Loading ...

Strategies for children’s coaches to help them engage more effectively with parents | Coaching Children (Ages 5-12) | ConnectedCoaches

ConnectedCoaches uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to the use of the cookies. For more details about cookies how we manage them and how you can delete them see the 'Use of cookies' part of our privacy policy. Click the cross to close this cookie notice. X

Home » Groups » Coaching Children (Ages 5-12) » blogs » Blake Richardson » Strategies for children’s coaches to help them engage more effectively with parents
Coaching Children (Ages 5-12)

Leave group:

Are you sure you want to leave this space?

Join this group:

Join this space?

Add a new tab

Add a hyperlink to the space navigation. You can link to internal or external web pages. Enter the Tab name and Tab URL. Upload or choose an icon. Then click Save.

The name that will appear in the space navigation.
The url can point to an internal or external web page.
Login to follow, share, and participate in this group.
Not a member?Join now

Strategies for children’s coaches to help them engage more effectively with parents

Avg: 0 / 5 (0votes)


Gordon MacLelland is a leading voice on the coach-parent-child triad. In this blog he explains why building a harmonious relationship with parents is a coach’s moral imperative as failing to work as a team, and shed the ‘them and us’ label that is so prevalent in youth sport, can wreak untold damage.

  • Being a ‘pushy parent’ is a natural human reaction. The secret is to find some way of channelling those potent human emotions to help the child.
  • There are currently insufficient resources dedicated to helping parents.
  • It is crucial that the parent understands and accepts the rationale behind the coach’s decisions and actions and buys into the values laid down in the club’s code of conduct.
  • Turning the car into an interrogation room on the journey home is a perfect illustration of how far removed parents are from the ‘person before performer’ philosophy championed by coaches.
  • Competition is not a taboo word but winning should not be the primary motivator. A coach and parent’s behaviour before, during and after should not reflect the outcome or desired outcome of a game. 

It is happening every weekend, in every junior team, on every pitch, in every league, in every county. A game within a game. It too is played out in the open, and involves the same cast of characters: coaches, parents and children. 

It is the blame game, and it can be more fiercely fought than the main event, and can continue long after the final whistle. There are no winners, but the children lose every time. 

A typical blame game might see a parent chastise their child for a poor display, or criticise the coach for playing the wrong players at the wrong time, who in turn blames the parents for their persistent shouting from the sidelines and crudely camouflaged critique of their tactical decisions.

ConnectedCoaches member Gordon MacLelland is hell-bent on blowing the final whistle on this type of contest. For at its worst, a breakdown in the relationship between coach and parent results in a vicious circle of negativity where everyone becomes a victim, most notably the players, whose enjoyment of sport is slowly and systematically eroded.   

In the sporting arena, if players flout the rules of fair play they are disciplined by the referee. In the blame game that kicks off at the same time on the touchline, parents are not nearly as accountable for their actions. 

Advice from the sidelines mixed with criticism in homeward-bound debrief sessions can cause confusion, be demoralising and wreck a child’s self-esteem. 

Parents deluding themselves 

Of course, parents do not deliberately set out to damage their child’s love of sport. 

They may be totally unaware that their incessant interference is creating a pressure-cooker environment that, if left unchecked, could weaken their child’s zest for competition and destroy their individuality by stripping away their inherent willingness to take risks and be creative

Most parents may actually believe they are helping, not hindering their child’s enjoyment and progress by lavishing advice on them gleaned from their own lifetime of playing sport. 

‘Saying parents are bullies is not correct, because actually they are very well intentioned a lot of the time, it’s just sometimes slightly misguided,’ says Gordon, when asked if it is fair that parents – or, let’s face it, dads more often than not – are painted as the bad guys. 

‘It’s a natural human reaction and it’s trying to find some way of channelling those human emotions to help their child. 

‘Everything the parent does for their children is because they love them.’ 

Gordon believes that a big wedge has grown between coach and parent over the years and that a change of perspective is long overdue. Habitually branding parents as controlling, stifling and overbearing will solve nothing. Coaches, and the industry as a whole, should be working harder to educate parents on the impact their behaviour is having on their children. 

‘The parents have been put into boxes, labelled as "pushy parents" and yet actually around the world there has been very little resource dedicated to helping them. 

‘So until we really start to engage them either as organisations or as coaches then the problem is not going to go away.’ 

We’ve all done it 

Gordon admits that, in the early days of watching his son play football, he made the same mistakes as every other parent. 

And that is despite his credentials. He has coached at all age levels, from seven year olds to adults, and is currently Director of Sport at an independent preparatory school. 

‘I was in a position of strength in so much as I have been involved in sport all my life and have listened to talks around the world, like the Changing The Game Project, and I was still making poor decisions. 

