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

It’s really tough to be a loving, supportive parent and to also coach your child. This is why I suggested that when your child-athlete plays for a team where there are already coaches, that you want to refrain from coaching. However, what are you supposed to do when YOU are the coach?

Many parents end up coaching their own kids on travel, club and/or high school teams. It is not an ideal situation but oftentimes it can’t be helped. The best advice I have for you if you are currently in this position is to sit down with your child before the season, and as often as you need to during the season and try to clarify these two differing and often times conflicting roles. That is, let your child know that when you are at practices and games, you are wearing your “coach” hat and you are not dad or mom. You will treat your child, as best you can, like every other athlete on the team. You will also want your child to refer to you as “coach.” Then, be clear with them that when practice is over, you are no longer the coach and are now “mom” or “dad.” This then means that you can’t continue to force the topic of discussion to the sport or game on the way home from practice or at the dinner table unless your child brings it up him/herself. .

It is not very easy to keep these two things separate, but if you at least explain to your child how difficult the situation is and how you intend on handling it, things will go a little smoother. A word of caution: Do not have higher expectations of your child than everyone else on the team. Be fair to your child and try to be equally as hard on him/her as you are with everyone else on the team. Some parental coaches go overboard on this one and are much too hard on their own kids. The reason? They don’t want any of the other kids on the team, or their parents complaining about the favoritism that you as the parent-coach may show to your own child. Unfortunately, no matter how objective and fair you are, you will still be accused of demonstrating this favoritism! There will always be other parents on your team who will be unhappy with you and this is one way that their unhappiness will come out.

At a swim coaches’ conference that I spoke at this weekend, a high school swim coach came up and told me that despite the fact that it pained her to do this, she resigned her position on the team because she didn’t want to put her own kids through the agony of having to be with “mom” on the bus going to and from their meets. She made a judgment call, based on her two soon-to-be-freshmen-in-high-school, that they would have a hard time if she remained the coach. She put their needs in front of her own! To me, this was a good call!


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