Whenever I am in a room with coaches, the parental topic always comes up. Parental involvement is often mentioned in a negative light. The chatter's focus is on the negative behaviors that those coaches have experienced and the "horror" stories that many of them experience. I would argue that it is part of our problem. As coaches, we choose to accept the fact that we will have conflicts with parents. We preach rules about discussing playing time, and we stress our chain of command. We put up the walls early to try and keep the parents away from us. When we do have an experience with a parent or group of parents, it often turns nasty because we have not taken the time to build a relationship. We are building relationships with their child, but we bypass the parent.
It is time to shift the paradigm. Like many coaches, I have a parent meeting to start every season. The difference is I accept them as part of my team. I invite them to be part of the team. I want to take advantage of the unique skills they have to offer to enhance the experience for my players.
Maybe they are amateur photographers, and they can provide photos of our games. I have had parents that love to video and create highlight reels for our teams. Parents who had businesses that could give T-shirts to commemorate an impressive season or owned a restaurant and provided the team with a dining experience. The possibilities are endless, but we don't know if we don't include them.
When I look at a high school senior parent, the last child in the family, I recognize the sacrifices these parents have made. As a father myself, I can empathize with them as they watch their child compete in a sport that has consumed their lives for the past decade or more. Family vacations have centered around the next tournament, a large chunk of financial resources have gone into travel, equipment, private instruction, and player fees. My goal is to make that parent feel part of the experience and be able to celebrate with their child as we go through the season together.
Another part of the paradigm shift is that we take time to "coach" the parent. We have to teach parents that there should be "one voice" on the field. When my wife and I decided to have children, we agreed that the other would support whatever one parent said. As parents, there would always be one voice; the expectation would not differ between us. The same goes for the team; while they may have their own opinions, the coach's word was the one we followed.
I provide a 10-page parent guide of things they can do as parents to help their child be successful. It is an educational tool. I still have a chain of command; however, I want their child to learn to advocate for themselves. Mommy and daddy won't be there when there is an issue at work or in the college classroom. Advocating for yourself is a life lesson.
The playing time issue, which is often the source of parental constraint, is also not up for discussion. That is because I have those conversations with each player. When a parent is frustrated by a lack of playing time, the player can usually explain why. The player accepts it, so how can the parent argue?
We will never be able to satisfy every parent, and even coaches that take this approach will have a parent that doesn't "get the memo." The difference is that you will build much more profound relationships and provide a more significant experience for your team if you find a way to make the parents part of that team.
(Greg Winkler is the author of the recently released "The Transformational Coach, Incorporating Mindfulness for Improved Performance" (Meyer & Meyer Sport Publishing) and "Coaching a Season of Significance." (2017)." Winkler was the 2012 NSCAA/United Soccer Coaches National Youth Coach of the Year.)