Coaching Your Own Kids

While coaching a spouse might be the No. 1 known no-no to avoid conflict, teaching your own kids can be almost as challenging, frustrating, and difficult for all parties. But, on the bright side, you know your kids, what they require to learn, and how to interact with them.

Brad and Mindy Barkemeyer put in the work to get to know what each of their boys needs when competing. Tailoring coaching styles to each son allows them to be more successful and minimizes conflict. Photo courtesy of the Barkemeyer family.

Parent and Coach

For the Barkemeyer family, Brad might be the professional horse trainer and coach, but both he and Mindy play integral roles in coaching their sons as young horsemen.

“It’s been good overall,” Brad reflected. “The main thing I had to realize is that I can’t coach both of my boys in the same way, just like I can’t coach all of my non pros the same. It’s important to recognize each child’s personality and learning methods, discovering how they deal with failure and mistakes and how they process success and achievement.”

Not a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

It might seem like daily life together would make this an easy process to develop. However, Brad noted that it took a lot of trial and error to find the coaching sweet spot with his sons.

“For me, it’s a lot like training horses,” he shared. “I try different methods and see how they react. I read the situation and apply heat to see how they handle it. Sure, I want to push them, but I don’t want to make them so frustrated or angry that they give up or can’t gather their composure to do the task at hand. I’ve made some mistakes, like being too aggressive when they’re not ready for it, but I learn from them.”

Brad recalled that, once Bryce, now 17, learned the fundamentals, he could let Bryce figure out the next steps and learn as he went along. He responded to pressure and used it to motivate himself. Brad tried that same teaching method with his younger son, Zane, but it didn’t work.

“I tried to give him rules,” Brad shared. “Right away, he’d balk at that and want to do his own thing. He wasn’t defiant; he was independent and wanted to figure it out on his own. Once I let him go, he started to enjoy horses in his own way, and he built great balance and timing on his own. When he got more serious about horses recently, it made it a lot easier to help him refine his riding. He was more open to my suggestions and learning to help his horse.”

Finding Balance

Mindy being an experienced and successful horsewoman plays a big role in the balance of Brad’s coaching and his relationship with his kids.

“Mindy is so knowledgeable and involved,” Brad said. “She helps them a lot without me around, and that’s really important for balance—they don’t want to only hear it from me. She has a different way of seeing things and of communicating what the boys need to hear. She’s very detail-oriented and helps them look and feel their best. It’s nice to have a partner, so it’s not all coming from me.”

Coaching at the home arena is one thing, but once you’re at a show, things can go downhill quickly thanks to the additional pressures of competition and the chaotic nature of horse shows. The main thing Brad avoids: negativity.

Brad Barkemeyer allows his sons time to process what happens when they show before discussing the highs and lows of their performance. Photo courtesy of the Barkemeyer family.

Don’t Forget to Have Fun

“We’ve put in our practice and work; let’s go have fun,” he said. “I never want my kids—or my customers—to come out of the arena and hear, ‘Why did you screw up? Why did you make that mistake? You know better!’ Those kinds of comments are really negative and diminish the work they’ve put in.”

Instead, Brad turns to constructive criticism. After a run, he lets his son leave the show pen and process whatever happened—good, bad, indifferent—before discussing his performance. After an hour or so, they talk about the run and watch the video to see where things went right or could’ve been better.

“They need time to process,” Brad advised. “We can’t go immediately into feedback. They need to process their emotions and how they feel about their performance. Once it all sinks in, then we can talk about it. Immediately after a run, I just want to be a dad and tell them good job and be proud of them. I’m not saying it’s easy—I have all these comments in my mind. But it’s important to let things settle so we keep emotions from flaring.”

Know the Limits

Additionally, Brad limits in-depth coaching in the warm-up pen and during his sons’ runs.

“I think it’s important for Mindy and I to be there, but we don’t want to nag them and be in their ears every step of the way,” Brad said. “One of us will be in the warm-up arena to touch on all the maneuvers to be sure horse and rider are comfortable and to help with final grooming. When it’s time to show, we divide and conquer. I like to coach from the cow end of the arena so I can talk them through the cow work a bit. Mindy stays at the entry gate to be sure they’re ready and don’t miss their turn. Also, we practice our show routine at home.

We have the advantage of having many riders in our arena at home at once, so a busy show warm-up pen isn’t as overwhelming. It’s something kids need to be aware of before they go to a show, because that warm-up pen requires focus.” Outside the barn and the arena, it can be difficult for a professional coach and trainer to turn off his coaching instincts. Brad admitted that he always has improvement in mind, but he tries not to be overly critical. That balance—between his own personality, Mindy’s way of seeing things, and understanding where his boys come from—helps keep the horse-show family as harmonious as possible, even in a highly competitive sport like reined cow horse.

[Read Part One HERE]

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