What coaching qualities do you think a parent should look for in a potential coach for their children?

1. You want a coach who sees coaching as a vocation not a job or simple money earner. They have to look like they love coaching, even if they never got paid for it. 

2. Somebody who is always consistent no matter what standard of performer they work with. You want them giving their professional best every time a player requests it.

3. Artistic and open minded - you want to see creative ideas and somebody who moves with the times. They will have good foundations but be able to keep up to date with how the sport changes and how it may look in the future.

4. Relaxed and non-controlling - you need to sense maturity in the coach in that they can laugh and have fun and sometimes admit when they're wrong. They should generally encourage the players to work with other experts not just them. You don't want a bully who sulks and shouts when they don't get what they want.

5. Educational and Interesting - you want your child gaining a few life lessons and educational factors related to life and general knowledge. A coach that ask questions not just about the sport or technique but about their opinions on other issues too.

6. Fun and humour - a good coach should be able to bring laughter to the sessions somehow. Poking fun, self-depreciation or telling funny stories shows that the coach will be good at relaxing young people and that is when they learn at their best.



You have seen hundreds of youngsters come and go so to speak over your 35 year coaching journey so far. Many parents of competitive junior sports performers will be reading this. Have you any final words of wisdom for us all based on your experiences?

I would say that it is so important to remember the person behind the performer. At the end of the day, if your children know you love them unconditionally they will always be far more likely to succeed in whatever they choose to do. After this, then talk to them as players but do it when they are ready to. Real happiness lies in love and strong relationships not only in attaining medals and titles.

Think of the long process or the journey more than just the now. I am talking beyond sport too. Are they developing as rounded people who can cope in the wide world? You want mentally healthy people who will be stable, who can hold relationships together and be a positive member of society. It isn't always about the winning although that is good to strive for but winning is no good if they turn out to be nasty, frustrated or mentally and emotionally fragile people.

I have witnessed many so called "winners" in sport who have been champions in juniors and seniors who have actually struggled with normal life. For some reason whilst they and everyone around them was pursuing victory after victory, everyone forgot life away from sport was all about. I think parents can really help prevent this by not getting wrapped up in the 'bubble' of sport and simply remind their children that other things in life are more important.

On similar lines I would say it is important to know when to 'back off' and when to 'pick your battles' with youngsters. Getting your timing right is vital and often it's not what you say but how you say it. What tone of voice you use and what facial expression you have. Where you decide to make a point is important too. Do it in a place where they feel comfortable not in public or in the car maybe where they can feel trapped.

Overall, there is no set remedy or one way to parent. It’s like this with coaching, it is not a science. You try your best and sometimes you’re dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t but one must never give up learning. I know this as a father and as a coach.



Interpretations

What was refreshing speaking with David was that he hasn’t become bogged down in some of the modern terms and literature regarding parenting and sports. He is not trying to prove or disprove anything, just speaking his mind as he sees it. In many ways DP is a throwback coach and his views on sports parenting spring directly from personal experiences. His explanation of the “background” is a refreshingly simple way of summing up the nature and nurture debate; “Children need boundaries and love but also need space to be themselves, to grow into what they really are as individuals. You can’t, control that.” A father himself, he does not infer that this is an easy thing to achieve or that he has been successful at it himself but he does have a clear philosophy which I know from first hand he sticks by.

I thought that DP viewed winning in life as more important than merely winning in the sports arena. “How can you be a winner if you are a prat and cannot be a good person?” is the type of question David would ask. In Squash coaching David believes very much that if you work on getting the solid basics of movement and rhythm then the rest will open up naturally and this is exactly how he sees the role of parenting. Provide him a rounded, responsible and respectful person who has independent thinking qualities and there is a chance that player can deal with improvement and competition at higher levels. If the person arrives unsure, unable to think for themselves and too desperate for success then there will be significant problems.

The concept of the “journey” or “process” kept cropping up all through our conversation. He had empathy for parents who often panicked too much about the “Now” especially common during ‘juniors’ and understood that it’s hard to “step back and see the big picture” but he said it is vital that parents can do this with sport.

I found the point about players being “just good” very interesting. Personally, I see an age where we believe everything can be achieved by design. Everyone can be made good or turned into a champion and I believe this can put a lot of pressure on youngsters due to unrealistic expectations.  David reminded us that some children are simply just good at sport because they are! Not everything can be explained when it comes to talent, sport or indeed parenting and “growing up.” We can’t blame ourselves for everything! That level of responsibility can become too much and cause levels of stress that prevent us from being the person we really need to be.

Finally, I want to comment on a simple but massive thing that David exudes himself and believes must be present:  Fun and a good sense of humour. It is known that people learn best, work best and live best when they feel good about themselves and are stress free. Making things light and fun is a clever art when striving for achievements through a process of committed effort and sacrifice. The use of humour is therefore a huge help with this.

A performer’s journey is so unchartered, full of ups and downs, hopes and fears, on the edge of frustration, always striving for improvement whilst others are trying to beat you down. Having a good sense of humour and people around you who can keep perspective can relax you through all these times and quite often be the most important parenting tool of all. 

Danny Massaro

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