Every youth sports coach is bound to run into a sports parent sooner or later that is just a touch too involved in their player’s athletic career. Maybe they’re already imaging that sports scholarship (never mind their athlete is only 7…) or maybe they think their kid deserves extra attention or personalized coaching. Whatever the reasoning is, being saddled with a helicopter sports parent that likes to coach from the sidelines (maybe even countering you) or has very specific expectations for exactly the kind of season their child should have is no picnic for most youth sports coaches. You don’t want to turn them against you, or diminish their enthusiasm for their child’s commitment to your team—so what’s a coach to do?
Here are three tips for managing helicopter sports parents:
Let them get involved in a way that helps you.
Finding volunteers isn’t an easy task for many youth sports organizations, so if you’ve got an eager sports parent that wants to help out find something for them to do that actually helps you out! They don’t have to be a star athlete themselves to help run a few drills during practice. This helps ensure that everyone the team is moving and practicing, and not leave 5 kids standing in line waiting for their turn in the batting cage.
Who knows—maybe under the exterior of that overly involved parent there is a great youth sports coach waiting to be found! Or…maybe they’ll realize just how much work goes into running a youth sports team and decide to back off a bit on their own. It’s a lot harder to mange/organize/worry about a dozen kids than it is to just worry about your own player.
Set up ground-rules and boundaries for the season early on.
A pre-season meeting isn’t just so you can make sure your players understand what is expected of them throughout the season, it’s also so the parents know! Make it very clear from day one what is and is not considered acceptable sideline behavior from your sports parents. Outline how to you intend to keep the amount of playing time distributed as fairly as possible amongst players but admit that someone might get an extra inning or 5 minutes on the field by chance. It doesn’t mean you favor any one player over another; sometimes that’s just how the chips fall! Let your sports parents know that if they do have a concern or question they are more than welcome to come to you after practice or a game to discuss it, but that you won’t take time away from your team to talk. The better you can manage your sports parents’ expectations the easier it is to keep things running smoothly.
Always reiterate it’s about the team.
Sometimes helicopter parents seem to forget that, no matter how amazing their child is at a given sport, the team doesn’t exist just so their child has a team to play on—it always need to be about the whole team and what’s best for everybody involved. The moment you start making special considerations for one player and not another (like letting the “star” miss practice and still get to play in the next game when you said that wouldn’t be allowed) is the moment the team cohesion starts to fall apart. Even if the kids don’t notice (they’re just there to have a good time anyway!) some of the other sports parents might and then you’ve got an even bigger mess on your hands.
We’d love to hear from sports coaches out there! How do you prefer to handle helicopter sports parents?