At the middle and high school levels, student-athletes’ parents and guardians are an important factor in an athlete’s overall performance.
When coaches and athletic administrators take the opportunity to involve parents in a healthy and responsible way, it helps parents provide emotional support that can make a big difference in an athlete’s ability to give their all. There are right ways and wrong ways to communicate with parents and guardians, so let’s consider some of the best approaches.
1. Communicate Coaching & Program Philosophy in a Pre-Season Meeting
Every athletic program has its own core values and vision for creating an experience that helps student-athletes grow and prosper – on and off the field. As new athletes and their families are introduced to a program for the first time, it’s important to clarify and emphasize those values. Parents want to know that their children are getting involved in a program that will help them develop as athletes and individuals. Additionally, they want to understand your perspective as a coach, as it provides them with peace of mind. This open and honest communication also allows you to build rapport and trust with your athletes’ parents.
2. Ensure Updates on Program Basics are Communicated
When the rubber meets the road, there are other things athletes and their supporters at home need to know about. These include things like: the locations and times of practices and games; team requirements such as training, equipment, and off-season conditioning; and circumstances where disciplinary action might result in removal from a program. These details can change over time, so it’s a good idea to list them in a centralized location, such as a website or regular newsletter. Make it easy for parents, guardians, and other involved adults to keep themselves informed.
3. Make Time to Address Concerns With Parents
Parents have a right to expect that they will be able to address important concerns with coaches. Giving parents the opportunity to set one-on-one meetings will allow them to find constructive ways to involve themselves with the program. For example, they may wish to discuss things like: the mental and physical well-being of their child, ways to help them improve, and how to manage their behavior. By working together, parents and coaches can help students meet their full potential, on and off the court – a partnership that can make a big difference.
4. Set Appropriate Boundaries for Parent Communication
Although it’s important to keep an open line of communication with parents, it’s also vital to set boundaries. Many parents will push against those boundaries, feeling that their student deserves special treatment or recognition. Before a one-on-one meeting and at the time it begins, it’s a good idea to set ground rules. Discussions should avoid things like playing time, team strategy, play-calling, and especially, the performance and behavior of other student-athletes. As the most public face of the program, it may be your role to remind over-invested parents that it’s just a game!
5. Encourage Parents to Take Ownership
Only a small fraction of a student athlete’s time is spent with coaches or administrators. With that in mind, the home environment is crucial. By starting from a place of positivity, you can use parents’ pride in their children’s achievements to help you meet your mutual goals. Parents often react harshly to criticism because they want to feel that their parenting skills are superior and their children are special. Focus on concrete steps and avoid the temptation to lay blame, and parents will become your allies.
6. Make Sure Parents Know When They Need to Take Action
One of the most important roles of the coach is to ensure the athletic program works for each and every student on the team. With that in mind, there are certain times when parents absolutely must take action. One of the most relevant examples is when schedule conflicts arise. This may require parents to do a little more “planning ahead” than they may be used to – it can help to emphasize that their student is now part of something bigger than any one individual. Parents should also know when it’s time to communicate in the event that a problem arises, and how to set up a meeting.
School-supported youth athletics can make a tremendous difference in students’ lives. To make the most of it, the responsible adults around each athlete must play an active and positive role. By being clear, consistent, and welcoming, the coaching staff can set the stage for a positive and appropriate relationship. This relationship will have a tremendous impact on athletic performance and, ultimately, the life lessons each student takes from their involvement in the sport.
Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration program specializes in developing interscholastic Athletic Directors, building on the students’ passion for serving young student-athletes and running a highly-successful athletic department. Ohio University is a pioneer in sports education. By establishing the first academic program in the field of sports administration, this online program is recognized today as the premier professional training program for candidates seeking careers in the sports industry.