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Coachspeak: How to Communicate Effectively with Your Child's Coach

By Ali Holman,, 01/16/18, 2:15PM CST


Parents should be willing to be part of the solution

Parents are involved now more than ever. They attend practices, they coordinate their kids' schedules, they compete for spots on top teams and, in essence, act as their child's sports agent in many cases.

Navigating youth sports can be a quick learning curve.

Back in the day, parents would have their kids ride their bikes to practice, there typically was only one organization in your area that you naturally would play for, somebody's dad who had some extra time would volunteer to coach and the overall level of commitment and competitiveness pales in comparison to youth sports today.

Fast forward to today and parents are involved now more than ever. They attend practices, they coordinate their kids' schedules, they compete for spots on top teams and, in essence, act as their child's sports agent in many cases.

With this extra involvement also naturally comes parents wanting to have more input on their child's playing time, which position they should play and what strategies the coach is executing for their team.

Keep in mind that in most cases, no one is coaching for the money. Below the high school level, coaches are volunteering their time free of charge. Between practices, meetings, paperwork, tournaments -- the average coach spends 18-20 hours per week volunteering his or her time.

At the high school level, the weekly hour commitment at least doubles. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salaries of high school coaches are around $14,000 to $23,000 per year. When calculated to per-hour pay it is apparent that a sincere passion for the sport and the desire to give back seem to be the top reasons why someone chooses to coach.

One of the unwritten coaching responsibilities is communicating with players’ parents to ensure each child has a successful season. One youth coach told me, "I stepped up because no one else wanted to coach the team. Dealing with parent's complaints about how much their kid plays and the plays I run for our team is a consistent theme of this season. It is frustrating because everyone is a critic, but they don't want to contribute when it comes to youth sports."

So if you are unhappy with your child's coach or how his or her season is going, how can you effectively communicate with the coach to come to an understanding?

1. Understand that the coach is trying to create a team environment and everyone will contribute, including your child.  Regardless of the issue, your goal should be to work WITH the coach to reach a resolution that is best for everyone. Keep that in mind with the tone of your conversation -- keep it positive and productive.

2. Don't talk about issues with your child's coach directly after a game. Emotions often run high after games, especially when a team loses. This is not a good time to approach a coach with complaints about playing time or suggestions about game strategy. Instead, wait a day to bring your concerns to the coach.  Check your emotions. You might find that what was so important at the time is not worth pursuing at the moment.

If, after a cool-down period, you still feel the need to approach the coach, contact him or her and schedule a time to meet. Make sure the meeting provides enough privacy so everyone can talk freely.

3. You might not get the answer you want. Sometimes, the coach’s decision won’t be what you want. Instead of having this be a season-ruiner, look at is as a perfect opportunity to teach your child that you sometimes have to accept an authority figure’s final word, even if you disagree with it.

Here is advice straight from the coach's mouth:

Crystal Flint, Head Coach, Minneapolis North Girls' Basketball

Coach Flint stresses, first and foremost, parents and coaches may not always see eye-to-eye but should always have a united front regarding what is best for a child.

Before you go complain/talk to your child's coach, here is what she suggests:

1. Go and observe your child in practice.

2. Watch your child's body language, bench behavior and overall execution in games.  

3. Look at your child's stats (shooting percentage, assist to turnover ratio, etc). A player’s efficiency typically keeps them on the floor.

4. After doing these things … talk to your child (be honest with him/her on what you see). Chances are your child knows why he or she isn’t playing. Chances are the Coach has told your child during practices or in games.

5. Encourage your child to talk to his/her coach first before intervening.

6. Never approach a coach with an issue directly after a game or just show up at practice. When you meet with Coach, make sure your child is present and ONLY talk about your child.

Lambert Brown, Head Coach, Wayzata Varsity Football

Brown coaches varsity football at one of the most competitive high schools in the state of Minnesota, with over 3,500 students.  Before being named Wayzata's head coach, Brown held head coaching positions in the Twin Cities area at Fridley High School and Chaska High School.   

Coach Brown acknowledges that we are all emotional when it comes to our kids.

"That is a natural instinct and what allows us to be engaged parents,” Brown says. “However, productive decisions are rarely made off pure emotion. Assume the coach has your child's best interest in mind and is there for the right reasons. This helps frame the conversation and keep it productive. Additionally, the vast majority of coaches do not give of their time without good intentions.”

He suggests you are purposeful in being solution-focused. Be willing to be a part of the solution. It is easy to identify issues, and the coach may be aware and working for a resolution.  

Like many coaches echo, Coach Brown suggests avoiding conversation directly after a heated competition. He suggests sending and email requesting time to talk before or after practice along with details about what the conversation will entail. This will give both parties time to reflect on the issues and lead to a more productive conversation.

"Be prepared to share your viewpoint and facts,” Brown says. “Be prepared to hear things about your child that you may not want to hear. Effective communication requires truth from all parties. Expect truth from your coach and be prepared to share your truth as well."  

Coach Brown also gives a reminder that seems obvious but in youth sports, can surprisingly get lost.

"It's about the kids,” he says. “Do not forget why everyone is together. It's about the kids. As parents, we had our chance to compete athletically, and now the focus should be on your child's journey, wherever that may lead. Regardless of the outcome, tell your child how much you love to watch them play. Let your child know that you support them. Try to avoid sharing your opinion. Instead listen to your child and allow them the opportunity to share their feelings.”

Barb Metcalf, Head Coach, Park Center Girls Varsity Basketball

As a coach for over 20 years, but new this year to the Park Center program, Coach Metcalf knows a lot about establishing communication with kids and parents out of the gate.

"No matter the communication with kids and parents - as a coach if you carry more than 10 players you will never make everyone happy", Metcalf says.

Her goal is to be honest with kids and parents about the player's  skill level and areas of development. The most pervasive issue with parents and coaches typically revolves around playing time, according to Metcalf. To combat this, she conducts a coaches conference with her players three times throughout the season to improve communication and expectations.

About Ali Holman

Ali Holman is a National On-Air Fitness & Health Expert. She and her husband also train people all over the world through their Online Personal Training website/videos at - one of the longest-running and most successful Online Workout programs that caters to all levels and offers 20 Minute Daily Online Workouts for busy people wanting to fit fitness into their lives. Ali is also the author of the best-selling book, #StrongGirl: 20 Minute Workouts & Quick Meals to Keep You Lean, Trim and Powerful. With two active daughters who are in competitive athletics, Ali offers an "in the trenches" perspective to sports parents that is refreshing and honest.

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