6 Tips on How to Successfully Coach Your Child's Sports Team

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Most parents who have ever played a sport—and even those who haven't—consider coaching their child's sports team at one time or another, especially at the recreational level. Whatever motivates you to step forward—whether a lack of volunteer coaches, a passion for the game, or simply a desire to spend more time with your child—choosing to coach your child's team can come with a number of benefits, as well as pitfalls.

Not only is coaching a sport time-consuming, but it is not always an easy task either. Parent coaches must learn how to juggle parenting and coaching, meet the demands of instructing others, and navigate the dynamics of dealing with other parents.

Here's how to make sense of what it means to coach your child's team so that you can not only make the right calls but go the distance when it comes to both coaching and parenting.

Benefits of Coaching Your Child's Team

Coaching your child's team can be a wonderful experience that you both can look back on one day with fondness. Done correctly, the bonding that occurs can strengthen your relationship with your child.

"One of the biggest benefits of being a parent coach is the quality time you get to spend with your child," says Todd Kays, PhD, a sports psychologist, author of "Sports Psychology for Dummies," and owner of Athletic Mind Institute. "Because of the nature of our culture and how busy and separated we are, the biggest benefits are the time spent together, those teachable moments, and the relational connection that can take place."

Additionally, parents know their kids better than anyone and can make informed decisions about where to play them and how best to motivate them.

"No one knows the child better than the parent," says Jamey Houle, PhD, the lead sports psychologist for Ohio State Athletics. "Coaches spend a lot of time trying to get to know their athletes, but a parent already knows their child's strengths, areas of growth, physical strength, attention span, and attitude."

In the end, having a parent as a coach can be a huge benefit to the young athlete, Dr. Houle says. There is a trust and comfort level already there that doesn't have to be built from scratch. Overall, it can end up being a very supportive relationship that allows the child to feel special or even cool that their parent is the coach, he says.

Common Challenges of Coaching Your Child's Team

Being a parent coach offers the opportunity for your to spend quality time with your child in a unique way. But it can be fraught with challenges, too. In fact, youth sports are littered with stories about volatile relationships between children and their parent coaches.

Too many times, parents are so passionate about sports and coaching and they don't turn it off, Dr, Kays says. Then, the parent-child relationship becomes solely focused on sports. They talk about the game on the way home and discuss tactics at dinner. Instead of doing something non-sport-related in their free time, they watch films. It has the potential to spiral out of control if you are not careful.

Todd Kays, PhD

Parents struggle with knowing when to turn it off. Your primary role is parent and secondary to that is a coach. Be a parent first.

— Todd Kays, PhD

It also is not uncommon for the child of a parent coach to feel like an outsider among their teammates. Not only will some of the kids on the team exclude or isolate your child because they are afraid that what they say will get back to you, the coach, but they also may have some resentment too.

Even if you make every effort to treat everyone fairly and minimize the perception of favoritism, some kids (and their parents) will still believe it exists. Some parent coaches will try to offset these perceptions by being more demanding or critical of their own children. They also may push them harder and set higher expectations.

But this approach can backfire, too. Not only do the other kids (and parents) pick up on this different treatment, but it may make them uncomfortable. Ultimately, it takes the fun out of the game for them and they may start looking for somewhere else to play.

Plus, being demanding and critical of your child in front of the rest of the team can be embarrassing and shaming for them. Even worse, it can build resentment and harm the parent-child relationship.

"Coaching your child is a double-edged sword," says Dr. Kays. "In some ways, you are more invested in your son or daughter but at the same time, you are hyperfocused or harder on them, which can cause them to grow resentful."

To offset some of the pitfalls that come with coaching your child's team, make sure you carefully consider what you are getting yourself into. You also should make sure your motivations for coaching are appropriate.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Before agreeing to coach your child's team, you may want to answer these questions honestly. Your answers will give you insight into whether or not you are ready to coach your child's team.

  • Do you really want to coach?
  • Do you have the knowledge to coach?
  • Are you patient, knowledgeable, a good communicator, and have a positive attitude?
  • Do you have the time to commit to practices and games?
  • How does your child feel about you accepting a coaching role?
  • Can you be as fair and as objective as possible?
  • How will you handle the pressures from other parents?
  • Can you find one or two assistants who can provide objectivity?

Tips for Being a Successful Parent Coach

If you are considering coaching your child's sports team, there are several ways you can help ensure that it is a positive experience for you and your child. Here are some guidelines that will help set you up for success.

Ask Your Child for Their Opinion

Some kids really like having their parents coach their team, especially at younger ages. But other kids look to sports as an outlet and would prefer to have their parents on the sidelines.

In fact, having a parent as a coach is a highly personal decision. According to one study, some young athletes may perceive involvement from their parents as enjoyable and intrinsically motivating while others may view it as a more pressure-filled experience.

Before accepting a coaching position, talk to your child about it. Make sure they are comfortable having you in this role before you say yes. If they are not on board with you coaching their team, try not to take it personally.

Remember, your most important role when it comes to sports is to be a parent first. So, while you may be disappointed, try to respect their wishes. If you really want to be involved, you could be the team manager or volunteer in another way.

Evaluate Your Reasons for Coaching

While wanting to coach your child's team in order to spend time with them or to share your love of the game with them are good reasons for coaching your child's team, they are not enough. You need to remember that you are responsible for all the kids on the team, not just your own. The goal is that your coaching would benefit everyone on the team.

Also, be honest with yourself about why you are stepping up. Are you agreeing to coach because you love the game and you feel like you have something to offer? Or, are you coaching because you want to be sure your child has a chance to shine or gets adequate playing time?

