Q: [School-Aged] New school year, new coach and my daughter feels like he “doesn’t like” her. This is a first, and her examples of being treated differently than other players seem to back up her sense. I feel the need to step in because my young athlete has a valid complaint, but could it be seen as interference and lead to consequences from the coach?
A: It sounds like such a basic question, “How involved should I be in coach communication for my child?” The answer is, well…. complicated. Good news is you are far from alone and you are correct to proceed with some caution. This is one of the most common questions I field from parents.
Off the top of my head, here are some of the factors to consider when deciding what your family policy might be regarding coach communication. And yes, if your child plays the same sport for more than one season, you will find having a policy on this issue is a very good idea!
- Developmental stage of your child.
- Self-esteem risks to your child.
- Judgment from teammates and club families.
- Sport performance as an indicator of parenting effectiveness.
- Stress level of coaches.
- Communication style of coaches.
… and this is just the beginning of the list!
As with most parenting decisions these days, I’ve found that increased access to information combined with elevated achievement goals often leads to analysis paralysis for the most well intentioned parents. So I suggest a simplified approach.
Allowing communication to be led by your child in these situations is an important gift! You are gifting them the opportunity to develop verbal skills and independence. Let’s be honest, verbal communication will now have to be overtly taught given the dramatic influence of mobile devices and social media preferences. These gifts of communication should be celebrated and taken full advantage of. Why? Children who are not allowed this chance to talk to coaches are less likely to know how to assert their boundaries, develop empathy for others, and assert their personal needs in future relationships with authority figures. In my experience, the potential growth far outweighs the potential for misstep or disappointment in these situations.
Communication with coach should be a CHILD’S responsibility IF the concern is about:
- Relationship with Teammates
- Playing Time
Communication with a coach should be a PARENT’S responsibility IF the concern is about:
If your child is being bullied or is being placed in harms way, treat communication with coaches and/or league officials the SAME way you would if the setting were a school or daycare. Fears of coach’s retaliation go out the window at this point. Bottom line: safety is safety regardless of the sporting context.
What about that in between space? If you are concerned that your child is not ready to lead the conversation quite yet, consider these tips:
- Role Play the conversation to increase confidence and confirm appropriateness of what they want to say.
- Offer “Oreo” feedback. “I loved when you said ____. What if you changed ______ to _____? You also presented ______ very well.”
Have your child schedule the conversation in advance so the coach is prepared to dedicate a few minutes and no one is blindsided.
Hopefully these suggestions will set your family up for success and allow you to parent with confidence!
Casey Cooper, Ph.D. has worked with athletes, families and teams for over 15 years at college counseling centers (USC, UCLA, UCI) and in private practice. Her clients include pro athletes from the NFL, NBA, PGA, and the USOC. Dr. Casey is married to her college sweetheart and has one daughter, who happens to be a competitive, teenage athlete. www.drcaseycooper.com