5 Minute Read or Listen
I was just goofing off and making fun of myself. As the head coach, I tried to bring some fun and humor into a late season practice. But of course, like many of my jokes, it backfired. And the worst part was I didn’t even realize it. One of my players, a loyal and sensitive fella, thought my joke was directed at him.
When this young man got home, the tears started to flow as he opened up to his mother. Young people—especially young men—are so good at masking the pain and hurt they feel to appear strong.
Luckily, in this instance, his mother and I had a positive relationship and she felt safe enough to come to me and share what her son was feeling. I remember being so grateful that his mother reached out to me, because I was able to connect with the player, apologize for the misunderstanding, and reestablish trust.
I was able to make it right. So often, we can’t make things right, because we don’t know what is wrong. We can blame the lack of communication on the athlete, but what teenager is good at initiating hard conversations? I didn’t build a culture in which people felt safe enough to give me feedback and let me know how they were feeling. And that was on me.
When it comes to so many problems in our culture, communication is at the root of nearly every one of them. Parents get a very unfiltered view into the emotions, feelings, and struggles of their child. Building a bridge—not a wall—between parent-to-coach communication is essential to serve the needs, development, and experience for the athletes.
We need to be in the loop. I have gone weeks, months, and even entire seasons without realizing a player’s parents were getting divorced, a parent lost their job, a father was in jail, or a close family member was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
So, instead of giving parents a list of things to NEVER contact you about, try giving them a list of things you want them to contact you about!
Please Contact Me If
You don’t understand why your child is not playing. I’m okay with you not agreeing with my decisions on playing time, but I want how I determine playing time to be clear to everyone in the program (coaches, players, and parents).
When something is “up” with your child. You have an unfiltered view into the emotional and mental challenges your child is facing that nobody on the team can see. An email, text, or quick phone call just to let me know when you observe something negative (or positive!) can only be helpful for me as a coach.
When something is “up” at home. Home life is challenging. In the past, my players have experienced it all: Divorce, the incarceration of a family member, the terminal illness of a family member, and financial struggles. While I don’t need every detail, I do want to be aware of the personal challenges, so I can show my support and care.
When you have a serious issue with my coaching attitude, language, or behaviors. We all screw up! I don’t need to be called out on my every mistake, but if it is consistent enough that your opinion of me as a person has changed, then I want to know about it! I want it to be very clear about what I value—not just in what I say at the start of the season, but in everything I do throughout the season.
When something is bothering you for an extended period. We all have things that piss us off and sometimes, we just need some time and space to regain perspective. But if something has been bothering you for an extended period and I may be able to help you gain some clarity and relieve that frustration, then I can make time for you.
One Last Thing
Lastly, set some boundaries with parents which will empower them to have beneficial conversations with you. Giving hard feedback is difficult, but receiving it is just as difficult. You can help guide and educate them about healthy communication and feedback, but only after you have empowered them to give you feedback. Share the strategies you use for effective feedback so that you are calling them up—not out!