What to do When Your Child Doesn’t Hustle?

Sooner or later, every parent will have to face the perceived shame and humiliation caused by a child who didn’t “hustle” during a game. Most of the other parents will be polite and say things like “Is you child feeling okay?” or “Hope everything is okay at home.” Some parents will suggest private lessons or maybe even other teams to play on, but most will be quiet and avoid direct eye contact. When this happens, parents can either put on a brave face and laugh off the comments, or just pretend to be on their cell phone while quickly walking their five year old to the car. When confronted with too much shame and humiliation, parents quit youth sports and never return.

WAIT! WAIT! WAIT! – Parents aren’t quitting youth sports in record numbers, kids are. The last count was more than 70% by age 13. Shame and humiliation may have their place in a corporate financial scandal but they have no place in youth sports. Kids are not always going to play a good game and parents may want to talk with them about their “hustle”. But, before getting into that discussion, parents need to remember that a lack of hustle may actually be things that they cause or influence. For example:

  • Were there external distractions such as problems at school or with friends or siblings?
  • Were there physical influences such as an illness, lack of proper nutrition or insufficient rest?
  • Is there a diminished lack of interest in the sport caused by burnout or a lack of time for other activities?
  • Is physical conditioning in areas such as stamina or strength adequate for playing an entire game?
  • Does a lack of fundamental skills hinder more advanced play?
  • Is there a good understanding of strategy and positioning so that a young player knows how to react in specific situations?
  • Is the child playing at the right level of competition? Playing with kids who are much more or much less talented can be demoralizing and slow improvement.

These issues are also why it can be so harmful to yell “hustle” from the sidelines. Children can instantly understand if their parents are upset, but may not think through whether they were adequately prepared with things like rest, proper nutrition and instruction. Kids may even come to believe they are not “hustlers” and may slow down in other areas of their life due to lowered self-esteem.

Yelling “hustle” is a simple response to something that has many causes. If it is not clear what the problem is, parents should have a positive conversation with their child or with the coach to better identify the problem and the corrective actions necessary. Most of all, parents must be patient. Sports is a learned activity and requires time to master. The age of the player and the length of time between events give parents plenty of opportunity to get to the heart of a hustle problem.


Do I Actually Have to Talk to the Parents?

Youth coaches sometimes joke that the ideal youth team is a team of orphans. Though this approach is one solution to problem parents, there are other more practical solutions. One of the best is regular communication with parents.

Everything a coach does with the team is in parental view. In the absence of coaching guidance, parents form and communicate their own opinions of the status of the team and the steps necessary for improvement. Some parents may be objective and knowledgeable about the sport, but if they don’t speak up, then the overall team opinion may be shaped by others. For coaches, these parent-to-parent and parent-to-player communications can become distracting to their efforts to make team improvements.

Coaches should consider short and regular meetings with all parents to help shape these opinions and give parents better insight into what to watch for in games and practices. In a recent Sports Esteem survey of coaches and parents, over 60% thought that coaches should at least meet occasionally with parents after a game. In these meetings, coaches might cover:

  • Recent team performance giving parents insight into the progress the team is or is not making in various areas.
  • Approaches taken in practices that are attempting to shape game performance.
  • Reemphasis of team goals and objectives.
  • Realistic guidance concerning upcoming game and practice performance.
  • Positive comments concerning every player. Mentioning only a few players may raise more parent concerns.
  • Reminding parents to praise their children’s efforts and encourage their kids to have fun and develop a love for the game.

The overall test of a youth coach is whether his players have fun, learn new skills and want to play again next season. Yet, in the emotions of a game or issue, these goals can get lost or seem secondary. Coaches need to have the courage and conviction to keep their parents working toward these goals and this requires regular and consistent communication. The temptation to avoid parental contact only amplifies problems over time and lets small problems become large problems later in the season.

Parents help judge the success of coaches, teams and seasons. In the absence of information, their judgments will vary greatly based on their own experiences and knowledge. With information, parents gain better appreciation for the challenges coaches face and continue to learn how they can best support their child’s efforts.