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Balancing Parenting and Coaching

Being a parent is a difficult job, but here's a surprise: Coaching your son or daughter's soccer team is equally tricky. After you step inside the white lines, and your child straps on the shin guards, you're likely to encounter an assortment of issues. Most of them should be minor, but some may be problems that you never even dreamed of dealing with before. Don't panic! Although coaching your child can be complex and confusing, it can also be, if handled properly, an extremely rewarding experience for both of you. Sure, you'll probably experience occasional bumps along the way, but if the two of you work together, you'll enjoy some very special memories to savor for a lifetime.

And take comfort in the fact that you're not alone. Approximately 85 percent of all volunteer soccer coaches have their own sons or daughters on the team, so you're venturing into common parenting territory.

Kicking around the decision with your kid

Before you decide to grab the whistle and clipboard and assume the role of soccer coach, sit down with your child and gauge how she feels about you overseeing the team this season. If you don't ask her how she feels, you'll never know. Many youngsters are thrilled to have their dad or mom as coach, and if you see that sparkle in your child's eyes when you bring the subject up, that makes all the time and effort you put into the season well worth it.

On the other hand, some children — for whatever reason — aren't going to feel comfortable with the idea and would prefer that their parents don't coach the teams. Take your child's wishes into account before making the decision to step forward.

Here are a few tips to help you reach the right decision on whether you and your child are ready for you to pick up the coaching whistle:

  • With your child's help, put together a list of all the positives and negatives about being the coach. On the positive side, you may list that the two of you will be spending more time together than before and that, as the coach, you'll ensure that your child and the rest of the team have fun as they learn new skills. Resolve the negatives by working with your child to develop solutions. For instance, your child may expect to play a certain position simply because you're his parent. Explain that you must be fair to everyone and can't show favoritism and that your child and his teammates will have an equal chance to play different positions.
  • Examine your motivations. Don't take on the task of coaching your son or daughter if your goal is to make your child a star. You must be willing to do whatever is best for your child's overall development, and harboring thoughts of college scholarships and athletic stardom is simply a blueprint for trouble.
  • Explain to your child that being the coach is a great honor. The fact that he's "sharing" you with the other kids during games and practice sessions doesn't mean you love him any less. Explain to him that your responsibility is to help all the players on the team. Taking the time to explain your role to your child helps promote better understanding and reduces the chance of problems arising after the season gets under way.

After the two of you talk things through, take your child's thoughts seriously. If he still isn't comfortable with the idea, push your coaching aspirations to the side for the time being. You can revisit the subject with him the following season to measure his feelings. Just because he isn't ready this season doesn't mean he won't want you guiding his team next season or at some point in the future. The last thing you want to do is turn your child off to the sport and make him uncomfortable.

Focusing on family-friendly field rules

If you and your child agree that having you grab the coaching reins is a good move, keep these tips in mind as you navigate through the season:

  • Remember that you're still the parent. Whether the team wins or loses, you have to step out of coaching mode and remember that first and foremost, you're a parent and that means asking your child whether she had fun and praising her for doing her best and displaying good sportsmanship. Take your child out for that post-game ice cream or pizza whether she scored a goal or tripped over the ball on a breakaway.
  • Keep talking. To effectively monitor how the season is going, you want your child to understand that she can come to you with a concern or problem at any time. Just because you're the coach doesn't mean that certain topics are now off limits.
  • Don't push practice at home. If your child has a bad practice, you may be tempted to work with her on specific skills as soon as you get home. Never push your child in this direction. In casual conversation, ask her whether she wants to spend a few extra minutes practicing a certain skill that may be giving her a bit of trouble. If she does, that's great, but if not, let it go. Pushing your child to perform extra repetitions can drain her interest in the sport.
  • Never compare siblings. Let your child develop at her own rate. She should never feel burdened by your expectations to control or kick a soccer ball as well as her brother did at his age. This type of comparison can crush her self-esteem and smother her confidence.
  • Praise, praise, praise! Be sure to praise your child's willingness, understanding, and cooperation in this special venture. Coaching your child can be one of the most rewarding experiences you ever have, but it isn't always easy.
  • Be careful with car conversations. A lot of adults have the natural tendency to replay the game on the drive home, and that's perfectly okay if the youngster is an enthusiastic participant in the discussion. But if the game didn't go as well as you planned, refrain from dissecting every mistake, and don't spend the ride probing the youngster for reasons why the team lost or why she didn't perform up to the best of her ability.
  • Refrain from pushing too hard. All parents naturally want their kids to excel, no matter what the activity. In a sport like soccer, sometimes parents go overboard and take their newfound coaching position to the extreme by viewing the position as a chance to control their child's destiny. When this happens, the youngster's experience is unfairly compromised because the parent typically pushes her harder than the other kids, demands more from her, and piles on criticism when she's unable to fulfill the unfair expectations. When parents lose sight of the big picture of what youth soccer is all about, problems materialize that impact the child's emotional well-being, as well as her interest in learning and playing soccer.

Coaching your kid can be a great experience for both of you, but the job can feel a bit like walking a tightrope at times as you try to avoid two common traps that many coaches (especially coaches who are unfamiliar with their roles) tend to fall into. Ideally, your behavior should fit somewhere between these two extremes:

  • Providing preferential treatment: Parents naturally lean toward showing preferential treatment to their own children, whether they realize it or not. Typically, they give their children extra playing time; shower them with more attention during practices and games; and assign them special duties, such as team captain. Showing favoritism throws your child into a difficult spot with her teammates and weakens team camaraderie.
  • Overcompensating to avoid the preferential-treatment label: Coaches can also go too far out of their way to ensure that no one thinks they're giving preferential treatment to their children. Quite often, the coach will reduce his child's playing time or give his child less one-on-one instruction during practices. Taking away playing time from your child to steer clear of the favoritism issue does, in effect, create a negative atmosphere for your child. She will question why you're punishing her unfairly.
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