Although your primary role as a coach is to develop athletes, you must also accept the responsibility for educating and communicating with parents on a routine basis. Before the season’s first practice, you should hold an some type of interactive meeting with the coaching staff, athletes and parents to develop effective lines of communication. The meeting’s primary purpose should be to establish agreed-upon expectations for all parties in regard to coaching style, team rules, appropriate athlete behavior, etc. The meeting’s secondary purpose should be to help parents understand how best to support their children’s sport participation and what constitutes appropriate parent behavior in the youth sport environment.
An excellent way to start that discussion is by distributing a copy of a Parents & Athletes Code of Conduct to each parent and athlete so that they can familiarize themselves with the code. The meeting’s agenda should include, but not be limited, to the following:
- Coaching philosophy
- Coaching style
- General goals for the team
- Playing time
- Typical practice-session routines
- Expectations for the athletes (e.g., athlete rights and responsibilities)
- Expectations for the parents (e.g., parent rights and responsibilities)
- Explanation of equipment requirements and needs
- Discussion of the risks involved in the sport, including a discussion of emergency medical procedures and guidelines
- Season practice and game schedules
- Question-and-answer period for parents and athletes
- Transportation issues
- Communication procedures
- Expenses and fundraising
- Team rules
- Volunteer opportunities for parents
- Contact information
Depending on the sport, coaches should address other topics, including travel plans and other contingency plans. In discussing your coaching style, you might want to cover:
- How decisions are made.
- The role of assistant coaches, if you have any.
- How you teach.
- Whether or not you use physical contact with the athletes when you coach.
- How parents can help their children with outside practice and conditioning.
- How athletes and parents should communicate with you.
The key is covering anything that might come up during the season. Being thorough and clear can help reduce problems later in the year. By providing this type of information, you can provide the athletes and parents with a feeling of confidence by showing that you know what is needed to ensure the best possible experience for the kids on your team.
Other strategies coaches should consider:
- Parent-and-child session/practice/scrimmages.
- Host a preseason social activity, such as a barbecue for the team members and their parents.
- Develop or adapt written contracts (e.g., codes of conduct) regarding appropriate behaviors for coaches, athletes and parents, and having them signed at season’s beginning.
By signing your own coaches code of conduct and/or distributing a copy of it to the parents, you can help further show parents your dedication to their child's well-being on your team. Just make sure you hold yourself accountable to it if you expect your parents to follow theirs.
Keeping this open line of communication open throughout the season and continuing to have social get togethers such as BBQ's where parents can interact with you and other coaches can not only help keep parents at ease but can also help in creating a high team moral, increased team spirit and can help in the retention of players for future seasons.