Coaching youth hockey is one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of my life.
Motivating a new group each season to grow in both skill and maturity is something that I take great pride in. But with new kids, come new parents. And with new parents, come new expectations. These parental expectations come in varying degrees, but even the smallest ones can become detrimental if not addressed up front to start each season.
Expectations are defined as strong beliefs that something will happen or be the case in the future. Or the belief that someone will or should achieve something.
As coaches we have plenty of expectations for our players. They’re expected to show up on time, pay attention, work hard, have a positive attitude, show good sportsmanship, and respect the game of hockey. These are healthy and realistic expectations, holding kids accountable to create fun and challenging environments for them to learn. Teaching them not only the game of hockey, but life lessons they will carry with them their whole lives.
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Parents share healthy expectations of course, but along with that come their individual expectations on how things should be run or turn out. Parents may expect their child to play a specific position, only play on the first line, or score a goal every game. They may expect practices to be run a certain way, lines to be structured in a particular fashion, and they may become dissatisfied with the amount of time their child is seeing on the ice. These are unhealthy expectations, and rarely, if ever, line up with the expectations of coaches or organizations.
Be patient and don’t take things personally. Parents invest a lot of time and money which feeds most of their negative expectations. Ultimately, our job as coaches is to prepare kids for the next level.
Keeping parents involved and educated is a big part of succeeding in that goal. Just remember that this is all for the betterment of our kids, and to succeed, parental and coaching expectations must align. Manage the expectations and enjoy a better reality.
Here are five things that can be done to align a coach’s expectations with the parents:
1. Have each of your players fill out a questionnaire to start the season
Ask them why they love hockey, what their goals are, what their favourite position to play is, how they want their season to go, and anything else that you feel is pertinent to your team. Encourage them to do this without help!
2. Conduct a parents only meeting
Be very clear about how things will be run and STICK TO IT. Share things from the players questionnaire about their kids goals and remind parents that to be successful the entire team, including the parents, must share the same goals. Create a team philosophy that embodies what you envision your team to be. Have everyone share that philosophy from day 1 and don’t waver from it. Consistency is key!
3. Evaluate players 3 times
Beginning, middle, and end of season. Don’t settle for only end of season evaluations! Be very honest and specific with players and their parents about where improvements need to be made. Don’t just rate players on a grading scale. Give kids specific things to improve and educate them on how to do it. This is a huge help in removing some of those negative individual expectations! It also reinforces to families that you care and pay attention.
4. Have weekly video reviews with your team and invite parents to attend
This is something I had a lot of success with last season. It educates parents and puts things in perspective. Much easier to remove negative expectations when they clearly see what the reality of each game situation is and not just what they watch from the stands.
5. Don’t stop communicating with parents throughout the season
I can’t stress this enough. Effectively delivering updates and addressing concerns will help keep expectations healthy and realistic.