One of the best ways to alleviate problems and misunderstandings is through regular communication with parents. In the absence of coaching guidance, parents will form and communicate their own opinions of the status of the team and the steps necessary for improvement. Some parents may be objective and knowledgeable about the sport, but if they don’t speak up, then the overall team opinion may be shaped by others.
For coaches, parent-to-parent and parent-to-player communications can become distracting to their efforts to make team improvements. Coaches should consider short and regular meetings with all parents to help shape these opinions and give parents better insight into what to watch for in games and practices. In these meetings coaches might cover:
- Recent team performance giving parents insight into the progress the team is or is not making in various areas.
- Approaches taken in practices that are attempting to shape game performance.
- Re-emphasis of team goals and objectives.
- Realistic guidance concerning upcoming game and practice performance.
- Positive comments concerning every player. Mentioning only a few players may raise more parent concerns.
Parents often help judge the success of coaches, teams and seasons. In the absence of information, the judgments they give will vary greatly based on their own experiences. With information, parents gain better appreciation for the challenges coaches face.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Sports Esteem for this article.
Good performance starts with good goals. Lou Holtz, one of the of nation’s most successful college football coaches, once said that “Of all my experiences in managing people, the power of goal setting is the most incredible.” He carried with him a book identifying personal, player and team goals and used these to motivate himself and his team.
In Dr. Kenneth Blanchard’s book, the “One Minute Manager,” he identifies three steps toward getting the most out of a group of people. While written for a business audience, its lessons also apply to sports teams. The book’s three recommendations are:
- One Minute Goals - Goals are agreements between the coach and the individual players or the coach and the team, on the desired accomplishments. Three to five goals should be the limit with a good understanding of current and expected performance.
- One Minute Praisings - Immediate and specific positive feedback helps players know when they are doing something right and encourages them to keep doing it.
- One Minute Reprimands - If goals aren’t being met, players need quick corrections followed by a reaffirmation of the player’s value and potential.
Goal setting works at any age level although the goals and the methods of communication may be very different. Clear goals keep everyone focused and allow them to review their progress. If players know they are improving, then they will continue working to accomplish their goals.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Sports Esteem for this article.
Sean asks: It amazes me how parents will sit there and bad mouth a kid’s performance on the ice not knowing the parent of that child is sitting near them. I constantly wonder what happened to playing a sport for fun, for learning what it is to be a teammate and to learn how to win and lose with dignity and respect. My son plays hockey because it is fun for him. We have no grand plans for him to play hockey in college or the NHL. I am sure he will want to continue play at the high school level. I just need to isolate myself from some of the obnoxious parents who ruin the whole game experience for me. Is there some other way to deal with this type of parent, and how do we keep this from affecting the general attitude and tenor of the team dynamic?
Answer: I’m always puzzled by how some parents act at a hockey rink. I wonder why they can’t see how ridiculous they look. I’ve often wondered if there is a medical term that explains this disorder? Something like “I’mafreakshowhockeyparentsyndrome” With noticeable symptoms that include: uncontrollable inappropriate verbal outbursts directed towards hockey players, coaches or referees. The behavior is only exhibited at a hockey rink and mysteriously disappears upon exiting the building.
All kidding aside, this is a serious problem and needs to be addressed immediately. From what I’ve learned as a coach thus far, communication is the most important factor, both with the players and their parents. The more transparent I am regarding my coaching philosophy, goals for the year and expectations of players and parents, the more informed everyone is. This eliminates any uncertainty and having to answer questions throughout the season.
I start every season with a player/parent meeting. This is where I lay out everything that will happen throughout the year. Players know exactly what is expected of them both on and off the ice, but more importantly, they understand the consequences if these expectations are not met. Parents have a similar set of rules or code of conduct. I leave some time at the end of the meeting to answer any questions. When we walk out of that meeting, there is a clear plan regarding the goals for the team, rules that need to be followed and the consequences for behavioral misconduct. This takes some preparation, but a little sweat equity early in the year will pay big dividends as the season progresses. Players and parents need structure and this is an easy way to set the tone for the season.
My last suggestion would be the use of video. Roughly 60% of the population is visual when learning. What this means is that visual learners don’t absorb information when told verbally. They need to see it for them to fully understand. I’ve used video footage of practice or games as a teaching tool when coaching players. I can explain to a player what they should do differently and nothing changes, however, once they see it on the big screen, the effectiveness is very powerful. I’d suggest this as a teaching tool for one of those goof-ball parents. A video showing the parent in action may be enough to eliminate the unwanted behavior.
