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All year round youngsters of all ages can’t wait to get on the basketball court, baseball diamond or soccer field. For months we have discussed in this column some of the positives and negatives concerning youth sports. Sports is a way of life in our country and is a great way for kids to make new friends, express themselves and learn about how far they can challenge themselves mentally, emotionally and physically. Some of the most common questions I am asked as a sport psychologist are, “Should I coach my child’s team?” “Would it be better if someone else coached my child?” “Do I tend to play favorites for or against my child when I coach their team?”

Youth sports has become extremely organized and structured. Leagues are forming, for better or for worse, at younger and younger ages, and are led by parents who volunteer a lot of time and energy. I have stated numerous times that I believe that kids should play sports to have fun and to learn skills and techniques that can help them grow and become better at life, not just sports. Yes, winning and losing are important components of sports, but youth sports should be about the experience, more than the score at the end of the competition. Most kids would not be able to play if not for their parents. Moms and dads drive carpools, wash uniforms, buy snacks and cheer on the sidelines. And for many, their parents take the time and energy to volunteer as a coach.

Over the years, I have worked with many athletes who have shared stories positively and negatively about their parents taking the time to coach their team. For many, these experiences have left a significant impact on their lives. I believe that most youth coaches who are coaching their child make a concerted effort to not play favorites with their child. However, sometimes this can backfire and cause problems between the athlete and their parent. Some coaches take the extra effort to make sure they don’t play favorites with their child, but end up going too far in that direction. At the same time, some coaches coach, just to make sure that their child gets to play as much as possible because they may believe that their child is the most talented and has the best skills of all the players on the team. Often, they are correct that their child is the best because they may spend lots of extra time away from normal practice hours working with their child on their skills, and consequently, their child is better. However, this is no guarantee that their child will be better in four or five years. In fact, many of these kids end up burning out because they end up spending too much time on the sport and not enough time doing other activities.

I think there are two key components to balancing out your time as a youth coach. First, take the time to communicate with your child and your spouse about your goals for the season as a coach and make sure you ask your child what their goals are for the season. Don’t assume they are the same as yours. Second, make sure you have an assistant coach you can trust and be able to communicate with about being fair with all of your athletes. If you are spending time working on specific skills, let the assistant work with your child and you can work with his/hers. This will eliminate either of you being accused of playing favorites. Also, remember, youth sports is about having fun, it is not about your desire to win or lose, but about giving the kids an opportunity to have an experience they may remember for a lifetime.

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