Coaching Kids for Life

Coaches are, next to the athletes themselves, the most important people in sports. Without coaches, athletes would not be as successful as they are. Teams wouldn’t win as often, games would be more chaotic, and individuals would struggle with the ups and downs of competition. As parents, we’re often in the role of coach for our kids. How can we start coaching kids for something way more important than a game — for life?

I’m not a sports person. I love my baseball games on the radio, and as a Canadian, being a hockey fan is almost a citizenship requirement. But playing sports is not my thing. However — my kids love participating in both individual and team sports. So, I’ve been at a few games and competitions. You know who else is always there? The coach.

What is a coach?

Coaches bring many skills and fill many roles in their position. They encourage and remind, they communicate and collaborate, they mentor and protect, and they plan and delegate.

Knowing who coaches are helps us to know what coaches do. And how to adapt that to parenting.

First, let’s look at what coaches DON’T do.

Coaches don’t play the game themselves.

You won’t find a coach out on the soccer field chasing the ball. Coaches aren’t out there tackling linemen, or catching fly balls. They aren’t on the ice skating.

Many athletes become coaches — and when they do, they stop playing the game themselves.

As parents, sometimes we get caught up in the game, we forget that it’s not our life. We can’t live our kids’ lives for them.

When we’re coaching kids, it can be hard not to want to run in there and do it for them. It feels like it’s easier, faster, and better right? But good coaches let the players play. And that’s no different for our kids.

We have to let them do it themselves.

If you want to be a good coach, you gotta take a step back.

Coaches watch from the sideline.

Coaching kids means doing a lot of watching! It’s stressful — but worth it.

It doesn’t matter what kind of athletic competition it is, coaches are never right beside their players. Tennis coaches stay outside the lines. Golf coaches aren’t on the fairway. Baseball coaches stay in the dugout.

They all watch the game from the outside.

We parents need to take a page from this book. When you’re coaching your kid, you can’t be right beside them. You have to give them some space.

Helicopter parenting isn’t coaching.

Coaches aren’t the referees.

In every game or competition, there’s this person who interprets the rules and makes the judgement calls. The referee, umpire, or judge is in charge of determining how the game is to be played.

These people are not the coach. And the coach is not in charge of determining how the game is played.

Coaches don’t get to make the rules. They don’t get to interpret the rules.

All coaches do is help their players follow the rules — and help them cope if they (or someone else) broke the rules.

As parents, we make the rules when our kids are young. We teach and train our kids to know these rules and why and how to follow them. But when we transition into a coaching role, it’s no longer our job to make the rules.

All we can do is trust that our kids know the rules — and help them cope if they experience the consequences of breaking the rules.

This is really challenging! As parents, we sometimes want to discipline our kids — especially teens — for coming close to breaking the rules, whether those are our house rules, the unspoken societal rules, or the law of the land.

Coaching kids means we’re not the ultimate authority anymore.

When we’ve stepped back into coaching, it’s no longer our job to discipline — but to help our kids deal with the natural consequences. So if they’re driving, and they get a speeding ticket, you can show up to court with them, but you shouldn’t yell at them for speeding. If they break a curfew, and the house rule consequence is to stay home from activities, you don’t get to take them anyway.

We’re not the judge anymore as coaches.

Coaching kids isn’t teaching or training.

While coaches may offer instruction or practice, they aren’t the trainers for the athletes. They aren’t the ones teaching the skills of the game to the players. Even at the youngest ages, coaches offer drills and practice time, but it’s parents and volunteers that do the instructing, while coaches keep everyone organized and on track.

As parents, a huge part of our job is teaching and training our kids. We teach them life skills and train them in values. We teach relationship skills and train them in habits.

But eventually, we have to trust that we did a good job, and take that step back to coaching. And then we’re no longer actively teaching — or at least not nearly as much. We aren’t training. We’re reminding. We’re giving them time and space to practice. We’re holding them accountable to their own accepted responsibilities and agreements.

But we’re not teaching them.

Good coaching is not about winning.

In one of my girls’ recreational baseball leagues, there was always a coach that was extremely competitive. This coach would yell at the teen umpires, and he’d yell at the little kids when they missed the ball. He would be confrontational with the coaches on the other teams. He’d push the kids to do more, go faster, swing the bat harder. His practices were heavy on drill and light on fun.

When we’re talking 5 & 6 yr old girls, it was almost cringe-worthy.

In the major league sports, good coaches know that winning games is important — but more important is the physical and mental well-being of their players. (Especially with the money invested in their salaries!) The coaches that push winning over everything else often end up with injured players, stressed staff, and a lack of team cohesiveness. But the coaches that prioritize team unity and individual health often win more often — and if they don’t win, they get great player and staff loyalty.

