What happens when a coach picks up the ball and goes home?

We may not cheer for the same team, but I think we can probably agree that it is always unfortunate when our schools lose a quality staff member from any program. Certainly, this is our sentiment for two coaches who were recently let go from the Hellgate High tennis program due to an inadvertent infraction of district policy prohibiting the use of alcohol while representing the district. And surely, the subsequent resignation of the program’s head coach, as an “act of solidarity” and his “ongoing frustration with coaches’ pay,” magnifies the loss. But there are other elemental losses.

As a generation of adults labeled “Helicopter Parents,” implying that we have a tendency to “hover” over our kids, we are nauseatingly familiar with the term, “teaching moment.” In my defense, I am not the first to bring it up. Some have argued that this situation was an opportunity for a “teaching moment” – a chance for kids to observe the responsible use of alcohol by adults.

While many of us agree with the value of this lesson in many situations, we can also value the reality that in our conscientious schools and litigious society, responsible school officials can not deal in shades of gray. The consequences to kids can be too great. And kids know better than us that not all “teaching moments” come easily.

But perhaps the most unfortunate missed “moment” is the response of a head coach. Most of us understand a person’s statement of solidarity; the declaration that says “I’m standing up for people I value in an unfair situation.” Yet while loyalty is a good thing in friendship, this time the coach swung and missed the ball – and a chance to say something more. Instead we heard: “I like my friends and I don’t agree with these dumb rules, so I’m taking my ball and going home. I don’t want to play with you guys anymore.” Hmm ... maybe not the response we revere when the youth we mentor are frustrated and want to quit.

We all want to win for our side, but is sport not a whole lot about dealing with adversity? About not always winning? About rising above a loss? Lots of cliches, but where is the better “Teaching Moment” here?

Surely, most of us have experienced challenging situations from which we have had to graciously walk away. But more often, with thoughtful consideration to the greater mission served, we have to step back from the emotion and become part of the solutions; especially when innocent folks stand to lose even more without that process. Perhaps there is a better “teaching moment,” the one that says I don’t agree, but I can respect the probability that well-intended people have fundamental reasons for this – in this case, the well-being of kids.” And, “How do I best support those affected by this loss.”

Is this not the role of any great leader – and what we nauseating “Helicopter Parents” hope kids might learn?

Obviously there are many losses: losses to the students and community; losses to two beloved coaches; and losses to a head coach in giving up on a program he guided to well-deserved success. That success always involves the support and hard work of many – including the folks who make the rules.

But if we are really proponents of the “teaching moment,” we might realize there is the loss of something more elemental. Namely, don’t throw down the racket and stomp off “the court” when you are mad. Maybe what has not been lost is the opportunity for kids to see that even adults do not always make the right decision, and adults are not immune to the subsequent consequences with which they might not agree.

Hopefully, their own inevitable lapses in judgment, as well as the natural tendency for an emotional response, will give way for a more productive process. Rather than picking up the ball and going home, may they better see that by being part of a solution fewer people on any team become collateral damage, and more will win than lose. If only they bring back the ball.

Amy Brown of Missoula is a parent of recent Hellgate High School graduates.

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