Coaches today have an enormous responsibility.In addition to meeting the needs of their athletes, coaches must meet the expectations of the clubs they represent. They must also engage with and answer to parents, who come with their own expectations and desire to be involved. Some parents want to be highly involved, others wish to be minimally involved, and a number can become overly involved. Coaches who have experienced parents who yell at their children to perform, try to coach from the sidelines, or consistently question coaching decisions understand how difficult it can be to deal with parents, particularly the most difficult ones who behave poorly during games. Accounts of parents engaging in inappropriate behaviors ranging from verbal to physical assaults on other parents, coaches, and referees appear frequently in the media. Sport club leaders who have experienced parental complaints about coaches understand how difficult it can be to bridge the gap between the needs of the parents and the coach’s need for a certain degree of autonomy.
Given the central role of parents in club sports (particularly when dealing with young participants who cannot drive), coaches and sport club administrators must be prepared to deal with parents on a regular and ongoing basis and to respond to their needs. This chapter is grounded in a philosophy that embraces parents as in important part of the club sport experience. Rather than casting them as peripheral to the sport experience, club leaders and coaches should consider parents valuable resources who deserve to feel valued, respected, and central. Research has shown that parents, along with coaches, peers, and siblings, play an important role in athletes’ prolonged sport participation (Cote, Baker, & Abernethy, 2003; Cote & Fraser-Thomas, 2007).
This philosophical approach departs from the “my way or the highway” model of coaching in which the coach is considered the expert and parents are expected to accept coaching and club decisions without question or explanation. Instead, the relationship between coach and parent is seen as a process of social negotiation that enhances the experience of the child. A study of junior tennis players revealed that 59 percent of coaches believed that parents contributed to the success of their children (Gould, Lauer, Rolo, Jannes, & Penniski, 2006).
Finally, this philosophical approach accepts that parents have the best interests of their children at heart regardless of their level of involvement or their motivations for enrolling their children in the sport. Too often, coaches and others assume that parents who don’t come to practices and games are not interested in their children’s sporting experiences, or that parents who are over-involved pressure their unwilling children. These negative assumptions must be suspended and replaced with one that assumes parents have the best intentions, not the worst.
The first step in embracing parent collaboration is to accept that parents have a right to understand and be informed about all aspects of their children’s experiences. Too often, parents are left to learn about the experiences of their children by listening to their comments or by observing their children, the coach, and their interactions during games and practices. Although both of these are important and valid ways to learn about the experiences of their children, this two-dimensional view does not allow the parent to fully understand how and why the coach and child interact the way they do, nor the reasons the coach has made the decisions she has.
For parents to fully understand the complex learning environment and specific cultural context that is unique to each team within the club, they need to be considered part of a communication triad that includes the child, the parent, and the coach (figure 4.1). Within this triad the parent and the coach work collaboratively to help the child learn (improve skills) and have a successful experience as an athlete. In the process, both coach and parent also learn—about themselves, about each other, and about the child. They are bound together because they both have the best interest of the child at heart while each holding beliefs and expectations (sometimes similar and sometimes different) about the child’s sporting experience.
Each member of the communication triad comes to the team experience with different knowledge, skills, and dispositions that underlie their temperaments and guide their behaviors. Children come with knowledge and skills learned through participation in physical education class and on other sport teams, extra coaching from their parents, or informal pick-up experiences with friends and family. No player arrives devoid of knowledge and skills, but each arrives with differing levels grounded in their own personal experiences.
Parents come with intimate knowledge of their children and parenting skills necessary to deal with them. They also come with variety of strengths that may include varying degrees of knowledge and expertise about the sport, an understanding of the developmental needs of a particular group of students, or skills in managing the athletes. An elementary teacher, for example, would have a great deal of knowledge about age-appropriate behaviors and complimentary pedagogies that a coach may not have.
Coaches arrive with varying degrees of sport-specific knowledge, skills, and pedagogies. Although paid coaches may have a higher level of experience and knowledge than volunteer coaches, all arrive with a well-intentioned willingness to teach the athletes.
Importantly, parents and coaches also come with parenting and coaching philosophies that underlie their dispositions and guide their decisions and behaviors These philosophies are grounded in their beliefs about a myriad of aspects that affect the child’s experience as an athlete. These include beliefs about discipline, work ethic, winning, determinants of playing time, what constitutes commitment and skill improvement, and even the role of the coach (figure 4.2).