Should I coach my high school child in sports?

for parents Jan 14, 2022

Text: Ann H. Zaprazny – Great Sports Mind
Image: Photo by Alliance Football Club on Unsplash

This is a question many parents ask themselves. 

As parents, we may first ask this question when our child is younger. Your child wants to play a sport that you know and love. Should you coach them? 

 If you choose to coach your child there are several positive benefits. 

You get to: 

  • Share your passion with them. 
  • More time with them. 
  • Volunteer and interact with other youth. 

 You might choose to not coach your child for good reasons.

  • It’s difficult for you to adjust your player intensity for the age group you are coaching
  • It’s challenging for you NOT to be hard on your child. 

Knowing yourself is an important step in the process. I played Division 1 basketball and I was a tad intense when I first started coaching. I am older and wiser now.

One thing that helped me be a better coach, was to understand the different stages of child development.

According to the article, Three Stages of Athletic Development: Sampling, Specializing, Investment: One of two pathways of elite performance in Sports by Shane Murphy, Ph.D.

Get FREE Access here to the Sports Parents Workshop and get an insight about what you can do to help your child thrive and enjoy sports. 

Here are the 3 main phases of athletic development for the typical youth stages you should be aware of so you can coach your high school kid for better outcomes 


Phase 1: Exploration or Sampling 

Sampling often occurs between the ages of 4 -12 and is one of the most critical phases of child development. (The ages are an estimate and may vary per child.)  

  • Children explore different sports. 
  • Socialization, movement, and exploration are more important than competition. 

In some sports like figure skating and gymnastics, children specialize and compete very young. 

How do you best help your child grow, explore and have fun during this stage?

  • Encourage your child to explore different sports and physical activities. 
  • Encourage fun, effort, learning, good sportsmanship vs. winning and scoring. 
  • Nurture the dreams of your child, not your own. 

Instead of asking your child, did you Win? Score? Get a Hit? Ask: 

  • What was fun about today's practice?
  • What did you learn? 
  • How were you a good teammate?
  • Did you work hard?  

Minimize competition. Competition can interfere with a child's development.

How to help your kid in a way so competition does not interfere with their performance? 

We want children to play and to continue to grow. 

When a team or the environment becomes too competitive, a child's playing time may be limited and adversely impact their confidence. (Travel soccer, basketball, and baseball are available to young athletes - too young. Nine-year-olds do not need four soccer games a weekend.)

 We want to foster enjoyment and skill development. 

 As parents, we can help our children have a growth mindset by shifting the questions we ask our children about their day in school and their experience at their practice. 

 As a parent coach, the same guidelines apply. If you coach your child at this age, your job is to help them fall in love with the sport so that they want to continue to play the sport. 

 Many sports offer travel or competitive teams for children in this age range. I don’t think 9 and 10-year-olds need to be on an intense travel team.  

I have watched more athletes' confidence completely erode because they get very little playing time. Kids at this age need to touch and need to play. Fun play in the backyard counts. 

After my daughter completed her third grade recreational soccer season, she was invited to play defense on a travel soccer team. Fortunately, we passed on the opportunity. 


My daughter enjoyed playing soccer on Saturday mornings. However, she did not convey any passion for the game or interest in soccer beyond the scheduled game and practice times. 

Your children will give you clues. Pay attention to them.

If your child shows great passion for a sport beyond the structure of practice and games - they might be ready for travel. Remember the most important thing for a child at this age is that they continue to develop and have fun. 

Phase two: (Commitment/Specialization)

Depending on the child, the age can be between 12 - 14 or 15.  

  • Young athletes begin to show an increased commitment to their chosen sport. 
  • May continue to play multiple sports or narrow to the chosen sport. 
  • They may become acutely aware of their skillset vs. their peers, impacting their enjoyment of their sport. (ie. My son Jason and swimming.) 

As a parent, how do you best support your child and help them continue to enjoy their sport? 

  • Encourage your child's participation. Encourage your child to focus on fun, effort, learning, and good sportsmanship. 
  • Nurture the dreams of your child, not your own.  

Instead of asking your child, did you Win? Score? Get a Hit? Ask: 

  • What was fun about today's practice?
  • What did you learn? 
  • How were you a good teammate?
  • Did you work hard? 

Help your child own the process they should be responsible for:

  • Getting ready for practice
  • Packing their bags for games
  • Getting the drinks, snacks prepared for practice
  • Decide what time they should go to bed, get up, etc., to be ready for the weekend. 

 As a personal example, when my kids were competing in a weekend tournament, I would ask on a Friday night, "What can we do tonight to make tomorrow morning go smoothly?" 

Of course, they would answer - "pack our bags." I would also ask, "What healthy snacks should YOU pack?" Involve your child in decision-making regarding sports choices. 

Phase three: Proficiency/Commitment

Typically between ages 14-18

Adult body training may become more structured as your child matures and develops. Your child may decide that they want to play at the next level. 

  • Skill development and strength & conditioning become a focus.  
  • Athletics may become the central feature of a talented athlete's life. 
  • Goal-setting becomes important for your child.

How do you best support your child at this level as a parent? 

  • Continue to encourage effort, enjoyment, learning, good sportsmanship. 
  • Encourage the development of the whole self. Sports is what you do - not who you are. There are many attributes about your child that are important, school, sports, family, friends, and more. Nurture the entire child. 
  • Allow your child to take on more and more responsibility for their sport, decision-making, and setting their own goals. 
  • Help your child make smart decisions and encourage adequate rest and recovery. 

The second thing that helped me as a parent coach was recognizing that kids perform their best when they feel their best. 

When they feel included, valued, optimistic about learning and improving, they stay with a sport longer. 

Do you want to learn how to help your child grow confidence and be happier and more proud? Check out the FREE The Sports Parents Workshop here. 


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