Parents. For every coach I know from youth through high school levels, parents are their biggest challenge to the culture they are trying to create within their team. Whether it is the absence of parents or the misguided ambitions of the overly-involved parents, their impact on a coach and a team is undeniable.
Like most who have been coaching for any length of time, I have had parents meet me at the edge of the court/field as soon as the clock said 0:00, and even some come to the sideline while the game was still in progress. On the other hand, I've spent hours waiting for someone to pick a kid up after the practice/game was long over. Refusing to believe this is an inevitable part of coaching, I stepped back to reassess and proactively address the issue.
The root of the issue: Communication.
Just like any relationship, unmet expectations create all kinds of bitterness, resentment, loss of trust. And yet, how often do we clearly define and establish expectations? The parents I communicate with most frequently, always seem to be my biggest supporters and contribute to the team culture in positive ways. Those I don't...the aforementioned sideline experiences! So how do I apply this knowledge in a practical way?
Here are a few of my more successful strategies:
- Parent Evaluation. Just like I have my athletes complete a preseason evaluation so I know their expectations, this simple 5 question survey begins the conversation of clarifying expectations. Having parents articulate their goals and expectations in writing is often a great priority check in and of itself.
- Weekly email. Each week we have a different focus and emphasis for our growing process as a team. Sharing that focus with parents and proactively communicating some of what their kids will be hearing in practice allows the parents to engage in the process with us, and creates allies for when challenges arise.
- Team dinners. Food, like sports, is a universal language. When we sit down together around a table of food, barriers fall away and communication thrives. In this type of setting, we often revisit preseason goals and assess our progress as a team (yes, coach and parents working together as a team in the lives of the kids). This allows me as a coach to pick up on feelings that may be shared with multiple parents and distinguish them from isolated incidents. It also allows me to articulate what I am seeing from the "coach's seat" on the bus about our progress and specific areas where parents can engage to help. Without fail, this is always one of the highlights of the season and a galvanizing experience that enhances the second half of the season.
Ultimately, this level of communication eliminates the opportunity for kids to try and play both sides against one another and lets them know they have a team of adults in their corner. Literally, COMMUNICATION DRIVES CULTURE. The result is kids who are more engaged, more confident, and more focused.
Have some tactics of your own? Please share them in the comments!