Q: My twelve year old son has never shown an interest in sports before, but he decided to join the school football team. It turns out he’s pretty good at it, but there have been a number of problems in the locker room. The other boys are harassing him after every practice. The coach knows this is going on but isn’t doing anything about it. I want to go talk to the coach, but my son is begging me to let it go. What do I do?
A: There is no mistaking the important role sports can play in a child’s life. Students who participate in sports are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, have better self-esteem, and understand the importance of time-management. But sports also have a culture of their own which can include hazing.
As much as you want to swoop in and save your son, take a deep breath before planning your next move. While you shouldn’t ignore the behavior, charging into the locker room to demand justice might paint a bigger bull’s-eye on your son. There is also the possibility that your son, while not lying, is only telling his side of the story. He may be playing along with the boys’ teasing to gain acceptance. (Think like a twelve-year-old boy and you’ll see where I’m coming from.) Besides that, coaching is a difficult, often thankless, job. Directing blame and hostility at the coach probably will not get you the desired results. Remember: a good offense is often the best defense.
With that in mind, call and schedule an appointment to meet with the coach at a time when none of the boys are present. Tell the coach how much your son is enjoying football and the benefits you’re seeing from his participation. This approach shows the coach that you’re not there to wage war on him. Then move on to your concerns. Let him know what your son has told you. Calmly and politely ask the coach if he or she will talk to the players about the inappropriate behavior and ask how the locker room can be monitored to prevent further issues. Listen to what the coach tells you with an open mind. Remember: your son may not be telling you the whole story. Conclude the meeting by thanking the coach for his time and discretion, and state that you’ll be following up on the problem. Whether or not the coach did really know what was going on, this lets him know that you are not going to let it go.
Give it a few days to make sure the coach follows through. Hopefully the locker room harassment ends so that your son can relax and enjoy football. If the situation doesn’t change, gets worse, or if the coach “punishes” your son for your intervention, appeal to the principal or athletic director. Part of sports is learning to work together as a team; getting a handle on the situation calmly and rationally can only make the team stronger.
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