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Navigating the Parent Coach Landscape

By Todd Smith, Special to Minnesota Hockey, 09/18/17, 12:45PM CDT

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There were 57,179 registered hockey players and 9,339 coaches in the state of Minnesota in 2016-17.

It is safe to say that a large percentage of our youth hockey coaches are also parents of players on their team. It’s even more likely that the assistant coaches are also parents of players their teams. Parents also fill almost all of our managerial roles and association boards, too.

There are tremendous benefits for parents to coach their children, and our community-based structure depends on them. They are, after all, volunteers – and they help keep costs lower for everyone. Plus, with our state’s great hockey heritage, many times the most qualified person for the coaching role is a player’s parent.

But it can also be tricky, both on the ice and at home.

“Kids do not separate their mom and dad from (their role as) coach,” said Paul Larson, a veteran coach, association leader, and trainer with the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA). “We are always going to be their mom or dad in their mind and heart. Therefore, separating the role of parent and coach is vitally important.” 

Larson brings 28 years of experience to PCA and was honored by Minnesota Hockey as a 3M – Coach of Excellence.

Here are Larson’s tips for the many challenges, views and perspectives of a parent-coach:

Dealing with Favoritism

Showing preferential treatment towards their child is one of the most obvious concerns for a parent-coach, but you must also be aware not to swing the favoritism the other way. A parent-coach should never be harder on their own child than they would be on any other child on the team.

Set the standard right away at the preseason parent meeting. Make it clear what policies, goals and expectations you’re setting for the year.

“Parent-coaches should realize that favoritism perceptions may creep into the minds of other parents on their team,” Larson said. “This can be minimized by conducting a preseason parent meeting and explaining the team philosophy, and policy, of playing time, positions played and how the power play and penalty kill teams are selected. Until the high school varsity level, everyone on the team should be getting penalty kill and power play experience, regardless if it impacts the scoreboard.”  

Coaches Helping Coaches

Some kids just don’t take advice or criticism very well from their parents on the ice. An easy way to fix this is to enlist help from another coach. Another coach can easily convey a particular message that you want your child to hear.

“On my teams, we always assigned a ‘personal coach’ to the children of our parent-coaches,” Larson added. “My son or daughter’s ‘personal coach’ was an assistant coach, while I was the personal coach of an assistant’s child. When I noticed a technique needed to be corrected, or a behavior needed to be addressed, for my son or daughter, I would ask his personal coach to address the issue. This way, we minimized confusion between a parent giving corrective-criticism, and a coach. However, our parent-coaches were always free to pay compliments or ‘fill the emotional tank’ of our own kids, and everyone else on the team.”

Leave the Whistle at the Rink

When we carry our stressful work lives into our homes it can have a negative effect on the quality of our family time. The same can be said for the parent-coach. Conflict can easily arise when the wins, losses and team dynamics are carried off the rink and brought to the dinner table. One of the biggest issues with being a parent-coach is when the two worlds of sports and family bleed into each other.

“Parents should realize that life does not revolve around sports,” Larson said. “Although sports occupies our time, once we leave the rink, we should leave the rink behind. Let the coaches coach, the referees ref, and the parents be parents.”

Keep a Level Head

Every hockey season has the potential to bring some adversity with it. From tryouts to team selection, from rivalry games to handling lopsided wins and losses, there is plenty of room for both players and parents to get emotional. But it is crucial for the parent-coach to keep a level head. 

“Showing an interest, but not an obsession, in games and practices is healthy,” Larson said. “But try and avoid all post-game analysis. Also, stop the rink chatter. Do not engage other parents in criticism or gossip of their own player, players on their team, opponents, coaches or referees.”

Making Memories

It’s important for all youth hockey parents to consider the challenges and different perspectives when it comes to parent-coaches. In the increasingly competitive world of youth sports, there is a lot of pressure being directed towards wins and losses. Those outcomes are not what kids will remember.

Focus on the experience, development, and most importantly, fun!

“I coached youth sports for 28 years, primarily baseball and hockey. Fourteen of those years were coaching my son or daughter’s hockey teams,” Larson said. “I realize now that kids quickly forget the outcome of games. But they will remember how a coach makes them feel.”

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