Meeting and Engaging your youth sports parents

By GLEN MULCAHY, Paradigm Sports

As I shared in last years post “How to engage, not deal with, Parents” the #1 question I still get asked all the time by coaches is for insight “how to deal with parents”. I immediately counter by saying you should not deal with your parents, in lieu engage them as part of the team, when you are coaching any youth sports, the players on your team will have parents or guardians that merely want the best for their kids.

The sooner that you shift your mindset to engagement, support, collaboration vs. many coaches and organizations “Us vs. Them” approach, the sooner you will be steering your teams to have amazing seasons regardless of the outcome on the scoreboard.

As many sports have ramped up with their tryouts for competitive teams and evaluations for their recreation teams one of the best ways you can do so is starting your season once teams are formed with a really effective parent meeting.

The KEY is to have answers to the 5 W’s and H so you can share in that meeting, this will be the building blocks for credibility and trust so everyone has a great season;

Below is the agenda with some key pointers on how to do so;

“Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who)

I really want to know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who)

Tell me who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who)

Because I really want to know (Who are you? Who, who, who)”

The first thing that you need to cover when you start your parent meeting is welcoming the parents to the meeting, thanking them for making the time and supporting their kids and introducing yourself and your team.

Think of it as sharing your linked in or CV in a face to face to face meeting

How many years have you coached?
What Age Groups? Level of Competition?
What is your certification in coaching?
What is your education?
What are you doing to continue to improve as a coach?
What playing experience do you have? (Just because you played to a high level does not mean you will be a great coach, i.e. Wayne Gretzky)
What’s your day Job (the majority of coaches are volunteers)
Don’t make the mistake that many younger coaches do and introduce yourself as the head coach ONLY, also have your assistant coaches introduce themselves and share their philosophies as well. My son was on a team where the assistant coaches were never introduced and it was half a season before he even knew their names !! Needless to say they never really came together as a team due to what was an oversight by the young and inexperienced head coach.

Tip that I share with all coaches is to recruit a team manager in advance of the first parent meeting and discuss with them how the communication should flow, in many instances team managers can be the first go-to for general inquiries, advising if players will be late, are still following return to play protocols, are sick etc.

This permits the coaches to focus on coaching vs. handling the administrative tasks that a great manager will take care of on your behalf.

A great manager is worth their weight in gold (make sure you thank them all season long for their help and give them credit for same) and they should also have opportunity to introduce themselves and can prepare and handout all the paperwork in advance of the meeting (i.e. sending medical forms, codes of conduct, contact info out PRIOR to the meeting so parents come with)

The manager can also give all the parents the heads up prior to the parent meeting will be looking for the other crucial members of the “team” which are the volunteers to help out with;

Safety person/Trainer: the person that will be responsible for dealing with any injuries that players sustain, sickness, adherence to return to play protocols as well as checking equipment. All teams should have two, a primary and a backup to ensure that they always have one at all team activities.

Timekeeper/Scorekeeper: this could be a few parents for the season or rotation of all parents so everyone takes turns

Jersey Keepers: who wash the stinky jerseys after every game (usually one family for home, another for away jerseys)

Snack Coordinators: up to Peewee as most kids beyond that have their nutritional preferences pre-post game. This is a very important role for two reasons; (1) many kids have allergies so they can ensure that the snacks don’t have peanuts etc. and (2) it is one of the driving reasons why kids play “What’s the Snack”

Treasurer: who setups up and manages the team’s bank account (along with minimum one other with signing authority to ensure full transparency of team funds and accountability)

Tournament Coordinators: those will be involved with association hosted tournaments on the team’s behalf (i.e. arranging scorekeepers/team keepers, snacks in dressing rooms post/pre-game etc)

Team Parent: One that has the best job, organizing the team functions like lunches/dinners at tournaments, windup parties

Den Dads/Moms: If coaches are unable to make it to games/practices there should be a couple of parents that can monitor the dressing rooms (ensuring they have the organization certification like respect in sport or safety training to do so)

ALL Teams regardless of the sport should have 2 ADULTS in the dressing rooms until the last player leaves, kids should never be alone with an adult. Why?

Because we don’t need any more kids abused in youth sports, per CBC’s series of articles early 2019, in Canada 222 coaches were prosecuted for abusing over 600 athletes across various sports since 1989.

ONE IS TOO MANY.

Fundraising Coordinator(s): As Youth sports continue to escalate in costs, this has become another important role on teams, don’t assume that everyone on the team has the same financial situation, respect that the costs may be too much and figure out creative ways to raise funds to help reduce the team budget.

