Coaching Young People – Parental Pressures

This morning I received a rather emotional letter from a young rider asking for advice. We have since had a bit of chat about the issue over emails but I thought the subject was interesting enough to bring to you all for discussion…I don’t teach many children and those I do teach generally have healthy parental support but I have in the past dealt with a few cases that are similar to the one described in the letter.

Here is the core of the problem of the young rider in question (I do have a permission to quote the below):

“[…] Could you give me some tips on dealing with my father please? I feel like I am doing the best I can and my horse goes well and we are improving loads but my father always puts pressure on me to do better, he shouts at me during my lessons and sometimes before lessons too. I love training and competing but recently I often feel like I want to give up […]

I wrote back with some tips and suggestions but the email made me think of similar situations all instructors (and teachers/coaches of other sports) come across at all stages of their careers so would be great to hear from other teachers on how you deal with scenarios like above – do you get involved? How? Parents with children who do a sport – what would you advise the young rider to say to his father? What arguments would convince you to step back a little?

From coaching perspective

riders in portugal
Aspire riders (young, very young & young at hearts 😉 at the end of training week in Portugal

During my sports science degree we had an interesting lectures analysing research on the influence of parents in youth sport. I don’t think anyone would be surprised to know it is huge. Riding especially is a sport were family involvement is very often a make or break of the participation not just because of the cost but mostly due to time needed for travel, proper training and horse care.

I have taught children whose siblings weren’t interested in riding at all or had other passions that were overlooked; children with no interest in ponies whatsoever yet being made to ride because it was a status statement; children of other professionals being torn apart for “not listening”; children trying their hearts out yet being criticised for not doing enough. In summary, I have seen a fair share of various child-parent issues that made me feel quite power less at times.

From coaching/teaching point of view I usually try to analyse calmly whether parent’s over-involvement have an effect on child’s enjoyment and progress or not and if yes then to what degree. Most of the time, at least with the parents I have worked with, they simply want the best for their son or daughter. They feel like they want to be the part of the child’s learning and help them get the most out of the experience. If they do interfere at times but if it doesn’t really have an adverse effect on my rider then I tend to ignore it. If I see the rider being negatively affected I would (and have done so in the past) speak to the parent(s).

Over the years I personally learnt to tune out any outside interference from parents when I teach because it helps me focus on the youngster, their safety and their needs. When I was younger I found it distracting and hard to deal with but I think experience does its job. From my own training and competitive teenage perspective and from talking to my fellow riding friends in my youth, I know that young riders seek support and unconditional approval from parents regardless of the sporting/riding results and I think that’s probably best use of family resources from coaching point of view. It’s no coincident that many riding instructors’ children are rarely taught by their professional parents but rather by a fellow instructor  😉

At higher levels of the sport, I believe it’s very important for a teacher/coach to be able to put some pressure and demand on the rider while the parent’s role is to be the buffer and the “good one” which unfortunately seem to have gone the other way round for the teenager who wrote that email…

Please share your views! When I look through my “search terms” on this blog various terms to do with coaching young people come up every day, it’s definitely a subject that I will come back to.

Until next time,


2 thoughts on “Coaching Young People – Parental Pressures”

  1. This is a tough one. Stanford University actually launched some special classes for coaches to learn how to work with kids in a positive, supportive manner. Many parents here volunteer to coach baseball etc. and some of the things seen and heard were disgraceful.
    I realize that your post was from the perspective of the coach fending off the parent but there’s an overlap of approach and attitude.
    I think I’d start by trying to build a bond with the parent. Opening up a dialogue and asking many questions so that he/she feels you are interested in his point of view/opinions. I’d love to involve that parent in video recording the session and, just maybe, hearing how often and how intrusively he comments in playback.
    I’d also try to get the parent riding.
    Failing that “My Barn, My Rules!” is non-negotiable.

    1. That’s interesting regarding the classes. I do think they are needed. My perspective is two fold – as a teenager my competitive career was supported by my very loving but easily disappointed parent. It was difficult to deal with for me at the time and I can see similar type of parent from time to time. I think some training for coaches would be good because parental over involvement have many shades and many forms and it’s a delicate matter to deal with for everyone involved.

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