All it took was the right coach to change how Jennifer Casey, 12, of Lafayette, Calif., felt about sports. Unathletic until her parents coaxed her into joining a track team, Jennifer now loves sports and has gone on to join a soccer team. "The coach had a nurturing style and gave attention to each player," says Jennifer's mother, Amanda.
Coaches can make or break the interest, self-esteem, and motivation of young athletes. That's why it's vital for parents to find out a coach's training, experience, and style before turning over their children. Here are some tips to help you put your child in a win-win situation:
- Look for a program that requires its coaches to have special training. Otherwise, they may rely on the aggressive, punitive, win-at-all-costs coaching model they see in professional sports, says Rainer Martens, Ph.D., founder of the American Sport Education program, the largest coaching education program in the country. For volunteer coaches, beginning workshops cover the essentials of training and psychology in a day or a weekend. Paid coaches should take more in-depth sessions from a national sports organization.
- Talk to the coach to find out his philosophy on sports and kids. Look for an approach that emphasizes fun, personal development, and skill instruction, not winning.
- Observe practice sessions. Watch how the coach handles the athletes. He should not always be yelling his commands or using physical activity as a punishment (time-out on the bench is a more appropriate penalty). Continue to take an active role even after you let your child sign up.
- Be alert to signs that your child is being overly pressured or put down by the coach. Raise your concerns with the coach or administrator. If that fails, don't hesitate to remove your child if you think he's at risk of emotional or physical damage.