Stats: This is the role I usually recruit for parents that may be a little overzealous in the stands to keep them busy during games

Any travel tournaments should be voted on and anything is done to offset the costs for hotels, bus, meals etc. as they can cost families anywhere from $1500-3000.00 on average that is NOT in the team budget. This can take a team budget from 25K to actual out of pocket costs for all families if two travel tournaments to over $100K

My general rule of thumb is every family should volunteer in some capacity, if they have work commitments that prevent them from taking on one of above, then help the organization with various events like floats in parades, Terry Fox Runs, Equipment reshares/sales etc.

This is also the opportunity for you to share with parents how they can support their kids during the season to ensure they have the best experience.

Things like please let the coaches coach, avoid yelling instructions from the stands/sidelines or in the car, ensure they get proper sleep, play video games in moderation, avoid junk foods and sports drinks (the best is cold water until they are late teens), etc.

This is also the time that I make book recommendations, share video links and do so thru the season to ensure that the ship continues to move in the right direction.

In your introduction, also share Why you coach, which I suspect may be one the top 3 reasons that coaches coach based on surveys I have been done with coaches over the years or it can be something different altogether but parents will want to know you Why.

#1 – They have skin in the game – Their kid is playing

If this is the case, within 4 weeks of coaching if it is your first time as a head coach hopefully you clue into the fact that you have just adopted 10+ more kids as they become part of your family and to treat your son or daughter the same as the rest of the players and vice-versa.

#2 – For the Love of the Game

They coach because they love the game and they want kids to love it like they do.

Kids should love the game more at the end of the season than they did at the beginning if you do your job right. If so, they will come back the following season with HUGE smiles on their faces.

Sadly, youth sports continue to face challenges to attract and retain their players recently has been shared by the Aspen Institute that 62% of kids in the USA are quitting youth sports by the age of 11 (yes by the age of 11, on average having a 3 year career in youth sports)

Canada’s attrition rates are as high YET, but having worked with many US companies in my past life I know that Canada follows their trends a few years after the fact.

Please ensure that kids on your team “don’t retire” as this campaign is highlighting

#3 – To Give Back/Pay Forward

Coaches put their hand up to do so as they want to give back to their associations or pay it forward so kids have a great experience (or ensure they don’t have a bad coach like they did)

Once you cover Why you coach, you also should take this time to share what your philosophy is of coaching and it amazes me as I have interacted with coaches from across Canada how few have a philosophy, and even if they do, how few have it in writing.

This should identified on your handouts that you provide to parents so they know right away what your philosophy is and should be no more than a few bullet points or sentences.

Philosophy goes hand in hand with why you coach and is tied in with your core values as to what you believe in.

Do you believe in fair play?
Do you believe in respect, honesty, integrity?
Winning with humility and losing with dignity?
Respect?
Making a difference by developing youth into adults?
Developing other life skills like work ethic, resiliency, communication, leadership?
What is your playing time policy?
By having it in writing, as much as it may put you on the hot seat, it will ensure not only that you talk the talk and walk the walk by holding you accountable just as you will do with your players.

What is your season plan?

When will the team practice, play games, do any office activities or development?

This addresses the question all parents have in terms of what will it cost in terms of time but it is also important that you address what it will cost in terms of $$$ in detail during a follow-up finance meeting

“Show me da money”

My advice is you touch on what the team budget will be in the initial parent meeting and they have a separate “Finance” meeting to go thru every line item with parents to ensure that they are onside.

As many organizations only require coaches to budget the registration fees for travel tournaments in their team budgets also, please respect the fact that every family has different financial circumstances.

Also, if you want to ENGAGE parents, refrain from using mandatory with exception what should be per organization and league policies (outlined in expectations below)

Where are the practices?

Provide maps with the locations for your regular practice slots as well as share where your homes and away games will potentially be (usually away games subject to the tier that your team is in after balancing rounds)

Also share where the tournaments may be that you are aspiring to enter the team into and any out of province or country must be voted on based on organization policies.

#1 Code of Conduct

Many national or Provincial Sports Organizations have parent, player, coach and officials contracts to outline the expectations to adhere to which are a good start but I encourage you to modify based on what your expectations are

Respect for all is one of my 3 rules which I spend time going thru and another is zero tolerance for any forms of harassment.

In order for your parents and players to understand the various forms of harassment, however, I suggest that you table that to another meeting where you review what they are (i.e. what is cyberbullying, sexual harassment, hazing) and then have all players/parents sign off they attended.

#2 Your expectations

When you want players to arrive for practices? When do you want them to be ready?

Keep into account the age group you are coaching, if they are “the little people” many will get dressed at home and arrive a few minutes before a practice but as they kids get older and to limit time explaining drills etc during the practice I ask all players to be fully dressed 10 minutes prior to practice

When do you want players to arrive for games?

