The Psychological Skillset for Coaching Your Child in Youth Sports

It is very common to consider the option of coaching your child at any level of youth athletics. Spring season has finally come around, the streets are being cleared, and the fields, diamonds, and courts are ready to be used by thousands of youth this Spring and Summer. Despite the excitement that comes with a new season and a whole list of activities for your children, the question emerges almost immediately upon registration, will you volunteer to coach for your child's team? Sadly, it has come to my own awareness that the number of people willing to volunteer and help out is much less than one would hope which has led some community centre leagues offering to waive the registration fee if you are willing to help coach. Nevertheless, once you decide that you want to help coach there are a whole range of psychological challenges that can accompany that. We have all learned that some of the best athletes do not make the best coaches. Thus, certain parents who may have been successful athletes develop the Anxiety related to not meeting the standard they are used to. More importantly some folks struggle when their child do not meet preferred expectations when the game starts which can lead to a lot of internal and external conflict within the family.

At first, it will be important as a parent to know why you want to coach. You want to make sure you are not compensating for any of your own unresolved or unmet goals as an athlete from your life and experience. If you attempt to coach your child as a way of meeting your own unmet goals, the relationship you have with your child will change and not for the better. Your child, is their own person with their own goals, growing up in their own time, and thus will have different objectives, experiences, and desires when participating in youth athletics. Once you understand your reasons for coaching and ensuring that they are psychologically healthy, then explore with your child what their goals are for playing their chosen sport. Maybe they are playing because of their friends, their personal interest in the sport, or because they want to try something different. Whatever it may be, know that information before going into opening day.

Having the aforementioned information will give you the space to pay closer attention to separating the role of parent from coach. Yes, you are their parent first, but ensuring that your child knows when you are the coach is key. You are also responsible for guiding the rest of the team as well your own child and that it is not your job to give your child the advantage because you are the coach. It is your job to ensure that you are in the right mindset (especially in the early years) that the purpose is fair play and to ensure the team has a fun and memorable experience rather than feel that there is some sort of pecking order present because of skillset. Sadly, certain winter sports tend to ignore this idea in Canada and a lot of parents become immersed within the politics of play time leading to multiple conflicts. It is crucial as the coach, you define your role with all the children AND parents. Inform the parents and children that you are there to coach, equip the children with on-field and off-field skills that will help them feel confident, capable, and experience elements of success. Therefore, once the game or practice is over, you return home to be the parent. Thus, you want to make every effort to refrain from hyper focusing on what happened in the previous game or what needs to be better next time, spending a considerable amount of time at the dinner table discussing the sport. We need to have our children registered in some form of psychical activity for so many reasons. However, it need not become the only thing that is talked about, because otherwise you end up creating a rift between you and your child, they become hesitant to talk with you about the game itself, and then become anxious on and off the field if they are not meeting certain expectations.

We do not want our children feel as though they are not meeting certain athletic expectations. They are largely enrolled in their activities for fun, unless they are seeking and attaining the more competitive play. Most children for a multitude of reasons stop youth athletics around fourteen years of age. The goal as the parent who coaches is to ensure that process is not accelerated because the child feels too much pressure when their parent is the coach. Therefore, further reiterating that you are not sending the message that because you were successful at a certain sport, your child should be or they should want it as much as you, or they should be more driven in the game. Our children are growing up in a very different world and the most important component is that they enjoy the activity because otherwise they will not want to play, return to their handheld technology, and then you will likely become frustrated because they are spending too much time on their screens. Help create that positive environment and sense of empowerment with your children and the other players on the field or court because that is what they will remember. Most often the players need to know that you care about them, before they care what you know about the game.

Ultimately, it can also help if one parent is not the coach because that parent can help shift conversations if needed, change topics, and ensure that the child knows there are other aspects of the relationship that are important. The key is to know your limits when discussing aspects of the game because if you start to over emphasize the importance of every part of the game, what happens when your child stops playing, you may have a hard time repairing the relationship because you have not talked about anything else. Unless your child brings forth the topic with you, the next time you are likely best able to talk with them about the game is when going to the next game or at the next game. It may be helpful to ensure the topics that you talk about can be related to the game but more so how those aspects can help your children in various aspects of life. Many athletes have shared that their activities had taught them that life is a team sport. Thus, it is crucial to take advantage of those life lessons you learn from the sport rather than overemphasizing what needs to be corrected. Instead, when coaching your children, focus on the elements of the team game and skillset that your they can apply to life!


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