The Parent - A Vital Part of the Coaching Team

Iain Highfield
  • Author: Iain Highfield
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Parent playing golf with kids

Common sense, as well as multiple research studies, leads us to believe that the parental influence is a major factor in the development of a student athlete.

Yet, I have been in countless conversations where coaches claim that a parent is crazy and have done very little to change this.

The parental motives, education and experiences will massively impact the environment to which the junior athlete is exposed. They will also impact their initial temperament, behavior and, eventually, their personality. These factors are highly linked to performance.

So, what is the role of a coach? By the sheer definition of the word, coaching is developing techniques to enhance an individual's skills, knowledge, or performance. If we are aware that parental expectations or beliefs are impacting the athlete, is it not a coach’s duty to present the parents with the danger of their current mindset?

Attempting this difficult conversation could influence environmental shifts that will not only enhance the student’s skills, knowledge and performance, but will help them enjoy organized sports.

Part of my coaching make up has been to involve the parent as much as I can. I have met so many parents whose motives are pure and whose passion is energizing. The only issue is that this passion and energy is too often channeled in the wrong direction. Chiefly, aiming itself squarely at extrinsic and result-orientated goals.

I have been amazed how a small amount of education through recommended reading and YouTube videos has impacted the mindset of some of the parents with which I work. Not to mention the visible impacts on the student’s attitude and performance.

The problem begins somewhere other than any individual parent or their well-intentioned interventions. 

We live in a world of instant gratification. If you want to lose weight, you can buy a pill. If you want to get strong in the gym, drink this powder. We, as human beings, are nothing if not impatient beasts.

A mother, daughter, son, and father

So, in a society that creates and values instant results over hard work and resilience, this can influence a parent’s view of how athletic development should occur. However, athletic development is unaware of the fickleness of society, and improving remains a nonlinear process where results are not always an indication of learning.

Outcome orientation is a dangerous mindset for a student, as their desire for results will often supersede their willingness to develop character traits that are indicative of athletic mastery. A great video that I have used to educate parents and set students' practical and engaging tasks that help build resilience can be found at https://youtu.be/jVQ8biAVeU0.

I believe, as coaches, we have the opportunity to make interventions that can have lasting influence, and change the notion that a junior athletes results are the only measure of their performance and an infallible predictor of their future successes. We can also make lasting change on the individual, helping them disassociate their personal identity from a result, freeing them from the need for instant gratification. Instead, we can help them become enamored with the thought of using sport to develop the psychological characteristics of excellence required to be successful in the game of life.