Notice: This article was written by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'll start this article off with a disclaimer. Every family is a little different. What has worked for me may not work for you. However, the special relationship that wraps itself around a parent/child, coach/player combination is rare enough that all who have experienced it have knowledge worth sharing.
Most coaches start out as a parent trying to help their kids get the most out of sports. In the process, they help a lot of other kids, too. That's why the Coach's Notebook website was created. Its one parent/coach trying to help other parent/coaches teach the game of basketball. It can be a life-changing endeavor with countless, precious memories. I hope you decide to coach your kids.
This article is broken into sections. You can just read it through, or use the links below to jump down to whatever interests you.
How I got into coaching
My father was kind enough to coach me as I grew up. When I was 10, my Little League coach suddenly quit. He said, "I guess the team is yours now." My dad turned around to see whom the coach was talking to. Nobody was there. So, that's how it got started. Even though my dad never played much baseball, he stepped up to the plate, so to speak, and took a full swing.
For the next eight years, my dad was my coach. We talked about our teams a lot. We made up lineups and talked about plays. It never occurred to me that there would be a reason to resent him as a father/coach. One thing that made it easier was that there wasn't ever a question that I should be on the team or on the field. At least I never heard differently. Favoritism wasn't a concept I worried about.
Then, when I was about 17, Dad said I could pitch a particular game. That wasn't unusual. What was different was that he changed his mind and started another player as the pitcher. I was pretty upset and acted like a jerk for a few innings. Then, through no fault of the starting pitcher, Dad took him out and said I could pitch. When my friend came out of the game and threw his glove down in the dugout and said, "What did I do wrong?" That's when I understood favoritism. And, it was entirely my fault.
Dad went on to coach many more years of baseball. He was the best coach I ever had when it came to putting a team together and keeping things both competitive and fun all year long. I thank him for that, but there was another gift he gave me that I didn't see for a long time. back to top
My first team
As an adult, I played sports for many years. As my two boys grew up and started playing ball, I never thought about coaching. That little bomb went off in my head one day when I was watching some college basketball teams compete in the Great Alaska Shootout. At half time, two teams of fourth graders came out and had a little scrimmage. They had a blast and I knew I wanted help my kids play ball, just like my dad had done for me.
The next day, I went down to the Anchorage Community YMCA and asked if I could get my boys into the basketball program. The Director looked at me wearily, like he'd been asked that question a hundred times, and said, "No, we already had tryouts. Our teams are set." I was disappointed, but answered, "Yeah, but what if I coach?" The Director grinned and said, "Come on in and let's talk!" Next thing you know, I had a team of 5th grade boys. My older son was on it and my younger son was placed on a 2nd grade team.
I remember feeling pretty confident. I went to the first practice thinking about all the knowledge from my playing days that I could pass on. I was so naïve! The first thing I did was put the kids in two lines and made them run lay ups. They were OK until I asked them to shoot from the left side of the basket. They were horrible. I didn't know what to do. I stood there stupidly with the whistle in my mouth until finally a dad came on the court. He said, "I can't stand this anymore!" and took the basketballs from the kids. Then he had them do the lay ups without the basketballs. Without that particular distraction, they began to jump off the proper foot. I thought that was a pretty smart idea, which gives you an idea how clueless I was.
That team did pretty well. We went 9-3. Most of the kids went on to play varsity high school ball and a couple played in college. Not my doing, though. The parents of the better players moved their kids to a more advanced team the next season.
I learned a little, I guess, but that second season was pretty tough. We lost a few games by about 50, trying to compete against select teams. I realized that I needed to improve my game as a coach. I owed it to the kids to do that. back to top
My seasons as a two-team coach
As I coached my older son's 5th and 6th grade seasons, my younger son was playing as a 2nd and 3rd grader. I went to watch his games, of course. After a couple of seasons of experience, I was anxious to see what I could do with his 4th grade team the following season. The YMCA director was cooperative and set up my practices so that my younger team worked in the same gym right before my older team, now seventh graders. The older kids were great for demonstrating plays and skills.
That season and the following season (when the boys were in 5th and 8th grades) were especially rewarding. The older team brought in some new friends and our talent level rose dramatically. They won their championship as 8th graders and finished 33-1 that year. The younger team was made up of very ordinary kids who loved to play ball. They exemplified how powerful a cooperative team could be. In their 5th grade year, they competed in two leagues and played over 40 games.
