What Makes a Good Sports Parent?


Of all the master coaches I know, John Kessel might be the best. Not because of his brilliant coaching of his sport (which happens to be volleyball), but more because of the way he thinks.  John is enthusiastically obsessed with the Big Questions: What’s the best environment for learning? How can you ignite motivation in young people? What is great teaching made of?

Earlier this week, John happened to see a presentation contrasting the habits of good classrooms and bad classrooms. After brainstorming with colleagues Leslee Harms and Cassie Weaver, he came up with the following poster, which highlights the key elements of a high-quality sports program.

I think it’s absolutely spot-on — and what’s more, applies to a lot more than just sports. In fact, if there’s a clearer road map to creating an effective learning environment, I haven’t seen it.

Tale of Two Sports Programs  11x17

But of course, that’s just the start.

For the next project, John would like to come up with a similar road map for the single group of people who need it most: parents. His idea is to have the readers of this blog (and others) compile a similar list for parents: Call it: “A Tale of Two Parenting Styles.”

And that’s where you come in.

Would you be interested in offering John your ideas and suggestions on what makes an effective sports parent, and what doesn’t? Feel free to add however many you like; the only request is that you follow the above format. I’ll get it started:

  • Parent A: Focuses on wins and losses as the measure of success
  • Parent B:  Focuses on long-term learning.
  • Parent A: Spends the car-ride home asking detailed questions about the game, the kid’s performance, and the coach
  • Parent B: Spends the car-ride home being supportive, listening to music, talking about life outside sports

What do you think? Can you help John get this done?

PS – You can find John’s blog here, and more good posters here that, like the above, are free to print out and share (I especially like “Be a Coach” and “Be a Player”).

PPS – For inspiration, check out this hilarious animated video that John made with his son Cody, depicting a a coach’s conversation with a Parent from Hell.

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50 Responses to “What Makes a Good Sports Parent?”

  1. Brian Nail says:

    Parent A: Feels more stress during a competition than the player does.

    Parent B: Loves watching their player play.

  2. djcoyle says:

    That is awesome, Brian. Thank you.

  3. Wes Porter says:

    PARENT A: hones in on his child during the game for the purpose of detailed, post-game questions and commentary.
    PARENT B: makes a point a remember the best plays by his child’s teammates or by the team generally to point out examples of individual/team development to child, as well as to the teammates involved – sometime later like at the next practice. (“What a great play when Billy passed Malik who then passed to Cheryl”).

    PS: I thought it was interesting that in Lebron James’ most recent (1-hour) interview during All-Star Weekend that he said that he hadn’t decided what type of Dad/fan he would be for his two sons and then he demonstrated A – the over-involved screamer and B – sit back and watch.

  4. John Kessel says:

    Thanks Brian, good one. Reminds me of a quote I say to my kids about playing – Never allow the pressure of competition to be more than the pleasure of competition.

  5. Dan G says:

    Parent A: Child plays a specific sport because the parent pushes them to it.

    Parent B: Lets their child play multiple sports and find one they love.

  6. Nick Scotia says:

    PARENT A: Cheers when the opposing star player gets injured.
    PARENT B: Claps when any player on either team gets up from being knocked down.
    PARENT A: Chooses, for their child, a sports program with the best record last year.
    PARENT B: Chooses, for their child, a sports program with the best possible results 5-10 years from now.
    PARENT A: Constantly coaching their child from the sidelines on where to go and what to do.
    PARENT B: Encouraging their child from the sidelines to remember what they worked on in practice and let them think for themselves.

  7. Ben says:

    This is awesome! Here are some of my A’s vs. B’s…

    Parent A: Shouts instructions to their kids from the sidelines
    Parent B: Cheers from the sideline and let’s the coaches coach

    Parent A: Gets to the game when they get to the game
    Parent B: Makes sure their player is on time

    Parent A: Yells at the referee if they don’t like the call
    Parent B: Respects the referee regardless of whether they agree with the call

    Parent A: Shows their disappointment, either verbally or through body language, when their player makes a mistake
    Parent B: Understands mistakes are normal, it’s how players learn, and gives a thumbs up or a “that’s OK” sign

    Parent A: Is on their phone, tablet or more interested in talking with other parents than watching the game.
    Parent B: Actively watches the game and when their child looks over is always ready with a show of support

    Parent A: Openly critical of the other players on the team and/or the coach during games
    Parent B: Shows respect for the team by bringing up disagreements one-on-one and at the right place and right time

    Parent A: Just watches the game
    Parent B: Get’s engaged with the game by keeping stats on what’s being taught in practice. Works with and shares with coach.

