Rewarding Your Son/Daughter – The Dilemma of a Grassroots Coach

Often, grassroots coaches take a team that their son/daughter plays for, but many coaches are apprehensive to reward their children through fear of accusations of favouritism.

Typically, it is the reason why they volunteered in the first place – to ensure that their child has a team to play for. With no one else raising their hand it was up to them to put themselves forward and while there are many rewarding benefits of being a grassroots coach, many are mindful of how other parents perceive how they treat their children in comparison to the rest of the team.

Issues like game time, man of the match awards and player of the season trophies can be contentious matters at the best of times but throw the coach’s child into the mix and it can be a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, the coach can be left in a difficult position.

Keeping it Fair

Grassroots coaches can feel as though every decision they make is being scrutinised. Everything from what the team does in training and game days, all the way through to organising kit, sponsorship and communicating with parents/players. It is something that comes with the territory of being the person that was willing to step up when nobody else would.

Those who coach a team that includes their son/daughter will be conscious about trying not to give any preferential treatment to their child. Often, this results in the coach going too far the other way and expecting more from their son/daughter than others in the team to ensure they are not accused by the parents of other players.

While the parents of the players in your team may be appeased that the coach is not playing favourites, it does mean that the coach’s child may form feelings of resentment and/or not enjoy being part of the team. They may feel that no matter how hard they try in training or during games, they will never receive any form of recognition through the coach’s fear of not wanting to upset other parents.

Player of the Match Awards

You’re the coach and your child is the best player on the team, they’ve had the game of their lives almost single-handedly winning the match by themselves. You know they deserve to take home the player of the match trophy for the week, but how will it look if you award your son/daughter? Especially if they had only recently won the award. What would you do?

In junior sport, it’s only right that player of the match awards are shared around the team providing a source of encouragement for all. Achievement deserves to be recognised because, without recognition and the positive impact that comes with that, the player can begin to wonder what they have to do to be rewarded and what the point is – thus having a negative effect.

The reality is that 99% of parents that attend games will understand and won’t begrudge a player from being recognised, even if they are the coach’s son/daughter. Yes, there may be one that chooses to see things from a different perspective, but as a coach, you are never going to please everyone. As long as you can truthfully say to yourself that the award was given on merit, then you are doing the correct thing.

Handling Upset Parents

Another reality of being a grassroots coach is that, at some point, you are going to have to speak to upset parents. In such cases, it is best to arrange for a time where you can talk privately, away from the group.

Listen to the concerns of the parent and calmly discuss any key points. If the parent is upset about a lack of game time, ensure that you can give a reason for why they did not start and/or were substituted (this could be through behavioural issues or team rotation policy). Make sure that it is consistent with the rest of the squad. Always remain calm and composed and do not allow yourself to become frustrated or respond in a manner that is not becoming of someone in your position.

If there is a consistent issue with the same player/parent, coaches should seek out the support of a senior official at the club that is best placed to handle such issues, working towards a suitable solution. Always follow club protocol.

End of Season Awards

While player of the match awards can be contentious, they do not compare with the politics that can come with the end of season awards. What is the fairest way of deciding on award winners? What categories should you award?

There is no right or wrong way of organising end of season awards, it is what works best for the team and/or club. Many clubs choose to award three main trophy winners:

  • Coach’s Player of the Year
  • Players’ Player of the Year
  • Parents’ Player of the Year

This way, everyone gets a democratic vote and trophies are spread across different winners. Coaches may choose to adopt a policy of saving their choice for player of the year until votes are in for the other two awards, to choose a player that hasn’t already won an award. Others may decide not to. Votes should be handed in confidentiality.

Again, coaches must be truthful and able to provide reasoning for any player to win a player of the year award, whether it is their child or not. If, as the coach of the team, you believe that your child has been the best player then be proud to recognise that – if they haven’t been, then choose someone else.

Keep it Fun

The coach’s number one priority is to make sure that every player in the team is having fun. As the parent of one of the players, it can be easy for the lines to blur between coach and parent – that means making sure that a line is drawn between the two.

At training/games, you are their coach, and you treat them the same as another player that has recently joined. As soon as you leave, you are not their coach – you are their parent – which means leaving any criticism/feedback until you are back in that environment (unless your child seeks it out).

So long as every child enjoys being part of the team and looks forward to training sessions and games, then the coach is doing their job exactly as has been asked of them. It doesn’t matter whether you are one of the child’s parents or not.

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