Coaching your child: Expert advice from T-ball to high school and beyond (Part 2)

By Steve Henson

What follows is a short guide to coaching a son or daughter found in the Proactive Coaching booklet, “Youth Coaching, Four Keys to a Successful Season.” The examples are from baseball players, but the lessons can be universal to any sport:

• Understand when to be a coach and when to be a parent: As soon as a game or practice ends, make a quick transition back to the unconditional love of a parent. Do not be the coach to your child at home; do not parent your child on the field. Develop a clear separation of roles. Keep in mind that you will be a parent for life; you will only be a coach for a while.

New York Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes admits his dad was tougher on him than on his youth teammates. Even today, Hughes’ father will call him after games.

“He’ll leave these hour-long voicemails about everything I need to remember,” Hughes said. “He especially leaves a message on my phone if he watches the game and knows I struggled a little bit. He’ll leave questions like, ‘Was your sinker working?’ Then I’ll call him back and say, ‘I don’t throw a sinker.’ And he’ll say, ‘Then why don’t you throw one next time, or learn one?’ ”

Suggestion: Talk to your child about the difference between your role as a coach and as a parent. Have him or her call you “coach” during practice and games, and have them transition back to “dad or “mom” immediately afterward.

• Avoid playing favorites or being too tough on your child: Showing favoritism to your child will strain his or her relationship with teammates. It will be obvious to everybody but you. On the other hand, being too tough on your child can make the child feel as if he or she is being unfairly punished just because dad is the coach. Treat your child as a member of the team – nothing more, nothing less.

“My dad didn’t ever want other kids or parents to think he was showing favoritism toward me, so I always had to prove myself on my own,” Chipper Jones said. “My dad taught me the fundamentals of the game, but he had the other coaches take care of the discipline end of the game. It worked out great.”

Suggestion: Ask a trusted an assistant coach or parent to be brutally honest with you and inform you if you are showing favoritism or are being too hard on your child. And don’t get defensive when the person says what you might not want to hear.

• Don’t discuss coaching issues with your child: Do not discuss teammates. Do not compare players or siblings. Let post-game analysis wait until you are again in the role of the coach. Make the transition to parent and if your child wants to bring up the game to you, answer from the parent perspective.

The father of Sean Rodriguez, an infielder with the Tampa Bay Rays, was a professional scout and coach who also coached Sean since he could swing a bat.

“He was never hard on me, never screamed at me, never got mad at me, and never called me out on the field,” Rodriguez told Tobin. “My dad was great. Whenever I did something wrong he was more quiet than anything else and then I knew something was wrong. He wouldn’t even say anything when I got back to the car. He always wanted me to figure out what I did wrong.

“That was his biggest thing – for me to figure it out on my own. It was his way of teaching me a lesson – a lesson for me to self-teach myself, self-correct myself, and self-discipline myself.”

Suggestion: Never rehash the game in the car with your child on the drive home. As soon as you turn on the ignition and pull out of the parking lot, you are a parent, not a coach. In your mind, every traffic sign you see as you approach your house should read, “Dad’s Home.”

• Know when to stop coaching: Recognize when the time comes to step aside and let someone else coach your child. This may happen either because of ability (yours or the child’s) or because your child makes it clear he or she doesn’t want you on the field anymore. Brown said this often occurs when youngsters turn 13 or 14.

Curt Schilling’s father, Cliff, never got to see him pitch in the major leagues. (AP)
“Make a smooth transition from coach to parent-spectator-encourager,” Brown said. “Don’t hesitate to do some scouting to make sure the coach who succeeds you is a good one for your child. Remember the kind of parent support that you appreciated when you were coaching and give it to your child’s new coach.”

Maddux recalled when his father came to this realization, saying, “At that point he stayed completely out of it. He let the other coaches coach. Yet, he was still there every game I played.”

Youngsters absolutely appreciate parents being involved in their sports careers, from T-ball all the way to the big leagues. And the dad’s voice lingers in a child’s memory long after they cease taking the field together as coach and player.

Former All-Star pitcher Curt Schilling’s father, Cliff, coached him throughout youth league and predicted early on that his son would make the major leagues. He was thrilled when Curt was a second-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1986. But Cliff died of a heart attack in 1988, a few months before his son made his major-league debut.

Curt went on to start 436 major-league games, and he left a ticket for his father at will call at every one.

Steve Henson is Senior Editor, Major League Baseball at USA Today Sports Media Group. You can follow him on Twitter at @HensonUSAToday