The #1 Way to Eliminate Sports Parent Issues: The Parent Check-In

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The following is an excerpt from The Sports Parent Solution

In my book The Culture System, I recounted the story of Captain Mike Abrashoff, who transformed the USS Benfold from the worst ship to the best ship in the US Navy within two years. A pivotal aspect of this transformation was Abrashoff’s ability to forge connections with all 312 sailors on board. His care and concern extended not only to the sailors themselves but also encompassed their parents, as he took the time to empathize with the sailors from their parents’ perspective. Whenever a new sailor joined the ship, Abrashoff personally greeted them and then accompanied them to the bridge to make a call to their parents, assuring them of their safe arrival. In a time before everyone had a cell phone, this small gesture carried immense significance.

During my conversation with Abrashoff on the Coaching Culture Podcast, another practice of his struck me profoundly: his habit of writing letters to the parents of sailors nearly every day. Recognizing that many of these young men and women had overcome challenging childhoods to join the Navy, Abrashoff placed himself in the parents’ shoes. He imagined the emotions they would experience upon receiving a letter from their child’s commanding officer. Consequently, whenever a sailor accomplished something noteworthy, Abrashoff would write a letter to their parents. The parents would share their pride with their sons or daughters, and the sailors would be grateful for Abrashoff, knowing he truly cared about each of them.

A few weeks after Abrashoff had sent a letter to one sailor’s father, the sailor came to Abrashoff’s cabin and had tears streaming down his face. When Abrashoff asked what was wrong, he said, “I just got a call from my father, who all my life told me I’m a failure. This time, he said he’d just read your letter, and he wanted to congratulate me and say how proud he was of me. It’s the first time in my entire life he’s actually encouraged me. Captain, I can’t thank you enough.”

While sending positive notes to parents is a commendable action for any coach or leader, what truly impresses me about this story is Abrashoff’s mindset. He consistently considered the parents’ perspective, understanding the challenges and anxieties they faced with their children far away from home. This unwavering concern for the parents translated into consistent communication from Abrashoff.

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.

Not every interaction will be exclusively positive, and acknowledging a struggle is equally important. For instance, reaching out and saying, “I wanted to inform you that I recently spoke with your daughter about her role. She has been feeling frustrated due to her reduced playing time. I provided guidance on areas she can focus on, and I also asked her how we can support her during this challenging period. She expressed that weekly check-ins with a coach would be helpful, so we will continue to stay connected.”

It may seem daunting to find the time for these check-ins with parents, but I have witnessed coaches develop a habit of making phone calls a few times a week during their commute or sending personal messages after monthly player development meetings. One coach I supported initially hesitated to prioritize check-ins with players’ parents. However, halfway through the season, a parent took to social media to vent their frustration, claiming that the coach did not care about all the players and their child was not receiving the playing time they deserved. In response, the coach began conducting check-ins and sharing updates after every player development meeting. The impact was remarkable and immediate, with the complaining mother soon expressing her astonishment to the coach: “I had no idea about all the things you were doing for my son.”

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