Home >> Features >> Cover story
Anna Urish was coached by her father, Dave.
By File | SJ-R
View Coaches and kids gallery (20)

View all 20 photos

Parents as coaches
Many area families understand the delicate balance between the two jobs
By Kathleen Ostrander

On the court and on the field they are in command, they shuffle their players in and out; they wrack their brains about strategy and scoring. They teach discipline, stress sportsmanship and personal integrity, and they spend a lot of time molding the youth of America.

They are coaches.

At home, they nurse sick children, bake cookies, change the oil in the car, mow the lawn and counsel teenagers that a broken heart isn't necessarily fatal. Sometimes the same kids they coach sit down at the dinner table with them and call them Mom or Dad.

Southeast High School standout Lawrence Thomas calls his dad coach on the court. Coach Lawrence Thomas said coaching his son was a blessing.

"If you don't value the time with your child, well, what else is there?" asked Thomas. "I got on him, probably worse than the other kids, but it wasn't like it was basketball 24-7. You can't do that to a kid. That will just drive them away."

The soft-spoken point guard, who scored a school record 1,941 points in his career with the Spartans, said his dad was harder on him than the other teens on the team.

"I don't get any breaks," he said - and then he smiled. "But being harder on me makes me better in the long run."

He's got a passion for it, adds Coach Thomas. He knows his son is good. He also knows the extensive media attention could give the teen an ego. But he's a likeable, grounded kid who genuinely likes basketball and has an appreciation for the discipline it takes to be good and stay good.

"My mom and dad," said the younger Thomas, "they keep me humble, and I practice and work hard."

Thomas said his son has been around basketball since he was a little boy - and around competitive sports. That seems to be a general theme with parents who coach.

Sacred Heart-Griffin football coach Ken Leonard guided all three of his boys in the sport. Derek is the head coach now at Rochester and Brad, Derek's brother, is an assistant.

"They've been around competition all their lives," Ken Leonard said. "They wanted to play ball. I didn't tell them they had to. I think coaching them was a great experience. I think I'm closer to the boys because we shared football. They grew up playing football.

"I mean, what other job is there where you can take your kids to work and watch them grow up? They were on the sidelines since they were little, and the players were their big brothers."

"My dad coached us like he coached the other kids," Derek Leonard said. "He's fair; I'll say that about him, he's fair no matter what.

"I think about 50 percent of what I do when I coach comes from him," he added. "If you are going to copy someone, you might as well copy someone who does it well."

In two years, Springfield will experience the battle of the Leonards when Rochester will join SHG in the Central State Eight.

Chatham Glenwood High School football coach Dan Rourke also coached his sons: Jake for three years; and Chris for one. Both pursued football in college: Chris was a quarterback at Illinois College; and Jake was a wide receiver at Illinois State.

"There were some situations where I got grief because I was playing my kids, but they were good and they were competitive, and that's a good reason to play for most people," Rourke said.

"They were going to football drills when they were in first grade. My boys were on the practice field when I was coaching, and they were always around. When I was coaching them, there was a mutual understanding that when we left the field, we were done. It didn't get to be where we would sit around and go over everything again and again.

"Would I coach them again? You bet. We went hunting and fishing - but when guys say they bond with their kids while fishing? Well, football was our fishing. Our fishing was on the practice field. When I was coaching Chris at home in the backyard about throwing a pass, he was throwing that pass to his little brother Jake. I called the play, Chris threw it and Jake caught it."

Clark Barnes coached his son, Brian, at Springfield High. Brian Barnes is coaching and at an area middle school. "I was hard on him," said Clark Barnes. "Looking back, I think too hard. That's the advice I would give to other parents - don't be too hard and don't be easy.

"I really love my son, and I think I was hard on him sometimes because other people were watching, and he was the coach's son."

"There were good times and bad times," said Brian Barnes. "But I chose to go to Springfield; I could have gone somewhere else. I knew he was going to be harder on me. I got grief from the kids on other teams that I was the coach's kid."

"If I had to do it over, I'd do it again. I didn't coach like my dad. I picked up some things, but you've got to have your own style."

Southeast High School girls basketball coach Mike Collins coached his daughter Ava, and in the upcoming season will coach both Ava and her sister, Justice.

"I've been coaching Ava from the beginning, and I think it worked out well," he said. "You have to learn how to separate coach from dad. At home, there's not a lot of 'you should have done this or that.' But I tell my girls, you've got to do a little extra to justify yourself on the court."

Collins said he waits for his girls to ask him for help at home.

"I want to help them, but I'm not going to keep at them and turn them off of basketball," he said. "I think they are both going to keep playing after they graduate.

"But I played college athletics," he was quick to add, "and it's not going to come to a situation where I am reliving my life through my kids."

Dave Urish coached his daughter, Anna, for four years in basketball at Williamsville.

"It worked out fabulous," he said. "I was a coach at school and dad at home. I don't coach with a style that sports are the be all and end all, and I work hard to stay out of 'coach-mode' at home."

"My advice to parent coaches is coach them like the others. Don't make them feel uncomfortable by treating them different."

Anna Urish, who is going to Valparaiso, is studying abroad this semester. In an e-mail from Germany, she said she never felt differently because she was the coach's daughter.

"In my four-year experience, no parent or kid made me feel uncomfortable about the situation," she wrote. "I was kicked out of practice a time or two, but that is one of the great experiences many girls who play for my dad get to remember. Not that the rest of the day at home wasn't a little intense, but after a few hours passed, we both were able to return to speaking terms."

And then she wrote something that should warm the hearts of all fathers.

"My dad made my basketball career something that will always remain one of my favorite high school memories. Without him, I wouldn't have become the player nor the person I am becoming today. There is no one I respect more," she wrote.