Hockey is the player’s game, not the parent’s. Let’s focus on all the life lessons it teaches and the personal growth potential it provides.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Lance Pitlick for his valuable advice. For more information about Lance please visit www.sweethockey.com or www.onlinestickhandling.com.
Parents need to expect more from their associations in the pursuit of coaching excellence. I have coached under four different hockey directors and found each of their interaction, education, communication and coach training grossly inadequate. It is simply a matter of more effort and better leadership.
First, the association leadership should decide what traits they want in their coaches and charge the league director with getting that accomplished. For example, do you want a competitive program or one whose philosophy is to have fun and learn the game? Those traits need to be communicated with parents, so their expectations are in line with the association’s, or they can choose to go elsewhere.
There is a real misnomer that the best coaches must be extremely experienced at hockey. While that can help, especially a beginning coach, it really should be low on the priorities for coach selection. Let’s face it, there are a tremendous number of players in all sports that are in their respective Hall Of Fame, but are horrible coaches. The same can be said at the youth level, with former youth, junior and college players. Keep in mind that some of the best coaches in the history of the NHL would have made terrible youth coaches.
What are important traits for a coach? First, he needs to be dedicated to the sport, kids and upcoming season. He needs to be open minded, and willing to do it the way the association wants it done. He should be constantly attempting to coach better. The association must train him for what they want and then monitor and tutor him as it is needed. This is essential! Too many directors build relationships with coaches and expect them to come in and do their own thing. And all too often, their “thing” is not in line with association expectations.
A level 5 certificate is not necessary, but I do recommend a Level 4 CEP (or equivalent) to coach squirt ages and above. The association’s hockey director must make sure the all coaches are coaching the association’s way. And this only comes from proper recruiting education, training, mentoring and monitoring - no matter what it says on the coach’s resume. Furthermore, while fathers make fine coaches, it can be a problem with team selection and dynamics. It is up to the hockey director to make sure this is not happening.
Parents - you should expect your hockey director to provide your child with a great coach. It really is his most important job. If he does not do it - get another director.
Editor’s Note: A special thank you to community member Tom, for his permission to reprint this comment. As a thank you for sharing his advice, HockeyShot.com is giving Tom a gift certificate to HockeyShot.com. If you have advice for how to improve the youth hockey experience, please click here. If your idea is selected, we will reward you with a free prize.
Dale Asks: How do you cope with parents who create problems during the travel hockey season? There are some parents who try to coach their kid from the stands and some who complain about everything from the amount of playing time, the coach and drills, to a multitude of other items. It also appears that these parents complain in front of their kids which results in the player having a bad attitude. These parents make it difficult for the rest of the team. Please discuss the responsibilities of the coaches in this type of situation and what, if anything other parents can do. In a long travel season, one bad parent can really disrupt a team.
Answer: At the start of the season, the head coach and his assistants should schedule a team question and answer meeting with parents and players. Doing this alone could, quite possibly, reduce the number of problem parents.
This information sharing meeting will break the ice and give the coaches a chance to answer everyone’s questions and explain their coaching philosophy, including: team goals and objectives, rules and consequences, earned or equal ice time, on and off ice practices, length of shifts, power play and penalty killing make-up, tournaments they intend to enter, cost for the season and anything else that seems reasonable.
Both parents and players should have the opportunity to ask the coaches questions. If the parents and players agree with the coach’s philosophy and other input, they can choose to join the team. But, if they disagree, they still have the opportunity to gracefully decline.
This meeting is important because it eliminates major surprises for parents and players during the season. However, having said that, some problems, concerns and situations will arise during the season - they normally do.
The team should have a protocol in place to address periodic issues. This might include scheduling a private meeting with the head coach and the parent or player to discuss the situation. A parent liaison could be appointed to set up such a meeting or bring the issue to the coaching staff to address.
If a resolution cannot be found and the player or parent continues to disrupt the team, the only course of action for the coach is to bench the player or even suspend him. If the situation is so serious and cannot be resolved, a last resort would probably be to release the player (and parent).
Editor’s Note: Thank you to John Shorey for this answer.
Chris asks: I’ve only been involved in travel hockey for 3 years. Unless your kid is a superstar, it seems hard to get into certain teams. The coaches and parents already know each other and ignore the other kids and parents. I’ve been to tryouts where there are 40, even 50 kids on the ice at the same time. The coaches watch a few kids and ignore the rest. Do you have any suggestions for coaches and parents to avoid this situation?
