The Case for Dedicated Parent Education.
In my over 20 years of coaching, and as a parent myself, there are a few golden rules I have learned about parents:
Kids are the #1 most important thing in their lives.
If a parent feels like their child has been wronged, no amount of well-reasoned explanations will suffice. All reason goes out the window (Put your hand up with me if you are guilty of this!)
Parents are your greatest allies and a hugely important part of the team.
Parents require as much useful and simple information as possible. Things they can hold true, and deserved to be kept in the loop.
Kids are the #1 most important thing in their lives (Did I mention this already??? Bares mentioning again!)
There are a TON of other things, both myself and I am sure a myriad of other coaches from a myriad of other sports, have learnt as well, but the ones above are some that really stand out to me as both a parent and a professional coach.
With this in mind, there is a growing need for professional and directed education to help parents navigate, not only youth sports, but as a child progresses through their athletic career.
As a coach, parents are entrusting you with a person they would give up their own lives for. Nothing is as important as my kids.... I know that for sure. Does it not make sense that we provide a road map and curriculum for these parents to help minimize any concerns that parents have? Some information about you, your program, your philosophies? A Q&A session or pre-season meeting? Some simple things like these helps to educate parents from the get go.
When parents put their children in any sports program, or any activity for that matter, they wish only originally for their child to love what they are doing and learn what they are doing. The whole thing gets a lot more complex as the child progresses.
In my sport of snowboarding, for example, kids normally are enrolled for lessons, if they love it, progress to dedicated program (normally weekends or one day per week). They are introduced to entry level competition, go into regional competition, into national level competition, and if elite, progress into global competitions. As the child skill level grows, the expectations can grow also.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. That is the natural progression of sport. The need for continuing education for parents grows as well! In my sport, athletes are becoming elite at earlier ages. The number of outliers grows every year. So even though a 13-year-old, for example, may have elite level skills, the kid is still a 13-year-old. And to us parents, he or she is DEFINITELY only 13!
Nothing will set a parent off more than when they believe their child has been wronged. I have done it myself on more than one occasion! So, before that happens, does it not make sense to prepare parents with as many tools as possible to deal with their child’s disappointment, with judging errors, with performance anxiety and a variety of other issues that will arise? I can’t blame parents for being protective and going into battle for their children, hell, that’s part of our role, but I often think back to my own career, and my 14 years as a parent, and wonder how many of these situations could have been mitigated with more education.
It’s no co-incidence that my most successful athletes have come from supportive families, and most importantly, supportive parents. Parents that were integral, positive parts of the “pit crew” for the riders. A lot of this was massaged thru clear and concise communication, realization that this was the athlete’s journey that they were there to make as successful as possible. The parents were part of the athlete road map, were collaborators in it, and strived to be as educated as possible on all parts of the sport that they could positively affect, as well as knowing what not only their role was, but what the roles of the other members of the “pit crew” played. Sure, some of this happens organically, and through the forging of a relationship sometimes over many years, but should this information not be made available to all parents? Would it not make sense to provide the parents with a “playbook” designed specifically for them? Athletes have a playbook, coaches have a playbook, but we don’t provide that same tool for parents.
I can see some of my coaching brethren asking “How in the hell do we provide this for parents?” As one parent I work with consistently said “It’s unreasonable to expect coaches to be experts in handling parents.” I agree with both these statements, and this is where I will be a little brazen.
On a positive, parent education has grown through the last few years, but the need for comprehensive parent education can’t be managed by sporting programs and coaches alone.
Governing organizations are going to have to take the lead on this initiative. Throughout sports, from youth to elite level, there is a growing need for parent education. I would say there is a need for some uniformity in parent education that matches up with the athletic pipeline. It makes sense. Many parents I speak with crave education, and want to help their kids in the most proactive and positive ways they can. To say there would not be “buy in” would be incorrect.
Negotiating sports for parents is littered with highs and lows, peaks and pitfalls, and sometimes this can’t be avoided BUT let’s equip our parents with all the skills they need to help develop successful, happy and well-rounded athletes. Parents, at a minimum, deserve this!