Coach-parent relationships hinge on communication, empathy
Monday, March 12, 2018
Clashes between parents and their children’s coaches might be publicized or dramatic, but they’re not the norm. The two sides have found ways to work together to benefit the athletes and the sports programs.
For parents, the bottom line should be support. Coaches can help in that regard by being clear about ways parents can provide that.
The previous article in this series detailed some ways that conflicts between parents and coaches can escalate and damage the relationship, and weigh heavily on the student-athletes.
All of the people involved in a child’s athletic career want to provide support, but they can differ on how they define that. Some parents might consider yelling at a game official or coach as supporting their offspring. Others provide it by shuttling players to road games, or compiling calendars for other parents.
Katy Hevelhurst, a parent of three athletes in Michigan, has a simple approach to being a supportive sports parent.
"Sit back and watch the game. That's all there is to it," said Hevelhurst, whose two daughters and a son competed in a variety of sports through their school years. "Last thing I would say to Harry when I dropped him off before an event was, ‘Have fun!’ And then after the game, we listened."
Matt Harbin, the head baseball coach at Little Elm High School near Dallas, understands the value of parents who realize the efforts required to put a team on the field.
"Parents can be a great resource to help with fundraising, work days, team building or servant leadership opportunities and their child’s attainment," he said. "They can be a great support system to help with your program."
Communication is crucial to developing that kind of relationship between coaches and parents. Some of the avenues through which coaches can help build that include:
- Preseason and in-season meetings.
- Communicating expectations clearly. This includes informing parents what coaches expect from the team members as well as the parents.
- Considering all perspectives, helping to develop empathy.
- Educating parents about the program and the role they can play in its success.
From the parents’ side, these tips can help:
- Sit down and enjoy the game, and appreciate your child’s effort.
- Ease the coach’s workload instead of adding to it. However, check with the coaching staff to be sure of what kind of assistance they’re looking for from parents.
- Let the coach and athlete communicate without helicoptering.
- As above, consider all perspectives, helping to develop empathy.
High school athletics provide a great opportunity for students to learn and apply skills that will help them throughout life. If there’s a concern about playing time, recruiting, schoolwork or other matters, the children are at a point in their maturity to approach the coaching staff to figure out a solution together. Problem-solving and collaborating are skill sets that pay off beyond athletics.
Scott Hevelhurst, Katy’s husband, emphasizes that point.
"Try to put yourself in their shoes, sometimes remaining silent is the best," he said. "Always think of your child first and let them work it out with the coach, don't enable them to become too dependent on you to always help."
For Jeff Sherman, a baseball coach at Marcus High School, in Flower Mound, Texas, communication is a critical tool. He meets with all parents before each season and regularly emails parents and meets with them throughout the season. He also explains the plans for the year ahead in detail, from tryouts to road trips.
"You have to create a culture and have parents understand that culture," he said. "Every booster club meeting is about that."
A strong relationship between coaches and parents can be an asset to a sports program. Getting to that point is sometime the tough part, but it’s an attainable goal with effort from both sides.
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