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High school notebook: When dad or mom is also coach

  • John Stark wrestler Nick Widmann picks up his warm up gear from his coach and father John Widmann during the Capital City Classic on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at Concord High School. The Widmanns are one of several parent-child partnerships on school teams in the area. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark wrestler Nick Widmann picks up his warm up gear from his coach and father John Widmann during the Capital City Classic on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at Concord High School. The Widmanns are one of several parent-child partnerships on school teams in the area.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Concord wrestler Chris Munnell, left, consults with his father and coach Ham Munnell, right, during one of his matches at the Capital City Classic on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at Concord High School. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Concord wrestler Chris Munnell, left, consults with his father and coach Ham Munnell, right, during one of his matches at the Capital City Classic on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at Concord High School.
    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Concord wrestler Chris Munnell, left, consults with his father and coach Ham Munnell, right, during one of his matches at the Capital City Classic on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at Concord High School. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Concord wrestler Chris Munnell, left, consults with his father and coach Ham Munnell, right, during one of his matches at the Capital City Classic on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at Concord High School.
    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • John Stark wrestler Nick Widmann picks up his warm up gear from his coach and father John Widmann during the Capital City Classic on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at Concord High School. The Widmanns are one of several parent-child partnerships on school teams in the area. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark wrestler Nick Widmann picks up his warm up gear from his coach and father John Widmann during the Capital City Classic on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at Concord High School. The Widmanns are one of several parent-child partnerships on school teams in the area.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • John Stark wrestler Nick Widmann picks up his warm up gear from his coach and father John Widmann during the Capital City Classic on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at Concord High School. The Widmanns are one of several parent-child partnerships on school teams in the area. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Concord wrestler Chris Munnell, left, consults with his father and coach Ham Munnell, right, during one of his matches at the Capital City Classic on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at Concord High School. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Concord wrestler Chris Munnell, left, consults with his father and coach Ham Munnell, right, during one of his matches at the Capital City Classic on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at Concord High School. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark wrestler Nick Widmann picks up his warm up gear from his coach and father John Widmann during the Capital City Classic on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at Concord High School. The Widmanns are one of several parent-child partnerships on school teams in the area. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Rob Nadeau has been coaching the Hopkinton Nordic ski teams for 15 years, and there’s little doubt he’s developed an outstanding relationship with his athletes. After all, Nadeau has guided the girls’ team to nine straight Division IV championships and led the boys to nine titles in the last 10 years.

But for the last five years, Nadeau has had to make some adjustments regarding a pair of special athletes. He’s had to figure out how to be a coach and a parent to his daughters – Sarah, a sophomore standout for the Hawks, and Shannon, who graduated last year and is now skiing at the University of New Hampshire.

“It’s always been about trying to balance being the coach and being the dad and knowing when to keep those two things separate,” Coach Nadeau said.

He’s not the only one striking that balance this season. There are 15 head coaches at local high schools who are working with their kids right now and they cover the full range of winter sports – basketball, wrestling, swimming, indoor track and skiing. And that doesn’t include the parents who have signed on to coach their kids so they can represent their schools in their chosen sport on one-person teams, like Tracey Hubbard and her son Antony, the only competitive swimmer for Belmont High.

“I’m basically there for him mentally, and to represent him at swim meets,” Tracey Hubbard said. “Physically he has a more qualified coach who he trains with at the Manchester Swim Club.”

But for the coaches who are handling all aspects of their child’s athletic endeavors as part of a full team, finding that balance between parent and coach is a common theme.

“It’s been a challenge, it’s been a pleasure, and it’s been unique,” said Jeff Kaplan, who has coached his sons Matt and Patrick on the Franklin football and wrestling teams and his daughters Sadie and Abby as throwers on the Franklin track and field team. “You have to draw the line between when you’re a father and when you’re a coach. And my wife always points out to me that I’m not their coach when we’re at home.”

It can also be up to the kids to make sure they don’t cross that line.

“I talked to Patrick about it when I was home over winter break,” said Matt Kaplan, who is now a redshirt junior at UNH and two-year starter at defensive tackle for the Wildcats. “When my dad scolds us at the house we don’t talk back to him, but like any kids we might give him a little attitude, but I told Patrick if he gets mad at you in practice, you just have to listen to what he says because he’s your coach then, he’s not just your dad.”

Perhaps the most important piece of the balancing act for parent/coaches is to make sure they treat their children like everyone else. It can be easy to play favorites, or to be too hard on your own kids, but the successful coaches manage to stay away from both.

“He is really good at making sure I feel like any other kid on the team,” Sarah Nadeau said, “and that I still get the full experience of being part of the team and of high school sports.”

The Nadeaus also have to balance a teacher and parent relationship. Rob works in the social studies department at Hopkinton and right now he has Sarah in a psychology course.

“Sometimes she’ll come downstairs and say, ‘Dad, what’s the homework?’ and I’ll say, ‘It’s (on-line), go look it up,’ ” Nadeau said.

A variation of that conversation is often repeated in a certain car headed to John Stark-Hopkinton hockey games.

“Before almost every game I ask who’s starting and what our game plan is,” says Kyle Kolehmainen, a junior forward for the Generals who plays for his father, Denis. “But I’m not told that stuff until he tells the whole team.”

This is another dynamic that can work in reverse, because sometimes it’s the team looking for information.

“Usually I get, ‘What are we doing in practice?’ or ‘Is it going to be hard?’ ” Sarah Nadeau said. “And I never know, but they always ask.”

But the children of coaches do get some extra input and benefits from the dual relationship. Nadeau, who is one of the top Nordic skiers in the state, said she relishes all the personal feedback her dad provides. And Matt Kaplan said his success at UNH – playing time as a freshman, cracking the starting lineup as a sophomore, a team-high 6.5 sacks last year as a junior – was made possible because he had his dad, who played college football himself, as a coach and could pick his brain on the practice field and at home. And when it came to wrestling, Kaplan said all the time he spent with his father during that season strengthened their relationship, and he sees the same thing happening right now with his brother Patrick.

Still, the balance must be kept when coaches provide extra athletic input so guidance doesn’t cross the line into excessive pushing.

“Training high school kids is like an airplane taking off. If the angle is too steep, the plane is going to crash,” Rob Nadeau said. “I kind of let them determine what their goals are going to be and try to help them get there versus me pushing them. Let it be their choice and my job is to see if I can kind of create a path for them and let them figure out how to follow it.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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