Managing Parent Expectations

By Steve Teakel
Coaching Development Manager
AFL Victoria

If you ask junior and youth coaches what is the most challenging part of their role, they will say managing the parent group and their expectations. The relationships the coach creates and builds with their parent group can either be helpful and supportive, or stressful and frustrating.  It is the strength of the coaching triangle – coach, player and parents - which may make or break the season.

Much research has been undertaken in the United States to investigate the parental expectations of the coach. What are the coaching characteristics most preferred by parents? Here are some reflections on the outcome of this research and its implications for junior and youth Australian Football coaches. 

The parents of secondary school aged players were surveyed on common coaching characteristics and it was found that they most desired coaches who were:

Top Three
  • Fair and honest in dealing with players
  • Able to teach well
  • Committed to the development of sportsmanship
Middle Four
  • Knowledgeable of the skills of the sport
  • Committed to having their players enjoy the game
  • Knowledgeable of the rules of the game
  • Knowledgeable of prevention, care and rehabilitation of injuries
Bottom Three
  • Experienced as a player
  • Providing an experience that will improve players chances at playing at a higher level
  • Committed to winning

The parents were also asked how they defined their top coaching characteristics – fair and honest, sportsmanship and ability to teach well. The majority of comments were in the following categories – communication skills, teaching skills and fun.

Parents described communication skills of coaches as the ability to:

  • Convey the team rules and expectations in a supportive and encouraging manner
  • Provide corrective feedback and an honest assessment of players skill level
  • Have the players re-explain something that they have been taught
  • Have the players clarify team expectations correctly

Parents described teaching skills of a good coach as the ability to:

  • Engage the players and create a positive environment free from peer harassment
  • Know how to sequence learning – step by step development of skills and strategy, providing  feedback
  • Provide adequate wait time (delay feedback to allow the player an opportunity to respond or self correct)

Parents described the player’s enjoyment of the total sports experience (fun) as:

  • “They look forward to practice and play”

So what are the implications of this research for you the coach and your club committee?

  • If accomplished this would build credibility and decrease misunderstandings with both players and parents
  • The coach (and club representative eg president, coach coordinator)  should have a meeting with the parents at the beginning of the season to outline goals (skill development, character formation, place of winning), discipline and the support  parents can provide during the season
  • Parents desire for coaches to communicate openly with the players and parents regarding a variety of issues – the key issues are playing time, performance strengths and weaknesses and coach’s expectations.
  • Having a program which makes the players excited to attend practice and games
Club Committee:
  • Having playing experience was ranked low and may lead to knowledge of the rules and skills, but does not always lead to good teaching of the game.
  • One of the highest priorities was ability to teach well is not always a skill found in people who have played the game. When interviewing coaches you could ask them how they would teach a skill or tactic of the game. What is there understanding of learning styles? How will you provide feedback?
  • The ability to teach well is more than the X’s and O’s – you need to engage the players, build rapport, creating positive learning environments, sequencing tasks, organization of practice,  providing appropriate feedback and teaching life lessons.
  • Provide ongoing assistance for the coach through a mentor, coach coordinator and education programs provided by the regional branch of the Australian Football Coaches Association. 
  • Have a strong focus on sportsmanship as a club – what are the qualities of a good sport? How does a coach role model such qualities for players and parents?

The parent – coach relationship is crucial with the club and coach needing to explore a variety of avenues to communicate and promote parental involvement in the teams program.

Research completed by Candace Barton and Craig Stewart of Montana University, Department of Health and Human Development, Bozeman Montana