Working with Youth Sports Parents and Athletes

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Working with Youth Sports ParentsMany coaches cringe at the thought of dealing with their athletes’ parents. Horror stories of difficult parents are famous legend. Some coaches have almost come to view parents as the “enemy.”

Clearly, this is neither healthy nor necessary. Parents should be very welcome and valued members of the sporting family. They have the potential to contribute a great deal. They have the right to be close to, and to enjoy, their children’s sports experience in healthy ways.

Here are some ideas and approaches that can be helpful for youth sport coaches in building strong, healthy, and supportive relationships with their athletes’ parents.

Harness Parental Influence

Parents are surely a significant influence on most youngsters’ lives. Their influence may range from very positive, constructive, and supportive to negative, destructive, and even contentious. Whatever the quality or type of influence there may be, it is always significant for its impact on their children.

The coach’s challenge is to harness this influence: to get the parents on the same page with the coach (you), thus having the parents’ influence and the coach’s influence working in the same direction. Support also increases from parents who are involved.

This means that the coach and parent are working together to build a great experience for the child. This relationship, the coach- athlete-parent bond, is sometimes referred to as the athletic triangle and represents an important aspect of effective sports leadership. The stronger the bond of this triangle becomes, the more likely it is that the child will have a great sports experience.

Ways to Work Together with Parents

Prior to each season, coaches should contact the parents of each athlete on their team. A brief note of introduction followed

by a phone call works fine, but a face-to-face meeting can be even more effective. Visit the athlete’s home and introduce yourself in person. Obviously, this is even more critical for parents of kids who are new to the program.

Invite all parents to a pre-season parents meeting. This meeting can be held in a public meeting area, in conjunction with a social gathering at the coach’s house or at a park You can go a long way toward winning people through their stomachs.

It will help immeasurably if you prepare a brief “Parents Manual.” It does not have to be fancy or professional. Provide a few pages outlining elements such as: the coach’s philosophy of coaching; goals and intentions for the kids and the season; the benefits their kids will gain from the coach and their participation on the team; an outline of a typical practice; a schedule showing time and place for all practices; a competition schedule, along with procedures for notification if a game or match is canceled or rescheduled.

Be sure you have listed the coach’s expectations for athlete behavior at practices and competitions, and expectations regarding parents’ actions and behaviors at practices and competitions. The manual should also include a listing of important league and team rules and policies, along with a team roster, with the names of both the athletes and their parents (phone numbers should not be distributed without permission of the family).

At the parents meeting, the coach presides over introductions and then should proceed to make a presentation of the material in the Parents Manual. This is a “sales” presentation, selling the parents on the very positive experience their children are about to have. Above all, this is the chance for you to assure the parents that you will provide their child with the opportunity to develop and play in a fair environment.

This is also the time to stress the importance of positive reinforcement, both from the coach and at home. The coach might share some keywords, cue words, phrases, or strategies typical of what the kids will hear at practice or in games. The coach might instruct the parents on the best way to respond to their children after games won or lost. The coach should provide tips on being positive and supportive when the kids are feeling frustrated and discouraged. You are coaching the parents at this point, as well.

Finally, this is the chance for the coach to ask for the parents’ support and to affirm the need for communication between the parents and the coach. After all, the most important thing is that their kids have a positive season and have a lot of fun!

This meeting can also a recruiting session, in which coaches can enlist support and help from the parents for volunteer coach support, managing equipment and uniforms, helping with the weekly team newsletter, coordinating team carpools, scheduling team pictures, or even just to bring sandwiches and drinks for game days. Whatever the needs, this is a great setting in which to get the parents to enlist on your team.

Many youth sports teams have active parent/booster clubs. If one already exists, encourage the club chairperson to make a short recruiting pitch. If there isn’t one yet, this could be a great time to introduce the idea to form one.

It is really important to give the parents a chance to ask questions, offer feedback on ideas the coach has shared, or to express their expectations for their child’s youth sports experience. This discussion should happen only after the coach has made the sales presentation and the group interactions have warmed up the crowd. The question/feedback time serves at least three purposes.

First, it gets any questions or misunderstandings addressed and answered as early as possible. Second, it allows the coach to assess which parents are going to be supportive and which parents may not be. And, third, it gives the coach a glimpse of the home experience of each of the athletes. It provides valuable information and insight to help in understanding, leading and nurturing each child.

The first meeting with the parents creates the cornerstones for the base of the coach- athlete-parent triangle relationship. The coach should follow up with each of the parents, particularly those with whom it appears that building a strong supportive relationship may be challenging.

Be sure to schedule a date and time for a second, midseason meeting. This allows for follow-up and review and assures parents that you are encouraging and providing an opportunity for their input.

Lastly, you will want to schedule a final meeting to take place after the season is over. This allows you to evaluate and review the season, tie up any loose ends, and begin to plan for the coming year before important issues, questions, or information is lost or forgotten.

Getting Started

Parents can become strong, powerful allies and provide tremendously positive support for the coach and the program. They can also be enemies, working against, undermining, and thwarting the coach’s best intentions and efforts. Coaches do not have, and never will have, authority and control over parents. Coaches can only attempt to influence parents as best they can.

Most parents can be won over as allies and friends. After all, both the coach and parents share a common goal – to provide a great youth sports experience for their kids!

The Youth Performance Coach Certification is designed for new and advanced coaches and trainers who want to specialize in the areas of youth athletics, youth mentorship and leadership for the next generation.

If you are new to youth coaching, training and mentoring, this is a great launching point for your career. You will gain valuable insight that will give you the skills needed to make a positive change in the lives of youth.

Spencer Institute and NESTA coaching programs are open to anyone with a desire to learn and help others. There are no prerequisites.

That’s it for now.

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