The Sports Parent Network
Helping parents guide their children through youth sports

What should we expect from a coach?

Many parents are not quite sure what to expect from a coach.  If we expect too much we might be disappointed, and if we expect too little we might sell our kids short.  Here are some guidelines on what to reasonably expect from a coach.

1. Expect a coach to be a teacher.    Coaching is a combination of leadership, management, and teaching.  Some coaches, particularly at highly competitive levels, spend a great deal of energy on leadership and management, but not enough time teaching individual and teams skills.  This often happens in the thick of a season when the coach has his or her hands full preparing for the next game. If youth sports are to be educational, a coach should be expected to make time to teach regardless of the level of competition. 

2. Expect a coach to teach every player.  On some teams the coach will spend most or all of their time working with a core group of players who constitute the starting lineup or the top individual competitors.  In this case the second and third string players may receive little or no instructional time. As a practical matter it is often necessary for coaches to spend more time with some players than others. If youth sports are to be educational, every player deserves a basic level of instruction throughout the season.  If the head coach can't do it, then an assistant should focus on individual instruction.

3. Expect a coach to set clear and consistent expectations.  Players will often struggle if they do not understand a coach's vision for the team and their own role within the team.  Coaches should be expected to set clear and consistent expectations for the team and for each individual player.  At the same time, communicaton is a two-way street.  It is the responsibility of the player to listen carefully and act on the coach's guidance.  It is also the player's responsibility to bring concerns to the coach. 
4. Expect a coach to care about each player's success.    Some of the greatest disappointments in youth sports happen when a coach does not seem to care about an individual player's aspirations.  While it is true that each player is ultimately responsible for his or her own development, it is equally true that a coach has the power to help or hinder that development.  It is reasonable to expect a coach to spend some time with each player to find out their goals and aspirations.  It is also reasonable to expect a coach to offer each player the guidance they need to reach their potential.  Even if the player's aspirations exceed their ability, the player will have some peace of mind knowing that the coach truly cared.

5.  Expect a coach to communicate.  If a player is not meeting expectations, the coach should be expected to tell the player where they are falling short, and offer advice on how to remedy the situation.  It is simply not effective for a coach to deny or reduce playing time or pull a player from the starting lineup without explaining the reasons to the player.  A player in this situation is left to wonder why he or she was demoted, and without an action plan for improving their play.  This is bound to result in a loss of trust and self-confidence, and represents a lost opportunity for both player and coach..

6.  Expect a coach to listen.  A coach should be willing to listen to the ideas and concerns of a player.  This should be done in an appropriate time and setting. The coach is not obligated to agree with the player's perspective, but the coach should respect the fact that the player took action to address the problem.  

7. Don't expect a coach to give a player anything not earned through effort.  Everything in #1 through #6 is based on the assumption that the player is committed to being a good teammate  and working as hard as he or she can.  Players who expect respect from a coach are expected to give respect in return.

8. Don't expect a coach to be perfect. Coaching is a complex and often stressful job.  Every coach, like every player and every parent, makes mistakes.  The ideal coach is willing to admit mistakes and focus on how to get each player to perform at their best. The ideal player -- and sports parent -- has the same attitude.

In summary, if a coach truly wants the best for each and every player on the team, and the coach and player are willing to communicate accordingly, there are few if any problems that cannot be overcome. 
Adjusting for Level of Play

At clinical levels of play, a coach should be expected to teach every player and provide ample playing time for all. 

At competitive levels of play, positions and playing time are typically awarded based on ability and effort.  Nevertheless, a coach should be expected to teach every player on the team, and help each player try to reach their goals.

Another View

For another interesting view on coaching, check out the Positive Coaching Alliance at Stanford University.  The PCA advocates "double-goal" coaching in which the coach strives to win and teach life lessons.  Learn more at