A coach often finds his or her job performance placed under a microscope. Every decision is fair game for players and fans to criticize. No coach has ever made everyone happy. But what about when the coach’s child is on the team? Do the rules change? Does the coach’s child get a free pass?
Two Milbank High School coaches – Nancy Hoeke and Troy Gauer- understand these questions. Nancy is the head volleyball coach for the Lady Bulldogs and just completed her twenty-sixth year coaching the sport. Her two daughters played varsity volleyball this season. Mikaela, a senior, has been part of the team since her freshman year. Jaden is a sophomore and moved into a varsity spot this season.
“My mom has disciplined me differently because I’m her daughter,” Mikaela said. “She’s a lot harder on me.” Jaden agreed her mom tended to be harder on her than most of the team, but said she was also harder on Mikaela than on her. “Because she is older and has been on varsity longer.”
Troy Gauer has been an assistant coach with the Bulldog football program for four years, but is better known for his 17 years as head coach of the Grant-Deuel Wildcats. He has two sons who played on the varsity football team this season. Tanner is a senior and has been a key player since his freshman year. Riley is a sophomore. He played on junior varsity and, this year, dressed with the varsity squad.
Tanner said he feels he and his brother were treated differently than their teammates, too. “My dad was always there pushing us harder than everyone else. But as I have gotten older, I realized it’s because we are his pride and joy and he just wants the best for us.”
In sports, as in life, things do not always go according to the plan. Games are lost, players are cut, and egos are bruised. Often, there are hard feelings – feelings that aren’t left in the gym or on the field. When those situations arise for a coach and their child, the feelings follow them home.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Coach Gauer said. “During Tanner’s early years, we would butt heads a lot. We would go home from practice or after a game and oftentimes not talk because he was mad about decisions I made. That got really hard.”
The Gauers all agreed the past four years have been a roller coaster. “We’d butt heads, we’d get past it and things were great, and then we’d butt heads again for something else,” Coach Gauer said. “Things have gotten better as Tanner has matured. “Last year, we were in a store and the worker knew I was a coach and Tanner played for me. The stranger told him, ‘It’s an honor to have your dad as a coach.’ I think that stuck with him.”
On a few occasions, Troy’s wife intervened. “Natalie has been great,” Coach Gauer said. “She has played mediator and explained to the boys it’s just my job. That tends to put things into perspective for everyone.”
Coach Hoeke said, “My girls have been around volleyball since they were very little. Now that they are part of the team, it’s a different type of relationship.” She has called on Coach Nancy Paulson to be a referee for her family. “Nancy P. is a friend and Mikaela’s godmother, so she has been the voice of reason for us. When things get heated, she talks to all of us and helps smooth things over.”
Being the coach’s kid can also prove to be a lonely place. There will always be locker room talk and sooner or later the coach gets trashed. When that coach is your parent, it puts the player in an awkward position. Sometimes the comments are directed at the player.
Mikaela started on varsity as a freshman and struggled because of comments she would hear. “They would say that I’m just getting to play because I’m the coach’s kid and I was taking a spot from a senior. But they didn’t see I worked just as hard in practice and earned my spot like everyone else.”
Tanner also felt he had paid his dues. “I have been around football and watched my dad coach as long as I can remember. When I was three or four years old, I would stand on the sidelines with him at practice. At games, I was a waterboy for like 12 years.” He added, “I think the other players knew if I was going to play, I was going to have the toughest job of anyone. I don’t ever feel he favored me just because I was his kid. I played because it was earned.”
Tense moments also arose between the Hoeke siblings on the court. Mikaela admitted, early in the season, she and Jaden would get mad at each other when things didn’t go right. “I had high expectations of her and wanted her to do better. Now, I realize this was her first varsity experience and she was doing her best.”
“For the most part we treat our children like every other player on our team,” Coach Hoeke stated. “I protect all my players and I protect my girls, too. I want what is best for my children just like everyone else. I push them harder and expect more from them. It’s only natural. It has been a great experience. When you get to do something you love and share that with your child, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Coach Gauer agreed one of the greatest joys in coaching is having a passion for a sport and seeing children discover that passion. “This is what we do,” he said. “Passion is contagious. We just have the bonus of sharing it with our kids.”