The Parent Crap. And Sport.

One of the problems in coaching is that no one prepares you for problem parents. They are a curse. Opinionated. Especially if they bring a small degree of their professional expertise into any debate. “Well I am a social worker.” Indeed.

Man at work. The communication chord.

Being a parent myself I can see the trap in watching my own children develop. Once when my daughter went to dancing I watched, increasingly irate, as the teacher put a group of four year olds through a stretching routine that was inappropriate and then separated them according to who had dancing shoes and who didn’t.

Cáit being without dancing shoes became distraught, and being annoyed at seeing her upset, I had a sudden burst of Dance Teacher Rage. It was unbecoming of me but it certainly alarmed the teacher. Although we laughed about it at home it educated me as to what I was capable of. It wasn’t pretty.

It is a typical occurrence, some parents can’t help it. Because our children move through life formed and driven by our DNA they also carry with them our insecurities, paranoia and psychoses.

When they demonstrate characteristics that are not obviously inherited by either parent we gaze at them and wonder ‘where did that come from’. For me the biggest problem with children is that too many parents project their own life failures onto them and try to relive their life through their children in the hope of success. Redemption? To fix their own fuck ups?

They agonise over their every success and failure. They bollock the child who doesn’t know any better and may already be doing their best and incapable of exceeding it.

I read recently one parent express their frustration at the communication failure of the coaches dealing with her child. It was all the coach’s fault of course. It always is. The diatribe was backed up with a load of textbook crap.

The difficulty in coaching is that if we constantly point out mistakes and errors and are critical the child becomes conditioned to expect this as the default position.

I asked a group recently to tell me what they had done well and none could answer. Therein lies the tale.


My first rule of coaching would be this. Drop your children off and then go home. Second, don’t come to any matches unless separated from the action by soundproof glass (sadly I have to come across a pitch that offers this facility). Third of all, please note both the above criteria doubly apply if you are a teacher, social worker or any sort of do-gooder profession where you think you know it all and sports coaches know damn all. Fourthly, do not coach your own children.

Parents inevitably have an inflated opinion of their son or daughter’s capability. It is compounded if they know little or nothing about the game itself. Then they patrol the sideline and they only really see one thing. Their own child.

They praise him or her when he or she scores a goal. They object when he is put in goals or she is asked to defend. All they see is the end product. John Wooden said it takes ten hands to score a basket. He’s right. No player can score without the other members of the team playing their part. Other skills need praised. Positioning, disciplined play, passing, tackling, taking frees. There’s plenty going on beyond hitting the back of the net.

Personally I want the children I am coaching to develop as rounded wee footballers or hurlers. Parents are entitled to their opinion but unless they are prepared to get involved in a meaningful way they are out of order.

For that reason I prefer not to coach my own children. I am prone to lapse into parent projector mode – I tell them what to do and get frustrated when they don’t. The alternative is let them learn on the job. Decision-making is the hardest skill to coach. Even with senior players it is difficult although arguably by that stage they are no longer able to change ways that have been set in stone for years. A coach recently shouted at my son to ‘Shut your mouth and do what you’re told.” I let it pass. That was the best thing for him. He makes his own decisions on the pitch. When it comes to scoring goals and passing I frequently come home delighted.

So what do we do with these parents other than send them home? Well educate them. Especially those that have not been involved in team play in sport. They need to learn that part of being a team is doing what is best for the team. And at underage participation is important as is learning the discipline of playing different positions. And as a parent sometimes the best thing to do is shut your mouth, watch and listen.

In the last week we had a situation where a senior player having played as a forward and been pigeon holed as a forward was tried out in defence and was a revelation. It is a failure of coaching to date that this wasn’t realised before. The smiles resulting from a decent performance were worth the trip alone. She knows who she is.

In later years the competitive instinct may receive greater emphasis. That’s not to say children aren’t competitive. They are. My nine-year-old son is possibly the most competitive person I have ever met and he has been like that since he was a toddler. He is skilful at sport and very confident in his own ability which potentially marks him out as one to watch but also means he could have to learn to live with crushing disappointment.

He says to me. What was the best thing I did today? And what’s my answer. Well. Sometimes I think I should stop everyday. And ask myself the same question. And so should you.

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