5 Things to Help You Understand Your Child's Coach

Your kids will never play for a perfect coach. After 20 years of sports parenting, I’ve learned how some coaches operate--wisdom I wish I’d had before my kids started playing.

Please understand: I am not coach-bashing. I've lived with one for 30 years! They work hard, they want to win, most of them love kids. I just know that sometimes they do things parents do not understand.

So, if you are a coach, please know that I admire what you do; the hard work you put out so that kids can play youth sports. But I also know first hand that sometimes coaches make mistakes. My husband made many coaching mistakes over the years.  It just comes with the role. Not every coach struggles with these tendencies; but my guess is that most sports parents will run into these coaching traits more than once.

A coach who has his own child on the team struggles with objectivity

Being a parent AND a coach is difficult. The coaching parent could be too hard on his kid to prove his impartiality, or he might play his child more than others who are better athletes. It's tough to balance the two. It's probably easier for parents who have coached for years before becoming a parent/coach to be more objective because they have competition ingrained in them, but it is still not easy.

My husband -- a coach for many years before he became a parent -- struggled with this. It boiled down to one simple question: was he willing to do what was best for the team, not just what was best for his child?

Coaches may say things to the athlete in the preseason that are misunderstood

Sometimes coaches will tickle an athlete’s ears with statements like, “I’m counting on you to be a real leader on the team” or “You are going to be a key person on our team this season.” And in his defense, he may really mean what he is saying, but vague comments like that are often misunderstood by players.

The coach may be saying, "I need you as a leader on the team, on or off the court," but the player is hearing, "I need you as a leader who plays a lot."

Once the season starts, however, and the child is not getting the playing time he wants, he remember the coach's words and feels he's been duped. If this happens to your young athlete, encourage him to ask the coach to explain his pre-season remarks. Good understanding and communication can help resolve the tension.

Coaches will not always make sense to you

At times, you may question the coach's knowledge of the game, and you will disagree with his play-calling or player substitutions. But remember, what you see from the bleachers may not match what the coach sees from the sidelines.

It may look like the coach is not making any sense at all, but you can be sure he has his reasons. Your child's coach spends hours with kids in practice, and knows his players well. It's okay to ask questions in a non-accusatory manner, but realize that you will never totally know the mind of any coach.

Coaches do not treat all athletes the same

It became very obvious to me at my daughter's volleyball games one year that her coach was chewing on some players more than others, my daughter being one of them. It did not seem fair. Why is the coach chewing out my kid more than so-and-so, who does the same things?

My husband, who has coached for 28 years, helped me understand that good coaches sense how much an athlete can be pushed.

Maybe the coach senses your kid can take more pressure while other kids will crumble. Coaches often demand more of kids who they know can do better and leave others alone who they feel have already peaked. Helping your child understand this will make it bearable for him.

Coaches label kids

Good athlete. Lazy kid. Natural leader. Bad passer. Weak hitter. Slow. 

Sometimes they even label an entire team. We just can’t hit the ball. We just can’t pass.We don’t have any defense. 

A couple of my kids had coaches who negatively labeled the team. I wanted to tell them to STOP focusing on what the team can’t do and work on the weak areas to help the players improve. If your child has a coach like this, encourage him to ignore the coach’s labels and work to improve his own skills.

Not a glory job

No doubt about it, coaching youth sports is hard work; not a glory job.

Coaches face the monumental challenge of helping kids grow as athletes and human beings.

As a parent, it's important that you understand and work with your child's coach to help your child have a positive sports experience. As a coach, it's good to do a little self-reflection: are you striving to help kids grow and learn and are you modeling integrity before them?

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