Get a Good Start with Your Youth Football Parents

Get a Good Start with Your Youth Football Parents

Back in February I gave some advice to parents of youth football players. Many of you have your seasons starting soon and will begin interacting with parents, so I figured a discussion about getting off on the right track with them would be helpful.

I wouldn’t have much to say in this article if I hadn’t made plenty of mistakes along the way. There’s always room for improvement, but we’ve done things a consistent way for a few years and it seems to work well. It boils down to the following:

  1. Set expectations clearly from the get-go.
  2. Communicate regularly with parents.
  3. Establish the right venue for feedback and discussion.

Setting Expectations

Before we have our team established, we update and publish our Team Handbook (I’ve uploaded a sample). Each year this handbook evolves, but we always cover a few key topics:

  • Our mission statement
  • Who is on the coaching staff, and how to reach them
  • Team rules
    • Grade policy – for 8th graders, we require that they turn in grades and will not allow a player to play if he has an F or 2 D’s in any classes.
    • Attendance policy
    • Cell phone policy
    • Respect for coaches and other players
  • How to address concerns with coaches – I’ll cover this more in the last section
  • Our philosophy regarding wins and losses
  • Expectations for parent conduct
  • Game day guide for players (sleep, nutrition, etc.)

We get this printed out before our first practice and have it available for our first parent meeting. We also email it to every parent. Inevitably, some parent will feign ignorance about some aspect of these expectations, but we always feel like we’ve covered our bases.

Regular Communications

We rely primarily on email for communication, but always kick off the season with a parent meeting. Brian (head coach) and I (co-head coach) have run this meetings for the past 5 years while the rest of the staff continues practice with the players, so this is with parents only. You can do this meeting with the kids present which is fine. We are very cautious about losing practice time and feel that meeting with just the parents sometimes allows for a more open dialog.

Some teams will use a team website for communication, but I think that alone is not enough. Most people will not regularly check the site, and most do not have the understanding to subscribe to a site. Email is easiest. You might also benefit from a group texting solution like GroupMe for urgent communication.

We typically divide team communication into two categories: coaching and football specific communication, and everything else. Ideally you can delegate the “everything else” to a team parent. This would include communication like snack schedule, driving directions to games, team parties, and fundraising.

There’s another kind of communication we’ve made to the players and parents in past seasons that is worth mentioning. While we strive for very balanced playtime throughout the season for players regardless of talent (and sometimes even preparation or effort), for competitive teams we’ve had open conversations with the players at the 2/3 point in the season to re-assess goals. Kids at this age are pretty aware of their skills and contributions on the field, and when we’ve had teams capable of winning championships (I had a good run of taking teams to 6 straight championships) we’ve asked the players if they share a goal of getting to and winning the championship. And… if so, are the second tier players willing to sacrifice some play time? This is not an easy discussion to have, but we like having it in the open to get input and shared alignment. Every time we have this discussion, the players unanimously agree that they want a shot at the championship. We then share this information with the parents. It helps that by this point, we’ve focused on spreading the ball around and getting every player possible involved in the running game.

Promoting Effective Feedback and Discussion

There are a few things we’ve learned as coaches over the years regarding parent discussions:

  • Email is not a venue for discussion, it is a venue for 1-way communication and information sharing. Don’t get into discussions or arguments over email. If a parent is baiting you, don’t take the bait. Insist on a face-to-face conversation after some cooling-off time.
  • Never allow a parent meeting to happen immediately after a game. These rarely have happy endings.
  • Consider having 2 coaches present for any meeting you schedule with a parent (or parents). If things go sideways, you can avoid some of the “he said, she said” debate by having another witness to the conversation.

Our preferred approach for meetings with parents is as follows:

  • For older youth players (such as, 11 - 14 year olds) encourage them to come directly to their position or head coach if they have a concern about the position they are playing or their play time. This is a great growth opportunity for these players.
  • For discussions with parents, require that they make an appointment with the head coach. Usually this will be immediately following a practice.

During these meetings, avoid discussing other players and focus on the issue at hand. By that I mean, when a parent says “I know my Jimmy is a better running back than Joe, so why is Joe getting twice as many plays?” Redirect the conversation to focus on what Jimmy needs to do to improve in practice. Don’t talk about Joe and get tempted into drawing comparisons.

I hope this is helpful. If you have other advice about working with parents, share them in the comments below.