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UK Coaching Team
Rapport Building and Communicating

Encouraging Parents to be Part of the Team

Are parents a part of your team or do you leave them on the bench? Gordon MacLelland of Working With Parents in Sport (WWPIS) delivers sound advice and sensible considerations for coaches grappling with a conflicted relationship with parents

We must remember that on the whole, parents have the biggest influence on their children and sporting experience.

Parents make a massive contribution, ranging from:

  • the organising of schedules
  • the washing of kit
  • the transport to and from venues
  • funding equipment and transport costs. 

 As a result of this, they can be heavily invested in their child’s sporting experience.

They also spend and have spent the most time with their children and have framed many of the ways that their children behave or perceive the world. Children often take their lead from parents and may mimic or copy parental attitudes and behaviour.

The ‘parent problem’

No matter how good our coaching and the sporting environment we create is, or what we choose to celebrate and focus upon, it can all be undone in the home environment if the parents are not given the right levels of support.

Coaches often bemoan that parents deliver conflicting messages to their children without investing in the time to support and encourage parents to ‘sing from the same hymn sheet’.

Parents are an essential member of the athlete support network and are a critical part of your team that supports the inter-disciplinary thinking towards the social, emotional and behavioural development of their child and your athlete.

Some coaches still believe that the best way forward is to have little or no involvement whatsoever with parents, often taking the ‘leave them at the door’ attitude. Other coaches moan that they are used by parents as a cheap ‘babysitting service’ and would love to have more engagement with their athlete’s parents.

Whatever your current views, we need to remember that the athlete must remain at the heart of the experience and parents have the most influential role. They have significant contact time with their child, travel to and from training, make decisions on where their children play and train, and inform their child around commitment and engagement.

The diagram below is a great visual reminder that the athlete remains at the centre of all decisions.

How do you engage with the parents of the children you coach?

The challenge to coaches is to think about how we perceive the parental role. Do we as coaches do enough to support and inform? Are we creative in finding ways to communicate and bring them into the process as valued members of the team?


  • How often do you create opportunities to communicate to parents?
  • If you were/are a parent, what would you want from the coach?
  • Are you open and accessible to the parents of the people at your sessions?


Recently, I heard a coach recall the quote:

We would never leave a physio on the bench, so why do we do it with parents?"

A refreshing quote from a member of a growing group of coaches that have started to recognise the many positives that parents can bring to the coaching experience.

If you’re struggling to do the same, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How can you bring your parents into the team?
  • What role in the team will they play?
  • Do they know what ‘this’ is, and have you prepared them for the role?

Two recent highlights from the sporting world emphasise once again the importance of the parental role.

After defeating Serena Williams to claim victory at the US Open Tennis Final, Bianca Andreescu about her mum:

Without you, I don't know what I'd do. But with you, I know there is nothing I can't do."

After captaining Liverpool to win the Champions League Final earlier in 2019, Jordan Henderson could not wait to catch up with his father.

Have a go

Now it’s your turn. What three things are you going to do to either promote a better relationship with the parents of the athletes you coach or add to what you currently do to enhance the experience? It could all start by creating an opportunity to get to know who they are… rather than ‘Sam’s Mum’.


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Working with Parents in Sport (WWPIS)

WWPIS supports organisations, parents and coaches in working together to provide children with the best possible sporting experiences. Their courses include:

  • 'Engage' - how to build positive relationships with your players' parents (for coaches)
  • 'Positive Parental Engagement' - the role of the organisation
  • 'Great Sports Parenting' (5-11 year olds)
  • 'Great Sports Parenting' (the teenage years and the pathway).

Visit the WWPIS website to find out more.

Related Resources

  • Building Positive Relationships with Parents

  • Revealed: The Secrets to Keeping Parents Happy

  • Ways to Improve Your Child's Experience of Coaching


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UK Coaching Team