As a youth sports coach, you need to master the art of communicating with players' parents to ensure a successful season for all. However, it's not always a walk in the park. Here are six tips shared by seasoned coach Nick Buonocore to help you manage team parents effectively.
1. Write a Coach Introduction Letter/Email to Parents Before the Season
Step one after agreeing to coach any youth sports team, send an introduction email to parents as early as possible. This is your opportunity to set expectations for the season ahead and frame your desired relationship with parents.
Nick says: "I always send an email out before the season letting parents know a little bit about me and my expectations."
"I preface the email with a little bit of my own background of athletic experience as a baseball player and a coach, to show them this isn't my first rodeo, I know what I'm doing and I know how to coach."
"I also in writing tell parents to keep in mind these kids are 9, 10 or 11, or whatever the age is, so we're not just chasing wins here. My goal is to work to have every kid prepared so that if I can play them at each position, I'm gonna do it."
"The introduction email is just about just putting those things out there to the parents."
Set your own expectations in your own words, to begin your relationship with parents on a positive note. Here's our template to help get you started.
2. Introduce Yourself as Coach to Parents at Opening Practice
To establish trust, clarify coaching methods, and set ground rules for parent conduct, Nick suggests introducing yourself as the coach and arrange an informal meeting with team parents during the first practice. By doing so, you can create a positive atmosphere for coaches, players, and parents, and keep the focus on the kids' enjoyment and learning.
"The last sport I coached, which was baseball, we met the parents at the fence first practice," says Nick. "That's when I share a little bit about me, a little bit about what we're looking to do and some ground rules."
Nick has coached dozens of youth sports teams as a volunteer. Here are his ground rules.
"I tell them, 'Let's not get carried away with yelling from the sidelines. I'm a parent six times over so I know how enthusiastic you are - I get enthusiastic too. But as parents, we're not gonna coach through the fence."
"You're not gonna stand out here and scream on the field. Resist the urge to coach through the fence."
"So I really address those things in front of the parents in our meeting, let them know up front."
Establish your own ground rules then communicate them in person at the first practice of the season. This is when parents are most appreciative, excited and receptive.
3. Coach Your Own Child Like Any Other
Volunteered to coach your own kid's team? You're a hero (really, we genuinely believe that).Nonetheless, it's crucial to treat your child just like any other player to prevent criticisms from other parents.
"I wouldn't call myself a pro at coaching my own kid but I've never had a problem," says Coach Nick, a father of 6 and coach to 4 of his children's teams.
"Because if I'm being quite honest with you, I'm probably harder on my own kid than any other."
"That's for is for two reasons: Number one, I want to make sure that I'm not coddling my kid because I don't want my kid to get coddled by any other coach. But also I want to demonstrate to the parents like, hey, I'm definitely not coddling my kid. I want to let them know. So it's demonstrating that fairness, but also I feel confident enough in my own experience to get the balance right."
Finding that balance can be tough for first-time coaches, but you can ask other coaches within your organization for advice.
4. How to Deal With Difficult Parents as a Coach
Most adults in youth sports are well-meaning and positive. But as a youth sports coach, dealing with the odd difficult parent can be the most distressing part of your role. But, here's the thing, prevention is always better than a cure!
To avoid having to deal with difficult parents, you've already set clear expectations for their behavior through your introductory letter, email, and meeting, where you spelled out what's expected of parents.
By doing this, you laid the groundwork for what is and isn't acceptable conduct.
But, let's say a parent still goes beyond the boundaries you set, what should you do? Well, don't just let it slide! Address the issue head-on at the next practice and remind the parent of the expected behavior. By reinforcing the standards you've established, you'll be able to create a positive and productive environment for your team to thrive in.
However, if the same parent repeatedly crosses the line, and their behavior harms the team environment, it may be time to consider more serious action. In these cases, it's a good idea to consult with a senior coach within your organization for advice on when it is appropriate to suggest that the parent sign their child up for another team.
"Sometimes, you're gonna get some parents that are just knuckleheads, unfortunately," says Coach Nick. "At some point there's nothing I can do to change that. My behavior can try to do it but some people I'm just not going to influence."
"I try not to let those that I can't influence change my the way I go about things. And I have no problem saying, 'Well, listen. I know this is direct, but if you don't like it, go. I love your kid, but go somewhere else. Go play for another team.'"
Like we said though, most parents are well-meaning team players. Never let the knuckleheads bring you down.
5. Ask a Team Parent to Volunteer as Your Team Manager
What's a Team Manager? Sometimes called a Team Mom, Team Dad or Sports Parent, team managers assist coaches with administrative tasks and the organization of running a youth sports team. Tasks can include coordinating practice and snack schedules, communicating scheduling changes, and serving as a buffer between coaches and parents. If you're Batman, they are Alfred The Butler.
Find your team manager by sending a private message to enthusiastic parents or email everyone to ask for a volunteer.
While team managers can be a valuable resource, they should not replace all communication between coaches and parents.
"Even if you have a team manager, I still think it's important for the coach to communicate directly with the parents," says Coach Nick.
"Because it just keeps that line of communication open. The further you separate the coach from the parents, it creates a feeling of, 'he's not approachable, she's not approachable'. So, have a team manager, but certainly keep the lines of communication open directly between coach and parent."
Bringing us on to our sixth and final point.
6. Clearly Define Communication Channels with Parents
As a youth sports coach, managing communication with parents can be a daunting task.
Get it wrong and you'll be bombarded with constant calls, texts, and emails, eating into the work and family time you already sacrifice to coach. Get it right and team communication's something you don't think about.
How? Establish clear communication channels from the outset.
Coach Nick suggests that the key to successful communication with parents is to clearly define when and how they can reach you.
"My communication process is: I'm gonna send you emails twice a week. After we play a game like, 'Hey, great job tonight. We'll see everyone at practice next Thursday at 2 o'clock. Thank you and any questions'."
"It's letting parents know you're there. You can be reached. But having boundaries. I think that's important. So to me email is very effective or an app like yours that has text communications and whatever else. Keeping that communication going, I think, is very important."
A sports team communication app helps coaches and team managers keep everything in one central place. This way, parents can easily access information about schedules, games, and other important updates without bothering the coach. On Heja, parents RSVP to show their child's availability, without sending messages back and forth via emails or a group chat.
While communication apps and team managers can be valuable resources, they should not completely replace direct communication between coaches and parents. Stay approachable, but protect your private life from constant interruptions. It'll make you a better and happier coach!
- We would like to thank the Reformed Sports Project's Nick Buonocore for contributing his coaching insights. You can share yours with Coach by Heja here.