Jamey Houle, PhD

You also need to be mindful of your own history as an athlete. One of the big pitfalls parents run into to is trying to live out their unachieved goals.

— Jamey Houle, PhD

That is a very dangerous thing to do, Dr. Houle says. In fact, it is probably one of the most hurtful things we can do as a parent.

When considering coaching your child, reflect on what you are trying to do, he says. Who is this actually about? What does this mean for me? You need to be sure that you are coaching for the right reasons. If you step into the role for the wrong reasons, it will surely backfire.

Focus on Keeping it Fun

In the introduction of the book, "Training a Tiger," golf legend, Tiger Woods, writes that the best thing about his golf practices with his father is that he always kept it fun. It is amazing how much a child can learn when they truly enjoy doing something, he says.

Consequently, if you want to be a successful coach, you need to figure out how to make it fun—not only for your child but for the other kids on the team. Dr. Houle recommends focusing on the things your young athlete can control like the enjoyment of the sport and their effort.

"I had a colleague of mine once say that as a parent you only get to ask two questions—'Did you have fun?' and 'What do you want for dinner?'" he says.

Be Willing to Listen

It's important to recognize that coaching your child's team is not always going to be easy. There will be days when you or your child are frustrated or discouraged. The key is that you create an atmosphere where your child can talk about what they are thinking or feeling.

"Check in with your child to see how the relationship is going," suggests Dr. Houle. "Ask how things on the team are going."

Then, really listen to what they have to say. Of course, the younger your child is, the more difficult it will be for them to articulate their feelings and their concerns; you may have to read between the lines somewhat.

"Sometimes a parent coach will discover that they want things that their child doesn't want," says Dr. Kays. "For some kids, sports is more about the social piece." If you discover you want different things out of the sport, it's important not to push your child to become something they are not interested in.

Remember, sports only last for a short time, but your relationship with your child lasts a lifetime.

Overall, your ultimate goal should be to protect the parent-child relationship. You don't want coaching to taint the relationship or add strain to it. Remember, sports only last for a short time, but your relationship with your child lasts a lifetime.

Establish Boundaries

One mistake parent coaches often make is not separating the parenting role and the coaching role. At times, this will be difficult to do, Dr. Houle says. He recommends establishing an age-appropriate ritual of some sort to help kids differentiate between the role of parent and the role of coach.

"It is really important to have healthy boundaries," he says. "When you are at home, you are the parent. When you are at practice, you are the coach. You could say, 'When I put my hand on the car door to leave the field, I am Dad/Mom and when we get out of the car for practice or a game, I am Coach.'"

Another way to incorporate boundaries is to make sure you have one or two assistant coaches to bounce ideas off of. Not only will this help you remain objective about your child, but it also will give you another perspective.

"It's natural to have a bias toward our children, and it is impossible to erase that completely," Dr. Houle says. "So having someone to hold you accountable helps."

And in terms of playing time or positions, Dr. Houle suggests that you base your decisions on data whenever possible. For instance, you can use the team's statistics to make these decisions, like batting averages in baseball or serving percentages in volleyball.

Be a Parent First

When it comes to being a parent coach, perhaps the most important thing you need to remember is that you are a parent first. Coaching, while important, comes second. Make sure you are still interacting with your child in ways that do not involve sports. Spend time together doing something else and take care that your conversations cover topics that are not sports-related.

Also, try to stay attuned to what is going on with your child. Are they enjoying the sport? Are there other things they would rather be doing? How are their grades during the season? Are their friendships going well?

"The dark side of being a parent coach is that it can cause anxiety for kids," Dr. Houle says. "Kids can get confused and worry that they are letting the parent down when things don't go well. It is important that they know you will always be their parent and that you love them regardless. Unless that message is clear, young athletes can try to please their parent coach and that can be harmful."

Remember, there is a lot to parenting while coaching is just a tiny part of the overall picture. Try not to lose sight of what is most important—your parent-child relationship. One way to do that, according to Dr. Kays, is to focus on principles and not personalities.

"You are teaching the standards of a skill," he says. "They are what I call the mental skills such as communication, teamwork, composure, focus, resiliency, and the ability to bounce back from mistakes."

These are things you would want to teach your child whether you were the coach or not. So, instead of trying to turn your child into an elite athlete, focus more on the lessons that will last them for the rest of their lives.

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to coaching your child's sports team, there is nothing more rewarding than being able to pass your knowledge and passion on to your kids. Although it requires a lot of hard work, as long as you have the right motivation, are treating everyone on the team fairly (including your child), have solid boundaries, and are focusing on keeping it fun, you are on track to being a successful coach.

As for nurturing the parent-child relationship during the season, remember to keep the lines of communication open and to focus on being a parent first. And don't allow yourself to fall into the trap of talking about sports non-stop with your child. Your child needs to know that your love for them is unconditional and not influenced by what happens on the court or the field.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lisinskiene A, Lochbaum M, May E, Huml M. Quantifying the Coach-Athlete-Parent (C-A-P) Relationship in youth sport: Initial development of the Positive and Negative Processes in the C-A-P Questionnaire (PNPCAP)Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(21):4140. Published 2019 Oct 28. doi:10.3390/ijerph16214140

  2. Bonavolontà V, Cataldi S, Latino F, et al. The role of parental involvement in youth sport experience: perceived and desired behavior by male soccer playersInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(16):8698. Published 2021 Aug 17. doi:10.3390/ijerph18168698

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.