    Parent A: Talks critically about other players on team around their child
    Parent B: Ensures that their child is not around when talking about other players on the team

    Parent A: Dissects the entire game on car ride home with their child
    Parent B: Asks if their child had fun and tells them they love to watch them play

    Parent A: Doesn’t understand aspects of the game
    Parent B: Seeks out knowledge about what they don’t understand

    Parent A: Doesn’t know what the season goals are for the players
    Parent B: Has a clear understanding of the objectives for their player and how to tell if the needle is moving

    Parent A: Does not know what the practice themes are for the week
    Parent B: Is in tune with what their player is learning

    Parent A: Let’s their child “own” their self-practice routine without getting involved.
    Parent B: Tries to instill the value of practice based by leveraging their child’s personality/understanding and get’s help from the coach.

    Parent A: Has a lot of questions, concerns or comments but waits to see if they’ll get answered/resolved on their own
    Parent B: Actively engages with their child and coach in a positive way to get the information they feel they need

    Parent A: Treats sports as an activity to round out their child’s schedule
    Parent B: Sees sports as an excellent vehicle for teaching life lessons and an important piece to developing their child’s character both on and off the field

    Parent A: Gauges the success of the coach by how many wins they get
    Parent B: Gauges the success of the coach by how well they are developing their child and every other child

    Parent A: Keeps to themselves
    Parent B: Tries to get to know the rest of the parents on the team

    Parent A: Sees themselves as the chauffeur to get their kid to and from games
    Parent B: Sees themselves as part of the broader team

    Parent A: Never volunteers during games or practices when asked by a coach
    Parent B: Willing to pitch in and be part of the experience

  8. Scott Moulson (father of Matt, Buffalo Sabres NHL) says:

    Parent A: Blames everybody else when things go wrong, coaches, referees, his child’s teammates.

    Parent B: Teaches his child to accept responsibility, learn when things go wrong.

    Parent A: Has fun when he is taking part with his child in the child’s sport i.e. pick-up basketball.

    Parent B: Treats every situation as an intense practice session for his child.

    Love your work Daniel. Excellent chart John.

  9. Robert says:

    step one achived,
    @Mikaela Shiffrin accomplished her goal, winning gold in the women’s slalom@

  10. Andy Abraham says:

    Parent A thinks they know what’s best for their child

    Parent B knows they don’t but tries to learn all the same

  11. Mike says:

    Parent A – An observer has no idea which player is theirs
    Parent B – Everyone in the zip code knows which player is theirs

    Parent A – Brings player to practice and stays, offering commentary
    Parent B- Drops player off at practice, says has fun and leaves.

  12. Brian Nail says:


    I tell my kids that pressure is privilege that comes from enjoying competition. Its okay for athletes to feel some pressure during an event or training, its a whole different thing for parents to feel the same or greater pressure. By the way I just found your blog from Daniels post above. Great stuff that is universal to teaching and coaching. It definitely resonates with me.

  13. Sue says:

    Parent A – Makes no effort to give their child the direction nor be an example of good nutrition. Buys them nachos and fries as a snack/meal before or after a match.
    Parent B – Gives the extra effort to make available good healthy food choices, especially during the season and packs extra healthy snacks for their player to keep in their gym bag.

  14. Philip Simmonds says:

    parent A is explicit

    parent B is implicit

  15. Scott Bunker says:

    Parent A – is happy with RESULTS in the form of POINTS and WINS
    Parent B – is happy with EFFORT, ATTITUDE and TEAMWORK
    Parent A – often focuses on the play of their player only and tends to cheer their own player only
    Parent B – enjoys good competition by the team as a whole and cheers good plays made by players on either team
    Parent A – views mistakes as unacceptable
    Parent B – views mistakes as part of the learning process and evidence that they are taking chances and trying to get better

  16. Lisa Stone says:

    I would love to publish the final chart on ParentingAces[.com] if John is okay with that! We tennis parents sometimes need a little reminding (!) of what’s important when it comes to our kids and sports. The Parent A vs. Parent B list is coming along so nicely via these comments. I look forward to reading more!

