In all the years my dad coached me, I only remember one time where things went sour between us and even that didn’t last long. He was amazing with me. My dad had been a good athlete in his day, but he, like most people, had some unfulfilled dreams. Not once did he ever put pressure on me to live out what he never got to experience. I was free to follow whatever course The Lord put before me. As a result, I don’t remember any pressure from my dad when I was growing up as a ballplayer.

My dad did for me what I struggle with most for my own son.

Dad coached on purpose for me.

If you’re a coach, odds are you’re coaching because one or more of your children is playing. Everything about coaching on purpose is more easily done with someone else’s kids. It’s amazing how many coaches can be so incredible with every kid but their own. I know that tension. I live it every day.

But it’s not fair or right to your kids. It’s not. Regardless of their talent level (high or low), your kids deserve what all those other kids get from you: they deserve to be coached on purpose. They deserve and, more importantly, they desperately need, you to be for them what you are for everyone else.

How can you do it?

I’ll admit there’s no easy answer. I’ll admit that I’m learning as I go. I’ll admit that I often fail. But I refuse to give up. I refuse to forget what my dad did for me. I refuse to let my own kid grow up with a coach who will do one thing for others and another for him.

Here’s the foundation you and I can build upon when coaching our own kids:

1. Let them lead. Do you drag them out for extra practice, or do they drag you? Be honest. Whose leading this thing? Sure, they need guidance, but they don’t need an overlord. They need a dad, a mom. Let your kids lead in how much they want to be involved in a particular sport. It may be more or less than you desire for them, but let them lead. Yes, help them maximize the gifts God has given them, but guilting, shaming, and pressuring them into it is for you, not for them.

2. Be honest, but never critical. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of brutal honesty and I haven’t changed my mind. However, simple honesty with your own kids is helpful and necessary. Brutal honesty has no filter. Real honesty comes from and is couched in words of love and grace. Tell them where they’re excelling and where they need improvement. Let them know when they did a good job on a particular skill and when they didn’t do so well. They know anyway. In all of this, though, there’s never an excuse to be critical of them as people. And, trust me, it’s hard to separate honesty and criticism. Be careful.

3. Determine what they want and need from sports, not what you want and need from their sports. Let’s be honest, most of us operate from the latter. Here’s some of what they want and need as children: to be loved, to feel secure, to be with their friends, to have fun, to see what they can do. Those are some basics for every child and those basics don’t change once they step onto the field or court of play. So, be straight with yourself. What do you want and need from your kids’ sports? What are you hoping your child’s performance proves about you? The answer to that question reveals what you want and need from their sports.

4. Decide what you want them to remember from childhood and operate accordingly. If you want them to remember pressure, yelling, criticism, dirty looks, and scoldings from you, just do whatever comes naturally. And believe me, they’ll remember that. You and I do. They are no different. On the other hand, if you want them to remember what I remember about my dad, it’s time to change. It’s time to implement a new plan. Only you know what those changes are and only you are responsible to make them.

5. Get someone to be honest with you. This is most difficult. None of us (myself at the top) want to hear if we’ve messed up. None of us loves to be told we’re wrong. None of us wants to apologize and start over. But what I’ve learned is that I can’t see in myself what others see in me. Who can help you? I’ve leaned on my wife, my dad, friends, and even my own kids in this area. Whomever it may be for you, find someone who can tell you whether you’re truly coaching on purpose with your kid and others.

Years ago, one of my high school coaches told me: “If you mess up your kids, you’ve messed up everything.” I believe him. I also believe that sports gives us a wonderful opportunity to grow them or destroy them. Long after they’re done playing sports, you’ll still be their parent. Let’s not sacrifice the permanent at the altar of the immediate.

Coach your kids on purpose. I’m praying for us all as we try.