Understanding Parents vs. Correcting Them

The title of the email said "Concerns". Uh Oh.

It's been 4 weeks since our indoor beach season started for our juniors program, and one of the parents new to our program emailed me asking about the last few practices.

We typically have 8 kids on a court at practice, but due to the holidays, we had a few practices with 4 per court. We always finish practice with game reps, but due to numbers we can rarely give the kids a full game to 21. When we do get these numbers, I like to create mini Queen-of-the-Beach or Round-Robin tournaments. For the first three weeks, we give a LOT of instruction back to the kids as we educate them on the fundamentals, offense/defense philosophy, and situational awareness. However, I like to take practices like this and step back so we can see what they're retaining on their own and what isn't sticking. I always tell the kids before we send them to their courts we are there for ANY questions they have, but we're letting them loose. I then sit with the parents as I 'scout' our kids, looking for the biggest areas of improvement to focus on in future practices. In between games, we sit with the players and get the 'story' of the game from them: What was the first half like? What was your strategy? Did it work? If not, what did you do to adapt? It's been a great way to get the kids to think for themselves so that they can make their own mid-game adjustments and be ready for when they play competitions without a coach by their side.

However, this parent didn't see it like that.

"I'm concerned that <player> is not getting enough instruction and training."

She also did not receive much feedback on her play."

"So our question is how do we get to the next level? We are slightly confused that we come to practice to learn and improve skills but then depending on how many girls show we don't train we play."

Admittedly, I started typing an email explaining the process and 'correcting' her. After reviewing what was a mini-novel, I realize maybe this would be better received if I picked up the phone and called her.

It was a 40-minute conversation, but by the end, we were on the same page. There is one portion that needs to be shared:

One of the last things I re-iterated to her is that I ALWAYS want kids to ask questions when they want feedback, and I did hold her daughter partially accountable on the feedback/instruction as she hadn't spoken much during those practices asking for it - she had been playing fairly well, so I figured she was embracing the process herself. I did welcome feedback after my explanation, and when I did, their response was heartbreaking:

"<Player> came from a program where she asked the coach a question one day and got her head ripped off. I approached the coach afterwards, and they told me in no uncertain terms 'She doesn't need to ask why, I'm the coach, she simply needs to do what I say. She's been pretty shy with coaches ever since."

By the end of the conversation, she was appreciative of the talk and we had a great practice later that day. I re-emphasized to the entire group that regardless of what environment they've come from in the past, we ALWAYS want kids to speak up when they're confused or have questions, and there's not a question they can ask that we won't address. When I scanned the group and made eye contact with the child of that parent, their facial expression showed they knew what I meant.

Many of us have experiences with "THAT player" or "THAT parent", but how many times do we miss the opportunity to fix the wrongdoings of a previous coach/organization? How many of us truly understand where the parent is coming from? How many times has THAT parent been avoided altogether? Had I sent that email, accurate as it may have been, I could have missed the opportunity to understand why the parent felt the way they did. I would have risked alienated her and causing an We're-Right-Your-Wrong feeling, instead of "This is why we do it this way, and this is why it benefits your child".

It takes a little more time, but at the end of the day, we can avoid many of our parent issues if we're willing to address them head-on in a transparent manner. Many times, you'll realize it comes from misinformation or bad coaching practices from previous situations.