Pick me! A look into coaching and favoritism

By Jordan M.

I grew up surrounded by sport my entire life. I have played all the different sports one could imagine as a youth in Canada. There was one common trend I always noticed whether it was a team or individual sport. That common trend was favoritism.

The first time I noticed this happening was in hockey because the coach was also the father of one of the players. His son was by no means the best player on the team, but he got the most playing time along with his two best friends. I never really minded it until the few times that it was my rotation to go on the ice and the coach kept me and a few others benched to let his son and friends play. A study done by Weiss and Fretwell (2005) from the University of Virginia showed that a child who is coached by a parent is going to have more pressure put on them to perform at a higher level than the other players on a team. This connects to children being excluded from playing because of the coach focusing so much on their own child. This is something I have witnessed time a time again.

Later on in my youth, I started playing tennis. I started a lot later in life than the other players who had been playing since they were five or six. I worked on my game for years to catch up to them and ended up being in the running for the 2009 Canada Games. The head coach was also the father of one of the players and the father would always show a high level of favoritism towards his son over the other players. When Canada Games training would occur, I would not get the invite because he only took the players he wanted to participate. When the tryouts finally happened, I came in third place and the two players who beat me were the two my coach would give special attention to. I felt like I never had a chance to be successful due to this treatment and it caused me to lose my passion for the sport.

Favoritism goes beyond what the coaches are doing and can even be linked to referees all the way up to the professional level. A study found that referees will have a bias for their home team due to social pressures from the crowd (Garicano, Palacios-Huerta, & Prendergast, 2005). This can be related back to coaching because as a coach myself, I too, at some points, feel social pressures from parents to spend some more attention to their child. This social pressure also stems from putting a higher priority on winning rather than enjoying what one is doing. I have observed this more than a handful of times back in my youth when I did team sports. The best players would always play more because my coach wanted the team to win instead of allowing all the children to have their fair time playing the sport.

In conclusion, every athlete has dealt with favoritism at one point or another. It is something that parents, coaches, and other athletes need to stop in order for athletics to keep its fun and inclusive environment. Throughout my life, I have learned to deal with favoritism but I fear for that one child who will not to how to cope and will drop out of sport because of it. If sport does not feel like home than the children will not play.

“Our homes travel with us. They are wherever we feel loved and accepted.”
― Kamand Kojouri


Frank Jacobs, Froukje Smits, Annelies Knoppers. (2016) ‘You don’t realize what you see!’: the institutional context of emotional abuse in elite youth sport.

Garicano, L., Palacios-Huerta, I., & Prendergast, C. (May 01, 2005). Favoritism Under Social Pressure. The Review of Economics and Statistics

Stewart, C. (January 01, 2013). The Negative Behaviors of Coaches: “Don’t Be This Guy!”. Physical Educator

Weiss, M. R., & Fretwell, S. D. (September 01, 2005). The Parent-Coach/Child-Athlete Relationship in Youth Sport: Cordial, Contentious, or Conundrum?. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


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5 Responses to Pick me! A look into coaching and favoritism

  1. Rachel Bennett says:

    I completely agree with you that favouritism is seen far too much in youth sport. I saw it the most when I was playing hockey. I think coaches put too much emphasis on winning and are willing to constantly play the top players to achieve that winning status. Sometimes coaches believe that the team is also only focused on winning and may not realize the negative impact on the players being benched. I agree with you that favouritism is more prominent when a parent is the coach of the child. It is human nature to be proud of your own child and always want them on the field, court, ice, etc. However, if a parent is becoming involved as their own child’s coach they need to be fair and extra cautious to not favour their own child and make sure all kids are getting equal playing opportunities.

    When I was younger I thought that there should be a rule in place that parents were not allowed to coach their own child. I realize now that this is unreasonable. Sometimes it is hard to find volunteers to coach a team. It would be a shame to not see a team or program run as a result of not being able to find a coach. With that being said, I think it should be mandatory for all coaches to receive training on the effects of favouritism and stress the importance of fair play. Fair play is especially critical in the younger age groups as they are still learning and developing in their sport. Favouritism will increase drop out levels and this is the opposite effect of what us, as future recreation and sport leaders, want to see happening.

    Overall great blog post! I think this topic is very relatable to a lot of us in the class and is still an ongoing issue that needs to be acknowledged more often.

