Youth Coaches & Parents
The relationship between parent and coach is vital at the youth level. Here are some experiences to learn from and guidelines to consider – from both sides.
Coaches – Set Expectations at a Pre-season Parent Meeting
Either appoint a team mom beforehand or ask for volunteers at the meeting. She can be the parents' point of contact if they cannot get ahold of you during the week, but even more importantly, she can be your point of contact during games. All of the parents can route their concerns and comments through her to you at halftime to slim down the process. If you are on a smaller team, this may not be necessary, but it is an idea. You can always reinforce parts of what you tell the parents in front of the players as well to mitigate misunderstandings and miscommunication, but make sure the players are not at the first meeting.
Set clear expectations. For a youth team, the most important thing to communicate is that you will only discipline your players for attitude and respect issues, not skill ones. The parents do need to know if a player talks back or is disrespectful, you will handle it. If this does end up happening, let them know you are open to meeting with them individually.
Coaches – Mean What You Say
I coached six different teams throughout 2015 alone – two 1st/2nd grade teams, two 3rd/4th grade teams, and two 5th/6th grade teams.
On one of my 3/4 teams, I had a mom ask me halfway through the season how I got her kid to listen to me on the field because they could not manage to duplicate that at home. I explained to her that all I had done was uphold what I said I was going to do at the beginning of the year, every single time. I did not start handling the problem the third or fourth time – I handled it every single time. It did not take long for this player to realize treating the other players and myself with respect would allow him a more positive experience. I did stress to the parents that I had never "punished" their son for dropping a pass or missing a groundball – I simply demanded he respect the other players as I had explained before the season started.
I had a Dad tell me they noticed their son was more respectful to them by the end of the season and credited his time with the team with that change – and all I did was back up what I said I would do during the parents meeting.
Coaches – Teach Discipline, Character, Respect, and Teamwork
Discipline, character, respect, and teamwork are qualities that must be instilled at a young age – what an opportunity you have as a youth coach to teach these! These behaviors and skills will stick with your players the rest of their lives and carry over into their schoolwork, their relationships, and their jobs as adults – something off-hand groundballs rarely do.
If you are not teaching your players something more than just their sport, you are doing something wrong and failing your players.
Parents – Be a Parent, Not a Sports Agent
This is youth sports, not the combine. Let your kid enjoy the game (while still working hard and giving his best effort), while the game is still pure enough to find joy in it. Let me explain.
I had a parent on one of my 3/4 teams who told me that his kid "was going to be a goalie in high school."
That very well could happen, but the odds of that happening because of a decision made in 3rd grade are slim. We do not even know if the kid is going to want to play lacrosse next year, much less by the time he gets to high school, and even so, who's to say he ends up wanting to score goals or play defense? I believe that classifying a 3rd grader, or even a 6th grader, as a "goalie" or even just as a "lacrosse player" is potentially limiting their experience and development at other positions and other sports. I explained this to the parent in a way that showed I was simply trying to let their son experience as much of the game as he could, and that I was not trying to defy them. After this explanation and the agreement that he would get to try all of the positions, and we were on the same page from then on out.
Unfortunately, my second example did not end as well. To give context, a received this email at the beginning of the season from a parent.
Nothing that out of the ordinary. The first practice went well, but after the second practice, the parent asked to speak with me. He wanted to know why his son was "still practicing the fundamentals" and wanted me to "do advanced drills with him." I try to approach each situation with the assumption that each parent means well and truly wants what was best for their kid. I tried to explain, that while I did not have as much coaching experience, I could vouch for the fact that even at the D1 level the practices still consisted of the fundamentals. My justification was that if D1 athletes still needed to practice fundamentals, wouldn't it make sense that a 2nd grader would need them as well? This dad, unfortunately, did not agree and ended up pulling his kid off the team once he learned his son would get no special treatment.
Fundamentals do not go away; they just get faster. We lost that player because the parent thought so highly of their son that they thought they deserved special treatment.
Parents – Coach Controls Playtime, Not You
The coach is in charge of playtime. In most youth leagues, playtime is as close to equal as it can be. However, in the case of a disrespectful player or one with an attitude problem, or even one who (intentionally) does not play as a part of the team strategy that you have drawn up, you can see this reduced. I had a parent disagree with me doing that, but that was actually the one that ended up saying they noticed their kid being more respectful and listening to them by the end of the season.
I am not advocating for a coach to sit a player for making the wrong pass. However, I have seen a number of players who would pass in practice but go straight to the goal during games. (Mom and Dad yelling "shoot it" as I try to get them to make a pass probably does not help right?)
Playtime is based on respect – these kids are much too young to be punished for their skills, but no one is too young to be expected to carry himself respectfully. If your kid is not playing, make sure this is not the reason. If you are not sure – ask! Be sure to wait a day or two, right after the game is not the time.
Coaches – Be Fair & Firm With Playtime
You can do your players a disservice if you only play your good players in lower and middle school; because that means your good players get better and your bad players stagnate. When they are that young, it is all about the learning curve. Leaving players behind because they did not pick something up as fast is not acceptable as a youth coach. High school and college is a different story.
If you are going to be comfortable with your parents asking about playtime, you will have to be prepared to give them an answer they do not like. "Your kid isn't good enough" probably isn't valid in 4th grade, or even 6th, but "your kid didn't listen in practice, I told him he wouldn't play in the game if he did not straighten up, and he chose not to, which is why he sat the first half" may be an answer you have to give. This will fix the problem and the player will be better off as an athlete and as a son in the end.
Parents & Coaches – Watch Your Behavior During Games
Your behavior as a parent be difficult with your as a coach, and it can also be difficult with the other team's coach in chippy games. Your coach will handle whatever arises with the ref – anything you do or say will only make matters worse. Comments like "take him out" or calling for retaliation are unnecessary and not a good look. If the other team is dirty, let them carry that reputation – stooping to their level will also devalue any complaints with the ref or league.
That said, as a coach you are solely responsible for the safety of your players during the game. The easiest way to get parents to stay calm during the game is if they trust your judgment and know you will stick up for them if the time comes.
Also, as hard as it is, try to refrain from coaching on the sideline if you are a parent. There are many different ways you can get involved during games, none of which start by coaching your own version of what should happen from the opposite sideline – talk to the coach, he may be interested in an assistant.
Communication solves most issues, regardless of what realm they are.
Thank y'all for reading.
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