The Parent-Coach/Child-Athlete Relationship in Youth Sport: Cordial, Contentious, or Conundrum?

by Adam G.

Playing sports can create a positive environment for youth to develop not just sport skills, but skills they can use in life also. When youth grow up playing in organized sports, parent and volunteer coaches play a valuable role in the child’s development. Parents and coaches are facilitators for children’s sport experience and basically help choose the path in which their child goes. They provide transportation, money, time, and organization. But the key question is: are parent coaches qualified and have the right training for the children’s needs? And is it appropriate for a parent to coach their son/daughter?

Many parent coaches have not received the recommended coaching programs they need to be qualified (Ewing et al., 2002; Petitpas et al., 2005). This is a big concern, because the coach’s knowledge and behavior plays a big role in the quality of the youth’s participation. For a parent coach, another big concern is favoritism. The roles of coach and parent are often synonymous, suggesting a dual rather than independent relationship with the child participant (Brown, 1998; Rathbun, 1998; Weiss & Sisley, 1984).

The benefits that come from a parent coaching their child are things such as bringing the parent and child closer by going to practices and games together, sharing a common interest, and also sharing a lifetime involvement in that particular sport. Another benefit is at home, the parent-coach can give advice, more training, and can even talk about post practice and game evaluations (Weiss & Fretwell, 2005).

The negatives that come from a parent coaching their child include that child getting more attention focused on him/her. This can be a bad thing because the parent-coach will watch their child more, which leads to criticism, higher expectations, and can even have a distant relationship with their teammates. Another way it can be negative is it can ruin the relationship between the child and the parent. During practices or games when he/she is yelling at his son/daughter and giving advice, that child could take it the wrong way which can lead to issues off the field/court (Weiss & Fretwell, 2005).

In my experience growing up playing sports, my parents were never my coach, but simply just spectators. In my point of view, I believe this is the best place for them as through experience playing soccer competitively, one of my coaches that I had for three years was one of the kid’s older brother (father figure). During that time, teammates and I felt as if he got special attention due to the fact he was the coaches brother. He had important roles on the team as he was the captain and would start every game. Now, in his defence, he was a great player, but there were others on the team that played a more leadership role. He was a great coach and knew what he was talking about and had the coaching course certification as well. But talking to the coach’s brother, he said that he did in fact enjoy his older brother coaching him and it allowed them to build a great relationship. He also mentioned that it was tough off the field because he would be pressured to work on particular things off the field in his free time.

For further reading:

Bhandari, D. S., & Kang, H. S. (2012). The role of attitude in promoting sports participation. International Journal of Physical Education, 5(2), 159-162.

Chan, D. K., Lonsdale, C., & Fung, H. H. (2012). Influences of coaches, parents, and peers on the motivational patterns of child and adolescent athletes. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 22(4), 558-568.

Keathley, K., Himelein, M. J., & Srigley, G. (2013). Youth soccer participation and withdrawal: Gender similarities and differences. Journal of Sport Behavior, 36(2), 171-188.

Smoll, F. L., Cumming, S. P., & Smith, R. E. (2011). Enhancing coach-parent relationships in youth sports: Increasing harmony and minimizing hassle. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 6(1), 13-26.

Weiss, M. R. (2005). The parent-coach/child-athlete relationship in youth sport: Cordial, contentious, or conundrum? Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 76, 286-305.

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7 Responses to The Parent-Coach/Child-Athlete Relationship in Youth Sport: Cordial, Contentious, or Conundrum?

