By Angela Weight
I get a lot of messages from parents seeking advice on various dilemmas. Many of them end with “how do I talk to the coach about this?” (“This” is usually lack of playing time or some other perceived unfairness leveled against a player.)
99-percent of these questions are from well-meaning, level-headed, sensible people who want to handle their issue with the coach productively and without arrest warrants. However, when your kid and emotions are involved, all your best etiquette can sail over the fence like a fouled off curve ball. (It can for me, anyway.) But over the years, I’ve learned to communicate with my sons’ coaches more effectively without the help of alcohol, vandalism and terroristic threats.
Therefore, I thought I’d share some guidelines on how to approach the coach in a positive, constructive, nonjudgmental way (He’ll be more willing to consider your perspective if he isn’t dodging insults and accusations.)
Some of you are reading this thinking, “but the guy’s an idiot! And he needs to be called out! I’ll just be saying what everyone else is thinking.”
You may have a point. And if your goal is to sever all ties with the team, burn a few bridges and have other coaches avoid your player because they don’t want to have to deal with his psycho parents, then be my guest. Storm right up into the dugout in the middle of a game and LET THAT COACH HAVE IT. Don’t just limit your diatribe to baseball related insults. Be sure to criticize his ethics, his intelligence, his job, his physique, his wife, his mother, his children and the vehicle he drives. And while you’re at it, call the assistant coaches “know-nothing pansies” for being associated with this clown. Don’t leave out the home plate umpire! After all, he’s being paid off by every team you’ve ever faced.
Once you and your humiliated kid have been tossed out of the tournament facility, you can pump your fist in pride. Because YOU TOLD THEM, alright. You really let ’em have it! Surely the coach will change his ways and become a better man thanks to your verbal assault.
On the other hand, if you’re hoping for a more solution focused conversation, here are some helpful tips for accomplishing that.
1. Ask your kid for his take on the situation. You might be surprised to learn that he has no idea what you’re talking about… or doesn’t see it as a problem. (A while back, we had a parent complain about the coach always “dumping” her son in the outfield. What she didn’t realize was that he had asked for that position and was happy there.) If you’re the only one with an issue, then maybe it’s not really an issue.
2. Encourage your kid to speak up for himself. This is hugely important. Stepping back and letting your player take that initiative shows him that you trust his ability to handle tough conversations. Plus, the coach will have more respect for him because he’s not letting Mom or Dad fight his battles. I can’t stress enough what a confidence builder this is. Kids can handle most of their own issues if we just give them a little guidance and step out of the way. (Every coach and player are different. So use your best judgment here.)
In his article, Approaching a Coach: How to do it the Right Way, former pro J.T. Putt uses this conversation starter.
“Hey Coach, I was wondering if I could talk to you for a second about playing time. I’m wondering what extra work I can do to put myself in a position to get on the field more. What are the areas that you see as my weaknesses and what drills can I use to turn those weaknesses into strengths?”
Notice the positive tone and how the kid wants to know what HE can do to get more playing time. What coach wouldn’t admire a kid who shows that kind of maturity?
3. Remember that the coach doesn’t view your kid the same way that you do. He might not see the future MLB All-Star that you see. While your player is your primary concern, the coach is trying to do what’s best for all 10, 11 or 12 kids on the team. Quite a balancing act. What’s great for one kid might cause another to feel like he’s getting the shaft. But if that kid gets what he wants all the time, then another player might be unhappy. It’s like the alternate endings in that old Keanu Reeves movie, The Butterfly Effect.
4. Do some role-playing and try to see the issue from the coach’s point of view. Try to come up with legitimate reasons that he might’ve done x, y or z.
5. Never NEVER NEVER try to have a serious conversation with the coach before, during or immediately after a game. ESPECIALLY NOT DURING THE GAME unless your child’s life is in immediate danger. Then, yeah, go ahead, if you must.
6. If something upsetting has happened during a game, give yourself time to cool down, (at least 24 hours) before speaking to the coach about it. This includes texting, emailing, FB messaging or sending him photos of yourself posing with deadly weapons.
7. When speaking to the coach, stay focused on the reason for your conversation. Resist the temptation to veer into team or league gossip or badmouthing other parents or players. You don’t want to be seen as THAT parent. As my granny used to say, “tend to your own side of the street and let other folks take care of theirs.” (Looking back, it’s kind of ironic because my grandmother was a notorious gossip. Maybe that advice really was just about curb appeal.)
8. Be willing to truly listen to what the coach has to say. Most of us are so busy trying to get our own points across that we miss important information. As I said earlier, put yourself in the coach’s shoes. Don’t bring unwarranted suspicions into the conversation such as “the coach has it out for your kid” or “he won’t care what you have to say because you’re not part of the inner circle.” Assumptions like these do nothing but sabotage a kid’s success on his team.
*** Sometimes the issue isn’t about your player at all. It might be a legitimate concern regarding team money allocation, use of guest players, lack of transparency…or any other topic that gets parental undergarments in a collective wad. Things like this are often most effectively addressed in a team parents’ meeting.
As usual, I had my husband James, a 10-year veteran Little League, rec league and travel ball coach read this post before I hit the publish button. He’s a pretty laid back guy who rarely gets his feathers ruffled (unless you eat all the ice cream and put the empty container back in the freezer).
He added his two cents below.
Write down your concerns and issues. Try to be very specific and factual, not emotional. Make a list of the 2 or 3 most important issues that you want to discuss, and stay focused on those.
Treat it like a conversation with your child’s teacher. Sometimes your kid has a ‘problem’ with their teacher. Arrange a good time for a meeting. Send a non-threatening email. Just like the coach, the teacher is doing the best they can for a lot of kids.
Also understand this, coaches are human. They make mistakes. They have priorities that might differ from yours. Most likely they are volunteering their time to help the team and your child. Respect that.
There are a dozen signs at our Little League that say “before you complain, have YOU volunteered?”
Got a helpful idea to add? We’d love to hear it. Share it in the comments.