Rules of Engagement

With the club season less than a month old, I recently conducted my second parent meeting with this year’s parent group. When coaches hear the term “parent meeting,” it typically sends a chill up their spine, initiates a search for their saved copy of the letter of resignation in their disorganized My Documents folder, or at the very least causes them to lash out with a fury of facebook posts regarding crazy sports parents. When parents hear that there is a parent meeting, they brace to be put in their place and once again be given a long list of do’s and don’ts.

On the contrary, this second parent meeting was an opportunity to engage WITH this year’s group of parents. We didn’t talk about rules – not that there aren’t any – but I find when working with parents (or athletes or my own children or with people in general) that when we start with a list of rules, an immediate line is drawn. Sides are taken. The season begins. Coaches and parents are immediate adversaries. The worst part of this scenario is that their children become the land over which the battle is fought.

Coaches reading this may absolutely want a line, a very thick line, when it comes to parent involvement. This often comes from past experience with a negative parent, an unsupportive athletic administration, or simply the stories that circulate regarding negative parents. Over the past twenty-five years in coaching, I have had countless conversations with parents. Every one of them – whether positive or negative – gave me a better understanding of how to coach their child better.

During this second parent meeting of the season, I proposed the not-so-new concept that one of the important factors of team success is the chemistry of the players. I then proceeded to tell them that the coaching team plays a very important role in the development of this chemistry. This is where parents are traditionally left out of the equation. I suggested that if the parent group is intentional about developing chemistry and helping their children understand its importance, the team as a whole has a much better chance of becoming all that it is capable of becoming.

So how do we do this? I’m not sure exactly but I gave them some ideas that have proven effective in the past and that I think could help in this current season.

  • I asked them to treat each other well and all of the kids on the team well. I shared a story of my all-time favorite volleyball parent. I’ve had a lot of great ones over the years. When my wife and I started Revolution Volleyball Club in Pennsylvania, we served as directors and didn’t coach a specific team. We attended most practices and as many tournaments as we could. There was a gentleman that I continued to notice who always had a smile on his face, had a kind word for everyone around, and gave a high five to every one of the players and coaches after matches whether the team won or lost. For the first two months of the season, I had no idea which player was his daughter. He treated everyone well. After officially introducing myself, I discovered that Alan Raush (pictured above) was simply the best and he serves as a standard to this day of the ultimate sports parent.
  • Show support for the team, the club, our opponents, and the officials. We are going to cheer for great volleyball, for outstanding effort, and for courage displayed on a very transparent stage. It might – it will – look different than the typical youth sporting contest. It will be worth it.
  • I encouraged them to sit together at matches as a parent group. Not one of my most popular ideas but I think it’s an important one. I get it. I did get a question for clarification from one of the parents – do we have to sit beside our spouse? After I clarified that they did NOT have to sit next to their spouse, I felt that they could buy in and sit together as a group. To clarify, I did not establish this is a rule but simply a suggestion that indicates our willingness to invest in the creation of a great learning environment and supportive atmosphere for all involved.
  • Share a meal together outside of the gym as a parent group. We are going to have our team and their parents to our home next week. My hope is that they enjoy getting to know one another outside of the competitive arena. I also hope that they will be intentional about doing this on their own throughout the season. Over the years I have learned that we are all after the same basic thing. We want to see our children learn, grow, and develop the skills that will help them become successful individually and collectively for this season and, more importantly, beyond.

– Mike Schall

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6 thoughts on “Rules of Engagement

  1. Some great ideas here Mike. There isn’t a more dangerous wedge between a coach and his/her players. Nice creds to LanCo boys VB too.

  2. Mike,
    Always refreshing to here your views on parent/coach relationships. Building those positive relationships with your parents will manifest itself in a much more enjoyable experience for all involved !
    Great article!