At a glance
Coaches need to hear how your child’s learning and thinking differences may affect performance.
Strategies that work at school may also help your child’s coach work with your child.
Working with the coach can help make sports a positive and valuable experience for your child.
Playing sports can be a great experience for kids with learning and thinking differences. It can provide a different way to succeed. It’s a good way to burn excess energy. It can help kids work on many skills, from self-control and focus to physical coordination. And it’s supposed to be fun.
“It can be helpful to share the strategies that work at school, home or with other activities.”
But if the coach doesn’t understand your child or communicates poorly, it can be a problem. And if she calls attention to your child’s weaknesses or is overly critical, it can be a disaster. Here are some things you can do if your child’s coach is a bad fit.
Explain your child’s issues. The coach may know very little about learning and thinking differences, or how they can affect more than just learning. But even if the coach has a basic idea, she may not understand the wide range of potential symptoms. Explaining your child’s issues to the coach may help her adjust her approach.
Give specifics. More than the name of your child’s issues, the coach needs know how they affect his playing. So after saying “My child has ,” for instance, follow up with specifics about what the coach is seeing. “My child understands the rules of the game, but may forget them in the heat of the moment.”
Share strategies that have worked before. Your child’s coach may want to help but not know what to do. It’s helpful to share the strategies that work at school, at home or with other activities. For example, you might say that because your child has issues, the teacher writes out instructions for him. Then ask if the coach can provide notes on the plays that will be used in practice.
Be clear about the problem. The coach needs to understand what’s upsetting either you or your child. Be honest, but try to keep the conversation polite and respectful. Have specific examples of what bothers you. Instead of saying “My child doesn’t like it when you yell,” try something like, “My child gets upset when you yell because he doesn’t know what he did wrong.” That provides more room for conversation. Some coaches may not even realize what they are doing and are not trying to single out your child.
Hear the coach’s side. Your child’s teacher may be focused on helping your child succeed individually. But the coach’s responsibility is to the team. If your child is being too aggressive or not following the rules, the coach may get upset. It’s good to be open to hearing the coach’s side of the story and understanding how your child’s behavior might be affecting the team. That allows you to work with your child on different strategies.
It’s possible that despite your best efforts, the coach may not be willing or able to change her approach to help your child. In that case, you might want to talk to an administrator at the sports program. Maybe that person can talk to the coach. Or switch your child to another team where the fit might be better.
You may also want to think about whether this is the right sport for your child. Talk it over and see what he thinks. Your child may have been thinking about switching anyhow. In the end, you want him to have the best experience possible.
Be sure to consider whether the sport itself is a good fit and something your child enjoys.
Be prepared to hear the coach’s side of the story as well.
Remember that the coach’s primary responsibility is to the team.
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About the author
About the author
Erica Patino is an online writer and editor who specializes in health and wellness content.
Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.