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Coach's Corner

Confrontation vs. Communication

by Scott Rosberg

I’ve been coaching young people for forty years. I have noticed that at times it seems as if coaches, parents, and athletes have confrontational relationships. I have tried to figure out why this is, and I have tried hard to eliminate it from my coaching situations. However, I'm sure I haven’t always been successful at this. Today, I want to talk about coach/parent/athlete relationships and look at ways to strengthen them.

Let’s look at the dynamics of the parties involved. First of all, we have the coach. This person is usually an adult or young adult who has been entrusted with the care and livelihood of a group of young people. This group is not necessarily a team yet; they are merely a group of individuals with similar goals. It’s the coach's job to develop this group into a team. Along the way, the coach must instill discipline, work ethic, commitment to team, sportsmanship, skill improvement, knowledge of rules, etc. into these young people. Also, the coach is supposed to try to help them win games. These are just some of the many things that a coach is supposed to be doing. Given the amount of time allotted for practice, the types of facilities they have, the experience of the coach, and the various abilities and attitudes of the players, this can be quite a task.

Next, we have the parents. They either have a child that wants to play a sport, or they want the child to play a sport. They love their child very much and have a strong emotional attachment. They want what is best for their child, and they have determined what that is. Sometimes this is as simple as recognizing that their child likes playing a game with other people, so they get their child involved. Other times they may believe that this sport can take their child places (like college), and the child needs to do this in order to get there. Still other times it may be an attitude that the parent played sports and had a good experience, so the child should do the same. Whatever the reason, parents want to see their children have a good experience in athletics.

Finally, we have the young athletes. These are the people who it all revolves around and the ones who matter the most. The first reason most kids play a game is they have fun doing it. They may play because they love the game, or their friends are playing, or because their mom and dad want them to play or are making them play. Still others play because they have found a talent and because they love the competition of it all. While there are certainly other reasons kids play sports, these are some of the biggies.

When we put these three groups of people together, there can be some major differences. These differences can create confrontations. One reason for confrontation stems from the characteristics of each group outlined above. Each of these groups wants something a little different, yet they also want some of the same things. They all probably want to win games, and they all want it to be an enjoyable experience.

After that, each group’s goals probably start to differ. Coaches often seek teamwork, discipline, hard work, sportsmanship, and other values like these as major components of what they deem success. Parents often seek individual success for their child, an abundance of playing time, certain awards or rewards, and maybe their own sense of self-satisfaction in watching their child perform well, succeed, or win. Athletes want individual success, team success, an enjoyable experience, and some type of accolades and recognition for a job well done. Each group has individuals who want more of some of these things than others of these things.

So where does the confrontation come from? As is the case with many problems and breakdowns in any relationship, it most often comes from poor communication. Clear, rational communication must exist among these different people to make any positive movement. It should be a communication that says, “Let’s see how we can work together so that all of us can accomplish our goals.” A key word here is goals. Each person in the relationship should make his or her goals clear to the others. Then discussions can take place on the reasons, importance, merits, and realities of those goals. Also, discussion can take place on how each person’s goals fit together. While it may seem like there is a big gap here, quite often the three groups of people are fairly close in what they want to see happen. However, poor communication (along with differing opinions on how to achieve those goals) often leads to this gap between them.

So how does each group need to communicate? First, coaches need to have a Parent/Athlete Meeting before the season. At this meeting, the coach gives out the core covenants, expectations, goals, rules, and policies for the team. The coach should also talk about his or her philosophy and style of coaching. Finally, the coach needs to open the door to the parents and athletes to come talk about concerns or issues. In this way, all three groups can establish a better line of communication.

Next, parents need to talk to the coach about any questions or concerns they may have. They need to do this face-to-face. Too often, parents communicate major issues and concerns through text, email, or, worst of all, anonymous letters. All too often, these types of communications add to the confrontational aspect of the relationship instead of helping bring some clarity and cohesion to the communication. Parents should ask to set up an appointment. Then, both parties should sit down and speak calmly and rationally about the issue. There are certain times NOT to approach a coach: before, during, or right after a game or practice or while either the coach or the parents are visibly upset. Trying to talk at these times can result in more problems due to the emotions of the moment.

However, let me stress the importance of making sure to talk to the coach at some point. Sitting in the stands and complaining to others or yelling at the coach just creates more problems with the potential for positive communication. Also, I have had parents say to me, “I don’t want to talk to the coach because I don’t want it to hurt my kid.” While there may be some coaches who would treat a kid poorly after a parent meeting, I have never known one in my forty years in coaching, and I hope I never do. In fact, most coaches that I know, myself included, have tried a bit harder to help a kid more after the player or parent came in to talk about a situation. Whatever the situation is, it is best to go talk to the coach.

Finally, the athletes themselves need to talk to the coach. This is not always easy for a young person to do. This is why coaches often have one-on-one meetings with players, so they can both talk freely about goals, problems, or other concerns. In this type of meeting the coach needs to be straightforward and honest with the player. In return, the player needs to do the same. If he or she doesn’t, how can the situation be addressed and helped by the coach? Again, this is the proper form of communication to achieve desired results.

Things that athletes should not do are openly pout, not work hard, yell at a coach, take out frustrations on teammates, miss practice, or quit the team. I have never understood why a player would think that by doing any one of those things, a coach would think, “You know, because of her/his negative behavior, I think s/he deserves to be rewarded with more playing time.” Once again, open, honest, rational communication is essential to making things work.

That’s a quick look at how I see our roles as coaches, parents, and athletes with regards to confrontation and communication. I hope those of you in any one of those three groups have gained a little insight into the importance of communicating with each other vs. letting things go until you are past the point of calm, rational communication. Hopefully, we will continue to get better at this while we work to create a better environment for our kids to play the games they love to play. We should never forget that that’s the main reason we should be involved in athletics—For the Kids.

To check out more materials from Scott, go to his website

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