“Hey coach, ummm…you got a text.”
One of my players was injured and to keep him engaged during games I asked him to run stats for us. It was a simple app on my phone that required thumb taps to count passes. It did the trick, but it also meant he was looking at my phone when the text popped up on-screen. He awkwardly handed the phone and gave a sheepish smile.
I immediately realized the reason for his strange reaction. The text read:
“Really, coach. Only 10 minutes playing time??”
It was halftime, and the players were jogging off the field as I read the text. Anger rose up in me and my face flushed. My initial reaction was to march across the field and tell that parent to pack up and leave for the second half. My second reaction was to not play his kid at all in the second half. Thankfully, my third choice won the day: take a deep breath, ignore the text, and focus on why we are all here, the kids.
They were 11 years-old. We were not playing for a world championship, nor were there college scouts stalking the sideline. It was another weekend tournament game of the hundreds of games we had played that year (that is too many games, but I digress).
The subject of the text had gotten 10 minutes of playing time in a half that was 30 minutes long (shortened for tournament play). He did not get more because he asked to rest when it was his turn to go back into the game. He said his legs were tired (do you blame him? It was their 4th game this weekend and they played 3 league games the week prior).
I was navigating the difficult duty of playing time, player health, and parent expectations. The text was utterly inappropriate and out of line. I could have made this between us adults and cause a big blow up over it. Instead, it had been a long season, and I decided to treat the parent like I would one of my kindergarten students, I was not going to engage in the bad behavior. I was not going to reward it or punish it. I was just going to move on.
Was it the right decision? I don’t know, but in the throes of a typically long and arduous youth sport season, it was all I had in me.
Listen, parents, I get it. You care about your kid so much you’d do anything. I also understand you pay a lot of money for their sports, and you sacrifice a lot of time. What you need to understand is very few coaches wake up in the morning asking themselves which kid they could destroy or which parent they could mess with today. They don’t. They make mistakes, they have their own judgement calls, and they balance a bench full of tenuous mindsets and a sideline full of bloated expectations each and every game.
You have to know they are doing what they do for the sake of the kids and they will do their very best to honor every kid on the team. This said, you do have a right to talk to coach, but I would warn you a text message at half time is not the most effective way to do it.
So what are the Dos and Don’ts of talking to your kid’s coach?
- Ask about communication expectations at the beginning of the season. (And follow them) – Most coaches have preseason meetings to set the tone, expectations, and standards. In that meeting, if coach does not do it, request a set of expectations regarding how parents and coach are to communicate.
- Choose the right time and place to do it – if there were no standards set at the preseason meeting, pick a good time. Right after a game, when you see coach at dinner with his family, or an email sent at 2 am may not be the best ways to do it.
- Have the talk in person – the above rule brings about this rule. This kind of communication needs to be in person. It is too easy to dehumanize the other and write nasty things about them if you are not looking them in the eyes. Would you have this discussion with colleagues over text or email or in person?
- Remain calm, professional, and collaborative – Coach will feed off your energy and vice versa. If you can approach it professionally and calmly, both parties can have a more productive conversation. I recently got into an argument with a neighbor regarding something he and his spouse did to my son. My anger had the best of me at first (and rightfully so). We both escalated quickly. Finally, we took a step back and took a deep breath. We agreed to talk calmly and the conversation was able to end without someone doing something he would later regret.
- Discuss only facts that directly affect your kid and help with solutions to the problem – Do not use conjecture or put words or thoughts on coach. Only discuss what you actually know as facts and be willing to offer solutions or help with solutions. My son’s teacher was piling homework on him so heavily he was doing about an hour to 2 hours a night on one subject. My wife, instead of simply blasting the teacher, asked if there was another time we could have him do this “extra” work. The solution was in the morning before school started. We drop him off a few minutes earlier, and both teacher and parents are working together on it.
- Respect Coach’s time, energy, and family – They are human. Respect how much they put into the role and that they, too, have a family.
- Go into it knowing exactly what your kid wants and getting honest information – I’ve seen too many parents run into an argument with a coach without talking to their kid first. In fact, if the parent who texted me had checked with the kid first, the text would have never happened. Ask your kid how she feels about the situation and if what she wants as a result. Then stand your ground for her needs, not yours.
- Stick to the things that can be controlled – You cannot control other kids, their parents, or coach’s strategic decisions. You can control things like getting your kid to practice on time, teaching her positive values, or modeling good behavior for him. So focus on what you and your kid can control.
- Keep the focus on the most important person in the equation, but don’t forget there are all those teammates – This is about your kid. Not about a Facebook Brag, or living vicariously through him, or a judgement on your parenting. Keep it about your kid and remember coach has a team full of other parents and kids to balance as well, so be realistic.
- Ambush Coach – No one likes being jumped by someone regarding a sensitive topic. Set up a meeting like you would in business and be clear on the purpose of the meeting ahead of time.
- Come from a place of emotion – Facts. Stick to them. Leave the emotion on the sideline for this one.
- Go over Coach’s head until you have at least tried working with coach first – I hear Directors complain about this all the time, and most good ones will send you right back to coach first. The fastest way to make it personal and escalate it (besides emotionally ambushing coach) is to go over her head. Go to the source first.
- Question tactical coaching decisions – Coach does not come to your place of business and question you, don’t do it in her place of business. This is about controllables and your kid and not about how coach does her job.
- Don’t make it personal between the adults – It is about the kids. Don’t make it about us adults. Ever.
- Compare your kid with, or talk about other players – This yields no fruit and will only cause ill will. If someone else finds out you talked about their kid, now you have hurt kids and hurt parents and the entire culture will erode. Talk only about your child.
- Forget to ask if your kid wants you to do this or if your kid could do this instead of you – Maybe this is an opportunity to learn a valuable life skill. Ask your kid to have the talk (unless you will have every hard conversation with all her/his bosses some day too). Coaches respect the parents and the players when the player is the one having the talk.
- Ever yield on safety. If your child’s safety is called into question (whether it be returning to play too soon, being taught methods that could hurt her, or verbal abuse) walk away. It’s just a sport. Do not sacrifice the future for a game. Move on, and report coach to the club or governing body.