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Your Parent Is Your Coach: The Athlete's Perspective - How To Cope and Compete!

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

Let's face it. We all have unique experiences that challenge us differently than others. My father was my coach in high school and at an NCAA Division 1 college. I know the layers associated with this and can shed light on how to cope and compete!

Being a goalkeeper in soccer already comes with the mental demands of dealing with high pressure situations. Factor in having your dad who was one of the best college coaches in the United States, an NCAA Championship winner, and Hall of Fame recipient at an ACC school to add to the mental mix. I can't say that during my time as his player I got it all right. But in hindsight through my personal experience and through the experiences gained in my sport psychology training, I have a few strategies for the athlete to utilize to keep focused and compete. Parents stay up to date, because the blog on how you can best help your son or daughter in this situation will be released soon!

Alright enough background. Here's the plan! Remember every sport, parent, and coach are all different. That's where my individual sessions are highly beneficial, but here is a framework to work with:

1.) Who are YOU?!

Oh how many times I have heard "Oh you're the coach's son" or "Hey young Elmar (father's name)." That's right, I was called by my father's first name. Whether they forgot my name or were just trying to be funny I do not know. And not everybody is doing it out of ill intent! However, it is up to you to politely respond with your name, "Nice to meet you! You can call me Alex." This may feel uncomfortable but this is what coaches like myself mean when we say "put in the work." This is the work you have to do and embrace that discomfort. YOU are a unique blend of your family, friends, experiences and environment. Being your parents son or daughter is just a small piece of the greater identity that is YOU. This is the first step in establishing and differentiating your athletic and personal identity, which is a huge foundational piece of mental skills training I do with my athletes. Take pride in who YOU are as an athlete and demonstrate your strengths. Your parent my have been known to be the more aggressive and powerful basketball player, where you naturally are the more skillful and calm player. Embrace these traits as unique to you!

2.) Communicate with your parent and with your coach!

That's right! There's a time in place to communicate as the son/daughter and a time to communicate as an athlete. It's important the coach and player BOTH understand this location boundary! When you are in the performance environment, it's not a good time to tell your parent about the fight you had with your sibling, or about the A+ you got on an exam. Save that for when you are home or over the phone after practice if you live on a campus. The same applies if you want to ask your parent about your performance you should do this at the performance facility and not in the home environment that is designated to spend time as a family. These communication boundaries will help keep the relationship appropriate to the contexts of the environment. More specific boundaries can also be discussed like how to communicate in a car ride, or even making a 24 hour rule. This rule would be that the coach and athlete do not communicate about the competition for 24 hours after the competition is complete. This allows time for all emotions to subside and have rational discussions. Lastly, it is important to communicate your goals to your coach. If your parent thinks you are trying to make it to the professional level when you are just trying to compete in college, you will be speaking different language and this can help with managing expectations and standards.

3.) Check-in with your passion!

Every once in a while it's important to have scheduled "check-ins." Some athlete's do these daily, others a few times a season, but whatever works best for you! A check-in is a time for you to sit down and ask yourself three really important questions: A.) On a scale of 1-10 how much are you enjoying the sport? B.) What do you enjoy most about your sport and why? C.) What are your goals and how are you going to accomplish them? These are three basic questions that can keep you present within your sport and also focus on why you are competing. Focusing on the task that is needed to be accomplished regardless of the situation and staying centered on your goals is a key piece of performance excellence. All of your decisions and actions should be based off what YOU are trying to accomplish, and NOT about pleasing your parent/coach.

Tie it together!

This information may be incredibly helpful or maybe you found bits and pieces that opened the door for some ideas. Every situation is unique and the dynamic between the coach and player change based on the age, level of competition, team vs. individual sport, behaviors and common goals, etc. I would be happy to work alongside anyone who wants to navigate this territory with a specific, actionable plan! In the meantime stay wired-in on YOU as best as you can!

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