Facebook Twitter

The delicate job of a parent-coach

SHARE The delicate job of a parent-coach
Gary Seljaas and his son Zac Seljaas celebrate Bountiful's win in the boys basketball 4A semifinal game against Orem at the Dee Events Center in Ogden on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015.

Gary Seljaas and his son Zac Seljaas celebrate Bountiful’s win in the boys basketball 4A semifinal game against Orem at the Dee Events Center in Ogden on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

When Austin Rivers received word that he’d been traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, an instant family crisis arose. He knew it wasn’t going to be easy to play for the team coached by his father.

In a flash he pulled out his phone and dialed his mother.

“She was a wreck the first night,” he said.

She had good reason to be. According to a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there can be serious negatives in a parent-coach/child-athlete relationship.

The study found that a parent-coach often placed more pressure and higher expectations on the child-athlete. Such pressure could lead to friction between the parent and child, even away from the playing field.

Frank Smoll, a psychology professor at the University of Washington, believes that parents can become too involved in a child’s athletic pursuits. When this happens, he says, the parent develops what he calls “frustrated jock syndrome,” a condition in which parents live vicariously through their child’s athletic achievements. Such conditions may develop because a parent wishes to relive his or her own playing days.

Maybe that’s why no son has ever played for his father in the 66-year history of the NBA.

But if the first few weeks are any indication, friction between the coaching father and the playing son won’t be much of an issue for the Rivers family.

In a recent game, the younger Rivers came off the bench to torch the Sacramento Kings with a career high 28 points.

But even though the parent-coach/child-athlete relationship won’t be without some bumps and bruises, it can, on the positive side, serve as a great way to strengthen family bonds.

Another study conducted by Weiss and Fretwell noted that parents who coach a child through sports are more likely to develop pride in a child’s accomplishments, have positive social interactions and experience opportunities to teach life lessons to a child.

If you’re a parent-coach trying to balance the responsibilities of coaching and parenting, consider the examples of the following people:

Remember it’s a game — don’t take it home

In 12 seasons as the men’s head basketball coach at Utah Valley University, Dick Hunsaker has seen a lot. Under his watch, the Wolverines transitioned to an NCAA Division 1 program, garnered conference championships in the Great West Conference and the Western Athletic Conference, and in 2012 appeared in their first postseason tournament since 2003.

And for four years, he coached his son Holton.

“I’ve never planned to coach my sons … as it’s worked out, I did. I’ve really enjoyed watching him progress as a player and a young man,” coach Hunsaker told the Deseret News.

Holton, who graduated from UVU after leading the Wolverines in scoring with a 14.2-point average and being named to the All-WAC first team, said playing for his father was a positive experience.

“We definitely grew closer together. I would do it over again if I could,” the younger Hunsaker said. “The biggest question everyone asked when I decided to play at Utah Valley University was ‘how would this impact my relationship with my father?’ I can honestly say, it was only positive.”

Both father and son noted that at times they had some heated debates, but they always tried to leave their emotions on the court.

“I got some great advice from our former athletic director, Mike Jacobsen,” said coach Hunsaker. “He said, ‘don’t take it home with you.’ I’ve worked hard and so has (Holton) at handling it in that manner. Our common denominator has been basketball, but we don’t discuss it as much as you might think away from the gym,” he said.

“He never treated me with any favoritism,” Holton agreed, “and I’m glad because I really grew so much after he’d get after me. He always put on his business face and went to work every day. But behind closed doors he was still my dad and he was proud of my accomplishments.”

Always a coach but also a father

For Ace Seljaas, playing for his father is natural.

“My dad has always been my coach,” said Seljaas, “he started coaching me in the fifth grade. Then he coached on my junior high team. And then he helped coach my high school team. He’s always been my coach.”

Ace’s father, Gary, was an assistant boys basketball coach at Bountiful High School in Bountiful, Utah, from 2006 to 2009. Gary is still an assistant at Bountiful High, now helping to coach his youngest son, Zac, a senior.

Having his father for his coach wasn’t easy at first, said Ace, but he adjusted.

“It was hard for me to see him in the role of father, and then the role of coach,” he said. “It was tough. It took some getting used to.”

But as Ace’s understanding of the game grew, his respect and appreciation for his father-coach also grew.

“My dad is really good at separating responsibilities,” Ace said. “He told us that when we were on the court, he was the coach and there was going to be critiquing and feedback and coaching. But as soon as practice or the game was over, he was my loving father again.”

As he reflects on the years he spent playing under his father’s watchful eye, Ace said he was grateful that his father was such a big part of his life.

“Yes, my dad loves the game. He’ll probably always be involved with it. But the real reason he coaches is because he puts his family first. He’s always tried to take jobs that allowed him time to spend with his kids. He tried to be home for us when we’d get home from school. His real love is just being with his kids and seeing us succeed.”

Show an active support role

Austin Ainge, former BYU basketball point guard and current director of player personnel for the Boston Celtics, has also spent plenty of time with his father in the sporting world.

Austin, the son of former NBA star and current Celtics president Danny Ainge, said his father was the ultimate supporter throughout his high school and college career.

“Although my dad didn’t really coach me, he was at every game he could get to, and he would always give me pointers,” said Ainge.

Showing interest in a child by offering tips or pointers after a sporting event can mean the world to a young child-athlete. According to Tim Elmore, founder and president of Growing Leaders, the most important thing a parent can say to their child after a ballgame is, “I love to watch you play.”

It sounds pretty simple, he continued. But for many parents, taking a laissez-faire approach to their child’s sports is downright gut-wrenching.

“I know of sets of parents who moved into a condo across the street from their freshman athlete’s university. They didn’t want to miss a thing, and they certainly didn’t want to neglect the chance to provide direction,” said Elmore.

Elmore noted that while parental involvement is crucial, it must be done in moderation.

“I believe parents have a more productive impact on their kids by making a change in their style. When our kids were younger, we played the role of supervisor. We were right there on top of the issues. And we should be — they were young and needed our support. As they age, parents must move to the role of consultant,” he said.

Ainge noted that his father understood that the role of the coach was to coach. And the role of the parent was to support and cheer.

“The most important thing to me was that my dad never tried to interfere with my coaches,” Ainge said. “With all he knew and all he could do, he never tried.”

Ainge confided that one of the greatest traits he admires in his father is the quality of selflessness. In the business of the NBA — where money and fame and huge egos abound — Ainge said his father has been untouched and unaffected.

“He’s shown me that it’s not about him,” said Ainge. “It’s about the team and the people around him. He is happy when he sees the team or his people succeed.”

Walking a thin line

Coaching a child is a tough task. If you are too demanding as the coach, the child may think you are speaking as the parent and come to feel that he or she is incompetent or unlovable.

Yet, if you are too complimentary or soft, your child may get a false sense of competency, while others fester with resentment.

It’s easy to see why parents don’t typically train their children beyond the earliest years. Some parents decide it’s too risky to wear both hats and consequently let others coach so they can sit by and simply be the cheerleader who nurtures their child’s dreams.

But whether you choose to put yourself in the tight spot of parent-coach or you leave it to another, remember: The most important thing you can do is show love and support to your child.

Email: tstahle@deseretdigital.com; Twitter: @tstahle15