Agents For Youth

There’s a trend which grows larger daily, one seen happening more and more in my involvement in classrooms and athletic arenas. I’m speaking of situations and settings involving players and students being represented, as if they have their own agents negotiating for them.

In classrooms, expectations are explained, early on, regarding behavior, classwork requirements, grading standards, field trip participation, and other individual aspects of a teacher’s syllabus. In most cases, there are very few, if any, upfront questions regarding these expectations and/or consequences if the expectations are not met, but there are times when an expectation may not have been met, and a consequence imposed, or certain grade given, which brings about phone calls, texts, or requests for meetings to discuss possible modifications, or outright elimination, of imposed consequences.

Many teachers create yearly plans, or tweak existing plans, regarding their classroom syllabus and/or classroom management plan before the school year begins, then make all students and parents aware of said plan/syllabus when school years start. Often times, parents and students are asked to read such plans and sign off that they’ve read them and understand possible consequences if expectations are not met. In some cases though, papers are signed without reading the document, or some might feel that the consequence might never be imposed on them (student), or their child (parent). This usually prompts the request for a negotiation meeting to try and get that consequence amended or voided.

In those situations, the student usually has a representative with them, most always, a parent, who wants to know why a certain grade might have been given, or why a privilege has been taken away. (And by the way, privileges aren’t taken away by people in authority, they’re, in effect, earned or lost by the person/persons left in the charge of those in authority.)

My father, who believed in discipline and proper behavior, was very adamant about our earning most everything we received, especially our grades in school. He also stressed proper behavior and doled out his own consequences above and beyond what teachers/principals may have given us for misbehaving in school. He often told us that if the teacher said we did something, we did it in his mind.

He made sure we weren’t physically or verbally abused by anyone in charge of us, but he had no problem with us being yelled at if we needed it, or made to serve a punishment due to misbehavior, disrespect, or unmet expectations, and when we got it from a teacher or someone else in charge of us, we received “parent” discipline when we got home too. I love and respect my parents for instilling those qualities in me as a person and parent. I may not have liked it at the time, but I understand what they did for us by NOT being our “agents” and trying to negotiate us out of trouble.

I’ve seen the “youth agent” thing in many years of coaching and officiating too. I’ve been involved with many sports teams over the years. I’ve tried to lay out my philosophy before a season starts and I’ve explained my expectations and possible consequences verbally in meetings with players and parents, and in writing as part of a playbook which I put together which includes items I feel will make my players better as players and people. There’s a signoff sheet in that playbook which players and parents must sign acknowledging they’ve read the expectations and know of possible consequences which could be imposed if expectations are not met satisfactorily. There are expectations regarding practice attendance and behavior, in-game behavior, school behavior and responsibilities, equipment necessities, required dress for practice and games, respect for opponents, fans, officials, etc., along with tips on hitting, fielding, throwing, special team plays, certain ways we do things offensively and defensively, and tips and sayings which will help students take what the sport offers and how to use these tips in life. Again, if the form is signed, I assume information has been read and the consequences are known. There’s usually a circumstance or two (more?) where a consequence is/are imposed and deemed unfair by some, and meetings are requested to negotiate a different consequence or eliminate the original one. (AFTER there were opportunities to ask questions regarding expectations and consequences at the pre-season meeting.) Above the expectation/consequence situations, there are also negotiation meetings requested regarding playing time, positions, cuts, etc. A sad addendum to this is that I have seen coaches (some of them friends, some not, but many of them respected by me) “step down” (an option given them by their superiors) because of these “agents” trying to negotiate for more benefits for their “clients.” If they don’t reach their goal, they then lead anti-coach crusades to make changes of leadership.

I’m not saying I agree with everything other teachers or coaches do, or how they do it, and I don’t expect them to agree with everything I do and how I do it. All teachers/coaches are different. Some coaches, are more vocal than others (just like parents), and as in any arena, there are some bad apples (just like parents), but the majority are very, very good. The situation with “agents for youth” is apples vs. oranges too. “Agents” focus on one individual, their “client.” Coaches/teachers/group leaders, are making decisions involving the entire group.

A lot of the “confusion,” too, comes from the agents not knowing the rules of the school or the sport they’re coaching. Playing time in some sports is limited by rules of substitution and making sure you don’t expend all players’ eligibility in a game and then get in a bind if someone gets hurt after that. Playing sports or being in a school club is not a right. It is a privilege. Privileges must be earned and there are no guarantees regarding playing/participation time. There are too many situations today where people want others to do for them, or give to them, then want to be able to tell them how to do it, and what the outcome should be to THEIR satisfaction. I quote Jack Nicholson’s character from A Few Good Men, from part of his famous courtroom soliloquy ” … I have neither the time, nor the inclination, to explain myself to a man, who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner, in which I provide it. I’d rather you just say ‘thank you’ and go on your way …”

I thank my parents for making me earn the privileges I’ve had, and learning that playing sports or being in a club were privileges, not rights, and emphasizing that if we undertook these privileges, we had to keep the commitment to be involved full time, not just at our convenience, and live up to the responsibilities which came with the membership in such groups.

My children weren’t/aren’t angels, nor were/are they devils either. One of my children broke school rules once, and a friend of mine, who was the teacher involved came to me and said he wouldn’t turn him/her in because he/she was my child. I told him to turn him/her in, that the rules applied to everyone, and he/she had to follow the imposed rules. Another one of my children received a speeding ticket and my involvement was to drive him/her to the appearance and then back home. They spoke for themselves, they paid for their “crime.” There was no negotiating on my part. Let kids be accountable!

I know there are people who feel the same way, and do the same thing but, sadly, those people seem to be getting pushed out of the majority by the influx of those becoming Agents for Youth.