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Communicating with Parents

Although most communication happens between coaches and players, important communication takes place between coaches and parents, too. In this section, we’ll consider the various times and ways you should communicate with parents and learn how to handle challenging situations and involve parents in positive ways throughout the season.

Preseason Meeting or Letter

You’ll need to contact parents before the season begins. You can communicate the following information at a parents’ meeting or through a letter. If you hold a parents’ meeting, it’s still helpful to give parents a handout that covers the items you talk about, so they can have written information to refer to later. In your preseason meeting or letter, consider including the following items:

  • Introduction—Tell parents who you are, what your coaching background is (if you have one), and how you got involved coaching the team. Make this brief, but know that parents appreciate knowing a bit about who will be coaching their sons and daughters.

  • Your coaching philosophy—Let parents know your approach to coaching, including your philosophy in terms of providing instruction, giving all players equal playing time, and so on. Tell them, briefly, why this is your philosophy and how it benefits the kids.

  • The inherent risks—Basketball has some inherent risks you need to make parents aware of. You should also let them know you have a plan in place to respond to injuries, and find out from parents any medical conditions their children have, as well as how the parents can be contacted in case of an emergency. You’ll learn more about this in Chapter 4.

  • Basic expectations—State your expectations of players and parents in a positive fashion, and let parents know what they and their children can expect of you as a coach.

  • The practice schedule—Include the day, date, time, and place of the first practice, and note the rest of the practice schedule if you know it at this time.

  • The game schedule—If you know the game schedule, include that as well. If not, let parents know when they can expect to receive the schedule.

  • Other information—If you have some special event planned or want to invite parents to volunteer to help in various ways, inform parents in your meeting or letter.

  • Your contact information—Let parents know how and when they can contact you.

For a sample preseason letter, see Appendix A, "Sample Letter to Parents."

Preseason Call

Even with a preseason letter or meeting, it’s wise to call parents of players before the first practice to remind them of the time and place of that practice. Otherwise, you’ll likely have players who don’t show up for the first practice.

During the Season

After the season is underway, you’ll have numerous opportunities to communicate with parents: as kids are being dropped off or picked up at practice, after games, and on the phone or through email at other times of the week. Here are some pointers on doing so:

  • If you have a few minutes immediately before or after practice, that’s a good time to meet parents, get to know them a little bit, match faces with names, and enlist help if you need it. It’s also a good time to let parents know what they can do to help their child. For example, you could suggest to Ramon’s parents that if they had time, they could work with him at home on dribbling with his left hand, or you could let Tara’s parents know she could use some practice making crisper passes. Parents like to know what they can do to help their son or daughter.

  • Ask parents to let you know when their child is not going to be at a game. Also let them know they can talk with you about any concerns they have about their child.

  • Let parents know what type of communication is allowed during games. Whatever boundaries you set here, do so with the players in mind and what will help them focus on the game the most. Most coaches prefer not to have any direct parental intervention during a game, meaning shouting encouragement from the stands is fine, but going to the bench to talk to their child is not. Some coaches don’t mind parents coming by the bench and chatting briefly with the players; this is up to you. Just let parents know what your preferences are here, and ask that they respect them.

  • Likewise, let parents know what’s appropriate immediately after games. Many coaches like to spend five minutes or so talking to their players, reinforcing what went well and talking about what they still need to work on. At younger ages, post-game sometimes means snack time as well. Whatever your protocol, let parents know, and let them know if and how they can be appropriately involved.

  • Scheduling changes call for communicating with parents, too. If a game or practice is rescheduled, you can contact parents in whatever way you’ve set up: by yourself, with the aid of an assistant coach, or by phone tree. (A phone tree is a system that links all families together. For example, on a team of 10 players, you could have 2 or 3 parents—the "branches"—help you make the calls, rather than you calling all 12 families. You should have set up this tree beforehand.)

Whichever way you decide, though, make sure parents are contacted by phone when a practice or game is rescheduled. Even if parents say email is a good way to contact them, chances are that not all parents will check their email in time.

