I am often asked my opinion on things that involve football. The questions range from how to find which player position best suits a child to who I think will win the Super Bowl, and pretty much everything in between. I have many thoughts on the game, on coaching, and on improving performance, so I am starting Passing Thoughts to share some of those thoughts. I welcome your comments and conversation. –KR

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

It Takes a Special Dad to Coach Kids

**This column also appeared in the Argus Leader on June 13, 2016

As Father’s Day approaches, it is a great time to reflect on the unique role that dads play in youth sports. We look to parents to coach their kids in youth sporting leagues, and in football that task often falls to fathers. Coaching your own kids has unique challenges, but it also can have unique benefits for young athletes. Parents are concerned that kids learn the rules of the game, but they also have a powerful opportunity to teach life lessons to the young athletes they encounter.

I was recently following a Junior Football team with several of my athletes, and I noticed the coach would show up excited about practice and working with the team. As practice began, he had a routine but didn’t seem very comfortable with the kids’ instruction. He was uncertain on the style of offense and the rules, and he totally forgot all special teams. At that point, I figured they could be in for a long season.

After watching their first game, the team only gained one yard on offense, and the coach approached me and asked if I would consider giving him some assistance. My response was, "Please don't take this the wrong way, but why do you coach the boys?" He replied, "I get up at 3 a.m. to go to work, and I get off work and go directly to practice. Practice lets me spend time with my son and see him in a climate that he enjoys, and I enjoy being part of something with him and the other boys." That response told me everything I needed to know about this dad being exactly the kind of coach who should be working with our kids.

Coaches, particularly those volunteer dads who step up to coach their child’s team, can bring a wealth of positives to young athletes. They are demonstrating that they value spending time with their child and his/her friends and creating a meaningful experience together. They are taking an active role in making sure kids learn proper technique and rules of the game. They are demonstrating sportsmanship. These parents model how to handle conflict, how to win and lose, and how to be a good teammate in a competitive environment.

Occasionally you will see parents/coaches who accept the role to make sure their own children get more playing time, or they live vicariously through their child’s experience. And all coaches can get too wrapped up in winning and losing, and lose sight of the learning process that is so critical to youth sports. It’s important to keep sight of the most critical aspect of youth sports: to ensure that the kids have fun and enjoy the game.

As parents, whether we coach or not, we need to work together to help achieve that goal for our young athletes. Thank you to the volunteer coaches and parents who work to ensure that our kids have a positive experience. To those dads who are helping to shape our kids’ development through your mutual love of the game, Happy Father’s Day.

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