This is the ninth in a series of posts on Professionalism in Coaching. Throughout the series, I have covered a variety of topics dealing with how coaches must handle themselves in a professional manner. If you have not seen the other posts, go back to the Blog Page to read them.
The last few posts have focused on maintaining our professionalism while dealing with playing time issues at various levels.
Today, I will continue the playing time discussion by offering some ideas on navigating meetings about playing time with players and/or parents.
Next to communicating playing time expectations, the most important expectation that a coach can communicate to players and parents is how the players and parents should address the coach when they have concerns.
Dealing with parents, especially having to meet with them about their child’s playing time is one of the biggest concerns that coaches will have during their careers. It is also one of the biggest land mines that we can step on and have blow up on us if we don’t know how to handle it.
It is imperative that you figure out how to handle this very important situation that you will have to deal with at some point (and, unfortunately, maybe many points) in your career.
Some of you may be thinking right now, “I won’t have to worry about player/parent meetings about playing time. I tell them at the beginning of the season that we won’t discuss playing time issues with them, and that’s final.”
I have known my share of coaches who have said this and feel this way. Some of those coaches are very good coaches who I respect a great deal. Some of them are friends of mine.
But I disagree with them on this, and I think they are setting themselves up for bigger problems down the road if they adopt and then follow through on their way of thinking.
What Are You Afraid Of?
When I hear coaches say they won’t talk about playing time with players and parents, two questions pop into my mind: “Why not?” and “What are you afraid of?”
Playing time issues are probably the biggest issues that we will deal with. Therefore, we need to deal with them when they come up.
Imagine if you went to your child’s Parent/Teacher Conferences, and the teacher said at the beginning, “I’ll talk to you about anything except your child’s grades.”
That would be ridiculous! That’s why they are there—to find out their child’s grade and why s/he is receiving it.
Well, playing time is no different. That’s why the kids are on the team—to PLAY! If they aren’t playing much, they and their parents will want to know why.
These kids are with us for hundreds of hours during the year. They and their parents deserve to know why they are playing the amount of time that they are playing.
Also, keep in mind that just because you are not talking with them about it, it doesn’t mean they are not talking with someone about it. You can rest assured that they are talking about it with a variety of other people, from other parents to the administrators at your school or in your league to anyone else who will listen to them.
I would rather be the one talking with them about it, so that I can also be the one directing the discussion and the narrative that they have in their heads. While I can’t completely control how they feel, I can control the explanation of what is happening and the understanding of what I am doing and why I am doing it.
I also think it’s important for coaches to direct (as much as possible) the way that players and parents handle their concerns about playing time properly. One key to that is for coaches to communicate to players and parents that they will talk to them about these issues, but certain criteria must be met.
The most important one is that discussions about playing time should never happen before, during, or after practices or games, unless the coach has agreed to it ahead of time.
Guidelines for Players & Parents
When dealing with players, coaches need to let them know that they can come talk to the coach during a free period, before or after practice, after a game, or any other time the coach deems fit, provided the player does this in a respectful fashion and that the coach can talk at that time. If the coach can’t meet at that time, the player needs to ask the coach when a good time to meet would be.
Coaches should never get upset at a player who has had the courage to ask for a meeting, if it is done respectfully, for this is often difficult for a player to do.
When they do meet, the player needs to be allowed to speak openly and honestly. The coach must also be allowed to do the same. This, too, is not always easy, but it is crucial to moving forward on the issue.
After the meeting, it is important for coaches to make sure players feel they did the right thing in coming to talk. Coaches should never make players feel upset, ashamed, or embarrassed about meeting with the coach.
Players often feel that if they or their parents talk to the coach about their concerns, it will just make matters worse. While coaches can never completely stop kids and parents from feeling this way, coaches need to do all they can to try to stop this. By listening intently and allowing them to express their concerns in a non-confrontational setting, coaches can help them not feel this way.
Just like they need to do with the players, coaches need to let parents know the proper course of action for them to take when they have questions about playing time. Coaches should tell parents that the proper method for addressing playing time concerns is to first have their child meet with the coach.
