Should I Coach my Child?

Larry Lauer, PhD
Michigan State University

You are thinking of coaching your own child, eh? Or, you already are even though your fellow coaches told you not to and now you want help? As a veteran coach once said to a parent interested in coaching his child’s team, “Are you ready for the headaches?” Youth sport is littered with accounts of volatile parent-coach and child relationships. 

Coaching your child can be a wonderful experience when handled well by parent-coach and child. The bonding that occurs can strengthen your relationship with your child. A recent study with youth soccer showed that having a parent coach can not only be great for the parent but for the child (Weiss & Fretwell, 2005). Parents know their child better than anyone and can make informed coaching decisions based on the child’s mood swings and reactions to certain situations. Furthermore, sport organizations need parents to coach to keep youth sport afloat. However, it is a slippery slope! 

Unfortunately, coaching your child often leads to conflicts at the field and at home. For instance, the parent-coach and the child continue to argue at the dinner table about missing a sign during an at-bat. Or, your child is frustrated with your coaching tactics and does not want to talk to you for hours after a game. And then there are some unforeseen issues such as team members perceiving that you are only coaching so your child can start and, of course, are giving him preferential treatment. 

There are also concerns for your child. She may begin to feel pressure because you are coaching and you have very high expectations. You may have higher expectations for your daughter just so you minimize the perception of favoritism. And, she may feel isolated because teammates might feel she will tell the coach, her mother, about conversations that are for players only. Yet, some parent-coaches will tell you what a wonderful experience it was to coach their child. 

So, why does coaching your child often end in conflict? Usually this conflict is due to the parent’s and the child’s inability to separate the coach and parent roles. This means that while you are coaching you have to be a coach and when you are at home be the parent. You must remind yourself to click into your roles depending on the situation. Being unable to move in and out of these roles will create confusion for your child. 

If you are going to coach your child then you best understand yourself as a parent and a coach. What does it mean to be in each of these roles? In general, when in the coach role you should not show favoritism to your child AND you should not be overly tough on your child to prove you are not playing favoritism. Take a coaching mindset and be realistic about your child’s abilities. Pressuring your child will most certainly lead to a negative experience. And, when you are a parent, be a parent. Provide unconditional love and support. Try not to bring home things that happened in practices and games. Refrain from turning dinner table conversation to coaching critiques. Talk about things other than sport with your child. A factor in making this parent-coach deal work is to have your spouse less involved in the sport. That way he or she can take the pressure off and emphasize other aspects of the family such as school, friends, hobbies, etc. This balance in parental involvement was very important in the development of tennis champions (results of this study available at www.youthsports.msu.edu under current studies). 

Maintaining a positive parent-child relationship is not completely under your control, however. The child may have trouble separating your parent and coach roles even if you are doing a good job of it. There is evidence that this occurs from talking to athletes. They mention that at a young age it was hard for them to understand why their father was being tough on them at practice and not acting like their dad. Therefore, you can do everything correctly according to this column and coaching your own child can still lead to relationship problems. 

You have read reasons to coach your child and not coach your child. Making the decision to coach when your child is on the team is a complex one with no simple answers. Before making a decision you may want to ask yourself some very important questions.

Should I coach my child? 

  • In your situation, what do you think the negative and positive aspects of coaching your child will be?
  • Knowing my child, how will he or she respond to me as a coach?
  • Knowing myself, how well will I be able to separate my roles as coach and parent?
  • In what ways could I see myself treating my child differently than other players on the team?
  • How will members of the team, including parents, respond to me coaching my own child?
  • Will you coach your own child? Why or why not? 

I would also suggest that you talk to your son or daughter about your interest in coaching the team. Communicate with them some of the possible issues and benefits from you taking on this dual role. Be upfront with them and make the decision together! 

Weiss, M. R., & Fretwell, S. D. (2005). The parent-coach/child-athlete relationship in youth sport: Cordial, contentious, or conundrum? Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 76 (3), 286-305.

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