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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Working together effectively with parents: 10 tips for youth sports coaches

Below is one of my most-requested online articles, published on the Prospect blog for the first time. It has been reproduced on the websites of numerous youth-sports-related organizations. This article is copyrighted to the author and may not be reproduced without obtaining written permission. To inquire about licensing the right to reproduce any of the enclosed content email: inquiries@prospectcommunications.com


Most youth hockey coaches would probably agree—at least privately—that one of their biggest challenges as a coach is interacting with parents.

Parents—understandably so—care first and foremost about their own son or daughter. We all talk about teamwork but at the end of the day, if truth really be told, most of us focus almost exclusively on what we think is best for our own child.

We talk about “fair play”, but that lasts until we get to the field or arena. Far too many of us want to “win”, or should I say see our child’s team “win”. This translates into comments that we as parents make about who gets the most ice time, who should be on the team, and on its goes.

Coaches face many situations that must indeed be handled thoughtfully. Even if a youth coach does not have his or her own son or daughter on the team (that’s a piece for another day), there is much to plan for.

Remember this as you consider the following points: How you say what you say may be more important in many instances than what you actually say. Your tone and your attitude either help—or seriously harm—the message you are trying to deliver.

1) Communicate ‘till it hurts.

Poor communication—or lack of communication—kills relationships of all kinds: parent-child, wife-husband, teacher-student, coach-player.

Good communication—clear, articulate, ongoing, positive and genuine communication is vitally important for youth coaches.

As soon as you, as a coach, commit to entering into a true “relationship” with a young person, you are by necessity stepping into a relationship with their parents or guardians.

Don’t just have one “meeting” at the beginning of the season in the parking lot at the practice field and feel that you have done your job. It is imperative that you meet or at least speak with parents on a regular basis, privately or in a group, to stop any simmering concerns before they become real problems.

2) Hearing is a sense; listening is a skill.

We surely all recognize there is a big difference between hearing and truly taking in what someone else is saying to us.

Listening is a skill, and like all skills, it can be developed if we care enough to make it a priority.

Work on enhancing your listening skills, and your relationships—including with your players’ parents—will generally improve.

3) Don’t assume you have all the answers.

Like the young players you train and coach, sometimes parents have something to offer. At least be open to what people have to say. They may have experience you don’t have.

This is not to suggest that your parents should lead you by the nose and tell you what to do. You are the coach and you are in charge. By all means lead the way. But don’t assume you have all the answers. Be open to opinions and ideas, from parents and players.

4) Establish joint expectations.

Once the team is selected, or put together (depending on whether it is a “rep”, “All-Star” or house-league squad), make the time to sit down for a few minutes, privately, with each family and the player to review mutual expectations.

Do this before the season starts.

If you agree, or at least can mutually accept, what the plan is for your child (ice time, role on the team, skills that must be developed, discipline or attitude adjustments, etc.) before the season starts, there is much less likelihood of upset, misunderstanding or bitterness as the season wears on.

5) Face to face, private—away from the rink.

Too often youth coaches have “meetings” with parents at the rink in front of other people.

The timing—and the location—is off. It simply doesn’t work.

When you need to have a conversation with a parent, or they need to speak with you, agree on a time and place to meet—away from the rink.

A private meeting should be just that—private.

6) Make it clear that your yelling is not personal.

All youth coaches are different. Some are quiet, nurturing. Others are yellers, more bombastic and colorful.

Most really do care about the kids they work with, regardless of the way they sometimes present themselves to others.

If you are a “yeller”, someone who instructs forcefully during games or practices, make a point of reminding—and reassuring—parents that your comments to the players are meant as instructive, not as personal criticisms.

If you make that clear—and it is truly the case—parents can sit back and enjoy the game.

7) The 24-hour rule

This is by no means a new concept, but we should still remind ourselves: if we, as parents, are upset by a situation at the rink, most of the time it is healthy for us to sleep on it, cool down a little and wait a good 24 hours before we make that phone call to a coach or another parent.

Similarly, a youth coach should hold his or her tongue on most occasions, before saying something to a young player or parent after a game or practice that may unnecessarily lead to hurt feelings.

Wait a day, and you will likely make whatever point you wanted to make in a more composed, thoughtful and sensitive manner.

8) Insist that parents not coach from the sidelines.

Parents who think they know the game have a tendency to yell instructions to their offspring from the stands.

Unfortunately, along with being a major distraction for their son or daughter (and other players on the field), they may be yelling instructions that are in direct contradiction with what the coaches want the player to do in particular circumstances.

As the coach-leader, you have to lay down the law. Parents should be on hand to support their own child and the team, in a positive manner. Full stop.

9) Discourage parents from talking about other people’s kids.

This is so important. Negativity is toxic and spreads quickly.

It is also important that youth coaches do everything they can to discourage parents from negative rink behaviour. From debating who did or didn’t deserve to be on a certain team, to comments about a child’s playing ability, the coach needs to be a strong, positive example in this regard, and work to keep parents thinking—and talking—positively about all the players on your team.

10) Create a checklist.

Before and during each season, create and revise brief checklists as a reminder of the things you want to communicate with your parents. Set up a time table and review a list of issues that you feel will be important to review and discuss with the group throughout the course of the season.

It’s not enough to have a meeting at the beginning of the season and then provide no feedback for the next 8 months.

Bonus suggestion: Ask each parent before the season starts to write down what they want and need from you in terms of communication from you as their child’s coach.

You may not be able to deliver on everything that people ask for, but be aware, at least, of their expectations. And ask parents what motivates their son or daughter. This knowledge can help you tremendously to get “inside” the psyche of the young person you are there to develop as an athlete—and as a person.

Good youth coaches are more than people who know how to teach “systems” or implement checking schemes. They know the value of positive, constant communication not only with their players, but with the people who drive their players to each and every game and practicethe parents.


Michael Langlois, founder of Prospect Communications Inc., is the author of the following books: 1) A Guide to Better Communication for Minor Hockey Coaches, 2) How Well Do You Communicate? A Guide to Better Communication with Players and Parents for Minor (Youth) Soccer Coaches, 3) An NHL Prospect's Guide, 4) The Professional Hockey Coaches' Handbook, 5) The Job Interview Guide for Professional Hockey Coaches. The Prospect Communications web site is located at http://www.prospectcommunications.com/This article is copyrighted to the author and may not be reproduced without obtaining written permission. To inquire about licensing the right to reproduce any of the enclosed content email: inquiries@prospectcommunications.com

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