  17. Great list of tips… would be interested in concrete examples of how to turn a Type A team into a Type B team. For example, how would you replace Drills with Play and still have effective practices? How do you empower athletes and make them leaders vs just listening to your instructions?

  18. Benny says:

    I cannot even begin to tell you how offensive John and Cody’s video is from a parental perspective. I’d categorize it as blatant parent abuse. I wouldn’t let anyone coach my kid who made such an offensive video. John wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for parents. Time for a little more respect.

  19. John Kessel says:

    All – Daniel was right in crowd sourcing the parent questions as everyone sharing even one A/B have given us some great material to make a parent poster – or two. We might even make a video version, who knows – but we are already editing, and will give credit for these impactful phrases. For Takeshi and others, my blog is where the Drills vs. Play and empowering leadership vs. just listening practical ideas are shared as well as my free book “MiniVolley” which is available in Spanish and Italian as well at no cost. My first four years of my blog (titled Growing the Game Together), are also free and compiled into a Coach/Club Director edition and a Parent/Player edition – found under the USA Volleyball Grassroots button – by those same titles (eg Parent)- as well as the posters, skill and drill videos our Sport Development department have created. Thanks Daniel Coyle for all you do to help every sportsperson become better in their chosen sport, and thank your family for giving you the time to make it happen.

  20. David Cordes says:

    Parent A – Cheers for their kid.
    Parent B – Cheers for their kid’s team, and sometimes their opponents when they make a great play.

    Parent A – Thinks the coach is just some guy they hired to teach their kid some skills.
    Parent B – Understands that the coach is part of their kid’s team and is working with their kid to help them learn.

    Parent A – Thinks their kid is the superstar of the team and should be treated that way.
    Parent B – Understands that volleyball is a team sport and no one player or position on the court is more important than the others.

    Parent A – Never attends practice, never talks to the coach and never asks why?
    Parent B – Gets to know the coach, their philosophy, and what they are trying to teach and how they are trying to teach it.

    Parent A – keeps stats in the stands so they can use them against the coach to justify why their kid should get more play time.
    Parent B – keeps stats in the stands because they volunteered and let the coach teach them what to record and why.

    Parent A – only talks to the coach when they want them to change the way they are coaching their kid.
    Parent B – chats with the coach, asks about his family, says thank you, and never talks about how their kid is playing unless the coach brings it up.

    Parent A – Is never around, and when they are – their kid wishes they weren’t.
    Parent B – Is always around but never in the way. And their kid and his teammate’s go out of their way to say “Hi” to them.

    Parent A – Yells, screams, and complains.
    Parent B – Says “I love to watch you play.”

  21. Amanda says:

    Parent A: Complains to other parents about the coach, practices, and the team performance in competition. Spreads rumors and negative comments about coaches and team members.

    Parent B: Goes straight to the coach to ask questions if he doesn’t understand why certain decisions are made. Encourages other parents to do the same.

  22. Leon says:

    Parent A – talks to coaches when his/her daughter has an issue.
    Parent B – empowers his/her daughter to talk to the coach herself and work through the issues.

  23. Brian King says:

    Parent A: Avoids the Parents of a traveling opponents
    Parent B: Invites the Parents of a traveling opponents team out to eat with their team and offers to host a traveling opponent in their home.

    Parent A: Gloats when a traveling opponents gear is lost at the airport.
    Parent B: Rallies the home team to find enough gear so the traveling opponent can compete.

  24. SC says:

    Parent A: When their child is injured, insists that they get up and get back in the game.
    Parent B: When their child is injured, does what is necessary to prevent the injury from becoming chronic even if it means removing the child from playing until the injury is resolved.

  25. djcoyle says:

    Huge thanks to everybody for their tremendous ideas — I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. (Well, okay, I could but it would take a pretty long time.) I especially like the insights into explicit/implicit communication, and how to treat the coach/other parents. Fantastic stuff. Keep it coming!

