Performance vs Politics
Disclaimer: As a reminder, the opinions expressed in this blog are of mine and mine only, but through my experience as a goalie, goalie coach, general coach, and father I have seen and experienced it all and have lived through these experiences to provide substantial evidence to back up my opinions. I will never provide information without knowing both sides of the story.
First and foremost, I would like to THANK all of the parents and goalies who have reached out either to me through texts, email, Goalies Matter, or brought up their issue on social media i.e Facebook Group ‘Lax Goalie Rats’ or on IG. I have been completely overwhelmed by this topic that being overwhelmed is an understatement. Trying to handle this concern has been daunting and has been draining me mentally myself. So, I will be addressing this in this blog, so let’s get into this burning question/issue.
ISSUE: Why is my kid playing their heart out, gets trained by an expert goalie coach, plays for a prominent summer club team, is and has been recruited to play in college, has committed to a school with an offer, but yet isn’t seeing any playing time. Not even getting reps in practice, is brushed aside for the other goalie on the team, who has only played goalie for a year or two, and at best my kid is not even seeing equal game time. How does a coach NOT see the difference?????
Before I get started discussing this topic, PLEASE understand this, this is not a topic where a goalie or parent are whining because they did not see the field and want equal playing time……this topic is being discussed after hearing both sides of the story and still no action has been taken.
Let me set the table…..Goalie 1 is mediocre at best, played for about 2 years as a goalie, very minimal to NO goalie training at all, has a good heart, and has a positive attitude. Goalie 2 is an experienced a great goalie, has been playing for 5-6 years, has had 2 years of consistent goalie training and clearly shows, is very passionate, positive and confident about her ability to perform in the cage. HOWEVER, for some abhorrent reason Goalie 2 is not starting and is barely even seeing the field unless they are Up by a lot or Down by a lot. Goalie 1 is getting by due to good defense, and poor quality of shots being taken making Goalie 1 look like some All-American goalie. Goalie 1 barely communicates, barely says anything after goals, doesn’t talk to her defense, and gives up some easy goals. Meanwhile Goalie 2 is sitting on the bench who is known to be positive, pulls the defense together to fires them and makes all the saves they are supposed to make. The question is
Why in the hell is Goalie 2 sitting on the bench while Goalie 1 is in the goal????
Unfortunately, the answer is NOT that simple. It would be nice or easy to say they aren’t playing, because they’re NOT confident, or they are inconsistent, or my favorite response “just not stopping the ball”. Seriously I throw my hands up on this one, but the unfortunate truth of reality with non-goalie educated coaches is that coaches only care about three things, 1) Stop the ball; 2) Possess/control the ball; and 3) Clear the ball. They really don’t care HOW you do it or WHAT you look like, just do those three things and you will see more playing time. However, coaches also won’t take into account the context of the shots, i.e. quality of the opponent, quality of the shots, location of the shots etc. If the coach has a favorite goalie they will also most likely throw out all the cliché excuses under the sun, i.e. it was a phenomenal opponent ( coaches will say “they will make it to the state championship”), our defense didn’t show up today, they had great shooters, it’s a team sport ( coaches will emphasize “We win as a team, but we also Lose as a TEAM”), and my favorite sympathizing line from a coach regarding Goalie 1 “don’t worry no goalie would have been able to save some of those shots….you played as best as you could today.”
Talk about an enabling coach, making excuses just to provide justification in their own mind why they went with Goalie 1 over Goalie 2. Meanwhile Goalie 2 is simply fuming inside, losing it in their head as to why Goalie 1 was still in the game after 15 goals went in, wondering what did the coach see in them over me, which in turn will drive a goalie’s mental health into the ground. Flip to the next day in practice when Goalie 2 asks the coach why they didn’t make a change, and they will respond with “it wasn’t their day,” “it was a tough one,” “we wanted to try something different,” or “we wanted to see if they could pull it together, and pull us out of it.” All of these are BS excuses, and when Goalie 2 asked the coach what could they do to see “Some” playing time if any at all, and the coach responds with “they were more consistent, more confident, and they made more stops.” [SMH] Really? That’s your reasoning, seriously you must be blind.
Hate to say this, but this little scenario is not only very Common, but it happens all the time and it’s not going away. So why is the coach allowing this to happen……. two things come to mind; they actually favorite the one over the other for whatever reason (i.e. family friend’s kid, coaches kid, school staff kid, they have a lot in common etc.); or the other thing POLITICS!!!! The MAIN reason I stopped coaching HS lacrosse was because of the politics involved in the game and it made me sick. I found an open door and I blasted it open, and found myself on the sidelines at the University of Michigan coaching collegiate athletes, where there aren’t any politics. I have been around lacrosse from a coaching perspective for over 20+ years, I have been with some really good Championship teams to teams that could barely muster up a win. During my coaching experience I can tell you the championship teams (both HS and Collegiate) did not have one political issue, politics never played a role and we played to win. The teams I coached that were at best .500 teams, politics were front and center. Parents with deep pockets that would pay for gloves, team bags, apparel etc. and then there were parents that would hold the coaches’ job in their hands, which is basically blackmail. I will never forget the one time I was standing around after my JV game, that I just finished coaching, waiting for the Varsity game to start and overheard parents say the following “If these coaches don’t get it together and start winning a few games, they won’t be here next year, and it will be up to us to make sure that happens.” They were parents who headed up the lacrosse boosters and basically said if you want to keep your job you either win or your gone, and we can make that happen.
