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Sports Psychology: Elite Athletes, Coaches And Parents

Posted by: Dr. Granat on July 30, 2007

Over the years, I have counseled and coached a number of elite and world


class athletes. These people have competed in some very demanding sports like

ice skating, swimming, diving, weight lifting, wrestling, fencing, the martial arts,

professional football, boxing, professional baseball and professional golf. Some of

these clients have been adults and others have been adolescents.

Typically, these kinds of athletes have very rigorous training schedules and

they usually have personal coaches to help them reach their fullest potential.

Where young athletes are involved in highly competitive sports, their relationship with

their coaches can be quite complicated.

In many instances, the coach becomes an additional family member. And

sometimes, the relationship between the coach, the athlete and the parents of the

athlete can become quite strained. It is not uncommon for parents, athletes and

coaches to have different thoughts, ideas, goals and plans as to what is best for the

young person.

Frequently, athletes who come to my office for therapy are embroiled in a conflict

involving their coach and their family members. Sometimes, these top athletes have

several coaches. For example, I am working with a golfer who has a strength coach,

a conditioning coach and a swing coach. It is not always easy to get all of these people

to act like a finely tuned machine. Egos get involved and turf wars around the athlete can


Not long ago, a tennis player who I coached gave up the sport because his parents

had gotten into severe and unpleasant conflicts with each and everyone of his tennis

teachers. The athlete could not stand the bickering any longer. Quitting was unfortunate

in this case, since the athlete was a talented and highly ranked junior player.

Sometimes, the coach and the parents have different ideas as to the amount of

time and energy that the teenager should be investing in their sport. A mother of

an ice skater who I coached wanted her daughter to spend more time on school work

and on her social life. The coach wanted the youngster to be totally focused on her


In other instances, they have different opinions on the level of talent that

the youngster may possess. The parents of a baseball pitcher I worked with thought that

their sixteen year old had major league potential. When his pitching coach said that the

youngster could pitch for a Division I or Division II college, the parents got angry with

the coach and fired him on the spot.

Now, it is not unusual for there to be some differences among an athlete, his

or her coach and their parents. However, when the conflict is ongoing and the athlete

is not benefiting or enjoying the experience, it may be time to consult a therapist or

counselor to see if all the participants involved can function as a team.

If the conflict persists, it may simply be time to adjust the goals for the athlete and

search for another coach. A reputable coach should be willing to recommend a

colleague who can fit the athlete and the parents a bit better. I frequently refer people

to other counselors when I feel they will do better with another professional.

If you and your young athlete are in constant conflict about their sport and

their coach, it is probably wise to make some change to ameliorate the problem.

These kinds of interpersonal conflicts can be quite stressful for adults. And they

can be very confusing, and in some cases, devastating for a youngster.

If you let the conflict go on indefinitely, your child may lose interest in the activity and

fail to reach his or her fullest potential.

Jay P. Granat, Ph.D. is a Psychotherapist in River Edge, NJ. He is the founder of

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