  26. John Kessel says:

    Ditto what Dan said above. Each of you have encountered and dealt with Parent A – and are part of the solution to moving them towards Parent B styles of coaching. It is a team effort to be sure, always worth it as in the end it is about the kids. Humor helps, and if you have missed the great Canada Hockey series of videos, also adopted by USA Hockey – make sure to watch and use them. They have three videos each on two separate themes 1. If it is wrong here, what makes it right at the rink and 2. Relax, it’s just a game… YouTube search for “Hockey Canada Parent PSA” and you will find them. My favorite is here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbcEZxq6uqA Thanks all for the ideas and look for many of them to come to life in the next poster/video we share – always free of charge at USA Volleyball.

  27. Ben says:

    Great idea. Wonderful contributions.

    Parent A – What are you doing to help my child?
    Parent B – How can I help you (or the team)?

    I think parents generally mean well. A coach goes a long way in helping parents contribute positively by managing their expectations and helping parents see where they can best support their kids and the coach’s efforts through a list like this.

    A separate great resource to provide parents written by Sandra Stark http://coachczes.com/index.php/march-madness-2011/75-be-a-positive-participant-in-your-childs-athletics.

  28. Sam S says:

    Parent A – Signs up with the team just because they have the best winning record – without realizing that the coach only plays the best players.

    Parent B – Does their research, and finds the right team and the right coach that fit their child’s skills and abilities.

    Parent A – Drops their kid off at practice, drives away, and comes back 10 minutes after practice is over, every single day.

    Parent B – Offers to help out, watches the kids at practice, gets to know the other parents on the team, and realizes just how much dedication it takes from both the kids, and the coaches.

    Parent A – Wonder what the coach does with his day when he’s not coaching, and complains about the fees involved, and why the coach doesn’t spend more time with just their kid.

    Parent B – Realizes that the coach spends much of his off-coaching time preparing practices, formatting an overall team plan, and working on the individual goals of each individual on the team – not just their kid.

  29. Sarah says:

    Great list! One of the complaints I hear over and over from kids(as both a mental skills trainer and a coach) is, “My parents tell me I did a great job even when I sucked!” Of course these parents have great intentions, but being disingenuous makes the kid doubt the parent’s feedback. So maybe:

    Parent A: Tells their child they performed well even when it is clear they did not have a good day.
    Parent B: Provides unconditional love and support and gives honest feedback when asked.


    Parent A: Praises results
    Parent B: Praises effort

  30. MdM says:

    I think there’s a major disconnect with reality in this Parent A/Parent B thinking, and this isn’t the only time I’ve noticed it here. It seems that anytime a parent exerts any guidance at all on his children, he must be an over-controlling helicopter parent; the only permissible role for a parent is to be the child’s chauffeur and bankroll as he follows his whims. My guess is that this is a reaction to the distasteful and abusive excesses that have been witnessed, but it goes too far. It so happens that most adults actually have more experience and wisdom and judgment than their children, so in some cases, they actually probably will make better decisions. It also happens to be the case that many, perhaps most, children will on their own initiative never practice enough to be good at anything, whether sport or instrument or school. It follows that they are learning to be mediocre and not learning how to acquire skill. Being content with mediocrity is a luxury not everyone has, in a world where competition for resources exists. God bless the exceptions that find excellence or happiness without any direction or by following their caprices. However, I think a little thought will show that parents who steer their kids who are destined to be small into gymnastics or parents of tall kids who encourage them to practice their hook shot aren’t exactly doing them a disservice. Nor is it ill-considered to take an interest in their academic education. Maybe a more realistic view is to understand that most successful children had either concrete help or strong role models–most likely their parents–in order to achieve their success.

  31. Sue Renda says:

    We have all been witness to bad sports parents. It would seem like all these Parent A/Parent B comparisons are based upon opinions and not backed up with any research. These examples might be funny but in the end it is not helpful. I think in a lot of cases the coaches might actually benefit from a little input from the people who probably know the kid the best, the parents. I am sorry, it takes a village to get kids to their full potential. And to say the parents should just “cheer” on the side lines is a little naive.