Pleasant Plains coach Paul Kastner coached both his son, Tyler, and his daughter, Tasha, in basketball.

"Coaching them was the best experience in the world, and I wouldn't have traded that experience for anything in the world," he said.

"Tasha enjoyed watching her brother play, and she took up basketball in sixth grade. I think she had the competitive gene," Kastner said. "We butted heads every once in awhile, but after the game she would come in and we would talk about it and work it," he said.

Sacred Heart-Griffin High School cross country coach Ed Gaffigan was the assistant coach when his daughter Ann was a freshman, and two years later he was the head coach. Ann Gaffigan narrowly missed qualifiying for the Olympics in the steeplechase.

"When she was little, she used to run around the grade-school track, not necessarily the fastest, but she could run for a long time," he said. "I worked with her during the winter of her sophomore year. She was a good runner, and she responded well to coaching."

"If I had to do it over again, I would do it. I'm still coaching and still enjoying it, but there's something special about watching your daughter win," he added.

Pasfield Golf Course pro Lance Flury is coaching his 10-year-old son, CJ.

"I try not to impose golf on him, but this year he's thinking more about it and doing better. I wish I could spend more time with him," he said.

"Coaching a child is tough. You don't want to be too hard. It's actually my wife that keeps saying to him, 'Listen to your dad; he's trying to help you. People pay him to do this, so pay attention.' "

Volleyball seems to be a sport that lends itself to family-affair coaching. Carrie Jo Donnan coached three of her nieces and their cousin when she was at A-C Central. Kelsey, Kyla and Kallie Vaughn played under Donnan and for a time so did their cousin, Jade Leinberger.

"We have a huge family, and it's very athletic. They are all hard workers. It was a lot of fun to be part of their life that way," she said. "When we were in the gym it wasn't a big deal. I treated them like the other girls."

Donnan said in smaller schools it isn't that unusual to find a relative coaching a team. She knows of what she speaks. Her sister, Dena Leinberger, is coaching Jade.

"She was always hanging around the gym when we were playing, and she always wanted to play," Leinberger said.

"She's very competitive. When she was playing softball, there was no girls team, so she played with the boys so she could play. She'll probably tell you I was harder on her, but I expect a lot out of my athletes.

"I expect them to be leaders and take control of a game. She was a setter, so that was a control position. She was fortunate to have good girls playing around her," she added.

Pam Allen coached her daughter, Courtney, when Courtney attended Williamsville High School.

"She was an outstanding athlete, and she was ready to play as a freshman because she was so tall and because she had been exposed to competitive sports since she was little," Allen said. "She went to her first volleyball game when she was two-weeks old."

Allen said because of her daughter's athletic ability, it was obvious she was playing because she was good.

"Would I do it again? Oh sure, any time."

Courtney Allen Hoffman is a coach herself now at Monticello. She beat her mother's team and established her own name as a coach.

"We don't talk about that," Allen said with a laugh.

"I don't think she treated me unfairly," Hoffman said. "She would say this is what you did wrong, and this is how I want you to do it. She wanted me to do better and the girls on the team were my friends and they were over at my house with her."

Hoffman said her coaching style is similar to her mother's.

"She's successful," she said. "Why wouldn't I coach that way? You take what you learn and you use it."

Hoffman said everyone likes Allen.

"Even my girls, they say 'Oh, good; we're going to play Pam.' And I have to tell them, hey, tonight she's the enemy.

"My advice to parents who coach their kids," Hoffman said, "Just let them play. Treat them like everyone else, and let them play."


St. Agnes family has a traditionof basketball ... and Sams

St. Agnes has two boys basketball teams on the court, and they are both coached by Sam Trigillo.

Sam Trigillo and his son, Sam, both coach, and the younger Sam's son, also named Sam, plays.

"I'm coach here and grandpa at home," said the senior Trigillo, who coached his son in school, too. "I wasn't too hard on him," Trigillo said.

"Oh, he was very hard on me," said the younger Trigillo. "But I think it made me a better player."

"My advice to coaches coaching their children is treat them fair. Don't ride them, and don't ignore them," said the senior Trigillo.

The youngest Sam Trigillo doesn't mind being coached by his grandfather.

"He teaches us sportsmanship and the fundamentals," he said.

"My advice to fathers coaching their sons," said the youngest Sam: "Help them work on their weaknesses and make them a well-rounded player."

Wise advice from a 12-year-old.

- Kathleen Ostrander


Opportunities at the YMCA

The YMCA uses nearly 500 coaches in its youth sports programs. Jay Turnbull, associate executive director, said most of the coaches are coaching their children.

"We do a background check, and we stress that they need to be able to work with the kids and with the parents," he said. "We have classes and coaches' meetings. They learn everything from how to organize a practice to arranging snacks and how to set up a phone tree so people can be notified if a game is canceled or the time is changed.

Turnbull said they are also counseled on how to interact with referees.

"There's always a need for volunteer coaches. People are afraid they need to know everything about a sport, and they don't," he said. "You don't have to know how to run a specific offense. There's a tremendous amount of information on the Internet. You have fun and get exercise, too."

Coaches, he said, serve as positive role models and need good communication skills.

Coaches aren't paid, but the positive impacts they provide is an intangible reward - impossible to place a value on, Turnbull said.

Interested in coaching a sport? There's everything from T-ball to soccer. Contact Turnbull at 544-9846 and on the Web at www.springfieldymca.org

- Kathleen Ostrander


Story published Friday, May 1, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 3 )

Stay connected

Twitter Facebook
Copyright ©  GateHouse Media, Inc. Some Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy | Terms of Use
Original content available for non-commercial use
under a Creative Commons license,
except where noted.