It’s easy to hear at almost any high school sporting event: a frustrated, or even angry, parent complaining about their child’s lack of playing time.
"The biggest thing we run into is every parent thinks their player is the best player," says Doug Borgel, director of boys soccer for Las Vegas Premier, and Bishop Gorman High School’s boys and girls coach.
"It gets difficult because they all want them to go to Division I schools, and there are so many great Division II and NAIA schools that are great academically. They can get lost at big schools, but if they’re willing to go to another school, they can be great."
Parents have long viewed athletic scholarships as both validation and the reward for the trail of tournaments and showcases, and countless hours and dollars poured into raising an athlete.
And coaches in local club and high school circles say the stakes are even higher since the economy soured.
Las Vegas High baseball coach Sam Thomas pauses when asked if he has heard of parents at his or other programs pestering coaches about playing time.
"It’s every program," Thomas says. "Parents want to see their kids play. That’s what makes it tough for us; at the high school level, we want to put the best kids on the field. But we get accused of, ‘You’re ruining my kid’s chances for a scholarship.’ "
Many parents are happy to see their child achieve a mix of academic and athletic success as they mature into adults, but over-the-top parents are easy to find in the pressurized world of online recruiting rankings and the chase of Division I scholarship dreams.
Following a basketball game in the Reebok Summer Championships at Green Valley High School in July 2009, a father was physically restrained as he shouted obscenities at a California club coach over his son’s lack of playing time.
It’s the type of scene some coaches hope to avoid by establishing firm rules with parents.
"As soon as I took over the high school job, I made it clear that I didn’t want any involvement from parents," recalls Jeremy Gill, Centennial High School’s girls soccer coach. "They weren’t allowed to talk to me about playing time or where their kid’s playing."
Gill has seen college recruiting through the prism of high school and club coaching. He became Centennial’s coach last year and remains involved with Las Vegas Premier.
"In club soccer, parents do have a lot to say because they’re paying you," he says. "There is more of an open door on the club side. When you go to a showcase, we’re there to show our players, whereas in high school, it’s all about winning. So it’s a little bit different."
Rancho High School baseball coach Tom Pletsch says a similar line exists between club and high school on the diamond.
But problems with parents can arise when star players on club or travel teams aren’t as successful during the high school season.
"One of the travesties that’s happened to high school baseball is the parents who have been involved with club ball; every one of them thinks their kid is going to be a Division I kid and get drafted," Pletsch says.
Pletsch knows college recruiting from two sides, as a high school coach and as a father.
Four Rancho seniors received Division I scholarships last season, including his shortstop son Brandon, who signed with UNLV before the Philadelphia Phillies selected him in the 34th round of the major league draft.
He will fulfill his commitment to UNLV.
Tom Pletsch also cautions parents about spending big money to parade their kid around the nation in showcase events.
"You have to look at cost and return. For a guy like Bryce Harper, they don’t even really need to go to the showcases, because everyone knows who they are, anyway," Pletsch said.
"There are only two or three kids they might be looking at, and the other 297 kids, they might just make money off of."
Thomas says some parents react poorly to their child’s lack of playing time because a club coach has a different assessment of the child’s abilities than the high school coach.
"I don’t want to say this is the main cause, but things are getting so specialized now, and kids are seeking out individualized lessons," he says. "That’s fine, but I would say more than half the time, they’re going to have a different opinion than we have of the kid."
David Rawnsley is national director of scouting for Iowa-based Perfect Game, which promotes itself as the world’s largest baseball scouting service. He says one positive of showcase events is that they can reset expectations for parents.
"You’re given a grade that defines you as a player, and sometimes it helps the parent realize, ‘My son isn’t going to go to UCLA and pitch.’ And there’s nothing wrong with that. Going to a junior college and getting a degree and playing baseball is a wonderful thing. It can open opportunities to the next two years of college."
Contact reporter Tristan Aird at email@example.com or 702-387-5203.