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Approach the Coach

Photo by Mark Selders

If you’re the parent of a young athlete, you’ve no doubt felt the need to approach the coach at one point or another. Whether your child is just starting out in sports or is a seasoned athlete, there’s likely been a time when you’ve had to discuss one of the many issues that arise both on and off the field. If you’re like most parents, approaching the coach can cause some degree of unease and even a bit of confusion. That’s because it touches on a sensitive issue in parenting: Just how involved should you be?

Will the coach think you’re one of those crazy, overly invested parents living vicariously through their child’s athletic pursuits? Will you embarrass your child? Luckily, there are some strategies you can employ to avoid disaster when approaching the coach.

Let Your Child Speak for Himself

If you’re thinking about approaching the coach with a pressing issue, think before you act. Depending on your child’s age and maturity level, you may or may not want to speak to the coach before your child has a chance to. As a general rule though, it’s best that older kids make the first move.

There are several reasons that this is a good approach. Kids playing junior high and high school sports will often know more about team dynamics than their parents. From a practical standpoint, your child may be his own best advocate. Then there’s the social issues that arise when a parent oversteps. Many teens become embarrassed when their parents get involved with their extracurricular activities, and their teammates may give them a hard time as well.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can’t advise your child as to how best to approach the coach.

Even if you’re not sport-oriented yourself, as a parent, you’ll likely how to advise your young athlete since you know your kid’s mannerisms and tendencies the best. If your child has a bad temper, for instance, you’ll want to make sure he keeps it in check when talking with his coach. If your kid is shy and tends to look down at the floor when talking to an authority figure on the other hand, you may need to nudge her a little and discuss the importance of being polite, yet assertive.

If your child has attempted to approach the coach more than once with little or no success, you may have no other choice than to engage, assuming the issue is an important one. In this case, you can approach the coach in person, via email, or by telephone. If the coach has previously expressed his preference as to how best to contact him, try to respect his wishes as best you can.

Follow the 24-Hour Rule

Have you ever become annoyed or even angered by the coach in the middle of your child’s game? Your first instinct is to run over and give the guy a piece of your mind, right? Most of us have the self-restraint to wait until the end of the game to speak our minds, but even this approach may not be the best idea. In most cases, and unless it’s a safety issue, it’s best to wait at least 24 hours before approaching the coach. Why? Because this cooling off period allows both parties to blow off steam and get some perspective on the issue before making their case. Most importantly, it will prevent those nasty (and embarrassing!) sideline squabbles we’ve all been an audience to. It may seem like an eternity to hold off, but if you can manage, you’ll likely have a much more reasonable and productive conversation as a result.

Plan for Success

Just as your child prepares for an upcoming game, it’s important that you prepare for any interaction with the coach, whether it be in person, on the phone, or by email. A football team doesn’t get on the field without a strategy after all; don’t make the mistake of engaging the coach without a plan! Here are some tips:

Practice politeness.

As parents, it can be hard to play nice when our children are involved, but in most cases, it’s the best possible approach. No matter how angry or frustrated you are inside, it’s your job to approach the coach with your manners in tow. Resist the urge to tear into him, and instead, take the time to calmly thank the coach for speaking with you and coolly explain your concerns.

Then, allow the coach to address these concerns without interruption. You’re much more likely to get a positive outcome if you’re courteous. After all, why would a coach want to cooperate with you if he feels like he’s under attack?

Listen with an open mind.

Most parents go into an interaction with a coach with the expectation that he or she will be open-minded towards their perspective, but many forget that this is a two-way street.

Remember, the coach will have a perspective too, and it may not align with yours. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value, however. The hard truth is that sometimes, other adults in your child’s life such as teachers and coaches have a more objective perspective on your child’s strengths and weaknesses than you do. We parents can be biased after all! Listen to what the coach says and resist the urge to immediately jump to your kid’s defense. Instead, be open to the information and consider that the coach may actually have a point.

Give the coach a break.

Many parents forget that many coaches are volunteers. They aren’t getting paid to do with they do, and some may have little or no experience or training. This is a common scenario in youth sports and one that needs to be remembered when approaching the coach. He may just be doing the best he can and learning as he goes.

The Hard-to-Approach Coach

Parents today are becoming much more involved in their children’s athletic pursuits, and most coaches are open to discussing a kid’s performance with mom and dad. Not all coaches are alike, however. What can a parent do if a coach doesn’t want to meet up?

If you’ve truly given it your best effort to get in touch with the coach and haven’t gotten a response, the next step is to approach the program director. Be sure to do so in a way that doesn’t provoke conflict, though. Simply explain that you’d like to speak to the coach but are having trouble opening the lines of communication and ask for advice as to how to facilitate the discussion. You certainly don’t want to use this communication as an opportunity to “tell on” the coach or badmouth him.

Make It a Learning Experience

Whether or not your conversation with the coach goes as you hoped it might, it’s important to use it as a learning experience for your child. This can be particularly important if the child doesn’t get what he or she wants out of the negotiation such as more playing time for instance. Emphasize to your son or daughter that ultimately, it’s the athlete’s responsibility to make the most out of the season. Whether it’s starting every game or learning plays from the bench, for example, there’s always something positive to focus on. Take this opportunity to discuss the things about the sport that your child enjoys and re-evaluate his or her athletic goals. Chances are, there are steps he or she can take to improve overall performance and enjoyment of the game without the coach’s involvement.