Coaching in high school has changed.
There were always those who felt they knew better than the coach. In fact, even Hollywood saw it. For evidence, check out the early scene in “Hoosiers” where Gene Hackman has to run a group of parents out of the Hickory gym because they didn’t like his emphasis on defense.
But life isn’t art, and today isn’t yesterday. Today, if parents aren’t happy with coaches, they aren’t shy about writing letters to the newspaper, marching into the principal’s office to demand a change or hiring private investigators to look into a coach’s past stops.
There are clinics for Xs and Os, but rare is the seminar on how to deal with your athletes’ parents.
The Spokesman-Review asked local high school coaches for tips they would offer a young coach on dealing with parents.
•Lay a strong foundation before the season begins.
Some programs have a preseason meeting with the parents and/or the players where the year’s expectations are laid out. Some even hand out packets of information for parents that help them deal with their child’s athletic experience. Stay organized and stay true to the foundations you’ve laid out.
•Build an honest relationship with the players.
“If you have a good relationship with your players, automatically, if you need to, you’ll end with a good relationship with their parents,” said Don Ressa, longtime baseball coach at University High. “You always want to look them in the eye and be honest with them.”
•Show the players you care about them.
High school kids are under tremendous pressure every day. And they can be incredibly bright about an adult’s intentions. You can’t fake empathy. If you care, they’ll know. If you criticize a player or are upset with them during practice or a game, make sure you talk with them before they leave that day.
•Encourage your athletes to talk with you.
Coaches are not only building teams and players, they are trying to build solid citizens. Learning to deal with authority is part of growing up, and that lesson can be taught through athletics.
•Build an honest relationship with the parents.
Remember the parents will only see things through their daughter’s or son’s eyes. That is their job. Your job is to see things through the team’s eyes.
•Be willing to listen to the concerns of parents, but it is OK to have certain subjects that are off-limits.
Most coaches won’t talk to parents about who plays where, when and how much. Others include the strategy involved in the game. Others talk about anything. Decide what you think is best and let the parents know what the parameters are. Don’t be afraid to change if you think the old strategy isn’t working.
•Find a mentor to help.
Whether it is the athletic director or a veteran coach on staff, draw from their experience dealing with off-court issues. They may have traveled the exact path before.
•Make sure you have the administration’s support.
If the A.D. and the principal aren’t in your corner, you probably shouldn’t be coaching at the school.