Answer: Where I am located in Minnesota, there are two hockey seasons, winter and then AAA. Players skate with their own association during the winter months and migrate to different AAA teams for the spring/summer & falls months. Each association has a tryout process that lasts roughly 1-2 weeks. Players are slotted for teams based on scores received during the tryout evaluations. Most associations in my area bring in independent evaluators or use individuals within the association that do not have a vested interest in the kids trying out. At the end of the tryouts, most players are put on appropriate teams and levels, based on what they showed during ice sessions. There will always be a few players that are on the bubble and could probably play up or down a level, but from my experiences, the majority end up on teams they should be on.
The AAA season is different. Teams are put together with players from a number of different associations. These teams are more like all-star teams and can be more difficult to get a foot in the door. Most have tryouts, but the more high-end organizations recruit players year after year and scout players during the winter months.
At the end of the day you have to be realistic about your player’s ability, passion for the game and willingness to improve. If you think players in your association are getting preferential treatment, I’d suggest getting involved in the process.
Looking at tryouts from a parent’s perspective, typically, all they want to know is how a player makes a team and the criteria that is part of the grading or scoring process. A parent within the association I’m involved with suggested having an open forum for parents to attend. At the meeting, parents will be informed of what to expect during tryouts. This can include the format that will be used, who will be evaluating the players and what criteria will be a part of making the final selections. At the end of the meeting, open the floor to questions. I have found that this process has great merit and should be implemented year after year.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Lance Pitlick for his valuable advice. For more information about Lance please visit www.sweethockey.com or www.onlinestickhandling.com.
Nancy Asks: As a hockey parent, my concern is the selection that associations make for coaching staff. You send your child to upper level camps and pay for private lessons for spring and summer…then end up in a travel program with a BAD coach. This past season we spent close to ,000 dollars with sign-up, tryouts, uniforms, ice time, travel expenses, and more. For the price that we pay we should have higher level coaching. Dads should not be allowed to coach the game until they have a LEVEL 5 Coaching certificate and understand the level of skills and drills that are needed at different stages. Please help! What can I do to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
Answer: This is an ongoing problem in youth sports today. There is a shortage of”good” coaches for a number of reasons. There is a tremendous lack of gratitude amongst players and parents today. The top level youth coaches are usually coaching their own children and move up with these players. Coaching takes a tremendous amount of time away from their own families and it is difficult for many to take vacation time to coach travel and at the top levels. My recommendation is to find an organization that is committed to development of the fundamental broad based skills that are necessary to enjoy the game (for coaches and players). Also do your research to find an organization that is committed to the development of self worth and self esteem in players. The elite organizations generally share a philosophy with their coaches on how this process should take place. Doing this research ahead of time should help you select an organization that is committed to the proper development of coaches and players.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Jim Johnson for his input.
Brenda asks: I know getting parents to volunteer has been a long struggle in youth sports, resulting in the same few parents picking up all the slack. I have players graduating out of our high school team this season, taking most of my regular volunteers. This causes a problem because I cannot get new parents to fill their spots. Do you have any solutions so as not to make parents angry but get them to help?
Answer: Volunteerism is a challenge at every level. If you can convey to the parents that this is an essential part of a “team” sport and can be reflected in the overall experience of both the player and the parent, that might motivate some of them. However, that being said, time can be extremely difficult to give for many families in the present economic landscape. Most people are happy to volunteer if the objectives and the expectations are well defined. In addition, it is imperative that the volunteers feel appreciated - including the volunteer coaches and managers.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Jim Johnson for his valuable advice.
For parents, it is important to separate their child’s sports development from game emotions. For this reason, many leagues and coaches have adopted the “24 Hour Rule” which simply states that coaches will not discuss a game or situation until at least 24 hours after the fact. This important rule does two things. First, it moves the discussion away from the presence of the players. Second, it allows all parties to have time to put things in perspective and “cool off” if necessary.
If parents will respect the 24 hour rule, their concerns are more likely to be fully addressed in a reasonable discussion. More importantly, the kids’ enjoyment of a game won’t be marred by an ill-timed confrontation.
Editor’s Note: A special thanks to Sports Esteem for this article.
School athletics can be helpful beyond just keeping you fit and offering you something to put on your college applications. It’s possible to learn some great life skills through sports, including the obvious ones of teamwork and dedication. A good relationship with your coach helps you get the most out of your chosen sport.
What Your Coach Can Do for You - Obviously, you can draw on your coach’s expertise to improve how you play, how you psych yourself up before a game or how you deal with a big loss or setback. Coaches have not only dealt with a lot of players and understand which techniques work and which don’t, but many of have played the sport themselves and can share personal experiences.
