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Turning Kids Over to Youth Sport Coaches

Illustration by Jim Phalen, used with permission

Source: Illustration by Jim Phalen, used with permission

Two important sets of adults combine with the child to form the athletic triangle. They are, of course, parents and coaches. The relationships that exist among the points of the athletic triangle go a long way toward determining the quality of the sport experience.

Can parents share their son or daughter?

One of the important challenges for sports parents is turning their kids to the third point in the athletic triangle—the coach. Many issues can arise in parents’ relationship with the coach, including coaching the team or relating to the kids. Parents are essentially required to put their young athletes in charge of another adult and trust them to guide the sport experience.

Additionally, parents must deal with the fact that the coach may gain admiration and affection that was once theirs alone. It’s natural for a coach to become a significant figure in a child’s life, and this occurs when a tendency toward independence is causing the youngster to move away somewhat from their parents. One father described his difficulty in adjusting to his child’s coach:

I was used to being number one in Jim’s life. I was the man he looked up to, the man to be like someday. Things changed when he joined the basketball league. His team was coached by the most popular guy in the league, a man who had played college ball and a great teacher. All of a sudden, all we heard at the dinner table was, ‘Coach said this,’ and ‘Coach did that.’ It became clear that my son had a new hero—one who I couldn’t compete with. It’s not easy to take a back seat in Jim’s life, even briefly.

When parents can’t accept the entry into their child’s world of a new and important adult, youngsters may suddenly find themselves in the middle of a conflict between parent and coach. In such cases, the child is subtly pressured to choose between the two. To keep things in a healthy perspective, there’s an important tip for parents. Specifically, sharing kids temporarily with another valued adult allows them more freedom to make decisions. And, of course, this is an essential part of the process of letting go.

A word of caution is warranted.

In sharing their children, parents should not blindly turn their kids over to coaches. Instead, they have both the right and the responsibility to ensure that they entrust their children to competent individuals. By probing into the qualities of coaches, parents are not being overly protective or showing a lack of confidence. Instead, they are fulfilling a child-rearing obligation to oversee the welfare of their loved ones.

In checking the qualifications of coaches, the following are important areas of inquiry:

  • Knowledge of the sport and teaching skills
  • Motives and coaching philosophy
  • Coaching style
  • Relationship skills

For a discussion of the competencies, see my Psychology Today blog titled What Are the Qualities of Competent Coaches.

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