Brunswick field hockey coach Carrie Sullivan, center, poses with her daughters Kelsey and Ellie recently. Photo courtesy of Carrie Sullivan

Carrie Sullivan has coached her daughters in a variety of sports for as long as she can remember.

Prior to becoming Brunswick field hockey coach in 2018, Sullivan recalled asking her daughters, Kelsey and Ellie, what they thought of her coaching them at the high school level.

“I asked them what they thought of it and if they were cool with it,” said Sullivan. “It’s different when it’s your mom coaching your teammates and friends, but they took it in stride.”

Added Kelsey Sullivan: “It’s so nice to have someone to talk to after games and practices that truly understands the game. It’s also great because we both have the same thought process and competitive mindset.”

The Sullivans are hardly alone when it comes to parents coaching their kids on high school sports teams in the Midcoast.

Many of those coaches say the experience is highly rewarding, but it does present some challenges — including guarding against showing any favoritism.

“You have to be a bit careful with how you go about it,” said Brunswick girls soccer head coach Martyn Davison, who coaches his daughter Emily, a senior. “You try to stay conscious about it but I’ve never had an issue with it.”

Added Freeport boys soccer coach Bob Strong, who coaches his son Bobby, a senior: “I’m very sensitive to the perception of favoritism, particularly as it relates to playing time. The times I felt it most challenging was when he was on the borderline of being a contributor. During those times, I tended to hedge on the side of conservatism and not play him as much as perhaps he deserved. Undoubtedly the biggest benefit of coaching my son is enjoying the special moments he shares with his teammates daily. The players are creating life-long memories in a three-month season, I enjoy every minute with a front-row seat of their experiences.”

Emily Davison, left, poses with her dad Martyn Davison recently. Emily is a senior on the Brunswick High girls soccer team — which Martyn coaches. Photo provided by Martyn Davison

Coaches also say they try to strike that balance between parent-child and coach-player. Coach Sullivan, for example, said she must separate her mother-daughter relationships with her daughters once they are on an athletic field.  

“I don’t think about it very often, but it does come up rarely,” she said. “I take that into consideration and try to separate it until we get home and dissect the game.”

Many of the athletes say playing for a parent at a high level is a unique experience.

“It can be hard to take constructive criticism at times,” said Emily Davison, who is a key contributor on the Brunswick girls soccer team. “But I respect what he says and I try to implement his advice.”

The Sullivan sisters, Kelsey and Ellie, agreed.

“The benefits of having her as a coach outweigh the challenges, which there aren’t many of,” said Ellie Sullivan, a junior. “I’ve grown up with her coaching style my whole life and have become the player I am today because of her. I appreciate her competitiveness and love of the game, and have very similar thoughts as her regarding how we play and how we can get better as a team.”

Carrie Sullivan said coaching her daughters also helps bring the family closer.

“One thing is having that unique time in their life to be with them,” she said. “Not too many mothers are in their teenage girls’ lives as much as I am. Another piece I love is getting to know their friends on that level. There have been so many teammates I’ve watched grow and I love having that extra layer of relationship with them.”

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