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Teamwork: How to Make the Most of the Coach-Parent Dynamic

By TrueSport, 12/20/18, 2:00PM CST


To many youth sport parents, practices don’t look or sound like they did 20 years ago. There’s less screaming, kids aren’t running wind sprints after making mistakes, and parents are expected to take a more active role. Some see this shift as a sign coaches have become too soft and kids too coddled, but research does show that kids learn more and perform better when coaches, parents, and athletes work together harmoniously.

Frank Smoll, PhD, a sport psychologist at the University of Washington, says, “There’s more awareness now, compared to 20 years ago. Parents are a big part of the equation. Parents and coaches each have responsibilities to one another.”


A culture of mastery

According to Dr. Smoll, research shows young athletes achieve the objectives of youth sports better when coaches and parents both focus on mastery and effort more than wins and losses. By creating a mastery-based motivational climate, the emphasis is on skill development, achieving personal and team success, giving maximum effort, and having fun.

In contrast, an ego-based climate emphasizes outcomes at the expense of psychosocial development. Mistakes are met with punishment, and anything but winning is viewed as failure.

What about competing and winning? In a mastery approach, winning is sought, but viewed as a consequence of teaching and supporting athletes to perform at their best. In this process, both parents and coaches play critical roles.


How coaches can support parents

Just as coaches need players to buy-in to their approach, they also need to gain cooperation from parents with sometimes dissimilar views. To do this, Dr. Smoll recommends a pre- or early-season meeting with all the parents, with or without players present. In addition to logistical information like times, dates, equipment, etc., coaches should:

  • Clearly inform parents about their coaching methods.
    • Smoll adds, “Coaches should present simplified summaries of research demonstrating the effectiveness of the mastery approach, rather relying on ‘because I said so.’”
  • Outline parental commitments essential for the coach to do his or her job, such as:
    • Accepting the coach’s authority as the leader of the team.
    • Pledging to support children after disappointments without expressing embarrassment, shame, or anger.
    • Exercising self-control and adhering to socially-acceptable standards of conduct.
    • Being engaged. Attending some practices and competitions when possible; asking kids about their experiences, not just the outcomes.
    • Letting kids make their own choices, including whether to participate at all.

Coaches should also encourage parents to provide them with both positive and negative feedback at appropriate times, including during the pre-season meeting.


How parents can support coaches

In addition to fulfilling the above requirements, parents can contribute by:

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About TrueSport

TrueSport® is a grassroots movement born and powered by the experience and values of USADA–the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The TrueSport® mission is simple and bold: to change the culture of youth sport by providing powerful educational tools to equip young athletes with the resources to build the life skills and core values for lasting success on and off the field.

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