  1. colleendaly says:

    The Parent-coach relationship can be either very beneficial or very negative. We have all seen a parent- coach and the child athlete go horribly wrong. While spectating one of my sisters basketball games, I witnessed a player on the other team getting yelled at constantly, the coach even grabbed her jersey to pull her closer and yelled right in her face. This player then went and sat on the bench trying to hold in her tears until the buzzer rang to end the game. I later found out that the coach was also the players father. I believe that it is more common for parent coaches to favour his or her child. However the only thing worse than favouring one specific player, is being incredibly hard on just one player. One of the main reasons why youth stop participating in competitive sports is because they feel like they have to much pressure on them. Having a very intense coach who is also your parent can be very destructive to a child’s development.
    However, I also know a young girl who was coached by her father her entire life, and she is now only 17 years old and is the starting point guard for the Canadian National basketball team. Clearly, having her father as her coach when she was younger turned out to be very beneficial for her development as an athlete.
    In my opinion, in order for a parent-coach to be beneficial to his or her own child, they need to firstly be certified to coach, and be knowledgeable of the sport they are coaching. They also have to remember that they are a parent first, and then a coach.
    I really enjoyed the topic you chose to speak about for your blog! Very interesting debate to whether or not parents should coach their own children.

    • nickboudreau1 says:

      The discussion around parents coaching their kids is something that will go on for a long long time. There just aren’t enough volunteers to cover all youth sport teams and definitely not enough money to start paying people to coach youth sports. Parents coaching is something that is needed right now and the best thing to do is make sure these people are as qualified as possible. All this being said, it doesn’t take a parent to make a bad coach or to show favouritism. All coaches will have their favourites and their weaknesses as coaches.
      As far as the parent-child relationship, I can fully appreciate the struggles that go along with having a parents as a coach. My father was my coach for six years so we experienced the ups and downs of this relationship. In the end, the benefits of our relationship far outweighed the negatives. We were able to spend time together in an environment that we both loved and we continue to work together in our sport. It is a special bond that would not be as significant if we had not had our coach-athlete relationship.
      It is a great topic/debate and one that will be around for a while.

      Nick B.

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  3. b6m9 says:

    .The need for qualified coaches will always be the need within youth sports. The fact that some parents get way to involved in their child’s game play, have lots to say from the stands, is the reason in my opinion, that you are seeing fewer people becoming involved with coaching. People do not want to get criticized and abused while trying to do something good for the youth. If communities want more youth to be involved in organized sport then provide incentives for coaches, giving the potential coaches help and support (clinics/courses) while forming a coaching staff that will have the fundamental concepts in helping youth develop at the appropriate pace. For youth sports at a younger age (4-9) I feel the emphasis should be placed on skill development and promoting the involvement in the game, develop their love for the game to help with sustainability. With this approach, parents could go on a rotating schedule where they take a week throughout the season to lead the team. Being given advice on practice drills and game plans it would give the parents the opportunity to take an active interest in their child allowing for a bonding moment. The fact that you are sharing a common interest and talking post games also allows the youth to provide their input allowing them to buy into the program and what it stands for.

    Dave M

  4. sarahholt4 says:

    I think that it depends on the age level of the sport to decide whether a coach needs specific training to be a coach. But honestly, I agree with you that if parents are going to coach a team, that they should have to go through a coaching course and at least know a little bit about the sport they are teaching.

    If a parent is going to coach their child, I believe that yes, it does have a lot of benefits, but there is always going to be that special treatment; favouritism or negative influence as well. When I was younger, one of my friends parents coached our team, and I noticed that they were a lot harder on their own child. It seemed like everything they did, was wrong. There was no positive attitude and I could tell the child didn’t enjoy being at the sport. Which now that I know better, that is the worst thing that a parent can do. Sport is a place where kids are supposed to learn characteristics and create friendships, and just simply have fun! If parent-coaches are constantly nagging on their child, it is going to push them away from wanting to play sports. It also can influence some of the 5 C’s of positive youth development. Solely focusing on confidence. If kids think that everything they do is wrong, it will ruin their confidence and it will not be something they can easily change while growing up.
    I agree with one of the comments that there simply just isn’t anyone else to coach a team, and parents have to step in or else there will not be a team. I think that as long as the parent-coach does not give special treatment to their child, or are constantly nagging their child, and if they can have the same relationship with all their players; that it should be okay for them to coach.
    Sarah H.

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