Opinion

For better or worse, parents hold key

As a father of three, with two boys actively playing community sports, and a third about to lace up his soccer cleats for the first time in September, I recognize the crucial role of parents as both volunteers and coaches.

Simply put, without moms and dads, most amateur sports organizations couldn't function.

But over the past four years, I've come to learn that involving parents means accepting the good with the occasional bad.

And it's the negatives—which are by far outweighed by the good these generally-selfless parents do—that need addressing.

Because it takes just a few bad apples to spoil the bunch.

With so many youth in the hands of coaches, some well-qualified, but many others without any coaching training or experience at all—that includes me when I first volunteered—the system has pitfalls.

Especially when parents are coaching their own children, which is often the case when it comes to amateur sports.

I'm aware of one case where a parent-coach insists on playing an elementary-aged child in one position only on the soccer pitch, despite that child wanting to explore the field, and that child's parents seeking the same opportunity as the coach's own child.

Guidelines from the Canadian Soccer Association clearly state that "all players play equal time and try all team positions" at this age group, so it's clear what Canada's soccer braintrust believe.

Somehow, that message isn't getting through.

Further complicating things is when parents with children actively playing in a particular sport also serve as board members for that sport, an arena where a child or sport's best interests can be lost amongst the politics and egos.

I interviewed an experienced local coach who said accusations of parent-coaches favouring their own children are not uncommon. But he said parents do a great deal of good and are invaluable.

But I've witnessed where parents who aren't properly trained, and don't appear to "buy in" to the philosophy of nurturing a love for sports in general, can let the pursuit of victories—rather than player development—cloud their judgement.

And yes, there are some parent-coaches hoping to defy million-to-one lottery-like odds, that their child will become a sports professional, and will make questionable decisions in an effort to improve those slim odds.

Is it realistic to entirely strip a parent of their biased views of their own children?

Probably not.

How many parents would volunteer to coach, if they weren't overseeing their own kids?

Likely a lot fewer than currently do, considering parents also serve as bus drivers, shuttling their kids between home, school, practices and games.

So what's the solution?

One appears to be in the works already.

Michael Findlay, director of soccer development for BC Soccer, noted a 58 per cent increase in certified coaches in 2013/14 compared to a year earlier, a 1,100-plus coach increase.

A proposal will be tabled in June at BC Soccer that mandatory age and stage specific coach education be adopted in B.C.

Bobby Lenarduzzi, president of Whitecaps FC, said providing parents with better direction and coaching instruction is key.

He and his wife coached their daughter field hockey, a sport the former soccer star said he didn't profess to know the nuances of.

But they did the best they could to ensure the players laughed, had a good time and were in a positive environment, he said.

That's the mindset the vast majority of parent-coaches I've encountered have.

It wasn't that long ago that a friend complained about the quality of coaching his child was receiving. His wife chimed in and challenged him to step up and do something about it.

Whether it's coaching or doing behind-the-scenes administrative work, it's a challenge so many parents in Richmond accept in so many sports.

With a guiding hand in the years to come, it's a job they'll be put in a position to perform much better in.

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