Coaches vs Parents: How to Build Positive Relationships in Any Sport

Tyler Lightbown

Tyler Lightbown is currently an Assistant Coach with the Red Deer College Kings Men's Hockey team.
Feel free to contact Tyler with any questions or input!
Email at [email protected] or phone 403-357-9780.

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Although the advances in technology make some aspects of coaching easier, it has made other areas much more difficult. There is one thing that hasn’t changed over time: communication & transparency leads to trust. In order to get the most out of every athlete each season, trust must be a major factor in every relationship. Parents included.

If I asked my parents about their relationship with my coaches 20 years ago, their answer would probably be something like “I saw him at your first practise, saw him on the bench during games, shook his hand and thanked him at the end of the year.”

Oh how times have changed…

Although some coaches yearn for those days to come back, I believe we can help our athletes even more by keeping parents engaged and building a relationship with them.

Here are some tips that to help you build relationships with parents throughout the season.

Open the lines of communication early

Show up at the start of the season organized and prepared. Have your start of season presentation ready to go and have all of your contact information included in it. Be transparent with what will be acceptable when it comes to communication with coaches and staff. Talking about other players is completely unacceptable for my teams. Some associations have different policies – make sure you know what yours is. Most have a 24 hour cool down period before parents can talk to coaches. If you want your athletes parents to follow that, make sure they are aware of it.

My personal policy is that my players can contact me at any time no matter what. My players’ parents have the same luxury. But both parties must be prepared for the answers they may get to their questions. Which leads to the next thing…

Honesty at all times, no matter how hard it is

Never lie to a player. That’s a fairly easy concept to grasp. It does nobody any good to lie to them about anything in athletics. But what about lying to parents? Most coaches say they wouldn’t, but have you ever sugar-coated something? Stretched the truth to make it sound better? Most have, and many times regretted it. I want the parents to be honest with me when I have questions about their child, so I will reciprocate that honesty.

In order to be honest at all times, you better have a plan. When a parent asks why their child isn’t on the powerplay, saying they aren’t skilled enough may be true, but what are you going to do about it? Can they get there? Can you help them get there? How?

Being prepared puts parents at ease, which helps build trust.

Speak to the athlete as if their parents were standing next to them

Did you just cringe as you thought of an explosion of emotion in a dressing room or practise? Maybe a comment that was better left unsaid? An insult to an official you hope a parent didn’t hear? It’s athletics, people are passionate, those things happen. But what would you say to an athlete while their parents are right next to them? Would the conversation change? If the answer is yes, you may want to re-evaluate the way you communicate with players. I believe the biggest breakdown in the Coach-Player-Parent communication cycle is between the player & parent. Most players don’t want to tell their parents exactly what the coach said, so the parent goes to the coach for further explanation. Those conversations are made easier when you can have the same conversation verbatim that you had with the players. I also make sure my players know that’s what will happen if their parent contacts me. In my experience, it cleans up the cycle and allows for a more honest and constructive conversation.

Ask the parents about life away from sports.

As a coach you have something that many parents dream of: leverage. Dealing with teenagers can be difficult, so a parent/coach relationship that has an athlete’s best interest at heart can help. Ask the parents about school, home life, plans after the season, and you may pick up on a few things that can help you get through to a player. It may also help the parent get through to their child about important aspects of life, like school. If a coach and parent are both preaching the importance of academics, players are more likely to accept it. It becomes more than a parent nagging!

Having a conversation with a parent about their child’s goals and aspirations allows you to help them build a plan. A little extra inspiration from a coach could be all they need.

Thank the parents

Parents do a lot. Parents of athletes do even more. Not only are the monetary investments staggering to some families, the added time and stress can be extremely difficult for some. Having a coach that parents trust can ease some of that burden. Be sure to thank them for getting players to practises and games on time. The parents need to know you respect their commitment before you can ever earn respect in return.

You can take these tips and add them to what you are currently doing, and it still won’t help with every parent. There are problem parents out there, and you won’t be able to get through to all of them. But if these help with even one athlete’s parents, then it is worth it.

Tyler Lightbown

Assistant Coach – Men’s Hockey

Red Deer College Kings

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