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The Key to Friendly, Productive Relations With Coaches

How to deal effectively with your child’s coach

Ford Video/Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports
Source: Ford Video/Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports

Parents’ responsibility for what happens doesn’t stop when their kids sign-up for a sport program. Rather, parents have every right to be involved in and to oversee their child's welfare in all situations. The tricky part comes in deciding how and to what extent it’s appropriate to be involved. In other words, when does appropriate concern become disruptive meddling?

Here are some typical issues that might spring up.

  • Your child isn't getting to play enough during games/matches.
  • Your child isn’t playing the position best suited to his or her talents.
  • The coach is mistreating youngsters either verbally or physically.
  • The coach is engaging in inappropriate behavior, such as cursing or hazing of officials or opponents.
  • The coach is using technically incorrect or possibly dangerous coaching methods.
  • The coach is demanding too much time or commitment from the youngsters.
  • The coach is losing perspective of the purpose of youth sports and seems preoccupied with winning.

When questionable incidents occur, the best starting point is to view them as problems that parents and the coach must work on together.

The key to resolving problems is establishing dialogue and then keeping the lines communication of open.

  • What’s needed is a mutual problem-solving approach.
  • Parents should contact the coach and schedule a meeting/consultation.
  • Such discussions should never occur during practices or competitions.
  • Most coaches prefer that the athlete not be present, because it tends to create an adversary relationship.

Communication is the key to friendly, productive relations with coaches.

When meeting with the coach, parents should try to create an open and receptive atmosphere for discussion. Here are some tips.

  • Create a positive environment by telling the coach that you appreciate his or her contributions to the program. You might also communicate that you understand how demanding the role of a coach is.
  • Next, indicate that there’s an issue that you would like to discuss and that if there is a problem, you would like to work with the coach in resolving it.
  • After expressing your concern, you might once again acknowledge what a difficult job coaching is, but that you thought the coach would want to hear about your concern because you believe he or she has the best interests of the children at heart.
  • Then tell the coach that you would like to hear his or her view of the situation. Again, the emphasis should be on resolving the problem together.

Communication is a two-way street. It involves listening as well as expressing.

Parents need to be prepared to listen honestly and openly to the coach's point of view. For example, the coach’s opinion of a child's ability and earned playing time may be very different from that of the parents. And, of course, it’s the coach’s responsibility to determine playing time. (For more information, see my Psychology Today blog post “Resolving Disputes About Playing Time.”)

In some cases, parents may find that it isn't possible to correct the situation with the coach. What can they do then?

If they feel strongly enough about the issue, parents may need to take further action. Several options are available.

  • First, parents may appeal to a higher authority. For example, if a coach is being abusive to children, this should be brought to the attention of program administrators.
  • If the issue concerns only one’s child and not others, the solution may be to request a transfer to another team and coach.
  • The last, most drastic, and least desirable alternative may be to remove a child from the program. This should always be a last resort, because it may have some negative consequences of its own. For example, the child may be called a quitter.

Fortunately, most coaches are firmly committed to providing the best possible experiences for youngsters. When approached properly, they will usually be open to parents' concerns and motivated to deal effectively with problems.

Coaches deserve respect, encouragement, support, and appreciation from parents.

Parent-coach relationships go beyond dealing with the undesirable kinds of issues noted above. Parents should realize that when things are going well, they should provide reinforcement to the coach. This adult is playing an important role in their child's life. All too often, the only feedback coaches get from parents is negative. It’s important to let them know when they are doing a good job. They truly deserve it!

Do you want to learn more about parenting and coaching young athletes?

The Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports and Mastery Approach Coaching are research-based videos that emphasize skill development, achieving personal and team success, giving maximum effort, and having fun. To access the videos, go to the Youth Enrichment in Sports website.