PARENTS who volunteer to coach their children’s sport teams deliberately disadvantage their own kids for fear of being accused of favouritism, putting their relationships with their sons and daughters at risk, researchers have found.
A Flinders University study found dads who coach their sons’ footy teams avoid giving their boys awards and praise, give them harsher feedback and make an example of them in front of others.
And they justify it by saying they have to be seen to be fair, avoid conflict with other parents and send disciplinary messages to the playing group.
Lecturer in sport, health and physical activity Dr Sam Elliott conducted in-depth interviews with 16 dads who had been coaching juniors for between one and five seasons. They were in charge of under-12s or 14s.
While all the coaches enjoyed the role, most said boys of that age messed around a lot and they felt like glorified babysitters unless they laid down the law early.
But disciplining other people’s kids risked conflict with their parents, so they made an example of their own child to set the tone for the rest.
“It has got to start with my kid, like when the coach talks, you have got to listen,” one dad, Rick, said.
“For example, if they are not doing the right thing and I give it to him, send him to do a lap, yell at him or whatever … make an example!”
Dads also highlighted the mistakes of their own children for the benefit of teaching the rest of the team skills and understanding of the game.
Most said their kids recognised the difficulties their dads faced in the dual role, but not always.
“I did get picked up by my young fella when I was driving him home the other week. He said: ‘Why do you always pick on me every time something goes wrong?’” dad Frank said.
Dr Elliott said the challenges faced by parent coaches were “problematic for parent and child relationships”.
He said clubs could arrange more “meet and greet” training sessions for parents and children to help coaches “cope with their fears of external perceptions of favouritism”, and ensure coaches were positively portrayed through club communications.
Tim Baker has coached sons Angus, 17, Lachlan, 14, and Noah, 11, at Flinders Park Football Club, which he said sets high standards for parent behaviour toward coaches.
He said the dual role could be a minefield when it came to awards, player positions and game time, and dealing with “keyboard warrior” parents, adding the best strategy was to get other parents as involved as possible in helping out at training sessions.
“I’ve been harder on my kids. You almost deliberately disadvantage them,” he said.