Your kid is working hard but still isn’t playing much – what do you do? Of course, you can’t make the coach play your son or daughter, but are the things you can do to improve your child’s chances for more playing time? In my opinion the answer to that question is yes.
The coach as a teacher
My belief is that one of the many hats coaches wear is that of being a teacher. Granted, rarely do you see “teacher” in the formal job description for youth coaches, but this is exactly what coaches do every day when working with our kids. In fact, coaches teach countless important things to kids, including teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership, motivation, resiliency, and so many more life skills and lessons it’s impossible to count. The point here is if you’re a coach, you’re also a teacher by default. Coaches, like teachers, are expected to help kids learn, grow, and develop, making communication with parents an important part of the job.
In my experience the vast majority of youth and interscholastic coaches not only see themselves as teachers, they embrace this role with pride. Accordingly, I suggest parents approach coaches in similar ways they would approach their child’s teacher when trying to learn what needs to be done to improve conditions. This means to view the coach (teacher) as an ally (not adversary), to respectfully ask for feedback, and to show appreciation for the time given to help your child improve for the future.
Tips for approaching the coach
While coaches are assumed to be teachers, the best first step when trying to help your child is not to immediately ask to meet with the coach, but to watch your child and how he or she interacts and plays with the team. Have you attended any practices? Are there noticeable reasons why your child isn’t playing as much as you would like? Are there any off-field reasons playing in to the coach’s decision, like grades, missed practices, or other social issues? If your child is still recovering from an injury, could that be the reason she is sitting on the bench? Parents should consider holding off on setting up a meeting with the coach until all obvious rule-outs have been examined and dismissed.
If you still confused after paying close attention to your child with the team, then it may be time to politely ask for a meeting. Below are a few tips, ideas, and suggestions to help you get the most from your meeting with the coach:
- Be polite. Remember, even though the coach is a teacher, most coaches are just as busy as you and may find it difficult to find an immediate time to meet. Additionally, coaches know that the #1 reason a parent asks to meet is about playing time, and often these meetings start with a disgruntled parent visibly frustrated, often calling “politics” rather than trying to understand the coach’s decision. It’s best to be polite and respectful, and ask if there is a convenient time for the coach to meet for a brief meeting — in most cases this approach sets the table for a productive eventual meeting.
- Listen first, ask questions second. When you meet with the coach, first try and provide him or her with the opportunity to provide any feedback about your child that will help you in turn help your child. When the coach talks, pay attention, don’t interrupt, and clarify any advice that might be confusing.
- Have specific questions. Try to ask questions that are specific rather than vague whenever possible. For example, the coach will likely have a much more difficult time answering a broad question like “What’s my kid got to do in order to play?” versus a specific question like “You have mentioned the importance of conditioning, do you have specific advice for how my child can improve in this area?”
- Leave out the other kids. While it may be tempting to point out to the coach how your child is better than another kid the coach is playing more, I would recommend you not take that approach. Remember, you want to view the coach as an ally, and immediately accusing him of wrongly playing another kid over yours will only put him on the defense. Again, ask about how your child can improve, and what things your child needs to do in order to gain more playing time.
- Say thank you. Finding extra time to meet isn’t always easy, for you or the coach. It’s also challenging, if not impossible, to make everyone on the team happy all of time — especially for kids/families who rarely experience meaningful playing time. In some ways coaching can be a thankless job — some good coaches go unrecognized, but many are noticed when their player selections don’t measure up. Be genuine and simply say “thanks” for the invaluable feedback you receive!
- Use the feedback for future goals. Think of the information you receive form the coach as the Holy Grail and develop new, specific, measurable goals your child can set for the future.
Coaches are busy people, but they also care about the kids they coach and want them to succeed. Most coaches will make a few minutes to meet with concerned parents, but these meetings should only be requested after parents have done their own observing of the situation to see if there are obvious reasons why their child isn’t playing much. If you are granted a meeting with your child’s coach, try to understand the coach and his position, keeping in mind that with human, subjective decisions some kids will end up not playing as much as others. Be patient, listen closely, and employ the advice you receive from the coach — and don’t forget to say ‘thank you.’
What have your experiences been when it comes to communicating with the coach? If you are a coach, what additional advice do you have for parents to ensure a positive, successful meeting?