How to Talk to Your Child's Coach

Facing problems on the playing field? Talk to the coach first

Talk with the coach to help kids succeed in sports
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If your child is dissatisfied with her youth sports experience—or you are!—it's important to talk to her coach. Rather than seeing him as the cause of any problems, look at him as an ally who can help improve your child's sports experience. So discuss problems with the coach honestly, and be sure to bring an open mind to the table. Have some potential solutions in mind, but be willing to consider options you hadn't previously thought about, too.

Talk to the Coach: Your Plan

Be prepared and be professional and you'll boost the odds of a successful chat. Here's how:

Why: Problems that might merit talking to the coach include a lack of playing time (especially if it doesn't line up with what you were led to believe prior to the season), favoritism, hazing or bullying among players, safety issues, a feeling that your child isn't learning the skills he needs, or a worry that your child is discouraged or anxious.

Who: Plan for a meeting with just you and the coach. (Your child should be included if she is old enough and wants to play a part; some kids will feel uneasy about this.) It should be a private conversation; there is less chance of the coach feeling cornered or criticized. The exception: A situation where other parents share your concerns. Then consider a team parent meeting instead.

What: To make your discussion successful, aim for a face-to-face meeting if possible.

Phone or email chats can leave more room for misunderstandings.

Know your goal ahead of time, and have a plan. You might describe the problems as you see them (as neutrally as possible; come prepared with notes and examples), and mention how your child feels or is affected. Be ready to suggest a resolution, but also ask for the coach's perspective and feedback.

She may have some additional information that you hadn't considered.

When: Schedule a time that's convenient for both of you, remembering to be respectful of the coach's other obligations. Don't buttonhole him after a game or practice, when he's busy and distracted.

Where: A neutral location is typically best, so no one feels at a disadvantage. But choose a place that's comfortable. If that means home, go for it.

How: Body language and tone of voice are important. Aim for calm, assertive, non-threatening, and respectful. Don't make problems worse by being angry or defensive. It helps to use "I" statements: "I would love to see my son get a chance to try some different playing positions" (vs. "You never let my kid play goalie"). Try "active listening," in which you reflect back what the coach is saying; that helps keep misunderstandings to a minimum.

Try to leave the meeting with an agreement as to how the problem will be resolved. If the coach isn't at all receptive to your concerns, your next step would be to approach team leadership: the sports league board of directors, for example.

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