Keith Dropkin, Vice President for Finance & Administration at Hebrew College, is also a coach for USA Curling, training athletes in the US Olympic High Performance Program. His teams have represented the country at World Championships, Youth Olympics and other international events across Europe, Canada and throughout the US. Keith was an athlete in his younger days, playing soccer competitively for 25 years, and at the national level in curling soon after discovering the sport in college. Curling was and remains a huge pastime in his family; His two boys got lots of practice and encouragement and won national championships, as did Keith’s wife Shelley. Keith has now spent more than two decades coaching his own sons, along with scores of others. I sat down with Keith to hear his tips on how to be a successful “Parent – Coach.”
Keith, his wife Shelley, and their sons Korey (22) & Stephen (27)
1) When you’re in the act of coaching your child’s team, you need to exclusively be their coach, not their parent. Anything less would be unfair, not only to the other athletes on the team, but to your own child as well. My boys learned that if they had a problem that required the assistance of a parent, my wife would be the parent in charge, not me. And they learned not to address me as “dad” on the sideline. More than once, we got to the end of an event or on the way home, one would ask “Are you ‘Dad’ now?”
2) Your responsibility as a coach is primarily to the players, not parents. Communication with parents is important, but honesty and directness with players is essential. Players need to learn to ask questions and receive input directly from the coach, not with the assistance and presence of parents. And be prepared that there will always be parents who are unhappy with something you’re doing or view your actions as favoring your own kids. But as long as you are truly being fair, try to rise above and do what’s best for the athletes and team. Luckily, in my experience, most kids and parents understood that I was being as fair to the team as possible.
3) Coaching experience is valuable. With my experience as an athlete, I knew I could provide my kids with strong coaching in soccer and curling. I didn’t want to leave it to parents who knew little about the sport. I ultimately found coaching youth to be a great way to expand my involvement. Curling and soccer were lesser-known or lesser played sports, so there were never enough coaches. Today, I still greatly enjoy and devote considerable time to coaching, even if it’s no longer my own kids on the team. I hope my coaching has helped create a culture of “giving back.” What I gain in satisfaction, pride and appreciation of others is far greater than what I’ll ever be able to give!
4) There will come a time when your kid needs space from you, and it’s better for them to move on to a coach that’s not also their parent. They will tell you, perhaps not directly, but in their actions. Be ready and willing to let them go, accept their independence, and transition to being their unconditional supporter and biggest fan.
5) Coaching can also help your professional career. I often apply my business management skills to coaching, but even more so I’ve found that I apply my coaching skills to the workplace. Especially in the nonprofit sector where it’s vitally important to work together, I am confident in my ability to help people collaborate, solve problems and build a sense of team.
What’s next for Keith?
My goal is to coach Team USA in the sport of curling in the Winter Olympics, not in 2018 where my younger son Korey is a candidate to represent, but in 2022 or beyond. At the High Performance level it’s not looked upon favorably to coach your own, and since coaching others against my sons is not something I relish, my long range plan is to coach those in the USA Women’s program, several of whom I have already trained considerably throughout their development.