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What Sport Parents Can Learn from The Penn State Tragedy

I am honored to welcome another guest blogger today, David Benzel

The recent events at Penn State University have caused many to reflect on the relationships between young athletes and coaches, parents and coaches, and most importantly the communication between children and their parents.  The question racing through the minds of thousands of parents today is “How can we insure the safety of our children as they encounter the coaches of youth sports whom we don’t really know?”

Often the relationship between parent & coach and/or coach & athlete begins with a certain level of credibility based on the coach’s experience. When you coach for Penn State, for instance, there’s an assumption that you are knowledgeable and trustworthy.  Jerry Sandusky took advantage of his credibility, something a coach must never do at any level.

Three Critical Questions for Sport Parents to Ask…

1)  Can I trust this person?

Make time for one-on-one conversations with your child’s coach. Show interest in their role in your child’s athletic development, and don’t be afraid to ask them questions. If you have any behavioral or social concerns go to the head of the athletic department immediately.

2) Does he/she care about the welfare of my child?  

Through conversations with the coach, other parents and your child you will be able to determine something about the motives of your child’s coach. Look for instruction, inspiration and discipline. If for any reason you have concern based on a conversation with a parent or even your child, sit in on a few practices to observe the coach in action.

3) Is he/she competent as a coach?

After practice be sure to ask your child athlete what he/she is learning. This is a great way to gauge the effectiveness of your children’s coach’s teaching strategy.   Remember that open and honest communication with your child is above all the most important component. Keep the lines of communication open with your child by asking questions, showing interest, and creating an environment where communication is comfortable and nonjudgmental.

A Parent’s Game Plan

In a case where a coach is acting or speaking inappropriately your child may not always be mature enough to discern the truth.  Unfortunately it’s easy to be deceived. Parents need to have a game plan of their own and the best one is a “Check-Out and Check-In” approach.


  • Do your homework. Find out where your child’s coach went to school and where he has worked in the past. Does he/she have experience? What is his/her background?
  • Ask around. Check in with people you trust. Talk to other sport parents and past coaches that you and your child respect.
  • Show up. Go to practices occasionally, as well as competitions or games to observe the behavior and reactions of a coach.  Get to know a coach through appropriate opportunities for parent interactions like formal and informal meetings.  If a coach does not welcome parent interactions, consider this a red flag.


  • Establish a routine. Have regular conversations with your child about the coaching he or she is receiving, but keep in mind that checking-in with your child does not mean interfering with the coaching.
  • Verify that your child is being treated with respect. Make sure that your child athlete is being held accountable for team standards, and comfortable with his/her relationship with their coach.  Your child may be uncomfortable with the workouts or the changes required for skill development, but he or she should have a sense that the coach is sincerely and appropriately interested in personal and physical development.
  • Share. Ask your child to share information about how the coach talks to the athletes and how they are treated during the informal moments around practice and competitions.

It is completely appropriate to make your children aware that coaches come in a variety of styles, shapes, colors, and competencies. Help your children understand that every coach can teach them something of value for their development.  However, also make your child aware that every coach has a responsibility to treat every athlete with respect – intellectually, emotionally, and physically – and that you’d like to know about any incident in which that is not the case.

When you take the time to ask yourself the right questions, Check-Out, and Check-In you are allowing your children to enjoy the best possible youth sport experience.

President and Founder of Growing Champions for Life (, David Benzel, is a sought-after speaker for organizations nationwide. He brings an athlete’s discipline, a coach’s inspiration, and a parent’s practical experience to teach parents and coaches skills for succeeding in the athletic arena. Most known for his seminars, inspiration programs and informational products, David is committed to creating a healthy sport environment for parents, coaches and most importantly athletes. Contact David at [email protected]. Or join the conversation online. Facebook: Twitter:!/DavidBenzel


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