Hank Zona’s straight-talking advice for coaches who are also parents.
In Part I of his Parents Behaving Badly series on adults and youth sports, Hank Zona highlights the negative attitudes that parents bring to youth sports and how that can negatively impact our children. In Part II, he tells parents the questions we should be asking themselves and where to go from there. Part III provides advice on the difficult topic of being a parent-coach.
Parent coaching deserves its own separate discussion under the theme of youth sports parental behavior. It’s a role I have devoted way more hours to than being a parent supporter. Coaching is something I have loved doing, something I learned a lot from, and certainly something I was not perfect at. In fact, I have yet to see anyone who has coached perfectly. You will make mistakes.
Coaches Who Are Parents vs. Professional Coaches and Trainers?
With the growth in the “eliting” of youth sports, there has also been an increase in the criticism of “daddy ball” and “mommy ball,, i.e., parents who coach their kids. The criticism often comes from the “experts,” those profiting from training our kids for a fee though, or those who buy into that as the best alternative for their child.
What is the best option? The short answer is, it depends. The right and much lengthier answer depends on your child’s ability and interest level and goes back to considering points I made in my earlier articles — what they want and how we support them.
It also depends on the outside program and how it is run. Outside “professional” programs can be a good option for some with coaches who are great with both skills training and nurturing and become trusted advisors for the sports futures of their players. However, these programs also not be the right fit. For many, it is a living, or a nice side income, and self-promotion seems to be the priority. But be careful. The learning experience isn’t cheap. Playing for a parent, someone’s parent is usually less transactional and more organic . . . and, if its locally run and organized, most likely way less expensive. What you pay doesn’t guarantee an enhanced experience, but sometimes you do get what you pay for.
Coaching Your Kid
Back to parent coaches.
It’s OK to coach your kids. It is even good to coach them. It is also good, and important, to have others coach them too somewhere along the line. They will go through life having to deal with different styles and approaches, and this is just one of the areas of “life lessons” that can come from participating in youth sports.
Favoritism and Anti-Favoritism
The biggest criticism of parent coaches is favoritism of their child. In some cases, it is certainly justified. The other side that isn’t talked about much though is that many parents who coach their kids don’t show favoritism but something quite the opposite. They often are tougher on them and hold them to a higher standard of performance or at least of behavior and attitude. Yes, many also overcompensate so they can’t be accused of favoritism.
Remember, it is your own child and this is as much a part of the parental responsibility towards their personal development as any other aspect of their life. You should treat your own child well without apology or explanation, but only if you treat every kid on that team as if they are your own. You also need to once again be honest with yourself, and be consistent in your approach.
I know it’s not easy. These are personal relationships, and like in any other part of life, there are times when you just will not click with someone, either a parent or a child. Almost all of us will coach solely within our own community, or at the next level, a team made up of kids from our community. The personal ties and feelings precede or even supersede the coaching relationship. It’s critical to remember these are neighbors of yours and classmates of your child, even if the parents on the sideline seem to forget that sometimes.
A coaching friend of mine uses “the 24 hour rule.” If any parent comes up to him after a game, or writes to him soon after a game, ostensibly to complain, he tells them he will get back to them after 24 hours, to give everyone a chance to cool down, think things out and it is hoped, to remember we’re all neighbors in most cases.
Dealing with Difficult Kids
My biggest challenge did not involve a parent or a kid who was disinterested or disruptive. I once had to coach a kid who bullied my kid a number of years before. My first instinct was that I did not want him on the team, but my father, who was a community volunteer and youth coach role model and hero to me and many others always used to say, “two wrongs don’t make a right.”My feelings were mixed. I did not want to “reward” someone who treated my own child poorly without contrition at one time, but I also did not want my own child to possibly have a negative experience because of a past incident.
There were lessons to be learned all around I suppose. Both kids, my own included, at first seemed to wonder why I treated the “past bully” like I did all the rest of the kids. But I had to be consistent with treating them all as they were my own. That doesn’t mean I didn’t hold any and all of them to a certain standard of performance and behavior either. The season went well, by the way. Although they won’t ever be best friends, they not only co-existed together, but rooted for one another and talked with one another.
Coaching: Teaching, Balance, and Advocacy
Coaching a sport takes the classroom teaching style of multiple intelligences to a more acute level. If we consider “intelligence” in sports as a combination of skill, mental aptitude and interest, then it can be argued that there is more diversity of “intelligence” on a bench than in many classrooms. This is not to take away anything from professional educators. Being a coach even before I was a parent coach, gave me a greater respect for what teachers do day after day all day in working with and shaping a large number of kids at all ages.
One question to ask this time around — why are you coaching?
It’s not about you. If it is, for example, if you aspire to coach at a higher level and use this as a stepping stone, you have a responsibility to tell the parents. Not being about you means you have to treat it with a dour, overly serious demeanor. You better be getting some intrinsic reward from doing it, some joy and personal satisfaction, but you aren’t the focal point, so should you really be in the middle of the celebratory scrum when the team wins?
And it is not your personal fiefdom. Follow the rules of whatever program or league you are coaching in. Just as youth coaches sometimes avoid taking a kid because of a parent’s prior behavior, don’t be the coach that parents wish, or worse, request their kid not play for.
What you should be is an advocate for your team, with the official, with the opponents and at times, with their parents. No, you are not a higher authority than any player’s parents, but sometimes, when dealing with a parent, it is not a competition you have to win.
A parent once bent my ear for an hour because his child was no longer catching. He talked about his child’s development and the time, effort and money the family had invested, how his child felt unsure about the role on the team, on and on, over and over, for an hour. What I did not break in to say once was that his child asked to be removed from playing that position, once in the middle of a game, and a second time before a game was to start.
But why heighten the obvious tension in that household just to tell the father he was wrong?
The next time I saw his child though, we talked about the need to discuss it openly at a more appropriate time.
That “takes a village” thing? It’s often true.
Photo Credit: Associated Press/Gene Pushkar
Jump to Part I of Parents Behaving Badly, to get Hank’s take on the 5 Bad Parenting Attitudes in Youth Sports.
Jump to Part II of Parents Behaving Badly, to get Hank’s take on the the Questions Parents Whose Kids Play Youth Sports Should Be Asking Themselves.
Jump to Part IV of Parents Behaving Badly, to get Hank’s take on Why He’s Rather Be Coaching.
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