How should I deal with the tension that has arisen between my child and his sports coach, who also happens to be his father? The season is starting up again, and I'm dreading the inevitable fights between them. My son doesn't want to disappoint his dad, but he's getting nothing out of this particular sport. What do you suggest?
If your child wants to continue in this particular sport, we'd suggest that the best solution is to move him to a different team - one that is not coached by his dad. Whether you realize it or not, the conflicts you're experiencing in your family are not uncommon. That's why many sports leagues don't allow parents to coach their own kids.
They've made this rule because one of two scenarios often occurs: either the parent indulges in favoritism, giving his own child special breaks that the other kids don't get; or else the parent is extra hard on his child, pushing him and criticizing him far more harshly than the other kids on the team. It sounds as if your husband falls into the "no special breaks for my kid" camp. As a result, your son is miserable and lacks motivation to participate.
This could turn out to be an even more serious and significant issue than you suspect. If your husband is overly competitive, he may make the mistake of basing worth on achievement and affirming your son only when he succeeds. That's a bad move. It may negatively impact your boy's self-esteem for the rest of his life. It will also place an unnecessary strain on the father-son relationship, preparing the way for major explosions when your child reaches the teen years.
Don't misunderstand. We believe that it's important to encourage children to pursue excellence and develop self-discipline, and we understand that sports can be an excellent vehicle for teaching these values. But we will also insist that that it's critical for the parent-child relationship to be based on unconditional love and acceptance. Kids desperately need mom and dad to be their biggest cheerleaders, affirming them when they succeed and encouraging them when they fail.
If your husband has difficulty parenting this way, we'd recommend that you get a copy of Dr. Tim Kimmel's book Grace-Based Parenting and study it together. Then spend some time discussing the changes that one or both of you may need to make in your interactions with your son.
In the meantime, if you'd like to discuss your situation at greater length with a member of our staff, feel free to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department at your own convenience.
Coaching Kids in Sports: Joe White talks about his experiences as a coach, and the critical role encouragement plays in the life of a child.
Dads and Sports