    Rachel Bennett

  2. johareid says:

    I would have to say I agree with your entire post! I’ve seen favouritism from coaches as parents and from referees. Especially at a young age, coaches have a need for winning while the players are just out to have fun. I’ve seen favouritism mostly from watching my siblings play sports. During hockey season, my younger brothers hockey teams’ coach would pick his son for all the power plays and extra shifts, even though he wasn’t the best player.
    I can’t say I’ve seen favouritisms directly from the sports teams I’ve been on. During my hockey years, I played at a highly competitive level so it was a known fact that we were there to win. We were expected to be dedicated and it was stated from the get go that there may not be even playing times for everyone. It was basically a set up so when you did skip that turn, you knew it was for the best for the team. I wouldn’t say there was favouritism for players during these times, but it was the skilled players who were put out to get the job done.
    I only remember my parents ever coaching me when I was very young and just learning how to play hockey. Therefore, the practices were more to develop our skating skills and being able to stand up and stop! I don’t recall favouritism from my parents because all the kids were falling all over the ice so the coaches had to help everyone.
    Johanna R.

  3. csteele1991 (Grad student comment) says:

    I believe your post can serve as a starting point for a discussion on the broader issue of the Canadian sport system. Favouritism from parents is likely a symptom of the greater root cause that is our recreational and competitive sport systems. We currently employ a top-down approach to most sports with the highest levels of resources being devoted to a select few athletes. So although at the highest levels, elite coaches with no conflicts of interests are employed, there are issues at the lower levels, some of which you have illustrated.

    The fact that coaching and financial resources are mostly allocated to elite levels of competition means that at the grassroots levels, many organization are left scrambling for coaches who are willing to devote the time necessary to fill the role. This creates inherent barriers to providing high quality coaching to grassroots organizations, and many times the role is taken on by a parent. This, more often than not, leads to issues of favouritism that you have touched on. Often times, it also leads to unqualified and uncertififed coaches taking on roles in grassroots organizations, which presents issues of it’s own. Even when favouritism doesn’t necessarily exist, there will always be conflicts of interest when a parent is coaching their own child along with others. This is not to say that some parents don’t do an admirable job, because in my own experience I have seen it, but the system in place repeatedly leads to these conflicts.

    One area that I believe you could have touched on was offering possible solutions to the issue of favouritism, and on a broader scale, the Canadian sport system. By possibly looking at a bottom-up approach, used in Scandinavian countries such as Finland and Sweden, we can put the focus on providing elite and fair coaching to youth at all levels, rather than just the select few. By offering elite coaching to all levels, we can eliminate issues such as favouritism, unqualified coaches and foster better environments for the development of young athletes.

  4. Bestey31 says:

    After reading your post I agree with everything you have mentioned! I too have seen favoritism in sports, mostly in hockey. However in middle school I tried out for the Varsity basketball team and was one of two grades 7 students to make it, the other being the coaches son. By being even just a year younger I felt pressure to perform to the abilities of my teammates and saw that the case was the same for my grade 7 counterpart. He was constantly “coached” during drills and usually would show visual frustration after mistakes. I feel that as a player it should be part of their responsibility to bring attention to these types of situations where coaches are playing favorites as it effects more than just check mark in the win or lose column. In times where my dad helped coached my hockey teams, he always made an effort to help everyone else as much or more than me when it was needed. This made me feel good about myself as it relieves the pressure to perform while knowing I have someone to go to for advice or concerns.

    I think that favoritism does happen far too often and believe it is something that needs a lot of work on to be corrected. You mentioned it happening at a pro levels of play and it made me think of the use of referees from different countries when talking about the Olympics. It makes sense to have non-native referees officiate the game to try and eliminate biases. The same can be said for referees at a youth level as they are usually youth themselves. I think it is important to have training sessions that stress the importance of fair play, which can cover everything from equal playing time, respect for referees, and calling a fair game for officials. Therefore a friendly setting within the teams, relationship or respect towards officials or coaches, and better rewards for well officiated games are all factors that can shape a positively rounded sport experience.

  5. tabitharose123 says:

    I agree that coaches’ inclusion is very important in a child’s experience of a sport. This is a huge time for them, when they are learning to value themselves, and find their strengths, and I think that a coach plays a huge role in how a child will see his importance in sport, and his skills in a positive or negative way. (Our Group 2 Discussion Article (on basketball) talked about this importance. The kids in the experiment mentioned during the interviews how important it was to them that their coaches showed them each attention, and that they saw their coaches as family members. Whether these coaches realize it or not, they will make a huge impact on their players.

    My dad and uncle were the coaches of most, if not all, of my high school teams, and thinking back, there was definitely favouritism. They would give us the most attention (not to hurt anyone else, or willingly, it just happened that way, I think), and would open up the gym in the evenings so that we could practise for tournaments. I remember some of the other kids, when finding out, would make a light side comment on how we would be more ready for the tournament. They obviously felt like there was favouritism.

    I do not think it is right, but it is something that naturally happens in most cases. I think it is a big issue that should be addressed in any coaching situation, so that these coaches can purposefully work at not being that way.

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