Coaching the Parents
Parents are a vital part of youth sports. Without the parents, youth sport programs would find it difficult to exist. Parents are the volunteer work force that accomplishes essential tasks in support of youth sports programs. And, most importantly, they attend and support the performances and efforts of all children who play sports.
Unfortunately, recent cases of parents behaving badly at youth sports
events have received the attention of the national media. Although these
specific incidents are rare (e.g., the fatal fight between fathers after a
youth hockey game), general problems with parents are not. Coaches and
league administrators are seeking effective strategies to refocus the
energies of parents.
Inappropriate behavior by parents is detracting significantly from youth sport programs that exist to provide opportunities for children to play sports, have fun, develop skills, and enjoy the thrill of competition in a positive, non-threatening environment.
Local organizations have tried strategies such as Silent Sundays (where parents have their mouths symbolically taped shut or are given lollipops to suck on), restricting parents from competition facilities, providing mandatory parent education, and handing out cards at the entrances with the codes of conduct printed on them. Some national sport and professional groups are also initiating programs and strategies to encourage and reinforce positive parent behavior. This paper provides recommendations from the Youth Sport Coalition and Coaches Council on how to encourage appropriate parent behavior.
Although the primary role of the coach is to develop athletes, coaches
must also accept the responsibility for educating the parents of athletes.
Parents should learn how best to support their children’s sport
participation and the importance of appropriate behavior in the youth sport
environment. Before the first practice of the season, coaches should hold a
formal meeting with the coaching staff, athletes, and involved parents.
There are many topics that could be discussed in this meeting. In addition
to the topics listed below, the parents and athletes should be familiar
with the Bill of Rights for Young Athletes (see position paper resources).
The Bill of Rights for Young Athletes provides an excellent focus for this
preseason meeting. One consideration before setting the agenda is to
include the parent(s) as well as the athletes in the meeting. This
sets the standards for and the expectations of all parties concerning coaching style, team rules, practice goals, etc. The agenda should include:
- coaching philosophy
- coaching style
- general goals for the team
- typical practice session routines
- expectations for the athletes (e.g., athlete rights and responsibilities)
- expectations for the parents (e.g., parent rights and responsibilities)
- explanation of equipment requirements and needs
- discussion of the risks involved in the sport including a discussion of emergency medical procedures and guidelines
- season practice schedule and game schedule
- question and answer period for parents and athletes
- transportation issues
- communication procedures
Depending on the sport you are coaching, there may be other topics that should be addressed. These include travel plans and bad weather contingency plans. In your discussion of your coaching style, you might want to include things such as how decisions are made (i.e., leadership style), the role of assistant coaches if you have any, how you teach, whether or not you use physical contact with the athletes when you coach, how parents can help their child with outside practice and conditioning, and/or information sharing with the coach. The key is to cover anything that might come up during the season. Be thorough. This reduces problems later in the year and gives the athletes and parents a feeling of confidence in you by demonstrating that you know what is needed to ensure the best possible experience for the athletes on your team.
Other strategies coaches should consider:
- Parent and child session/practice/scrimmage
- Hosting a preseason social activity such as a barbecue for the team members and their parents.
- Develop or adapt written contracts (e.g., codes of conduct) regarding appropriate behaviors for coaches, athletes, and parents and have these signed at the beginning of the season.
Reprinted with the permission of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
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