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The True North Series

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The Parent-Coach

Being a parent-coach isn’t for everyone. Coaching your child is HARD, whether in a team or individual sport. It can put a huge stress on your relationships, and in a worst case scenario, even harm them.

I’ve witnessed and heard a few horror stories. I’ve also been a parent-coach for both of my sons. In our case, the parent-coach experience helped bring us closer. But we’ve had our fair share of struggles, and I’ve become aware — really aware — of how my patience can evaporate over a perceived lack of effort or focus. For a parent-coach, it can be difficult to avoid becoming emotionally involved with how your child is performing.

An example that might sound familiar is what I’ll call the problem of “bringing it home”.

There have been times I’ve found myself frustrated after a game, and spent time in the car, at dinner, and the evening “not letting go”. I’ve learned that it’s important to self-evaluate and be honest with my reactions in these situations. My reaction is about ME and no one else. A real conversation requires engaging with another person with their own perspectives, character traits, and personality.

We’ve all heard the coach’s cliche: “give it all you’ve got and leave everything on the floor!” I’ve come to realize this doesn’t just apply to players, it applies to coaches too!

These lessons didn’t come easy.

I got into coaching reluctantly. I’d played ball in high school and some adult leagues, but I never thought of myself as an expert. So I was hesitant. After some encouragement from Vidal and some parents, I decided to give it a try.

I went straight for deep waters. I attended coaching clinics, and began to seek out information — articles, videos, you name it. I tried to be as prepared as possible. I thought my kids needed an expert: Jeff Duke, PhD.

But I was absolutely lost in my first year!

Practices were all over the place. We tried complex drills. NBA drills. With 9 year-olds. Kids whose shots could barely reach the rim. Our games were a bit of a disaster too. I gave confusing instructions. I was focused on winning.

But something surprising happened that season. My kids and I had fun, and we made a lot of friends and connections within the basketball community. Over time I settled more into the role. On the advice of Vidal, my focus shifted from winning to development. This led to an unexpected change: I noticed that my relationships with my sons improved.

Focusing on development peeled away the pressure of always feeling like we had to win. It forced me to look at all of our players as they are, and think about their individual strengths and weaknesses. It forced me to humanize them, and think about their personalities. How do each of our players handle pressure and failure? What do they want from this experience? What can I do to help?

I also began to understand my kids in ways that might never have happened without being their coach. Having come to understand and appreciate my sons more deeply, I’m better able to help them excel in a sport that they love. Now we work together more as a team — not just on the court, but at home too. My feedback doesn’t come across anymore as nagging. Now it’s helpful and focused. I’ve learned how to better communicate with my sons AND let them tackle challenges on their own. The trust has grown both ways, and I’m glad to feel that I’ve provided them with a healthy and respectful father-son relationship.

Now that my sons are older, I’ve stepped back from coaching their teams. They’re in great situations basketball wise, and I’m more than ready to simply enjoy watching them compete. I’ll continue to get involved if asked by their coaching staff — it’s become second nature. But I’m in a place to enjoy the experience from both sides of the court, and grateful for the changes introduced into our lives from the journey.

Jeff Duke
Jeff Duke
Emeritus Head Coach, Northern Kings Academy