If we were to conduct an RCA (Root Cause Analysis) as to why Politics play a role in lacrosse I think most of it comes down to 1 thing…..MONEY!!! We all know Lacrosse is NOT Football or Basketball, the sports that bring in funding for the rest of the school sports, and with most school’s lacrosse gets a very limited budget. As a result, if a parent(s) has deep pockets and can put up the funding so the team can get equipment, apparel, food, etc. then it turns into a Quid Pro Quo (this for that) mentality. If I give you this (see previous sentence) then I expect you to play my son/daughter a little more. This is hidden between the lines, and if the coach doesn’t give more PT to those specific kids, then they might not be on the sidelines next year. Most coaches won’t turn down donations or any extra funds just so they don’t kill their school provided budgets (if the school even has one). I coached at a prominent private HS for 5 years and we won the state championship all 5 years, but during my time politics were never an issue. Parents could threaten all they wanted, but the head coach would tell the parents at the start of the season in the parents meeting ……”I will take care of these young MEN on the field and teach them life lessons through lacrosse that will help them off the field in the future. Your job as parents is to cheer them on, support them, and be there for them…if you have a problem with the way I run this team, vet them through the AD and I will address them when I have time. I will also not handle any issues after a game, please wait 24 hrs. before filing a complaint with the AD. Let me do my job, and you do your job and we won’t have any problems.” From that moment on, we never had any issues, they all trusted him that he knew what he was doing and as a result we won state championships all 5 years I was there, but more importantly those young men transformed into upstanding gentlemen in the community.
I have provided some examples above as to how politics can interfere in the task at hand which is improving skills, allowing those who put the time in equal playing time, and teaching them life lessons for the future. There are some GREAT coaches in the lacrosse community whether they are goalie knowledgeable or not, however they are also many BAD coaches as well, that don’t deserve to don a whistle and be on the sideline making life draining decisions. Since this epidemic of bad coaching will NOT go away anytime soon, nor will those coaches suck up their pride and become better educated in the game or goalies, then we as GOALIES need to do what we can to overcome this challenging obstacle, but HOW?
When I work with my students during the year and during my summer goalie camp, I run one up here in West Michigan, I discuss how we as goalies are different, but also Natural Born Leaders!!! Leaders take on many personalities and attributes that make us who we really are. Being RESILIENT is and should be our #1 attribute, because it’s not easy to overcome obstacles and the negativity we perceive from others i.e peers, coaches, bosses etc. Like a boxer, we may get knocked down, but it’s how we get back up to continue the fight. Our mental health takes a beating, because we can’t figure out why coaches make the decisions they make, or why they provide us with unacceptable reasons for their own justification; but it's how we react, the actions we take that make us stronger and better humans.
Listed below are the steps I would suggest to OVERCOME the Political Game coaches/parents play and the justifications coaches come up with to make themselves feel better;
1) First Be A Voice – ask politely (without bruising the coaches ego) why you are not seeing Playing Time…hopefully they provide you a solid explanation and some feedback.
2) Ask for Performance Feedback – what can I do to improve so that I can start seeing the field more or at all. Look for specific details from the coach, nothing vague…i.e. clearing passes are too low, your step is inconsistent (sometimes you step, sometimes there is no step, etc.)
3) Ask for opportunities or help from the coaching staff to help you improve -they should be able to provide at least 5 minutes of their time to help you…. if not see #4
4) IF they can not provide an opportunity to improve, look to a fellow teammate to help you with a skill or reach out to a local goalie coach….if all else fails research on You Tube or social media and reach out to a Goalie Coach for assistance, tips, drills etc.
5) If you see improvements yourself and others notice, ask the coaches if they see any improvements….hopefully they do, then ask if there will be a chance to prove yourself in the next game.
6) If the coaches still aren’t playing you, reach out to the coaches one more time and ask for solid justification as to WHY you aren’t playing……. based on their response we move into the LAST RESORT situations.
7) LAST RESORT (1): Meet with the AD with or without the parents. Explain what’s going on in as much detail as possible and HOW it’s affecting you physically, emotionally, and/or mentally.
8) LAST RESORT (2): If this is HS or MS if the environment is toxic and its having a lasting effect on your mental health, take a break, walk away from the team, and when you tell your coach, tell them the reasons WHY? (MOST IMPORTANT). Take a mental break for yourself, allow yourself to get your mental health back in check and love the game. You can’t control the craziness of the politics and the lack of goalie knowledge these coaches possess, but you can control your life and what you do.
The last thing I would ever let anyone do is give up on the sport or the position, there are always other avenues to follow to keep you engaged in the greatest game and the best position on the field. It’s becoming more common to transfer schools, move to different club teams, try something different, but whatever it is do it for you. Just like when you injure an ankle or shoulder, you will take time to make sure it heals properly, same thing goes for your brain.
Okay I have brain dumped enough regarding this topic, but again this has become TOO common and frequent in the last few weeks, especially up here in the Midwest. Just do your best, keep playing, rise above, and of all things BE A VOICE!!! If you need someone to talk to please do not hesitate to reach out to me or anyone of us in the GOALIES MATTER community, we are here for you.
Founder - Goalies Matter