The time commitment wasn't too bad. With the organized practice schedule and the help of the YMCA making sure our games didn't conflict, the season was busy, but manageable. Sometimes we had to go from one game to another across town. It was fun, and I recommend it to the parent/coach who has the energy and organization to pull it off. If you really love the coaching, it seems like you can't get enough of it. Then, running two teams is not a problem. If you're just too busy, though, don't let yourself get trapped. Once the season becomes a burden, you'll burn out in no time. back to top
Moving up or moving over
As the kids got older, their teammates began to fall into two groups. One group was made up of the players who wanted to spend every minute on a basketball court. The other group was made up of kids who liked basketball, but had other interests important to them. Maybe they played because their friend was on the team, or maybe just because they had always played on the team. The telling sign was in the fall when some players showed up no better (even a little worse) than when they played the previous year. The other players, who spent their summer on the playgrounds and in the driveway, came to their first practice stronger, better skilled and more confident.
The problem is that more advanced players want to play with athletes as good or better than themselves. And, they want to play against better teams that provide worthwhile competition. The other group of players just want to play ball and have fun and aren't really eager to play against better teams that can chase them off the floor.
My younger son's team faced this dilemma as 6th graders. Half the team was ready to advance and half hadn't really improved at all. We played in a less competitive league and won it, but the better players were unhappy. The team picture at the end of the season showed it all. Some kids were smiling and holding their trophy, some looked forlorn. It wasn't where they wanted to be.
So, as we got began to plan for my son's 7th grade season, I found myself with a difficult choice. My son and the better players had found other kids at their ability level and wanted to form a new team. They assumed I would coach the kids left behind and got another dad to be their coach. However, my heart was far more into the competitive side plus I really wanted to be with the team my son was on, so the recreational team we had for three years was disbanded. Of the kids in that group, only one went on to play basketball in high school. They were great kids, but their dedication to basketball wasn't all that keen.
In a weird twist of fate, the dad that was going to coach the advanced players had to back out. Just when I resigned myself to not coaching, I had the job again. What was tough was explaining that to the kids who no longer had a coach to play for. It looked like I dumped them. In fact, one was my own nephew. That was hard. The time had come where I had to consider my own coaching goals separately from my child's. Even though we had a couple more seasons to share, I began to understand I would have to let these kids go someday.
The next two years were very successful. The kids won their leagues as 7th and 8th graders, thanks to their talent and camaraderie. As 8th graders, we played in a high school rec league as well, and as 9th graders they took 2nd place in the preseason fall league that the YMCA holds every year. The future looked rosy, right? Read on … there were more lessons to learn. back to top
Rite of passage in to high school
In 1998, my "package" arrived at high school. I had always assumed most of players would stick together and do great things. I no longer had a team to coach once the high school tryouts started. It was time to watch and enjoy. However, a couple surprises occurred.
My son injured his knee and had to have surgery prior to the tryouts. He wouldn't be ready until a month into the season. I wasn't counting on that. Then, I saw "my" team broken up. Our big guy went straight to varsity as a freshman. After a couple games of dominating our C team league, the remaining players I had coached were split between JV and C team. Their new coaches were very good, but of course, had no interest in keeping the kids together. They had their own vision.
This is a common dose of reality that coaches like me must face when their players grow up. After spending a few years building your team, you get quite attached, and it is hard to see it end. It can even be hard to watch the kids play, especially as they struggle learning to use new systems and work with new players. As the "old coach", you have no say. You can watch quietly, be a critic or offer to help. The high school coaches may be grateful for the development work you have done, but they do not need you. In fact, they may be wary of your intrusions. They may not even want to see you talking to your ex-players. You need to let go.
My son was ready to try out. I spoke to the C team coach who reluctantly agreed to take a look. After all, his team was full. If it hadn't been for the fact that I had already worked with his best players, my son wouldn't have been given a chance. But, he made the team. That was great, but it led to the next great lesson. How do you cope with watching your kid sit the bench for all or most the game? That was the most painful thing I have endured in the sport of basketball. What can you do? Become the kind of critical parent every coach despises?
