Allan D. Miles – The Parent Trap


1. Introduction:

I have coached now for 20 years. My coaching experience extends across four different schools. I have come in to contact with several different parents. During this period I have also come across some interesting situations that involved parental interference. My son has started to play the game. I have found my transition from coach to parent quite challenging. I will like to share some of these experiences with you and I trust that they will help you deal with similar situations during your sporting journey as a parent or coach. The environment that teachers and coaches work in today has changed significantly over the last number of years. As parents and coaches, we all play a special role in the development of the coach-player relationship.

2. Parents should not attend practice: 

I can recall coming across a coach who barred parents from practices. He would even stop the practice if he saw a parent watching from their car. I never quite understood why, but now I do. He used to refer to parents as “vultures”. I innocently attended my son’s cricket practice (I have never coached or played cricket before) earlier this year. Before the end of the day, I received a message from the school’s Director of Sport reminding me of the school’s policy with regards to parents attending practices. Parents are inquisitive and they want to see how their child is doing at training. Parents have to show trust in the coach and let their child find their way. This is why parents should never be at training.

An article by Skye Eddy Bruce lists six reasons why parents should not be at training. I have summarised them as follows:

2.1. A parent’s role is to be supportive.

When parents watch practices – it can lead to comments outside of this supportive and encouraging role. When we watch practices, we open the door to talking about a part of our child’s sports experience we should not be talking about.

2.2. Sometimes it is better not to know.

It’s better not to know because when we do know these things, the stress creeps in. What our child needs to receive from us is our support, not our stress. They need to know that we believe in their ability to be their best. When our child feels our stress, they hear “You should have done better” instead of “I believe in your ability to be your best.”

2.3. When we watch practices, there is a clear shift in the dynamic between our child and their team and coach.

After all, as parents, we are the most authoritative figure in our child’s life. Naturally, they will feel different when we are watching practices. We limit our child’s ability to be a teammate when we insert ourselves into their team dynamic, even if it is from the stands or a distance.

2.4. Being a teammate is an honour and a responsibility.

Our child must learn to play for their teammates and their coach, not for us. When we are in attendance, they are naturally playing for us – to show off to us, to win our approval. We need to allow our child to concentrate not on winning our approval, rather on winning the approval of their teammates and coaches through their level of commitment.

2.5. Our child’s commitment to their team needs to be a decision they make, it can’t be anything we try to facilitate.

If we are involved in this decision, our children will eventually burn out or lose interest. If we want to support our children as they develop an identity as an athlete and team member, we must allow their commitment to their team to come from within them. When we are too involved, we hamper this development.

2.6. Parents should have better things to do than watching practice.

If we put our child front and centre in our lives, to the point that we will drop anything to be at the training, we are putting too much pressure on them. We are quietly telling them that our happiness, in some way, depends on their performance. That’s too much pressure. Our happiness should depend on us – on the walk or run we could take, on the book we could read, on the other things we could accomplish in the hour and a half of their training. “Drop your kid off at training, go have a Starbucks and come back and pick them up then ask the kid if he or she enjoyed herself or himself. That’s it.” John Curtis 

3. Parenting styles:

According to Broomfield (2019), there are three types of parenting styles: Permissive Parenting, Authoritarian Parenting and Authoritative Parenting. These three categories are based on research by Diana Baumrind from the 1960s. Upon reading further literature around this topic there is a fourth style referred to as Uninvolved Parentingby Cherry (2019). Being a parent has made me interested in what the different parenting types are. We’ve all heard of helicopter parents. But you may not have heard of the latest term for a troubling trend recently identified in parenting: lawnmower parents. “Lawnmower parents go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure,” We are teachers (2018). Since the previous four classic categories of parenting styles are fairly broad, I have come up with my parent categories. They are based on what I have experienced from a coach’s perspective: 

3.1. Grounded Parent 

Mature and supportive in their approach. They understand the complexity of the sport and respect the coach, player and parent relationship. They show trust in the coach. They are realistic in their approach. No matter what the outcome is from a results point of view they will always be supportive. Can be a past player that made it or a parent that has succeeded in their own life.

