Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Love Triangle: Player, Coach and Parent

I am finding my way carefully through the sometimes complicated relationship between myself, my sons and their coaches. As my boys get older, things are getting a little more complicated. Competition increases and some of the motivations for all parties change.

The relationship between the coach, the player, and the parent is like a love triangle. A love triangle is inherently unstable. But if each member of the triangle uses some common sense and remembers their roles, things will go pretty smoothly.

First of all, let’s talk about the role of a coach. What exactly is the coach’s job and what makes him or her a good coach? Well, it turns out that players, parents, and even the coaches themselves differ on what the job entails.

Roles of a Coach
According to my 12 year old athlete
Stay positive 24/7
Stay calm
Don’t argue with referees
Teach instead of yelling when player does something wrong

According to me (mother of player)
Teach the game including rules, strategies and subtleties
Improve player’s skills
Get to know player and how to motivate them

According to my husband (father of player)
Teach skills and sportsmanship and leadership
Role model

According to Vince Lombardi
A coach’s role is exhorting others to greatness

Another source states that the goal of coaching is to guide, inspire and empower the athlete to realize and develop his or her potential.

I’d like to note that winning the game does not appear on this list.

It turns out that someone has actually done a scientific study on parent expectations of coaches. The article is Parental expectations of coaches: Closing the communication gap, from the website In this study, parents listed coaching characteristics from most preferred to least. The top three characteristics are fairness and honesty in dealing with their athletes, ability to teach well, and commitment to the development of sportsmanship. The middle four characteristics are knowledge of the skills of the sport, commitment to having their players enjoy the game, knowledge of the rules of the game, and knowledge of prevention, care and rehabilitation of injuries. The bottom three characteristics are experience as a player in the sport, providing an experience that will improve player’s chances at playing at a higher level, and commitment to winning.

Yes, that’s right. Winning did appear on this list but it came dead last.

Other things parents in this study cited as important aspects of coaching are engaging athletes, building rapport, creating positive learning environments, sequencing of tasks, organization of practices, providing appropriate feedback, and teaching life lessons. Parents and players expect a lot from a coach. The combination of skills and talents that make an effective coach can be hard to find in one person. It is an both an art and a science. It is not an easy job to do well.

So what do the coaches expect from the parents? They expect a pain in the ass, that’s what. This may come as a news flash to some parents out there: coaches don’t really like you.

I found the following quote while searching around on websites designed for helping coaches deal with parents:
A famous coach once said that there are only two groups of parents. The secret of good coaching is keeping the 50% of parents you don't like away from the 50% upon whom have not yet decided.

In an article titled Tips for a Little League Coach Dealing with Troublesome Parents the author states that the biggest problem in Little League seems to be the behavior of the children’s parents. He counsels “If there is a parent that a little league coach is having a problem with, give him a job to do. . . if nothing else it will at least give them some busy work to do and they won't have as much time to complain.” Come on. Busy work?

In another article published by Scholastic, written for coaches and titled Dealing with parents in the 21st century, the author states, “Parents seem to fit into one of three groups. 80% is rational, intelligent and will be supportive and work diligently for the success of the program. 10% will be overly involved in their children’s activities, the final 10% will be wholly unrealistic about everyone’s potential. “

From my observations of many soccer, Little League, basketball, football, and school team parents, I think those ratios are about right. Those 20% of parents are giving the rest of us a bad name. You know who you are. Remove yourself from the gym (or field as the case may be).

So what are the roles of a parent? Clearly being a pain in the ass for the coach should not be one of them.

Roles of a Parent
According to my 12 year old athlete
Support kids by asking and caring about what their kids are learning. Period.

According to me (mother of player)
Make sure player is well rested, well fed, and on time to practices and games
Supportive of child’s efforts
Refrains from coaching from the sidelines

According to my husband (father of player)
Supportive of player and coach
Positive encouragement
Be involved (work in the snack shack)

Parents in the role of Cancer??

More Sport Videos at

Obviously there are differing opinions on the parenting role. I think the disconnect comes from a lack of communication, particularly on the coach’s part, of what they expect from the parents. There are lots of ways to do this, from parent meetings to written contracts. If a coach can’t communicate well with the parents, is he or she communicating well with the players? It makes you wonder. I found a short video online from a coach who found a very effective and innovative way to communicate his message with parents. My sons have been on quite a few teams, and I have never seen a coach do this, but this is something I would certainly be receptive to as a parent. I’m sure this coach has very few issues with parents, and the parents have very few issues with him. Watch this video:

More Sport Videos at

What about the role of the player? This sees a little easier to define.

Roles of a Player
According to 12 year old athlete
Work hard
Give it your all
Listen to the coach and try to learn from him
Make sure you have fun. If you’re not, figure out the problem. If you can’t solve it yourself, ask an authority for help.

According to me (mother of athlete)
Puts out as much effort as they are capable
Listen to coach

According to my husband (father of athlete)
Have fun
Improve skills
Make friends

I’d like to note that winning the game does not appear on this list either.

One more reason the player/coach/parent love triangle is not equilateral and can be unstable is that the coach has a lot of power. I don’t think coaches are very good at remembering the powerful and influence they have over their players. Coaches have the power to inspire a love or a hate of the game, and have the power to help the player tap into his strengths and realize weaknesses. I think a coach that does not use this power in a positive way can do long lasting damage to a player’s athletic life. That’s when the parent has to step in to protect their child.

I’d like to think that with some better communication and some mutual respect, the members of the love triangle can get along a little better.

Athletics not only build character, they reveal it. This is certainly true for all three members of the triangle, win or lose. Don't get me wrong. I like my childrens' teams to win, but I know the real lesson is in the loss.


Anonymous said...

I know you have heard this a thousand times while growing up. In my early years of college, I was coaching, refereeing, several sports activities fo the YMCA in SO CAL. One bit of advice that has worked well in all those venues- "The more you practice-- The luckier you get".
Looking back-Dad

Anonymous said...

I just came across your blog .. (researching for my own draft) I coach girls. I liked this post and I will be sending this out with my "parent contract" this year.