The Joy — and Pain — of Coaching Your Own Kid

It’s not always easy being both coach and mom or dad, but these expert tips can help

Sue Pierce

| 4 min read

Canva/MOJO

I first coached my daughter in tee-ball and, overall, my time with the Purple Puppies was awesome. I triumphed when every girl knew to run to first base — not third — after a hit. Another win: Watching the girls catch with their gloves, not their bare hands. But there were struggles. I wanted to hug Maggie after a bad fall, but didn’t want to give her special attention. As she got older and had fiery opinions on batting order or field positions, I found myself reprimanding her in a way I would never talk to another player. I used my angry eyes. 

Like parenting itself, coaching your own kid is complicated. In a research brief, Professors Peter Witt and Tek Dangi, of Texas A&M University, dug into what makes it work — and why, sometimes, it doesn’t. Some pros? No one knows your child better than you do, and coaching inevitably means more quality time together. The cons? All the awkward social-emotional stuff between you, your kid, their teammates and the other parents. 

Luckily, Witt and Dangi also provided some tips to make coaching your own child easier and more effective.

Embrace your alter ego

Something as simple as having your child call you “coach” on the field can help. And let them know what being a coach means. “Taking the time to explain your role to your child helps promote better understanding and reduces the chance of problems arising,” writes Greg Bach, of the National Alliance of Youth Sports, in Coaching Soccer for Dummies. 

Hold everyone to the same standard

Don’t be harder (or easier) on your own kid. As a parent-coach, I expected my daughter’s behavior to be better than everyone else’s. Not so realistic. It helped to pretend for a moment that she wasn’t my kid. If she wasn’t mine, what would I say to her right now? 

“Coaches can also go too far out of their way to ensure that no one thinks they’re giving preferential treatment to their children,” writes Bach. Make sure you’re giving them the same amount of turns to do the fun stuff. But they should pick up cones, too.

Keep emotions in check

Much of what makes it hard to coach your own child is rooted in the emotions at play. “A kid never forgets the time you yelled at him in front of 100 people,” write Witt and Dangi. Parents are more apt to lose their temper with their own child. The researchers suggest being delicate with discipline. “The louder you are, the less you will be heard.”

Pass to a teammate

The researchers underscore that parent-coaches should know their own coaching limitations and involve other coaches as needed. When it comes to instruction, sometimes your child may take it better from another coach. Vince Ganzberg, of United Soccer Coaches, has coached the sport for over 30 years. When it came to coaching his own son, he asked his assistant coach to step in. That said, his son wanted praise from him, too. “It was a balance,” Ganzberg tells MOJO.

Coach the parents, too

Your toughest opponents might be other parents. “There is always that perception that you’re putting your child in the best position to be successful,” says Ganzberg. Be proactive. Hold a parent meeting at the start of the season. Make it clear that you’re a parent of a player but that your goal is to help all kids succeed. “I think anytime you can be upfront with parents,” says Ganzberg, “that is always the best way, as opposed to being reactive.” 

Leave it on the field

Coaching is a golden opportunity for quality time with your child, but don’t overdo it. No kid wants their coach at breakfast every morning. Switch back to mom- or dad-mode once you’re off the field. Mix up the conversation in the car. As Witt and Dangi put it, Take off your coach’s hat at home.”

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