Coaches at all levels of sports are saviors; tirelessly giving of their time, energy and knowledge to help their players – our children – be better athletes and more well rounded people. But coaches are also in a unique position of trust, as we ask them to oversee the safety (physical and mental) of our children during practices and games – often away from the view of parents and spectators. So as we thank them for their commitment to the success and growth of our kids, what realistic expectations should we be putting on them? To help answer this, we’ve pulled together the top five questions you should be asking your daughter or son’s coaches, no matter the sport.
1. How current is your CPR and First Aid training?
Clearly your child’s physical health & safety are paramount in any sport and that begins with the skills and knowledge that comes with CPR and Basic First Aid certifications. Every league and level of youth sports has different requirement for their coaches, but this fundamental set of skills on how to provide help and seek help from medical professionals is a necessity for all coaches. Most certifications are good for 2 years, with a wealth of affordable resources available from the American Red Cross (redcross.org/take-a-class).
2. What type of coach training have you completed?
Often times being a “coach” may just mean that person has some background in playing sports, perhaps not even the particular sport they are coaching. While coaching young children is often more about crowd control and basic physical development, as your children get older and specialized in their sports, it is important to understand the level of sport-specific training their coach has received. From a safety perspective, sport-specific training goes hand in hand with CPR and First Aid. In particular with contact sports where technique can directly impact player safety, coach training plays a huge role. For example in football, where we believe every coach should be Atavus Tackle Trained™, so their players learn proper shoulder-leveraged, head-out “rugby-style” tackle technique to best prepare their players for contact.
3. What is your philosphy on teamwork?
While we as parents love to see the physical development and personal achievement associated with sports, teamwork and collaborative skills learned through sports is widely recognized as a key long-term life benefit from our child’s participation. To that end, it is critical to have a coach who embraces and develops a culture of true teamwork. This includes good communication between players and to and from coaches, celebration of victories, as well as support through challenges. As adults we all have good “teammates” at work, so let’s ensure our children are working on those skills early and often.
4. How should we as parents communicate with you?
Opening the door early for consistent and clear communication with your child’s coach can only help everyone involved. Whether your child is the star of the team, or the last one off the bench, being able to communicate openly with the coach about things like player expectations, playing time or areas for improvement is critical to a positive experience for your child. In some cases a coach will have a set route to receive feedback, may look to have issues solved directly by the player first, or they may be an open book, approachable at any point in time. Learn and respect their approach, as they will observe things about your child away from your home, and you can share other impacts on your child the coach may not see on the field or court.
5. What is your approach to reward and discipline?
As different as parenting styles to reward and discipline can be, so can the way coaches approach these important parts of youth sports. All teams have success, all teams have times for improvement and discipline – it’s a matter of how a coach deals with them and balances the two. All reward and no discipline could create a “fun”, but reckless culture. While an approach of harsh discipline without reward starve our children of the fun that sports should and must provide to keep them engaged and reaping the physical and mental benefits of playing sports.
As we outline these questions, it’s important to approach this process in a way that fits your situation, competitive level of the sport and sophistication of the coaching staff. We’re not advocating a highly formal interview process, especially for some coaches who may be new to coaching, and still developing their own philosophies.
Every coach is as different as every player they coach, so while there is no clear set of expected answers to these questions, we believe by talking through these points you’ll be able to get a good understanding of their approach and open communication needed for a positive experience by all.