3.2. Knowledgeable Parent

A past player that made it, but can sometimes be overly critical. They are the ‘know it all parent’. Can sometimes be seen as the go-to parent amongst the supporters of the team. As long as the team is doing well, they can be your greatest supporters.

3.3. Hero Parent 

The last player that made it, but their son isn’t making it. Their child did not inherit the same genes. They will be fully supportive when their child makes the team. If their son is not in the team they will criticise the coach.

3.4. Obsessed Parent 

A parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children. They will be at training at every opportunity. Their life revolves around their child playing the sport. This makes then very involved. They can often be a past player that never made it and is trying to live through their son's achievements. Any injury is very dramatic and sometimes unnecessary costly medical advice is sort. Common literature often classifies this type of parent as a helicopter, bulldozer and now recently as a snowplough parent. 

4. Personal Experiences as Coach, Parent and Player:

As coaches, I am sure we have all experienced a difficult situation that involved parental interference. Dealing with parents appropriately comes with experience. I have recently experienced what it is like to be a parent of a child who is involved in sport. I would like to share some of these experiences with you and what I have learnt from them. I trust that as coaches or as parents we can all take something from them. 

4.1. Being part of the squad is being part of the team 

I related a story of one of my fondest rugby playing memories to my players and their parents at our capping ceremony at the beginning of the season. Let me share this story with you. I got a late call up to the Border Bulldogs squad that was taking on the Bulls at Loftus Versveld the upcoming weekend as part of the Vodacom Cup competition in 2005. The match was being televised live on Supersport as the curtain-raiser to the Blue Bulls vs. Crusaders Super 12 match. I was selected as the reserve Prop for the match. The Bulls line up had Wessel Roux (Springbok 2002) and Gurthro Steenkamp (Springbok 2004, who was returning from injury) at Prop. The Border Bulldogs beat the Bulls that day 33 (7) – 26 (14). Everyone was used off the bench except for one player. That player happened to be me. Was I upset? Not at all, I shared in the moment as much as every other player and it still happens to be a highlight of my playing career even though I never played. I helped with the water bottles and I had the honour of taking the kicking tee on for Reinhard Gerber who was in fine form that day. Conversions: Reinhard Gerber (3). Penalties: Reinhard Gerber (3). Drop Goal: Reinhard Gerberaccording to Cape Argus (2005). What was the lesson here? As a player, you need to realize that being part of a squad is still being part of the team. Your role is as important. The victory and success of the team can also be celebrated. In a team today the bench has become a significant part of a winning side. Being part of the squad is being part of the team.

4.2. Listen to your coach

I would also like to recall a conversation I had with my son, Connor on our way to school one morning. He had just been selected for the U9A Rugby team as a loose forward. He was disappointed that he never gets to run with the ball and always needed to ruck. My message to him was simple... I said son you listen to your coach and do exactly what he wants you to do. How often do we as parents cross that line? It can be frustrating at times. I am now experiencing what it is like being one of those parents. I never want to become a parent that interferes. We need to show our support and trust in the coach and ensure that we build the coach-player relationship no matter what. I will support my son as a parent and try my best to be at as many games as I can. In my schoolboy playing career, my father only ever missed one of my matches. His support made a significant impact on me growing up. What is the lesson? Encourage your child to listen to their coach and do what they are instructed. This will show that you have trust in the coach. This should be the advice we give our children no matter what level they play at. 

4.3. Never coach your child

To not coach my son must be the biggest challenge to my parent relationship with him. A child needs their parent to show their support. This support needs to be as a parent and not as a coach. I was horrified to witness how a father at the junior school have a go at his son after a match. The father unpacked the match with his son on the touchline straight after the game. The father was questioning his son on certain decisions that he had made. He was even pointing to the different parts of the field. As hard as it is, this is not what our child needs. A young sportsman recently shared with me on what the reasons were for him to give up on a particular sport. He said it was because of his father. Our support and attitude towards our child should not change based on the outcome of the game. They desperately need us to be parents and not coaches. Never coach your child. 

