4.1.3 Managing junior athletes and their parents
The role of a coach is not limited to designing team strategies, developing athletes’ individual skills and instructing them on the implementation of tactics.
In addition to the tactics and skills of the game, the role of a coach, particularly a coach of junior athletes, is to:
- Develop the players’ love and understanding of the game;
- Have the players work together to achieve collective goals as a team;
- Foster a spirit of sportsmanship and fair play amongst all members of the team (players, coaches and parents).
- Provide the players with opportunities to experience success;
- Make them want to come back and play next year!
The cause of most dissatisfaction amongst players is their expectations not having been met.
Whether the player is dissatisfied with the amount of “court time” they get in games or whether they are unhappy with the knowledge of the coach, the root cause of the problem is that the player or their parents have an expectation that has not been met.
Some players may have unrealistic expectations. Others may have expectations that, whilst not unrealistic, do not coincide with the coach’s philosophy. In either event, when those expectations are not met there is the potential for unhappiness.
Accordingly, coaches must be clear about their expectations of the players and also what their coaching philosophy is.
It can be very effective, and avoid problems later, if coaches are able to take the time to speak with their players to determine what their goals are and why they are involved in basketball.
Consistent Application of Rules
Whatever rules are set the coach must comply with them. If the coach requires the team to be at practice 30 minutes before it starts, and the coach regularly arrives only 5 minutes before it starts, the athletes will quickly see the rule as unimportant.
Often it will help if the players can see the reason behind a rule. For example, a coach may require them to be at practice 30 minutes beforehand in order to do warm-up and stretching in this time.
A coach may set different rules for players than themselves but again should explain the difference.
For example, due to work commitments a volunteer coach may not be able to get to practice 30 minutes before it starts. The coach should explain this to the players and again be clear about what they want the players to do in this period, whether or not the coach is there.
In terms of team rules, the coach’s behaviour will be reflected in the players’ behaviour. If the coach sets rules, but does not follow them or does not enforce them when a player breaks them, then they will quickly not be regarded as rules.
Some coaches will involve more experienced players, or the whole team, in the development of rules. If a coach involves the team in the development of rules, they must be prepared to implement what the team comes up with.
To avoid this being carte blanche, the coach may set some minimum parameters and then let the team develop other rules.
The engagement of the players in developing the rules can certainly lead to a greater level of engagement and adherence to the rules. The coach must ensure that the rules are not used by groups within the team to disadvantage or belittle other players.
This particularly applies, where a team wishes to institute “fines” or “penalties” for various behaviour breaches (e.g. a fine for wearing the wrong singlet to training).
Ultimately, the coach must ensure that the team rules, however developed, are fair and respect everyone involved in the Programme.
The coach also needs to be very clear regarding their coaching philosophy, particularly in relation to substitution patterns.
With athletes aged under 14, it is recommended that all players on the team play at least some time in each half of every game.
For older children it is recommended that every player should play in every game. If this is the coach’s philosophy (or if it is the philosophy of their club), this must be communicated to all players.
All players need to learn to accept playing roles – the better players need to understand that they will not play the whole game.
Particularly in the mini-basketball age groups, coaches will often strive to give players equal playing time, a philosophy that again must be communicated. Obviously, having communicated the philosophy the coach needs to apply it!
Individual Roles and Expectations
The coach should be clear on the expectations that they have for each player. They should not tell every player that they will be a “superstar” but should be honest in their assessment of where the player is in the playing group – particularly with older teenagers. With 17-18 year olds, it is not expected that they will all be treated equally (e.g. court time) however they must all be treated fairly.
Where a coach identifies areas of the game that a player can work on, the coach must equally provide an opportunity for that player to demonstrate to the coach the improvement that they have made both at training and in games.
Communication is Key
Most coaches have expectations of what their players may achieve. Equally, each player will have expectations (realistic or not) of how the season will go.
It is the responsibility of the coach to ensure that their expectations are communicated, so that any difference between the expectations of coach and the player can be identified.
There are a number of methods of communication that a coach can use:
- Meeting with players individually at the start of the season – listening to their expectations as well as setting out the coach’s expectations;
- Written team rules that are provided to all players. The coach may require the players to sign the rules as a signal of their intention to abide by them;
- Discussing expectations of the team with the team as a whole;
- Appointing a team captain or leadership group that are responsible for raising matters with the coach on behalf of the players and also for the implementation of rules;
- Having signs in the changing room or practice facility. This are most effective if they are positive statements (e.g.“Show Your Pride in the Uniform” rather than negative statements (e.g. Don’t forget to wear your uniform);
- Setting goals for individual players and the team.
The keys to managing the expectations of athletes are:
- Provide feedback throughout the season to each athlete on how they are doing;
It is particularly powerful when coaches identify “success” or improvement that the player has made. Too often, coaches focus on what more there is to do, rather than appreciating what has been done;
- Give athletes an opportunity to ask questions or raise concerns;
- LISTEN to the athletes.
By taking these steps, the coach will be able to identify early on if there is a “disconnect” between the players’ and the coach’s expectations.
