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Coaching

The Psychology of Coaching Your Own Child in Sports

4 tips on how to avoid the hazards.

Key points

  • Ask your child how they feel about having you for a coach.
  • Discuss how your role will change when you are in the athletic environment, and why you need to treat your child like any other team member.
  • Be a mom or dad at home and a coach in sports.
  • Reaffirm your love, regardless your child’s level of performance.

Most volunteer coaches get into youth sports because their son or daughter is participating, meaning that the majority of coaches end up coaching their own child at one time or another. This can be a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time together, but it also presents some unique challenges for the parent and the child as well.

Illustration by Jim Phalen, used with permission
Source: Illustration by Jim Phalen, used with permission

The most difficult issue concerns confusion arising from the dual roles of coach and parent. To effectively deal with this, parents and children need to understand that coaching behavior and parenting behavior will be different. For example, a coach will not be able to give the immediate access or personal attention that a parent would give to a child at home. A coach must make time for all members of the team, not just one young athlete.

The four principles presented below explicitly target the coach-parent. The first two provide a basic parent-child foundation, which should be established in a preseason meeting. The last two principles can be implemented during practices and competitions.

1. Ask your child how they feel about having you as a coach.

If there are reservations, it is important to discuss them. Most children enjoy playing for their parent, but some would prefer another coach. Are some kids afraid to say they would rather play for someone else? Yes, because they might believe their mother or father will feel rejected. To counteract this, you must openly communicate with your child, hear your child, and encourage them to express their true feelings.

2. Discuss how your role will change when you are in the athletic environment, and why you need to treat your child like any other team member.

Many coaches tend to be harder on their child, and bend over backward not to show favoritism. Being fair does not mean being harder on your child. The challenge is to be impartial and treat your child no differently than anyone else on the team.

In addition to talking with your son or daughter, you should explain the situation to the whole team. This can be done at the first practice or team meeting. Some coaches tell their athletes that, even though their son or daughter is on the team, they consider every athlete as one of their children. Kids are able to understand the message.

3. Be a mom or dad at home and a coach in sports.

Make sure your separate roles are clear in your mind and in your child's. There are at least two ways to put this principle into operation:

  • Have your child refer to you as “Coach” when interacting in the sports environment. The labeling helps to solidify the separation of roles.
  • If you have an assistant coach, have that person work with your child in situations involving individual instruction. If the assistant also has a child on the team, use the crisscross technique of working with each other's children.

And don’t overdo it! When driving home, you will likely talk about things that happened in the practice or competition. But set up a time interval, and don’t go beyond it. Keep things in balance, and set some reasonable limits.

4. Reaffirm your love, regardless of your child’s level of performance.

Youngsters will go to extremes to please their parents, and too much emphasis on sports gets things out of kilter. Above all, demonstrate in words and actions that your love does not depend on athletic ability.

Although coaching your own child may be convenient and enjoyable, you should not be the only coach your son or daughter ever has. Youngsters gain a lot by learning to adjust to other styles of leadership. Consequently, you should limit coaching your child to 2- or 3-years in a row. When the time comes to end the coaching relationship with your child, clearly explain the decision so they don’t feel rejected.

References

Smoll, F.L., & Smith, R.E. (Producers). (2009). Mastery Approach to Coaching, Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports [Videos]. Seattle, WA: Youth Enrichment in Sports.

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