A little louder because the people in the back are missing it….
Stop locking parents out. You’ve heard the expression Mama Bear protecting her cub when someone’s kid is being picked on or hurt? That’s a natural instinct. As coaches, we have a team full of parents who would do anything for their kids, including the sacrifices they make to have their kids involved in organized sports in the first place. They show up to the games, they can’t wait to see the hard work from all those practices get to be tested in competition only to see game after game their kid doesn’t ever get the chance. They are disappointed, but cheer on the team and then after the game are reunited with the saddest little face they’ve ever seen.
Post game, this sport that you thought would round out your kid and give them joy is instead a back seat of low head-hanging and a few tears. You see their confidence dropping, their everyday practicing on their own is disappearing and you can tell they are checking out. And you’re going to tell that parent to be quiet and stay in their lane?
This is so dated and it’s a recipe for coach turnover because eventually those parents sharing the same frustration are going to bond and they are going to say we’ve had it and that coach is going to rue the day they made the, “don’t talk to me about playing time if you’re not the player,” rule. Parents go to the athletic director because they can’t go to the coach. Period. We have the power to end that. It’s only a power struggle if we make it one.
I’d love to say we have kids that can advocate for themselves at an early age. But the truth is many of them struggle to communicate and connect verbally more than ever these days. We’ve taken a situation that was out of hand with parents going over coaches heads and tried to correct it by cutting out parents completely. That’s not the answer. The other issue is that we are afraid to be truthful to kids because they often hear critique as a personal attack (generally because we have not taken the time to build a relationship that allows for it). So we sugar coat things or tell them they are doing much better but don’t up their playing time, causing a great deal of hurt and confusion.
Collaboration and and open door are the path to joining together and staying on the same track. It protects coaches, saves AD’s from constant phone calls, bridges the gap between child and coach, and creates an atmosphere of trust and understanding. OPEN YOUR DOOR.
You may have explained, as a coach, detail by detail why a kid isn’t playing and what they have to do to fix it and they may have heard nothing but that they aren’t good. Is that your fault? Doesn’t really matter does it? Perception is key. It’s possible however, that you haven’t formed a relationship with that athlete that allows for that kind of communication or trust. Or they may not have been in the right mindset to really hear what you had to say. When you bring the parents in you are letting the parents see that you are addressing it, what the needs are, what the plan is and then you allow the parents to do their job and help guide them when they pick their kid up from the field.
Parents can’t parent if we leave them in the dark and instead they have no other role but protector, and as a coach we don’t want to have our athletes being guarded. We don’t need kitchen table talk at night to be all about how the coach is political because they have no other explanation.
Approach it in a way that helps the kid learn to advocate. It should look like this:
Open door policy. Sally’s dad is concerned that Sally is so disheartened and feels the coach doesn’t like her because she is not getting playing time or gets pulled after a mistake. Sally has approached the coach but didn’t feel any better after that conversation and when she tried to explain it to dad it wasn’t making sense to him. Because of the open door, sally’s dad asks to speak to the coach.
The coach prepares for the meeting with a list of skills where Sally excels including character traits, and a list of things to work on with specific ideas on how to improve. They can chat on the phone without athlete and then have the actual in person meeting with coach/parent/athlete all together. Before the meeting, coach goes over the open door policy rules: no attacking, no speaking about other kids on the team and the objective is to make sally’s experience positive and to make a plan going forward; everyone meeting for the best interest of Sally.
The coach then goes over the list with Sally of her strengths while dad is present. He then picks ONE item to improve on from the list and goes over what it means and how to work on it. They plan to meet again next week after practice and see how its going. The parent no longer feels powerless, the athlete has a plan, the coach has avoided a hostile take over.
There will be a parent who won’t be appeased no matter what, perhaps they want to be put in the game themselves. But the vast majority of parents just hate being in the dark and watching their kid unable to communicate what’s going on. Add to that the incredible rise in kids who are high functioning on the spectrum in team sports who can’t read body language well and struggle to express their concern, or understand the proper time to do so and we have an even more challenging situation that we must plan for.
I opened my door, I’ll never ever go back. For every coach my kids have played for, as a parent, it’s even more clear how important that open communication really is because even as a laid back parent who didn’t care about playing time I ached for the confusion my kids were feeling with no hope for closure.
More and more kids quit because they are expected to walk in as minnie adults who already know how to handle pressure, stress, confusion, temptation, distraction, time management, sacrifice..these are lessons they have to learn with the help of parent and coach, not be punished for not already “getting it.”
Open. The. Door. There’s nothing to hide 🙂