4.4. Don’t create false expectations with a Hero Parent

As a coach, one of the hardest things to do is to drop a player. Sometimes it is easier to just stick with the same players for the whole season and to only change your team when there is an injury. I have encountered coaches that try to do this. This, unfortunately, cannot be the case, especially if you have not identified the best players. I remember making significant changes to a team a couple of years back. The side had lost a few games in a row and something needed to be done to create a spark. The practice that day had barely finished when I received a call on my cell phone. It was the father of one of the players that got dropped. To say that he was angry would be an understatement. I had never been spoken to like that in my life before. He told me that the team would never win their next match which was away. He even went on to offer me the pick of any farm in that district if we won. We did win, and I never got my farm. His son also did not play for the team again. What I learnt from this situation is that you should never give a player a chance when you know he is not good enough. It creates a false expectation.

4.5. Communicate with an Obsessed Parent 

Rotation of players. I coached a Craven team a couple of years ago. In the first two matches, everyone needs to play a full match according to the rules of the week. In the last match, I cleared the bench barring two players. One of the reserves was a hooker. The hooker that started had scored two tries and was even selected as the man of the match. I did not substitute him. We were lucky to just win the match. This upset the parents of the reserve hooker. The father attacked me straight after the match. He was right in front of my face. I could feel his spit hitting my face and into my eyes. He told me to take off my sunglasses so that he could 'moer' me. I did and all I could do was freeze. This all took place in the open in front of my manager and the technical table. When I thought the situation was diffused it got worse... His wife also came to swear at me. This then followed several parents who I mistakenly thought were coming to thank me for the time and effort that I had put in. I was emotionally broken after this incident and it took me a while to get myself back together. The team had just won a close game but that didn't matter to any of them. We had only lost one match at Craven Week as well. I have now learnt to communicate to the parents before a provincial week by making it clear that all their son can be guaranteed of is to play one full match out of the three at the week. I now make sure that I communicate about playing time before Festivals as well.

 5. Conclusion:

If you picture a tripod. The coach, player and parent make up each part. For a child to thrive they need their parent’s support. As a parent, we need to ensure that we do not cross the line by becoming too interfering. This will hinder our own child’s development. “It goes against nature. You want to help your child. But in reality, the only way you can help them is by abandoning them to the coach, to the team, to the game,” John Curtis. As parents, we want what is best for our child. Letting them grow and develop on their own is what they need. It is very difficult to not end up coaching your child when you are a coach. This is a common mistake that is highlighted by several articles. They need our unconditional love and support as a parent. Assist with the fostering of a good player-coach relationship by showing your child that you have trust in their coach. This will enable them to succeed later on in life and in whatever field they go into. By interfering in this process all we are doing is making it less likely for our children to succeed. What our child needs from us is to be their parent. Do not fall into the parent trap. Leave them and let them play. 

Article by: Allan D. Miles (Head of Rugby and 1st XV Head Coach at Grey High School)

For additional articles of interest visit

6. References: 

Lawnmower Parents Are the New Helicopter Parents & We Are Not Here for It. August 30, 2018.

Stay or Go: Yes Parents, We’re Talking about Your Role at Practice

6 Reasons Parents Should NOT Watch Practice February 16,2015 Skye Eddy Bruce

Bulldogs lead weekend of Vodacom cup upsets. 2005

The influence of parents in youth sport. Mary Quinton

4 Types of Parents Every Teacher Has to Deal With And How to Handle Them

Types of parents. Dr Harry Bloomfield

From hummingbird to helicopter – what’s your parenting style? Amy Webb

What is uninvolved parenting? Kendra Cherry, 2019.