In Coaching: Good/Bad/Unfair, Parents' Role in Youth Sports, Problems in Youth Sports

A lot of parents start off by coaching their own children. This is a very difficult balancing act to pull off. VERY DIFFICULT! I recently was asked a question about this by a coach-father who noticed that he was being much harder on his son than the other players. He also noticed that his boy was no longer having fun playing. He asked, “At what age should a parent should stop coaching his kid?” Here’s my response:

You’ll find a lot of articles on the topic in my newsletter archives as well as shorter ones on my mental toughness blog. However, to directly answer your question, the time is NOW! If you are sensing that your son is starting to have less fun then it’s time to let someone else coach him.

A lot of parents coach their kids in the beginning as the child enters youth sports and competition. The problem is that this is a very difficult dual role to pull off. One important role of a coach is to push a child outside of his comfort zone, and to criticize, to provide helpful feedback on what needs to improve. The problem is that this role directly conflicts with a parent’s primary role which is to love your child unconditionally.

In sports, more parents get into trouble when they start coaching, either formally or informally from the sidelines. This is because our kids need us to be there for them when things go badly. They need us to be supportive and loving. They don’t need us to push them, criticize them and be hard on them. Even in the best of situations it is very difficult to coach your own kid.

One critical litmus test of whether things aren’t working in this precarious relationship of parent-coach is the fun level of the child. When your son’s fun leaves the sport, both you and he are in trouble. If he’s not having fun, then most likely he’s spending practices and games feeling badly about himself and that he’s letting you down. Without fun he will be vulnerable to burnout and performance problems. If your criticism and pushing is one of the reasons for his unhappiness, then chances are high that continuing to coach will strain your relationship together.

If your son wants to and regularly asks, work with him on his own, get his rebounds, help him out, but find another competitive situation for him to be involved in where someone else is doing the coaching. It will make your life and his much easier and it will improve your relationship with him. And, as far as I’m concerned, this is what’s really important. It’s not whether he excels in basketball and becomes a star. This is the little picture. It’s your long term relationship with him that really counts. Long after he puts the basketball away, when he’s fully grown and has a family of his own, hopefully you guys will have a solid loving relationship. This is what’s truly important. Don’t let basketball get in the way of this.


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