Parents as coaches? Talk with your child to avoid conflict
By Pat Melgares, K-State Research and Extension
Volunteering to coach your child's summer sports team may sound like fun and games, but initially it may also create difficulty, said Chuck Smith, a child development specialist at Kansas State University.
"It feels odd [to children] to see their parent paying that kind of attention to another child," said Smith, a professor in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at K-State. "So, that sharing part is one big struggle that I think kids have.
"The other struggle is just the difference in the nature of authority. It's one thing to be a parent and set limits and rules for your home and your relationship with your child. But coaches have a very different kind of authority. Their children have to make that adjustment, as well."
Smith said the younger the children are, the more difficult it is for them to adjust to a parent's dual role.
"Kids are used to having the center of a parent's attention, and they can't get that when they're on a team," he said. "For a parent to try to give that to their own child, it could be very distracting to other players on the team."
Smith said parents should explain the rules and limits of their coaching relationship with their child beforehand. When a parent corrects the child's athletic play, the child needs to know that's not parental discipline.
"It's very hard for a kid to just turn that off the moment they get in the car to go home," he said. "They think: 'My Dad yelled at me in practice today.'"
Smith said, however, that the drive home after practice may be the right time to communicate with the child: "You invite the child to respond, to help him or her [make the] transition back into 'Okay, now you're my Dad or now you're my Mom.' That's important for children and youth at all age levels."
Parents who coach their children's teams may fall into a trap of either being too strict, or showing favoritism. Both can be difficult for parents and children alike, Smith said.
"Sometimes the parent just wants to have eye contact with the child, or give that child a special smile as he or she sits among the rest of the team," Smith said. "But if you give one of your own children too much special attention, the other kids notice. That could undermine a coach's effectiveness with the other kids." Many children will admit, however, that "it's pretty tough" when a coach/parent is more strict with them than with other team members, he said.
"If you're the head coach and you have a child on the team, I think it's quite important that you have a good assistant coach who might take some responsibility for teaching and supervising the play and practice of your own child, to take some of the pressure off that kid," Smith said.
The difficulties of coaching one's own children shouldn't discourage parents from volunteering.
"It's great to have parents involved in coaching," Smith said. "I don't think any parent should hold back from volunteering to be a coach simply because it's going to pose a problem for the child. Kids make the adjustment if you establish open communication with them."
Photos: (Top right) Keener watches as his players take to the court.
(Bottom left) Keener talks with two of his players during practice. Keener balances coaching four basketball teams including his son's.
Photos courtesy KSU Photographic Services.