Coach-Parent Relationship

As a Positive Coach, you want to help your players develop as athletes and as people. Likely your closest allies in that effort will be your players’ parents. Any well-meaning parents will want the best for their children, and they know a Positive Coach can provide a great deal on and off the field.

For example, Johnny may listen to you in a way that he will not listen to his parent for no other reason than the fact that you are not his parent! You are in a tremendously powerful position to shape Johnny’s future, to help move him in the positive directions his parents want, but cannot necessarily achieve on their own..

Of course, there also may be challenges inherent in the coach-parent relationship. After all, each of your players’ parents may be concerned with only their own child, while your concerns must extend to all players on the team…and to the team as a whole.

As in so many other aspects of Positive Coaching clear communication goes a long way toward accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. First step is a pre-season parent meeting for all your players’ parents.

The Pre-Season Parent Meeting

It is important to enter the meeting prepared, composed, knowledgeable about your sport, sensitive to socio-economic circumstances and self-aware enough to realize how much you still will have to learn even in this first meeting. It helps to have an agenda, including such items as:

  • Welcome and Introductions. Include your personal background, such as how long you have lived in the community, your family and sports background, how long you have coached - which sports, and where, and with what level of success. Have all parents introduce themselves, too, and invite them to share a bit of their own family background and sports experiences. From that information you begin to understand who might help as an assistant coach and who might have values that differ from  yours.

  • Your Coaching Philosophy. As a Positive Coach, you want to win, help your players improve their skills, keep things fun, improve the team’s fitness, and most importantly, teach life lessons that extend well beyond the playing field. You also can share sport-specific philosophy, such as emphasizing offense or defense. Finally, this is a great time to explain your views on playing time, practice commitments, and your preferences for how players or parents contacting you if they have questions or concerns in these areas. Consider invoking a 24-Hour Rule, where parents are not to contact you within 24 hours of a game to make sure everyone’s cooler head can prevail.

  • Sideline behavior. Take this opportunity to explain your views on sideline behavior. Much of your expectation in this regard may boil down to Honoring the Game (review Honoring the Game section ). You might also cover the concept of “No-Verbs Cheering,” urging parents to cheer positively for their children, their teammates and even opposing players, but not to shout instruction that may interfere with your coaching and the players’ ability to concentrate on the game.

  • Goals for the Season. Often your goals will extend directly from your philosophy. Here is a chance to specify how your philosophy leads to your goals. For example, “We will try our hardest to win in every game, and along the way, I’ll emphasize taking pride in everything we do” Ask the parents what their goals are, too. That provides an opportunity for you and them to get on the same page early in the season, which gives you a great chance to stay on the same page.

Coaching Philosophy
  • Logistics. Issue practice and game schedules and phone and email lists, or recruit a parent volunteer to handle those items, along with other typical concerns, such as snack schedules and car-pooling opportunities.

  • Parents’ Questions. Solicit parents question. And answer them - honestly. It’s important to set the tone for open and honest communication right from the start. Consider using the Team Parent Survey  tool to allow your parents to provide feedback on the season at the end of the season.  But introduce the use of the Tool for your team at the beginning of the season so that parents can rest assured knowing that they will have a chance to provide feedback.  

When Issues Arise

They will. Using the above advice, you have laid the groundwork for positive relationships focused on the well-being of any individual player and the team as a whole. Ideally, you also have continued to proactively communicate with parents, getting to know them and their children so you can get the most out of them as players and help them develop as people.

Depending on the age of your players, you may prefer that they approach you with their own concerns, rather than parents doing so. Players who take that initiative are in the process of learning life lessons about advocating for themselves with authority figures. Those lessons will be important in later life, and you should be proud and happy to have a role in that part of your players’ development.

Parents who have concerns may still contact you. Often, they just want to get things off their chest or need a sounding board to help process their own thoughts or experiences.

Try hard not be defensive or evasive. Welcome the chance to deepen your relationship with the players’ parents. You may learn some things about them, their children – and maybe even yourself – that help improve your coaching. Hear the parents out. Seek first to understand before being understood.

Then, if you remain convinced of the position you have taken on typical issues such as playing time or position, feel free to maintain your ground . Parents can be valuable sources of input, but at the end of the day, there is a reason you are the coach.

As a Positive Coach, you do what you think is right. Just as you would teach your players to do, and just as the players’ parents would teach them to do also.


In an effort to benefit millions of youth athletes, parents and coaches, this article is among a series created exclusively for partners in the Liberty Mutual Insurance Play Positive program powered by Positive Coaching Alliance.

©2014 Liberty Mutual Insurance and Positive Coaching Alliance. All rights reserved. This material may not be distributed without express written permission. Any reproduction in whole or part by and individuals or organizations will be held liable for copyright infringement to the full extent of the law.

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