Parental Redemption: The Coach Mike Version

Walking into the gym last Friday for our daughter’s weekly gymnastics lesson, I anticipated an hour of uninterrupted time with free WiFi while our four year old somersaulted herself into a state of delighted exhaustion. I did not expect to hear that voice – deep, melodic yet unequivocally shrill.

“Put your feet apart and stop talking so much,” he yelled at a pint-sized tumbler.

Coach Mike, my one-time nemesis, was substitute teaching Rhys’s class. Five years earlier the same voice provided the soundtrack to one of my earliest parenting regrets, lovingly referred to as “The One with Coach Mike.”

In early 2008, our daughter Ava was a student at the same gym. After several months of lessons with an instructor she adored, we met her new teacher, Coach Mike, he of the wiry build and gruff countenance reminiscent of my own childhood gymnastics coaches.

Ava was wary of her new coach but went along for the first few lessons under his tutelage. At week four’s lesson, she went on strike, complaining to me before class that she was scared of Coach Mike because he was mean and yelled too much.

Eager to escape into the latest issue of People magazine, I ignored her complaints and encouraged Ava to relax, assuring her she was there to have fun. No pressure.

Twenty minutes into the lesson, Coach Mike interrupted my celebrity reverie.

“Ma’am, your daughter is refusing to walk on the balance beam,” he said. “If she won’t try, she’ll have to leave. She’s setting a bad example for the other kids.”

Ava, reminding me of my earlier canned encouragement, said, “Mommy, I don’t want to do the balance beam. You said I get to have fun here and the balance beam isn’t fun. It’s scary.”

As I looked between Coach Mike’s firm stare and my daughter’s expectant gaze, visions of the $35 per class we’d prepaid danced in my head. I realized I had a choice and knew instinctively I wasn’t brave enough to choose wisely.

“Ava, you need to listen to Coach Mike. He’s the teacher, and you have to listen.”

The look on Ava’s face said it all. Surprise, despair, defeat. I had sold her up the river, and we both knew it.

The following week, after getting support from friends, I resolved to redeem myself as a parent. Ava agreed to one more class; I promised to talk with Coach Mike.

“Coach Mike,” I began. “Here’s the deal. My daughter is scared of you. Hell, I’m scared of you. I appreciate your position as the coach, and Ava knows she needs to listen to you. But I’m not going to force her to do anything here. She has my permission to take it slow and participate only as much as she’s comfortable.”

“I think you are making a mistake,” he said. “And you’re making my job harder.”

As I held his gaze, I grew two inches and replied, “I’m sure you’ll work it out.”

No balance beam for my kid!Photo via Flickr Commons

No balance beam for my kid!
Photo via Flickr Commons

I froze momentarily upon hearing that voice again after all these years, but I’ve grown as a parent and as a woman since I last tussled with Coach Mike. I would stand up for my kid to the death. Bring it on, Coach.

To my surprise, Rhys took to Coach Mike immediately, playfully poking him and correcting his pronunciation of her name.  “My name is Rhys,” she yelled, not a drop of fear in her voice.

Apparently, someone’s changed.

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56 thoughts on “Parental Redemption: The Coach Mike Version

  1. My gymnastics coach molested half of the team members. He was not a good man. But he was a phenomenal coach. Discipline is necessary in gymnastics because there is so much danger if the kids don’t listen and do as they are told.

    I sounds weird to pressure someone to do something when they are not ready. ANd is raises all kinds of bells and whistles for me.

    Rhys may be different from Ava, but he is still that same guy.

    Keep one eye open, momma.

    • Good point. Thankfully, he’s not her regular teacher, but I hear you … scary stuff. And I will take your warning seriously. Have you written about your coach? I’m sick and enraged hearing he hurt you and/or your friends. Not a good man indeed. Hugs to you.

  2. Wow! I am so impressed that you stood up to Coach Mike. I have never encountered a gymnastics coach whose philosophy is to exclude young children for being afraid to try. Do you think the term “ogre” is too strong? Yuck.

  3. Great story, Mary! Often I’m the only mom at baseball practice, because our kids are old enough to be dropped off so most of the parents drop and run, but I wouldn’t think of not being there. For one thing, my son might get hurt and for another I like to keep an eye on the coaches. They hold such power over the kids and it can be so easily abused. We’ve been lucky so far, but the moment we’re not. . .someone’s going to meet a mother bear!

    • Thank you, Louise! You amaze me – I’m a drop and runner for the most part (at least for our 9 year old) – but I appreciate your perspective and willingness to stay and witness your sons’ experiences with their coaches. Food for thought. Thank you!

    • Thank you! I know it helped me be less afraid of this coach/authority figure and I think it helped Ava show up differently also. She ended up enjoying her remaining lessons and was proud of herself for trying some new things.

  4. Ahhh, always walking such a fine line with this parenting thing… could it be that your initial reaction wherein you were afraid to “stand up” to him might have been as much a desire for your child to face her fears? I battle with this conundrum all the time… should I make my kid face his fear and grow into the strength I know him to be capable of, or is this a time when I need to provide the shelter, the ‘safe place’ to which he can escape? I really thought I had a manual on this stuff somewhere… can’t seem to find it… 😉

    • Good points. And if you come across that manual, send me a copy! I do believe Ava was expressing my fears of interacting with this man/authority figure. Once I did, she settled in a bit and enjoyed the remaining lessons. If she’d been older, I probably would have pushed her a little more, but at that age I don’t think any good would have come of it. Tough balance – always! xo

  5. It sounds like you stood up to him & said Ava is only doing what she wants. Anyway, it’s funny how one child can be repelled by & the other attracted to the teacher. Glad it worked out in the end & Coach Mike did not get to suffer your wrath.

  6. I am Mommy, hear me roar! I love it!

    As a mom, I sometimes find that my own fear of conflict (and still feeling intimidated by authority figures) prevents me from doing what’s ultimately best for my kids. But you sent your daughter the message that what she thinks and how she feels matters and I bet she will always remember it. Good for you, girl!

    • Exactly! Thank you for getting this. I do believe Ava was expressing my own fear of Coach Mike. Once I spoke with him, she seemed to settle in. I also still have a fear of authority figures and my kids are teaching me to show up as a grown up. Ugh! And yay!

  7. Oh I just love this post Mary!!! It resonates so much with me as a mom and I could JUST see me doing the very same thing…. And wouldn’t ya know…our kids are actually growing and changing right before our eyes. It stumps me sometimes- So glad your sweetie didn’t even flinch! Simply awesome.

  8. I LOVE how your standing up to Coach Mike made Rhys feel brave. Kids really model after us, huh? And I’m so proud of you for holding that man’s gaze! Man, I hope I can do the same when I’m in that spot!

  9. Relationships like that are always tricky — I teach tap dance and am very thankful that I have good relationships with the parents of the kids I teach, I go out of my way to meet them each session and touch base often to let them know how their kids are doing. Good job, mama!

  10. Our kids really can teach us a lot, can’t they? I loved the ending of this story. My kids just turned four, and we’re thinking of starting them in karate. Wonder if they’ll get a Coach Mike, and if they’ll take to him. . .

  11. Isn’t it cool how drastically different kids are. I’m glad you figured out how to take up for Ava, and I’m even more glad that Rhys took up for herself. (and how do you say her name? Is it Reese or Riss? Or something even different? I heard Riss in my head.)

  12. What is with every single gymnastics coach from mine eons ago to my daughter’s much more recently. It’s an intimidation thing (and discipline which I understand) but that approach doesn’t work for every kids as witnessed by you with your two. Glad you stood up after the initial shock. This was an engaging story.

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