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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’d love some advice on how involved to get in teenagers’ sports team drama (I know, in my heart the answer is zero involvement, but I’m kind of stuck here). My 15-year-old daughter “Tara” has been playing club soccer for six years. Things have been up and down, and this has been a very “down” year. Her old coach offered the kids pretty equal playing time, but this year she has a new coach who is much more cutthroat, and my daughter has received very little playing time. The coach has also hand-selected his own team captains instead of the kids voting, as they had in the past. My daughter had been looking forward to running for captain this year but wasn’t given the opportunity to do so. After the captaincy meltdown, my husband and I acknowledged to my daughter that hand-selecting captains was unfair, but that she needed to finish out the year before making decisions about quitting.
Well … since then, there’s been an unending stream of drama. My daughter’s upset over her lack of playing time, annoyed that the coach picks favorites, and frustrated by some cliquish behavior from some of the other girls on the team. We’ve overheard her hanging out with teammates when they come over to our house, and it’s basically a constant stream of negativity, drama, and complaints. Frankly, my husband and I are sick of hearing about the drama. None of it rises to the level of an unsafe team climate (there’s no racism that we know of, the kids wear masks, etc.), which previously was our threshold for getting involved. But our kid is miserable every single day. Forcing her to finish out the whole school year like this seems cruel. But isn’t there also something to be said for sticking with what you started, even if the context changes? Should we speak with her coach before letting her quit? It’s hard for me to tell how much of my daughter’s unhappiness is appropriate in response to very real changes on the team versus how much is just a bruised ego or something like that. What should we do?
—Soccer Mom In Seattle
Dear Soccer Mom,
As I’ve mentioned before around here, I’m a youth sports coach, so I think I can offer some perspective. Coaching changes can be really hard on kids, and I know that every coach has their own personal style when it comes to working with their teams. Some want every kid to play equally, and others only play the best players who will help them win. From my experience, club sports teams usually skew towards the latter.
You may not like what I’m about to say, but I’m going to say it anyway. Barring having a horrible attitude, if your daughter was one of the better players on the team, she would play. It’s really that simple. I know your daughter mentioned cliques and other drama, but I would like to believe none of that would matter if she was actually getting playing time.
With that in mind, I think you should schedule some time to talk to the coach about your concerns and see what comes from it. Maybe you’ll realize that the coach is all about having a meritocracy where the best players play. Maybe you’ll realize that the coach is indeed playing favorites and your daughter isn’t getting a fair shake. Either way, you’ll have to make a decision at that point.
I think the old school way of looking at things is to never quit, but I’m not buying that philosophy. If your daughter’s mental health is completely fried because of this situation, I think it may be best for her to walk away. To be clear, this should only happen if the atmosphere is completely toxic—which can definitely be the case in youth club sports. You’ll probably know what the case is after you meet with the coach.
The only caveat to that is I wouldn’t advise quitting just because she hit a little adversity. If she’s simply not good enough to get playing time, then she should ask her coach what she needs to do in order to get playing time. I truly believe that if she shows up early to practice, stays late, practices at home, and is always the hardest worker on the field, she will play more.
Once you do a little digging, you’ll be able to make an informed decision on what’s best for your child.
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