Be Understanding—and Set Boundaries

Most parents are there to cheer on their kids. Parents want to see their kids do their best, have fun, and succeed. It’s thrilling for a parent to watch her child score a basket or make a great steal. And it’s painful for a parent to watch her son dribble the ball off his foot or see her daughter miss a shot in a crucial situation. It’s likely that parents experience more emotional highs and lows watching their children play than do the players and coaches who are directly involved in the game.

You need to understand the experience from the parents’ point of view and create an environment that allows parents to be positively involved throughout the season. Indeed, you should encourage such participation. (For suggestions on how to do this, see the sidebar "Involving Parents.")

At the same time, you need to set boundaries for parents and be prepared to handle situations that can detract from the players’ experience. Some of those situations and boundaries are addressed in the "Challenging Situations" section.

  • Encourage support—Ask parents to be positive and vocal in their support of each player and to display good sporting behavior. Their main role at games is to cheer on their team.

  • Ask for help—If you don’t have an assistant coach, ask if any parent would like to volunteer. Even if you do have an assistant, having parents volunteer to help at practice can be beneficial because you can break the players into smaller units and thus give them more touches of the ball. Also, you might want to set up parents on a snack schedule, with a different parent or set of parents responsible for providing a team snack at each game. You also might set up a phone tree with parents, as mentioned earlier, so important information can be quickly passed on.

  • In addition, if you and your assistant coach don’t like to keep a scorebook, you might find that a parent wouldn’t mind that task.

  • Build camaraderie—Social gatherings are nice ways to build camaraderie among parents and team family members. Consider having a midseason potluck or pizza party to help families get to know each other better, or plan other social events that foster open communication and deepened relationships. And parents are often more than willing to step to the fore and organize such events—so let them!

Challenging Situations

You might not have any challenging situations with parents. But it’s best to be prepared for those challenges and know how to respond, just in case. Following are some of the challenges coaches can face and suggestions for how to handle them.

Parents Who Coach from the Bleachers

At some time during the season, you might experience the following:

    "Work the give and go! You need to run the give and go!" one parent yells early in the game. "Send Marcy in! She could stop that hot shot!" another yells a little later. "Get the ball in to Jason down low!" instructs a third parent.

It’s one thing to encourage players from the bleachers; it’s quite another to coach them from that vantage point. It’s not a matter of whether the instruction is good; it’s a matter of where that instruction is coming from. Coaching advice is your domain.

If you hear parents of your players coaching from the bleachers, remind your players to focus on what you say, not on what they hear elsewhere. Then, after the game, talk to the parents who were coaching from the bleachers. Tell them they need to focus their support on cheering on the team, not on telling them how to play. It’s confusing and disconcerting for players to hear instruction from the bleachers, even if it’s in line with what you’ve told them. And quite often that instruction flies in the face of what you’ve told them.

In any case, coaching from the bleachers is disruptive and inappropriate. Tell the offending parents this and request that they refrain from it in the future.

Parents Who Demand That You Coach Their Child Differently

There is also the possibility you will have parents who just don’t think you are doing a good job with their child. Take some of the following sample comments:

    "My kid should be the starting point guard in our playoff game, not Derrick. If you want to win that game, you should be starting my kid."

    "What’s the deal with giving everyone all this playing time? My kid’s the best player on the team, and he shouldn’t be sitting out at all, unless it’s a blowout."

    "Why don’t you play Tyler more than Jeremy? Tyler has a much better shot, and he’s quicker, too. Tyler should be playing a lot more, if you ask me."

Well, you didn’t ask that parent, and you didn’t ask the other parents for their "advice," either. But sometimes you get it, free of charge.

Don’t get into a long conversation with parents on how you coach their child. You don’t need to defend your right to make coaching decisions. Tell parents politely and firmly that while you appreciate their concerns, those are coaching decisions reserved for you and any assistant coaches you might have. Remind them that the decisions you make are in the best interest of all the players, including their own son or daughter. And leave it at that.

