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Parent, Coach and Child: The Athletic Triangle

A female coach and a group of pre-teen soccer players watch the game from the bench.

The athletic triangle, consisting of the coach, athlete and parent(s), is a natural aspect of the youth sport setting. The coach’s and parents’ roles in this process are critical to the success of any program. If parents and coaches allow their roles to take priority, then we have an upside-down triangle that is referred to as the professional model. In the professional model, the adults form the upper two-thirds of the triangle with the athletes (the focal point of the triangle) attempting to balance the adults. In this model, the emphasis is placed on winning and it is easy to lose sight of the needs and interests of the young athlete.

However, in the right-side-up triangle, or developmental model, adults (coaches and parents) are supporting the young athletes. Sport programs using this approach remain child-centered and do not become adult-dominated. In the developmental model, parents and coaches work together to provide a quality experience. In this setting, effective communication between coaches and parents allows for each group to complete their respective roles and responsibilities.

While some parents may intuitively understand their responsibilities, or through past experiences with other children may have been informed about them, other parents do not know. Instead of becoming frustrated with parents for not understanding their responsibilities, take time to educate (or review) these responsibilities during orientation. Parents who understand their role or responsibilities are much more likely to be supportive of the coach – so the focus of the sport experience can be placed on the needs and interests of the young athletes.

Eleven different parent responsibilities have been highlighted:

Parent Responsibilities

  1. Children’s Rights – Children have the right to participate in sport; this also includes the right not to participate. It is okay to encourage a child to participate, but do not pressure, intimidate or bribe a child into playing a sport or position.
  2. Guide Selection – Counsel your child about the competitive level or type of sport. For example, if a child wants to try out for a traveling team, make sure the child understands the team may travel every weekend for the next two months and in addition, practices at least 3-4 times a week. If there are financial issues associated with a sport selection, then the parent needs to address them with the child.
  3. Respect the Child’s Decision – Support the child’s decision.
  4. Monitor the Child’s Participation – What new skills has the child learned? Is the child having problems sleeping at night before a “big” game? Is there any change in the child’s attitude about participating in the activity?
  5. Entrust the Child to Coach – Trust another adult to guide the child’s sport experience. It also involves accepting someone else’s authority.
  6. Admit Shortcomings – When one makes a mistake, admit it. Demonstrate to children that everyone makes mistakes; teach the children that we can realistically accept whatever limitations we have.
  7. Accept Triumphs – Regardless of the quality of a child’s performance, can you accept the performance without critiquing it? Accept a child’s performance “as is” and don’t continually seek more from the child.
  8. Accept Disappointments – Support your child when she is disappointed or hurt; help her to look for the positive in every situation.
  9. Be Supportive – Attend games/practices, if possible; there are lots of ways of being supportive (e.g., raise funds, drive, keep score, etc.)
  10. Demonstrate Appropriate Behavior – Show self-control; be a role model for the child.
  11. Value Volunteer Coaches – Recognize the value and importance of volunteer coaches; support, encourage and appreciate them, as they are playing an important role in the child’s life.