What Coaches Tell Me

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If we were supposed to talk more than we listen we would have two mouths and one ear.”–Mark Twain

In youth sports we waste a lot of time and energy trying to figure out what people are thinking, where they are coming from. Parents wonder about their kids, kids wonder about coaches, coaches wonder about parents. Why not stop speculating, and have a conversation that involves you listening? For example, you may ask your kids questions like:

  • What do you enjoy most about your sports?
  • If you could change something in practice or games, what would it be?
  • When do you feel pressure that makes you uncomfortable?

If you are like I was, what you are really wondering is:

  • Do you like your coach?
  • Are you getting enough playing time?
  • Which players are not great teammates?

But those types of questions can send messages like “I don’t like the coach because he doesn’t let you play enough. It’s all about Valerie, isn’t it?” Most kids will shut down at that point and, going forward, you are less likely to be trusted with important information.

Perhaps the reason we don’t get specific answers is because we don’t ask specific questions. If something concerns you, (and your timing and approach will be important), ask your child’s coach. Coaches welcome feedback from parents that is relative to their child. Start with an email, or a casual conversation that is not on game day. If you have already established a positive relationship, this will be more natural. Refrain from asking about other players. That’s a comparison between children, and a wise coach will not go there.

I asked coaches of young athletes what they learned as players themselves that formed their approach as coaches. This answer was predictably forthright and simple. If a coach paid attention to you as a person, you would invest with more commitment and energy to the team or activity. I wanted to know how the young athletes they coach are different in today’s youth sports culture. This response resonated with what I am seeing and reading. Too many kids are “specialists’ at one sport. That trend is concerning. Not only are there more overuse injuries, children are too serious, too focused, and too pressured at earlier and earlier ages.

Then I asked: “What do parents need to know to make the experience better for kids?” Isn’t that really the bottom line for you? That’s what I longed to know. Instead of asking, I often employed trial and error, which brought regrets. One coach’s advice was profound: “Let the child lead you (the parent) on how much time to put into a sport.” Empowering your athlete to speak frankly with you, and to be confident enough to respectfully give feedback to his coach is worthy of your time and effort. Model that for your child. Help him put words to his feelings. Encourage him to be transparent with you. Ask specific questions. Listen.

One of my children had a short stint in basketball. However, it was not the fit that my child ultimately discovered. At games, I made a habit of parenting my athlete by shouting instructions from the stands, criticizing officials, making myself too much of a focus, and not in a good way. During the halftime of one game, the referee literally pointed me out to my child and said: “I bet that’s your mom.” Yikes. On the ride home I learned something that was of enduring value in my sports parenting role. My player simply said: “It doesn’t help when you do that.” Good to know. Glad I listened. From that point on, the pressure lifted and I could enjoy games without inserting myself inappropriately.

Remember that your child’s sports experience belongs to her. Although your intentions are to help make it the best it can be, you can wander off course. Because, parenting is not always intuitive. Sometimes we just don’t know until we ask.

Key Tips

  • Formulate specific, open-ended questions to learn important information from your children.
  • Let your child set the pace regarding his sports experience.
  • Instead of wondering, respectfully ask coaches and give feedback regarding your child when you have concerns.

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