Coaching and Connecting

By Leah Lancione

Grandparenting expert Susan Adcox says, “Grandparents probably fall roughly into three categories: those who love sports, those who somewhat interested in them and those who are totally indifferent to sports but love their grandchildren.” If you fall into any of those categories, consider getting more involved in your grandchild’s recreational activities. Why should coaching simply fall to parents or teachers when grandparents could have more time to devote to soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, cheerleading or whatever activity your grandchild enjoys.

On her “About Parenting” website (, Adcox also recommends learning about a sport by reading about it, watching it on TV or researching on the Internet. You don’t have to be an expert to coach. Start as an assistant. Along with a heavy dose of patience and enthusiasm, your grandparent’s wisdom—whether it’s in good sportsmanship, work ethic, practice or teamwork, along with skills in the sport itself— is valuable. Coaching affords you an opportunity to impart life-earned wisdom with your grandchild. Being a coach also means stepping into the role of mentor to other youngsters who can learn life lessons on the field or court. Concepts like healthy competition, responsibility, communication, perseverance, handling pressure, keeping your temper, learning from failure, working toward goals, etc., all can be applied to both sports and life.

“When grandparents role model the perspective that they are proud of their grandchildren whether they won the game or not, whether they hit the ball or not, they are reinforcing how important it is to have a positive attitude throughout life,” says Dr. Joel Fish, director of the Center of Sports Psychology, and author of 101 Ways to Be a Terrific Sports Parent: Making Athletics a Positive Experience for Your Child. Teaching ideals that help your grandchild confront all circumstances with a positive attitude and firm resolve will have lasting effects beyond the sports domain. Positive character traits taught can become permanent personality attributes.

In addition, as a grandparent, you may have another trick up your sleeve: the ability to not sweat the small stuff. Face it, you’ve relaxed a bit in your retirement. Though your youngster may get intense during practice or in the confines of the game, you can show that a missed goal, a failed free throw or a loss can be turned into a learning opportunity and motivation to do better next time. Not to mention, as a grandparent, you can provide emotional support and advice during tense times or moments of disappointment since kids (especially pre-teens and teenagers) may think of their parents as biased or too intrusive.

Frank Sheleheda, a 66-year-old retired Navy officer, has coached up-and-coming tennis players looking to either make a high school team, score a college scholarship or pursue a professional career. The man who devotedly coached his daughters’ high school basketball and tennis teams, is now, decades later, coaching their children. In addition to his many individual sessions, Sheleheda provides group lessons to kids of all ages throughout the year and weekly camps in the Summertime. For years he has included his grandson in the mix with other young tennis enthusiasts.

Explaining that it’s not about being the fastest or even hitting the hardest, but playing with “100 percent heart and 100 percent head,” Sheleheda takes great pride in passing along life lessons to his students. Along with teaching kids the fundamentals of tennis, he emphasizes “responsibility, good sportsmanship, teamwork (i.e., in doubles) and confidence.”

Kai, Sheleheda’s 13-year-old grandson, not only appreciates his grandpa’s unique approach to coaching, which he describes as “always full of diversity,” but his ability to “always make practice fun.” Not to mention, the two made the time together even more special by often grabbing lunch or an ice cream cone together on the drive home. Kai admits having his grandpa as his tennis coach definitely brought them closer. Sheleheda confesses, “I tell my students that during lessons I’m coach, but as soon as it’s over, call me grandpa!”



 Coaching affords you an opportunity to impart life-earned wisdom


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