‘So what chance has any parent without any sporting background got?’ 

He became driven to helping coaches engage with parents more effectively. He has written two books on the topic, addressed audiences and governing bodies around the country and has set up his own website, Working With Parents In Sport to tackle the issue head on. 

‘When I began to explain to parents some of the science behind it – why shouting instructions out for example, or the impact of their child playing football for 12 months of the year and not playing anything else, may be a bad idea – I found there was a very large middle group of people who were saying, “I wish somebody had told me this”. 

‘So I thought it would be hugely worthwhile to make something available to them in a format they could afford and that could be understood. And to be a success, and to change the culture that exists, that means taking it to hundreds of thousands of people.’ 

Parents coach

Getting parents on side

Armed with a growing bank of anecdotal evidence that suggests parents can be a coach’s greatest ally in the development of their children, Gordon is determined to create a nation of dynamic double acts who are singing from the same hymn sheet – delivering the same common messages and demonstrating the same consistent and appropriate behaviour and emotional responses to children. 

The first piece of advice to coaches bent on building a good rapport with their parents is to dial up your empathy levels. Sermonising or talking down to them is not a good base from which to build improved communication and cooperation. Learn to put yourself in their shoes and remember how challenging it can be to keep your counsel when watching your child play sport.  

‘Engage them in a fun, friendly and non-shaming way. Parents don’t like being preached at,’ says Gordon. 

‘You are not going to change people’s behaviour by saying you are a bad parent and must not shout. And no way are you going to engage them by giving them lots of science and telling them “You’ve got this wrong” and “we know more than you”.’ 

It is crucial that the parent understands and accepts the rationale behind the coach’s tactical decisions and development goals, which means getting parents to buy into the coach’s philosophy, and the values and beliefs set down in the club’s culture. 

Parent and coach must also be on the same wavelength when it comes to individual aspects of their child’s development. Don’t begrudge them insight into their child’s learning and the methods and models being employed. 

‘One of the big things that stresses parents is the element of surprise, and this removes that from the equation. They have prior warning,’ explains Gordon. 

‘Some parents won’t like your decisions but they will accept them if you are more proactive in your communication about what you are trying to do and achieve.’ 

Having a consistent policy over playing time, for example, will spare coaches the full force of parents’ acrimony. 

‘I have a real-life example of that,’ says Gordon. ‘So my son has played at a decent level of football for the last three years. His club’s policy has always been equal playing time. Whether it’s a cup semi-final or playing a team who are top of the table, whoever it may be, if it’s your turn to miss the start of the game, you miss the start of the game; if it’s your turn to come off with 10 minutes to go, you come off. 

‘In many ways it is a difficult thing for the parent to accept and there have been incidences where we have lost penalty shoot-outs and gone out of tournaments. But in the grand scheme of things you have been able to accept it because that is what was set out in front of you to start with. You have bought into it. 

‘What you cannot have is a club culture saying, “We aren’t all about winning, we are about development”, and then have four coaches on four pitches giving everybody equal playing time and a fifth coach replacing who they consider to be the three worst players with 10 minutes to go with the three best because the team is a goal down. That is the sort of thing which causes a problem with parents and creates a negative reaction.’ 

Setting the ground rules 

Gordon recommends coaches convene parents formally before the beginning of the season to set their stall out and relay the key messages concerning club culture, playing time policy, unacceptable side-line behaviour, make-up of training sessions, development goals and so on.

But that alone will not ensure a turbulent-free season. Only through multiple reinforcement on a more informal level over the course of the campaign will your messages become firmly embedded.  

If you think there may be a potential clash in the pipeline, then proactively communicating with parents before the event will help minimise the risk of fallout. 

Shrewd use of social media platforms such as the club Facebook page or setting up a WhatsApp Group is another way of communicating effectively with parents. 

Gordon prescribes several posts a week. This could be a reminder of the club coaching ethos, a summary of your session objectives before training, some online learning guides (tips, perhaps, on how to create a motivational climate for your child) as well as the usual information, well in advance, regarding fixture amendments, venue changes or important dates for the diary. 

‘No one-off chat can have that type of impact,’ says Gordon. 

Prioritise person before performer 

Perhaps the principal message to keep hammering home to parents is the need to prioritise fun over winning.

One of the first things every new coach learns is the holistic approach to impactful sports coaching. A coach has a responsibility to develop the whole child and turn their participants into better people. 

The car being transformed into an interrogation room on the journey home is an example of how far parents stray from this ‘person before performer’ ideology, when extreme short-term gain outranks long-term welfare.

