How to Coach Your Kid


I recently got a letter from a reader named Mike Polonsky that shines a bright light on a persistent question a lot of us deal with: what’s the best way to coach your own kid?

Because if we parents are honest, we know that we are, more often than not, pretty crummy coaches. We want to help, but we lack deep understanding of mechanics or technique, and so we compensate by being vague and/or bossy (been there). By the same token, kids who would listen eagerly to a coach aren’t always so agreeable to taking pointers from dear old Mom or Dad.

In short, it’s complicated.

Which is where Mike Polonsky and his nine-year-old hockey-playing son come in. Here’s what Mike wrote:

Dylan was working on his shot this summer, and it was coming along.  More zip, more elevation.  Like a basketball player in the driveway working on his shot, Dylan was pounding the hockey pucks into the goalie net, which had a target in each corner.  While his speed was developing, his aim was not. For instance, he might be trying to hit the top left corner and end up in the bottom right quadrant.   This type of result was happening routinely. Aim just seemed beyond his reach at this point in his development.  Summer was winding down.

In mid-August, while he was in the middle of his bucket of pucks, I asked him to stop; put down his stick; take off his gloves; pick up a puck and throw it like a pitcher or a quarter back to the top left corner. He whipped it over the net.  But with in 10 throws he was narrowing in, and within 20 throws he was consistently in the range. 

I asked him while he kept throwing, “Dylan, can you feel your brain talking to your hand? Trying to figure out when to release the puck?” He said he could. After about 40 throws, I suggested he put the gloves back and grab his stick. I told him, “Dylan, that blade at the end of your stick, I don’t want you to think of it as a blade anymore. Think of it as another hand, that can grab a puck and is connected to your brain. Let them talk to each other, and control when you release the puck.”

First shot: top left corner. Dylan just looked over at me, and smiled with wonder and surprise.  Pretty cool moment for us. Moreover, his aim improved dramatically thereafter. Once, two weeks later towards the end of the summer he nailed four pucks in a row into that same top left corner. 

I love this story because of the simplicity of what Mike does — and doesn’t do.

What Mike does: he targets the problem — release point. He helps Dylan notice for himself. Then creates a simple action from which Dylan can learn, and gives him a vivid image to work from.

What Mike doesn’t do: take over. Give a lecture. Grab a stick to demonstrate the technique. Make it about himself in any way.

All of which goes toward showing us the real way to be a good coach/parent.

It’s not about explaining big things; it’s about directing the kid’s attention to little things.

It’s not about talk. It’s about asking questions, inspiring action, and creating vivid feedback so they can figure it out.

It’s not about you, parents — it’s about them.

Me? I wanna be like Mike.

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8 Responses to “How to Coach Your Kid”

  1. Mike Davis says:

    I love this. One of the best pieces of advice I got from a parent years ago was to “shut up and hit more balls.” I still probably could talk a little less but I’ve definitely hit a lot more balls. The girls know when they make errors. They don’t need us to remind them of that constantly. They need encouragement and guidance so THEY can realize how to correct the issues.

  2. Rob says:

    Great post Daniel! I use this technique in my coaching with my tennis players. The goal is to get them to understand the feeling you get from doing it correctly.

  3. Eric says:

    As a high level tennis coach its hard for me now that my daughter is getting to the age of starting. I have definitely seen way too many kids that hate the sport (and can’t compete in tough moments) because of their parents.

    I really like the gentle guidance and to let the kid “figure it out” more on his own. Definitely talent-codeish!

  4. Craig says:

    Kid has a great coach…and Dad!!! Too many parents reliving their childhood through their kid’s lives. Great lesson for all ages!!

  5. Phil says:

    What I particularly like is the clear illustration that lots and lots of practice may not be changing anything. A little quality practice might make a big difference.

  6. Doc says:

    Great Post. The dad was getting it about what coaching really is. Would add that on a number of occasions when I haven’t been able to get my coaching point across I would get one of the teammates to come over and I would tell them to explain it and usually they can.

  7. Ed Bielski says:

    I have struggled with coaching my son and daughter. This is especially true as they have react poorly to my intruction. In particular I struggle with trying to instill a sense of passion (which I was able to use as a substitute for hand eye coordination for most of my life). I now have anew plan for the weekend. Great article Dan!

  8. stephwn waymire says:

    Great idea. I teach little kids tennis. I stree the importance of throwing and catching. I tell them that throwing and catching are developmental skills for tennis. The better u throw and catch the better your tennis.

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