  32. Frank Murphy says:

    Parent A says “You could have done this. You should have done this….”

    Parent B says “I LOVE watching you play. My favorite play was…. My favorite move was….”

  33. Bill Dooley says:

    The video seems to have disappeared.

    Here’s one that probably goes in the same direction:


  34. Benny says:

    Parent A: Coaches the player on the court. Tell the coach to shut up, sit on his ass on the sidelines and at the end give the dad – mom five minutes of consultation.

    Parent B: Not involved. Sits on the sidelines. Coach does a lame lesson. Kids never plays high level sports.

    In tennis, Parent A’s kid will win (Agassi, Sharapova, Williams) ect.

    Lesson: Parents, don’t sell yourself short. And especially, don’t give your hard earned money to condescending coaches like John who make offensive videos like the one shown above because they’re insecure, petty, small minded individuals.

  35. Adrian moll says:

    Benny. Perhaps condescending is a great word for YOU to use in your comments ! Have a great growth mindset day ,

  36. Jim G-H says:

    Parent A: Plays
    Parent B: Tells child to play while he/she ________. (you fill in the blank)

    Parent A: Plays with their child only the sports that he/she played or are familiar with.
    Parent B: Plays any and all sports with their child, regardless of knowledge or familiarity.

  37. Jim G-H says:

    whoops, need to switch A and B on my first example…

  38. Scott says:

    Parent A: reminds child of how much time/money they are spending on the sport.
    Parent B: does not make the sport an investment in either pro career or college scholarship

    Parent A: has no involvement, does not set an expectations – unconditional support.
    Parent B: sets guidelines and conditions for continued participation, and works with child to set attainable goals – conditional support.

  39. Adrian moll says:

    Parent A. Only practices with child after match if he/she has lost .
    Parent B . Practices with child after match whatever the result .

    Parent A tries to cram family holiday into tournament schedule
    Parent B. Puts family holiday in first

    Parent A. Compares against others
    Parent B . Compares p.b and personal improvement

    Being very fortunate to be a full time tennis coach and a parent. Wow these and all great suggestions above are very challenging and fun to do ones best at. Thank you very much john k for your excellent blog. ‘Grow the game’

  40. wobbly says:

    This Coach’s Dream Parent post seems a little jarring on a blog that just celebrated Mikaela Shiffrin and her parents telling the coaches that no, Mikaela was not going to do what the coach wanted, she was going to try out for the Christmas play instead.

    And why has the video been removed ? Was it really offensive to some folks ? I am sorry I missed it.

  41. doc says:

    Parent A: Reads an article and is an instant expert.

    Parent B; Knows there is a difference between knowing the mechanics and X’s and O’s of a sport and knowing how to COACH.

    Once had a parent hear of how Gay’s hand paddling allowed him to beat Bolt in a race and wanted me to start teaching that to the baseball players. To be fair, there are coaches that fit into these parent categories as well.

  42. Benny says:

    Question for Adrian Moll: (1) How good in tennis are your kids and (2) Who have you ever coached and developed? I love coaches like you. No talent. No ability. No track record. So, your marketing is all about building character. Sorry, mama and daddy do that, not tennis coaches who didn’t have the requisite skill-sets mentally, physically and spiritually to be champions in the game, and in coaching. It’s fraud. The best coaches observe, aren’t overly technical, they LOVE The sport with a passion, aren’t insecure about parents and realize mom – dad – kid are ones driving the bus. The coaches who don’t develop are the ones who shove lessons down you throat, control the player, yap about character and have ZERO track record and credibility. I like it, British guys pretending they can teach tennis. The best British Tennis player ever was coached by mom, and sent away to Spain as a teenager. I can see by your site why you haven’t developed anyone. It’s really to bad coaches with credibility aren’t posting in this forum because they’d be saying the exact opposite of what you are saying. Go and google a great America coach like Robert Lansdorf, watch the videos of his lessons developing players, and read what he says about development. Come, see me once or twice and month, listen close, see what you need to work on, then go out and play with mom and dad and come back in a week or two and we will get to the next! He’s pretty blunt and realistic. And he doesn’t yap, make these stupid lists, over-complicate it and accept anything less than a top effort. That builds champions. I am sorry, making condescending videos that pick on parents doesn’t really cut it for me, and reading “advice” from a coach with zero credibility makes me laugh even more. I loved Daniel’s first book. Super. And he interviewed “real coaches.” However, he’s seriously scraping the bottom of the barrel with John Kessel, and I think we’re kind of losing his GREAT MESSAGE in his first book as well.