‘All the research tells us now that if you ask children who play sport what is important to them, winning will be a long way down the list of priorities. Look at the work of Amanda Visek, who found winning was 48th on their list of reasons out of 81 fun determinants. 

‘In contrast, if we ask an adult where winning comes in, you’re guaranteed it will place in the top three. 

‘Nobody is saying that winning is not important, but it shouldn’t be the primary motivator.’

Gordon adds: ‘I don’t want people to think I’m so laissez-faire that I don’t understand what winning is. I’m massively competitive. Yes, children will always be competitive and sometimes they can be desperate to win, but the key is to remember that our behaviour before, during and afterwards should not reflect the outcome of the game. 

‘So it’s asking reflective questions: “What do you think went well?” “What are you looking forward to in training?” You can lose a game and play brilliantly, and yet that is not always recognised because parents judge them on the outcome.’ 

Gordon is the first to admit he has had some ‘shocking’ car journeys home when his son was five or six. ‘I look back on them now and almost cringe,’ he says of his judgmental behaviour. 

His experiences have made him even more passionate about persuading parents to consider their child’s feelings after games and to look at things from their perspective rather than through an adult lens. A little self-awareness can go a long, long way. 

‘We need to ask them questions that allow them to reflect on their game. So when your child gives you an opportunity to speak, this is not an invitation to impart all your knowledge from the whole weekend over the next 20 minutes, including last night’s Match of the Day.’ 

The dream scenario 

By working as allies, not enemies, coaches can help drastically reduce the number of parents who live to regret their actions. 

Compare these two scenarios. The vicious circle, where a grandparent – having become wise with age – watches in horror as their grandchild is held to account over their performance on the car journey home by a well-meaning, misguided father. As the familiar scene unfolds, they lift up their eyes to the heavens and think to themselves: If only I knew then what I know now.

And the virtuous circle, where it suddenly dawns on one motor-mouth parent that he is the only one shouting at his child on the sideline. He shuts up, embarrassed. 

‘If 95% are doing it, I think the other 5% will be far more uncomfortable. And I think coaches should be championing those who are getting it right and make them feel good about getting it right and then it might self-police itself in time.’

What are your thoughts on coaches and parents working together to help children excel in sport and in life? Please share your views.

Next steps

If you enjoyed this blog you’ll find lots more on ConnectedCoaches to help you improve your relationships with parents. Discover all that is available by entering ‘parents’ into the site search facility. This will bring up all the blogs, conversations, videos and photos shared on parents.

We’ve also set up a Managing Parents forum in the Coaching Children (Ages 5-12) Group where you can start conversations with your fellow members on the challenges you face.

You can read all of Gordon’s blogs on parents here.

Listen to Gordon’s podcast with Coach Reed Maltbie: How coaches can positively engage with parents?

Login to follow, share, comment and participate. Not a member? Join for free now.

Comments (1)


‘Moral imperative’;
on the surface, this seems like a good idea. The truth is, there is very little difference between a coach and a parent compromising; and a theist and an atheist compromising. Coaches should be accountable for their actions, parents rarely are. This is why the gap of 48th winning ranking compared to parent’s top 3 exists.
If the world’s great religions can’t get all people to sing from the same hymn sheet or wave-length, what chances have coaches? If the United Nations can’t enforce the non-use of chemical weapons in war, what chance has a coach got? Truth is, like an ex-smoker that hates smokers, Gordon is evangelical or ‘hell-bent’ about not being a pushy parent. Try telling a parent, you have a ‘moral imperative’ to make the parent behave. Tell them you’re turning them into better people. If it’s tough for Gordon to learn, it’s probably much harder for a parent.

Both think they are on the moral high ground and the other is delusional. It’s lucky coincidence if they agree. That’s why the ‘agree to disagree’ is often used.

Morals are an extremely complex set of beliefs, mostly cultural, always learnt, never innate, and as complex and varied as personality. Immanuel Kant is the best thinker on this. Moral imperative suggests, the coach knows better; often it’s just different, high level coaches, generally in my experience, tend to be far superior than the parent; ethically and morally.

Yet, when was the last, ethics and morals coaches course, you went on? Probably never! How many coaches know who Immanuel Kant is? Empathy and ‘self-awareness’ are extremely difficult concepts, our best brains struggle to understand, Gordons belief that is the answer, although probably right, is unbelievably difficult to do.

Being a non-pushy parent is also a natural human reaction, unless we are saying, that those parents that aren’t pushy are not ‘natural’. We are all part of nature, and all representative of what’s natural. Pete Sampras’s parent only once watched Pete at Wimbledon and that was when he was retiring. Many parents use sport as a dumping ground. Being a pushy parent is not natural for all.

