Athletic Triangle

In the United States (US) alone, more than 40million youngsters under the age of 18 participate in youth sports according to research. Most of which are registered within the 6,000 US clubs and trained and guided by about 300,000 coaches, most of which are volunteers (US Youth Soccer). The world of youth sports is ever-growing and evolving all in an attempt to chase the ultimate dream. While this continues at a rapid pace the role of youth sports parents has dramatically intensified. Many youth sports parents provide players with a positive environment to freely express themselves. Yet, coaches shouldn’t expect every parent to approach the game with the same amount of knowledge and open-mindedness. As a result, it’s important to engage parents within the process of development that allows them to be up to date and educated in a sport.  The change may complex, individualistic and time-consuming especially. However whilst working together as an “Athletic Tringale” we place the player at the heart of everything.

Women’s sport medicine program stated if parents are educated and understand their roles and responsibilities they are more likely to be supportive of the coach and/or club. Some coaches continue to neglect the need to collaborate with parents, highlighting lack of time, unsure of how to educate parents,lack of personal confidence and avoding conflict as major factors. Yet we continuosly vocalise our frustration regarding a minority of youth sport parents.This certainty makes the role of the modern coach far broader than simply coaching. Hence, coaches/clubs need to find continual methods to involve, impact and influence youth sports parents positively.

“The Athletic Triangle” from a model devised by (Hellstedt, 1987)Picture1

The interpersonal relationships between the parent, coach and athlete are often referred to as the “Athletic Triangle” Two theoretical concepts taken from family systems theory formed the basis of the model, namely the concepts of boundaries (Minuchin, 1994) and triangulation (Bowen, 1978).

The concept of boundaries relates to the degree of psychological separation between two individuals and falls on a continuum from enmeshment (when two individuals think and act as one person) to disengagement (when both the psychological separation and emotional distance are large) (Hellstedt, 1987). The concept of ‘triangulation’ is based on the principle that if the relationship between two people is unstable (e.g. they are in disagreement about something) then a third individual will be brought in to stabilise the relationship i.e. try and resolve the argument.

The model is a great example of all parties that need to positively collaborate within the youth sport environment to enhance the sporting experience for all. The best coaches/clubs have a committed and interactive collaboration between all parties involved for the best interest of the child and player. Coaches and parents need to understand and consider relationship components such as, mutual trust, belief, support, cooperation and communication that accumulate and contribute towards an increased level of performance success and satisfaction for the young athlete. If effective and continually maintained, thus in turn will create a better learning and enjoyable environment that also focuses on the needs and interest of the youth player. Parent’s input can increase the value of sport(s) participation for their children’s physical, psychological, and social development. The athletic triangle is a clear statement that firmly places that athlete at the top, if the coach/club neglects such approach, the model unfortunately becomes adult dominant and places a greater emphasis on the needs of coach’s and/or parents.  Coaches and parent’s must construct a level of understanding in terms of expectations, roles and responsibilities also the variation of open-communication that places the intentions of the athlete first.

Its vital as a coach that we foster the triangle relationship to gain support and understanding from parents from there being able to disscuss openly about  i.e. the purpose of youth sport, long term player development (LTPD), effective communication between all, contrasts between professional and youth soccer, parental roles and responsibilities etc. We’ve all had experiences with a minority of parent(s) that may “know-it-all” or have played or watched soccer for “x” amount of years, thus defining themselves as experts. However, the best coaches have the confidence to interpret research and theory and apply this in a creative dynamic way. Coaches need to have the knowledge and communication skills to educate parents, that provides them an opportunity to “buy into” the club structure, not only from a singular parents meeting at the start of the season, this must be a continuous process.

From personal experiences, I’ve conducted multiple pre-season meetings with several youth team(s) parents and in complete constrast failed to conduct with other(s). The contrast in both approaches, acidenitally or not were simply fascinating to observe over the course of the year.  This made it evidently clear to me, the importance of allocating sufficient time to conduct a pre-season parent meeting to begin the process but also the need to continue this within various methods i.e. emails, individuals discussions, messages, apps etc.

Why the Athletic Triangle works?

  • Creating and maintaining the triad personal & professional relationships
  • Coaches gain an increased level of support and greater understating of the club and/or coach expectations by parents and players
  • Highlighting and educating parents and players on their roles and responsibilities
  • Decreasing the risk of issues or concerns to arise.
  • Improves the child’s level of enjoyment and sporting experience
  • Social and athletic development
  • Open-communication between all – Everyone on the same page.

It’s important that I highlight that you must always consider the information and how you’ll will interrupt any information, role and responsibilities to parents. One size fits all; does not apply, it’s about knowing what works for you.



Thank you

The Sporting Influencer

The Sporting Influencer


Bowen, M. (1978). Family Therapy in Clinical Practice. New York: Jason Aronson.

Hellstedt, J. C. (1987). The coach/parent/athlete relationship. Sport Psychologist, 1(2),151-160.

Minuchin, S. (1994). Families and Family Therapy. Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.