2011 some parents were paying $4,000+ for travel sports according to a CBS new article.  (& that is probably a fraction of what it is now).

    Some were told their kids are talented and have what it takes before they even hit puberty… so they paid for more specialization and coaching.

    youth sports parents

    But if someone is writing you a check to hear that their child is good at said sport, do you tell them the truth … or do you tell them what they want to hear?

    Coaches who were receiving lots of money for training and specialization started telling these paying parents that their kid was the next great LeBron or Mike Trout, so long as they kept doing what they said… and paying them!

    And it all boils down to money.

    Then all of a sudden something happened:

    • This parent's who have been told their kids are amazing and super talented since they were 8, go to high school.
    • And in high school, the pay to play thing is gone. 
    • When a kid doesn't make the varsity team as a 9th grader a shock wave hits.
    • Or worse, when they made the team, but don't earn playing time … The coach has done something wrong.

    And so it becomes a coaching problem – not a student-athlete problem.

    I know some kids are talented and some kids are not. I am a classic example.

    I was not very talented, but in 8th grade, I was a stud on the football field – or so I thought. But then in 9th grade something happened. Weighing 100 pounds, I quickly realized that my football dreams of playing in the pros were going to be a little harder.

    But I did not quit. I finished the season as a bench warmer and rolled into the wrestling season where I found my niche. I ended up playing football for two more years, even though I hardly saw the field.

    The lessons football taught me helped me in wrestling, but I also enjoyed being on the team and everything associated with the sport.  But this never happened:

    “The coach doesn’t like me, the coach plays favorites, I am better than the starter.”

    Instead of making excuses, I tried harder at practice and went to off-season weight training. While I never really got to see the field as much as I’d like, I also realized I was not as good as the starters.

    I had strengths in other areas, and like most, I focused on my strengths and did not worry or belabor about my inadequacies. We all have things we areas for improvement.

    However, this is not the case these days.

    Improve vs Complain.

    There are two sides to every story.

    Not every parent who has a kid who plays a sport makes it suck for their kid and the coaches. In fact, most parents are AWESOME!

    On the contrary, not every coach is amazing either, some actually are really terrible coaches.

    But chances are, a lightbulb in your head just went off because you thought of someone who does. And those parents that are constantly trying to manipulate every situation are only doing a few things:

    1. Causing unnecessary stress for their kid and teaching them that it’s not their fault, it is someone else's fault.
    2. Indirectly, they teach their kids that they don’t need to improve, someone else needs to change for them – that the world must conform to them.
    3. Causing coaches to really question the idea of coaching.
    4. Hurting sports and the enjoyment of playing them

    I think this most disheartening thing I saw in athletics outside of the crazy parents was the lack of ambition for improvement. Some kids are super talented, but because they are told they are good, they feel entitled not to work hard.

    Entitled to playing time, entitled to their position, and entitlement is never a good thing.

    Coaches are not abundant.

    When I resigned my head coaching position to be an assistant AD whoever succeeded me inherited a team with some pretty good talent. In fact, 5 wrestlers would end up being conference champions that next year.

    But there was one problem – only one applicant applied for my position and he ultimately decided to go elsewhere.

    That same year as a new assistant AD there was a parent who was upset about the hiring of a coach. The coach, according to the parent, did not have experience, knowledge, or expertise to be a coach for this team with a longgg history of losing.

    What the parent didn’t know – was that the coach we hired was the only applicant who applied for the job…

    Who the hell were we supposed to hire?

     You see, coaches don’t coach for money. Unlike travel sports and clinics that make a profit, most coaches coach for the love of the sport.

    They might coach for the glory, but most coach so they can make a positive impact through sports, oftentimes because that is what sports did for them.

    I know some coaches are not the best, and we have all had a bad coach. But just like in sports, not everything will go our way as adults either.

    As an educator I don’t get to pick my students or classes, they are assigned. What I teach and how I teach it is guided by the school district and my superiors. I can’t complain or ask for new students.

    The end goal for most coaches at the high school level is to win. Ultimately, their job security is based on winning and losing.

    So as a coach and former AD, I used to ask this question when the playing time issue came up,

    “Do you really think the coach purposely plays worse kids because he likes them more?”

    Common Sense is not so common.

    Logically, that question makes sense, the coach will play the best athlete.

    Obviously, there are factors at play, such as attitude, effort, potential, but at the end of the day I would say 95% of coaches do their best to put the best athletes in play.

    Do they make mistakes? Sure they do.

    Do some kids play better at practice then they do at games and vice versa? Of course.

    Have we come to a place where common sense is not so common? I think so.

    My entire point of writing this article was to bring light to the fact that sports is not about playing time or scholarships. Sports are not about putting stickers on your car or making others feel less because they are not as good.

    The me-first generation has caused a lot of people to think they are better than they really are and sometimes owed something.

    Athletics are not about resting on your laurels. Sports are about improving daily, setting goals, failing, and building relationships.

    Final Word on Snowplow Parents

    We have all seen the scandals that have shocked college basketball because of greed and short term thinking. And we have seen the lawsuits with college football and the profit some schools are generating.

    What we don’t see are the kids busting their tails and working hard to be the best they can be and translate that to success as adults. You don’t hear much about those stories.

    Not everyone is going pro. Not every coach is the best. And not every kid, including myself, is the next greatest athlete, which is why ever snowplow parent does way more harm than good!

    parents don't ruin youth sports

    However, we can all gather tons from sports, as both former athletes and parents that will help shape future generations.

    Like I said earlier, I don’t pretend to know all the answers, but I can speak for a majority of coaches – we don’t coach for the money. We do it to so we can help kids get as much as we did from sports.

    Chances are there will be times in life they will have to make big decisions, decisions and choices that mom and dad can’t take care of.

    So next time you are tempted to start an email with, “I usually don’t do this but…” consider asking your kid to persevere.

    Consider thanking your coach for helping and realizing they spend more time with your kids sometimes than their own. Consider telling your kid they did great, regardless if they did. And if you are not a parent like myself, consider these when you do have kids!

    Awareness is key to making changes. Feel free to share, as I hope more coaches continue to coach and more kids learn the life lessons I learned because of high school athletics and sports!

    Q: What is your take on youth sports in schools and the general climate of youth athletics?