Coach vs. Parent: 10 Ways to Make it Work

Whether you are a parent or a coach reading this the volatile and sometimes hostel relationship between parent and coach has a dramatic impact on both players and team, usually to the detriment of both.

Having coached over 1,000 fastpitch softball game I have pretty much seen and heard it all, as a coach, parent and fan. As we all gets ugly sometimes! The real question is why does it get ugly and how can parents and coaches get along better?

In competitive or travel sports parents always have a choice as to which team they place their daughter or son on; in high school or rec you're kind of stuck with whomever is coaching. In either scenario there are definite ways to make the relationship they are:

1. Better Communication - Whether parent or coach the best way to resolve any issue or concern is with one-on-one communication. Take the initiative to approach the other party calmly with suggestions. Don't assume the coach or parent knows what you are thinking and that your point is "obvious" to him/her. Go to the source and work it out. As a coach I always appreciate a parent who takes the time to seek me out to address an issue. I want what is best for my team and each player, and if any parent can help towards that end I'm open to it.

2. Lower Expectations - In my experience many sports parents have astronomical expectations for both their athlete's and team's performance. As a coach I can tell you that most teams are a work in progress; particularly if they are a new team or a team jumping to the next age group. I recognize frustration occurs when players or teams don't perform well, but if your athlete is under 16, believe me, he or she has yet to master a very difficult game. Give it time.

3. More Patience - Which leads me to more patience! We expect a lot from our kids today and sometimes they have a difficult time handling everything we throw at them. Allow them some time to get better. No coach is a miracle worker. A good coach sees the big picture for his/her athletes and the team. Do wins and losses really matter at 10, 12 or 14? Look for the baby steps of progress. 

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4. More Trust - Parents need to trust their athlete's coaches more. In my experience parents assume they know exactly what is going on with the team at all times. However I can assure you they do not know about injuries, keep track of playing time (for 12-14 kids...which can be hard), work with the players in practice, know their strengths and weaknesses as well as those of the opponent. If you have committed to a team trust that the coaches have a plan.

5. More Respect - Along with trust comes respect. No matter what you may personally think of your athlete's coaches they are volunteering their time (or being paid slave wages at best) to help your athlete and the team. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the very best they can and respect them for their effort. It's easy to criticize from the other side of the fence.

6. Be Realistic - How good is your athlete, and how good is her or his team? Being realistic is a by-product of expectations. If your athlete is not yet a consistent peak performer try to see them through the eyes of their coaches. They have to manage 12+ players and do their best to develop them all while making every effort to win. Maybe your athlete isn't good enough to crack the starting lineup, but they are learning a ton about the game and is benefiting being exposed to better competition.

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7. The Embarrassment Factor - If your athlete is a teenager you should be aware of how embarrassed they get when you are yelling at them, at the coaches, at the umpires/refs, at other parents, etc. First of all it isn't helping the team one bit and it is likely embarrassing the heck out of your athlete and hurting their performance as well. Remember...we can hear you through the fence/from the stands!

8. Don't Stir the Pot - This is my biggest pet peeve as a coach...when a parent talks about the coaches, a player or another parent behind everyone's back. This "stirring the pot" of discontent can become a cancer on a team (making a coach's job even more difficult) and may ultimately be grounds for not inviting your athlete back to play on the team in the future. I've had parents on my own team almost come to blows because one player is playing more than another, or because of remarks made about a player after an error or bad at bat. Really? Read #1 through #7 again if you don't get this point!

9. Focus on Effort...Not Results - A common source of discontent between players and coaches stems from being obsessed with the results of the game and minimizing the effort or progress a player or team is making. No athlete or team has ever or will ever be perfect. Do we strive for perfection...yes. But to expect that 10, 12, 14 or 16 year old kids are going to win every game or not make mistakes is creating unnecessary frustration. If you, instead, focus on the effort being given and the slow but steady improvement your athlete and team are making you might see the coach in a different light.

10. New Team - If you've tried points 1-9 and still have issues with your athlete's coaches then maybe it is time for a change. There are times when a player and parent are better off in a new environment, with a new culture and attitude. If your current team has a negative or critical vibe, your athlete isn't getting legitimate playing time he or she deserves (see #6), or her coaches don't really seem to be helping them to get better a new team may be the answer. But I caution you against "team hopping" where the grass is always greener mentality prevails. Maybe you should ask your athlete what they want to do? Are they happy? Do they enjoy their teammates and coaches? Moving them to a new team will mean new teammates, new coaches and new culture. How will they fit in?

As a coach and sports parent I know all too well that parents and coaches don't always see eye to eye on strategy or lineups. However, if both parties can respect each others' position there can be individual and team harmony. Remember, we're all out there at
7am on a cold or hot Sunday morning for the kids. As I always say...would you rather be right or be happy (because sometimes you can't have both)?

Thanks for reading! --John Kelly

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