10 Tips for When Your Child Says “My Coach Hates Me!”

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I knew something was wrong the second she walked out of the gym. The slumped shoulders and glum face told me that workout hadn’t gone well.

The car door had barely opened when my daughter began sobbing, “Tom (not his real name) hates me!”  (Door slams.)

If your child stays in sports long enough, the chances are pretty good that she is going to get one coach with whom she clashes. And, especially when she is in the turbulent adolescent years, she may insist that the coach hates her.

While sometimes the “My-coach-hates-me” feeling is just a fleeting one that comes from a rough day at practice, there are times when the feeling is long lasting, quite real and maybe even valid.

Maybe the coach plays favorites, and your kid is not one of the lucky ones. Maybe the coach has less patience for your child. Or maybe the coach accuses your daughter of not trying even when she gives her full effort.

Or perhaps it is just a mismatch in personality. Not all personality types are going to mesh well, that’s life. Then, when placed in close relation where emotions can run high, it’s not shocking that there are going to be days like the one I had with my daughter.

So, what should a parent do in this situation? Here are my tips (warning: do not attempt any of these things until emotions have died down!):

  1. Ask your daughter for specific examples of the coach’s behavior that led her to the conclusion that she is not liked. Then you can discover if a problem really exists. You may get all upset only to find out that it is much ado about nothing (i.e. the coach scolded her for talking during conditioning).
  2. If at all possible, let your daughter work this out with her coach directly. If she is very young, absolutely terrified or the conflict is so deep that you need to intervene, and then by all means do so. However, if this is something that your daughter can reasonably handle with your guidance and support, give her those things and let her try to work this out on her own.
  3. Have your daughter challenge her thoughts. When she is calm, ask your daughter to challenge her thought that the coach hates her with these three questions:
    1. “Why do I think this is true?”
    2. “Is there evidence that I might be wrong?”
    3. “Is there any other way I could look at my coaches actions?”
  4. Help your daughter plan and even rehearse what she wants to say to the coach. If she is open to it, role-playing the parts where she plays both herself and the coach may give her insight in to the problem and potential solutions.
  5. Teach your child to use “I” statements. Instead of “You upset me when you said I didn’t try when I felt like I did. Why do you hate me?” Try “I feel like you’re calling me a liar when you tell me that I am not trying when I am. I want to feel like you trust me and that you like me. I know I can learn a lot from you.”
  6. If you are going to handle the conversation, do not jump the chain of command. It can be tempting to skip the conversation with the coach and go directly to the head coach, the director of the program or the owner of the club. Going straight to the coach’s bosses will not improve the relationship.
  7. Don’t ambush the coach before, during or after practice. Set up an appointment time to talk.  Give him/her a heads up on the situation so they are not going into it blindly.
  8. Be calm and respectful. Even if you are furious, do not resort to name calling or character assassinations. This person flips your child upside down. Remember that.
  9. Assume good faith. Remember there are at least two sides to every story. You’ve only heard your child’s.
  10. Ask “what can I do to help my child?” instead of telling the coach what to do. By letting the coach know that you are willing to work toward a solution together you are far more likely to arrive at a cooperative answer.

My cherub calmed down during the thirty-minute car ride home. The story gradually spilling out: I believe it had something to do with a misunderstanding about a conditioning assignment. After she had some dinner, the incident was forgotten. Lucky me: I didn’t even need to proceed to step one which was highly fortunate as “Tom” was not only my daughter’s coach but also my employee.

But having been on the other side of the equation as the club owner, I know that the feeling that a coach “hates” a gymnast is a real one, and one that can cause misery for all parties if not handled carefully and swiftly.

More often than not, it is a misunderstanding.  One that can be handled with a clarification and reassurances.  Occasionally it is  a mismatch in coaching/learning styles.  While these situations are more difficult, they can be worked through by sharing perspectives with each party on how the other communicates and what their triggers are.  And sometimes it is a revelation of a different issue entirely.   The “my coach hates me” was a detractor, and what comes to surface is another problem, typically the child’s desire to retire from the sport or a fear.

By teaching your child to examine her feelings and to advocate for herself you are teaching her valuable interpersonal skills. By stepping in if needed you are demonstrating to her that you are giving her the support that she needs. Finally, if the issue is a mismatch in personality styles, your child is learning a lifetime skill of working with and learning from people she may not like. While not an easy lesson to learn, it is one that will serve her brilliantly well beyond her days in the gym.