Sue Scheff: When Dad is the Coach (as School opens)

“Sometimes when parents are trying to figure out what’s their role and how much do they push and how much do they step back, there are gonna be some differences and some miscommunication,”

– Rick Van Haveren, Ph.D., Psychologist

Today there are about 4 million kids who play sports and have a unique set of both rewards and challenges: their coach is their mom or dad. How can these parents make the best of the situation both on and off the field.

Bill Bufton loves to watch his sons Beau and Brett play ball. Bufton is not the boys’ father, he’s also their coach. “It has its ups and downs,” says 16-year old Brett. “But I guess [one] of the good things is he’s always there to help you.”

But there are admittedly some downsides. “I tend to take the game and sometimes practice home,” says Coach Bufton. “And I like to talk about things as we get home and they like to just leave it at the gym or at the field.”

“[Sometimes] I get home and he’d be on my case all the time saying stuff about the game and how I did bad and stuff like that and I just told him you need to back off,” says Beau, 17.

“And he’s not saying that in a bad way and it doesn’t ruin our relationship,” says Bufton. “It’s just, ‘I’ve had enough,’ and I have to respect that and walk away and just let him be his own man.”

Bufton is a high school coach, but more often parent coaches are volunteers. Either way, experts say, coaching your own kids can be difficult. “Sometimes they feel picked on or criticized. Mom or dad is being too hard on them or sometimes it can go the other way and they feel like they’re not getting enough attention from mom or dad so times there’s that confusion,” explains Dr. Rick Van Haveren, an Atlanta-based psychologist.

Experts the key to making the relationship work is balance. Kids should understand that parent coaches wear two hats and parents need to understand the frustrations of the game don’t belong at home. “If you find that your athletic role starts to interfere with what’s going on at home, then I think it’s time to talk with your child about what’s going on and see if it would be a good idea to continue and if there [are] things you can resolve or if maybe it’s a better idea if someone else coaches the team.”

Experts say it’s also a good idea to use other coaches as a barometer for your behavior and on occasion allow them to work hands-on with your child to create a sense of seperation.

Despite the challenges, the Buftons say the good outweighs the bad. The best part they say is being together. “Those two boys are really two of my best friends and I love being with them. I don’t try to live through them. They have their own lives. They have their own goals and they’ve made a name for themselves not just by being my sons.”

Tips for Parents

Coaching your own child can be a very trying ordeal for a parent or it can be a very rewarding one. It mostly depends on how the situation is approached and the attitudes of the parent and child before and during the season. Below is an adaptation of a do and don’t list for parent-coaches originally compiled by the Canadian Hockey Association.


■Communicate with your child, making sure he/she understands why your relationship is different at the rink, court, field, etc.
■Offer both praise and criticism when necessary
■Make sure your child works just as hard as the other players
■Treat your child the same way you treat others
■Talk to your child after games, as home or in the car and tell him/her how you really felt


■Give your own child more playing time than other players
■Expect more from your child than you do from others
■Praise your child more than others for goals or fine plays
■Yell at your child at the rink, court, field, etc., just to make an example of him/her
■Ignore your child totally, believing this is better than paying too much attention and thus possibly being accused of favoritism

In addition to the guidelines above, members of the New Palestine United Youth Soccer Organization have developed a list of rules for parent-coaches.

■Know the game
■Listen to your players
■Don’t play favorites
■Get everyone in the game
■Make it fun for both you and the kids
■Don’t baby the players
■Be a teacher
■Act your age
■Care – but not too much
■Kids Sports Network
■The WonderWise Parent at Kansas State University
■Youth Sports Resource

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