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Parenting has a whole lot in common with coaching. If these strategies work with world class athletes, surely they are good enough to use with our own children.

Sarah Green Carmichael mined the archives of Harvard Business Review interviews with great coaches for the 2015 article How to Coach, According to 5 Great Sports Coaches

In the article Joe Girardi (baseball), Bela Karolyi (gymnastics), Sir Alex Ferguson (soccer), Bill Parcells (football), and Bill Walsh (football) all share great advice and tips about successful coaching.  

While parents may not be working with world class athletes, they can still learn a lot from successful coaches. Many strategies these coaches share translate directly into effective parenting strategies.

Lead by Example

Joe Girardi says “You have to lead by example.  You ask your players to be prepared mentally and physically, so you have to be prepared too.”

This is not a coach talking about the local city league team. Girardi is telling us that even professions need someone to model expectations for them.

Our children absolutely need this. They learn every behavior they ever exhibit by watching others. Show them what success looks like.

Adapt to the Player

Bela Karolyi firmly believes coaches adapt to the player, not the other way around.

Unsuccessful coaches try to make players fit their style or philosophy. Struggling parents do the same thing with their children.

Great parents understand kids have different personalities and motivators. The strategy that worked great with your first born may not work at all with the next one.

The goal is to help your child grow into a successful adult, not win by making them comply with your preferred parenting style. Be smart enough to recognize when something is not working and humble enough to adjust.

Nothing Better than Hearing ‘Well Done’

Sir Alex Ferguson states, “Few people get better with criticism; most respond to encouragement instead.  For a player – for any human being – there is nothing better than hearing ‘Well done’. Those are the two best words ever invented” 

As a young coach I would always correct my players and constantly go over what they were doing wrong. I quickly realized this made both of us miserable. Even worse, it wasn’t working. The players were not getting any better. I knew if I wanted to keep my job, I better change. Thankfully I had a great mentor who showed me how to coach by subtly making the correction by emphasizing the parts the player did right.

Parenting is no different. Our kids are going to constantly make mistakes. That is what growing up is all about. The skill I learned in coaching has paid me back tenfold as a parent.

Your best parenting will happen as soon as you learn to learn to correct mistakes by emphasizing the parts of the task that were done correctly and using the good parts to teach the lesson.

Believe in Them

Bill Parcells favorite line to use with his players is one he learned from his father, “I think you are better than you think you are.” 

Wow, what a powerful statement! Our statements become our children’s internal dialogue. The things we say and do now are the things they will believe years from now. 

We must constantly tell them and show them how much we believe in them. 


Bill Walsh said this about coaching Joe Montana, “We nurtured him to use his instincts. We had to allow him to be wrong on occasion and to live with it.”

This is a hall of fame coach talking about a hall of fame quarterback. If Walsh had to nurture Joe Montana, imagine what we need to be doing as parents.

No matter how developed or skilled they are, our children will always need us to nurture them if we want to help them reach their full potential.  But remember, there is a big difference between nurture and force.

Do the Opposite!

Average parents think parenting is an innate ability you either have or you don’t. Do the opposite and improve your parenting by learning from these great coaches.

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