Youth sports are an excellent way for teens to develop self-confidence, to exercise and create good health habits, to learn to work as a team, and to just have fun. However, the adults in their lives – namely the coach and the parents – must develop a good partnership to make this a positive experience. There are a multitude of reasons why parents and coaches develop disagreements, but the most common are: playtime, skill development, coaching style, and competitive level of play. Many times, the players – and this is who the sport is for, right? – are perfectly content on their team until mom or dad start grumbling about the way the coach is treating their child with playing time or position played. Once a parent has placed this negative attitude in the youth’s mind they become a “grumbling” player towards the coach. This leads to unhappy results for everyone involved. Alternatively, the coach may show favoritism, use fowl language, or be excessively demanding of the teens. This, too, can affect player self-esteem, create a lack of interest in the sport, or cause parents to become unhappy. The key is for parents and coaches to develop a good relationship at the beginning of the season. Below we will discuss each side… what parents can do to engage with coaches in a positive way, and vice versa.
What Parents Can Do
- Introduce Yourself. Make early contact with the coach to establish a positive open line of communication. As soon as you know who your child’s coach is going to be, contact him to introduce yourself and let him know you want to help your child have the best experience possible this season. To the extent that you can do so, ask if there is any way you can help. By establishing a positive relationship early, it will be much easier to talk with the coach later if a problem arises.
- Recognize the Commitment the Coach Has Made. The coach has made a commitment that involves many, many hours of preparation beyond the hours spent at practices and games. Recognize his or her commitment and the fact that he or she is not coaching for the money!
- Praise the Good. Take the time to compliment the coach when you see something good. Coaching is a difficult job and most coaches only hear from parents when they want to complain about something. When people feel appreciated, it usually contributes to them doing a better job. It also makes it easier to raise problems later when you have shown support first.
- Don’t Put the Player in the Middle. Many parents share their disapproval of a coach with their children. This usually does one of two things – either the youth suddenly feels discontented with the coach and starts grumbling at practices, or the youth feels torn between two important adults in his or her life. Divided loyalties do not make it easy for a child to do his or her best. Conversely, when parents support a coach, it is that much easier for the child to make a wholehearted effort into learning to play well. If you think your child’s coach is not handling a situation well, do not talk to your child about your frustration. Rather, seek a meeting with the coach in which you can talk with him or her about it privately. And give yourself a 24-hour period to cool off before discussing a heated issue with a coach. Do NOT approach a coach directly after a practice or a game, when emotions are at their highest.
- Don’t Give Instructions During a Game or Practice. You are not one of the coaches, so do not give your child instructions about how to play. It can be very confusing for a child to hear someone other than the coach yelling out instructions during a game. If you have an idea for a tactic, go to the coach privately and offer your advice. Then let the coach decide whether he/she is going to use it or not. If the coach decides not to use it, let it be. Getting to decide those things is one of the privileges he/she has earned by making the commitment to coach.
- Be Supportive of Your Child. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to be there for your child. Make an effort to attend as many games as possible. Competitive sports are stressful to players and the last thing they need is a critic at home. Be a cheerleader for your child. Focus on the positive things he/she is doing and leave the correcting of mistakes to the coach. Let your child know you support him/her regardless of how well he/she plays.
- Be Supportive of the Entire Team: Cheer for all of the players on the team. Tell each of them when you see them doing something well.
- Model Good Sportsmanship. Don’t show disrespect for the other team or the officials. Never berate anyone on or off the field/court (including referees and coaches), but speak in a respectful manner. Tell the other team they played a good game regardless of whether your team won or lost.
- Follow the Coach’s Rules for Conflict Resolution. If your coach has established a procedure for conflict resolution, stick to it. Follow the chain of command if the coach has assistants. Always address coaches in person and with respect when issues arise. Do not complain or discuss concerns/issues with other parents or team players. Take concerns directly to the coaches.
- Listen to Your Child. Be sure to hear and understand your child if they are having a problem with their coach. Do not dismiss the problem. Try to see their side, as well as the coach’s side, and discuss the problem.
- Observe. Pay attention during games and/or practices that you attend. Look for the positives and the negatives of what’s going on. This will help you to understand the stresses, celebrations, and trials that your child (or the coach) may be experiencing.
What Coaches Can Do
Meet with the team members and parents prior to the first game. Introduce all of the coaches to the parents and provide background information about each one. The most important two things a coach can do during this meeting are: (1) give parents a chance to ask questions, and make sure your answers are clearly understood; and (2) clearly lay out expectations, including:
- Express philosophy of coaching. The three ultimate objectives of team sports are winning, player development and fun. Specifically state where coaches stand on these three objectives. How much emphasis will be placed on winning games? Give your goals for the team and for the individuals for the upcoming season. Describe your goals for the team, your coaching style, and how your style will help the team attain the goals.
- Discuss coaching policies. Explain your philosophy about playing time, positions played, missed practices and missed games. How will playtime be determined? Will players have to earn their position on the field or will you rotate the players? What happens if a player misses a practice or a game? Be sure to recognize and discuss the objectives of the league and level at which the team is playing. Consider having a contract for parents, players and coaches to sign that spells out expectations. Be sure to follow your own rules.
- Explain behavior expectations. Let parents and team members know the expected player behavior and attitude in practice, on the bus to and from the game, and during the game.
- Establish a conflict resolution policy. Discuss when and how the coaches can be approached during the season so there are no public confrontations. Set up a system where discussions are held away from the players, other parents and the crowds. Exclude the time immediately before and after a game since your mind, focus, and attitude will not be able to objectively deal with the disagreement and concern at hand. There will be issues that arise from time to time, but let parents know that disagreements will be handled in a civil way away from the players.
- Be consistent. Most issues arise because the parent does not think the coach is being fair. It is important that the coach live up to his or her philosophy that was initially expressed. Changing philosophy in the middle of the season will create problems. If a coach feels a philosophy change is totally necessary, you must discuss possible changes with all parents first.
- Model Good Sportsmanship. Be respectful. You should treat referees, the players and the parents with respect both in public and in private. Coaches are there to teach and provide guidance to the children on the team, so you should not berate anyone or use foul language or let your competitive spirit go too far. Remember that you are a role model to your players.
- Be supportive of every child. Every team will have their “star players”. However, all players need your time, energy and encouragement. Be mindful of each child’s abilities and be aware of their struggles. Pay attention to physical signs of exhaustion, dehydration, etc. Ensure that you give players appropriate breaks for water and rest.
Conflicts are inevitable when you’re dealing with so many people, and no one can make everyone happy. Establishing good communication and clear expectations at the beginning of the season will mitigate many disagreements. In the long run, calm heads and open communication will lead to a successful season for all involved. Remember that the players are children that look up to us – both parents and coaches – for guidance, instruction, leadership, and modeling of appropriate behaviors and attitudes. If coaches and parents work together to create a positive atmosphere, you will be helping to create memories, self-esteem, and athletic abilities.