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My worst day in Surf Life Saving

Every parent’s motivation for sport is different, and it’s not for me to tell you your “why”, but I can say with certainty what I don’t want for my kids, and why sport for me is about more than winning ribbons, medals and trophies.

A number of years ago when I was coaching at multiple surf clubs I returned to the clubs tent (not Nobbys a different surf club) to console a young athlete. She had had a race to forget, missing waves, losing goggles and just generally had had a crap time. I went to chat to her about how important it was to not let this one bad race, define the day, the weekend and even the season. But as I spoke to her quietly under the tent and the back of all the group of athletes and parents, I overheard another athlete’s parent discussing my frailties as a coach, my shortcomings and what they thought needed to be done. This parent was unaware that I was sitting at the back of the tent, and while I’m more than happy for constructive criticism, and realize I’m far from perfect, what this parent said and the way they said it has forever left a bad taste in my mouth.

They didn’t say I was a bad person, that I didn’t know my coaching stuff or was poor at communicating, they simply said we need to get rid of Nick as our coach because we need a coach that’s not going to split his time between our kids and those ‘disabled kids’. Now, I’ve taken the liberty here to substitute the term he used and replace it with “disabled kids”, to make the blog less disturbing.

I was shocked, disgusted, but sadly not that surprised. Junior sport doesn’t always bring out the best in people, and by people in this instance, I’m referring to parents. In fact, if you give some parents a clipboard, drink bottle and carnival program they can turn pretty quickly in to seasoned experts and worse still, monsters.

But this was an entirely new level.

It took me a long time to properly process this, and I probably stewed on it for a couple of years. To the point where I’ve previously only ever told this to 2-3 people. I think ultimately what annoys me is not what was said, but more that I did nothing to correct this person at the time.

There’s always going to be ignorant people, but I guess I had always felt that the environment I had created for coaching was an area where everyone was learning. Not just how to paddle, swim and run faster but how to be better overall, in all aspects of life. More understanding, more knowledgeable and more disciplined to face the real world. After all I’m talking about coaching kids between 9 and 13 years of age. Absolutely we train to be the best we can, but it’s not always about winning at this age. It’s about learning the fundamentals and making sure at 13 they’re better for the last 4 years of coaching, and in turn better equipped for the next 4 years which see’s them enter the next phase of their life.

Sport can deliver many things for young people, medals, trophies, prizes and sponsorship but it should never be to the detriment of respect, responsibility and humility. So as a parent I know exactly what I don’t want for my kids and we choose sports and coaches based on this.

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