Dealing with parents that coach
My husband is a soccer coach for juniors and he also is the coach of our 11 year old son. Dad always has big arguments with the boy that he "will never be a professional" if he doesn't sleep, eat and breathe soccer. My son not only follows his dad's wishes because he has fun playing soccer but also because he follows his hero "Dad". Over the past 12 month my son hardly had any improvements in soccer skills or techniques. With special fast twitch training and running sessions involved in his normal soccer training he got very good results in strength and conditioning. He is a very tall boy for his age (165 cm & 50kg). My husband puts him under a lot of stress during training sessions and games. He always tells our son that he spends a lot of money and all his spare time on him. My husband threatens that should our child show little or no improvement he will give up on him as coach. I had discussions with my husband about this matter. I am a health and fitness professional and I know a lot about the human body. I tried to explain to my husband that teenagers go through a phase when they are having trouble to coordinate their limbs during their growth process. My husband won't listen to me so I need to have the advise from an expert about this matter. My son likes to play soccer and has aspirations to become a professional player. How can I help him to improve his techniques and skills like his father wants him to? Looking forward to hearing from you.
Dear concerned mom,
You are faced with a very tough dilemma. It seems that you have tried to first intervene with your husband's irrational behavior. Your pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears. You have therefore given up on this approach and your new goal is to try to help your child to improve so that he'll be able to "satisfy" coach dad's performance standards. You also are very wise to avoid escalating the problem into a conflict that could turn disasterous to all involved.
I am not quite ready to give up on dad yet. Your description of the coach's (dad) attitude of "tit for tat" or "I make a sacrifice for you so I expect..." is not an uncommon one in instances of intense parental involvement in youth sports. The moral imbalance in such cases, however, stems from the fact that this supposedly "two way street" relationship is between two unequal individuals--a growing child, that still is immature both physically and mentally and is dependent on the parent, and a parent that is mature (at least supposed to be) and has adult like attitudes, and is in total control. The father's dedication is a commitment by an adult who is now expecting his child to rise to that same level. In rare cases kids can deliver and do, most kids are not quite ready to totally commit themselves, and that's not because they are rebellious or unruly. They are just normal kids. There is nothing out of the ordinary about having the attitude of a child or adolescent when one in fact is a child. To put things in perspective, I would suggest that dad hands your child the car keys so he may drive himself around town. That scenario will make dad realize in a hurry that your son indeed is still a child and thus cannot be given responsibilities nor rights as an adult.
You are absolutely right regarding your observation about growth spurt and clumsiness and temporary decline in performance. This is nature's way and the child has absolutely no control over it. Clearly you are right and the experts are on your side.
Dad is trying too hard, expecting too much, and is being unreasonable. I have doubts about dad's effectiveness as a coach given the described circumstances. Your son may have a better chance to reach his goal with another coach. Dad/coach may need to be "only" dad for some time so he may get reintroduced to this very special and wonderful role.
Your reaction and comments to this week's question are welcome.
Cal State LA
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Last Modified: Aug. 27, 2003