Coaches: How to Keep Your Parent Group Happy
I read a terrific article on The Globe and Mail website this week dated March 29, 2017 by Alison Belbin called “A coach’s plea to parents”. In it she chronicles the difficulty of coaching youth soccer and the seeming continual dissatisfaction of parents of her athletes. In what is the most telling part she writes:
“If we win, I’ll read that it’s because the more talented girls got too much playing time; that I’m too competitive; that I’m pushing them too hard; that I’ve managed to crush the souls of the players on the bench. If we lose, it’s because I played the developing players too much; I am ruining the stronger players’ chance at future glory; I’m not pushing them hard enough. What do we even do during practice anyway?”
It’s clear that all the author wants to do is make a difference in young girls’ lives. To create an atmosphere where athletes can learn about themselves, learn about others and be part of something.
All coaches can agree, parents can be beasts at times, and there are occasions when you truly can’t make everyone happy. But most of us have been on the other side of the fence as well. I have had three kids come though minor and high school sports and as such, I know there are some things that we do as coaches that “DRIVE PARENTS NUTS!” Here are six do’s/don’ts, things to avoid/implement/practice to alleviate some of the angst of your parent group.
1) Advanced warning. The farther out you can provide a schedule of practices and games the better. Often we are at the mercy of the league or association scheduler with regards to game and practice times but, when parents are juggling multiple athletes in the household and need to be organized for transportation, meals, homework, etc. the more notice the better. AND, last minute changes SUCK! Avoid the morning email about the ice time you picked up for a full practice that evening at 5:30pm. It will not go over well.
2) Consider what parents are going to do during practices. I am not a big fan of parents watching my practices. It makes me feel like I am being judged all of the time, and that I need to “perform” for the crowd. I also know that it affects the way the team practices. Some players just don’t like their parents to be in the stands during practice for the same reason I don’t as a coach. They feel they are being judged and they have to perform. That said, try to make your sessions with your athletes long enough for parents to be able to go and run some chores or go to the grocery store. Or, even just go home and relax. If your practice is only an hour often that just isn’t enough time to do anything but, add on 30 minutes of conditioning or video and all of a sudden there is less interest for parents to stay.
3) Playing time Part 1. THE most contentious issue for parents. If everyone is supposed to get equal playing time then frankly, your most important task is to make sure everyone gets equal playing time. When I coached U7 house league soccer I would line everyone up on the sideline in numerical order to start the game and put the first six numbers on the field with the goalkeeper. I had a little clock that beeped in my pocket every 5 minutes and when it beeped I would sub numbers 7 and 8 for numbers 1 and 2. It kept me organized and made sure everyone got equal playing time. Don’t screw this up!
4) Playing time Part 2. If you are not coaching an equal playing time team then you absolutely have to communicate to your team how playing time will be handled. This of course will vary with age and level but, it is crucial that everyone knows where they stand. As an aside, I make it a point to connect with players who may not have gotten the ice time they are used to in a particular game. Whether it be because there were a lot of special teams or maybe a player wasn’t having their best game, I like to have that conversation with a player before they leave the rink. It will often make the car ride home easier for an athlete and maybe save a confrontation with a parent.
5) Standing around in practice. This is one of my BIG pet peeves. I can be watching a practice where I don’t know anyone on the ice or the field and be upset by athletes standing around. I live very close to a baseball field and stopped to check out a practice while on a dog walk the other day. The drill I watched had 12 players lined up behind third base fielding ground balls one at a time. One coach was hitting from home plate and the other coach was catching for him. So, each player was standing around for 11 ground balls then fielding one. As a parent this would drive me nuts to watch. Make sure you are keeping your athletes moving and engaged. More practice of any skill in any sport is better than standing around watching others.
6) Be able to articulate the reason you do things. If a parent asks you why you didn’t have the best players on the court at the end of the game you need to have a good answer. “I wanted to put some of my other players in a tough situation.” “My top players were tired and I thought we had the best chance with these athletes.” “These athletes need a confidence boost.” All are much better than “I lost track of the clock.”
Parents can be beasts. But often, we can bring it upon ourselves as coaches. Communication is key in any community setting and over-communicating is much better than under-communicating with your parents. Finally, make sure your parent group knows you want the best for their athletes. It’s about growth of the entire team and as individuals, and not always about winning.