Your role as parent v coach

So, you think you have it tough drawing the line between being a parent and a coach? How would you like to be a Hall of Fame athlete and have to try to make that distinction?

That’s the topic of an article called Parent First, Coach Second on the Responsible Coach site from Liberty Mutual. (It’s a great site, by the way, and one to which you should consider subscribing.)

The focus of the article is on NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana and his relationship with his two sons, both college quarterbacks. In it, Joe talks about how he had to learn to back off and let his sons come to him for advice rather than always trying to tell them what to do.

Think about it. You’re Joe Freaking Montana, one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. You have accolades out the wazoo, and an incredible knowledge of the game. Yet when you try to give your son a little help on his game, he doesn’t see all that. He sees his danged Dad getting in the way again. That should make all of you who either coach your own kids formally or work with them on the side feel a little better about yourselves.

Drawing that line is one of the toughest parts of youth sports. I know, because I did it for 20-some years between coaching my own kids in soccer and fastpitch softball. But this isn’t reserved only for those who are a team coach. Anyone who wants to help their son or daughter succeed in their chosen sport faces this dilemma.

How many times have you stood on the sidelines yelling instructions to your young athlete, even though you’re not the coach? Or worse yet, someone else’s kid? How many times have you gotten in the car after the game and gone on and on for the duration of the car ride, dissecting each play and analyzing the whole thing ad nauseum? How many times have you made your kid go out and practice after a game when you didn’t feel their performance was up to snuff?

I know I’ve done all of them at one time or another. I’m not proud of it, but admitting it is the first step to getting past it.
What’s important to remember is that no matter what your capabilities or past accomplishments are in the world of sports, your first responsibility to your children is to be their parent. Be the one who supports them, who picks them up when they’re down, who loves them unconditionally — even if they did swing at that 0-2 changeup in the dirt you and everyone else at the field knew was coming.

Yes, be there to help, but let your player decide when it’s time. You can’t force it. I know.

About 10 or so years ago, I tried to teach my son Eric how to hit a baseball. By that time I’d already built a pretty good track record working with boys and girls, and I knew I could help him improve. But he didn’t want any part of it. He resisted everything I told him mightily, and copped an attitude with me when I tried to work with him. I got mad, but then realized it was pointless. So I told him fine, if you want to do it your way go ahead. Have at it.

After a season of futility he came to me and said, “Ok Dad, I’m ready now. I will do whatever you tell me to do.” He was true to his word, and his hitting improved dramatically after an off-season of work. He wound up getting a lot of extra base hits in the rest of his career, and working on his hitting became a bonding time for both of us. We still talk about it, in fact. But it only worked because he chose to have me coach him. And during his games, if I wasn’t on the coaching staff I just sat back and enjoyed the game as his parent.

So what about you? What have your experiences been? Have you learned how to draw the line between parent and coach, or do you still struggle with it? And if you have any war stories of your own (either as a parent or as a player), be sure to share them in the comments section below.


About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on October 29, 2010, in Coaching, Parents. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. It’s tough to find a good balance between coaching and being a parent. I find that most dads that coach are much tougher on their daughters than they are on the other kids on the team. This can lead to their children feeling like they are being singled out. I know because I’ve been guilty of this myself and had to rein myself in a bit.


  2. Michael, it seems to go to one extreme or the other in my experience. Either Coach Dad is all about his daughter, giving her every opportunity and every break, or in the interest of being “fair” he pretty much screws over his own daughter. I was always guilty of the latter, as my wife would point out. If I needed a kid to sit out a little more, it was my own daughter as often as not. Fortunately she was a good pitcher so I could somewhat justify it on the basis of we needed to keep her fresh to pitch. But still, I probably could’ve put her on the field a little more. It definitely is also easier to come down on your own daughter, again sometimes just to show you’re not playing favorites. That’s where a little talking goes a long way. I can definitely say it’s easier being a non-parent coach. If I come down on a kid now, it’s because she needs it. And there are no repercussions for my daughter because she’s not on the team. I heard a good one at the NFCA Coaches College today. I think it was a Lou Holtz-ism. “I’m here to be your coach. If you want a friend, buy a dog.”


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