One area that high school coaches can consistently grow in is parent guidelines and family communication. Coach Stantial’s immediate response to this is that their goal as a program is to get players to advocate for themselves. These are fourteen to eighteen-year old student-athletes. The step after they are done with basketball is very likely college, and if not a full-time job. At some point, they are going to need to distance themselves from their parents. Athletics can become one training ground to help them transition into taking ownership of their lives.
Coach Stantial outlines parent guidelines at the beginning of the season when they do their preseason expectations meeting. Typically, the booster parents will speak first. Fundraising is a key piece for any program, and unlike playing time this is where Coach Stantial wants parents communicating. After the booster parents speak, Coach Stantial will review his own expectations. He listed three ideas which I strongly agree with.
Vouch for Assistant Coaches
First, he asks that if parents at the freshmen or JV level have an issue to speak with him. As he told me, given the hours and the work that these coaches give, they are underpaid. He does not want them to have more problems and stress to deal with. I really like this stance because it tells his assistant coaches that he trusts and supports them.
Second, he asks for parents not to talk to him about grievances after a game. They can wait twenty-four hours when everyone’s emotions (player, parent, and coach) are a little calmer and more reflective. I have always had this same rule and it is a great safety net as a coach when you are upset with the result of the game to begin with.
Third, he asks parents to try not to send conflicting messages to their child. Most kids are eager to please. If the coach is asking the player to set a screen on a play and the parent is yelling at their child to shoot on the same play, it creates a conflict in the player’s mind. Coach Stantial acknowledges to parents that there will be moments where they disagree with his coaching. When these instances arise, getting a conflicting message does more damage than good to the players.
Stay Humble as Coach
One final note that Coach Stantial shared with me is the support network of older coaches in the athletics program in Beverly. Coaches have given him great advice and to his credit Coach Stantial is humble to listen. There are many mentors who have lived through the hard situation that you currently face. Seeking advice from veteran coaches before taking an irrational route to solve a problem increases the likelihood that a mole hole does not fester into a mountain.
Three Thoughts for When Parent Guidelines Are Broken
From my own perspective, parents will always love their child more than the team. In our culture as Amanda Ripley wrote in The Smartest Kids in the World, parents often place more emphasis on athletics than academics. Thus, they will occasionally break the parent guidelines. Different coaches have different philosophies in these instances. Consider these three concepts in forming a positive mindset when parent guidelines are breached.
First, remember that this is part of the job. There is no way you were naïve enough to coach and not encounter conflicts from families. When you perceive these encounters as injustices, you start to hate the job. You lose touch with why you coach in the first place. Coaching is rewarding for the values you can instill in young players. A parent meeting could be a step to turning around a relationship instead of a step toward shutting off a relationship. Be open-minded and embrace a parent interaction.
Second, try to enlist someone else as a witness in your conversation. Human nature in an argument is to remember the most negative or vulnerable statement one voice makes. The coach might make a great argument and spin the situation in a positive manner. The parent might not hear any of it. Ask to meet with the athletic director present or if that is not possible at least an assistant coach so that it is not just your word against theirs.
Third, make it abundantly clear that you care about the child because you do. The player is on the team for a reason, but that reason might not match why the parent wants the player on the team. Joseph Lovett artfully put it this way in Coach God, “Giving our sons and daughters everything they want is not the way to achieve happiness.”