In the new age of coaching high school sports, it’s common knowledge that public opinion rules above all and each coach must consciously display fairness among their players, but when family becomes involved, remaining objective can become difficult.
In Tooele County, several high school coaches are working to maintain a balance between the roles of parent and coach when their children join the team they coach. Ryan Harris, Stansbury High School’s head basketball coach, said he’s learned that the competitiveness of the sports world doesn’t allow for free passes and he wouldn’t consider playing someone who doesn’t deserve it. Harris’ son, Kirby, who graduated from SHS last spring, played point guard for two years on Harris’ basketball team, but he was undersized and didn’t always deserve to have playing time, Harris said.
“Becoming a coach was not a result of me having kids or to assist my son, but rather because of my passion for teaching the game,” he said. “As a father, I have six kids, none of whom I would ever pressure to take up basketball. Early in my son’s career I told him ‘basketball is my passion and it doesn’t have to be yours.’”
Harris said at that point, any perceived pressure of his son playing for him was lifted, and he continued to work and develop his own love of the game. Harris insists his focus on his son has always been to help him find his own passion and support him in pursuing it.
“I don’t coach for my son,” Harris said. “One method I use when working with players is immediate, direct feedback. Addressing problems in performance as they happen assists my players in constantly staying on the same page. Criticisms both positive and negative can be better understood the faster they are addressed. It’s comical to imagine someone giving constant feedback but stopping short at making their son or daughter look bad. You almost have to be harder on your kid.”
Gary Coffman, Tooele High School’s head wrestling coach, said even though his son, Zach, is a senior wrestler for the team, he feels like he has 80 kids.
“I believe the job of a coach is most importantly to be there for the kids and show interest in their success,” Coffman said. “With 80 kids in the program come 80 report cards. You have to make sure each of them is going to class and setting an example in the community.”
Coffman said when he treats his team like his kids, he doesn’t think twice about helping them with homework or waking them up for school—both of which he has done.
“Val and Erin [Coffman’s wife and daughter] have spent hours helping them with homework,” said Coffman. “My whole family seems to be willing to embrace and dedicate time to help my players become the best they can be not only on the mat, but also at life.”
For those who haven’t coached a team, it’s hard to imagine the love these coaches have for their teams. However, it’s not so complicated when you look at the time they spend building their relationships.
“Before I took the coaching job we had to sit down as a family and discuss how we would manage our schedules,” said Kristi Brown, THS’s head volleyball coach and whose daughter Daisy plays on the team. “When you’re involved with a high school sport, odds are you practice or have a game a day at least five days a week.”
Because of this schedule, during their sport’s season some of these coaches spend more time with their team than their family.
Melissa Flint, SHS’s assistant volleyball coach, said she just works to make the most of her time as a coach.
“Having a daughter on the roster gave me a relationship with all the girls, not just my daughter, that I hadn’t had before as a coach,” she said.
Even though she’s coached every volleyball match her daughter, Marlee, a senior on the team, has been in, she’s still amazed at how much she continues to learn every day. Flint said not only has she been able to see her daughter in a different light amongst her peers and other coaches, but she felt that each girl on the team was able to be more open with her as a result of having a more personal connection to her.
“I think having a daughter on your team can make you a better coach,” Flint said.
Clint Barnes, SHS’s head volleyball coach, has a freshman daughter in his program. He and his staff weigh a lot of their playing time decisions on stats. He describes their unique situation as something very special, which is an understatement when considering both he and each of his assistants have kids of their own in the program. With so much family involved, they rely very heavily on numerous statistics to reinforce any evaluation of players, Barnes said. It’s very difficult to prove that any one player is better than another simply by placing them in games because each situation is so different.
“Controlling the situation by drilling in practice is very important to validate stats,” said Barnes.
Barnes said these stats help immensely to support any coaching decision and take away any questions of favoritism among coaches and players.
Brown takes it a step further. She doesn’t even keep track of her own daughter’s stats in order to leave no doubt that her methods aren’t subjective.
“If anything, I am probably a little harder on my daughter,” she said.
Each of the coaches expressed that they are a little tougher on their own children, but it’s mainly because the last thing they want is for their children to be handed success — they’d rather have them earn it.