Coach/Parent Relationship

Experience is not a necessity but it has its advantages and one of the greatest advantages it provides is perspective.  Back in the day, I was blessed to get to play sports, I’ve been paid to coach including 25 years as a head coach, and I’ve been blessed to be the parent of a daughter who was a high school athlete as well as a collegiate athlete.  I feel this experience has given me invaluable perspective from 3 important angles….player, parent, and coach.

As a player, I was fortunate enough to have supportive parents who worked their schedules around my high school athletics and I was coached by outstanding coaches.  I can’t recall ever hearing my parents question my coach though I’m sure there were things they did not agree with. As a player, I was never put in the spot of having to choose to believe what my parents told me about my sport or to listen to my coach.  My parents knew their role.

As a parent, I got to experience what it was like for my daughter to be on the team but not get to play much, as well as getting to be the parent whose child never came out of the game.  As a sophomore, I had to console her when she was in tears because she wasn’t getting to play as much as she believed she should and as a senior, I’ve seen the frustrated body language of the parents whose daughter played behind her.  Both of these experiences provided their own challenges for me and her.

As a coach, our parents at White Oak were entrusting me with their most valuable possession…their son.  I know what it is like to have to make decisions that affect players as well as their parents and I always took this responsibility very seriously. It often wasn’t easy and at times it definitely wasn’t pleasant but I always tried to do what I thought was best without undue influence.

In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I will convey my thoughts on how to establish a healthy coach/parent relationship for all involved but for especially the most important aspect of the coach, parent, player triangle…the player.  

When a player entered our high school program, he had 4 years to experience the game of basketball and all our program had to teach.  I’ve had my chance to have my 4 years and his parents have had their chance…it’s now his turn and no one else’s. For that reason, my views on creating a healthy coach/parent relationship are centered around what is best for the player…it’s his turn.

However, I do believe part of my approach was also brought about by starting out as a head coach at a very young age (25) as well as coaching all of my years in my hometown.  Both of these factors brought about their own challenges.

I firmly believe that a high school athlete wants to innately please 2 people….his coach and his parent (for boys, usually their dad).  For this reason, my approach in creating the coach/parent relationship was always centered around not putting the player in a difficult position because of my relationship with his parents.  Coaching in your hometown can make this a challenge since I had some sort of connection with most of the families of players on my teams from my own days in school. Later, I began coaching the sons of people I had gone to school with and within the last few years coaching sons of my former players.  All of these situations were blessings in many ways but challenging as well.

If you are a regular reader of Coach With A Purpose, then you have most likely figured out that I am a big believer in roles…knowing your role and playing your role.  Basketball was important in White Oak and much of our success had to do with the investment that our parents make in our program. Whether it be putting up a goal in the driveway, coaching youth league teams, arranging schedules around basketball, taking car loads of kids to the State Tournament, or numerous other things, I was blessed to have parents that were willing to make an investment in their sons and our program.  For this, I will be forever grateful.

For the most part, our parents accepted their role and fulfilled it in an admirable way.  I can rarely recall a time that our program needed assistance from our parents (or community) and they didn’t answer the bell.  Again, I know it is not that way in all situations, and I counted this as a blessing for sure.

My approach to the coach/parent relationship was to be friendly but otherwise, keep our roles separate…I was the coach and they were the parent.  As our parents would tell you, I was the master at keeping a healthy separation between us. It wasn’t because I didn’t like them or that I didn’t respect the role they played in our success, it was for 1 reason…their son.  I never wanted to put one of my player’s in the position of having to defend my relationship with their parents. Anything can be slanted, but I would minimize (to the best of my ability) the opportunity for anyone to say a player received preferential treatment because I knew their family, I grew up with their parents, I coached their brother, or any other set of circumstances that comes up with coaching in your hometown.  They all earned their uniform and they did it on their own merit.

Secondly, by keeping a friendly but distant relationship with parents, I avoided circumstances that might cloud my judgment…it helped keep me objective.  Again, this protected my players from undo scrutiny because I rarely accepted help with anything basketball related or personally that could be misinterpreted as “sucking up to the coach”.  This philosophy made it harder on myself at times but I valued objectivity and would always error on the side of caution. No doubt, there were parents at times that didn’t understand this approach but one of the advantages to coaching in one place for such a long time was that “That’s just the way he is and he‘s not going to change” becomes a sufficient answer.  Fortunately, I had a lot of “veteran” parents along the way to train the “rookies” as to my quirks and idiosyncrasies.

Obviously, no approach is perfect and there will always be those who question or criticize your methods but as long as the coach is consistent, I believe the coach/parent relationship can remain a healthy one.  I could always handle a parent being upset with me or criticizing me as long as I knew my approach was in the best interest of my players and I never tried to let a disgruntled parent effect how I treated their son.  I never wanted the player to be put in the middle because like I said earlier, I know they innately want to please their parents and their coach. However, just as I was determined a disgruntled parent would not affect how I coached their son, I expected the player of this parent to be able to put what they may be hearing at home to the side when it came to basketball.

On only a few occasions, I have had to talk with players about not letting what they hear at home be divisive in our relationship and affect their performance or influence on the team.  It was this kid that my heart ached for because I knew when they went home they had to play a certain role to please their parent and at school they had to try to please their coach. My heart always went out to these kids and, for the most part, the players who had to deal with this situation handled it like a champ.  

Finally, because of the extent I went to remain objective and consistent, I had very few parent conferences after our program was established.  I know for some coaches, the parent conference is a nightmare but I believe it’s like a lot of things, it’s all about your perspective. My first thought was always the same…I was glad their son had someone in their corner.  

I know it’s hard to be a parent at times (like I said earlier, I’ve been there) because many times you have made a great investment in your child and now you have very little control.  Some handle that better than others, but for even the parents who I didn’t believe handled it well, I always respected the fact they cared. For that reason, I could deal with listening to a parent’s opinion as long as it stuck to their son and not someone else’s.  However, once I listened to their opinion, I was also going to give mine so if you came in expecting something else you might leave disappointed.

In summary, many times coaches want to complain about having to deal with unruly parents but, like anything else, if there is a problem, I believe you have to look at yourself first.  Are you being consistent in your approach? Do you have a set of standards that your program goes by? Do you create a culture of respect and trust? No doubt there are some parents who just don’t get it but don’t be naïve, there are coach’s who don’t get it either.  As a coach, if you are consistently having parent issues because of your coach/parent relationships, you need to take an honest look at your approach to see if there are adjustments you need to make. Keeping your approach player centered should give a coach important common ground with parents…doing what’s best for their son and your player.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!


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