An interesting question was posed to me on Twitter the other day: Should parents be allowed to coach their own children in soccer?
From a practical standpoint, I see nothing wrong with it. As a nation, we have such a dearth of coaches in soccer that our recreational system is entirely dependent on volunteer parent coaches. If not for these willing volunteers, many of our children simply wouldn't be able to play organized soccer. Those volunteer coaches undoubtedly need more training and support, but their selflessness is essential to the growth of the game in Canada and they should be embraced, not shunned.
The question wasn't posed in reference to recreational coaches, though. Most people concede that parents are more than capable of coaching their own children in recreational soccer, where the emphasis is on fun, friendship and fair playing time.
The question was posed in reference to high-performance programs, where coaches are paid a salary by their club or academy to coach players. The general sentiment from many people (some of whom are directly involved in such programs) is that paid staff coaches should never be allowed to coach their own children.
Their main argument is that there is an inherent conflict of interest for any parent coach. How does the coach allocate playing time? Is it done fairly - based on merit - or is there bias shown towards the coach's child? That conflict of interest is further emphasized in a high-performance environment, where playing time is seen not just as a development opportunity, but also as a showcasing tool. Critics argue that no matter how hard the coach tries, he or she will always be accused of favouring his or her own child over the other players.
While there is some legitimacy to this argument - there are plenty of parent coaches out there who think they are "managing" their child's "career" - I think that the criticism is entirely unfair.
How do teachers allocate their time in a classroom when it happens to contain their child as one of the students? Do those teachers hover over their child's desk, lavishing them with attention and instruction, while the other children in the class are left to fend for themselves?
Of course not. They allocate their time and instruction according to the development needs of each student. Their goal as a teacher is to equip each child with the skills needed to progress to the next level of the educational system. They don't direct all of their efforts into teaching their own child at the expense of the other students - which is the implication being made about the motives of parent coaches in high performance soccer programs.
For me, the issue should not be about "parent coaches vs. non-parent coaches". The issue should be about "good coaches vs. bad coaches".
Good coaches are able to separate their role as a parent from their role as a coach. They put as much time and effort into developing the soccer skills of each player under their care as they do into developing the skills of their own child.
Good coaches allocate playing time based on performance - not based on parentage. They do not allow personal relationships with other parents to affect their judgment on players, and they consistently put the needs of the players ahead of all else.
Good coaches don't 'play favourites' - they demand the same level of commitment and effort from all of their players. In return, the players know that their coach will treat them all fairly, and that their playing time - what all players crave most - will be allocated as such.
Critics will argue that there are very few good parent coaches out there - but that has nothing to do with them being parents, and everything to do with them being poor coaches. Banning all parents from coaching in high-performance programs - because there are definitely some misguided parent coaches out there - will only serve to lower an already shallow talent pool of coaches in our country.
We can't afford to do that. We need to embrace our coaches; identify them, train them and support them. Some parent coaches simply do not have the time in their schedules to coach a team other than the one that their child plays for. Should we abandon some of these talented coaches, simply because their children happen to be talented players as well?
Instead, the technical leaders of the clubs and academies, the Technical Directors and Club Head Coaches, must do a better job of identifying the good coaches from the bad ones - whether those coaches have kids playing or not.