If you’ve read much on the Coach Hub blogs, you know I tend to get defensive when youth sports parents are vilified, usually through the stereotype of being boorish buttinskies. As a coach, I dealt with a few problematic parents, but the vast majority were helpful and supportive.
So I wasn’t thrilled to read this blog post from coachandplaybaseball.com, which offers a sample letter coaches could send to parents at the beginning of the season. I’m a firm believer in a preseason meeting with parents or a letter/email communicating what they can expect and laying down some ground rules.
But this letter is not the way to go. The opening couldn’t more wrong-headed: “The baseball parent I have found is the biggest problem in youth baseball and youth sports. I think we should get everything straight and out in the open before we go any further.”
It’s safe to say that offending one’s audience right from the start isn’t the best way to establish a relationship. I also think it’s safe to say that a lot of baseball parents believe that coaches are every bit as much a problem as parents.
The coach goes on to say that it’s going to be “all about the kids.” In fact, he say this so many times one cannot help but wonder if it’s actually going to be more about him. He then tells parents that they will be allowed to applaud during games but otherwise should keep quiet. He will “handle the encouragement,” thank you. In fact, he’d really prefer that they just drop off the player at practice and games.
Sounds like the same type of arrogance he’s accusing the parents of using to spoil the season, doesn’t it? The parent-coach relationship clearly is going to be one-sided with this guy, who maybe simply has been coaching for too long.
Now, I don’t want to focus on this letter except as an example of a pervasive mindset among coaches. No doubt this coach is just trying to be helpful. But that way of thinking about the coach-parent relationship, frankly, isn’t helpful at all. When I hear coaches make these same points, they sound much more concerned with the control and power of their position than about their players.
Many of the ideas in this letter are worth reading (and heeding). As you’re composing your own letter to parents, you might want to use some of them – nothing revolutionary but a smart approach, nonetheless.
His points about laying off the umpires and letting the coaches do their jobs are much needed for some parents. Kudos to him, too, for his emphasis on hustling and good sportsmanship rather than on wins and losses. I also like his request that parents practice the game with their kids. His approach of letting the kids play multiple positions, even pitch, and his use of multiple batting orders sounds right on the mark.
The fact that a coach takes the time to go into such detail implies the importance he places on informing the parents, even if the impetus is mostly to circumvent problems arising later in the season.
Coaches do have a tough job dealing with a team full of kids and their parents, but that first meeting or email sets the tone for the season, and you need to instill a sense of cooperation and community among everyone involved. Taking such an autocratic stance will make things unpleasant, even adversarial. Claiming that you’re trying to make their role as parents “easy” is obviously patronizing and adds further insult.
Being a youth sports parent requires sacrifice, and sometimes coaches lose sight of the parents’ experience. The game needs to be about the kids and for the kids, which is why I get tired of hearing some coaches make this claim when, in the end, it’s really about them.
In your communication with parents, be open and honest within a context of mutual respect. And if they want to yell encouragement to their son or daughter, let them. They know their kids better than we do.
Yes, coaches need to draw a line right from the start, but building a wall on top of that line and taking a few shots from the ramparts is overbearing, more a product of the coach’s ego than a desire to protect the players’ enjoyment of the game. When you see the parents as key to the season’s success and treat them that way, nearly all will respond in a positive way. When you go in spoiling for a fight, you’ll usually get one.