My daughter joined the high-school varsity tennis team. The tennis coach told her that she should take “privates” (paid lessons with him at the local tennis club at $45 an hour) if she wanted to “go far.” My daughter had no interest in lessons as she was already going to team practices eight to 10 hours a week. The coach gives no instruction to players at practice, reserving it for these “private lessons.” My daughter was replaced on the varsity singles team by another player who did take private lessons with the coach. This player—let’s call her Isabel—was moved up to the varsity team, and my daughter was relegated to junior varsity without a “challenge match.” Such matches are required by high-school athletic-association rules, but the rules were not followed. My daughter had beaten Isabel three times. We found out that this coach and others had been promoting players who took private lessons with them for years. What should we do?
Dear Tennis Dad,
Such corruption is rampant in youth sports. The coach is grotesquely abusing his power. If your daughter wants to fight this, you must help her do so. Try pointing out to the coach (in writing) that he broke the athletic association’s rules and ask for a match between your daughter and Isabel. If he refuses, try to persuade your daughter to let you intervene further. A complaint to the principal and your state’s high-school athletic association could force the coach to change his ways or lose his job. It’s crucial for kids to see their parents standing up for them and against injustice.
But your daughter wants to keep playing tennis, and she may fear retaliation from the coach and the rest of the team. So she may not want you to go over his head with these complaints. Since she’s nearly a young adult and it’s her problem, she gets to decide how it’s handled. If she won’t protest, she must make the best of the JV squad. But please do write detailed and blistering letters to all the relevant authorities after she graduates.
Even without such direct extortion, the amount of parent involvement and money entailed in becoming a serious youth athlete in this country is a scandal (writes this columnist from the soccer field where her son practices three times a week, not counting weekend travel that sometimes involves hotel stays). As parents, we have a responsibility to resist, at the very least, the worst excesses of this system.