Dealing With the Head Coach
Come Ready Or Never Start
The Relationship with the Head Coach
Obviously, one of the most crucial roles in organized youth sports is the head coach. This is also probably one of the most sensitive subjects for a number of reasons. These coaches are not professionals, but volunteers. They have different levels of understanding of the sport. They have different motivations for volunteering. They have different skill sets in dealing with young people. They have different temperaments. All can make for a challenging relationship with their players and the parents. The Come Ready or Never Start philosophy does address some basic elements of how both kids and their parents should interact with coaches.
In the beginning years and formative experience in organized sports (1st – 4th grades), it’s all about setting expectations and communicating ground rules before the season starts. Parents must communicate with the coach to make sure they thoroughly understand the ground rules of the league and the overall league philosophy. They then must communicate those to their children and constantly reinforce them during the season.
In addition, parents need to sit down with their children to set expectations for their interactions with their coaches. Some of those expectations are as follows:
- Kids should behave during practices and games as if they are with mom or dad.
- Kids should listen and show respect for the coach.
- The kids need to be told that the Head Coach is boss. Explain to them the dictator mentality that he or she will probably have. They should not be constantly questioning the coach. He or she is the head coach, so what they say, goes. Make it a real simple, black and white concept for them.
- Treat the coach like they would treat a teacher in school. Like a teacher in school the coach is trying to create a learning environment that will help youngsters improve their skills. Like the teacher, the coach is helping the child get better.
Invariably, some parents have ‘issues’ with the coaches. I won’t go into the multitude of factors that may go into these ‘issues’ but I do have recommendations on how they should be discussed. Meetings with a coach should be:
- One on one
- In private
- With no kids around
Don’t embarrass your child by confronting a coach in public. And don’t belittle a coach in front of a child.
Obviously, youth coaches are not perfect citizens. There will be times when a coach’s behavior will be atrocious. That’s when you have to explain to your child that:
- Coaches are not perfect
- Coaches can let their emotions get to them
- If they are belittled by a coach, that’s wrong—but sometimes life can be difficult and you’ll be hurt by someone’s words
- You should give the coach another chance
Of course, you also have the option to speak with the coach privately.
If your child doesn’t like the coach, you’ll have to explain to him or her that it’s just like in school—they won’t like every teacher but they still have to act right in the classroom and give it their best effort.
As young athletes get older and enter the world of competitive scholastic sports, parents need to realize that the competitive situation will be much more serious and coaches will have higher expectations for their children. Coaches will expect more intensity. Coaches will give more feedback to the child—both positive and negative. Kids will be critiqued more thoroughly and probably harsher than before. (After all, playing scholastic sports is like an Honors Class.) Kids will be pushed by the coach to do more. Parents need to set these expectation for their youngsters.
Children may be dealing with significant coaching criticism for the first time. Parents need to tell the children that if the coach is getting on them, that means the coach feels he or she has ability. That’s why they were picked. Parents also need to caution their children to expect bigger mood swings from coaches based on team success or failure.
The biggest issue that comes up in interscholastic athletics is playing time. This is when conflict is most likely to arise between parent and coach. The best strategy for both parents and their children to follow if they are not satisfied with their playing time, is to go directly to the head coach and ask him what the youngster needs to improve to earn more playing time. Then the child has to be motivated to work on this improvement. When the improvement has been measureable, go back to the coach and hold him or her accountable to what they said before. The coach told the child what to improve; the child has made that improvement; now the coach should at least give the child an opportunity to earn more playing time. It is preferable that the youngster be the primary contact with the coach during this process, not the parents.
Parents need to realize that they need to become less and less involved with the coach as their child gets older. Involvement is certain preferable at the booster club level, but that involvement should not extend to issues of coaching strategy or playing time. Coaches need autonomy and flexibility to run their programs as they see fit, as long is it falls within the school’s guidelines.