Editor’s note: Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications.
It’s a fact many youth sports organizations would not be in existence if it weren’t for the parent of one of the team members volunteering time as coach.
Is a parent coaching their own child a good or bad thing, either for the parent, the child or the team as a whole?
Some children are comfortable with such a prospect, while others might experience apprehension.
Jim Thompson, founder of Positive Coaching Alliance, gives tips in his book “The Power of Double-Goal Coaching” on how to make the situation a great experience for everyone.
— The first tip is to ask your child how they feel about you coaching his or her team. “If he has reservations, it’s good to know that up front. If they are strong ones, you may want to choose to be a supportive sports parent, not ‘coach,’ this season.”
— Recognize you wear two hats. “Tell your child you need to treat her like everyone else on the team when you wear your coach’s hat. It helps when your child calls you coach ... and not mom or dad. But when you put your parent hat on, she is the most important person in your life.”
— Be sensitive to favoring or penalizing your child. “Many coaches give their child advantages ... the child hasn’t earned by effort or talent (starting games, etc.).” Also, “many coaches are harder on their own child. It’s difficult to be objective about our child ... you may find it useful to ask another person to let you know if you are treating your own child fairly (an assistant coach?),”
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— If you have an assistant, you might find it useful to regularly have them give instruction and feedback to your child.
— Don’t talk about other players on the team with your child. This might color their relationships with other players.
— Avoid sports overload by doing non-sport family activities during the season. Focus on having fun rather than on drills. This also might help the child be more engaged for practice.
While I was a young athlete I competed along side three siblings from another family. The parents were wealthy and built an indoor pool in their backyard. The kids were not allowed to use the pool for fun and recreation. It was only used for practice. The mother also sometimes coached our team during the winters at the YMCA. Needless to say, two of the siblings quit the sport before college, tired of the routine imposed upon them.
“What you must understand is that no matter what you say and no matter how you say it, it often registers as a personal attack when it comes from dad or mom,” Tony DiCicco, the Olympic gold medal and women’s World Cup-winning coach who also coached his own young children, said in an article written by Mike Woitalla in Soccer America, “It’s important to explain that ... this is not coming from dad or mom, it’s coming from the coach.
“Don’t be afraid to praise your child ... constantly ask yourself if your reactions to his play or behavior are the same as they are to his teammates.
“I think what (parent-coaches) must be most aware of is keeping what takes place on the training ground and what happens in games separate from what goes on in your home life.”
Sometimes common sense needs to be reinforced. Tell your child you will always love them and how special they are to you but when you are coaching, your child needs to respond to you as his coach, not your dad.
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Woitalla said one of the best coaching tips he ever heard was “to see the game through the children’s eyes ... the most important contribution you can make is to help the kids have fun — and not to treat six-year-olds like 16-year-olds.
“No matter what, understand that there are going to be some difficult moments and that, in the end, it is often better to coach less than more.”
Finally, a blog on ConnectedCoaches notes the following:
— Try to act on the sidelines in a way that would make your son or daughter proud to have you as a parent and a coach ... your child is not the only one that’s performing during the game. You are also on display and the quality of their experience is firmly in your hands.
— Try not to spend the rest of the week practicing further at home and talking about the previous game the entire time and the so-called “big game” approaching.
— Don’t coach your own child forever.
“The major positive aspect (of coaching your own child) includes being able to spend quality time together. Additionally, your child perceives that he/she gets special attention, praise and perks, such as being on familiar terms with the coach. In the child’s perception, having you as a parent and a coach is an opportunity to receive motivation and technical instruction that others on the team do not get. In the perspective of the parent, being both coach and parent provides the opportunity to teach values and skills, the opportunity to see how our child interact(s) with friends, and the ability to see your child’s accomplishments and take pride in them.” — Weiss & Fretwell 2005.
How have you found your experience as both parent and coach to be?
l Let us know what you think. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org