I have to be 100% honest. This is the second version of this post. I wrote a whole (7 paragraph) post, then decided to delete it. I realized that I wrote the whole post addressing the symptoms and not the problem. I will start with the same story. A coaching friend of mine and I were e-mailing back and forth about a situation that happened in the girls high school season. His line that really stuck with me was: “it definitely opened my eyes even more at how horrid the coaching atmosphere is these days and how there’s little being done to change it with parents and players having a sense of entitlement.” I instantly began to think about how I wanted to write a blog to parents about how they need to stop. In fact, the original title of this post was “Dear Parents…Please Stop”. The whole post was about how coaches make about $7 an hour, miss countless time with families, and puts up with more political BS than a senator. I have to admit, it was a pretty good piece of work. I got up to let the dog out, and that is when it hit me. The parents are not the problem (I know what you are thinking, but hear me out). We, the coaches are. Parents feel entitlement because we are letting them feel it. We blame everything under the sun. Lack of administrative support, fear of legal issues, or just lack of energy to fight. Those all may be legitimate issues, but I honestly feel we have given up the hill, and it is time to take it back. So what is the battle plan to take back our sport, courts, and teams? It all starts with being open and honest:
1. Get Your Policies In Writing – I am always amazed at how many coaches do not have a handbook. Many tell me that the school has policies, so they are covered. I say “no way” to that. I don’t care if you are redundant in what you put in your policy/handbook, but you need it to come from you. I would have your AD (or direct supervisor) look over your handbook. This was they will be able to have your back a little better and they are not blindsided by an issue. I personally suggest making the player AND a parent sign a page stating they have read the book, and keep it on file.
2. Cover your bases – Make sure you include things that will set the tone that this is your program. I would suggest the following:
- Playing time – Put your playing time policy in writing. My personal favorite is “Playing time is not guaranteed or promised, but equal practice opportunities are.”
- Team Philosophy – Is your program about winning matches and titles, or is it about developing players. It is OK to say that you are about being competitive.
- Communication Rules – This is a must for every coach. Again, you can do it with your personal options. My policy is usually no discussions about games/events for 24 hours. There needs to be a cool down period.
- Practice Policy – Will you allow open practices where parents can come watch?
- Rules – Put down what your rules are for practices, games, school grades, ect. It does not have to be massive law book, but cover your bases.
- Grievance Policy – Layout what the steps are if a player has an issue. I suggest you make sure the student starts the talks. Let them grow as a person before you invite the parents in. Involve your AD at some step.
- Repercussions – Put in writing what could happen (suspension, benching, removal from team).
3. Involve your other coaches. Make sure there is another set of ears and eyes involved. Sometimes we can get tunnel vision. Don’t be afraid to bounce things off them.
4. Have a parent meeting. In todays world, it is easy to just send an e-mail out or Facebook everything. It is very important that you get in front of the parents and let them know your rules.
5. Stand your ground. You can only take your team back if you don’t give it. It may cause you a headache for the rest of the season or may be tough choices, but you have to do what is better for your entire program and the future.
The more we back down, the more entitlement parents and players will feel they have. I will end with a story that I personally was involved in as a club director.
We had a team of boys in our club a few years ago that had two setters on it. Both setters were good, but one was a little better than the other. Both players got a ton of touches in every practice. Both grew and got better, but the top setter was pulling away. I received a heated e-mail from the mother of the second setter. She was claiming that there was not equal playing time and the coaches were showing preference towards the other setter. Now, I have watched this team all year, so it was evident that one setter was better than the other. I replied that I would talk to the coaches and see what was going on. The coaches told me what they were doing. Both setters were getting almost the same amount of touches in practice, but the one setter just performed better than the other at game time. We are a competitive club, so they go with the team who gives them the best chance of winning. Knowing that the mother would not be satisfied with what I would tell her, I made sure I was in the gym for the next 3 weeks during their practices. What I saw explained everything to me. The one setter worked hard every play. Taking the actual skill away from the situation, the better setter had a greater effort in every aspect of the practice. The second setter was not bad or an issue, but there was a distinct difference in the effort at practice. Finally, after another heated e-mail I requested that the parents and the coaches sit down with me. The mother wanted to hear nothing about what we were saying. She was pointing out what he did in high school and how he was at soccer. I finally just said enough. I got out the checkbook, wrote a refund (minus uniform costs) and handed to the mother. I politely told her that her son was no longer needed at Yorktowne and I would gladly sign a release if they found another club to play at. She about dropped dead. She realized I was not going to compromise our club rules and philosophies because she felt her son deserved more. This may sound harsh, but what message would I have sent to the rest of the club? You don’t have to work hard, just complain and you will play? Surprisingly, once word got out (from their side, because I instructed our coaches not to discuss it) I was flooded with messages of support from other parents and alumni. It has been three years since those events, and things have run a lot smoother since the tone was set.