Know Who Is Coaching Your Children

By Nancy Justis, Iowa Youth Sports Initiative

Youth sports coaches come in all shapes and sizes.

Most youth coaches are volunteers until they reach the "elite" travel teams. Even then, they won't make a living coaching these teams.

Most are coaching because they have a son or daughter playing and they want to be involved. Some are coaching because they love the sport or want to teach life lessons to young people.

Unfortunately, there are the good, the bad and the ... well, you get the drift. Everyone knows there are "bad" coaches who bully, yell and coach for their own selfish reasons. How do parents make sure their child's coach is the person who has the kids' growth and development at the forefront?

Gordon MacLelland of "Working With Parents in Sport" lists seven qualities parents should look for in a coach.

1. Do they care? Not just about winning, but about the kids. Do they acknowledge each child equally? Do they encourage each and every player?

I would add if one of their own kids is on the team, they should act as if they are not their child. The child should earn their position. The coach should retain the same demeanor, tone of voice and emotion with each player on the team. The parent can return to being the parent when practices and games are over.

2. Are they reliable? Are they on time like they require of their players?

3. Do they engage with the parents? All involved should be on the same wave length. Parents should feel part of the process.

4. Are they approachable and willing to answer questions? Parents and children can feel unappreciated and left out. Parents should feel comfortable in asking questions and should not be afraid their child will be punished for mom and dad inserting themselves in an appropriate manner and at the appropriate time.

5. Do they set a good example? Are they punctual, dress appropriately and do they use suitable language? Do they yell? Do they recognize they are role models?

6. Do they inspire? Are they passionate? Do they embarrass or berate players in front of the entire team?

7. Do they coach the person? Do they know the sport well enough to aid in the development of skill? Do they foster good communication, good etiquette, organization and decision making?

"If you don't get to know them (student-athletes), you will have no idea what scares them, what inspires them and what motivates them," former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler once said.

I would add, are they fair? Playing time is a huge problem between parents, athletes and coaches. If the child seems to be riding the bench for no apparent reason, has attended all practices, listens to the coaches and has shown skill over and above some of his or her teammates, there must be an underlying reason for not playing more minutes. They should not be sitting on the bench when players who don't show up for practice are receiving more playing time.

Parents need to be their child's advocate. If stressing over playing time or the coach for whatever reason, they should be evaluating if they are in the right environment to help their child grow and develop.

If your child's coach cannot meet the above expectations, plays favorites and is on the defensive when questioned, it's not worth it, elite team or not. Discuss the situation with your child and determine how he or she is feeling about the experience.

It may be worth researching another coach and another team.