Parents as Coaches: Helpful or Harmful
Most athletes who start playing sports at a young age in a recreational sports league will be coached by their parent or a friend’s parent at some point. According to Sports Illustrated Kids, 90% of youth sports teams are coached by one or more parents who have children on the team. Regardless, it is more often than not they are familiar with their first coaches. Then, as the child develops as an athlete and moves up to high school teams they will experience playing for unfamiliar coaches and must adapt to playing for someone new. But what happens for those few athletes who never stray away from their parents being their coach?
Although it is not as common to play for a parent coach than it is to play for someone else, it does happen and seems to be occurring more and more at the high school level. In any relationship between an athlete and coach, it is usually one full of tough love, encouragement, and trust. An athlete wants to feel safe playing for their coach and the coach wants to be respected by their team and be able to voice to them what they are doing well and what needs to be improved. When parent coaching comes into play, this relationship between coach and player can become blurred if not handled correctly.
Playing for a parent can be a very rewarding experience for an athlete and can form a tight bond between said parent and child. Or the exact opposite could occur, and a child could have an unenjoyable time playing for a parent.
There are emotional rewards and risks that come along with parent coaching. Parent coaches have an upper hand because they know how their child plays the game and what skill level and abilities they are capable of. This can be a downside for an athlete playing for their parent though. Many coaches will be hard on athletes to get them to perform better, but a parent coach could be a lot harder on their own child. This level of higher expectation can create pressure on the athlete, which could lead to burnout or the child simply not wanting to be involved in that sport anymore if their parent is the coach.
When it comes to coaching as a parent one of the most important factors is making sure to avoid favoritism. Choosing a “favorite”, especially if it’s your child, can divide a team and risk trust in a coach. Every athlete at some point has probably experienced playing for a coach who has chosen favorites, but when it’s a parent coach playing favorites it becomes magnified. This can cause a disconnection between coach and players which will send team chemistry array. No matter how many good athletes a team has on it, without chemistry that team is unlikely to be successful in the long run. Parents of athletes on the team may also become concerned with favoritism and this can lead to conflicts between parents and the coaching staff.
Robert Girard is the varsity boys basketball coach at Glens Falls High School. For the past three years he has coached his son Trent, but it was not his first time coaching one of his children. Before Trent moved up to varsity Robert coached his older son Cam at the varsity level. Having experience coaching his children in high school has given Robert ways to ensure he does not favor anyone on the team.
“You earn playing time,” says Girard. “It is not just based on talent or how hard a player works; it’s also based on leadership and how much that athlete cares. All kids on the team work hard for their minutes they see on the court.” That is no different for his son.
When coaching a child, the parent must be able to keep the relationship of parent and coach separate. Doing so will not only help the athlete, but the structure of the team as well.
“Leave basketball on the court,” is something Robert always tries his best to do and is advice he gives his son as well. Trent agrees that his dad does a very good job of being a coach on the court and a supportive dad at home.
“It makes me want to work harder for him and for my team,” says Trent. “We don’t let disagreements or arguments during practices or games follow us home and that is very important to us.” Leaving the sports talk at practice helps to eliminate conflict that could build in an athlete- parent coach relationship.
When done in the correct manner, playing for a parent coach and coaching a child in a sport can be a very rewarding and humbling experience. The most rewarding part for Robert was watching his son become a more mature player, both physically and mentally.
“As he grew he learned how to get past those bad calls and how to handle the pressure being put on him,” says Robert.
It is not only the coach’s job to make sure they are professional while coaching their children, but it is also the athlete’s job to treat their parent as a coach. They must pay attention in practice and work just as hard as the other athletes. Trent admits in his earlier years of playing for his dad he struggled with the line between father and coach.
“As I progressed as a player and started to take basketball more seriously I learned to stay in my place and act like a player, not the coach’s son,” says Trent. “I stopped talking back and matured which helped to eliminate any conflict between my dad and I.”
Children often look up to their parents as important role models in their life. In addition to their parents, coaches are also role models in an athlete’s life. They can have a great impact on how that child acts or carries themselves. When a parent is a coach of their child they get to pass on not only life lessons to their children, but sportsmanship as well. This is a major reward of parent coaching that is most often overlooked.
The bond that parent coaching created for Robert and Trent helped lead Glens Falls to a State Championship in the 2019 season. Robert was able to maintain his role of parent and coach in a professional manner, which helped lead his team to success. According to Trent, “athletes on the team felt comfortable with my dad being the coach and that did not alter their mindset of going in, playing hard as a team, and winning.”
With proper boundaries and hard work parent coaches can be very successful. They can be a great encouragement to not only their child, but the rest of the team as well. A professional parent coach is an important role model for their team and will ultimately lead to team success. Success is not just measured by how many games are won in a season. A successful team works hard for one another, they push each other to perform to the best of their abilities and they are unselfish. Motivation from a coach who puts their heart into the team will shape a successful team regardless of if the coach’s child is an athlete on that team or not. Parent coaches do not always need to be viewed as a problem; they can be viewed as a positive influence for players as long as they stay professional when it comes to their own child.
Glens Falls head coach Rob Girard hugs his son, Trent, after winning the state championship
The Glens Falls state championship team and coach Rob Girard