How to Assist a Coach at Your Child’s Sports Session

Why be a coaching assistant?

When we questioned children and their coaches on parental involvement in sessions, this was generally welcomed, as long as the involvement was appropriate. Children’s responses indicated that they’d welcome doing different things with their parents and would like to share more experiences with them. Many children said they liked it when their parents and other family members came to watch them practise or compete, saying things like: ‘It makes me try harder’,  ‘It means I would get to do different things with her’, ‘It would help me to behave myself.’

Coaches appreciated that there were so many things a parent can do to get involved. More willing volunteers would always be welcome, and communication between coach and parent was vitally important in fully supporting and developing the child. Tennis coaches stated that most parents were positive influences and demonstrated an appropriate approach to tennis, emphasised child development, and were supportive (Gould et al., 2008).

Parents just dump the kids with us, leave, then pick them up again at the end.

As you already know, children like to feel that you are taking an interest in them. You will appreciate just how important it is to encourage a healthy interest in sport and be able to relate to what your child is experiencing. If there is an important part of your child’s life, like their involvement in sport, that is a mystery or closed to you, then wouldn’t it be better to find out more so you can share in their excitement and enjoyment?

So, What’s Stopping You?

When asked if they would want either of their parents to be involved in the actual coaching, responses varied. Common responses were: “No, I’d be embarrassed because they don’t know anything about the sport” and “No, because Dad would probably shout”

More positive responses were: ‘Yes, I would be comfortable with my dad coaching’,  ‘Yes, because they know more than me’, ‘Yes, because I can show off my skills.’

In our questions to parents, they identified the time factor as one of the main reasons for not becoming  involved in their child’s coaching, alongside a lack of knowledge of the sport. You will know your child better than anyone, and you are the only one who can decide whether you have the interest and the time to involve yourself in coaching in your child’s sport. If you have the interest and the time, but don’t feel you have the right knowledge, skills and experience, then take a couple of minutes to read these Top Tips, and you’ll realise that there are many ways in which you might be able to support your child and assist in their coaching sessions.

What Can You Do to Help?

There are general ways in which you can support your child in sport. The BBC website has some useful guidelines for parents in terms of general support. The main message in this guidance is simple. Many governing bodies of sport have produced guidelines for how you can support your child in the most positive way. These are generally available from the governing body’s website or in easily readable posters and leaflets. Some clubs may have even developed their own ‘Parents’ Charter’ or code of conduct for parents when watching coaching sessions and matches. If you are wondering why a charter or code of conduct for parents is necessary, just ask yourself whether you have ever witnessed or heard about parents behaving inappropriately at sessions or events.

We want to encourage more parents to help out during coaching sessions and find out whether they’d actually like to do a bit of coaching themselves. We know that parents will bring many relevant skills with them, as well as a really good understanding of children’s needs. You may bring really good organisational or communication skills with you that are essential in coaching. Try to identify ways in which you can gain valuable experience –
while also being of use to the coach and the coaching session – in order to make an informed decision about whether coaching is for you.

Being a parent will have helped you to relate well to children, understand and identify with children and their needs and communicate well with children.

You might think that people who have played the sport at a good level will make the best coaches, but this is not necessarily the case. There is a whole set of skills that parents will bring with them that are central to good coaching – and you might already possess these skills. As a parent, you will have played with your child, probably helping teach them to hit a balloon, catch/throw/kick a ball, ride a bike and a host of other movement skills. If you have, then you’ve already had a really good introduction to coaching and could develop your knowledge and skills even further.

If you do decide to become a coach, you will receive all the appropriate training you need from quality-assured staff who will help you develop the relevant knowledge and key skills.

But how do you actually get involved during the coaching session? What are the different types of jobs that you could do? You could do the following:

