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  • Mike Winters

The Right Way to Approach Your Child's Coach

Being the parent of a young athlete is a challenge in and of itself. I have been on every side of coaching. I have spent 25 seasons as a high school basketball coach. I spent 7 seasons as a high school baseball coach. I have coached everything from tee-ball and coach pitch to travel baseball and basketball and I currently coach travel softball along with my duties as a high school basketball coach. But I have also been a parent who was not coaching and often struggled with how to help my son and daughter navigate through a season with a lesser experienced volunteer coach. With my background, this was challenging because I wanted to be respectful of the volunteer. After all, they stepped up when I could not. That has to mean something and should be respected. But I had taught my own kids (and coached them) a lot about the game and sometimes what the volunteer coach was teaching contradicted things I had taught my own kids. Naturally, they struggled with how to proceed. And all of us parents believe our kids are on the fast track to college and professional sports so our patience is not what it used to be with our youth coaches. After all, we invest so much time and money these days we demand results right??? Note the heavy, heavy sarcasm there. We all need to relax. The real benefit of youth sports (travel or league) is in the journey itself. It is the life lessons and the relationships that the kids will remember the most and what they value the most beyond just playing a game that they will hopefully also really enjoy. If they don't enjoy the experience, it likely won't be because of the coach or their teammates near as much as it may be about you, the parent.

Some of you may not have a lot of knowledge on the sport your son or daughter is playing and that presents a different set of challenges when it comes to supporting them and answering their questions. As a coach, I have been approached in ways that instantly turned me off to the conversation and rubbed me the wrong way. Again, my perspective on this may be unique given that I have been on both sides here. So when and for what reason is it acceptable to have a conversation with your son or daughter's coach?

First of all, never ever have any conversation with your child's coach within 24 hours of a game or contest. Emotions tend to run way too high and good things rarely come from this conversation. Most high schools have this rule in place for all sports. Secondly, make sure the coach knows your intent is to help and support both him or her and your son or daughter. The minute it appears you are questioning their qualifications, their philosophy, etc., the conversation will go bad in a hurry. Good coaches have egos. Personally, I want every player to have a great experience but I also know it is impossible to make everyone happy. Coaches who are new and insecure will get defensive in a hurry so your approach here is crucial to creating a conversation that benefits all.

What reasons can you give for wanting to have a conversation with your child's coach? Well this can include the fact that your son or daughter is not having a good experience. It may be due to bullying or selfishness on the team, it may be due to playing time or it may be that your son or daughter knows you as a parent have taught them something differently. It may also be that your son or daughter is asking you questions about coaching and you want to better understand the coaches philosophy to help reinforce their views and teachings. Again, stating it in this manner will help keep this from turning into a confrontation. Know that if you initiate a conversation on these topics, you should be prepared to hear the truth! If you ask about playing time, my response is always going to be about what they need to improve for their playing time to improve and I am going to be honest. In our basketball program at the high school level, we will NOT discuss playing time or who receives it with parents. We will talk about what improvements need to be made and some ways to do work on their own outside of practice. If it is in regards to things like playing time, there might be some attitude issues you are not aware of that come to light about your own son or daughter. Again, just be ready to hear the truth! Practices missed may also be in the discussion. If your son or daughter has missed, even if they had an excuse, understand that if other players are NOT missing they will likely receive some of that playing time. Excuse or no excuse, it is not fair for a coach to "punish" those that make it to every practice. Equal playing time should really only exist at the earliest stages of sports. Your child needs to start learning life lessons that including earning things based on talent, work ethic, attitude, etc.

If your son or daughter is being mistreated by another coach or a teammate, do not assume the coach sees it or hears it and allows it. They can only see and hear so much and they cannot be everywhere so maybe they just need to be made aware of it. This has happened to me as a coach where a player was being treated poorly by a teammate and the parent accused me of allowing it. I answered the phone and they immediately started screaming and cussing at me and it was about an incident I had no knowledge of prior. But it also instantly made me angry at this parent for the accusation. I promise you I would never allow it. I just simply had not witnessed it and was unaware. In this particular incident, it also turned out the athlete accusing the teammate wasn't entirely truthful either.

If your son or daughter has a question about a coach's decision, open the conversation with something like this: "My son asked me a question about the game the other night. I wasn't entirely sure how to answer and I want to help reinforce things you are teaching, so I thought I would reach out and ask what your philosophy was on ________________. I think oftentimes, athletes are hearing too many contradicting voices and I want to avoid that and reinforce what you want to have happen in that situation."

The above statement clearly states your intent in a nonconfrontational manner. Too often, the conversation appears confrontational almost immediately and a coach's defense mechanism will kick in regardless of their experience or confidence level. By simply waiting the aforementioned 24 hours and opening the conversation with a clear show of your desire to support and reinforce, the conversation can be so much more productive for all parties.

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