Examining the characteristics of the coach-parent relationship in competitive youth sports


Youth sport is a complex social environment, constructed and influenced by athletes, parents, and coaches. The coach-parent relationship has been cited as the single most important aspect of youth sport (Knight & Holt, 2014); however, limited research has explored how parents and coaches may characterize their interpersonal relationship, and what attributes define healthy coach-parent relationships. The purposes of this study were to examine parents' and coaches' experience of their relationship with one another, and to investigate factors that contribute to coach-parent relationships. Twenty parents (14 male and 6 female) and twenty-one competitive coaches (16 male and 5 female) were recruited through purposeful and snowball sampling. Reflexive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2019) was used to analyze participants' semi-structured interviews (DiCicco-Bloom & Crabtree, 2006). Results showed that open communication, transparency, and trust can positively affect the relationship between parents and coaches, while parental over-involvement, perceived coach favouritism, and unfair treatment of athletes by coaches appeared to negatively impact the coach-parent relationship. Results also revealed details about an uneven power dynamic that exists between parents and coaches which may be driven in part by parents' and coaches' age and gender. At a broader level, commercialization of youth sport seemed to have an overarching influence on the coach-parent relationship, by increasing parents' overall expectation of coaches and ultimately altering the nature of the relationship to a customer-client relationship. The results from this study can guide sport organizations and practitioners to improve the relationship between sport parents and coaches.