The inevitable has happened. You’ve been approached by a parent about their child’s playing time. You’re at a crossroads and have some tough decisions to make…right there in the parking lot less than 30 minutes after game. What do you do? How do you handle the situation? What do you say? This is make or break time for you as a coach. How you respond will have repercussions either positive or negative. Which way do you want it to go?

As a parent with a daughter involved in youth sports, I get it. I want the best for my child and often don’t see things the same way her coach might. As a current high school lacrosse coach in my 20th season, I get it. We have to put our team in a position to win games and that may mean some kids play more than others, or even not at all.

Here are a few tips to help you build the relationship with your athletes and their parents, so that when you’re at the crossroads, you’re in a position to make it a positive experience.

1. Transparency

Clear, consistent, and objective feedback to your athletes. By telling them why you took them out of the game (or didn’t play them at all) and what you want them to be doing differently, you are setting them up for success. Too often we may pull an athlete out of the game and not tell them why. We just go with the, “You’re not playing well” and then we shift back to coaching the game. This also goes back to the communication with the parent. When you’re approached (and you will be) make sure you can provide them with specific information about why their child is not playing as much as they think their child should.

2.  Don’t take it personally

Your athlete is their child. Parents see their children differently than you do. By nature, most parents cannot step back and see their child as a piece of a puzzle. Their child is the only picture. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Maybe the athlete was a starter and now you have moved them out of that role. That can be a blow to their ego and the child's. It becomes personal to them very quickly and that can often lead to an attack on your coaching, character, etc...  Keep calm and coach on! You can even coach the parent a little bit on how they can help reinforce the same messaging you provide to the athlete.

3.  Keep communicating

In my younger days, I was very much a, “Don’t talk to me about playing time. I’m the coach, it’s my decision, and it’s not up for discussion. If you’re child wants to play more, then he needs to speak with me.” I was wrong. What I have learned is that we’re all in this thing together. The coach, athlete, and parent (notice the athlete at the center) all want to see the athlete succeed. If we are adversarial with the parents, we lose a valuable ally in helping us develop the athlete to where we need them to be, which in turn can negatively impact the relationship with the athlete and the likelihood of them getting to where they want to be. In the end, the athlete ends up being the loser, and neither of the adults involved win.

4.  End the conversation positively

Provide affirmation to the parent that you have heard their concerns and respect their opinions. While you may see things differently, assure them that you will continue to coach the athlete and help them develop. “Say what you’ll do and do what you say.”

Hopefully these four tips will help the next time you have to have a tough conversation with an athlete’s parent. The situation may not be immediately resolved, but at least everyone has a common understanding of the other’s expectations, and that’s the first step towards building a healthy relationship with your athlete and his or her family.

T.J. Buchanan is the technical director for the Lacrosse Athlete Development Model at US Lacrosse.

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