Parents are not your enemy

Coaching is not just an activity focused on training and education of athletes. The coach must perform a number of other functions that relate to his various roles such as the role of the group's representatives, advisers, mentors, instructors, refs, planners, coordinators and the like. In performing these roles, the coach interacts and communicates with many people who are very important in his coaching work. In order to successfully communicate with his colleagues (head or assistant coaches), club administration, medical staff, athletes, refs, parents, media and fans, it is necessary to constantly work on improving their interpersonal skills, among which the most important are: knowledge of oneself and others, trust in yourself and others; the ability to solve conflicts, the skills of effective communication, and the ability to accept and support others.

Our sport practice is abundant with examples that show that there are a lot of things "in the relationship" between the coach and the parent, that there is a high degree of mutual misunderstanding, mistrust, accusation and criticism. Neither party is satisfied, the differences in understanding their own roles and responsibilities in relation to the role and duties of the other "side" are large. Therefore, confrontations and conflicts are inevitable. Such disturbed relationships are an indication that communication between coaches and parents of their athletes is bad or almost nonexistent, and that communication channels are blocked.

When relationships between parents and coaches are disturbed, young athletes are mostly puzzled and become confused and disturbed by completely different messages and requests coming from the two opposing sides. Of course, the lists of unsportsmanlike, inappropriate, aggressive and violent behavior of coaches and parents are long, because coaches and parents are more willing to push the role of facilitators of non-pedagogic, aggressive and violent behavior primarily to the other side, while they are more viewed as victims, and very few as facilitators of the same behavior.

Although many adult subjects (coaches, parents, teachers, spectators, refs, media, and clubs) are involved in the sports life of children and young people, however, parents and coaches are the most important elements of the so-called "Sports triangle". They together with the athlete make a small team, and from their mutual communication, the way they understand and play their roles, it will depend on whether it will be a winning team or a team in which relations are disturbed, dissatisfied, and the child's sporting experience is negative, traumatic and discouraged from further participation.

Regardless of whether you generally feel that parents should not be involved in your sports program, because you believe their presence is always more harmful than it is (this is the attitude of most of the coaches), you must accept the fact that it is completely justified, natural and necessary that parents are involved in the sport of their child, but that the degree of involvement is optimal, not insufficient or excessive. It is quite natural for parents to show interest in the sport of their children, to be informed about all the important aspects of their sporting life, to support them, to monitor their progress and to hope that one day they will be able to realize their sports potentials. However, the problem arises when parents become too involved and go beyond the fine boundary between moderate-supportive involvement and overworked occupation that slowly but surely leads them to the point when their personal life begins to be defined by the success of the sport of their children.

While insufficient involvement is characteristic of uninformed and uninterested parents, those who are too involved in the sport of their children usually fall into one of the categories of the so-called problematic parents such as: fanatic, exciting, "coaches from the bleachers", too critical, those who overly protect children and the like. Fanatic parents identify themselves to that extent with their children to see them as an extension of their own ego. In these situations, the parental feeling of own value becomes dependent on the sporting success of their children. If their children are successful and win, they also feel worthy and successful and vice versa. If children are unsuccessful, they feel like losers, unrealized and less valuable. You don’t need specialists to see how much pressure such fanatic, too critical, unrealistic ambitious, completely controlling and often violent parents put on children.

Young athletes who have such parents, compared with the children whose parents are positive, supporting them and putting them on a fun and positive sports experience in front of the victory are much more likely to experience high pressure and stress, enjoy sports less, often burn out, be disappointed, and feel less worthwhile and lose self-respect the desire to play the sport, quit and not re-enter it again. The research showed that young athletes who rated their parents as fanatical, too critical, always dissatisfied, unrealistic in expectations, burdensome, pressing and too involved in their sport and themselves in their behavior manifest much more aggression, hostility, unsportsmanlike behavior and less self-esteem.

Your duty as a coach of young athletes is to work on parental education on a daily basis to fit them into the right way to help them understand their role properly and become a "positive player" in the "coach-child-parent" team. Because it is not an easy, but not impossible, for potential enemy, a constant critic, and a person who equally pressures both you and their child to turn into an optimally involved, realistic, positive, and supportive parent. In order to succeed, you must first rid yourself of sophisticated prejudices inherited from wrong beliefs, negative emotions, and rigid attitudes that characterize those coaches who look at the involvement of parents in sport in two ways:

1. They believe that parents are more harmful than helpful and that it is best to exclude them from the sports arena. These coaches resent their parents' interference with the coaching process, exerting great pressure both on children and on them (coaches), which have unrealistic expectations, which often behave badly in competitions, which do not understand what their duties and responsibilities are.

2. In the second group, coaches who consider parental involvement to be inevitable, so their presence must be tolerated, but not encouraged. Parents are "indispensable evil", their duties and activities should be maximally limited and not allow them to lead the way, to interfere in club politics and coaching.

We hope that you do not share the opinions of coaches from the first two groups and that you view your parents as important "players" in your sports team, that you consider them welcome and encourage their optimal involvement. In this way, you are showing that you recognize the importance of parental role, you are perceived as key contributors in building a "winning team" and strengthening your own coaching role. You need to invest your time and knowledge in order to create preconditions for good communication with all the "types" of your athlete’s parents. It will make it easier to do that if you accept the fact that communication is a "two-way street” that requires hearing and communication skills, and that open communication lines can prevent many problems, conflicts and misunderstandings that often arise from differences in thinking about children's sports abilities.

Things to remember:

  • Each parent has the right and needs to know what is happening to his child - how he progresses, whether there are certain problems and how he can help him.

  • Coaches are the basic source of information for parents and they must be ready to cooperate with them, answer their questions, and listen to their ideas and suggestions.

  • Every communication is a "two-way street". It requires the skill of listening and speaking skills.

  • Parents should never talk during training or competition and never in the presence of a child, but talk to them at specific places, alone or at parental meetings.

  • Coaches should not be threatened by parents and their questions, but to listen to them, to get to know their views of certain problems, to consider their suggestions and ideas.

  • The most common conflicts between coaches and parents relate to the ability of young athletes. Dissatisfied parents should be heard, but always keep in mind that the coach is the last one. Parents should be told that you as coaches do everything for the benefit of their child.

  • Parents should be familiar with their duties and responsibilities, with rules of behavior in training and competitions, with club rules, the rules of their sport, procedures that contribute to the development of a sport character, fair play and sports behavior of young people.

  • The best way to direct parents to all important aspects of parental role that will help them, if they do not become "MVP parents", then at least not to fall into one of the categories of problematic parents, is to prepare a club brochure on a positive sports parent .

  • Keep in mind that no coach, no matter how hard he tried and what knowledge he had, cannot make everyone happy!