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Working with parents and guardians as a sport coach

This is an excerpt from Successful Coaching-5th Edition by Rainer Martens & Robin S. Vealey.

Many coaches find that the most challenging relationship to manage is their relationship with their athletes’ parents. This includes guardians, but we will use the term parents to represent both here. Some parents are completely apathetic to their child’s participation in sport. Others are overly involved and become overbearing, both with the coach and with their child.

You need to foster appropriate involvement by giving parents clear guidelines on their roles and your expectations of them. In turn, you need to remember that parents are ultimately responsible for their children, and most desire only the best for them. Respect their ultimate responsibility for the well-being of their children by not being threatened when parents inquire about their athlete’s participation.

Parents, in turn, need to respect your position. They should not interfere with your coaching unless there is reasonable cause for them to suspect that their child is being exposed to unnecessary physical or psychological risk or is being treated unfairly.

Your relationship with your athletes’ parents is almost as important as the relationships you have with the athletes themselves. With a little effort, you can have parents working with you and appreciating your efforts. The key is informing them about your program and listening to their concerns. Many of the traditional problems between parents and coaches can be avoided when coaches hold a preseason parent orientation program, and then communicate clearly with them throughout the season.

Parent (and Guardian) Orientation Program

The purpose of the preseason orientation is to do the following:

  • Allow parents to become acquainted with you and your assistants and to learn your coaching philosophy and objectives.
  • Inform parents about the nature of the sport and its potential risks.
  • Explain to parents the team policies and procedures.
  • Let parents know what is expected of the athletes and of them.
  • Let parents express their own concerns.
  • Obtain help from parents in conducting the season’s activities.

You can find a sample Parent Orientation Agenda online on HKPropel.

During the Season

After the preseason meeting, continue to communicate with parents as needed. Here are suggestions for communicating with them throughout the season:

  • Keep parents informed by email, a communication app, a blog, or through social media, and encourage them to communicate with you when they have concerns or information of value.
  • Involve parents constructively. They can fill many of the support roles outlined earlier.
  • Inform parents directly and immediately if a serious problem arises involving their athlete (injury, theft, drugs, ineligibility, or other disciplinary action).
  • Not all parents will care about their child’s participation, nor will they all respond as you would hope, but you still have a duty to inform them and request their help.

Postseason

At the end of the season, invite each parent to evaluate you and the program. Ask them to point out things that went well and to suggest what might be improved. You can find a Postseason Parent Evaluation Form online on HKPropel. Give copies to all parents and ask them to return them to you. Their feedback can help you become a better coach.

Should Parents or Guardians Coach Their Own Kids?

It is estimated that 90 percent of youth sport coaches are parents (Kerins et al., 2017). Since youth sport coaches are largely unpaid volunteers, parents willing to coach youth sport teams provide a helpful resource for communities. Parents are motivated to provide a good sport experience for their children; therefore, they are typically interested in coaching teams that include their own children (as opposed to volunteering to coach teams on which their children do not play).

Even though parent-coaches are needed to staff recreational programs, there are concerns about parents coaching their own children. Some young athletes and parents describe the positive aspects of spending time together in a shared experience, often with great memories, but there are downsides to parents serving as coaches of their own children. Most problems stem from the challenges of serving in the dual role of parent and coach. Parent-coaches are often accused of favoritism in advantaging their own kids, such as playing them more or placing them in highly desirable positions (e.g., quarterback in football, pitcher in softball, point guard in basketball). Conversely, some young athletes feel that their parents who coach them are harder on them than their teammates, and they also feel additional pressure having their parent as a coach (Zehntner et al., 2020). Some coaches admit that they are harder on their own kids to limit perceptions of favoritism.

Here are some suggestions to help parent-coaches navigate this dual-role relationship:

  • Get to know your child’s goals in sport before becoming her coach. Continue to check in about this so your goals and ambitions as the parent-coach don’t override your child’s reasons for playing.
  • Thoughtfully manage the dual roles of parent and coach. Clearly return to being your primary role once practice and competition are over. Here is some useful advice from a father-coach (Weiss & Fretwell, 2005, p. 299):
    When the game is over, you’re the parent, and you’ve got to make a fairly quick transition . . . now you have to treat your child supportively, and whether he played well or poorly, you’re there not to deal with his soccer skills or his mastery of the game. You’re now there to deal with him emotionally in terms of how does he feel about how he played.
  • Ask your child how she feels about being coached by you and discuss any concerns when making the decision whether to coach or not. Continue seeking feedback from your child as you continue to coach her.
  • Establish ground rules for how things will be at practice and competitions versus at home. For example, does the athlete call you Coach or Mom? Discuss how you will provide feedback as the coach, and how you will attempt to treat your child like you do the other athletes.
  • Be careful about pushing the coaching role at home in terms of expecting constant backyard skill training. If your young athlete is eager to do that, then by all means work with them. But if your child would rather do something else, be the parent, not the coach, and support your child’s preferences.

Some school programs and club sports have established a rule that parents cannot coach their own children. This may be a good idea in some cases, but at the grassroots youth sport level, volunteer parent-coaches are still the norm. We believe that parents can competently serve as coaches of their own children, and we recommend that parent-coaches talk to their children about the dual-role situation.

More Excerpts From Successful Coaching 5th Edition