A student-athlete is working hard but still isn’t playing much, what should a parent do? Of course, parents can’t make the coach play their son or daughter, but there are things parents can do to improve their child’s chances for more playing time. Following are some ideas that athletic directors can share with parents.
The Coach as a Teacher
One of the many hats that coaches wear is that of being a teacher. Granted, rarely do you see “teacher” in the formal job description for coaches, but this is exactly what coaches do every day when working with student-athletes. In fact, coaches teach countless important things, including teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership, motivation, resiliency and so many more life skills and lessons it is impossible to count. Coaches, like teachers, are expected to help their athletes learn, grow and develop, making communication with parents an important part of the job.
The vast majority of interscholastic coaches not only see themselves as teachers, they embrace this role with pride. Accordingly, parents should approach coaches in similar ways they would approach their child’s teacher when trying to learn what needs to be done to improve conditions. This means to view the coach (teacher) as an ally (not adversary), to respectfully ask for feedback, and to show appreciation for the time given to help their child improve for the future.
Tips for Approaching the Coach
Instead of immediately asking to meet with the coach, parents should watch their child and see how he or she interacts and plays with the team. Parents should attend practices and see if there are noticeable reasons why their child is not playing as much as they would like. Are there any off-field reasons playing in to the coach’s decision, like grades, missed practices or other social issues? If a student-athlete is still recovering from an injury, could that be the reason he or she is sitting on the bench? Parents should consider holding off on setting up a meeting with the coach until all obvious factors are examined and dismissed.
If parents still believe playing time is an issue, they might request a meeting with the coach. Following are some tips that athletic directors could share with parents regarding meeting with the coach.
Be polite. Remember, most coaches are very busy and may find it difficult to schedule a meeting. Additionally, coaches know that the No. 1 reason a parent asks to meet is about playing time, and often these meetings start with a disgruntled parent visibly frustrated, often calling “politics” rather than trying to understand the coach’s decision. Parents should be polite and respectful, and ask if there is a convenient time for the coach to meet for a brief meeting – in most cases, this approach sets the table for a productive eventual meeting.
Listen first, ask questions second. When parents meet with the coach, they should first provide the coach an opportunity to offer any feedback about their child. When the coach talks, parents should pay attention, not interrupt and clarify any advice that might be confusing.
Have specific questions. Parents should ask questions that are specific rather than vague whenever possible. For example, the coach will likely have a much more difficult time answering a broad question like “What’s my kid got to do in order to play?” versus a specific question like “You have mentioned the importance of conditioning, do you have specific advice on how my child can improve in this area?”
Leave out the other kids. While it may be tempting for parents to point out to the coach how their child is better than another individual who is playing more, that’s probably not the best approach. Parents should view the coach as an ally, and immediately accusing the coach of wrongly playing another individual over their own will only put the coach on the defense. Again, parents should ask about how their child can improve, and what things their child needs to do in order to gain more playing time.
Say thank you. Finding extra time to meet is not always easy – for the parent or the coach. It is also challenging, if not impossible, to make everyone on the team happy all the time – especially for kids/families who rarely experience meaningful playing time. In some ways, coaching can be a thankless job – some good coaches go unrecognized, but many are noticed when their player selections do not measure up. Parents should be genuine and simply say “thanks” for the invaluable feedback they receive. As a result of the meeting, parents should work with their child to develop new, specific, measurable goals for the future.
Coaches are busy people, but they also care about the student-athletes they coach and want them to succeed. Most coaches will make a few minutes to meet with concerned parents, but these meetings should only be requested after parents have done their own observing of the situation to see if there are obvious reasons why their child is not playing much. If parents are granted a meeting with the coach, they should try to understand the coach’s position, keeping in mind that with human, subjective decisions, some students will end up not playing as much as others. Parents should be patient, listen closely and employ the advice they receive from the coach – and do not forget to say “thank you.”
Chris Stankovich, Ph.D., is the founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems, an athletic counseling and human performance enhancement center. Stankovich has written/co-written five books, including Positive Transitions for Student Athletes, The Parents Playbook and Sport Success 360°, and he has had hundreds of articles published on topics related to sport psychology and athletic success. Additionally, he has been
featured for his work in USA Today, ESPN, New York Post, Washington Post, Street & Smith Sports Business Journal and ABC World News. For more information, visit www.drstankovich.com or @drstankovich.