As parents, we can fall into this trap of pushing our kids to succeed. It’s natural to want them to do and be their best. But measuring them by the outward appearances of success — high grades, well-paying jobs, popularity — we might miss something more important: our kids’ well-being.

Pushing kids to succeed at the expense of their physical and mental health is a recipe for disaster.

Good coaches know that success isn’t measured by “winning” — it’s measured by growth.

So what do coaches actually do?

Coaches plan and delegate.

Running practices, building drills, scheduling training, the logistics of getting places — coaches make things happen. They are the organizers of the team, keeping everyone else on track and on schedule.

They also create the strategy to play the game, develop the plays and routines, choreograph what athletes do during competitions, and track the stats.

Parents do a lot of the same things, if you think about it. We’re the ones who run the home, schedule meals and chores, deliver our kids to all the various places, and keep track of everything that’s going on in the home and family. We also develop the strategies of parenting, develop the routines of our day, help our kids manage their time, and track all the stats, right down to what size shoe they might wear.

Coaches communicate.

Watching games on TV — or in the stands — you’ll often see a coach pulling aside a player and talking to them. What are they saying?

They’re giving info to the player about the other team, or reminding them of things they practiced. They’re checking on how the athlete is feeling and reminding them of their goals. They’re notifying them about upcoming training, or sharing a tip or trick that might help with the next move.

Coaches talk a lot. And they listen a lot — to their players, to the trainers and support staff, to the competitors and the judges of the game.

As parents, we need to be as good at communication with our kids as the major league coach is with their team. If you aren’t telling your kids the info they need to know, you’re sabotaging your kids’ chances to succeed. And if you aren’t listening to your kids and their supports, that’s sabotage too.

Coaches step in to protect them when needed.

Yes, I said coaches aren’t the referees. But sometimes the referees aren’t fair.

And that’s where coaches come in.

When the batter gets mad at the umpire’s call, the coach steps in to fight for their player — so the player doesn’t get thrown out of the game. When the quarterback gets targeted unfairly, coaches talk to the linesmen to protect their player. When the judges don’t give the points due, coaches will step in to advocate and take it up the chain.

Our kids might need to face the consequences they’ve earned when they break the rules — but life isn’t always fair. And our kids need a coach in their corner to step up, step in and fight for them. When bullies try to target our kids, when their store manager cuts their hours, when school teachers grade unfairly, it’s our job as parent coaches to step in and advocate for them. Even if we don’t succeed in changing that grade or getting the bully to back off, our kids need to know we’re there for them.

Coaches encourage. They are the biggest cheerleaders.

One of the favorite things my kids love about playing sports is when coach brings out the freezies. Those high fives at the end of a practice or game leave them with huge smiles. And when they make the play, hit the ball or score, hearing their coach celebrate with them is almost bigger than hearing mom cheer.

Good coaches will always leave their players feeling good about themselves and their performance. While sometimes, critical feedback is important to help players grow, good coaches will temper negative words with praise. Players who know that coach just wants them to reach their own goals feel respected and confident.

And isn’t that kind of feeling what we want for our kids?

If your first response to your child’s achievements is to tell them what they could have done better, you’re not coaching.

If your response to your child’s success is to complain it’s not enough, you’re not coaching.

Your kids aren’t going to want to tell you anything if you don’t celebrate their wins.

Yes, there’s always room for improvement. But do you tell them how to improve by focusing on what they did wrong? Or what they did right?

Do you leave your kids feeling capable and confident?

Coaches know their role.

If you’ve ever read about the really great coaches — the one that make the halls of fame — they almost always have this in common: they didn’t try to be more than what they were.

The good coaches weren’t trainers — they found good trainers and delegated. The best coaches fought for their players on the field and off — but they didn’t try to make the rules. Players who played for these coaches always talk about how the coach made them feel, and how much they respected the coach, and how much they learned from the coach.

Good coaches don’t need to try to be something other than what they are.

This is a truth that all parents need to really hear. You don’t need to be more than what you are right now to be the best parent to your kids.

All you need to do know your role.

Coaches make room for growth.

Ultimately this is the role of the coach: to provide the environment for their athletes to grow.

Whether that’s with access to training or practice, whether that’s with the right info about the time, place and opposition, or if it’s with exposure to consequences or protection from unfair treatment, good coaches give their players every tool they need to succeed. And good coaches encourage their players to be their best — without pushing them to win at all costs.

When we step into the coaching role as parents, we need to provide that same environment for our kids. We need to surround them with the mentors and trainers they need, with the time and space to practice what they’ve learned, and with the safe space to make mistakes and the support they need to face the consequences. We need to protect them when needed and cheer them on as they win, while reminding them of what’s truly important.

As parents, we’re coaching kids when we know our role, step back and step up as needed, and give our kids the tools they need.

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