Is it OK for parents to talk with coaches about their child’s playing time?


As youth sports becomes more commercialized, parents have become more stressed. Some kids are left behind, missing out on the benefits of sports due to money or ability. Other kids are having poor experiences due to the adults (coaches, parents, league organizers), causing them to quit sports altogether. Parents are left to navigate the confusing and frustrating world of sports on their own.

Project Play is here to help. Each month, we will answer parents’ youth sports questions on this page. Got a question? Send it via email to, or share the question with us on Twitter at @AspenInstSports.

My son is a starting left guard on the freshman football team. After one bad game, he was put on the backup team. How do I keep him motivated, and is it OK to contact his coach for my son to ask what happened?

Cecilia Bergh

Demotions are never easy in sports, especially at the high school level, so you will need to tread carefully to support your son. First, do you know for certain that he is no longer motivated to play? If so, talk to him about what motivates him to play. Listen to him. There are many reasons to continue playing other than being a starter.

Being part of a team can provide youth with a sense of belonging to something bigger than them. Friendships can be built and enhanced on teams. Research suggests that playing sports help youth develop emotionally, socially and academically. For instance, high school football players report higher self-esteem, less loneliness and greater social support than the overall student body, according to the Aspen Institute’s Healthy Sport Index in data compiled by the Women’s Sports Foundation. Football players are also more likely than all students to say they plan to graduate from a four-year college. Share these results with your son.

As for contacting the coach: Have you asked your son first what happened? It’s best to hear from him first. Given your son’s age, it may be best to let him take responsibility and speak with the coach, so you are not fighting his battles. Help your son game plan his conversation with the coach to ask the right questions. If you don’t get the needed answers and you remain concerned about your son’s health and happiness, you could then have a conversation with the coach. Frame it around your son’s well-being and the desire to keep him motivated. View the conversation as a joint effort to get your son back on the right track. Good luck.

How do we find out if there is financial assistance for sports equipment and fees?

Joli Rosier

For starters, ask your child’s coach or league administrator. Some sports providers may offer financial help, though the reality is many coaches and leagues don’t know of the opportunities themselves. You could help point them in the right direction.

The DICK’S Sporting Good Foundation’s SportsMatter program helps serve low-income populations. If you’re a nonprofit organization that is helping youth from low socioeconomic communities and families, you can ask for a cash grant. Grants are accepted on a rolling basis. DICK’S responds to all requests with a decision or a request for additional information within 60 days. DICK’S also sponsors youth sports teams and leagues.

Another option is Good Sports, which gives all kids the lifelong benefits of sport and physical activity by providing new equipment, apparel and footwear to those most in need. If you run a youth program, or know of one, you can apply for a grant. The grant recipients must serve youth in an economically disadvantaged area, charge participation fees under $300, and operate an organized sport, recreational activity or fitness program that offers consistent and structured play to large groups of children.


First, I think Project Play is an awesome idea and that it could help parents navigate through some questions they have concerning their child in sports. Growing up, I was always into sports and had a father who also made it easier for me. Now I’m the father of a 2-year-old boy who is very active and, from what I see, has a love for soccer because every time he sees a ball, he starts kicking it.

It’s clear that I’m going to enroll him in soccer. But I also would love him to play other sports, especially tennis because that’s my favorite sport and I still play. I want to know how can I make him play other sports and also not make him play too much so he doesn’t get overwhelmed? Or am I just thinking too fast for a 2-year-old?

Steve Dominique

It sounds like you’re moving a little fast, though that’s understandable for a new parent. It’s good that you want to encourage your son to play multiple sports and that you recognize you may need to pump the brakes for several years. At your child’s age, your sole focus should be on physical literacy – which is to say that you’re laying the foundation now for your son to have the ability, confidence and desire to be active for life.

One key at this age is the development of fundamental movement skills – agility, balance and coordination. Don’t worry about sport-specific skills before the age of 5 (and for some kids, even older). He won’t understand most skills anytime soon. Keep it simple. Provide your son with the tools to play, on his own terms. Encourage free play, which builds physical literacy and love of game. Kicking the soccer ball or hitting a tennis ball is all that’s needed. This can encourage your son to continue playing as he gets older.

For more information, visit our Project Play Parent Checklists for parents of kids ages 0-5. These are 10 simple questions you can ask yourself so your son can have a positive sports experience. Check each box, collect your score at the bottom, and discover videos and resources to build an athlete for life.