  43. Adrian moll says:

    Dear Benny and all ,

    I apologise if I have offended anyone on this great blog that is read by many parents and coaches trying to do their best as a “team” to support kids in developing their skills just as Benny says Robert landforp has done for many years . I did enjoy meeting with lansdorp and watching him coach when he visited England . Thank you very much for reading our website Benny, Yes we do our best to develop character , we find that by working with parents and empowering the kids , as you brilliantly put it ‘drive the bus’ is the way to go.
    As for your 2 questions I will do my best to answer ….. We have roughly 150 adults over 250 kids in our programme working hard to improve . Few compete locally , few nationally and few internationally few have won locally few won nationally and 3 have played at junior Wimbledon and one centre court V Venus Williams BUT much more important to us than that is they all love the challenge this great game has to offer.

    Once again thank you John K for your blog and videos that have helped our parents and coaches work together in our programme , laugh and improve their ‘game’ playing skills .

  44. BJ LeRoy says:

    Parent A: Benny

    Parent B: John

    Too bad you can’t choose your own. You can choose your coach tho…

    Great to see you featured on here John!

  45. John Kessel says:

    Not sure what happened to the video link for sure, but USA Volleyball is transferring things to a new video player in concert with the USOC who we partner with. You can find it still at http://www.usav.org/USA-Volleyball/Grassroots/Videos along with other many other videos. There is a separate section for skill and drill videos that the Sport Development department has created which is actually using the new player, which is seen here http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Volleyball/Video?channel=AxaDRnazoIZ1U8fo-4cLMzn4EDvtFICe – Thanks to all for the suggestions, ideas and support – and I hope everyone reading Dan’s blog finds time to watch and also support the Paralympics in Sochi which opened tonite. My work over the past 20 years with these inspiring athletes and their coaches provides a powerful reference point in life on so many levels. It was great to read that Prince Harry is starting up the “Invictus Games” saying that our Wounded Warrior event is “such a good idea by the Americans that it had to be stolen.” Having directed or coached the ParaVolley part of the program for the past six years, I agree – here is the announcement – http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/prince-harry-launches-invictus-games-3212886 Nuff said…

  46. jason says:

    Parent A: Gives his child a detailed scouting report or game plan for every game
    Parent B: Let’s the child figure out the gameplan on their own

    Parent A: Tells their child about “natural talent”
    Parent B: Tells their child about hard work

    Parent A: Highlights the reasons their child CAN’T
    Parent B: Explains the ways that the child CAN

  47. John Kessel says:

    This is a GREAT Sports parent article to share and use that ties into the A/B discussion wonderfully and puts the kids first – Kudos to Glennon http://momastery.com/blog/2014/03/10/how-to-watch-your-kids-game-without-being-a-jerk/

  48. Sean says:

    Parent A: Yells and moans about calls that go against their team-and especially their player!
    Parent B: Can’t help but cheer for a nice play by either team, and, well after the game, uses good and bad plays by both teams to teach their children how to get better at the game they have chosen to play.

  49. John Kessel says:

    To those who have made it to the end of almost 50 comments, thanks for those still contributing. I urge you to check out Keith Lyon’s blog – a professor in Australia who is ahead of the curve – especially this one on Coaching as an Occupation http://keithlyons.me/coaching-as-an-occupation/ You will see why I am sharing it in this sports parenting/program section of Dan’s blog once you start reading it. Thanks again all.

  50. Daryl Betts says:

    Parent A: Is upset that his child isn’t playing the role they wanted and jealously puts down player in the role they want for their child.

    Parent B: roots for a team of players and is as happy for each child not just their own.

    This season I was wanting to get parents to pick out a player that isn’t their own and really support them, each takes a different player and treats them with the respect that they give their children and really strive for them to be excellent and excel

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