Coaching kids: Good cop, bad cop
Successful coaches aren’t charmers. We recognise the toughness required to coach international sides. Of course we prefer generosity and warmth when looking for instructors for our kids.
The dilemma is: we all like watching our kids win. We want sport to offer our children that sense of pride and achievement. Maybe that red-faced, shouty old-school coach with the foghorn voice helps build your child’s confidence in actual tournaments?
The coach who ensures every child is comfortable can open them up to some public humiliations in the face of harder-working, harder-pushed young athletes. On the flipside, the competitive coach can take the fun out of sports, and might see squad numbers dwindling.
I think there are three ways of finding a good fit. Firstly, any club develops a culture which parents and children can assess. What does the club want? Recruit more girls, boost lower age groups, bring back silverware? Talk to the coaches and find out.
Secondly, amongst the young players, tolerance for criticism will vary massively. “Well played” might be too understated. Some kids expect wild clapping for just remembering their boots. “Try harder” might be an outright insult. I think this challenge – a language one – rests with the parents, not the coach. Adults must teach their children that teachers, instructors, grandparents and aunties have different rules on their turf. Don't read too much into lukewarm praise or stinging criticism. Give the kids time to learn how to interpret other adults.
Thirdly, self-esteem is the ultimate protection against life. Social, academic and sporting confidence feed off each other. You can be told that you’ve been clumsy or ditzy in a hundred more or less diplomatic ways, but that doesn’t sum up who you are and what you bring to the club. Your daughter might have butterfingers one day, but if she is willing to train in all weathers then her team can rely on her. Your son might not follow the super-tactical chat, but he might always push himself during fitness sessions. Then his club can rely on him. Every skill will have its moment, and your average coach might not always see or express that. The coach doesn’t set every standard, though – you should trust that friendly comments from other players and parents build resilience.
More on this in an excellent NY Times blog on how childhood sports memories are more emotional than classroom memories.
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