November 14, 2018 • Coaching

Welcoming feedback from athletes and parents

Modern day coaches benefit by creating an all-inclusive environment in their programs

athletes coach huddle feedback
Photo: Jim Larrison, Flickr

The “my way or the highway” style has been dismissed as ineffective in the modern coaching world. The well-known methods of successful coaches like Herb Brooks of the 1980 USA Olympic Hockey team don’t work today. The players-vs.-coach attitude results in a diminished sense of teamwork.

Effective coaching now requires a more inclusive climate. Coaches should welcome feedback and ask players for their opinions. The two groups from which feedback can be most effective are players and parents. For “old school” coaches, this is taboo.

The art of modern coaching is how the coach processes and utilizes feedback from parents and players. A coach wouldn’t be doing their job if they simply listened to feedback but never reflected upon it. Conversely, any coach who agrees with all feedback from parents and players isn’t doing their job.

A successful, modern day coach is able to analyze feedback and act upon it in a productive way. That’s what separates coaches from the players or parents providing the input — the coach makes the final decisions.

Athlete feedback

Teams with healthy environments have one thing in common: Players know and understand their roles. That’s not to say that all players agree or are satisfied. But positive environments are easier to develop if athletes are clear on how they fit into the team dynamic.

I use a classroom method known as “dip-sticking” to check on my players emotionally and mentally. Sometimes, “dip-sticking” is informal — it happens in the parking lot after practice, or on the sidelines after a game. I’ll ask how things are going on the team or if they have questions about their role. It’s amazing what a coach can learn from a simple conversation.

If a player feels uninvolved or frustrated with their lack of playing time, they need to discuss it with the coach.

Sometimes “dip-sticking” is more formal. We hold scheduled, one-on-one meetings with each player several times during the season to see how they’re doing. Without exception, I’m always surprised by at least one player’s lack of satisfaction or clarity of their role. As a coach, I thought the kid was doing fine and understood why they were on the bench.

Coaches must remember that just because something is clear to them, it may not be clear to the player. “Dip-sticking” can help us learn this information and find solutions.

  » ALSO SEE: Involving your athletes in team discipline

It’s not realistic to think that coaches are going to be flawless in monitoring each player’s emotional and mental states. That’s why the athlete must step forward and speak with the coach about how they feel. If a player feels uninvolved or frustrated with their lack of playing time, they need to discuss it with the coach. Silence only intensifies the problem, and it decreases the chances of the players having a positive experience.

Athletes may not always have the confidence to discuss what’s bothering them, which is why it’s important to foster a culture of trust. The coach may not initiate every conversation, but they can create an environment where players feel comfortable having difficult discussions.

Parent feedback

I’ve always believed that high school students are old enough to advocate for themselves. But there are times when a situation goes beyond that.

We are fooling ourselves as coaches if we do not acknowledge that a parent’s feelings about their child’s role on a team doesn’t affect that child’s experience on the team. That’s why it’s critical to welcome feedback and concerns from parents — even issues regarding playing time.

If we ignore or discourage parent feedback out of fear that it may be negative, we may create a poisonous situation. Those problems can make it very difficult for a coach to help their athletes succeed. If parents have negative feelings about their child’s experience, they need to speak to the coach and the coach must invite that discussion. In the long run, remaining silent only hurts the child.

  » RELATED: Coaching your sports parents

Traditionally, playing time is one of the biggest off-the-table topics during parent-coach conversations. I argue that if it’s a major concern at home for the parents, then the child probably feels the same. Coaches must be aware of it.

If the discussion at the dinner table about lack of playing time is turning into a prosecution of the coach, it’s time to set a meeting. That meeting can be an eye-opening event for all parties. Coaches should want to know about negative discussions at home so they can work on resolving differences or understanding one another’s position. It’s far more dangerous not to discuss the issue.

Most of our successful coaches at Canton High School (Mass.) have annual preseason meetings for parents. Introducing yourself to parents and letting them know that you value feedback can go a long way toward building the trust needed to have meaningful discussions down the road. This meeting also ensures that the first time a coach and parent sit down to discuss a sensitive issue, it’s not the first time they’ve talked. That can be a recipe for disaster.

Parents also need to do their part. They should not remain silent or fear retribution against their children if they speak up. They should be encouraged to talk with the coach any time there’s a situation that adversely affects their children.

Coaches want exactly what parents want, which is for all athletes to have the best experience possible. That can only happen if everyone works together.

Danny Erickson is the athletic director and head coach of the boys varsity soccer team at Canton High School (Mass.).

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