If you're raising an adolescent athlete, you're juggling a lot - practice and game schedules, uniform laundry, snacks and hydration, not to mention relationships with your kid's coaches. Managing those relationships is one of the many parts of parenthood that wasn't in the playbook. Luckily, we can help you get in the game.
Put safety first
If you have any concerns about your child's safety on or off the field/track/court/mat, take those seriously and talk with the appropriate parties. Clearly communicate with your tween or teen that they should never be alone with a coach and that no coach should threaten them or ask them to keep secrets. Assure your child that you are a safe person to talk to about any concerns they have.
Get a strong start
The best and easiest time to discuss things with your child's coach is at the beginning - as soon as you meet or at the start of a new season. You can even talk with coaches before your kid commits to a team.
Questions to ask a new or prospective coach:
What's your coaching philosophy?
How do you approach discipline?
What are the biggest values you want to instill in your athletes?
What kinds of athletes do you work best with?
How can I as a parent support you and support my child as an athlete?
Level setting from the start helps you learn more about the coach and helps them learn more about you and your unique athlete. If your child has a mental health issue, learning disability, medical condition, or any other issue that will affect how they are coached, be up front with the coach about strategies that work - and don't work - with your child.
Show your teen or tween you are on their team. When they come to you with a concern around sports, make it clear you have their back.
Best practices for support your child:
Validate their feelings. They may be upset, disappointed or embarrassed. All feelings are OK to share. Let them be honest and raw with you.
Thank them for sharing their thoughts and feelings with you. This isn't always easy for adolescents. Let them know you appreciate their vulnerability.
Ask what they want you to do. They may have a solution already. They may want time to think of ideas. Hear them out.
Ask what they want you to do. Do not jump to solve their issue unless they want your involvement. Respect their boundaries and you will build trust with them.
Allow things to be. It may be uncomfortable to resist taking action knowing your child is facing a challenge. Sit with discomfort and have confidence that things will work out. Know that not every situation is ideal for your child, and that this is an important lesson for them to learn.
Make a game plan
If you and your child agree that talking to the coach would be a good idea, take a beat. Plan the best time, place and method for that conversation.
Approaching a coach conversation:
Ask the coach what works best for them. They might prefer to have a conversation by phone, via email or in person. Their schedule might be more open during certain days and times. Try and accommodate their preferences when possible.
Avoid in-the-moment feedback. Don't offer criticism or suggestions during games, practices or any time in front of other people.
Keep it about your kid. Do not offer feedback about their coaching overall. Be clear about your own expectations, values and boundaries as a parent and allow for differences of opinion.
Grow a winning mindset
Being an athlete means your child will regularly receive feedback about their behavior and performance. Sometimes that input is given in a way they can easily accept and other times, it may be more challenging to hear. You can help them process input in a healthy way, setting them up for success. If you notice your athlete handling a difficult situation or criticism well - praise them for it! Let them know you're proud of them for facing feedback head on, and encourage them so they know they can manage similar situations in their future.
Questions to help your child reflect on feedback:
Is there a learning opportunity in this feedback, even if I don't like how it was delivered?
What could I do differently next time?
How can this make me a better athlete?
Have I gone through something like this before? If so, what helped in that scenario?
No matter what level your athlete is playing at, you can help them stay grounded and focused on what matters. There's no doubt that you, as a parent, are the MVP of their youth athletics career.