Your Child’s Coach

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Participating in organized sports can benefit a child in many ways, from developing physical skills to learning the value of teamwork. Perhaps best of all, the Mayo Clinic advises, is that sports can give your child a head start on a lifelong fitness habit.

However, parents should give careful consideration when choosing an activity in order to give their child the best possible experience. This includes the coach, who can have an influence on many aspects of a child’s development.

According to Alison Foley, former head coach of women’s soccer at Boston College and co-author of the book How to Coach Girls, “I believe that coaches represent one of the most powerful positions in our kids’ lives. Over time, with good training, they can improve athletic skill and physical development, which is very important. However, instantaneously with words they can impact players’ minds. They can build up confidence or break it down. They can elevate self-worth or leave kids in question of themselves. They can empower young athletes to believe in their dreams or strip these aspirations away.”

The physical activity you choose for your child should be age appropriate for their level of skill development. Organized sports are better for children six or older since children younger than that don’t have the attention span or physical skills required. Before enrolling your child in a contact sport, consider their physical maturity and size compared to other participants in order to ensure that your child has a positive experience. Your child should also be interested in the sport. If their interest changes, allow them to try a different sport until they find one they want to stick with. Many experts say that early specialization in a specific sport will prevent a child from experiencing other sports and can lead to stress and burnout.

With scholastic sports or community sports, it’s not always possible to choose the coach, but parents can be aware of numerous attributes the coach displays. One of the most important is the coach’s attitude about safety. Children should be required to use the proper equipment, warm up correctly and follow the rules of the sport. The coach should help protect children from dehydration and unnecessary injuries. In contact sports, the coach should recognize the risk of concussions and put practices in place to prevent them.

In addition to qualifications, you should learn as much as you can about their coaching style. You can talk to the coach to learn more about their coaching philosophy, but you should also attend practices, training sessions and competitions to observe the coach in action. How are participants treated? Does the coach have a win-at-all-costs attitude, with some participants left out because of their skill level? How does the coach speak to both participants and their parents? Is there too much yelling? Even if your child is competing at a high level, the coach should emphasize enjoyment of the sport over winning or becoming more highly skilled.

A coach’s qualifications are particularly important for individual sports that require a high level of technical skill, such as figure skating or martial arts. The coach should have some level of personal achievement in the sport. Just remember, being able to perform a sport at a high level does not always mean a coach is a good teacher. You should look at a coach’s experience and any ratings available from professional associations for the sport. Having an academic background in a related field such as kinesiology is a plus.

“Very few athletes will play in college or go on to a professional level,” says Foley. “Developing the physical skill set should be a secondary priority when choosing a coach. Finding a coach that will encourage, speak with motivating words and be kind when needing to be critical is the number one criteria in coach selection for young athletes.”

Your child’s sport choice should also consider family factors. Children need time for homework, family, socializing, relaxing and exploring other talents. A coach who is too demanding of your child’s time should raise a red flag. Another red flag is a coach who discourages participants from sharing everything about training sessions with their parents. The amount charged for personal coaching should also be a consideration, especially if it creates financial hardship. High fees are not always a guarantee of high-quality coaching.

Finally, remember that choosing a sport for your child does not mean you’re making a long-term commitment. If your child seems unhappy or wants to quit the sport, investigate the reasons. Even elite athletes change coaches, so don’t be afraid to make a switch if you find your child’s coach is not a good fit. ■

Sources:,, and Alison Foley.