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When we discuss coaching talent and the pathway, invariably parents are raised by a number of coaches as a ‘challenge’. I often reply ‘parents do the wrong thing for the right reasons’; what do I mean by that. Well parents want to support their child, they want them to achieve, be successful and take away any risk, uncertainty and pain for their child.  As Anne Pankhurst states: Parents as key stakeholders in their child’s development have the right to be informed and consistently kept up to date with information.  As many of you may have experienced as a coach, if you don’t keep the parents informed they ‘fill in the gaps’ for you and this can be even more problematic.

20 things coaches want from parents

The days of ‘leave them at the door’ and ‘doing it to the parent’ have thankfully gone.  The role of the coach is to work with and guide the parents to help them understand the requirements and demands.

Much is said about what a parent needs to do to support their child along the pathway.  The infographic (left) from Believe Perform highlights 20 things a coach wants, but do we spend time developing parents' understanding. 

Q. How many of you have considered the Coach – Athlete – Parent triad?

Q. When do you speak to your parents? Is it only at the beginning of a year? When there is an issue?

Q. How do you communicate to your parents?

At a recent event with talent coaches the question was asked: Do your parents really know what it takes to be successful in your sport?  Do you explain this to them or is it something we assume they know? The reality was most coaches assumed they knew. Very few talented athletes’ parents have experienced the talent pathway as an athlete themselves so they are trying to work it out for themselves and a lot have never had a son or a daughter involved in a talent system, so how could they know?

As coaches within a talent development system, we have a responsibility to support and develop the parents to allow them to support their daughter or son.  For the last 10 years, talent system research has highlighted the need to optimise parents to gain the maximum use and support from them for their child.

So what does this actually look like? It starts with communication, regular communication.  Keep parents informed about the pathway, is your webpage up to date?  Do you have an orientation/induction evening every year or phase?  What happens to the parents of athletes who join midway through a programme?  Do you have a system and process to ensure they are given the advice and support?

Have you considered 'Parent Advocates', those who have been through the pathway and can help guide a ‘newbie’ parent through the first few weeks.  This could be as simple as sharing a coffee, adding them to the parent What’s App group or discussing car pools.  They are all aspects that help parents build connections and feel settled in your coaching environment. They could as Andy Bradshaw’s blog earlier this week suggested, share a ‘lessons learnt’ from last year’s parents in an email or post to social group… What would I have liked to have known?

How do you communicate?  There is nothing to replace face to face time with a parent but that is not always possible.  Have you considered an email newsletter, Facebook page, group text, noticeboard updates or a combination of these?  I know what you’re thinking, I don’t have the time!  This is an investment on which you will yield a massive return.  I was speaking to a senior international athlete recently, and they were really please that in the build up to Rio their coaches had communicated to family and friends, highlighting the increased pressure and expectations on them as athletes.  She said, "it made it much easier to explain why I am missing a family christening, or that an ‘odd’ night-out does matter"; further highlighting that parents and family don’t realise what is required.

There are many things that you can consider sharing with your parents, including education and understanding on growth and maturation, their role as a parent and how this may shift on the ‘bus’; the pathway, phases and progression, positive things to discuss, why you approach things in a different way…the list is endless!

I am going to focus on two examples.  I mentioned before the ‘bus’, parents arrive in a talent pathway as the driver of the bus.  They ferry their child around, decide who, what and where; they make the big decisions, as their child develops and through your guidance and challenge they no longer want to sit at the back of the bus.  They want to drive their own bus, taking responsibility, ownership and becoming adaptable and resilient.  Have we considered how that makes parents feel?  They may feel pushed out, rejected, fired even!  We need to explain their role is no longer to lead but support; explain that this is a crucial aspect of the pathway.  Young athletes need to take responsibility, become accountable and learn from their mistakes.  The role of the parents’ changes, it doesn’t disappear.

The second aspect is around coaching practice, what if you are wanting to encourage self-generated (intrinsic) feedback and as a result you are introducing strategies such as fading feedback (where the coach gradually reduces or ‘fades’ the amount of feedback offered encouraging the players to consider this from themselves) or bandwidth feedback (when the coach sets a bandwidth of feedback on an aspect of coaching and will only suggest to athletes any feedback when they are outside of the bandwidth).  By framing the bandwidth with the players initially, the coach raises their awareness and athletes begin to internally check themselves.  What may this look like to a parent on the side line, deckside or track side?  'She is no longer interested in my son/daughter. He’s ignoring her again! I am paying for this session and they haven’t spoken for 15 minutes.'  If you introduce movement skills/physical literacy or a cross sport activity to provoke learning what would the reaction be from your parents if you didn’t explain this first?  I have seen it first hand, on the court side… ‘I haven’t paid for this, they are here to coach tennis not play games’.  I know your smiling now, it happens. 

As I said at the beginning parents do the wrong things for the right reasons.  Let’s flip it now, what if you explain to the parents that the next challenge in their child’s growth and development on the pathway is to become more independent and resilient, after all they compete not the coach.  You explain what you are going to do and are empowering the athletes to ask you for feedback when they are unable to work it out themselves.  See how it changes?  The parents are aware, more likely to support you and the approach, and are certainly less likely to ‘corrupt’ your approach with negative comments.  You get a return on your investment.

For more ideas take a look at the Coach-Parent relationship tip sheet.

Chris Chapman, Talent and Performance Lead Officer, UK Coaching

Follow: @Chrischappie