Making the coach, parent, athlete relationship a positive experience for all

Martin A Bitter, California State University, Fresno

Making the coach, parent, athlete relationship a positive experience for all.


Martin A Bitter, California State University, Fresno


 Time is wasted in sports today in high school and middle schools solving problems with relationships between coaches, parents, and athletes.  The purpose of this article is to discuss successful ways to create positive relationships between coaches, parents, and athletes so they understand their role.


The significance of this problem is coaches spend much of their coaching time solving off the field distractions.  These distractions usually come in the form of relationships between the coach and the athlete, athlete and the parent, or coach and parent.  Researches show that athletes got involved and continue to participate in athletics because it is fun or enjoyable.  The top five reasons children participate in sports are fun, learn new skills, become physically fit, competition, and meeting new friends.  When sports are no longer fun athletes will no longer choose to participate.  Willie Stargell who is a member of Major League Baseball Hall of A Fame was quoted as saying, Nobody ever says work ball. They always say play bal. To me that means having fun.  If we can create good lines of communication and make sure coaches, parents, and athletes understand their perspective roles; sports will be a positive experience for everyone. 


Extracurricular Activities are a Privilege


Playing on a team is a privilege that comes with certain expectations.  Both school and team rules and regulations must be adhered to in order to participate.  Athletes, parents and coaches must remember that all participants are students first and a minimum academic requirement of 2.0 is to be met in order to participate in any extracurricular activities.  The one basic rule that must be followed in all sports programs according to the Coachs Playbook is athletes should never do anything that will bring embarrassment or an unfavorable view to their teammates, coaches, family, school, or community.  Coaches want their teams remembered for how hard they competed, not how inappropriately they acted.  Another concern that must be addressed is the privilege of playing time.  Playing time should be communicated to both parents and athletes.  Coaches can strive to have each team member play in each game, however, playing time will be determined by the students skill, development, commitment, attitude, personal responsibility, game situation, and safety. 


Typical Problems


How many parents do you know who are able to recognize good coaching in a losing situation?  Many parents wouldnt be able to recognize good coaching in a winning situation.  Parents who attend games often dont see the big picture, but instead view sporting events through tunnel vision.  They dont see the team objectives; they see what is best for their child.  This emotional attachment of watching something happen or seeing their child fail can cause an eruption in the nicest of parents.  Another problem we commonly wee is the parents who are driven by college scholarships and professional contracts.  We see this occur more with travel teams and club sports than in our public schools.  This eruption does carry over to our parents in the public schools as well.  This was evident in Torrance, California, when a father and uncle were sentenced to forty-five days in jail for attacking a high school coach over playing time.  Parents are paying big money in hopes of not having to pay for a college education and when money is being paid many times problems tend to occur. 


Some other typical problems which occur are second guessing the coaches play calling or strategy, the amount of playing time a child is getting, and questioning the coaches decisions on who plays.  These types of problems put unnecessary pressure on our young athletes to perform.  These are inappropriate areas for parents to discuss with their sons coach according to Bruce Brown who is a leader of a group call Proactive Coaching.   One strategy in solving these problems is for parents to release their child to the game and the coach.  Parents need to allow their children to take credit for their successes or failures and responsibility for solving problems between them and the coach. 




Communication is something we do throughout our lifetimes, but receive very little formal training in how exactly to do it.  Sports are not any different than any other facet of life when it comes to communication.  If communication is unsuccessful between coaches, parents, and athletes the season will probably be unsuccessful too.  Coaches must get to know their athletes and parents.  If a coach can create a relationship with the athletes parents many problems can be solved before they occur.  Communication can take place at the beginning of the season with a mandatory athlete-parent meeting.  This meeting should discuss practice times, disciplinary policies, goals of the team, transportation policies, and proper ways and times to set up meetings with the coach if a problem were to arise.  It is my personal experience as an Athletic Director that my time solving problems would decrease tremendously if parents attended preseason meetings.


In order to communicate effectively coaches must first be good listeners and give very direct straightforward messages that are high in information and useful for the parents.  Policies must be consistent for all athletes so mixed messages are not conveyed.  Communication both verbal and nonverbal should never have hidden agenda.  Coaches never want to assume that the athlete or parent understands what they are trying to say.  When speaking to people speak clearly and always communicate with sincerity. 




At Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Madera we are setting up a workshop with the help of our coaches to educate parents on our athletic expectations, rules and regulations.  This will help to alleviate some of the more significant problems we deal with during the season.  The workshop will be mandatory and held before the beginning of each sport season.  If a parent/guardian isnt there to represent an athlete that athlete will not be allowed to participate in an athletic contest until the parent/guardian has completed the workshop.  The workshop will be approximately one hour where they will show a short video, which will give perspectives of what the athlete expects from their parents before, during, and after competition.


The next topic covered will be our overall athletic program expectations.  These will include rules and regulations that will be consistent for all sports in every season.  I will give a handout that contains the sports offered each season and the different roles of the parent, athlete, and coach.  This will be followed by a question and answer session with questions being answered by any of our coaches and administrators for that particular season.  We will then break off into groups where the parents/guardians can meet with the coach that their child is participating with.  Coaches will have their team expectations and implement guidelines for resolving any disputes that may occur.  At Thomas Jefferson we try to let our parents know that we can only improve by hearing their concerns.  We will address their concerns if they follow the guidelines set forth in our four-step approach. 


Four Step Approach


Athlete will meet with the coach to solve the problem.

Parent will set up an appointment with the coach to solve the problem.

Parent will set up a meeting with the Athletic Director and Coach to solve the problem. 

Athletic Director will set up an appointment with the Principal, parent, coach, and athlete to solve the problem. 

These are roles that coaches, parents, and athletes need to play in order to make the athletes experience in sports fun.  The big picture tells us that the sports experience should be a positive time for parents, athletes, and coaches, but this takes each one doing their part. 


About the Author:

The author is a graduate student in the Kinesiology Department at California University, Fresno.  He has been a physical education teacher for eight years and a coach of various sports for 15 years.  He is currently the Athletic Director at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Madera, California.