Coaching your own children requires walking a fine line
Mike Beale has been the Freeport Area boys basketball coach for 23 years.
He's also coached his two sons. The youngest, Ben, will graduate in the spring.
Beale said it's a fine balance between the role of coach and the role of dad, but it has worked out well for his family.
“For my sons, I was coaching before they were born,” Beale said. “As they grew up, coaching was a big part of our lives.”
Many schools across Western Pennsylvania have coaches like Beale, who coach teams their children are on, but it's up to individual districts to decide if it's allowed and to deal with any issues that may come up.
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association and the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League don't have any jurisdiction over whether parents can coach their children and don't require any specialized training.
Apollo-Ridge is the latest district in the Alle-Kiski Valley to allow volunteers to coach their children. Paid coaches have been able to coach their kids, and that policy will remain.
District officials said they recognized that community members are interested in contributing services without compensation.
At Apollo-Ridge, the head coach of each sport must initiate the move to have a volunteer coach approved.
Athletic Director Ray Bartha and the building principal then must review the volunteer coach's credentials and make a recommendation to the school board.
Once a volunteer coach is approved, he or she gets written assignments outlining duties and responsibilities. Volunteers won't be covered by the school district's insurance carrier.
David Eavenson, president of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Directors Association, said changes are coming for the training coaches have to go through. Beginning next year, all coaches will have to pass state-approved coaching education courses to be a coach.
“Unfortunately, Pennsylvania was one of the last states to mandate coaching education,” Eavenson said. “So far, I think it has proven to be very valuable.”
Eavenson said even coaches who have been coaching for decades will have to go through the training.
“They're not grandfathering anybody in,” he said.
Bob Bozzuto, chairman of the American Sport Education Program for Pennsylvania, said coaches will have to pass those courses by June 30.
The courses provide training in several categories including everything from to health and injury knowledge to coaching philosophies, which can include how to coach teams your children are on.
“If they're there for their child, then the bottom line is that's wrong,” Bozzuto said.
Craig Taliani, Deer Lakes softball coach, has coached both of his daughters. He's been a coach for 20 years. His daughter Katrina is a junior.
“I try to keep a coach's perspective on things and, at the same time, I want my daughters and the other girls on the team to have a good experience, a positive experience,” Taliani said.
Beale and Taliani said they had to make sure they weren't being harder on their kids than the other team members and to keep the coaching and the program as the main priority.
“There was some silent rides home after practice,” Taliani said. “I always try to balance the team responsibly and my own kids.”
Dan Appolonia, Yough High School girls' soccer coach, began coaching years ago when his daughters were young. He now coaches two of them, sophomores Justine and Gianna, at the high school.
He started out coaching youth league teams and has been at the high school for six years. He was also a player himself.
“It's more about finding that line of not being too critical with your own kids,” he said. “I think it's the exception where you find a coach who is ‘easier' on their kids than the other kids.”
Appolonia said it can be a lot harder on the children than the parent coaches.
“It's tougher on them because Dad's coach, and how does that affect their interactions with their teammates,” he said.
Bozzuto said a parent coaching only for their children is less common in high school sports because many of those coaches have been doing it for decades. More often, youth leagues are where parents will want to become involved because of their child.
“We've had a number of times, a situation where it's on our radar,” Bozzuto said. “We have to make sure all kids are treated fairly.”
Beale said his sons were with their teammates long before he was coaching them, so there hasn't been any animosity among the team.
“Obviously, try to leave the coaching at the gym,” he said. “And, when you get home, don't bring it home and dwell on it.”