Fundamental to the AD’s role is supporting and empowering our coaches, and part of that is to help them build healthy, cooperative relationships with parents based on trust and mutual respect. But in an environment where little league fields have to post signs reminding the adults (not the kids) to keep their behavior in check, what does a healthy parent-coach relationship look like? And more urgently, how do AD's and coaches work best with parents to build them?
It seems like everyday there is another news story about a parent engaging in inappropriate behavior, from verbal to physical assaults of coaches, referees, and even other parents. Administrators— athletic directors, school superintendents, even school board members—can easily get swept up in a brewing conflict between a coach and parent. Athletic directors and coaches who have experienced parental complaints about coaching styles and decisions understand how difficult it can be to bridge the gap between what the parents want and what the coaches need.
Highlight Reel: Given the central role of parents in youth sports, athletic directors and coaches must be prepared to engage with parents on a regular and ongoing basis. But rather than viewing parents as another opponent, consider them a potential ally and a valuable resource by developing mutual respect, having a proactive and positive approach to the relationship, and keeping the lines of communication open, the relationship can be beneficial to both.
It is important that ADs and coaches employ strategies that develop productive, positive relationships with problematic parents, rather than create barriers and breed resentment by avoiding or dismissing them.
START WITH RESPECT
Many parents have been coaches themselves, particularly at the youth level, and this might lead them to believe it’s okay to weigh in on decisions their kids’ coach makes. And coaches would be wise to take the time to listen to these parents and not dismiss their feedback. While some parents are trying to influence decision-making, many others just want to vent their frustrations. Coaches can and should listen with empathy and reassurance. We are all on the same team, after all, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.
Likewise, it is important for parents to understand that even though we may not always agree, we are genuinely invested in each member of our programs. Successful coaches often develop strong relationships with not only the athletes, but with their families as well. From their first meeting, coaches should initiate and develop ways parents can be involved and supportive during the season. They should also try to find a way to connect with the parents of athletes to learn more about the child they are guiding.
USE A PROACTIVE APPROACH
Coaches should also provide many opportunities for parents to learn about their programs, their policies — and their expectations. Although orientations and pre-season meetings are tried-and-true methods of communication, not everything needs to be shared face-to-face. Utilize technology to your advantage - email, text message groups, even social media, can be effective ways to communicate information such as driving directions to other schools. Personal interactions remain the foundation of the coach/parent relationship, but tech provides an easy way to supplement it.
It’s also important to develop a chain of command for parents to follow in order to discuss a concern or problem. And it’s equally important that ADs and their coaches know what to do if a parent bypasses this chain of communication. If a parent believes that they can go over your head or the coach’s head to get what they want, that is exactly what they will do.
By violating the chain of communication, parents need to understand that they are often actually slowing the process of conflict-resolution. This doesn’t mean if a parent breaks the chain that you show them the door. First, listen with respect to their concerns. Then refer them back to the appropriate coach or staff member and inform them that nothing will be done until they address the situation with the appropriate person, whether it’s coach or their own child.
LEVERAGE SOCIAL MEDIA
Through the emergence of social media sites, alongside email and text messaging, parents can more easily access coaches and express their thoughts, good or bad. When it comes to social media’s role in the coach/parent relationship, most focus has been on the negative — parents posting critical, in-the-heat-of-the moment messages that put coaches, ADs and even entire programs on the defensive. But used the right way, Facebook, Instagram and other social media outlets can be an essential communication tool.
As public figures in your community, engaging on social media can be daunting: Protecting your credibility is key, especially when you’re faced with public criticism and scrutiny. But having a strong and positive social media presence, where you highlight athletic achievements alongside academic and community service-related events that your student-athletes are engaged in, is a way to keep the conversation positive and continue to advance the mission of your athletic program.
AD's and coaches can use social media as a means to elevate the discourse around their programs. Your athletes and their parents are on social media every day — encourage them to follow your official accounts to be kept up-to-date on schedule changes and other important information.
There will be negative posts. And when one pops up in your feed, address it offline. Encourage in-person and private meetings on non-game days with parents seeking time with a coach.
With mutual respect, a proactive and positive approach to the relationship, and open communication, the coach/parent relationship can be beneficial to both. Yes, parents can be viewed as both assets and liabilities when it comes to youth sports, but if they are willing to cooperate and communicate with the coach, they can help create an environment where their child can flourish and have fun — which is the point, after all.
Share the Collaborating With Parents video with team parents to help them define the appropriate and necessary roles they can each play to create a positive and respectful relationship and utilize the free inCourage resources, including the Playbook for Coaches and ADs, to help build your healthiest sports culture.
Share this with your coaches and athletes to give them the right direction, too!
Together we can improve the culture of youth sports.