Say Yes to Parents

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I am back for another season of coaching girls club volleyball with excitement and the usual trepidations. What will the team look like THIS year? How will they compete? Will they get along as a team? This is just the start of thoughts that go through any coach’s mind as they plan for their sport club season. But as we all know, coaching kids isn’t as simple as just being concerned about them. It’s their parents that come along for the ride that can add stress to the season. How involved are the parents going to be? Will they let me coach their child and not interfere? What if they’re not happy with how things are going? What about that inevitable confrontation that so many coaches dread? Helicopter Parents, Yikes!

The way I see it, there are three styles of coaching that one can adopt, whether it’s the coach or the entire organization. Let’s explore my take on the options.

My Way or the Highway. Let’s say you’ve had it up to “here” dealing with parental interference with your team. So you decide to go full on, “stay out of my business”. No parents allowed anywhere near my practices. Drop off and pick up only. No talking to the coach at games, not about anything. No communication with the coach on any subject surrounding the team, your child or even the organization. Complaints? Send them to the club director and they will deal with it. You might even go to the extreme and levy fines for disregarding any of these rules.
The Gain? You can coach the kids without any interference and get the most out of them, and them out of you. You can play the athletes you want to play, when, where and how you want. Your decision, no one else’s. The Loss? If you are okay with a revolving door of new kids and members maybe. Is this model really sustainable? Sure, you may keep the best kids, but even the best kid’s parents want their say at some level. I wonder how you would feel if your child was playing in a club like this? Just sayin’.

Even Steven. You want to make everybody happy. You let the parents have their say. You can make it all work. You give every kid equal opportunity. Better yet, equal playtime for everyone. You even keep track of time per player during games to prove your point. You are every parent’s friend, and everyone will be happy. The Gain? You’ve created a communal participation environment that caters to everyone’s needs. The Loss? The competitive environment can only be sustained for so long, because everyone gets to play. If that is the goal of the association and/or your goal then it may work. But eventually the competitive juices of the child and/or the parent (and eventually the helicopter parent) will come to the surface and trying to please everyone will be erode at the system.

Understanding the Village. Compromise to fit the community. Some communities are highly competitive, some are the opposite and some and a hybrid. You make a concerted effort to understand the culture of the village you are coaching in. What do the kids want out of the sport? Do they just want to have fun? Sure, they all do, but is fun also being competitive, and I dare say “winning?” What is the parent population expecting? Once you grasp the community persona, you attempt to meet and even exceed their expectations. You promote values on behalf of the association, back it up with a parental meeting, explaining those values and expectations from all concerned parties (including the kids). You follow through with what you say you will do and take on the accolades and concerns head on. You become proactive in your involvement with the parents. You promote a growth mindset and live it. “The kids are just learning. They make mistakes, heck, so do I.” The Gain? In a word, trust. The Loss? Not everyone in the village wants to win, they just want their kid to play all the time. Not everyone in the village wants to lose, they want the best kids to play more to win. Helicopter parents on both ends will rear their ugly heads.

My Experience

I’ve seen the first two models, some in the extremes, and they mostly fail. Regardless of the level of Helicopter Parenting that exists in North America, parents have the right to parent. But it is up to the association to determine the path on which to handle them. If the path is the one of “Even Steven” it is the safest but least productive, in terms of developing a quality, competitive program. If you want to run a “house” program, that’s fine. But it will be difficult to find a sustainable coaching model to support your program ongoing. Most coaches want to be part of a competitive culture. If your path is “My Way or the Highway” you will likely create a combative environment that’s also unsustainable, with high turnover and longterm degradation of membership loyalty.

The third option works best for me and it is what I believe in. Much like the way a coach designs their season based on the make-up of the team they have selected (or been selected for them), you manage the parent’s expectations the same way. Start by introducing the parents to the associations code of conduct, for parents. If you don’t have one, get one. It is paramount. If you don’t, there are no holds barred, and you will have anarchy. Follow up (ideally before your first practice) your dialogue with the parents in a friendly meeting environment at a parent’s house. Talk to the parents about the usual stuff (schedule, rides, food and how parents can help you), but add in your coaching philosophy. For example, say one of your coaching codes is to have the athlete address an issue with you, not have their parent talk to you about it first on their behalf. If the situation isn’t resolved, then they are encouraged to talk to you. Most player-coach issues can be averted in this way without involving the parent. It teaches the child initiative and autonomy (lessons in leaving the nest). So why discuss this at the parent meeting? Because if the parent is advised at the meeting what their role is, YOU can call them on it if they don’t follow the code.

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The most important piece of understanding the village is about follow through and consistency. Show the kids and the parents you are true to your values and they will support you. It’s just my opinion and it has and does work for me. Which one of these coaching approaches or a hybrid works for you?