Sports Parenting 101: How to Handle Problems with the Coach

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It is not uncommon for sports parents to become frustrated with their child’s coach, especially when their child is not seeing much playing time (coincidentally, this is the #1 reason why parents contact coaches).  In other instances playing time is not the issue, but instead how the child is being used on the field (i.e. his or her position) is called into question.  Regardless of the disconnect, parents do sometimes become disenfranchised with the coach, prompting the question of how to successfully resolve these issues and conflicts?

Kids should start first

The best way to remedy problems with the coach should almost always begin with your son or daughter first trying to resolve it independent of parent involvement.  For example, if the issue is with playing time, a kid can ask to speak to the coach and attempt to both better understand the coach’s decision, as well as make a case why he or she should be given another look.  Most times the coach will grant a meeting if the request is a genuine attempt to better understand the situation.

If, however, the child-coach meeting goes poorly (or the kid is turned down for a meeting altogether), parents can then decide if the problem is big enough that they need to step in and request a meeting themselves.  Assuming the meeting is granted (and in most cases it should be – more on that later), below are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Keep a positive attitude.  First, go into the meeting with a good attitude and don’t immediately assume “politics” are at the heart of the coach’s decision.  Remember, coaches want to win, and in most cases the reason why your child isn’t playing likely has more to do with talent, not because of personal reasons.
  • Listen closely.  While it is understandable that emotions are high and that you’ll likely want to voice your thoughts at the first opportunity with the coach, the better move is to listen to what the coach has to say, including his reasons for not playing your child.  In fact, you might want to go in to the meeting with a notepad and jot down important information that the coach provides.
  • Ask questions.  Try to develop specific questions (i.e. “Are there specific skills my son can learn to better increase his chances for playing time?”) rather than broad, general questions (i.e. “Why are other kids getting more playing time than my child?”).
  • Stick to talking about your kid.  While it would be easy to point toward another kid on the team who seemingly doesn’t deserve to play over your child, it’s best not to go there.  Instead, keep the dialogue about your child and her efforts, attitude, skills, and other aspects about her that are pertinent to playing time.
  • Try to be understanding.  Keep in mind coach decisions are almost always subjective decisions, meaning it’s not always an exact science and human error does sometimes occur.  When you consider that most youth and interscholastic coaches are either volunteer or paid very little for their efforts, it’s not hard to see hat they might not be as good with their player decisions as college and pro coaches (who also make mistakes, coincidentally).
  • Say thanks.  After the meeting be sure to genuinely thank the coach for his or her time.

While the vast majority of coaches do grant meeting times, there are some coaches who have a strict policy of not talking to parents.  This is unfortunate, especially when you think about how coaching is really teaching, and teachers regularly make themselves available to talk to parents about child progress.  If your child has been rejected, and your attempt has also been turned down, only then should you consider escalating the problem to an Athletic Director or league operator (if you feel the issue warrants it).

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