A more accurate statement: ‘pushy’ parents are a ‘usual’ ‘typical’ reaction but doesn’t have to be. Point is, if we see being pushy as ‘natural’, we give them an excuse for that behaviour.

The parent will always believe, (no matter how convincing you are) that they have the best interests of their child at heart. It’s a parents right to have veto over their child, this is true.

In other words, if the parent could understand moral imperative, they wouldn’t be a pushy parent in the first place. Especially football, traditionally, working man’s sport. They have far more important things to do than learn academia, survival rather than ‘moral imperatives’ is their priority. Few understand what Scientists know, that Gordons anecdotal evidence is one of the poorest forms of evidence.

These things come together. One has to have at least an amount of intelligence to know you’re being stupid; if you’re so stupid you don’t even know, then your GOING to take the most desirable option, you’re going to make the assumption you’re intelligent.’ There’s nothing telling you otherwise, “and you can definitely ignore that coach telling you about your own child.”

And, yes, there are parents that deliberately destroy the love of the sport, a large body of parents, it is about win at all costs. Richard Krajicek, Jelena Dokic; ice skater Tonya Harding’s mum in the Oscars; the list is extensive and often hidden. This is where the untold damage hides, we only get to hear about the high profile cases if an athlete is brave enough to publish the damage their parent has done. Most children won’t out of family loyalty. The problem is way bigger than Gordon realises, and no philosophy will fix this.

To say, ‘parents DON’T’ destroy the love of the game, ignores the reality and is dangerous to make such claims. In fact, that denial can sometimes be why they get away with it. The belief a parent couldn’t possibly want to harm their child, could mean we don’t see it when it happens, so blinked by our beliefs.

Some parents don’t even know the meaning of love, let alone know how to love their own child, and many parents are bullies. I saw a dad kick his own child, in the middle of a tournament, is one of many examples.

Most parents may actually believe they are helping, not hindering their child’s enjoyment and progress by lavishing advice on them gleaned from their own LACK OF lifetime of playing sport. The vast majority of parents that hinder their child, have never played sport to any level; that’s why they act unreasonably, they don’t have the experience.
Do a quick survey of the sporting back-ground of the parents, you’ll find the one’s that are the biggest problems often have no sporting success themselves. Intelligent parents realise they know nothing and leave it up to the coaches. Intelligent parents that are ex-athletes know good coaches, and leave their child with the coach. Problems only come from lack of intelligence. Ever tried telling a parent they are stupid?
I’ll listen to a qualified opinion but not an unqualified one, I need the emotional information from a parent but I don’t need a parent to tell me how to coach their child, unless they themselves are/were coaches.

One cannot compromise with those that are uncompromising. Give those people an inch, they take a mile, as our wise ancestors have said, often. And I certainly don’t necessarily want to blame a coach for not being able negotiate a pushy parent, their primary job is coaching the child not the parent. How many ‘managing pushy parent’ courses have you been on? And we’ve witnessed much bad, unethical, pushy behaviour from coaches.

Their failure to grow-up and not come to terms with the element of surprise, illustrates this. There is always an element of the unexpected; nobody predicted Brexit, nobody predicted Leicester City winning the league. And arrogant of coaches to think they can cover elements of surprise with a philosophy.

It seems Gordons philosophy, is essentially; ‘my way or the high way’; needed because parents are unreasonable. One can’t compromise with those that are uncompromising. This is conformational bias. Gordon has NOT come up with a system where ALL parents can be brought around by negotiation and compromise. Truth is; those that don’t like the philosophy, don’t join the club, or leave, sooner or later. Giving Gordon the illusion his philosophy works for all or the vast majority parents. Also sometimes known as survivorship bias. It must be a successful system because everyone in the club is happy; ignores all those that don’t buy into his system.
One can minimise the fall out, but not prevent it.
Gordon thinks, because he once didn’t get it but now does, ALL parents can get it, with enough coaching; another of Gordon’s conformational bias.

If it were that easy, one wouldn’t need to ‘hammer.’ Some children, just aren’t competitive, some it’s just purely for fun, for some winning is irrelevant. Our behaviours always reflect the outcome of the game. We are emotional beings, behavioural animals, the only reason we do anything is for emotional reasons.

Although a club ethos is the answer, this is not the solution to helping all parents understand sport. Those parents will find a club that sacrifices ethics for the competitive win-at-all-cost coach/club. One might be able to manufacture in a closed loop chain a 95-5% ratio but not in an open loop society. We can’t even expect our banks to ethically self-police, we can’t trust our churches to self-police, nor our politicians etc. If we can’t even trust our charity organisation to self-police.
3360 views and no coach comments and only two likes??? Where’s the moral imperative?

Avg: 0 / 5 (0votes)