I needed a voice. I needed to be listened to. I couldn't stand to do nothing. It was tearing me up. To get that voice, I offered to help by keeping statistics. I created shot charts and showed them to the coach. Then, as trust built up, I added some analysis. Before the season was out, I had my voice. I could talk to the coach freely and talk to the kids at half time. Even so, it was too late to influence that team. They had a ton of talent, but none of the sense of teamwork I had loved in my old teams. The team degraded over the season and lost many of its final games. However, I had my foot in the door and was asked to be an assistant coach to the C Team the following year. It was a dream that came true. back to top
Coaching in high school
Coaching your own child in the early years is fun and relatively easy. I say that after coaching in high school. Players that are 15 and 16 years old are learning to be independent, especially independent from parents. It's bad enough dealing with your parents at home. Can you imagine what it's like when a parent is your coach, too? There's no relief! To succeed, both player and coach must either have a charmed relationship or have a method for their mutual survival. These are difficult parenting years. Adding a coaching role on top of that is a challenge you need to be ready for.
The next season, my younger son's sophomore year, was quite a contradiction. The team we built was superb, yet the relationship between my son and I was strained. I learned several lessons during this basketball season, several tough lessons.
The C Team coach and I became good friends. We had complementary styles. He was strong where I was not. He was a much better evaluator of talent and teaching defense. However, I offered analytical skills and a team approach to offense. Most importantly, we had a group of intelligent, hard-working kids. The team finished the year 21-0. It was extremely rewarding.
Unknown to me at the time, my son was tired of me being around all the time. It never surfaced until our awards banquet. I was helping hand out certificates to everyone but him. He didn't show up. At home, I was very upset, but eventually, with my wife as mediator, I learned where I had erred. Those errors are shown below as part of the lessons learned list.
The next season went much better. With my son on JV and me assisting coaching the C team, there was sufficient distance. I still watched all the JV games and spoke to the JV team at halftime, but it was fine.
My son's senior year brought home the worst of the lessons. He was cut from the varsity tryouts by new coaches who didn't know him. Players who hadn't played much at the JV level due to their lack of skills and experience were chosen over him, presumably because they looked more like basketball players. I was crushed. What made it even more awkward was that I was named head coach of the C team, part of the professional coaching staff. I had no say in the varsity selections. What a dilemma! Should I have become the ugly parent? Should I try my "inside" influence to get some other parents' kid cut from the team? The scene at home was awful. My entire extended family had been part of our basketball journey and now we were all cut. Except me, the parent/coach who had a far wider split between "parent" and "coach" than a slash could ever show. It was a bad coaching year for me trying to swallow my resentments. And, my son had it worse. Every day kids at school asked him why he was cut. And when he came to watch the varsity play, it was like salt in the wound. The only solace was watching the players who weren't ready flounder on the court.
The next year was everything the previous year was not. But it is also outside the scope of this article because, with my boys in college, there were no more connections to my kids. My title is just coach. It was a very happy year for me. My team was fun to coach. Even the varsity program turned itself around and won the state title.
Does my high school coaching experience imply that one should not coach his children? I found the answer to that question in a video rental store. While perusing the DVD selections, my wife and I met parents who had boys the same ages as ours. Their boys were teammates with mine and played for me during the years when I had two teams. The parents came to all the games and even taped several of them. We reminisced for some time about those happy days. Without coaching, I would have never met those wonderful people. Without coaching, I wouldn't have those tapes to watch of my kids playing when they were just kids and having a blast on the basketball court.
As a parent coach, you may be faced with difficult decisions about who will be on the team. For many young kids, having friends on the team can be far more important than having the most talented players. Take a long look at where your team will be playing. Is your league highly competitive or recreational? Be realistic. Most youth teams are recreational, so it makes sense to form a team that enjoys being together. Having a team with a little less ability is a lot better than having your child upset with you because a friend isn't on the team.
Also, it helps if your child is in the top half of the talent range because most parent/coaches tend to play their own kids more than another coach would play them. In fact, many coaches go overboard and play their own child all the time. This doesn't sit well at all with the other parents. If favoritism may be an issue, adopt a playing time policy to make sure everyone plays. If your kid is getting more time than deserved, he/she will probably be taking a lot of heat from teammates when you're not around. After you have coached a few seasons, it becomes easier to objectively administer playing time. If your child takes it personally when you remove him from the game and throws a fit, then you need to deal with it like you would with any player. I never noticed a problem in this area, but like I said, all families are different. back to top
This section will list the lessons I remember. I hope they help you avoid some pain and make your parent/coaching experience more satisfying. If you have something you would like to add as a lesson learned, email me at email@example.com and I will include it.
