Parents of Athletes: What You Need to Know

Parents play a key role in an athlete’s development.  When looking at long-term athletic development, a key contributor to improvement is the support group.  Their support group consists of the people around them that help them achieve their goals: coaches, teammates, friends,  the athletic administration and of course, parents/guardians.  Support comes in many forms – verbal, emotional, monetary, transportation, and the list goes on.

With that said, what is the proper way to support the child as a parent?  I cannot give any personal experience as I do not have kids.  However, I can share perspectives from parents and coaches that I have found the most useful.

First, I want to share a few thoughts from Don Showalter, Team USA Basketball Head Coach/Coach Director, Youth & Sport Development.  Here are a few key thoughts he shared:

  1. Let an athlete develop on his/her own.  If a parent is the one pushing him/her, the athlete is going to say “I do not want to play anymore.”  If an athlete loves the game, he/she will figure it out.
  2. If the athlete ever decides he/she does not love it, the parent should not be the reason for that!
  3. Players should play free of expectations from parents.  Parents should not tell the athlete what to do when he/she plays.  Kids need to learn to listen to the Coach!
  4. Offer encouragement!  When something good or bad happens, the parent should not be yelling at the kid.
  5. Warning sign: athlete looking over the shoulder at the parent during a game.  This is a red flag.
  6. When scouting players for Team USA, first thing he looks at is BODY LANGUAGE.  If body language is poor, it shows the athlete is not resilient, not coachable and he WILL STOP LOOKING AT THE ATHLETE.
  7. Questions for parents to answer to themselves:
    1. Do you enjoy watching your athlete play or do you see what the athlete is doing wrong?  If you enjoy it, you’ll be quiet or encourage the athlete.  Do not give directions.
    2. What is the first thing you ask after games?  Do you comment on points/assists etc.?  Or do you say “I really enjoyed watching you play!”

Also, from my experience as a Trainer & Coach, parents/guardians need to allow the athlete to experience failure.  This is how grit and mindset are developed – do you give up or do you keep pushing? Athletes need to figure out how to get to where they want to be.  There will be a lot of failure in that process.  That is to be expected as that is how learning happens! The reaction to failure & mistakes is the most important part!

I have had parents approach me MANY times when I begin training the athlete regarding the playing time a coach gives the athlete, even asking that I ask the Coach!  Absolutely not.  That is not my responsibility.  I cannot see how an athlete competes, executes or interacts with his coaches & teammates at practice, or the effort he/she gives during practice.  It is up to the player to ask the Coach, “Coach, what is my role?  What do I need to do to star in my role and help the team win? What can I do to get better?”  Afterwards, go out and execute.  An athlete cannot control the amount of playing time he/she receives, but an athlete can control their attitude, effort, & execution of the details emphasized in practice.  Control the controllables.

Keep in mind, the role the athlete wants may not be the one that is assigned.  However, if you execute the role and develop trust, then you are allowed more opportunities to do other things in games.  A fellow coach gave the analogy that “Not everyone can be a CEO at a company, but everyone can definitely star in their role.  That is how championships are won.”

At the end of the day, the athlete needs to perform his/her role to a high level at practice and work to outcompete every one in every drill and on every possession.  Coaches want to win.  So win at your role everyday in practice to create opportunities to compete in games.  Do not complain, “I should be playing x, y, and z.  Coach does not know how to use me.”  That is just making excuses rather than figuring out a way to get things done.  To stay on the court, as Coach Heather Stewart from Team USA would say, LET THE POSITIVES OUTWEIGH THE NEGATIVES.  As coaches, we expect mistakes, but do not let the negatives outweigh the positives.

    1. Boxing Out
    2. Rotating on Help Defense
    3. Executing Team Philosophies
    4. Dove on the floor for a loose ball
    5. Taking good shots & taking care of the ball
    1. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers!
    2. Taking bad shots
    3. Not sprinting back on defense
    4. Getting blown by on defense
    5. Not executing offensive & defense principles

Athletes need to stay ready.  These are the following scenarios that I see happen time and time again to those who compete, work to improve each day, and are coachable:

  1. An injury happens to a high rotation player.  As a result, players are given a greater opportunity to step up.  A breakout game happens for an unknown player, and as a result, there is greater trust given by the coach.  This athlete becomes a higher rotation player.
  2. An athlete competes every day in practice, but does not get much, if any, playing time.  He/she is given a specific duty (e.g. stop the best player on the other team, boxout every possession), and when the opportunity arises, the athlete excels at that one thing.  As a result, greater trust is earned and more opportunities are given.

Parents, encourage your athletes and let them figure things out on their own.  Athletes, if you love the game, you learn from failures and will figure out a way to succeed with hard work & persistence through mistakes.

Recommended Links for more information:

Heather Stewart Podcast

Don Showalter Podcast

Positive Coaching Alliance