School district adapts student-coach conflict resolutions

COSTA MESA — Under a new set of conflict resolution guidelines approved by the Board of Education earlier this month, parents should take a back seat when it comes to solving issues between their student-athletes and coaches at Newport-Mesa schools.

At their Sept. 14 meeting, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District school board members adopted a three-step protocol emphasizing the need for a player and coach to communicate more effectively and solve potential issues between themselves before involving parents or athletic directors.

The first step being "responsible and mature" communication between a player and a coach, and steps 2 and 3 would be to gradually bring in higher levels of authority, said Costa Mesa High School Athletic Director Jim Kiefer.

"At the same time, with coaches there is a huge stress or emphasis to ensure that they are creating an environment that is open to good communication with athletes and parents as well," Kiefer said. "That by itself will clear up a lot of conflicts and confusion."

While it's not clear if any specific incident spurred the adoption of the three-step protocol, Kiefer acknowledged that parents naturally will sometimes try to solve their children's problems for them.

"From our standpoint at our school, this stems from a need for clarity for what are the proper protocols," Kiefer said. "Our hope is that, over time, players will become more comfortable with what our expectations are and address issues with coaches themselves."

When coaches are sidestepped by players or parents, it can cause the school district volumes in lost time and resources, he said.

Longtime Corona del Mar High School baseball coach John Emme said, for the most part, parents have been respectful of coaching decisions and communicating through all the proper channels.

However, "Every now and then, the squeaky wheel wreaks a little bit of havoc," Emme said. "… All of sudden we're talking a lot of district resources and even taxpayer resources."

And that takes everyone farther from the real point — building the character young men and women, he said.

Emme was speaking from personal experience. In 2001, he had to deal with one parent who sued him. In the lawsuit, Marc Martinez, father of pitcher J.D. Martinez, accused the coach of damaging his son's arm by having him throw too many pitches. Emme countersued and won.

Putting it down on paper that student-athletes need to communicate effectively with authority figures — their coaches, in this case — is a valuable addition to their high school education, Kiefer and Emme said.

"It's a life lesson to learn how to deal with issues with people you work for," Kiefer said. "It's really important for young people to be comfortable communicating and resolving conflict on their own.

We're talking about human beings. Things are going to come up, and we just have to work through them and move forward."

Sports Editor Steve Virgen contributed to this article.

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