GFPS Communication Guidelines – Part 3

In Part 1 of our Communication Guidelines, I explained the types of conversations we expect to occur between our coaches and our athlete’s parents.
In Part 2, I explained the three types of concerns that we welcome and encourage parents to express to coaches if/when they occur.

…and here comes Part 3: Inappropriate Concerns to Discuss with Coaches.

In our Communications Guidelines document, I lay out five topics that we will not discuss with parents.
1.  Playing Time
2.  Team Strategy
3.  Play Calling
4.  Team Selection
5.  Someone else’s kid

As an AD, I am now in my 5th year of using these guidelines, the last four of which I’ve had them included in parent meetings and Code of Conduct sheets.  Despite that, these five topics continue to be the reason behind the vast majority of emails and phone calls that I get.  Most of the time when I receive a voice mail, the parent will simply say that he/she has some concerns about the program that he/she wants to discuss.  Whenever I hear that, I know one of these topics is on the horizon.

At the beginning of phone calls, I will remind parents that these topics are off limits, which results in variety of reactions:
– “Well, I guess we have nothing to talk about then.”
– “So what are we supposed to talk about?”
– “Then how can we hold the coach accountable for his/her actions?”
– “But we could be winning so many more games.”
– “Don’t you care what the parents think?”

The long and the short of it is that we hire our coaches to take care of those top four topics (and someone else’s kid should NEVER be discussed!).  While I could talk all day as to why these topics should be discussed only between the coaches and the athletes, I’ll only offer brief thoughts on each.

Playing Time
– Every parent wants to see their own kid play a lot, and most kids would like to play a lot.  The reality is that we only have a set number of minutes available for playing time, and each competitive level comes with a purpose (click here).  We would love to put every kid on the floor/court for every minute possible, but we can’t (in most sports).  Our coaches see all of the kids for every practice, every game, and often during the times outside of practice, also.  Our coaches are the people best suited for deciding who should be playing, when they should be playing, and for how long they should be playing.  I’ve had parents recite stat lines (my favorite was the recent mother who went so far as to break down every players’ rebounds per minute on both JV and Varsity to show me why her daughter should be playing more); I’ve had parents tell me about the massive time and cost commitment they’ve made leading up to high school sports; I’ve had parents talk about fairness and equal playing time; etc. etc. etc.  The real problem with all of this occurs when parents tell their sons/daughters the same information.  It’s incredibly hard for a coach to convince a kid to fill a role when mom and dad are hyping the kid’s abilities at home.  In a perfect world, the kid and coach will discuss the kid’s role, and the parents will help the kid appreciate his/her role.  Our coaches will play the kids they feel best for each situation.  It might work; it might not.  So it goes.  My concern – what did the kids learn about filling roles during their daily lives?

Team Strategy – The mass media coverage of college and professional sports has made high school strategy discussions a nightmare for coaches.  I wish I had a nickel for every time someone has suggested to me (as a coach and as an AD) that a program should use a particular scheme because of the recent success of some team.  There are so many variables to scheme and strategy that most parents either don’t understand or are unaware of: knowledge of the coach, personnel, ability of the kids, etc.  A brief story – one year as a head football coach, I was expecting to have two quarterbacks who threw a nice ball and six kids who could run good routes and catch the ball.  In addition, we had a group of kids who weren’t very big or strong but were very tenacious and aggressive blockers; they could initiate contact well, but could only sustain a block for a second or two.  Because of that, we spent the better part of a year researching and preparing to implement an offensive scheme based on short passing routes.  By the time the first practice of the fall rolled around, for various reasons we had neither of those quarterbacks and only two of the six receivers (and one of those had to play quarterback for us).  I guarantee that we looked like we didn’t know what was going on for the first half of the season because……we flat out didn’t know what to do.  However, in terms of life lessons, our kids learned how to learn something new quickly; they learned how to make immediate adjustments; and they learned how to perform under pressure.  Many of them also learned how to get tackled often, but I’m not sure that’s entirely transferable to an office job.  Our coaches will run the scheme that they believe is best for their program.  It might work; it might not.  So it goes.  My concern – what have the kids learned about planning and implementing those plans in their daily lives?

Play Calling – Much of this is the same explanation as above.  One more caveat to this, though, is that I’ve seen far more games won or lost because of the quality of kids than I have because of a coach’s play calling: one team usually has kids who are bigger/faster/stronger/smarter/more cohesive/etc.  I’ve gone into games as a coach knowing full well that we were going to win regardless of how poorly we played; I’ve also coached games knowing that we were probably going to lose unless the other team didn’t show up.   Our coaches will call the play that they deem best for the current situation.  It might work; it might not.  So it goes.  My concern – what have the kids learned about decision making and executing plans in their daily lives?

Team Selection – This is always one of my favorite parental “concerns.”  “My kid should be on the varsity.”  Here’s the one similarity between almost every parent in our program: your kid is probably the best kid in your driveway every night.  There are three main areas that parents try to use to convince coaches that their son/daughter belongs on a higher level: (1) age of the student, (2) investment of time/money, (3) skill level compared to someone else’s kid.  All three of them are easy answers if we were to actually have the discussion.  (1) Older doesn’t mean better (my golf game is a great example of this).  (2) More time doesn’t mean better (my golf game is a great example of this, too).  (3) Maybe “your” kid is more skilled than someone else’s kid; that still doesn’t mean he/she is the best suited for that particular role at that particular time.  In reality, most parents are wearing rose-colored glasses when it comes to skill level, too.  I get it; it’s tough to hear that your kid isn’t the more talented on the team.  Our coaches are the best suited for deciding who plays on which team.  It might work; it might not.  So it goes.  My concern – what have the kids learned about filling roles, persistence, and setting/achieving goals in their daily lives?

I understand that it’s really easy for me to sit in my role and believe what I believe and say what I say.  I understand that it’s much different when it’s your own son/daughter involved (I plan on a future blog post sympathizing with the conflict parents face with youth athletics today).  However, we ultimately have to understand that this experience belongs to the kids – good or bad, it belongs to the kids.  When mom or dad tries to swoop in to fix these issues, they’ve actually created more difficulties for the kid in the future.  High school athletics is an extremely safe place for kids to learn these lessons, but when adults step in and interfere, the kids don’t actually learn the lessons we offer.  We have to allow them to learn on their own!

Coming in the near future in Part 4 of this post – our engagement guidelines when parents have legitimate concerns that need to be discussed.

Thoughts?  Comments? Questions?  Let me know about them either though the comments sections or an email!

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