A disconnect may be caused by the coach not acting as they said they would (e.g. saying everyone will get court time and then not playing some players) or it may be that the athlete has an expectation that the coach does not agree with (e.g. the player may have a higher opinion of their skills than the coach does).
In either event, once a disconnect is identified, the coach can take steps to address it.
There may be factors that the player has overlooked (e.g. the player was not attending training and accordingly was not given game time), there may be things that the coach can change (e.g. giving additional work for the player to do to develop their skills) or there may be factors that the coach has overlooked.
Managing the Expectations of Parents
When coaching junior players, their parents will often be a key influence them and can be a source of support for coach. Equally, they may make the coach’s job more difficult.
Parents are not necessarily attempting to make things difficult for the coach, however if their expectations of what will happen during the season are different to the coach’s then this can certainly be a source of disconnect.
The parents may speak directly to the coach if they are unhappy.
However, a more common issue that can arise is the parents (either deliberately or unknowingly) telling the coach something that is different to what the player does.
For example, the parents may assess “success” by whether the team has won or lost, whereas the coach may be focusing on the development of skills and being able to execute them in the pressure of a game, not just at practice.
Communication Remains the Key
Just as when dealing with athletes, communication is the key to ensuring a good relationship with the parents of athletes. It does not need to be a particularly close relationship but if the parents have expectations that are not met this may lead to dissatisfaction.
The coach should communicate with the parents in regards to any team rules and also the coach’s philosophy, particularly on topics such as court time.
The coach may use various strategies for communication with parents:
Meetings with the parents at the start of the season can be a good way to discuss the coach’s approach to:
- Court time;
- Training expectations (and what happens if a player does not train);
- Objectives for the team for the season.
It is obviously important that whatever the coach states that they will do is, in fact, what they will do.
Coaches should also find out what expectations the club has of the coach and make sure that they meet them.
Summary of Teaching Points
It can be good to provide parents (and players) with a summary of teaching points after each training, which can be a simple hand-out that you provide to them. This can be beneficial for two reasons:
- The parents can then emphasise these teaching points with their child when they are practicing at home.
- It can give the parents a point of reference for evaluating improvement and performance. For example, if parents know that a team has been working on a “press breaker” (to beat full court pressure), they will be able to “see” the success in the game when the team execute this well. Often, parents will judge “success” only as whether or not the team won the game.
The coach should have a “plan” for each player of things that the player needs to work on.
Providing this information to the parents again provides them with information on how to evaluate “success” – the improvement that their child is making!
Coaches may also choose to provide parents (and the player) with a “report card”, similar to what a school teacher provides. This can be provided during the season, which also provides an opportunity for the player/parents to address any issues, and/or at the end of the season.
The coach does not have to give a “grade” (e.g. A, B, C....) but can simply make some comments against some key criteria, identifying where the athlete has improved and what further improvement is required.
It is recommended that the coach should address the following matters:
- Training Attendance (how many sessions have they missed?);
- Attitude at Training;
- Attendance at Games
- Attitude at Games
- Individual Skills – key areas for improvement (offence and defence)
- Team Concepts – level of understanding and key areas for improvement
“Open Door” Times
The coach may like to set aside time when parents can contact them to discuss any questions or concerns that they have. Doing this can prevent the coach from receiving phone calls at all hours of the day and night.
The “Open Door” time may be before or after training or a different time altogether. It is recommended that it not be immediately after games, as this is often a time when a parent’s emotions may be “running high”, particularly if they are unhappy with court time.
The coach can also designate how they want parents to contact them.
Coaches may prefer parents to email them prior to meeting, or may prefer to speak with parents first. Whatever the coach’s preference, they should advise the parents.
Honesty is the Best Policy
It may be inevitable that a coach of junior players will at some stage have a disagreement with a parent regarding a player but it is natural that the coach may wish to avoid this if possible. However, the coach should always provide an honest comment or response to questions.
Sometimes it may seem easier to “agree” with the parents as this may avoid conflict at the time, however this will only make for a bigger problem in the end.
Coaches should avoid making statements regarding how much court time a particular player will get, other than their general coaching philosophy (e.g. all players play in all games). coaches should also be careful in making comparisons between one player and another player and must limit any discussion with a parent to that parent’s child.
Do What You Say You Will Do
The most important aspect of communication is that the coach must do what they say that they will do. This establishes trust and respect and makes it more likely that parents will help with the enforcement of team rules etc.
What are the Expectations of Parents?
Some parents will have a particular expectation regarding the ability of their child and this view may or may not be realistic. As noted above, communication is a key factor in avoiding conflict and, where it cannot be avoided, handling the conflict.
However, there are other expectations that parents will have of the coach and often if these expectations are not met, they will look to have their child play somewhere else!
These expectations are that the coach will:
- be organized;
- have the best interests of the players (and their child) as a priority;
- be able to teach basketball skills and concepts;
- treat players consistently and fairly;
- be enthusiastic about the team and the sport.
These expectations should not be hard to meet as they are part of the fundamentals of being a coach.