Last week a coach sent me a question, asking for some tips and suggestions about coaching his high-school daughter, and if I had any tips on how to better enhance their coach-athlete relationship without bringing harm to their father-daughter relationship. Below you will find my response to him, and my thoughts on how parents that act as coaches can make the experience for both them and their kids more rewarding.
Hi Gene (not dad's real name),
I hope this message finds you well! I appreciate you taking the time to complete a contact form. That is an interesting situation you find yourself in. I have three young boys (5, 3, and 1). I haven't found myself in a similar situation as you are in, but I think I have some suggestions/tips you can immediately implement that can get things going in a more positive direction.
First, do you as a coach have an idea of what you want to work on with your daughter at each practice session? If you do, do you include her in the planning process? I ask because I have found it very helpful to include my throwers in the planning process of a particular practice session and weeks worth of practices. For example, if your daughter is having difficulty with her release in the shot-put or discus, you can sit down with her and lay out a plan that will help fix that problem. Or, if she has difficulty with her hammer/weight entry, you can sit down with her and discuss how you plan to fix that problem that she is currently having. You can work together on putting a plan in place that can alleviate her of the difficulty she may be experiencing in that particular part of her throw.
Second, which goes along with #1, provide your daughter with some autonomy in the planning process. Ask her what she would like to work on, and communicate with her how you will be assisting her with that particular aspect of the throw. I have found it very helpful to not only ask my throwers what they think, but to also reinforce focusing on whatever they want to fix/work on for a series of consecutive practice sessions. Rather than focus on four, five, or six things that may have gone wrong, only focus on the one particular aspect of the throw you two discussed. We just had our first meet of the collegiate season on Thursday. The only feedback I provided my athletes was about the specific aspect of the throw (shot-put and weight) we had been focusing on for the past two weeks. Yes, they made other mistakes during their throws, but we only focused on what we had been working on in practice. We will get to the other stuff after they return from their winter break.
Third, provide positive feedback first after she has completed a throw. It took me a long time to figure this out, but rather than begin the conversation after each throw with what went wrong, provide one or two or three positive parts of the throw followed by what can be worked on next time. I was a high-school teacher for many years-I implemented this strategy in my classroom everyday. It didn't work all the time, but it gave my students something to be proud of followed by some things that needed to be worked on.
Fourth, and this one may be the most difficult to implement, but ask your daughter a couple of questions; 1) how she likes being coached, 2) what she doesn't like, 3) what her expectations for a daily practice session are, 4) what she hopes to get better at by the end of the week, and 5) what she hopes to master by the end of a particular season (indoor and/or outdoor). This not only gives her the chance to communicate what she wants to accomplish, it gives you the chance to make her part of the process because she is telling you what she wants. The difficult part is then coaching what she wants to get better at (I hope that makes sense). I encourage my throwers at the collegiate level to come up with what they want to be better at by the end of a particular season, and not a specific distance they want to throw.
Lou Holtz said in a podcast interview that he never tried to criticize the athlete, but only the performance. By having your daughter communicate with you and tell you what her focus and expectation is, you can then be more mindful of that, plus you will be able to remind her of what she wanted to focus on in the first place.
I hope some of these strategies and tips are helpful to you as you coach your daughter moving forward with this season and upcoming ones.
Please write back or give me a call to let me know how things go.
Best wishes on the remainder of your season.
What are your thoughts about the suggestions/tips I provided Gene? Would you have added anything else, or not mention something that I did?
Have you ever been in a situation like this? If so, how did you handle the coach-athlete relationship without harming the coach-child relationship?
As always, thanks for reading ~ Charles
Dr. Charles Infurna
Charles Infurna, Ed.D., is the owner and lead coach of Forza Athletics Track Club. Dr. Infurna has coached National Record Holders, National Champions, All-Americans, and Conference Champions at the Post-Collegiate, Collegiate, and High School level.