Engaging Parents in Sport Programs
Diana S. Cutaia, Adjunct Faculty, Northeastern University
The score is tied and there is only 15 seconds on the clock. You put in one of your better shooters and set up a play to get them the ball. As the clock ticks down it looks like everything is going to plan, until a bad decision causes a turnover and in an instant the game is lost. Within seconds of the final buzzer one of the parents is chewing off your ear, telling you that one of the other players should have been in the game and that you should have run a different play, even going so far as to tell you how your defensive set was all wrong from the start of the game.
Many sport-based programs struggle with the fine balance between encouraging parental involvement, and having parents become overly involved in coaching decisions. This delicate dance is one that coaches and administrators know all too well but there are some strategies that programs can employ so that they can create more positive and effective relationships with parents.
We know that it is important for youth development that coaches in your program have a solid connection with the home as well as the school. This connection will ensure that everyone is working together for the best interests of the child. Below are four simple steps that programs can take to help facilitate this relationship.
1. Set clear expectations before the season begins.
The most effective way to do this is to have a pre-season meeting. This may become more difficult in certain communities because parents work, have younger children at home or have transportation issues – so think creatively on the timing of the meeting and if you can plan it in conjunction with the school or another organization that may be having a required or well attended event.
In this meeting coaches should review their expectations for the season and also discuss philosophy. They should encourage parents to ask questions and even present scenarios to them. Its important that coaches define the types of behavior they want to see from parents and that which they do no want to see.
Give them guidelines on how you would like them to support their child as athletes. Examples could include encouraging their child to take responsibility, display sportsmanship, be on time, put in maximum effort, and respect their peers and coaching or officiating adults. Finally, allow them some input on the frequency and type of communication that they receive from the program (i.e do they prefer phone calls or emails, do they need their children to translate, what information do they need each week?)
2. Give parents defined roles
Its valuable to have parents actively engaged with the program and there are several ways for them to do this. You can designate them to have different responsibilities within the program such as bringing snacks, communicating with other parents when there are schedule changes, or helping to create events for the youth outside of the practices to build community on the team.
3. Stay connected to the parents throughout the season
When possible, reach out to parents to let them know how their child is doing; be sure to include all the positives in addition to any concerns that you may have. Demonstrate to them that you care about their child as a whole, not just their skills on the field. This will help you develop a key component to good relationships: trust.
Some ways to do this more intentionally are:
- Set up “office hours” whereby you make yourself available before or after a designated practice so parents to connect with you.
- Send out a weekly newsletter letting parents know how the team is doing and what your points of emphasis are for the week. For example, if you are encouraging your students to be more responsible, encourage parents to reinforce that skill at home with some specific suggestions.
4. Always listen
If a parent calls you to voice a concern they have its important then that you take the time to listen to that concern. While you may not agree with the concern its important that parents know you will make the time and hear any issues those times. Also, try to encourage parents, if they have the resource, to email you with any issues they may have and set a policy that you will try to respond to them within 24 hours or more immediately if the situation warrants. (Note about email: Its hard to set email as the preferred communication as some families may not have access to it consistently within their home. This is something that you can review in your initial pre-season meeting to determine if it will be an effective form of communication)
Take the time to build positive relationships with parents as this will be helpful when you experience times of conflict or need their support. There is also a valuable lesson to be had by young people when they see how caring adults can interact respectfully and positively. They are always watching and many of the lessons that they learn are the ones you didn’t even realize you were teaching; the ones they see.