Coaching your own child: Do's and Don'ts

By Mike Woitalla

It's that time of year when men and women across the country embark on the wonderful adventure of youth soccer coaching.

Many if not most of these newcomers will be coaching their own children. One of my favorite sources on this subject is Tony DiCicco, the Olympic gold medal and Women’s World Cup-winning coach who also coached his own children at the youth level

"I know something about parents coaching their own children, because I've done it and have made every possible mistake," says DiCicco, a father of four, in his book, “Catch Them Being Good.”

"What you must understand is that no matter what you say and no matter how you say it, it often registers as a personal attack when it comes from dad or mom. It’s important to explain that to your child -- that this is not coming from dad or mom, it’s coming from the coach.”

It should go without saying that coaches shouldn’t give their own children preferential treatment -- eg unearned extra playing time. But also to be avoided is treating one’s own child more harshly.

"You must also recognize that you're likely to be harder on your own child than you are on the other players and deal with it accordingly,” says DiCicco “Don't be afraid to praise your child. If you let your daughter know when things aren’t happening the way they should, then make sure you hit the high notes as well. Acknowledge her strengths and accomplishments at every opportunity."

The good test on how to treat your child on the soccer team is to constantly ask yourself if your reactions to his play or behavior are the same as they are to his teammates.

Another peril of coaching one's own children is leaving your coaching hat on when the game or the training is over.

"Frankly, I don't think it's a great idea to discuss sensitive game situations with your child once you're off the field," says DiCicco, "but if you have a relationship where you can do that, just make sure you don't overdo it.”

On this aspect, the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) advises: “Don’t talk about other players on the team with your child. This places him in a complicated situation and may color his relationships with other players. He is a member of the team, not your co-coach.”

The PCA recommends you explain to your child, "I always love you and you are special to me. But when I'm coaching you, I need to treat you like all the other players. And you need to respond to me as your coach, not your dad. Do you think you can do that?"

One idea the PCA advises is to employ the "coaching hat." Explain to your child that when you're donning the cap, you're coach. When practice is over, the hat's off and you're back to parent.

An assistant coach offers a convenient solution for keeping the parent-child dynamic from creating tension: Have the assistant handle coaching communication with your child when one-on-one chats are called for.

Among the best youth coaching advice I’ve ever heard, whether your kid’s on the team or not, is to see the game through the children’s eyes. This will remind you that the most important contribution you can make is to help the kids have fun -- and not to treat 6-year-olds like 16-year-olds.

Says DiCicco: "No matter what, understand that there are going to be some difficult moments and that, in the end, it is often better to coach less than more."

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at Woitalla refs youth soccer in Northern California and coaches at East Bay United/Bay Oaks.)

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7 comments about "Coaching your own child: Do's and Don'ts".
  1. ROBERT BOND, August 26, 2014 at 11:21 a.m.

    biggest problems, as always, the other parents-they got mad because of what i said to my kid, tho our secret deal was i was hard on him so i could say something to the other kids......

  2. Kent Pothast, August 26, 2014 at 12:42 p.m.

    Like Robert. I told my son that I would criticize / coach him but my real target was the other kids who would listen to my comments without getting defensive and be thinking about a comeback and thus not listening.

  3. beautiful game, August 26, 2014 at 4:20 p.m.

    Best is not to coach your own kid. It's too much pressure on both sides; i.e., Fernando Rossi once told me that he never coached his son Giuseppe, currently with Fiorentina in Serie-A. What caught my eye about young Rossi in addition to his great talent at the U-10 level; was that he made things happen with hardly any mistakes on the pitch; exactly what his dad demanded of his high school players at Clifton H.S. He would say, "make a timely decision and if it's wrong, don't repeat it." Simple coaching methodology goes a long way.

  4. Brian Something, August 27, 2014 at 6:28 p.m.

    Very difficult to coach your kid. Not impossible for it to work - I've seen it occassionally - but only the right personality mixture of both parties makes it work. I've assisted some head coaches who've specifically asked me to talk to their son about this or that coaching point because they knew it would be received differently.

  5. Brian Something, August 27, 2014 at 6:29 p.m.

    It's also best to not talk about the game in the car ride home (unless the kid brings it up and even then, tread lightly). This is good advice for any parent, but triply good for a parent coach. It will help reinforce the distinction between Mom/Dad and coach.

  6. ROBERT BOND, August 28, 2014 at 8:49 a.m.

    I, what if you live in the sticks & the rec "coaches" are political appointees & know squat about the game? To their credit, the other coaches learned when they got tired of losing every game to my kids team.......& this does not address the issue of individual off the pitch training, getting kids away from the one eyed brain-sucker, & a great edge for your kid if you know the game & most of the other parents don't, tho' this is changing.

  7. Jorge Gonzalez, September 2, 2014 at 8:06 p.m.

    I am blessed with the fact that my son is a very good player and that the other players take note that he has a lot of skills. Therefore, one way I have gotten his respect and cooperation is to ask him to help me by working with some of the weaker players. I have others I play in that role too, and it has worked wonders in getting them to feel invested in the team, and to understand my need to motivate them all.

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