McDermand: “Why aren’t we collaborating to clean up the toxicity?”

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Beach coach Bryan McDermand

Bryan McDermand has coached and played volleyball at various levels over the last two decades. He coaches beach volleyball year-round and is the founder of Before College Consulting, an organization to help families find the best college for them while minimizing debt. 

Bryan McDermand

By Bryan McDermand for VolleyballMag.com

My name is Bryan McDermand, and I’m a volleyball junkie.

Over the last 15 years, the sport has taken me on quite a journey. I’ve coached middle school volleyball all the way to NCAA Division I.  I’ve traveled all over the country as both a player and coach. Facebook reminded me that 10 years ago last month, I arrived in Germany with other college athletes for a two-week tour of sightseeing and tournaments I’ll never forget.

I’ve coached kids as young as 5 and adults as old as 85. I’ve worked with kids who have never touched a volleyball before, as well as some of the best athletes in the country. I’ve been hired to coach kids in gyms that reside in their backyard (or in one case, their basement), and I’ve volunteered for kids who had to practice in dress shoes because that’s what their parents could afford.

I’ve seen a lot of different perspectives in the volleyball community.

While I love to coach, something’s been bothering me the last few years. Youth sports has never been a more lucrative industry, but at the same time we’ve seen more toxicity than ever before.

Don’t let the second link fool you: This falls on all of us –- coaches, directors, parents, players.

Conflicts arise all the time in youth sports. Parents are unhappy with the coaches. Coaches are frustrated with players’ attitudes. Players are frustrated with both of those parties, and everyone is mad at the refs. The reasons can vary, but almost every time it boils over, there’s one common theme from the agitated party: I don’t understand “X.”

I don’t understand why the coach is playing this lineup.

I don’t understand why this player isn’t giving their best effort at practice.

I don’t understand why this parent thinks that’s acceptable behavior in the stands.

I don’t understand how the ref could possibly make that call.

I listen to people talk all the time about their situations, and the problem is there’s a lot of bias. That makes sense if you think about it. Why would we expect anything different? Why wouldn’t a parent be more focused on the well-being of their kid? Why wouldn’t a coach focus on what’s best for their program even if it’s not always in the best interest of the families? What athlete doesn’t have their own individual goals that may not always align with the needs of the team?

The problems occur when all these parties push against each other instead of trying to come to an understanding. I participate in forums, read blogs, listen to podcasts, and all too often everything is delivered in a limited capacity. Some have coaches talking about the problems with parents, others have parents complaining about coaches. I can’t help but wonder, why aren’t we collaborating to clean up the toxicity?

My father was one of my first coaches, and early on he taught me something that I continue to use to this day. Don’t order kids on WHAT to do: Explain WHY they’re doing it. Understanding the why has helped me as an athlete. Teaching the why has helped the athletes I coach.

From my experience, when parties address concerns explaining why they’re upset instead of what they think others should be doing, a lot of the headaches experienced in youth sports today can be avoided. By communicating to understand and attempt to come to common ground instead of preaching right/wrong, everyone’s experience becomes more positive.

I look forward to using this blog to take an objective approach and address some of the biggest issues that we see all too often in youth sports. We need to help parents support their children in a healthier manner while always understanding the full spectrum of a coach’s job.

This blog will help coaches understand why “that player” or “those parents” are acting the way they are. What I’ve learned over the years is that when a coach is transparent in their mission statement, firm in their expectations, and consistent in their communication, they can avoid many of the above issues. I’ve learned that most angry parents simply need a better education on what is and isn’t important, and I hope to offer that here. How a parent approaches a coach or director is also important if they don’t want their tone to tune out the message they’re trying to convey.

I’ve seen many of my players come to my program like rescue puppies, abused verbally or cast aside by coaches, and I hope to share the same lessons we teach them to help re-build their confidence and teach them how to control what they can control and be the absolute best they can be.

By “Connecting the Dots”, we can and will create a healthier juniors volleyball environment. I am so grateful for the opportunity VolleyballMag.com has afforded me, and I appreciate you being a part of this mission.

If you have a comment, question or topic you’d like to see addressed, you can email Bryan at Bryan@ProgressionVolleyball.com.

1 COMMENT

  1. Brian, it doesn’t suprise me in the least that you are taking a deep look at this issue of toxicity. I know you have a heart for the sport. Your message is telling and informative for the game, but it also includes every aspect of our lives. Communication is key in the home, workplace, or anywhere you are in contact with others. I think your message also speaks to a much broader base. Learning to communicate is a life skill and all who learn it will benefit greatly. Thank you for your willingness and insight on this issue.

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