The parent-coach relationship within elite youth sport: Contentious or cooperative?


Recent research has highlighted coach-athlete relationships (Smith et al., 2007), parents' roles (Gould et al., 2006), and program structure (Weiss et al., 2013) as key factors that can facilitate the positive development of elite youth athletes. Bronfenbrenner's (2005) Bioecological Model emphasizes the importance of examining how interacting factors may influence development. At the mesosystem level, it has been proposed that coaches must work effectively with parents (e.g., Hellstedt, 1987; Smoll et al., 2011), but no research has thoroughly examined this relationship at the elite youth sport level. The current study was informed by autoethnographic research design, utilizing the first author's reflections regarding his experiences as a head coach of an elite youth hockey team in the Greater Toronto Area over the past three years. Specifically, I engaged in self-reflections in an introspection process to "better understand [my]self and others through examining [my] actions and perceptions in reference to and dialogue with those of others" (Anderson, 2006, p. 382). Two complex issues within the coach-parent relationship appear to create tension in the common goal of optimizing youths' development. First, consistent with Holt and colleagues' (2008) findings, parents often have a strong sense of expertise, compelling and/or entitling them to step into coaches' roles. Second, parents and coaches appear to have misaligned beliefs regarding boundaries of communication. Reflections are discussed in the context of negotiating tensions, with the aim of coaches and parents working effectively together to optimize young elite athlete' development.