Wearing Two Hats – Coaching Your Own Kid

I recently finished a really good book by Gordon Maclelland of the Working With Parents in Sports organization. The book, Two Hats, is a guide for coaching your own children – that is, wearing two hats: parent and coach. It’s a quick read (only 180 small pages with good sized font) that has much good advice for the parent who is considering coaching their own child in youth sports. Maclelland offers similar guidance I cover in my coaching clinics as well as some I hadn’t considered.

In my last round of coaching clinics, I asked the coaches participating what they’re primary concern is when coaching their own child. Here are the responses from one of the clinics (thanks again to Mentimeter):

These likely mirror the general concerns you would have when it comes to coaching your own child. Further, they are all covered in Two Hats. The book starts with where parents should start – having conversations with their child and family members about the implications in terms of time, commitment, and other dynamics of taking on this responsibility. This chapter introduces the format Maclelland uses throughout the book: discussing the topic and then closing with Key Points; in general, then for Parents to consider, and finally for Coaches to consider. The book then covers the positive aspects and challenges of coaching your own child (highlighting much of what the coaches in my clinics identify as their concerns).

The longest chapter is ‘Starting as You Mean to Go On’. If that sounds a bit funny to you, that may be because the Working With Parents in Sports organization is based in the United Kingdom. Readers of the book will figure this out as words like ‘kit’, ‘pitch’, and ‘garden’ (apparently that is what folks in the UK say when referring to their backyard!) are peppered throughout. Although highlighting just how different the Queen’s English can be from how we say things stateside, I didn’t find the language interfering at all with my enjoyment in reading the book. The chapter covers Setting Up the Season, Communication with Parents, and the ever-important Pre-Season Parents Meeting.

Two chapters are devoted to the ‘conversations in the car’; both on the way to the game and the crucial post-game conversations. I appreciate the recommendations that “Any advice on how to perform better from you in the car (on the ride to a game) is adding stress to your child’s situations” and that parent coaches should try to ensure the car ride to the game is as normal a car ride as possible. Much is made about the how parents handle the car ride home. Too many times, it can become an over-critical rehashing of the errors and mistakes made during the game. Trust me (and Maclelland), your children know what they did wrong in the game; there’s no need for you – in such proximity to when it actually happened – to go over them. Maclelland suggests you should

“Get your ‘coaches’ hat’ off as quickly as possible and certainly it should be gone by the time you get back into the car.”

The book closes with leading sports figures (none of whom I recognized, but again the author is writing from a UK perspective) telling their stories about coaching their own children. Each coach explains how they came to coach their own child; the best parts and challenges they faced; their relationship to other parents; what they might do differently if they had it to do over again, and then their top 3 tips for parent coaches. Honestly, I think too many pages are spent on this aspect of the book. There really aren’t many new insights brought forth from these – mostly professional – sports coach/parents.

In addition to the material I share in my clinics, which you can see for yourself here (the Coaching Your Own Child part starts at 3:38 of the video), I thought I’d answer the same questions posed to the leading sports figures in the book (I’m in no way implying that I am a leading sports figure…at least I’m not one yet!):

In what circumstances did you coach your own child?

I just did it. I guess I saw my dad coach me when I was a kid – so, I had a good example. I will share a story about why I coach. When we first moved to the Los Angeles area, I didn’t know anyone and was reluctant to step up and be the head coach of my boys’ Little League baseball team. I told the head coach I’d help out, though. Although he was a decent youth baseball coach, there was one aspect he and I disagreed on. There was a player on the boys’ team that was awkward, unathletic, and might have had a learning disability. The coach marginalized that player; i.e. he wasn’t coached to improve and didn’t get a lot of playing time. I have always felt that every player should get the same amount of coaching and opportunity to play and improve. After the season, my wife – who I often fail to recognize enough for how much of a partner she has been and continues to be in this youth sports coaching journey – told me that if I wanted to have the players coached the way I thought they should be…I’d have to be the coach. From them on, I was the head coach of all my children’s teams.

What were the best parts of coaching your own child?

The best part was all the time we spent together. And I think the overwhelming majority of that could be characterized as ‘quality time’. I also appreciated seeing up close how they improved in ability and grew to have a desire for athletics and sports, in general. I really liked seeing how Jacen picked up the strategic aspect of the game – once calling a play (we didn’t have in our playbook) that resulted in a touchdown in a flag football game. For Cameron, I liked seeing him find something he really wanted and working for it; in his case, playing baseball competitively.

What were the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenges were them treating me differently on the field than they did at home and me treating them differently from the other players. I recount both of these with stories in the clip of my lesson in one of my coaching clinics.

What was your relationship like with other parents?

Generally speaking, fantastic. I suggest this because many of them resonated with my philosophy such that they asked to have their children play on my teams again – and once a group of parents asked me to coach a season after my boys had aged out of the league. I made some friends of the parents, particularly those who helped out as assistant coaches.

If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?

The advice in Two Hats about taking off my coaching hat, particularly in the car ride home, was somewhat convicting. I believe I struggled with that a bit and might have coached the boys all the way to the house (or dinner; wherever we were headed) in the car. I’d try to be more deliberate about just being a supportive dad in the car ride home. There’s time for coaching them up later.

What are your top three tips for parent coaches?

  • Treat your children the same as you treat the other players – i.e. do not be tougher on them because they’re you’re own children
  • Don’t short-change them playing time; looking back, when there was any doubt who should play, I always deferred to other children – perhaps cheating my boys of playing time
  • Be more positive than negative – this is a subset of the first recommendation as I was pretty good at doing this with the other children, but was probably not good enough at it with my own boys

In summary, I appreciated the book for its recommendations that, in many cases, reinforced what I teach in my clinics. I also liked how it afforded me the chance to think about this topic a little deeper. I’ll be incorporating some of the specific tips in my clinics. I recommend reading the book.

Published by Chad Millette

I am a father, a husband, a retired Air Force officer, and a dedicated youth recreational sports advocate.

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