Should I Tell the Coach About My Child's Learning and Thinking Differences?


It can be tricky to find the right balance as parents: We don’t want to be too overprotective, but we want to do our best to help our kids thrive. It’s the Goldilocks problem: What can we do that will be just right?

Deciding whether to tell your child’s coach about a learning or thinking difference is a good example of a Goldilocks problem. You want to give your child the best chance at having a positive experience. That’s a good reason to consider giving the coach a heads-up. This information can help the coach anticipate your child’s needs.

But you don’t want to risk having your child stigmatized. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you’re making the decision:

What's your gut telling you about the coach? Does the coach seem likely to understand your child’s needs and make ? Or does he seem more likely to misuse the knowledge and draw negative attention to your child?

If possible, try to plan ahead and observe the coach during games or practices before your child is old enough to play on his team. It would also be good if you could talk to parents whose kids have learning and thinking differences and have played for this coach in past seasons.

Are people likely to notice your child’s issues on the playing field? Sometimes kids with learning and thinking differences struggle in the classroom and shine on the soccer field. Ask your child’s PE teacher for insights on how your child’s issues might come up during games or practices.

For example, if your child struggles with or language issues, it might be helpful for the coach to place your child toward the back of the line during drills so he can watch what the other kids are doing before he has to do it too. If your child can’t sit still for very long, maybe the coach can have your child retrieve a ball or do some other task that involves moving around.

What does your child think? Does your child want to tell the coach? Would he rather wait and see how the season is going? It’s good to ask for his input because he’s going to have to make these kinds of decisions for the rest of his life. Involving him in decision-making is good. But be careful not to relinquish your role as decision-maker-in-chief. Remember: You’re the parent and that means you get to call the shots.

Which strategies would you share? If you decide to tell the coach, use it as an opportunity to help him understand your child and make the season go well. Tell the coach which strategies work at home or school. Offer to brainstorm or be a resource if he’d like one.

Keep in mind that many coaches are parents who are volunteering to help with their child’s team. They may not be familiar with your child’s needs. Most likely they will appreciate tips on how to coach kids with learning and thinking differences. Just try not to overburden him with too many requests. For example, if the coach is a big yeller, he may be able to tone it down for your child. But he might not be able to stop yelling altogether.

What are your goals for your child? Sometimes kids may try to use their learning and thinking differences as an avoidance tactic. Make sure your child strives to be a team player and participates as much as he can. Work with the coach to help your child be the most successful player he can be.

You might decide to tell the coach about your child’s issues, or you might not. Either way, it’s important to support your child as he navigates these experiences and to keep the lines of communication open with the coach. Monitor what’s happening through the season, both with the coach and other players. Try to anticipate problems, guide your child, and step in if necessary.


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