• Coach Skeff

Not everyone agreed.

Part 2. of "Would you still play if everyone had told you not play?!"

This will be personal. One year later after I wrote my last post, “Would you still play if everybody told you not to play?!”, I finally feel comfortable to share part 2 of that story.

I got to my car after a tough loss against our rival club. Although I knew we had a really bad game, I felt my after-game speech was very productive (please, make sure to read Part 1 speech). I have always wanted to share that side of my life with my players, but at the same time, I had never had the right opportunity to do so. Talking about privilege is always delicate, therefore I wanted to make sure my words would be heard and taken into consideration.

I thought it was a great speech, but not everyone agreed.

I had not even left the parking lot when I get a call from my director. Despite being a director at my previous club, at that moment, I was just a new staff member of this club. Perhaps I should also emphasize that I was THE ONLY female coach among all the coaches in charge of the traveling teams. Unfortunately, the unusual part of this situation is that they even had a female coach on staff at all.

I had a pretty good relationship with the director who called, so I was very surprised when he started the call saying,

“Skeff, you CANNOT tell our players what they deserve or not deserve”...

... I thought for a second: Wait, what?. He repeated it again, "Skeff, you CANNOT tell our players what they deserve or do not deserve." I had two immediate reactions. My first was “What are you talking about???” I was so confused and then became very defensive. Secondly, I seriously thought it was a great speech, but this phone call was making me start to second guess myself. I was already assuming he was right, and I was wrong. I even started to formulate my apology.

I do not have 20 years of coaching experience, but I have coached enough to know that words can be misinterpreted by players, staff and parents. In almost every instance 100% of parents will always want the best for their kids, and like any normal human being, they can be very emotional about it. However, for all the coaches, our job should always be to show that we also want the best for their kids.

I knew FOR SURE that my speech wasn’t delivered to humiliate anyone, but I also knew that I used very tough words. I knew I was taking risks saying the things I was saying and the manner in which I said them. At that moment though, I thought the kids would understand that gratitude was the meaning of my speech, and tough words were necessary to express the urgency of that moment.

The director kept rolling his frustrated monologue: You can’t tell your players what they deserve! I had 2 very angry parents coming to me saying that you told their kids that they don’t deserve to play soccer.

“Oh my God...” and eyes rolling in the back of my head was my immediate reaction.

Then I started to replay my whole speech in my head. Very meticulously. I tried to remember how I treated the girls, what their reactions were, and if at some point, I could have upset someone or said something disrespectful to any of the girls.

Replayed it one more time in my head and then I said to the director,

“I am going to give you a chance to call me and talk to me differently.”

Honestly, I don’t know where that came from. Although I do have a strong personality, I understand the sense of hierarchy and respecting people above me in that hierarchy. I embraced what I knew and said it again slightly different: I am going to give you another chance to make this right.

I was confident this interaction was wrong in so many levels.

I almost stayed quite. I almost did that thing that many women do even when they know they are right. I almost stayed quiet and didn’t say anything. I was furious. The fact that the club did not support me, and even worse, it did not even give me the benefit of the doubt. This really upset me. Especially when I REALLY thought I gave a good speech that was significant to the players growth and productive to move them forward in their development both as players and human beings.

"From what I said, to what my players heard, to what she said, to what her mother heard, to what her mother said to you, to what you heard… This could get misinterpreted in so many ways", I started my second, and difficult, speech of the day that I was not prepared for.

I have seen so many male coaches treating girls like objects. I have listened to male coaches cursing their players and watched unacceptable attitudes from so many male coaches. This includes coaches from this very club. We all have this image in our head of a male coach yelling at kids and saying unnecessary and unproductive comments to young players.

However, I have never seen nor heard of these coaches getting reprimanded by parents or their respective directors (in many instances they are the director!).

I knew that what I said was not bad or disrespectful at all, but also knew my target listeners in that occasion were 11-12 years old girls. When my players are that young, there is a higher probability of them misinterpreting what I said or having a different perspective from what I was trying to pass along. I was not mad at the parents who emotionally tried to protect their daughters. Like many clubs or coaches, I do have a strong 48 hours policy where you should not email or call the coach within 48 hours of the issue over something a parent would like to voice a concern. Angry or not angry, I would never mind explaining what I said to a parent or to all of the parents. People may not necessarily agree with what I said or how I said it, but I was genuinely trying to help the girls understand the importance of gratitude and playing as hard as they could, and not taking all that structure and support for granted .

What I kept questioning was: Why have I seen so many male coaches doing WAY worse to their players, but never actually being reprimanded for it? But when I tried to talk about privilege, somehow that upset everyone at a whole new level. Enough that my director needed to call me ASAP to tell me I should not talk like that to the kids.

I mentioned to him: I am not a bad coach, I am not a bad person, I have never disrespected or bullied a kid. I have never called a player names to offend them, or left the field without giving them something to learn (my priority #1).

I continued saying that perhaps, the right way to call a staff member should be something like, "Hey Skeff, tough game, huh? Would you mind telling me what you told the girls after the game?”, This would give the other party the opportunity to explain.  Then continuewith something like, "...that is a very interesting perspective! Unfortunately a couple parents got upset. Perhaps next time at the end of the conversation, let's make sure all the kids know exactly what are you trying to say so we can avoid any misinterpretation." This would show empathy from the director knowing that I wanted the best for the kids plus knowing that this was definitely a misinterpretation issue.  The director could also have followed up with, "Would you mind calling 'so and so' and explaining your point more thoroughly? When they came to me, I told them I knew for sure there was no reason to be upset, and you would call them afterwards to explain it better".

When leaders are more empathetic and see all sides to the story all parties are able to grow.

Even if there was a lack of leadership skill in this scenario, the conversation at some point would flow to the right direction where I could explain myself and I take necessary steps to fix the situation to keep any problems from escalating.

I could not stop thinking about this. How is it so natural for us to accept bad behavior and tough teaching/coaching from male instructors/coaches, but when a female coach even slightly uses a tough conversation she is immediately judged? Why do we allow male coaches to have a bad and/or disrespectful attitude towards kids in the first place?!

Women in general struggle to have the confidence to speak up in male dominated area. Studies have shown that men dominate 75% of the conversation during business meetings , and men speak 92% of the times during conference calls. Several reasons why women stay quiet are: Women are not confident that what they say is valued, and when do they speak up, women are more likely than men to face negative consequences and repercussions about what they say and/or how they speak. Additionally, women constantly apologize when sharing their opinion, even when they know they are not wrong.

I apologized for the misunderstanding from some players and parents. I did not apologize for my after-game speech or for speaking up for myself.

I apologize only for the incident.

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