Giving Kids the Skills to Succeed - at Life and Sports

Parent Coaches: The Most Significant Influencers of Our Children’s Athletic Experiences

Submitted by chris@2nsports.com on Monday, January 4

When I began my coaching career, I took a number of steps to help ensure my success in this chosen profession. For instance, my first coaching course was a three week residential course in Germany. It was a licensing course that qualified me to coach all the way into the professional ranks of German soccer. While living and playing in Germany, I made it my mission to attend as many games and training sessions as possible....it was here that I became an incredible student of the game.

This was all done to help set myself apart from others who were entering the coaching profession. When I returned home, I enrolled in graduate school and pursued a degree heavy in psychology to better understand the psychological aspects of heightened performance. Additionally, I took First Aid classes, CPR, and several referee courses. Along the way, I worked in multiple summer camps, with the intent of learning from others who had been in the game much longer than me.

This list of preparatory steps paints only a small picture of the efforts that I took to help ensure that I was a well prepared coach. I share this information to illustrate a point about the value of education and preparation in working with athletes.

As a culture, we place an incredible amount of importance on youth sports and the development of our children through sports. We want them to learn the many valuable life lessons that sports can teach us. We want them to be successful, and on the best teams. We hope for them to play in high school, college, or perhaps the pros.

As I examine our hopes and dreams as parents, and I consider the extent (or lack thereof) to which we prepare our parent coaches, it becomes amazingly clear that there is a tremendous gap between our expectations and the reality of what we are experiencing.

In every youth sport that I know, we ask parents to volunteer coach. Yet there seems to be this notion that parents are too busy to attend any kind of training program, so we send them out to work with our children totally unprepared. We have bolstered the mindset that if you have ever played sports, then you are qualified to coach kids. Sporting organizations have great websites that list seemingly appropriate ideals and values, but somewhere along the way, adherence to these philosophies gets lost in the process.

There are many skill sets that are necessary to being a good coach. Two of the most important are: the ability to advance athletes with their skills and understanding of the game; and the understanding of how to communicate and relate with your children athletes. Let’s examine this for a moment.

At the youth level, probably the single most important concept is that we make it fun and create the environment that keeps kids excited and wanting more. Too often, we place a disproportionate amount of importance on results, and our (adult) efforts start to drive kids away from the game.

Most parents are comfortable in dealing with one or two of their own children. Some maybe not. Without a lot of experience, how comfortable do you think a parent is when given 10 kids to coach? Some questions worth considering are:

  • Are they well versed in age appropriate activities for the particular sport that they are coaching?
  • Do they know how to make it fun for a bunch of 4 or 5 year olds, or 8 and 10 year olds?
  • Do they have an appropriate understanding of “why” kids are playing?
  • Are they harboring their own personal agenda?
  • Do they understand the value of parity, or are they trying to form a team that will ensure success in the won-loss column?

My goal is to illustrate that we live in a time where we rely very heavily on our parent coaches to deliver, yet we do very little to prepare them for success. Don’t get me wrong, there are some parent coaches out there that are  absolute naturals....they’re wonderful! But on the other hand, one of the complaints that I hear most is, “my son quit because his coach was a nightmare.” What parent volunteer wants to hear himself/ herself described like that?

Every parent wants their child to play for a good coach. What I’m seeing, however, is that there are simply not enough good coaches to go around. So how do we solve this dilemma? We can start by driving parent coaches towards educational solutions that are easily accessible and effective. We also need parents to gain a more patient understanding of how the process works, and to encourage them to start working in a more supportive manner with their children’s coaches.

One organization that I am aware of is doing a tremendous job in supporting families in youth sports. The Positive Coaching Alliance (www.positivecoach.org) has created the infrastructure to provide this needed support. This is an organization that is worth examining.

I firmly believe that parent coaches want to do a great job. We simply need to modify our mindset and begin to implement more rigid training programs for our youth coaches. Imagine, if a coach realized that an education program was available and would allow them to be a more successful parent coach....I think the lines would start to form.

- Steve Locker