Your coach can also help you play your best and push your limits without injury. Many coaches have completed courses in athletic health care. They are trained in injury prevention measures, including warm-up activities, tapes, bandages, and wraps. Additionally, they are educated in assessing and ensuring a player gets the best treatment for an injury if an accident does happen.
Off the playing field, coaches can be good mentors and advisers, offering an adult perspective on non-sports problems or questions. (Many Olympic and professional athletes have had strong relationships with their coaches outside the game.)
Relationships with your coach can be different from relationships you have with your parents or teacher. Those relationships follow a more established structure, whereas a coach is usually closer to your level, working equally with you toward a common goal. You might feel more comfortable opening up to your coach about all sorts of things, from problems at home to difficulties in school.
Tips for Getting Along With Your Coach -You need a good relationship with your coach if you’re going to put in those long hours and tough practices. The coach is the one setting the schedule and if you plan to drag yourself to practice at 5:30 AM or do drills for hours you have to respect the person who is making you break a sweat. If you don’t respect your coach, you’re more likely to resent all the hard work instead of appreciating how it can help you in the long run. The reverse is also true - it’s tempting to promise all sorts of stuff to a coach you respect and want to impress. But be realistic in what you tell your coach you can do. Failing to follow through will only erode the trust between you.
Ideally, a relationship between a coach and an athlete is based on mutual respect and trust. You can make a good impression by showing up for practice on time, abiding by team rules, and always putting a lot of effort into your performance, whether it’s a workout or a game, meet or match.
To truly build respect, you have to do more than go through the motions. Your coach’s expertise and experience makes them an authority figure within the sports setting. Even if you sometimes don’t agree with your coach’s opinion, it can help to recognize that he or she has a lot more experience than you do. If you don’t understand the reasons behind your coach’s directions, approach him or her about it. Communication is crucial so both athlete and coach know what the other wants to achieve.
Figuring out how the coach manages the team will also help you develop your relationship. Coaches typically fall into two types: those who run their teams based on obedience and those who rely on responsibility. Obedience coaches basically say, “I’m the one in charge, and I’m going to make the rules.” This approach can work well in a team setting as players know that their coach has the confidence and experience to make a sure decision. To develop a good relationship with this type of coach, you have to follow the rules and respect his or her authority. Responsibility coaches allow the players to have more input in setting team policies, like deciding which reasons for missing practice are valid or how to reprimand someone who’s always late. You should show respect for this type of coach as well, but his or her approach to running the team is not as rigid. (If you think a team rule is unfair, for example, the coach might be open to revising it.)
Common Coach Problems - Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys a great relationship with every coach they meet. Teens and their coaches often disagree about the amount of time team members get to play or favoritism the coach shows to certain players. Some athletes also complain that their coaches are too bossy and take all the fun out of the sport. But one of the easiest ways for a relationship with a coach to go bad is for the coach to focus on winning instead of striving to improve. When a team feels too much pressure to win, the athletes can feel underappreciated. This can damage the trust between the coach and the team.
If you feel apprehensive about approaching your coach for any reason, try talking to the team captain about the problem. The captain’s job is to be there for any player who needs help and feels that they can relate to someone closer to their age or mindset. He or she will try to help you and the coach find a compromise that you can both agree on.
What Should You Do If You Don’t Get Along? - If you do get off to a bad start with your coach, you can take steps to repair the damage. It is best not to involve your parents in minor issues like how much playing time you’re getting. Instead, find a time to sit down with the coach and discuss what’s bothering you. Be sure to schedule this time when your coach can focus on your issues (some time when he or she isn’t running practice or in the middle of a game).
When you talk, try not to complain. Instead, ask for help in fixing the problem. Listen carefully to the coach’s response and try to understand where he or she is coming from; your coach might not have realized he or she had been giving you less playing time, or might not have known you wanted a bigger role on the team. Your coach may not be aware of the issues going through your mind as he or she has to account for all the players on the team. So it can really help to speak up about issues that are bothering you. Usually, once you express yourself, the two of you will understand each other better and can work on building a stronger relationship. If the situation doesn’t improve, though, you will have to decide if you can live with the way the coach runs the team.
Unlike a simple disagreement over playing time, some situations call for immediate action. If a coach is verbally abusing you or driving you so hard that you are afraid you may injure yourself, talk to your parents and set up a meeting with the coach’s supervisor. There’s usually someone above your coach’s authority, like an athletic director or a principal.
Although it can be tough to get along with a coach at times, a strong and fair coach can be a great asset to a team and the individual player. The best coaches help athletes develop life skills along with their sports skills, setting you up for better opportunities in the future.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Elevating Athletes for this article.