5 Ways to Keep Parents Positively Engaged in Season
The following article is adapted from The Sports Parent Solution: Proven Strategies for Transforming Parents from Obstacles to Allies.
Anson Dorrance holds the record for the most titles won by a Division I coach with a single team. His incredible journey started in 1982 when his Tar Heels secured the very first Division I women’s soccer championship. From 1982 to 2012, the University of North Carolina clinched an astonishing 21 national championships, never going more than two years without claiming a title.
You’d think with such success, Dorrance wouldn’t have any parent issues. But truth be told, he has plenty of stories about unhappy parents, including one who confronted him outside his office complaining about his daughter’s playing time—the day after winning the national championship!
Nevertheless, for every angry parent, Dorrance acknowledges ten others who are grateful for the positive impact he has had on their daughters’ lives. As he once shared with me, he embraces the challenge: “We don’t want to hold parents at arm’s length because, the way we look at it, the reason their daughters’ are so good is the parents. They’ve invested in their game. To some extent, I owe the parents. Also, I want them to be partners with me in shaping the athletes positively.” This perspective has greatly influenced his approach toward parents in the program. While he does small things like openly sharing practice data and being available for discussions regarding parental concerns, his main focus is on ensuring that parents feel valued and included in the program.
Throughout the years, Dorrance has made efforts to involve parents as much as possible in the team experience. He treats every weekend as a “parents’ weekend.” Parents are invited to attend pregame meetings and join the team for meals on road trips. Those who manage to attend all the games are encouraged to act as surrogate parents for other athletes. Unlike earlier in his career, Dorrance now prioritizes finding a few minutes of playing time for a reserve player whose parents have shown up for a particular game. This inclusive approach strengthens the bond between parents and the team, fostering a supportive and united environment.
Seasons can be long and taxing on parents, not just coaches and athletes. Continuing to engage with parents in a positive way throughout the season not only benefits individual athletes, but the team as well. Here are some ideas from my latest book, The Sports Parent Solution: Proven Strategies for Transforming Parents from Obstacles to Allies.
5 Ways to Keep Parents Positively Engaged in Season
Engaging in parent check-ins can make a significant impact. In my own experience as a father, it is incredibly gratifying when teachers or coaches express their genuine enjoyment of working with our children. As parents, we often question our parenting abilities, and receiving these messages not only affirms our kids but also provides validation for our efforts
During these check-ins, what should we convey? Sometimes a simple expression of gratitude suffices, such as saying, “Thank you for allowing me to coach your daughter. She is an exceptional teammate and brings joy to our coaching sessions.” Other times, it may involve offering specific appreciation for something they have done, like “I wanted to inform you that she has truly emerged as a leader for our team. It has been inspiring to witness her work ethic and how she sets the tone during our practices.” Other times it could just be sharing what you enjoy about coaching their child.
Invite to a Pregame Meeting
Similar to Anson Dorrance, Indiana Wesleyan University basketball coach Greg Tonagel extends an invitation to parents to join film sessions of opponents the night before a game. This allows parents to witness the scouting and preparation efforts put in by the coaching staff. When parents see the level of detail and planning that goes into the team’s game strategy, they are often blown away and gain a deeper appreciation for the coach’s expertise.
Even at the youth level, coaches like John O’Sullivan involve parents in the last practice before a game. During this session, parents join the team for a meeting where the week’s practice focus and game plan are reviewed. This approach helps parents understand what the team has been working on and what they should be cheering for during the game.
Invite to a Postgame Tak
When Andy Cerroni’s team won the conference championship in 2023, it was a profound and memorable experience. He decided to share that moment with the parents who had supported the young men throughout their careers, inviting them back for the locker room celebration and postgame speeches. Months later one father shared with Andy, “It was a truly unforgettable moment for me as a proud parent and supporter of the program. Thank you for sharing that experience with us. It not only provided us with a glimpse behind the scenes, but it also showcased the exceptional character and caliber of our coaches and this program. It was just one example of how you consistently make our families feel included and valued as part of this incredible experience.”
Host a Parent Appreciation Night
Each athlete selects a parent whom they wish to honor at one of the team’s home games. Leading up to the event, the athlete takes the time to interview their chosen parent and delve into their experiences. The interview includes meaningful questions that allow the athletes to gain insights into their parents’ journey. The day after the interview, the team comes together to discuss their findings and newfound understanding of parenting. They then individually write a heartfelt letter of appreciation to their parents, expressing gratitude for their love and support. During the next game, either before or at halftime, the parents are honored.
When confronted with conflict, determining when to involve parents and when to handle it solely between the coach and the athlete or team can be challenging. One simple guideline I recommend following is that if the parents will be aware of the consequences, it is valuable to include them in communication about the situation. In situations where discipline is necessary and you wish to maintain trust with the player, simply inform them that you will be communicating the matter to their parents. Emphasize to the parents that your intention is to work together to provide support for the athlete.
If you found these strategies beneficial and would like to learn more about them and other strategies, get a copy of my most recent book The Sports Parent Solution: Proven Strategies for Transforming Parents from Obstacles to Allies.
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