If you ask most junior volleyball coaches the worst part of being a coach, they will say the parents. After nearly 20 years of coaching and 16 of teaching high school science, I can honestly say I have had great experiences dealing with parents. In almost every case, the issue has been one of perceived ‘fairness.’ I can’t remember the last time I was asked “why can’t my kid jump serve over the net?” or “why does my kid keep overpassing?” The questions have been, “why isn’t my kid playing?” or “why does my kid get subbed out for making errors, but other players don’t’?” The questions are emotional in nature, rarely tactical or technical.
I used to be the coach who did not want to talk to parents about volleyball. Not because I don’t love the sport, but because somehow the questions always turned back to playing time for their kid. It was easier to just not engage with parents at all. Or so I thought. In the last 5-6 years I have focused on educating the parents about my philosophies and thought processes as a coach. I do it early, I do it often. I am even developing a “Workbook for Parents of Team Sport Athletes” to share my coaching insights, but more importantly, to get parents to think about what their sports parenting philosophies are.
The two greatest tips I can give to younger coaches are:
- When there is any issue developing or currently ongoing, always talk to your player with the parent present but not involved in the conversation. I tell the parent I will be having a conversation with their kid, and I want them there as a spectator and recorder of the conversation. I remind them that the conversation is with the player and ask them to not interject, but just listen like a fly on the wall. It eliminates the miscommunication from coach to player to parent.
- Have a detailed parent meeting at the beginning and middle of the season. A parent meeting should not just be a list of do’s, don’ts and payment schedules. Each coach should have their philosophies and guiding principles written out and given to the parents. Have a discussion. Be open and honest. Parents won’t like everything you have to say, but inform them as to how you will handle certain scenarios that might come up. Let them ask questions. Why do it again in the middle? Because parents will have developed questions over the season and if you don’t answer them, the parent next to them in the stands will.
Here's a list of questions I have most often received from parents over the years, and my possible answers.
Q: Why do I disagree with the coach so often?
A: Your perspective will always filter every decision the coach makes as to how it affects your kid, but the coach will always filter every decision they make as to how it affects the team.These are, by nature, opposing views! Finding positive and productive ways to work through those opposing views will benefit your player.
Q: Why does the setter not set my daughter/son (or not set her/him well)?
A: The reasons could be any of the following: the pass location; the offensive plan of the coach; who has the hot hand; how the hitters match up with blockers, etc. No setter would purposely set their hitters poorly or their play time would be affected.
Q: Why does the coach not call a timeout?
A: Calling timeouts is about the ‘feel’ of the game. Two bad points from our own team right away might warrant an early time out. Several great plays by the other team may not. We don’t always get it right, but it’s not just about the score.
Q: Why is my daughter not playing?
A: The reasons are usually either disciplinary or poor practice performance. An additional reason could be they are third or fourth best in a given position. She needs to get better. Sound harsh? Sorry, but it’s the truth.
Sports are about competition…competition first to get on the team and then competition to get on the court. Coaches will do their best to get everyone playing time because we want everyone to play. However, at older/higher levels, winning is the goal. If the coach feels your daughter can help them achieve this, they will be on the court.
Q: Why is my daughter taken out for making errors, but other players aren’t?
A: Not all errors are equal. Serving and hitting in the net are worse than serving or hitting out. Setting too tight or too far past the pin is worse than setting too far off or inside. Also, after hours and hours of practice, the coach knows who the stronger players are even though they may be in a slump. Subbing players is about more than just the one player…it’s about team impact.
Q: What can I do to help the coach and team? What is appropriate parental behavior? What can I do to show support for my daughter/son without disrupting the team?
A: Offer to carpool with other parents; offer to organize food at tournaments (or snack bar); help set up fundraisers if needed; avoid speaking negatively about the coach or other members of the team. Help the coach or club with any administrative stuff if needed. Create a phone tree. Show up at tournaments ready to have a great time! Cheer for all the players, not just yours. Don’t try to recruit other parents into your dissatisfaction and frustration. Once you say something, you can’t un-say it.
Q: Other people tell me that my daughter is better than her teammates and should be playing. Why doesn’t her coach see that?
A: Great question! You may not like the answer. There are many reasons people might contradict what your current coach is saying/doing with your kid: it’s human nature for others to judge your coach as ‘wrong’ when it’s not the same decision they would make. They are trying to sway your opinion of that coach. They are trying to make you feel good by being empathetic. They are trying to join in or instigate your frustration or, they are right. Yep, maybe the other person is right. I once stood behind two recruiters at a Vegas tournament discussing a very talented player. One was saying she was a perfect fit for his system while the other was saying she was totally wrong for his. Same talented player, two differing opinions. It happens. However, the honest truth it is usually one of the other reasons I listed (or one I didn’t). Consider the source and potential ulterior motives for their feedback.
Q: Why is the coach playing favorites?
A: I love this question. Every player can be a ‘favorite.’ Show up early, work hard, ask good questions, put team first, be one of the top nine players on the team, help set up and take down equipment, do extra workouts and be encouraging to teammates. Coaches play favorites - they are the kids with the previous listed criteria and any kid can be one. With all due respect, that accusation is often a defense mechanism used by parents struggling to face the reality of the level of their kid’s abilities.
Q: Why is the coach trying to hurt my kid? Why is the coach so mean?
A: Please for the sake of the coach’s reputation; do not confuse your personality/style preference with the actual quality of the coach. If you truly believe the coach is trying to hurt your kid, you should pull your kid from the team. Period. No adult should be trying to hurt your kid, and if you feel that way, you should not allow them in your child’s presence.
You may not agree with every decision, but rather than assuming the worst about a coach, find out what the coach’s philosophies are so at least you understand even if you don’t agree. Understand that being an athlete involves growing pains, and there will be times your athlete comes home crying or frustrated. Even said in the nicest way, it doesn’t feel good to be told you are performing poorly or not as good as another player, so tears can be a byproduct in your athlete. No coach is trying to damage your kid's psyche, but criticism and correction will hurt their feelings. Especially, if they have not experienced it before.