The topic of Coaching Your Own Child was brought up at my favorite coaching forum, Chatterbox. Here are some of their suggestions:
If you do not feel comfortable yelling and screaming at another person's child who is on your team, then don't do it to your kid just because he/she is your kid. I've seen this too many times, the nice encouraging coach to everyone else jumps down their own kid's throat for every mistake.
I know we expect more from our own kids than most coaches will demand, but save it for when you are Dad, not coach, to get on them, if you so choose. Or you could just be Dad and instruct how to do things right instead of yelling. Hmmmm?
Coach CYO Butch
I started to give a chronology of my experiences coaching my 3 kids, ages 12-29, but figured "Who wants to read my life story?" Instead, I'll try to sum up some of what I learned. First - DO IT! I spent years helping as an assistant coach in all kinds of sports for son and daughters, afraid of the commitment of time and the fact that I had not had actual experience even as a player on a coached team of any kind since 10th grade - on a club basketball team in France. When I finally got roped into the head coaching role (I think it was for baseball which I had NEVER PLAYED), I got every book and video tape I could find. I spent hours of prep time every week, and we all learned a lot and had a lot of fun. I also learned that being an assistant for youth teams provides zero preparation for being the head coach, although being a parent certainly helps. The biggest thing to tackle is your own head. If you have a temper - please stay away from youth coaching. If you are impatient, please stay away from youth coaching. If you want to learn a lot, and help a lot of kids to have fun and learn a lot about teamwork, responsibility and commitment, then leave your ego at home and get on board. When the littlest kid makes her first free throw, or when the kid who is late to practice apologizes to her teammates first, then to you, you will know you have done something special.
The bottom line is: TAKE THE PLUNGE. Read everything you can - books, CT, other B-Ball web sites, and watch any youth videos you can. But always remember, it is for the kids!
Another PA Coach
Well, I can offer a little second-hand advice. I spent my first four years coaching as an assistant coach for a man whose daughter was on our team.
It helped that Julie was clearly our best choice at two-guard. I can imagine it'd be a tough situation if the coach's kid was the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th best player on the team, because some might perceive playing time as being doled out unfairly.
She called him Dad at practice which no one seemed to mind. He was always a little tougher on her than on anyone else, but I think she understood he had to be. And whenever our team had something they wanted from the coach (a little extra scrimmage time at the end of practice, a later start on a Saturday morning practice, etc.) they went through her and she would turn on the daddy's girl charm and help out her teammates! All in all I think we had very little problem with it. They had to make a deal to talk basketball in the car on the way to and from practice, but not at home, to keep them both sane.
Coach "the boy"
I have to, and hate to, admit, I've always been hard on my kid. Over the years I've gotten better, to the point I'm actually a pretty good boy now. But it took a long time. And, fortunately, I have a wonderful, understanding, forgiving son, for whom I am eternally grateful.
Why do I humiliate myself by telling you this? Let me be a lesson to you. Even if you're not the coach, don't yell at your kid. You may think it helps, maybe even temporarily, but in the long run it doesn't.
But, I love to coach. So, I've helped his teams during practices, with the understanding that, during the games, I'll be in the stands. And, I've found, when my son and I are working one-on-one, we get along fine. So, I work with him on the side, and encourage him in the games. Makes raising a kid a lot more fun - for both of us.
Bball-Ed (he doesn't want to be called "Coach" - slj)
When Crash was in 4th grade I picked on her, typical Coach/Coach's kid syndrome. After practice one day, she sat me down and explained that I had better treat her the same way I did everyone else on the team, or she would quit playing. It's an eye opener when it comes out of a 4th grader's mouth. It's been a great relationship ever since then. I recommend it for everyone who can control their temper.
Coach Old School
I agree totally with Ed. if you handle it right, coaching your own kid can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life, and provide you with memories forever. I would add that unless you are a coach by profession, at some point your child may become a better player than you are a coach. When you run out of things to teach him/her, don't let your ego get in the way of allowing them to be coached by someone else who can take them further, be it at a camp, or another team, etc.
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