Every parent knows the pain of sending their child off to their very first day of school. Will he (or she) be okay? Will he be able to make friends? Will he be bullied? Will his teachers care about him? These are all valid questions, and they apply equally when your child is signing up to play little league.
1. Set Expectations
As both a baseball and soccer coach for my own children, I found that the most effective technique for building a relationship based on trust was to meet with all the parents from day one and set expectations. Now, this was recreational league rather than a travel team, but the same principles apply to both. Things that should be discussed at this meeting include, but are not limited to:
- Practices – It’s always a good thing to get this straight at the outset. A lot of parents don’t understand the importance of practices. It’s not just the one child that doesn’t show up at practice that gets hurt, it’s the entire team. If Johnny is your star shortstop and he doesn’t show up, then the whole infield suffers because he is the lynch pin of the infield. Sure, you can get someone to stand in, but it’s not the same. There are, of course, valid reasons for a child not to be there. School work always takes precedence and if there is a big test and he needs to study, it is what it is. There is also the occasional illness that can’t be avoided. In general, however, parents need to understand that a child needs to make practice a priority and it’s part of the commitment.
- Playing time – Every parent thinks their child is the next Albert Pujols or Randy Johnson – or at least many of them do. In most rec leagues, every child plays, so as long as every kid plays at least a couple of innings, as a coach you are usually okay in that regard. Every season though, there seems to be at least one parent who thinks their child should be on the field for the entire game. It’s important for the parent to know that the league does have rules about playing time that you have no control over and if you make a special exception for their child, then you’ll have to do the same for everyone else’s child.
- Respect – I can’t tell you how big an issue this is for me. As a coach, I see it as my duty not just to instill values in children that reach beyond baseball (or soccer). One thing children lack the most in today’s world, in general, is a sense of respect. That means respect for adults, respect for their teammates and respect for the other team as well. Where my team was concerned, we had a “no cursing” policy. I hear you cursing and you come out of the game until I feel you’ve learned your lesson. If a player is injured, even on the opposing team, you take a knee. I once had an assistant who insisted that the players keep standing because taking a knee was a sign of weakness. He wasn’t my assistant for long. In the end, it’s just a game, and there are more important things in life.
2. Plan Ahead and Be Preemptive
There are also things you can do as a coach to make parents’ lives easier and help build a trusting relationship. Handing out schedules for both practices and games is a good first step.
Coaches can’t forget that parents’ lives are not usually centered around their child(ren)’s participation in athletics. They have jobs and appointments of their own and having that information as far enough in advance as possible is of paramount importance.
It’s also a good idea, if the team travels at all, to print out maps to show the parents where the games are taking place. Even with handing out maps at the beginning of the season, I have had parents call me at the last minute asking for directions to the fields. It’s also a good idea to provide a phone number and email so parents can contact you if need be. I don’t get many calls, but when I do it’s usually important.
Additionally, it’s always good to call the parents if there is going to be a delay or other circumstances that crop up and you can’t be there for some reason. A couple of years ago, I had to be at the hospital because my wife suddenly got ill and I couldn’t be at practice. In situations like this, it’s always good to have another parent there or an assistant that can run the practice or game in your absence.
3. Deal with Issues Properly
Finally, and I can’t emphasize this enough, if you as a coach have an issue with a parent or parent that has an issue with a coach, do not do it out in front of the entire team. It undermines the coach’s authority and ability to effectively coach the team. Take it to the side and discuss it in private. No matter how well your season is going, conflicts are bound to arise. How you handle it will determine how effective you are as a leader. Handle it professionally, as you would any working relationship, and you will always have a better outcome than you will if you respond emotionally.
Transparency is the key. If coaches are always honest, up front, and transparent with the parents (and their children), and the parents do the same for the coaches, then building that trust between you will be a cinch.
How About You?
If you're a coach, what things do YOU like to see from parents?If you're a parent, what things do YOU like to see from coaches?We'd love to hear your opinions; leave a comment below!