Understanding Parent Expectations to Improve Coaching

A coach’s enjoyment of a season often depends on his or her relationship with the parents. Children very rarely cause problems, but their parents often do. In Candace Barton and Craig Stewart’s “Parental Expectations of Coaches: Closing the Communication Gap,” they research the difference between parents’ actual expectations and the coaches’ perception of their expectations to illustrate a breakdown in communication which causes many difficulties.

In an original survey (1994), Stewart, a Montana State professor, found that the parents of high school athletes wanted a coach who was:

  • fair and honest in dealing with athletes,
  • committed to having players enjoy their sport, and
  • dedicated to the development of sportsmanship.

On the other hand, some of the more common perceptions finished last:

  • commitment to winning,
  • personal experience as a player, and
  • improving players’ chances of playing at a higher level.

Stewart then surveyed the parents of more competitive, more committed athletes to see the difference. He surveyed the parents of soccer players in the Olympic Development program at the state and regional level and found that these parents desired coach who:

  • were able to teach well,
  • had knowledge of skills, and
  • were fair and honest.

In Stewart’s surveys, the major discrepancy between the parents and the coaches’ perception of the parents was that the parents valued sportsmanship more and improving players’ chances of playing at the next level less than coaches believed.

In 2001, another group used a similar survey to ask adolescent athletes about their preference for a coach, and the athletes wanted a coach who:

  • implemented effective instructional practices,
  • could perform the skills required of the sport, and
  • provided opportunities for the athletes to compete and achieve their goals.

In the current paper, Barton and Stewart found similar results, as parents wanted a coach who felt the most important coach characteristics were:

  • fairness and honesty in dealing with athlete;
  • commitment to the development of sportsmanship, and
  • ability to teach.

This survey asked the parents to describe how they measured these characteristics. The respondents measured good teaching as the ability to:

  • engage the athletes and create a positive environment free from peer harassment;
  • know how to sequence learning;
  • give feedback, and
  • provide adequate wait time (defined as a delay in feedback allowing the student-athlete opportunity to respond or self-correct.

As for fun, parents listed over and over:

“The athletes look forward to practice and play.”

Based on these results, coaches can concentrate on certain things to create a positive experience for the players which pleases the parents. I spoke the other day with a youth soccer coach whose team did not even keep score in his league, yet he felt pressure from the parents to win. According to this study, that pressure is perceived, not real. As coaches coaching in the fishbowl, we often perceive that the crowd (parents) is judging us on our performance and ability to make crucial competitive decisions.

However, more often than not, parents care little about these decisions. Instead, they want their child to have a great experience, and they feel a great experience is one where the child wants to go to practice and games and where the coach emphasizes sportsmanship, keeps it fun, teaches the skills and communicates openly and honestly with the players.

If a player does not play as much as usual, rather than avoiding the conflict and hoping the player forgets by the next practice, talk to the player, explain the situation and give the player things to practice to earn the desired playing time. If a player does not play hard enough, do not banish the player to the bench – talk to the player, figure out the player’s goals or motivations and work with the player. If a player does not understand a skill, have patience and give the player time to figure out the skill execution.

These are the types of situations that parents use to measure their coach, not the won-loss record or brilliant timeout usage. Rather than stressing out about the fishbowl, crowd and parents, focus on giving the players your best effort and treating the players as you would like to be treated, and the parents will likely rally on your side and appreciate the effort that you give for their children.

By Brian McCormick
Creator, 180 Shooter

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