By Danielle Harder
Paul Spasoff signed up to coach hockey even before his son, Zachary, was born eight years ago. At the time, the Regina-based dad had heard horror stories about obnoxious coaches and difficult parents. He wanted to be well entrenched in the community coaching system before his own children came along.
Today, Spasoff says his experience has been anything but negative. Although he sometimes feels like he has inherited a second job — with all of the planning, organizing and meetings — Spasoff says every practice or game brings its own rewards.
“There was a friend of Zach’s who, at the beginning of the year, was really having trouble skating. I was worried that he would quit. At the end of the year, he was zipping around,” says Spasoff with pride.
It’s difficult to say how many parents coach children’s sports across the country, but according to the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC), about 75,000 adults take coaching certification courses every year for community-level sports. In fact, the CAC coordinates National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) training in 65 sports.
John Bales, CEO of the CAC in Ottawa, says in many cases those signing up are volunteers — rookie coaches who have never played the game and offered to coach their little one’s team only because there was no one else to do it.
However, there are things to consider before offering your services.
1 Time commitment. Most coaches should spend an hour or two planning a practice, get to the rink/field earlier than everyone else for games and practices and attend coaching clinics throughout the year. Plus, there’s paperwork, phone calls and occasional league meetings, all while juggling your regular daily demands. A criminal record check is mandatory.
2 Patience. You’ll need lots of it. “Patience is extremely important when you’re dealing with younger age groups, especially kids under 10,” says Bales. “It’s also being able to listen effectively, not just directing kids, but listening to them so that they feel valued and appreciated.”
3 Remember who you are doing this for. Larry Sadler, a Peterborough, Ont.-based coaching instructor with the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, says the best coaches are those who put the kids first, explaining that many parents say they are in it for the fun but in the dying minutes of a tied game — with the worst line set to take the ice, or the weakest player ready to take a penalty shot — will choose winning over giving everyone equal playing time. A good coach can control that urge, he says. “The internal question you always ask is, “If I’m in it for the kids, then if their turn is up, well, their turn is up.”
Surprisingly, the quality you are least likely to require is a skill for the sport you’ll be coaching. Treena Brown, a mom of two in Williams Lake, B.C., knew the basics of soccer but not much more when she took over her nine-year-old daughter’s team. “I was nervous because I had played soccer, but it was in Grade 6!” she laughs.
Brown took a weekend coaching clinic where she learned several drills and practice techniques. But on the drive home, she confessed to another soccer mom that she still didn’t think she could do it.
“I said, “I’ve got the drills but what if I’m not very good?’ And she said, “Treena, if there was someone else who could do it better, they would have put their name forward,” she recalls. “That sealed the deal.”
Brown got through the year by leaning on other coaches for tips and putting the emphasis on fun, not winning. She also made it a point to sit down with the parents at the very beginning to explain her lack of experience and philosophy of fun.
Brown says some of the girls on her team were not entirely enthusiastic about playing, and others criticized their teammates for not kicking hard enough or going the wrong way. To resolve these issues, she tried an exercise used by another coach where the girls sat in a circle at practice and said one nice thing about the teammate beside them.
“At first I found it kind of quirky, but I tried it and at the next practice the girls wanted to do it again!” she laughs. “If you’ve got a positive attitude and you want to have fun with the kids, you can coach.”
Although Spasoff has removed one parent from near his team’s box for constantly berating the group, generally “the good outweighs the bad nine-to-one,” and most complaints are minor, such as, “My dad says not to listen to you. He says I shouldn’t pass.”
Bales believes parents who act out at games do so because of the pressure of their daily lives. “You need time to make the relationship work. If, at the end of the practice, the parents are picking up the kids and rushing to the next thing, and the coach is rushing to his next thing, they don’t have the time to ask “Well, how did that go?’ or “Why did so-and-so react that way?’ That general discussion between a coach and parent can be so important.”
Spasoff says he tries to dismiss nasty comments from parents because, after all, it’s just a weekend job and he’s there to have fun.
“I really enjoy doing it and if I can be positively involved in a different way in my kids’ lives, that’s great,” Spasoff says. “But I’ve also learned that while it’s fun, I could never be a school teacher full-time!”
Danielle Harder has coached children to success on the soccer and baseball field — if success can be measured by the number of dandelions picked in goal or sandcastles built at third base.
Whether coaching is new to you or old hat, here are some tips to make the most of the experience.
If you’ve never coached before:
If you know the sport and a bit about coaching:
If you’re an experienced coach:
Is your child a great and eager player on the field but becomes lackluster at home? Keep reading to find out why her sport is more than just a game.