Kids Playing Sports? Keep Your Inner Coach In Check


Are your kids playing organized sports? If so, have you ever had the urge to step in and “coach” from the bleachers? I have and it is one of the hardest things to stop doing. But it is what you need to do. The coach will appreciate it, other parents will appreciate it and most importantly, your kid will appreciate it.

Our oldest started playing indoor soccer in the fall and will be moving on to outdoor soccer in the summer. It is his first taste of organized sports and playing on a team. It is his first time being coached by someone other than me. It is his first change to showcase his own self on the playing field.

As a parent who grew up playing sports, it is hard to watch and not want to chime in. Like many dads in particular, we have created this alternative memory of just how good we were at a sport and want to pass it on to our kids.

I played soccer most of my life. I like to think I was pretty good. I know the rules, the tricks and what should be done on the pitch. What I have never done is coach kids how to do it. They are unlike teenagers or other adults. They need to “get it” on their own and without patience, things can go south.

I have kicked the ball around with Harry for years. He loves it. He is good at it. It only makes sense he will be a natural at any sports he wants to play. But that is not how it goes.

Playing one on one with dad is a whole different world than playing on a team with other kids and a coach. You have to learn to share, work together and be a good teammate. All things I want Harry to learn of course. So we started soccer and I figured all would go how it should.

After the first week, it was clear, Harry had his own idea of playing soccer, and there is nothing wrong with that.

He loves to run. He is a tall 5-year old, so he looks like an antelope sprinting up and down the floor. He is always having fun and smiling. The one thing he did not have much interest in – the ball. He loved to just run and follow the play. Following the heard so to speak. If the ball came at him, he kicked it, but he would never seek it out.

This for me was hard to watch. I would fidget in my seat. I wanted to take him aside and coach him on what to do. I even yelled a few times with words of encouragement. He simply brushed me off and went back to the game he was playing in his head. I think the term I used when describing the night to Katie was space cadet. I had to not let it make me go crazy.

Each time Harry came off to have a drink, I would fall into coach mode and start filling his head with what to do, where to go and things to try. He had none of it. He just drank his water and laughed with his friends over what happened on Digimon.

Then I heard the coach sharing words of encouragement to the boys and girls. Things as simple as “great running”, “awesome job” and “be ready to go again”. That’s when I figured it out. I had to stop coaching and simply be dad. I wanted Harry to be Messi on the first night of his soccer career. It’s not that I am delusional. I just want the best for my boys. I want him to be better than I was. Basically I want him to achieve what I could not. All wrong.

I had to keep my coaching to myself and just be there as dad.

Each time Harry went out, he would dart up and down the floor, playing his own game of tag. If the ball happened to get in the way, he kicked it the right way (most of the time). I would start to say something and I would shut it down. It was hard to filter myself and not be that guy.

I looked around and there were other parents doing the same. Coaching from the sidelines and getting really into it. Their kids also seemed to tune them out. I did not want Harry to do that to me. I needed to stop and keep the thoughts in my head.

The only outlet was to come home and share it all with Katie and she would quickly point out that he is five and as long as he is having fun, who cares. He is not trying out for the National Team, it’s Timbits.

I read so many stories of aggressive parents at sporting events who yell, fight and cause a real scene and I always comment on how stupid it is. But as I sit there watching Harry put a pylon on his head instead of doing drills, I can see how it can happen. I can see how a parent can go from sane and caring to over the top idiot, all in the name of their kid.

Competitive juices flow. You hate to see your kid get scored on. But you let it happen and let the coach be the voice that is heard. I want Harry to understand authority. He listens to teachers and coaches now better than I think he listens to me and I don’t have a problem with that. As long as he has respect and understands who is in charge, I can say we did our job as parents.

This is only the start. It is only going to get harder with each sport and each year that goes by. What happens when someone hurts Harry or Harry hurts them. What happens when Harry gets cut when I firmly believe he shouldn’t. It’s going to be tough.

But it is not about me. It’s about Harry and his enjoyment of a sport or activity. As long as he can say he had fun afterwards, that is all that truly matters. I can save my back seat coaching for when I watch Toronto Raptors games.


  1. Joe Clifford

    Yup. Learining exp. for all. I have 2 lessons I learned – one I learned as a parent, one as a teacher.
    – During Ry’s first year of “organized” soccer, his team ran into a buzz saw in the person of a recent arivee from Ireland. This kid was WAY better than anybody else. On the sidelines, we lost count of how many goals he scored. 8? 10? 12? Who knew. After the game, I was milling around chatting with other parents. Ry came trotting up to me. “We win?” he asked. “Nope” I replied. “Oh”. He trotted off.
    – It’s hard to let the coach coach. Especially in these kids leagues where the coaches aren’t really coaches – probably parents willing to volunteer, willing to be involved and just give it a go. Parents need to appreciate that and give them a lot of rope. A warning sign, though, is what I call “coaching by rhetorical question” (I occasionally saw teachers teaching this way). If a coach falls into saying things like “what are you doing over there?” or “why did you do that?” it’s a problem. This does nobody any good and serves only to embarrass the player. In my opinion, if this begins to happen, sensitive and diplomatic conversations need to be had. Give the kids direct suggestions. They want to do it correctly, they want to be told what to do, they want to learn.
    Have fun Michael. As you already know, it goes by fast.

    • Thanks for the comment Joe. I was highly impressed with the patience and positive attitude of Harry’s coach.

  2. Joe Clifford

    Oh, one more thing —
    When kids first start to play with other kids, adults emphasize sharing, taking turns – you know, pro-social behaviors.
    When they start team sports, coaches and parents encourage them with phrases like “go get the ball”, “take it away from him”, etc..
    I know many kids think “What the…?”.
    I could see the confusion in Ry’s eyes.

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