Coaching Youth Football: The Challenges and Benefits of being a Parent-Coach

James Ryan

One of my biggest fears in coaching is NOT that I will be subject to intense scrutiny and/or criticism by my players’ parents. That just comes with the territory and I accept that as a part of the coaching role. It is human nature that parents would want what is best for their child and they have every right to question a Coach’s actions, instructional techniques, and communication style.

If a parent ever has a question or a concern about how I, or my assistants, coach – I would absolutely welcome the opportunity to speak with them about it, to hopefully strengthen the lines of communication and trust.

Parent-Coaches need to stay fair and objective to ALL players. The development of each individual child has to be the bigger priority. I have played against many teams where the Parent-Coaches had over-used their own children, while neglecting the needs and development of the other players on the team. To me, that has always seemed incredibly unfair, particularly when some of the Coach’s children would be over used or over played to a point of injury or an endless amount of tears.

Win at all cost, right?

One of the nicest compliments that I had received (via email) this year was from a parent who said: “I think you are a great coach. I watch you week after week and you make an honest effort to spend time with all of the kids.”

Yes it’s nice to be called “great” (haha), but more importantly, it reinforces my belief in the importance of giving equal attention to all of my players. If anything, I worry sometimes that I am not spending enough time with my own child during practices, but that is exactly why I make sure that I spend as much time as possible playing sports with my child on the off-practice nights. I still give one-on-one attention to my own child (while having fun) – just not at the expense of the rest of the team.

As a Teacher, I have been influenced a great deal by the many teachers that I had while growing up. Some were amazing – some were not.

I can remember back in high school, I had this math teacher (no clue what her name was) who would hand out the homework assignments at the start of each class and would then sit at her desk reading the newspaper until the class was finished.

One day, I made the huge ‘mistake’ of asking for help. I was told, “if you don’t know the answer already, then I can’t help you!”

She then went back to reading her newspaper and I embarrassingly slithered back to my desk where I sat there staring at the clock, waiting for what felt like an eternity for the class to end. Feeling as though I had no other options and no teacher who cared, I immediately went down to the counselling office and dropped out of the class.

Lesson Learned: Never turn your back on a student (or player) when they ask for help.

Also, I have been influenced over the years by some of the less positive things that I have been witness to from a coaching perspective. A few years back for example, my son had a basketball Coach who allowed his own son (8-years old) to literally “run the team.”

The boy was always pushing and bullying the other kids on the team and he would tell them quite frequently that they all “sucked.” He would refuse to pass the ball during practices or games and would instead run all over the court as he held tightly onto the ball (the word “travelling” does not do it justice).

What made it worse was that I never once heard the father speak to his child or attempt to correct his behaviour. The result was that my son wanted to quit the team (which was heart-breaking to me when I considered just how excited he had been before the season started).

If I allowed him to quit, I risked sending the message that it was okay to quit on your teammates just because you aren’t getting along with one of the other players (knowing that as he got older, that would become more common).

If I forced him to play, I ran the risk of turning him off of basketball forever (just as I had been turned away from baseball and soccer as a child).

We compromised, and my son agreed to give it one more chance.

After the next game, in which my son and several other players were not provided with the opportunity to even touch the ball, I was all too happy to grant my son’s request and remove him from that particular team. The Parent-Coach’s son refused to pass the ball and refused to come off of the court, despite his father’s “requests.” Each time he touched the ball, the play was called dead due to travelling. The lack of discipline was unsettling.

Lesson Learned: Never put the needs of your own child above the needs of the team.

Like many Parent-Coaches, I am motivated to ensure that today’s youth are treated fairly, respectfully, and in a way that develops not only their athletic capabilities, but also vital characteristics such as leadership, teamwork, and a positive attitude.

For those of you who may be considering coaching your son or daughter’s team, let me just say this:

Do it absolutely!

Aside from the reward of seeing these young children develop, you also get the benefit of being able to protect your child from some of the “less endearing” coaches that are currently influencing our youth (scary).

So, what is my biggest fear then?

As a father to two young athletes, my concern stems from the fact that I definitely do not want my involvement as a Coach to somehow become a hindrance or distraction for my own children. If that day ever comes, I will gladly hang up my whistle. Until then, I plan on enjoying every second of it.


These are my opinions. If you don’t like them…I have others. Check them out at

James Ryan
James Ryan

jake and dad


  1. Paul

    Keep blowing that whistle James.

  2. Debbie

    wow James, well put, one time when Dale coached Matt's hockey,when he was young, he was an above average player, but Dale always ran through the 3 lines even when they were down, in the final game, all the kids pressured Dale to play Matt so they could win and Dale kept the lines running fairly, everyone pays to play.

    great article, you are a great coach and you put a lot of thought into your game, luv you

  3. Jay

    Great article!

  4. crazycantoncuts

    this is a beautifully written article

    I can only imagine the responsibilities of coaching your child, let alone the children of others

    let alone fearing for you son's safety on each play

    and again think of the other kids safety

    I'd go gray or bald real fast lol

  5. Nic

    Very very good insight. . This was excellent.

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