Coaching the Parents
By Chris BeermanAs a collegiate coach for 20 years, one of my strengths as a recruiter was building relationships and connections with the parents of the high school player I was recruiting. The relationship began with the recruiting process, which of course is ALWAYS positive. Just as I do now, I had a no-nonsense approach, which differed greatly from the used car salesmen style utilized by many college coaches trying to land the big star. I believe the best part of my approach was that once a player was enrolled in college and playing for my team, my relationship with that player's parents didn't suddenly change. I was still very honest, cordial and no-nonsense, so the parents and players would always know where they stood and what they needed to do to improve and/or play a more significant role. I also didn't try to hide the fact that I was an intense, demanding coach with very high expectations, so that aspect of practice was also not a shock for the now-enrolled college freshman. Players who were not into that kind of coach were not interested in my school, and I was fine with that. I encouraged those players to find a program that better met their needs. In the end, the kids who chose to play for me loved what it was all about and likewise made coaching enjoyable for me because I was working with my "kind" of kids (and parents). There were always exceptions, but that was the philosophy I lived by, and for the most part, was successful with. The reason for this long-winded introduction is to shed light on my perception of one of the biggest issues regarding club volleyball and youth sports in general: parents. When contemplating making the move to the club world, many of my colleagues advised against it simply because I would have too much frustration dealing with the parents. I heard this warning from quite a few friends I really trusted who had been involved in club for many years, and it actually gave me cause for concern, or at least prepared me for what I would be dealing with. In addition, I have read the drumbeat of articles and blogs regarding the "millennial problem" and "helicopter parents" parenting issues that experts have stated creates entitled kids, questionable work ethics, attention deficits, a lack of leaders, and overly zealous parents micromanaging every aspect of their kids' lives. I believe this generation of kids is different than any other simply because they have grown up in a different world than any other generation. The world I grew up in as a child in the 70's and 80's was not much different than the one my parents grew up in the 50's and 60's. Neither of us had cable TV, internet, cell phones, or "club" sports. We were all three-sport athletes, the recruiting process started when you were a junior and youth sports was relatively unorganized and done for fun and the love of playing the game. Things have changed drastically in the last 10 to 15 years and not recognizing that fact already clouds your ability to deal with today's youth and their parents. (Click here for an interesting article on the generation of kids today). In my short duration as a club director I have found that one thing holds true about parents that has remained true since the beginning of time: parents care and are protective of their kids. How it now manifests itself is what's different about today. I have had a few parent meetings, both as teams and with individuals and in both situations the thing I wanted to emphasize the most to parents was that I was there to listen. Even the most absurd parent complaint has some truth in there somewhere and it's important that you, the Club Director, listen to their concern and attempt to resolve the issue. As a parent myself, I completely understand how parents feel about their children. Giving a parent an ability to voice their concern, listen to the problem, give your take on the situation and then remedy the problem with a compromise or resolution creates a trusting parent/director relationship that puts fires out quickly and doesn't allow the flames to be fanned. In my first meeting with all the parents of the club, I made sure they knew that if they had a problem about anything they should come to me, not their coach. If it is a playing time issue, they are to instruct their daughter to meet with the coach and have a one on one meeting discussing what they need to do. If it is something else, I will listen. So far I have had very little if any major issues utilizing this method of parent communication and I feel the support for the coaches has been excellent. Parents want their kids to be pushed, get better, have fun and enjoy the game. Parents love it when they see their kids smile and get back in the car after a match or practice excited and motivated for the next one. This is a customer service business and I think sometimes that aspect is lost in the egos of club directors. Pushing parents away, talking down to them, or ignoring their concerns creates a non-trusting negative vibe that can destroy a club. Club volleyball is also not for everyone and possibly our club's philosophy is not for everyone, but our parents will always know for sure that our number one focus is their kids and making sure they have the best experience possible. Parents care about their kids' well-being and they want their money to be well-spent. I understand these concepts and believe it's important that you're honest, no-nonsense and provide an ear to listen. There's always at least an ounce of truth in every complaint, don't be afraid to listen and constantly evaluate what you are providing for your customer; that's the only way you grow, improve and provide a club culture that parents can trust.