  • Assist in setting up equipment with the coach before the session and helping make sure it all gets put away safely at the end – as well doing a job that is simple but necessary, this will also help give you a better understanding of why equipment is set up as it is. This will also allow you time to talk to the coach and perhaps ask a few key questions that will enhance your understanding of the sport and coaching.
  • Be an additional supervisor – no one will expect, or should even ask, you to play a full coaching role without the appropriate training an experience. It might be that you do no more than keep an eye on a small group while the coach works with other children. Again, this gives you the opportunity to observe at first-hand what is being required of the children. You may even come to realise that you have more to offer than you first thought.
  • Act as a referee/umpire/scorer, help decide when the ball is in/out of play or just make sure that children stick to accepted rules and procedures when the coach is off working with another group. No one will expect you to be able to officiate in any formal capacity without the appropriate training and experience so don’t worry. When working with young children during practice sessions, the emphasis should be on coaching them to improve and encouraging them rather than blowing a whistle at the right time.
  • Simply stay to observe the activities and listen to what the coach says, then you could talk with your child after the coaching session to help them reflect on their learning – or simply get to know what they particularly like or dislike in the sessions. This is the start point for anyone involved in coaching – observation and discussion helps you get to know the children you are working with, which is every bit as important as knowing about the sport.
  • Watch or shadow a parent or another volunteer who is currently doing a similar job, or just talk to them about what the job entails. It would be great if you could work alongside someone with more experience who could act as a mentor and guide you as you become more involved.
  • Help the coach to make the session fun and motivating – can you think of any particular examples of how an assistant to the coach can be involved in doing this?
  • Listen to the children so you can understand their needs and provide some really useful feedback, for  example, about what the children like, dislike, find too easy or too difficult. The coach has only one pair of eyes and ears so additional sources of feedback are always useful.
  • Support individuals or small groups of children – the coach may have identified that certain children or groups would benefit from close supervision or continual encouragement.
  • Reinforce key values and messages – in short, be a good role model for the children in terms of turning  up on time, being appropriately dressed, enthusiastic, positive and demonstrating a real interest in the children – not just your child.

A word of warning!

Did you play competitive sport in your youth? A study of adolescents dropping out of sport (Fraser-Thomas et al.,2008) found that the young people who dropped out were more likely to have had parents who were high level athletes in their youth. So, if you did play sport to a reasonably high level yourself when young, please think carefully about what messages you send to your child if you do get involved. Too much pressure – for example,
from trying to live up to expectations – might lead to a youngster giving up the sport.

In ‘Helping Your Child Achieve in Sport – Fifty Things You Can Do’, parents are urged not to say things like ‘Well, what we did when I was playing’. Generally, comparisons are not helpful, either between your child and other children or between what your child does and what you used to do.

Clubs and coaches can be aware that parents can cause problems when they watch their children practising or competing. As a parent, please be careful of making comments from the sidelines – be positive! Negative comments may badly affect your child’s confidence, make your child lose concentration while playing and undermine the coach (Blom and Drane, 2008).

You must ensure that if you want to get into coaching as a parent, you are doing it for the right reasons.

Another issue is when both parents become involved in watching and assisting at sessions. In a recent study, it was found that some parents demonstrated an inconsistent approach (Holt et al., 2009). Obviously, as a parent, you don’t want to send mixed or confusing messages to your
child so please try to be consistent between you and support the key messages and goals agreed with the coach.

You must ensure that if you want to get into coaching as a parent, you are doing it for the right reasons. Be aware of the potential negatives that a coach faces when being assisted by parents, but at the same time, recognise the positives that you can bring to a coaching session, as
a parent.

Now that you’ve read these Top Tips, we hope your next step will be to talk with the coach and ask about watching and becoming involved in sessions. After that, what you choose to do is up to you and the coach. We are sure that if you do become more involved in assisting at your child’s coaching sessions, you’ll not just be giving valuable support, but you’ll also find out just how rewarding and how much fun it can be.

For more information visit the Become a Coach section of the sports coach UK website.

BBC Website ‘Advice for Parents’,

Sources:
Gould, D., Lauer, L., Rolo, C., Jannes, C. and Pennisi, N. (2008) ‘The Role of Parents in Tennis Success: Focus Group Interviews With Junior Coaches’, The Sport Psychologist, 22: 18–37.

Holt, N., Tamminen, K., Black, D., Mandigo, J. and Fox, K. (2009) ‘Youth Sport Parenting Styles and Practices’, Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 31 (1): 37–59.

Blom, L. and Drane, D. (2008) ‘Parents’ Sideline Comments: Exploring the Reality of a Growing Issue’,

Athletic Insight, 10 (3). Fraser-Thomas, J., Cote, J. and Deakin, J. (2008) ‘Examining Adolescent Sport Dropout and Prolonged Engagement from a Developmental Perspective’, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 20 (3): 318–333.

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