Developing Effective Parent-Coach Relationships

By Matt Monroe

Every coach has gone through it. There is a disgruntled father in the stands or you receive an e-mail laced with complaints from a concerned mother. It only takes one or two parents thinking about your program in a negative light and that sentiment can spread like wildfire. Fractured parent-coach relationships can undermine what you’re trying to accomplish with your team and will almost always lead to eventual conflict.

Positive parent-coach relationships not only create a more harmonious environment for your program, they also can greatly aid in the overall development of each individual player and your team as a whole. This is why fostering effective parent-coach relationships is essential to building any program or running any team, regardless of the sport or level of play.

Here are some keys to developing effective parent-coach relationships:

1. You must have a parent-coach communication plan in place.
It is important to have a plan in place to prepare for the most common parent-coach issues that you will face throughout the course of a season. Some of the possible conflicts you may face include, but are not limited to: scheduling, playing time, injuries, the level of your team’s success, your style of play, player roles, differing opinions on coaching strategy, fan behavior in the stands, and more. You need to decide with your staff what the best way is to handle each of the aforementioned challenges.

You must develop expectations and guidelines that will drive your parent-coach communication plan. Establishing boundaries between parents and coaches is also an essential component.

2. Communicate your plan to parents, players, and coaches.
After you have developed a plan, make sure you communicate it with everyone in your program. Hold a parent meeting to present your guidelines and expectations, and discuss any questions that they may have. Set clear expectations at the beginning of the season and constantly reinforce your plan as it progresses.

3. Building a solid level of trust is important.
It is to your benefit as a coach to make a concerted effort to build a high level of trust between yourself and parents in your program. Your players’ parents need to know that you always have the best interests of their children in mind. There are many ways in which you can help foster this trust. Be fair with everyone on your team (though being fair doesn’t always mean being equal), state and reinforce what your intentions are as a coach, show parents and athletes on a consistent basis that you genuinely care about their well-being and development, and become invested in their success on and off the court.

Although you’ll never get parents to agree completely with every single decision you make, established trust will make it clear to them that will you always do your best to help their child.

4. Give parents ownership in your program. 
Just as players need to feel like they have a lot of stake in the success of your team, parents need to feel the same way. Give them ownership. If your players’ parents feel like they too are invested in the overall success of your team and program, they will be more committed to helping out and ensuring that things go smoothly on the other side of the court. They need to feel like they are a part of the overall operation of your program. Obviously, if parents feel like they have too much ownership it can backfire as they may attempt to exert too much influence in the day-to-day operations of your program. The level of involvement that you want them to have needs to be made clear and constantly reinforced. The best way to get them involved while maintaining proper boundaries is to give them several non-basketball activities to organize or run.

Here are some examples:
• Organize team dinners
• Help run the concession stand at games
• Assist with fundraising activities
• Aid in organizing parts of team trips (hotel, airfare, non-basketball activities)

5. Be clear and concise when you engage in parent-coach communication.
Make sure that you’re clear and concise when communicating with parents. When possible, think through what you’re going to say and what you want to accomplish before speaking with them. You don’t want them to misconstrue what your message is and what your true intentions are. When you are clear and concise there is little room for misinterpretation. Also, keep a log of all of the times you communicate with each parent in your program and take notes of what was spoken about. This way you have a reference point to return to at a later date if needed.

6. Make sure you create an environment in which parents feel that you are approachable.
Make sure parents know that while there is certain protocol in place when contacting a coach, there is an open-door policy in regards to parent-coach communication in your program. Parents need to feel that you’re approachable and willing to address their legitimate concerns.

7. Take a solution-based approach when confronted with any issue. 
Instead of dwelling on the problem, turn your attention to finding a solution. You could spend hours discussing the minute details of every conflict that you’re confronted with, but you wouldn’t accomplish very much taking that approach. What has happened is in the past and as soon as you move toward finding a solution in the present both parties will begin to feel a sense of relief.

8. Remember, the perspective of parents may often differ from the coach’s. 
It is important to understand that your athletes’ parents are always going to have only their child’s best interests in mind, while you’ll always have the best interests of each individual and the team as your primary focus. Although these two perspectives may match up at times, they will often come in conflict with each other. When conflicts such as these do arise, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the parents are wrong. It is important to communicate this difference in perspective and reach a common understanding that for the sake of the team’s success, compromises may have to be made.

Even with an effective parent-coach communication plan in place, not everything will go smoothly for you. No matter how well you handle each situation that emerges with the parents in your program, there will always be personality conflicts and misunderstandings. When they arise, you must stay calm and professional. Don’t take it personally. You need to remember that the majority of parents don’t have malicious intent; they are simply trying to protect their child to the best of their ability. How you handle these situations determines the overall success of your program and the development of each individual player on your team.

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Matt Monroe

Head Boys' Basketball Coach at Saint Ignatius College Prep
Matt Monroe is currently the Head Boys' Basketball Coach at Saint Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, IL.