Parents who step up to coach their children’s sports teams — or lead any activity in which their children participate — deserve huge amounts of respect. The job is often thankless and frustrating. Plus, parents don’t typically have a whole lot of spare time, so adding one more thing to the list goes above and beyond.
Growing up, my parents practiced sports with me and my brother outside of official practices and games, but I don’t really remember them coaching. This doesn’t mean they didn’t — when I was little, they may have led our teams and I simply don’t remember.
What I do remember, though, is that as sports became more and more competitive for us, they got out of the way. They dutifully took us to practices and games. But when it came to coaching, they let the coaches take the lead. Even when they played catch or helped us improve in our unstructured time, they echoed what our coaches had taught.
So having a coach and a leader who was not also a parent proved invaluable.
The number of lessons I learned from my coaches have continued to help me as an adult. Here are a few:
• While my parents love me and think I’m the best at everything, I’m not. An unbiased coach distributes playing time based on a number of factors — skill, work ethic, attitude, need, etc. My skills did not always fit the need of the team and therefore I didn’t always play. That’s OK. I still loved the game; I still loved the team and enjoyed contributing, even if that was in the form of cheering from the bench sometimes. I learned to be a team player, rather than the center of attention.
• I learned to listen to other knowledgeable adults. We’ve all heard kids say it: “You’re not my mom; I don’t have to listen to you.” Turns out, having positive authority figures who aren’t your parents helps you understand not just a team structure, but business structure and other types. I learned to take advice and learn from individuals I wouldn’t have otherwise. Having a non-parent coach also helped me be more open to mentorships and growth.
• While criticism isn’t always easy to hear, when it came from a coach (and was constructive) I learned that criticism can be helpful. I was lucky to have some pretty stellar coaches. They always had the players’ best interests at heart. As I came to trust them, I became better at taking constructive criticism. I understood they just wanted to help me be my best. This is critical as you enter the workforce and keep trying to improve. Looking at criticism as helpful rather than insulting can be a game-changer as an adult.
As I’ve said, parents who coach deserve credit. The task is tricky, emotional and complicated. A lot of factors — primarily how others react — are pretty well out of your control.
In a community full of youth sports and activities, parents have to help coach, and they do a pretty good job. But I’ll never forget the things I learned from coaches who were not parents of kids on the team.