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Posted July 13, 2016

Dealing with parents and playing time issues

By David Hoch, CMAA, Baltimore County, Maryland

Parents and the problems they cause due to their children’s playing time is the No. 1 issue coaches face.

While the vast majority of parents are good, positive and supportive — the issue of playing time and why their child is not a starter is a constant aggravation for your coaching staff.

Formulating a philosophy and an approach to deal with this complaint must be high on your list of things to do. The following six ideas provide a starting point to handling parents.

1. Not up for discussion

Establish a standard for your parents that the issue of playing time and who starts a game is one area that is not up for discussion. Deliver this message in your pre-season parents’ meetings. Explain it in various handouts, booklets, documents and newsletters. And, if you have an operational website, post this information on it.

It is important to emphasize that athletes, however, should be encouraged to talk to their coaches with the purpose of asking for suggestions of what they can do in practice to improve. It’s not a difficult task to have coaches explain to the entire team what goes into their decision of starters, and when and how substitutions are made. It is unacceptable for parents to initiate this conversation and a coach never should be approached immediately after a contest.

2. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Explain to the parents and athletes that playing time is earned by the performance and effort that is put forth in practice sessions. Experimenting or providing a chance to audition for more playing time during games may not be best for the team or even possible.

If playing time is earned in practice, the effort and success during an athlete’s time on the floor, court or field may secure more time in the future … but it all starts with what happens in practice.

3. Role filling.

Expand your explanations to athletes and parents to cover the concept of filling roles on a team. In basketball, for example, you need more than just scorers. Individuals who can rebound, play defense and handle the ball also are necessary and critical to the team’s success.

It helps a team when all of the athletes and parents understand what their role is on the squad. A role can change during a season with the improvement of skills, an injury to another player or finding a more effective or efficient group with the execution of the offense.

4. Make it a contract.

Draw up a contract for parents to sign, which includes the expectation that parents don't approach coaches with concerns about playing time.

The parents’ signature and date on this contract indicates that they have read and understand the provisions. If there is ever a problem, pull this document out of your files and use it as the first line of defense.

5. Talk to your coaches, assistants.

Be sure to use your pre-season staff meeting to explain to your coaches how there sometimes are small groups of misguided, enabling parents who press for playing time or starting positions.

As part of your effort of educating your coaches, help them construct answers to two commonly expressed comments from aggressive and unrealistic parents:

  • “I played college ___ (fill in the sport) and I know …”
  • “I coached our son in the summer league, I know what he can do …”

These typical statements, followed by a question or even a demand, are meant to apply pressure and subtlety indicates that the coach isn’t well-versed in the sport. They are intended to intimidate the coach and that’s why it is important to help provide a sound retort. When encountering one of these openings, it is important to politely but firmly remind the parent that this is a topic that is not up for discussion.

Some parents like to provide their own statistics and evaluations of other players to substantiate their position. As with grades in an academic subject, arm your coaches with the response that a coach cannot discuss other players on the team.

6. Offer support when needed.

Be prepared to support your coaches and assistants by joining them when they meet with problematic parents. Your actual presence in a meeting, even if you say very little, can go a long way to diffuse the situation. By being on hand, you clearly demonstrate to the parents that the coach is not acting alone but has the backing of the athletic administrator or head coach.

If there is another or reoccurring problem in the future, consider stepping in and handling it directly. Allow your coach to deal with the real responsibilities of planning and conducting practice. At this point, it may be time for you to take a little stronger stance with the offending parent.

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