Again, be realistic to the age group and level, a rule of thumb is 30-60 minutes prior to games so the players can do a warm-up and be ready 10 minutes prior to games for chalk talks. Be respectful in your ask for the players and their families times, particularly if they are driving long distances and moreso recognizing the importance of recovery and rest for early morning games

Dress Code for games, practices, other team activities?

Expected Behavior at same?

#3 – Communication and dealing with disagreements

No matter how effective your initial and follow-up meetings will be with parents, players, it is important that you outline how the team will communicate in terms of scheduling, budgets and other asks.

Many sports teams are using Apps like Team Snap for team communication, others use social media but as this generation of kids are the first to grow up 100% in the digital era ensure that you use Aps that THEY use like Instagram, Texting and EVERYONE is on the distribution list to avoid any potential of cyberbullying

This is also where you should highlight your expectations for parental behavior, the most powerful words you can share with them is “Just Love Watching them Play” and also the basics in terms of not letting their emotions (lizard brain) get the better of them.

Parents and players will react as you react, so if you are calm and positive during games and practices they will follow suit, however, if you become emotional it will lead to a domino affect.

IF you have one of “those parents” who have the tendency to yell instructions or criticism towards players, coaches, officials the sooner that you have a face to face meeting with them to address the better. If you still don’t work things out, then escalate to a board member as parents should be just that parents and watch and support all the kids on the team in lieu of acting up in the stands.

One of the things I share with parents if they feel their emotions getting out of whack (which is referred to as the lizard or chimp part of the brain that controls emotion, irrational behavior), to take a breath and say “serenity now” to calm down. If they do act up I have personally escorted away from the game so they could calm down as many parents don’t know that the players will make fun of teammates in the dressing room when they do so. In essence, they contribute to their kids becoming bullied and is against our code of conduct.

We all have to be reminded at times that it is just a game, played and in many instances officiated by kids, coached by volunteers.

MANDATORY – Although I truly avoid mandatory there are a few things that you need to mandate as a coach to adhere to association policies;

NO EMAIL when it comes to issues/disagreements. They can be taken out of context and go viral where it could come back to bite all parties on the string.
24 Hour policy – If parents have an issue please ask them to wait 24 hours before reaching out to coaches or manager to ensure emotion does not come into play
Zero Tolerance for any forms of harassment – The only way that we are going to eliminate harassment from youth sports if coaches become the advocate for same.
2 Deep Rule – ALWAYS 2 adults in the dressing room area to ensure the kids are safe, this could be

GOALS For the Season

This is when would touch on what your goals are for the team but ensure that they are realistic, and how you are going to achieve them, t amazing me how many coaches go into those meetings saying our goal is to win the provincials even though they have no development plan to do so. As the cliché goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

I also encourage all coaches to do measurement (baseline, mid and end of season testing) with their teams as well as goal setting with their players so they can have end of season meetings with parents and players what they achieved individually in lieu of relying on outcomes (the standings and the scoreboard)

Below is a summary agenda as a template as well as other recommended meetings to continue to engage parents as well as your players

FIRST PARENT MEETING AGENDA – Max 60 Minutes

Welcome/Introductions
Why you Coach/Philosophy
Code of Conduct/Expectations
Season Plan
Tentative Budget (follow-up Finance Meeting in detail)
Communication/Dealing with a disagreement
Parents Help (Volunteers0
How Parents can Help their Child
Goals and Aspirations for the Season
THANK YOU

Other Meetings

Team Meetings – Players Only – Review much of what was covered in parent meeting (exclude budget)

Team and Parent Meeting – Code of Conduct, Various Forms of Harassment and goal setting

Ask parents what their expectations are and players what their goals are and have a group discussion to ensure that they are aligned

Team Meeting – Developing Values/Culture for the team (you are the facilitator, not the dictator)

Finance Meeting – review budget in detail, get all parents onside (mandatory that a parent/guardian for every player attend)

Parent Meeting – Pub Night, Dinner etc to get to know each other can be parent only or can be something like team (parents and players) bowling, laser tag parties

Team Storming Meetings – Address any discipline issues and what it will get to get thru the storming period so can get to norming and PERFORMING

Team Meeting – Bonding, Developing Chemistry/Trust doing a non-sport specific activity (i.e. if hockey team, rent a gym to play basketball, floorball, go-cart racing, trampoline park etc)

Parent Meeting – Mid Season, End of Season Recaps

Team/Parent – End of Season Windup

The KEY to engaging parents on your team is to be PROactive and positive in terms of your communication and never forget to mention how important it is for everyone, parents, players, coaches to HAVE FUN.

Too many kids are quitting a game they once loved due to various issues that affecting youth sports, and the goal should be for them to have active lifestyles and play well into their adulthood.

Let’s all work together to bring the game back to the kids … where it belongs.