Parents and playing time
Ask a coach about dealing with parents and you are likely to get several eye-rolls and a few choice words. I’m not sure who said it but the best quote about this came from a coach who said “My dream coaching job is at an orphanage.”
Of all the issues related to the parent-coach relationship, playing time tends to be the hottest topic. It is also the toughest to deal with.
I’m not sure when it became the parents job to inquire about playing time but it clearly is now something many parents feel empowered to bring up with coaches. If you are one of those coaches, it is important that you give some thought ahead of time to how you are going to deal with these situations. When I coached at the high school level I put my policy in writing and gave it to parents at a pre-season parent meeting. A big reason for having that meeting was to head off problems by going over team procedures with parents and address their concerns and questions before the season even started. If you do not have such a meeting, I highly recommend you have one. (More on parent meetings in a future post.)
When it comes to discussing playing time with parents, there are basically two ways to handle it. You either discuss playing time or you don’t. Some schools and organizations make that choice for their coaches and some leave the decision up to the individual coaches. Both choices come with pros and cons so give it some thought. At the high school level, my pick was to never discuss playing time with parents. I offer my reasons below. If you disagree, rock on. Do what you are comfortable doing.
If you have not fully decided how you want to manage this, consider what follows:
Option #1 – Discuss playing time with parents. People that advocate for this position tend to point to the benefits of open communication between coaches and parents. If disagreements arise then get the sides together to discuss the issue and let people air out their differences. Although conflict can hurt some feelings, it’s better than letting things fester under the surface where it can build up and create larger problems in the future. Also, if parents are paying in the form of fees and/or taxes then some will conclude that they have the right to speak up if they feel something is not being run well in the program that they are ultimately paying for.
As I said earlier, I am not a big fan of this option. I also know that some coaches may be forced into this option by superiors that believe in a parent’s right to discuss playing time. If that is the case for you then you may want to consider the following piece of advice which is …
Invite all the parents involved. Here is an example.
Let’s say your back-up shortstop’s parents are upset and want to argue for more playing time for their son. Since they naturally are going to politic for their son deserving more playing time, they are also, in essence, advocating for someone else’s son to play less. If that is the case then invite the starting shortstop and his parents to the meeting as well so that the interests of the starter are represented. It would not be fair to discuss the playing time and/or abilities of another player who is not present or at least represented.
I bet you can guess what usually happens next. The parent demanding a meeting backs off the idea when they know the other kid and/or parents will be there too.
Option #2 – Do not discuss playing time with parents.
At the high school level and above, this is the option I think is best. My main reason is that, in my opinion, nobody benefits from such a meeting. Everyone loses. If there is no win-win, there is no point in having a meeting. Here’s why nobody wins.
We all know there are dozens of reasons why playing time varies in the game of baseball. Let’s say after the parent meeting, for some reason other than the meeting, their son starts to play more. Now I have angry parents and players who think that I am letting a few parents influence who plays and who doesn’t. If that is the perception, I lose credibility from players and parents. I will also get more demands from other parents to meet because of the perception that meetings with the coach will help their son. The player doesn’t benefit because his teammates think his mommy and daddy are still calling the shots. Team chemistry suffers because rumors start flying about preferential treatment. And on it goes.
On the other hand, if their son starts to play less after the coach meets with the parents, his parents may think the coach is mad at them for questioning the line-up and is now taking it out on the player by not playing him as much. Other rumors fly, I lose credibility, parents are angry at each other, and on and on it goes.
Either way, if the meeting is held, nobody benefits. The coaching staff, the player, his parents, the team, all the other parents, and the program as a whole. All lose. If everyone loses then there is no purpose for the meeting.
Thankfully, my administrators were all very supportive of that policy and backed me 100%. Many coaches are not so lucky. Whether you are able to pick your option or whether one is decided for you, spend some time before the season begins to outline how you want to manage parents who want to meet.
It’s not the most fun part of coaching but if you think ahead and game plan a bit, it usually makes things much easier.