If that meeting does not provide a resolution to the concern, it is then acceptable for the parent to ask for a meeting. The best way to do this is to call the coach or the athletic director to set up a meeting.
Once again, though, it is crucial to let parents know that they should not address the coach before, during, or after practices or games.
This is especially true after games. Emotions at this time are too high for both the coach and the parents. It is better to wait until the next day. Even stopping a coach after a game and saying, “We want to set up a meeting with you,” is pushing the boundaries on this. Parents should wait until the next day to make a call to see when the coach can meet with them.
As for meeting after a practice, that depends on the coach and the logistics of the situation. Some coaches are fine with meeting after practice, and others are not. Once again, though, coaches need to stress to the parents that this should only be done if the parent has called ahead of time and set up the meeting for after practice. They should never just show up at the end of a practice to meet.
And like so many important elements in the coach-player-parent relationship, these are things that coaches should communicate to them before the season.
Once a meeting time has been set, coaches should make sure to be prepared. You can bet that the parents will be, so you want to be, too. They want to express their concerns to you, so you need to be ready for them to do so.
They may want to talk about their child’s statistics. They may want to compare their child with others. They may say anything. They may also lose their cool.
One of the biggest ways for you to maintain your professionalism is for you to keep your composure in the meeting, no matter what the parents may say and how they may act.
Coaches must remember that they are talking about the most precious thing in the parents’ lives—their children.
Do not be smug, glib, or sarcastic. They want the truth, whether they like that truth or not, and you need to make sure you give it to them.
However, you need to be professional and tell them the truth with tact and compassion.
While you might want to say something like, “She couldn’t shoot the ball into the ocean if she was standing on the beach,” you need to find a more tactful, less sarcastic way to put it, while still being truthful.
Before the meeting, jot down some notes about the player and her situation. This will help you be able to talk truthfully with tact and class. Again, make sure that you are honest in your assessment of the player’s skills and her situation.
You may need to preface your comments with a statement that says something like, “I’m going to be perfectly honest with you. You might not like what you hear, but this is how I see you (or your child) as a player right now.” Then explain exactly why s/he is not getting the playing time that they would like.
Be careful about comparing this player to other players. This meeting is about this player, not your other players. Keep your focus on this one, even if the parents want to steer the focus to others.
While comparing players may help you explain why this player doesn’t play very much, you run the risk of creating divisions on your team when you compare players. Keep your focus on the player about whom you are meeting.
One final note about the parent meeting. Keep in mind that coaches look out on that floor or field and see five, six, eleven, or however many players play at one time in that sport.
When parents look out there, they see ONE plus the others. Their perspective is skewed because of the emotional attachment they have to that ONE.
We need to keep in mind that parents don’t come at this from a coach’s perspective. Be understanding and compassionate about this, and it will help you maintain your composure in the meeting. It is up to you to explain the coach’s perspective and yours in particular.
While they may not walk out of the meeting agreeing with you, hopefully, they will have a better understanding of how you see things and why you make the decisions you make.
Remember that most of the time, the main thing that they want from this meeting is to be given a chance to be heard. Of course, they want their kid to get more playing time. While you can’t guarantee that will happen, you can make sure that they have the chance to say what they want to say, to know that you have listened to them, and to feel they did the right thing in coming in to meet with you.
While meeting with players and parents about playing time can be one of the most difficult things you will have to do as a coach, it is also one of the most important. By handling these situations properly, you will show yourself to be a true professional.
So, what do you think about meeting with players and parents about playing time?
Do you disagree with me and think you should not meet with them?
If you do meet with them, do you handle things differently?
Please leave a comment below and let us know, as this is an area that most coaches would love to hear a variety of ideas on how to handle, since it is one of the most difficult issues they will have to deal with.
Next week, I will continue this Professionalism in Coaching series, but I will shift the focus away from playing time a little bit and talk about being a professional in another one of the most difficult issues coaches deal with and one in which kids get NO playing time—making cuts.