Coaching Dilemma – Athlete Dilemma – Part II

Previously I addressed the issue of athletes going off to college and confronted with the reality of the pressures of collegiate competition and coaches. This time I want to discuss the high school youth athlete who has a conflict with their club and school teams. What do you do then?

The conflicts between club coaches and school coaches are well-known. On rare occasions the school coach also acts as the club coach for their athletes. However, far more likely the club and school systems are in competition with each other.

  • What philosophy on training prevails?
  • How are competitions treated? Is one put above the other?
  • Are training sessions cooperatively designed in the student-athletes’ best interest or is it a tug of war on what the focus will be?
  • Do one-a-day workouts become two-a-days or three-a-days as a result of coach and team demands?
  • What role do parents play? When and how should they intercede and advocate for their youth?
  • When there are opposing views – who settles them and how are they settled?
  • Is it about egos?
  • Is the athlete penalized playing time or positions if their loyalty to a team is questioned?
  • Is the athlete’s best interest being served?

Let’s just take one example of Mary Cain who lives in Bronxville NY. Not out of high school, this 16-year-old is an elite runner who sought out the highest level of coaching. She is coached by Alberto Salazar in Oregon. She no longer runs for her high school team. She has set national youth and high school records at distances from 800m to 5000m.

A talented high school soccer player who plays both club and school ball: Different coaches. Different approaches. Different training philosophies. Different priorities. Conflicting tournament schedules. The club coach clearly states the only way you will be recognized is through high level club competition. The school coach has college connections and insists on team and school loyalty. (i.e. If you don’t come to practice you don’t play.)

1. Situations are not all created equal. How many athletes are at a Mary Cain level – one. Odds are your youth athlete is not at that level. That means you will more than likely have to deal with several coaches along the way and some of them simultaneously.

2. Only 2% of high school athletes go to college on scholarship. And only .06% eventually go professional – and that only counts the major sports. If you are in an Olympic sport (like track & field) the odds are far worse.

Why do I bring this up? We have to put sports competition – and teams and coaches in the process – into perspective. This helps us deal with competing issues and contentious situations.


  • Focus on what the athlete and parents want; not what you want.
  • Have factual objective data, not your opinion, to back up your side. Whether that is how to train, what competitions are needed, what the future possibilities for the athlete are.
  • Let go of your egos. This is not about you. This about the athlete.
  • Communicate with the other coach and collaborate to make the athlete the best he or she can be. (This is rare but I’ve experienced it.)

Parents & Youth Athletes

  • Parents, focus on your youth athlete. This is not about you. It is not about the coach.
  • Keep perspective. It is not about potential. That is what dreams are about. The odds are clearly that one more team membership, tournament, practice or cross-training session will not get them to the next level.
  • Do not confuse “giving my youth every opportunity possible” with trying to “make something that isn’t there” or “giving my youth something I never had”.
  • Physical health and mental well-being should be the overriding objectives.
  • Keep open lines of communication. By high school the athlete’s wishes should carry more weight than a parents’ or coach’s in this scope.
  • Parents – ultimately you must be a voice of reason. Leave your personal feelings aside (easier said than done.) Use real data (not opinion) if you want to sway your youth in a direction. What is to be gained or lost? This is a learning opportunity for your youth about decision-making and accepting responsibility and consequences (unknown – good or bad).
  • Too much, too soon yields burned out athletes. They not only do not reach any hypothetical potential, they often walk away from the sport all together.
  • Remember that this is not a life-or-death decision.

I coach both club and high school. My perspective is that your high school years are supposed to be enjoyed. Being part of a school team is something almost every athlete looks back on fondly. You are in high school only once. It is where your friends and school-mates are. It does not have to be an either-or situation. If your club and school coaches cooperate you could have a fulfilling time with both. If not, then there is opportunity to take part in club sports when your high school sport is out-of-season. The one thing I know is that when egos and emotions are set aside and the youth athlete’s interest is served – we will have done right by them.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
This entry was posted in College Running, Mental Game, Mental Toughness, Motivation, Running, Sports Psychology, The Running Life - Philosophy, Track and Field, Youth Athletes, Youth Running. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Coaching Dilemma – Athlete Dilemma – Part II

  1. David Gunn says:


    I totally agree – the student athlete’s best interest should be served at all times. However, sometimes, and maybe often times, neither the student or the parents know what that is. I think that’s one of the primary functions of a coach – to help set priorities and goals and help the athlete achieve them through a whole array of “life” decisions, like the proper training regimen, sleep habits, nutrition, and yes, even what races to run and at what level of effort. When that advice is in conflict with another coach, the best possible scenario is for the coaches to collaborate and come up with a “compromise” between the two – and I think that’s what you have expressed here. Open and honest dialogue between the two coaches, the athlete, and the parents is absolutely necessary. Meeting and discussing the conflict professionally, and finding the solution together, is the best approach, I believe.

    I love this sort of discussion. It helps me be better, not just at coaching, but in all sorts of scenarios I encounter. Keep up the good work!

    Coach Helmut a.k.a David G.

    • Dean Hebert says:

      True, the coach is an expert at certain things. Why else have hire them or have them! But the problem lies in when you have two coaches and each think they have THE answer and they are in conflict… it most definitely includes training regimen (very often in conflict in many sports I’ve found) and that can include what races to run, what level of effort, etc. Good to see you are still around Coach Helmut. I hope you’re enjoying your travels.

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