Parents Who Yell at Referees

If you’ve attended many youth basketball games, you’ve probably heard comments like the following:

    "C’mon, ref! That was a foul!"

    "Hey, ref! Want to borrow my glasses?"

    "That’s terrible! He calls the ticky-tack fouls, but not the obvious ones!"

Are parents justified in making derogatory or disparaging comments to or about referees? Absolutely not, even if the referee misses the call. Youth league referees are most often volunteers, unpaid and untrained. Yelling at the referee is poor sporting behavior, and it sends the wrong message to kids:

    If I was called for a foul, it was because the referee doesn’t know basketball. If we lost, it was because of lousy refereeing.

It tells kids it’s okay to disrespect the referee, it takes their focus off their own performances, and it implies that the game’s outcome is far more important than it really is. It also usurps part of your role, which is to calmly discuss with referees certain calls (these debates should be rare; you’ll learn more about them in "Communicating with Opponents and Referees" later in this chapter).

As noted earlier, let parents know up front what you expect of them, including their behavior at games. If they yell at the referees during games, talk with them after the game. Perhaps call them a little later in the evening, after they’ve had time to cool off. Tell them you appreciate their support but that you need them to stop berating the referees, even if they miss calls. Tell them why you feel this way (for the reasons stated in the previous paragraph), and ask that they refrain from doing so at future games.

Parents Who Yell at Their Own Kids

Parents who yell at their own kids—for missing shots, for making bad passes, for whatever reason—do a tremendous disservice to their children. The words of parents are extremely powerful, and they have the power to damage and destroy. Sadly, sports seem to be an arena in which some parents choose to harm their children’s egos. Those damaging words reverberate in the youngster’s ears long past the game and far from the court.

If a parent yells at his child during a game, counter the harmful words with your own words of encouragement and sincere praise. Just make sure the praise is truly sincere because kids can see through false praise and such praise can undermine your own credibility and their ability to believe you in this or other situations.

If you believe the situation warrants it, talk to that parent during the game or send a nonverbal message to him to cut the negative talk. Before doing this, though, consider whether you can send your message without fanning the flames on the spot. You don’t want an escalated confrontation; you want the parent to stop yelling at his kid.

If you don’t communicate with the parent on the spot, do so after the game, one on one. Tell the parent that his son needs his support and encouragement. If he can’t provide that support and encouragement, ask the parent to stop attending games.

Parents Who Yell at Other Kids

Many parents cheer on their own kids but loudly disparage other players, either on their own child’s team or on the opposing team. Take the following examples:

    "Hey, this kid can’t handle the ball! He’s going to get it stolen!"

    "Come on, you should’ve gotten that rebound!"

    "Hey, nice pass!" (A comment made with dripping sarcasm.)

Don’t tolerate this any more than you would tolerate parents verbally abusing their own child. Intervene in the same way you would with a parent yelling at her own son or daughter.

Parents Who Abuse Their Children

Children can be abused physically, emotionally, and sexually. The signs of abuse are not always readily apparent, nor are they always easily separated from the scratches and bruises that come from normal childhood activity.

The point here is not to make you paranoid and suspect abuse when you see a player with a black eye, but to keep your own eyes open and watch for additional signs. Kids who are abused tend to

  • Have a poor self-image

  • Act out in practice or at games

  • Be withdrawn, passive, or sad

  • Lash out angrily at their peers

  • Bully or intimidate weaker peers

  • Have difficulty trusting others

  • Be self-disparaging or self-destructive

Players who exhibit some or all of these signs might have been abused, or they might have experienced another child being abused. Complicating matters, these signs are also exhibited by kids who are undergoing various types of stress—for example, their parents’ recent divorce.

If you do suspect that one of your players is being abused, it’s your responsibility to contact the proper authorities—your local child protection services agency, police, hospital, or an emergency hotline. In many cases, you can do so anonymously. In any regard, if you have reason to believe abuse might be taking place, report it.

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