We’ve all been there.

Everyone one of us with children who play sport have been the last-man (or woman) standing.

At the last minute and faced with the prospect of either coaching the team or not having a team at all for our child to play in – we’ve had to reluctantly raise our hand and *cough, cough* volunteer to coach a local netball, football, rugby or swimming team.

For the parent who has maintained a connection to the sport, this is not a difficult challenge as they’ll have an existing network of friends and family who know the game and who understand what it means to practice and play, how to structure a training session, what the current rules of the game are and so on.

But for the poor parent who’s an accountant, or a builder, or an office worker, or a truck driver with no experience in sport – let alone a background in sports coaching – being anointed “THE coach” can be a nightmare.

And as the majority of sporting clubs are run by part time amateurs with limited budgets and even less spare time, it is likely that the first time parent-coach will have to do everything from organising practices, to finding training space, communicating with the players and their parents, sourcing training equipment and occasionally, even driving half the team to and from matches whilst cutting up the half time oranges and having to wash the team jumpers and socks before the next game.

In some sports, parent-coaches may even have to share refereeing or umpiring duties with their opposition coach – taking half a game each – as the limited resources available in most amateur sporting associations means that having a formally trained and paid official at all games is not always possible.

The reality is that in many parts of the sporting world, parent-coaches constitute the majority of coaches working with players in most sports every week.

It would be fair to say, that without parent-coaches, they’d be no junior sport as we know it. So what do you do if you’ve suddenly become a parent-coach?

Five Tips to Thrive – and not just survive – being a parent-coach.

1. Make up your mind to enjoy it. If you’ve landed the job of coaching the local under nine soccer team, go buy yourself a pair of football boots and get out there and run around with the team at practices. If you’re the new netball coach for the 10 year olds at your local club, buy yourself a netball, call a few old friends and practice passing and shooting so you’ll be ready to coach your new team. You’ll get fitter. You’ll have fun. And the kids love nothing more than seeing their coach out on the field, on the court or on the track having a go.

2. Let them learn by doing: The game is their real coach. Don’t over-coach. One of the biggest mistakes Gen X, Y and Z coaches make is to coach the way they were coached, i.e. lots of talking, lots of instruction, very structured training environments, an over-reliance on mindless repetition, far too many drills and way too much fitness work. Let the players play. Instead doing a long warm up and far too much stretching, just let them get out on the field or on the court and do what they came to do – PLAY! Then, as their play progresses, and if you see an opportunity to coach a little, do it. But make your coaching secondary to the actual playing of the game. Make playing the game central to every training session and you’ll soon see your players’ skills and smiles – progress very rapidly.

3. Remember the L.E.A.R.N. concept of kids and sport:

  • Learning is everything: and kids learn by doing. Keep them active. Keep them moving. Make training sessions short but fast, engaging, dynamic and interesting.
  • Enjoyment is the key for players, parents and the coach. Make it fun.
  • Adults are there to love, support, encourage and praise their children, not to coach from the sidelines, criticise and cause chaos
  • Routine be consistent. Children respond well to being organised with simple systems and structures. Try to practice at the same time of the day, the same day of the week and at the same venue so that their practices quickly become part of the kids’ regular school and extra-curricular program.
  • Nod and smile as often as possible. Be positive. Be constructive. Be happy.

4. Have three very clear rules and team policies, apply them consistently and don’t change them during the season. For example:

  • Be on time every time:this simple rule sets a clear philosophy of order, structure and gives the impression you’re organised.
  • Every child will have an equal opportunity to play: this is an important rule as it makes a clear statement to players and parents about your philosophy on team selections. This is an essential rule to have in place particularly if your own child is in the team you are coaching.  Make it known that every child regardless of talent, playing skill, size, speed, strength or experience will be treated equally.
  • Parents will act with dignity, respect, love, kindness and honesty at all times. The players will look, listen and learn from the behaviour of the adults around the team. If the players parents are loud, annoying, abusive to officials and negative towards opposition teams, then the players will (unfortunately) learn that this isnormal behaviour for sporting situations.

5. Encourage fun, friendships and family engagement in all training and competition activities. The research into the reasons why kids play sport  (and stop playing sport) – is remarkably consistent all over the world. For children, sport is all about having fun, making friends and learning. If your training sessions are long, dull, boring and tedious, where you focus on winning, fitness, speed, sprinting, drills and endurance do not be surprised when half your team decide to stop playing by mid-season. If on the other hand your training sessions are short, sharp, fast, fun and interesting and if they involve every member of the team then you’ll have an enjoyable season of coaching.  For even more fun, why not finish every training session with a familygame? Kids vs Parents? Girls (and mums and sisters) vs Boys (and dads and brothers)? The great thing about getting mum and dad involved is that they also learn some new skills and they may be more inclined to do some extra practice with their children in the backyard or local park.

Summary:

1. Being a parent coach can be a frustrating, frightening and freaky experience IF you try to over-coach the environment. Just relax! As much as possible allow the kids to just play and allow the game to be their teacher.

2. You don’t need to be a professional standard coach and no one is expecting you to be. You’re not coaching an Olympic team or a Super Rugby side. Just be a kind, consistent, caring, compassionate and calm coach and you’ll have a wonderful coaching experience.

3. Think of the parents of the children in the team as being your partners. Be clear with them about your expectations of their attitudes, standards and behaviours and be consistent and fair in your dealings with them throughout the season.

4. Kids don’t care how much you know they need to know how much you care. Treat every child you coach the same you treat your own children. Love beats laps. Kindness is far more important than push-ups. Respect is a much more effective coaching tool than watching technique videos on YouTube. Simplify and clarify everything.

5.Enjoy every minute of the experience. If in doubt smile, get excited, get loud and show some real positive energy and joy at training sessions. Attitudes are contagious, and kids respond to enthusiasm more positively than they respond to just about anything.