Conversation with Coaches

During a youth sports season, your children will spend more time with their coaches than with any other adults, except you, their parents. On some days, coaches’ time with your kids will even exceed your own. It’s important that you as a Positive Sport Parent have a completely open, honest, trusting relationship with your children’s coaches. Here are a few ways to help bring about a quality parent-coach partnership.

    Prepare Your Children to Work Well With Coaches.

    In addition to the basic manners and respect that makes for functional families and schoolrooms, remind your children that their coaches are in a unique position. Your conversation with your children might include explaining that their coaches have to work with a lot of different players and parents, and that means a lot of personality types.

    Help your children understand that the best way for them to succeed as individuals and to contribute to team success is to cooperate with the coaches, pay careful attention and try their hardest at every practice and game. If your children make the coaches’ lives easier, you probably will enhance your own relationships with the coaches.

    Stay Mindful of the Coaches’ Commitment.

    Your children’s coaches have made a commitment that involves many hours of preparation beyond the time spent at practices and games. Quite likely in youth sports they are volunteers. Almost all are well-meaning.

    It will be helpful to use those facts as a prism through which you view any issues that have you considering a corrective conversation with the coaches. Finally, if you do feel the need to approach coaches about an issue, try to imagine yourself in their place – as a volunteer – and that can help keep your communication with them respectful.

    Make Early, Positive Contact with the Coach.

    coach-parent relationship conversationsAs soon as you know who will coach your children, contact those coaches to introduce yourself and offer any assistance you may provide. This outreach may be the single most important thing you do in establishing a true partnership, where you proactively shape a positive experience for your child and lay the foundation for respectful, productive conversations with coaches should a conflict arise later.

    You may want to offer yourself as assistant coach if that is customary in the organizations where your children compete. At the same time, be prepared to accept “no” for an answer; some coaches already have assistants selected. Other roles for which you might volunteer include “team parent” (responsible for such things as coordinating carpools or snack assignments) or maintaining a team webpage and online scheduling and communications tools. 

    Fill the Coach’s Emotional Tank.

    Too often, coaches hear only from parents who have complaints. Filling the coaches’ Emotional Tanks with specific, truthful praise positively reinforces them to continue doing the things you see as benefiting the youth athletes.

    Key to this communication is “specific and truthful.” It’s common enough for parents and coaches to mill around after a game, and instead of the simple, “Great game, coach,” it can do a world of good for the coach, players and other parents to hear things like, “Coach, we were getting upset about some of the official’s calls, but when we saw how well you kept your composure, it helped us calm down, too.”

    Don’t Put the Player in the Middle.

    You wouldn’t complain to your children about how poorly their math teacher explains fractions, so hopefully you would avoid sharing your disapproval of a coach with your children. Doing so may force the child to take sides, and not necessarily your side!

    If your child has an issue with the coach and can maturely articulate it, encourage your child to approach the coach and at the very least learn some life lessons in self-advocacy with an authority figure. Otherwise, if you disapprove of how the coach handles a situation, seek a private meeting to discuss the matter.

    Ideally, such conversations would focus on big-picture concerns around your child’s ability to have an overall positive experience with the team. Playing time issues sometimes rise to that level, but in-game strategies and tactics rarely do.

    If you have some expertise in the sport and think you can help your child’s coach, that’s the sort of thing you might mention in the “make-early-positive-contact” phase. But if the coach does not seem open to those sorts of suggestions, it’s best to respect that, because big-picture concerns about your child taking life lessons from sports do not hinge on the coach accepting your tactical advice.

    Let Coaches Coach.

    It can confuse players to hear someone other than the coach yelling out instructions. Also, your instructions may counter the coaches’ strategy and tactics, undermining team performance.

    Fill Your Child’s Emotional Tank.

    Competitive sports can be stressful to players. The last thing they need is your critiquing their performance…on top of what the coach may deliver and what they already are telling themselves. Let your children know you love and support them regardless of their performance.

    Contribute to a Positive Environment.

    Fill all the players’ Emotional Tanks when you see them doing something well. Honor the Game as a spectator, respecting ROOTS (Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates and Self), and encourage others around you to Honor the Game.

    We know this advice is not always easy to implement. There will be the occasional disagreeable official’s call or wishes for more playing time for your child. But drawing from these ideas can help you keep your child’s youth sports experience in perspective. In turn, that will help you maintain a positive parent-coach partnership, and that will help the Positive Coaches in your children’s lives serve their greatest purpose.


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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