The New Challenge: Calling Parents Up, Not Out

Years ago, when I was coaching in Ireland, I had a much different criticism of parents in sports.

Generally, with some exceptions, the parents were uninvolved and uninterested in their son’s basketball games.

Basketball was not a popular sport and did not garner much respect, even though the young men were highly committed.

The uninvolved sports parent can be challenging, but in moving back to America I experienced a whole new challenge with the newest generation of sports parents.

Research shows that the American sports parent becomes more and more involved every year.

Today, parents are the biggest complaint from coaches at nearly every level, with 82% of coaches agreeing they have become more challenging.

And parents are one of the top reasons coaches and athletes are quitting sports today.

Seeing the Challenge as an Opportunity 

I tried a wide variety of approaches over the years.

Last season I attempted a new approach in “dealing” with parents.


Blocking them out.

At our parent meeting at the start of the year I made it clear all the things I would not talk about.

A long list.

And I made it clear the things I would be open to talking about.

A very short list.

I started the season by establishing a wall of defense to shield me from the attacks I had come to expect.

All of this was in hope of making things easier for me, but instead it only led to greater conflict and division.

The reality is parents are going to be involved in their children’s sport whether we want them to be or not.

If we are not working together, there will be a constant tug of war between the coach and the parents.

We can continue to see their involvement as a negative or we can try see it as an opportunity.

What would happen if parents bought in to the mission of using sports to model and intentionally develop high character? 

What would happen if we used our platform to not only call up the young men and women we lead, but to call up parents to be better? 

I think as coaches it is not only in our best interest, but in the interest of the men and women we coach that we work with parents and educate them on healthy sports parenting.

Working with Parents 

Below are the commitments I made to calling up parents this season.

  1. Authentic Vulnerability

At our pre-season parent meeting, I shared that I am working to grow as a transformational leader everyday.

I shared a weakness, challenge, and transactional behavior that I am working to overcome.

  • Referees can really eat up my energy and focus. I am working on being a great example to the kids on how to respond to bad calls.
  • One of the biggest challenges I will face is giving everyone an opportunity to play in games, staying competitive in the game, and reinforcing the values of hard work, gratefulness, and a good attitude by giving those players more playing time.
  • When a young man fails to live up to the standards and commitments we hold as a team, I struggle to see the person and instead often see the performance or behavior.
  1. Share Principles, Standards, and Commitments 
  • I have created six principles (core values) I will be working hard to model and intentionally teach this season.  Sharing these principles with the parents, not just the team can help them understand why I coach and why I coach the way I do.
  • In an early season team meeting, the players will agree upon standards and commitments they choose to hold themselves accountable to during the season. The standards and commitments will be communicated/ sent home to the parents after the players have signed this agreement.
  1. Educate on Good Sports Parenting 

I am going to share this video from to start the discussion about beneficial behaviors as parents:

  1. Communicate the Process 

Often we send weekly emails to help remind them of practice & game times and plea for help with the various team needs.

Let’s see these emails as an opportunity to communicate the areas you are intentionally working on during the week.

I am not talking about offensive strategy, skill development, or the conditioning you are doing.

I am talking about the character and leadership development going on during the week.

Hopefully you are being intentional about this and will have something to share!

  1. Hold Office Hours

Boundaries needed be set on when it was okay for parents to speak with me and the topics we can discuss.

However, I did not say I would NEVER discuss playing time, because I know moments where that could be a beneficial conversation to help parents understand the big picture.

I may not enjoy those conversations, but they could be beneficial.

Either way due to my family, job, and prioritizing my time with the young men who play for our team, I cannot make myself available 24/7.

So I set one night a week that I will make myself available for them to call and discuss concerns.

Take Action

A transformational coach calls players up, not out.

We must approach parents with the same mentality.

-J.P. Nerbun