January 17, 2017 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

Dealing with parental interference in coaching

There is a segment of parents who try to coach children during games. You’ll often see them standing near the sidelines, barking instructions across the field or gym floor. This causes a major problem for athletes, because instructions by the parent may not mirror what’s being taught in practice by the coach. As a result, there is a major conflict with respect to expectations.

Why do parents attempt to coach from the sidelines? Perhaps they served as youth league coaches, and when their child moved on to the high school level they never surrendered that role.

Or, it could be that they are former players themselves who believe they have a better understanding of the game than the varsity coach.

Another theory is that the parent has no awareness and self-control. Whatever the reason, parental coaching can be a problem for coaches and athletes.

The athlete is oftentimes stuck in the middle this tug of war between the parent and his or her high school coach. Because the parent and coach are rarely on the same page, this causes a conflict as the athlete tries to determine who to listen to.

Here is how one high school basketball coach handled this problem. During one game, a player’s father sat across from the bench and constantly yelled instructions to his daughter while she was on the bench or on the court.

“Shoot the ball when you get it,” he would yell. “Take your defender to the hoop, she can’t stop you!”

  » RELATED: Handling the parent problem in your school

During a timeout, the head coach leaned over to his assistant and asked him to take over the huddle. The coach quietly walked down to the baseline, crossed over to the other side of the court and sat down next to the father.

“It’s great to see that you’re involved and care about your daughter’s improvement,” he said, “but there can only be one coach during a game. Athletes have to focus on only one voice, play within our system and this means doing what’s best for the team.

“Your daughter can’t do this when you’re constantly telling her what to do, which is often counter to what we want and are prepared to do. Now, I’d like to get your daughter back in the game at some point, but only when she follows our instructions. Thanks for your cooperation.”

The father got the message and remained relatively quiet for the rest of the season. But even though this coach’s effort was successful, it may not work with a parent in your program.

Here are eight suggestions for coaches and athletic administrators having trouble with parental interference in their programs.

1. Articulate expectations early.

Use preseason meetings to present the expectation that parents should not coach their children during games. Don’t simply tell them that they shouldn’t do it, but provide them with all the logical reasons why this approach is counterproductive and will not help the athletes.

2. Describe the consequences.

Explain that coaching from the sideline, or even at home after games, creates a real chasm and interferes with the high school coach’s efforts. This places the athlete in a difficult position and it cannot help his or her development. Parental sideline efforts may have a detrimental effect and could be embarrassing to the youngster. When an athlete does not follow a coach’s instruction and does not fit into the team’s system, playing time suffers.

3. Put it in writing.

Make sure that a pledge to let coaches do the coaching is included in your parent contracts, which all parents of athletes must sign, and include it in all associated athletic department documents. As you do with your handbook, guidelines, policies and procedures, this provision should be incorporated in all printed and posted departmental materials. This prevents parents from using the “I didn’t know” excuse.

4. Limit parental access during games.

If possible, create a buffer on the sidelines of fields and gyms to keep parents from standing next to their children. In addition to parental coaching, there is also a risk and safety factor of having non-team personnel on the sideline during a game.

5. Establish a restricted area.

Create space immediately behind the bench where nobody can sit. Also, post signs to specify separate fan seating for students and parents on the other side of the gym away from the team bench. In order to prevent your opponent’s fans from being a problem, place them behind the visiting team bench and post signs designating this area.

6. Assign a monitor.

Require that your game managers watch for instances of parents coaching during contests. Since your coaches should be actively involved and focused on the game, the athletic director should intervene with the parent. If the parent refuses to comply and continues to create a problem, he or she should be asked to leave.

7. Create an action plan.

The game manager — assistants, teachers or administrators — should be familiar with the procedures to follow in situations like this. There may be some contests that athletic directors can’t attend, and the person acting as game manager should be prepared to handle any disruptions caused by inappropriate parental coaching.

8. Ban the parent.

Consider banning parents who do not follow your requests to stop coaching during games. Before informing the mother or father, you want to get your principal’s or superintendent’s approval. The support of your superior is absolutely essential because the parent will most likely contact the highest level administrator to complain and get this decision overturned.

Parental coaching can be very intrusive and detrimental to athletes and coaches, which is why teams must have a way to combat it. Your athletes and teams deserve the best learning environment possible, and the athletic director must provide that for them. It starts with curtailing parents who interfere with your coaches.

7 thoughts on “Dealing with parental interference in coaching”

  1. What about working to get the parent involved and on your side? How about inviting him/her to a practice or sitting down with him/her to discuss strategy and help the parent see what the message is that you want to give as a coach and why. If that doesn’t work, then I’d go to the more restrictive ideas. Otherwise, I’ve seen many parents who become more problematic because they haven’t been let “behind the curtain” to know what the gameplan is. And, who knows, maybe the parent can turn into a very helpful volunteer!

    1. Everything a parent “needs” to know should be covered in the pre-season Team meeting and during periodic Player/Coach/Parent individual updates throughout the Season.

  2. I think this coach handled it in a calm and productive manner. The real problem that plagues our youth athletics is the idea of travel teams. About 70% of these teams are the product of unhappy parents, whose sons or daughters aren’t starters or communities that have a bunch of elite athletes and they don’t want the less talented players to be associated with their kids. The others are sports associations or academies that an association with professional development of professional sports teams or established athletic apparel companies. These are usually by invitation only. So the amount of money the family has no play in these travel team.
    Want to make it better, get as many parents involved at the lowest level of the youth sports. When the kids reach middle school, get one parent without a kid in the program. Then get the high school varsity coach to come down and teach what he or she wants from each player and parent. Set parameters and rules, that way if a parent or player doesn’t conform, they can be asked to leave.
    I have seen this work and I’m a former baseball coach, who coached the sport from tee ball all the way to the independent leagues of minor league baseball. But I totally understand how frustrated as a coach when parents think they know more that you.

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