Working with Youth Sports Parents – It’s All About Expectation Management

One of the first things a youth recreational sports coach needs to do each season is make contact with the parents of the children on their team. In addition to easing parents’ anxiety, this is a great opportunity for the coach to set expectations for the season. Doing so can go a long way towards avoiding confusion and possible disagreements.

Contact Parents Quickly. Most leagues suggest, and I recommend, that coaches should reach out to the parents within 24 hours of getting their roster. Often, parents haven’t heard anything from the league since they registered their child to play. They might be anxious to know if their child got on a team, which division they are in, and was the league able to honor their ‘play with…’ request. Typically the roster includes phone numbers and email addresses for the child’s parents or guardians. I like to call the parents the evening I get the roster and tell them I will be following up with an email with more information. I don’t know about you, but I don’t cold-call strangers very well. In fact, I can turn into a babbling idiot. To counter this, I’ve developed a phone call script that helps me ensure that I tell each parent the same thing and cover everything I want to cover. You can download a template below.

Interestingly, the roster I received for the Little League team I am coaching this season didn’t include phone numbers – only email addresses. So, no initial phone call jitters for me this season.

Send a Welcome Letter (email). The initial phone call is a brief introduction and opportunity to confirm contact information. It sets up the welcome letter email you should send later. You can include all the information in the body of the email, but that could get long and I recommend attaching a welcome letter to the email. The purpose of the welcome letter is to provide information about you, your coaching philosophy, and set expectations for the upcoming season. Here is a welcome letter template to download:

In my letter to the parents this season I told the parents what I do for a living, let them know about my website and that I do coaching clinics, presented my philosophy, and then generally my goals and metrics for a successful season. If you coach multiple seasons, this part of your welcome letter would remain relatively the same from sport to sport, season to season. The remainder of the letter deals with sports-specific expectations.

Expectation Management

One of the challenges youth sports coaches can face is dealing with parents. The majority of youth sports parents are easy going and want their child to have fun while being active in sport. They recognize their primary role is encouraging and supporting their child. A mismatch in expectations can be a potential source of friction between parents and coaches. Some common areas where this occurs include:

Recreational vs Select/Travel Teams. As I’ve written before, there are differences in recreational and Select/Travel youth sports teams. Parents who have a Select/Travel mentality in a recreational league are often overly aggressive in their expectations. They don’t understand why certain players are in certain positions or why the primary emphasis isn’t on winning.

Playing Time and Positions. Employing my philosophy can lead to what appear to be head-scratching decisions about players in certain positions, e.g. Why is that kid pitching? Well, he’s been working on it in practice and it’s his turn. If your plan is to let every player pitch who wants to – and you said so in your welcome letter – you’ve done your part to set the right expectation with the parents and avoid this type of question later in the season.

Rules of the League. Leagues affiliated with a national organization, like Little League or American Youth Soccer Organization, will still have their own local rules. These specific rules can be related to playing time and administration of the team or even the play of the game itself. Even for parents who have had their children in the same league for a while might still need to be made aware of changes from the previous season or the changes that come with their child advancing in divisions.

In my letter this upcoming baseball season, I felt it was important to let the parents know that I won’t teach or expect the players to throw curveballs and that I will teach them to pitch from the stretch. I definitely emphasized the fact that their players will play all over the field, but that the Catcher position is different. Not every player has interest in putting all that gear on and being involved in every play. So, I typically seek out those who are volunteers. Now, we do need four of them to make it through the season; so, I might have to do a little encouraging of players who only kind of put their hands up.

Finally, I had my wife read the letter before I sent it. She said it was good, but that it didn’t really reflect how much fun I make the season. After reading it again, she was right (as she often is). I went back in and added some of the fun things I do after games – things like offensive and defensive MVP and Hustle & Attitude awards (more on that later) – to the letter. Then, I made sure at the first practice to emphasize to the parents that the letter was dry, but that I wanted to put them at ease and try to answer common questions parents had.

Whether you use the templates attached here, I highly recommend that you contact the parents of your athletes very quickly and use whatever communication means necessary and available to set appropriate expectations with the parents before the season.

Published by Chad Millette

I am a father, a husband, a retired Air Force officer, and a dedicated youth recreational sports advocate.

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